business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday’s story and commentary about Supervalu’s quarterly results, one MNB user wrote:

As an employee for Albertsons Inc for 21 years and now for Albertsons LLC I do not see a future in Supervalu. Most of my friends are gone and how they were let go was not good. Outsourcing to India is not the answer and getting rid of your most experienced people is devastating to a company. It is sad to see how Craig is running Supervalu as it seems that he just has one thing on his mind to get the company lean and sell it just like Larry Johnson did. If only they had Bob Miller run the company like he is running Albertsons LLC they would be very profitable company.  Yes, Albertsons LLC made some tuff decisions and sold many stores but in the long run in this economy I rather work for small and debt free company that is making the right decisions then Supervalu that does not have a future and owes billions and not making quality decisions.

One of the ongoing problems at Supervalu is that a lot of people feel this way and do not have faith in upper management. It creates a cycle of discontent that is hard to break, and from which it is even harder to emerge profitable and productive.

There simply are too many people at Supervalu who think that that despite all the focus on “hyper-localization,” management does not know the difference between Polish products brought in to stores in Polish neighborhoods and Poland Spring bottled water.

I wrote yesterday that Supervalu sort of reminds me of the old joke that my dad told me when I was a kid about the airline pilot who gets on the intercom and announces to the passengers, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that we’re lost. The good news is that w’re making good time.”

Which led one MNB user to retort:

In the case of Super Value I’m afraid you should alter your pilot joke slightly:

“Passengers…this is your pilot. I have good news and bad news. The good news is we are going to be on the ground earlier than expected. Bad news…we’re crashing!”

Got several emails regarding Kate McMahon’s column about the Weight Watchers point-counting craze. One MNB user wrote:

Kate, I have been a life time member since 2005.  I weigh in once per month (free) and buy the 12week tracking books to keep daily track of my points.  If it goes in my mouth, it goes in my book.  By this time, the eating/buying habits are totally just that—i.e. habits.  It was a pain switching from the regular point system to the Weight Watchers point plus system last year since I had the original set memorized and had to start over.  But, I did the same thing this time that I did the first.  I would basically, on a shopping trip, take one food category at a time (say ice cream) and methodically analyze the labels for a potential working list.  I would then try those foods and come to permanent buying patterns based upon points and how much I liked the food.  As such, I have pretty much maximized my food enjoyment w/a minimum number of points.  For instance, there are about 7 cold cereals that I regularly buy where a 3point serving ranges from 2/3cups (shredded wheat) to 1 1/4cups (plain Cheerios).  They are the largest amount in a serving for the least number of points, and alternating those 7 gives me a great variety to choose from in the morning.   [I don’t use the serving size as the base and let the points fall out; I decide how many points I will allow for a food and then calculate how much of that food I can eat for that many points.  Since I allot 3 points for a cereal, the amount I can consume per cereal varies.  I don’t put 1 cup of skim milk on that cereal for 2 points; I put 2/3 cup on at 1 point because I have allotted 1 point for the milk.] 

In 2005, I lost 40 pounds in just months, going from 150 to 110.  I was a little too thin so slowly took it back up to 115, and I have stayed there ever since.  At this point, I see no reason why I won’t be at this weight (and health) forever.  I’m 5’4” so I’m pretty much at the bottom of what they consider best weight for that size.

However, and this is really the reason I’m writing to you, early on, I decided that I would NOT continue to buy the WW and Lean Cuisine frozen entrees.  I am asking you to just check the sodium levels of any/all of them.  They’re outrageous.  You can easily consume 30% to 40% of your daily sodium intake w/a paltry 4 to 5 points of your daily allowance by consuming just one of those.  In my opinion, it is absolutely unconscionable that they market these entrees as healthy alternatives to fat/calorie laden foods.  Likewise w/the Progresso soups.  They have a line of reduced sodium ones.  They are the ones that I concentrate on in deciding which ones have the lowest points and that I like.

Good luck w/your program and please keep us up to date as to how you’re doing.  It would be interesting to hear how your family is coping w/this.  I don’t attend meetings anymore, just the once/month weigh in.  But what I remember hearing from others when I did attend is that this was one of the hardest parts of the program—i.e. all the grief they were getting from family members if any cooking/eating changes were made.

And, from MNB user Harry Little:

I am traveling this week and just finished my WW Instant Oatmeal (3 pts.) here in my room at the Hilton while reading your post.  You are right on about the convenience I find using my iPhone to track my daily points and I finally found a diet I can live with!

Got several emails objecting to my criticism of various efforts in Canada to promote “made in Canada” products - whether yogurt or entertainment - via quotas and protectionist measures.

For example, one MNB user wrote:

I was just wondering why you would think that “protectionism” is a bad thing for Canadians (btw – this is more about cultural protection, not economic protection), but most Americans were applauding the efforts to “Buy American” – which was all about fighting the advent of globalization and competition?

To be clear about my position ... I do not believe in protectionism. I think all economies have to compete in a global environment, and that assigning quotas simply puts off the inevitable and denies modern realities.

That said, I have no problem with “Made in America” or “Made in Canada” efforts if they are marketing-driven. I want to know where the products I buy are made, and to have the opportunity to choose based on that information. I applaud and encourage such initiatives.

But not government-mandated quotas.

I think there is a big difference.

More about Toys R Us from MNB user Kelly Soos-Fell:

Expecting our first child, my husband and I proceeded to our local Babies R Us to purchase our crib.  Coincidentally, they were having their 20% off all cribs sale that weekend.  We decided on a crib and proceeded to the crib desk where we were told that while they had 15 of them in stock 2 hours ago, they are unfortunately out of stock.  They were unable to tell us when they would receive anymore.  They also mentioned that the ‘warehouse’ serves all of the Babies R Us in our state so the entire state was out of this particular crib.  The comments that came out of the sales clerk’s mouth next still haunt me to this day.  “I don’t know when they will come into the warehouse, but it looks like Babies R Us online has it in stock.  You can buy it there but it would cost $75 shipping and handling.”  There goes my 20% savings!  They wouldn’t even ask online to ship it to the store and waive the S&H.  I went home, promptly did my research online, and purchased a beautiful crib, for $50 less, that was delivered to my front door in 3 days and shipping was FREE! 

I’m keeping my name on the ‘list’ for them to call me when it does come back in stock.  3 months and counting…

And people wonder why bricks-and-mortar stores are having a tough time...

And, on a related topic, one MNB user wrote:

When you mentioned in your comments on this piece that the only real shot that bricks-and-mortar retailers have at competing with online retailers is offering the best in personal service/experience, I am wondering if that will be the right move. I offer up only myself as the counter-argument.

I am part of a dual-income household and have two children under the age of three. Needless to say, I am busy and things have to get done when and where I have time to do them. So the other day I get a call on my way home from work and my wife wants me to pick up a couple items from the Publix because she did not have time to do the anticipated weekly grocery run that day. OK, no problem. So I pull into the Publix, I know exactly where I need to go to get what I want, and there are self-checkout registers to boot. Paying with my debit card, the whole experience took less than 10 minutes. When I walked out the door of the Publix, groceries in hand, weather being beautiful and knowing baseball would be on the TV when I got home, I could only think of one thing… I didn’t have to talk to a single living soul to get what I wanted at Publix. Nobody was there to slow me down, no lines, no meaningless conversation. I got what I needed quickly, and at the price I wanted to pay and I was on my way to doing what I REALLY wanted to do that evening.

Now, isn’t that what on-line shopping is all about? I get what I want, at the best possible prices in most cases, without expending much energy or TIME on a task I would rather not do in the first place.

So, maybe in the process of trying to differentiate themselves from on-line retailers, bricks-and-mortar retailers will actually hurt their cause even further. If I am already in your store touching and feeling your products, you need to just get out of my way and let me complete the transaction quickly, easily, and cheaply by utilizing some of that technology that is currently being used against you. I think it’s a tough uphill battle, but in the end I think it’s better to emulate than differentiate in this case.

No lines at all? That’s probably not what the folks at Publix want to hear...

But seriously...I think there are different kinds of shopping need states. What stores have to decide is how many of them they want to position themselves to serve.

Your trip to Publix probably could not have been replaced by an online shopping trip. But there are other shopping trips that might be replaced by a few minutes spent on the computer.

On the subject of Ozzie Guillen, one MNB user wrote:

Don’t you find it the irony of all irony, though, that Ozzie is being censored for saying something favorable about Fidel Castro?  This is just rich.  In Cuba, you can’t criticize much of anything/anyone w/o fear of landing in jail.  For all the Cuban émigrés in Little Havana, wouldn’t one think they would appreciate someone’s being able to say what they like, to have the freedom to say stupid things w/o fear of repercussion?  Just asking.

There are a lot of deservedly raw nerves there, and Guillen poured salt on them.

Sure, it is ironic that he’s being censored. But what he said was thoughtless and stupid.
KC's View: