Friday, February 29, 2008

The Friday Fishwrap: End-Of-The-Week News, Analysis, Insight and Musings

Retail Whispers: Heard on the Street and Read on the Net

Profit and Loss: Canada's Planet Organic Health Corp., which recently acquired two U.S. natural foods' retailers--Mrs. Green's Natural Foods in New York and New Leaf Community Markets in Santa Cruz, California, had a whopping 99% increase in sales over the same period last year in its just-reported second quarter of this year. Sales were C$27.5 million (Canadian dollars), compared to C$13.8 million for the same period last year. However, sometimes such soaring sales growth results in a loss. Planet Organic reported a net loss for the quarter of C$45,000, compared to a net income of C$537,000 in the same quarter last year. Oouch, growing pains. (more here.)

Britain's Green PM: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned his nation's supermarket chain and corner retail shop proprietors that unless they get with it and start charging consumers for plastic grocery bags if they choose them, like Marks & Spencer announced earlier this week it would begin doing, then he just must impose the fees on the grocers and other retailers in the form of a law. Read what the UK's Daily Scotsman has to say about the issue in tomorrow morning's edition. Marks & Spencer (M&S) is charging shoppers the equivalent of about 10 cents U.S. per plastic bag. No charge for paper. Reusable shopping totes are sold at the stores and encouraged.

U.S.-based Whole Foods Market, Inc., which has a large natural foods superstore in London, will go M&S one better next month. The supernatural grocer will stop using plastic grocery bags at all of its stores in the U.S., Canada and in the London store beginning on April 22, which is Earth Day 2008.

We predict the United Kingdom's other major chains will follow Marks & Spencer's lead on charging shoppers for plastic tote bags. Our prediction: Waitrose will be next to announce, followed by Sainsbury's, then Asda and Morrisons, with Tesco last. Why Tesco last? Take a look here.

London's Daily Mail newspaper has started what it calls its "Banish the (plastic) Bag Campaign." Here is what the paper's latest poll of British consumers found: A solid 83% of consumers said they are 'Concerned' about the impact on the environment of plastic bags. Only 16% said they are unconcerned. A full 76% of those consumers said supermarkets should stop giving out plastic bags all together. And, a whopping 86% of the consumers said a per-plastic bag charge by retailers would encourage them to bring their own reusable shopping bags to the store. You can read more on the survey here.

Food & Street Theatre Memo: Peta's 'Unhappy Mother's Day For Pigs'

The pro-vegetarian animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) kicked its public performance art-oriented displays designed to get people to renounce their meat-eating ways up a notch today in London, England's Covent Garden.

As pictured at left, they had a visibly pregnant woman crawl into a replica of a farrowing crate, similar to the ones used to house sows when they are pregnant and nursing their young.

While the "human sow," played by a pregnant human woman crawled into the farrowing crate to depict the actual sow, fellow protesters held up a banner which read: 'Unhappy Mother's Day for Pigs, Go Vegetarian.'

Our London correspondent, who was having lunch at Covent Garden when the street theatre-style protest was presented, reports the Peta protesters definitely got lots of attention. However, he also said a number of other folks, who were eating lunch just like him, not only lost their appetites, but had some digestion problems as well, after viewing the protest, which went on for some time. And yes, we asked; and the answer is no, he wasn't having a pork sandwich for lunch.

Retail Whispers: Heard on The Street and Read on the Net--Part Deux

The Greening of Emeril @ Whole Foods Market: The Discovery Channel, Whole Foods Market, Inc. and that hyper-celeb chef Emeril Lagasse are partnering up. Emeril (no last name needed) will star in a new show, Emeril Green, on the Discovery Channel four nights a week at 8pm. The show will take place inside a Whole Foods Market store. All of the ingredients the rapid-fire chef uses to cook with in the show will come from Whole Foods, of course. The ingredients--and resulting dishes--will be organic, fresh, upscale, sustainable---and all "green." Read all about the show and partnership here.

Whole Foods Market Haight (Ashbury): If healthy and crunchy loving Whole Foods Market can't get a store built in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood (which was known as Hashbury in the 1960's) then what grocer in the world can? "The Haight," as the locals call it, was the home to the 'Summer of Love', student protests, frequent acid (and not car battery) tests, and numerous other hedonistic pursuits in the 1960's and 1970's.

Throughout the 1980's, the neighborhood was considered undesirable by many. However, beginning in the late 1980's--and into the 1990's to today--"The Haight" has undergone a resurgence. The neighborhood, which is near the famed Golden Gate Park, is packed with unique ethnic and upscale restaurants, brew pubs, cafe's and bookstores. There's still lots of young folks hanging out in the neighborhood--perhaps looking to find what maybe their parents (or grandparents) might have found (if they could remember it) in the 1960's--but gentrification is the rule of today in the neighborhood.

Enter Whole Foods Market. The supernatural grocer wants to locate it's fourth lifestyle supermarket in San Francisco in an empty building that formerly was a Cala Foods supermarket for decades.

Cala Foods was most recently owned by Kroger Co. as part of its Ralph's Supermarkets division. It sold most of the other Cala Foods' stores in San Francisco to independents and closed the remaining handful of stores, including the Haight-Ashbury market. Even though the store is much smaller than Whole Foods' desires, they plan to remodel the building and open a store there. Retail space is a premium in the neighborhood. So the Cala Foods' site is a major get for Whole Foods.

Haight-Ashbury, however, has a couple of dueling neighborhood groups. Those two groups, the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council and the Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association, are butting heads over a laundry list of issues regarding the Whole Foods store's going into the neighborhood. Read what's going on here. For those of you in the heartland, this happens in San Francisco all the time. And, Whole Foods is familiar with it. Just ask Walter Robb.

Food Safety in America Memo: And Now it's the Alfalfa Sprouts.

Attention, Re-calling All Sprouts: The latest food item (among the numerous) in the U.S. to be recalled is that famous sandwich and salad add-on loved by nearly all natural foods'-oriented folks: alfalfa sprouts. Dixon, California-based Salad Cosmo USA Corporation and J.H Caldwell and Sons of Maywood, in Southern California, are recalling the crunchy sprouts throughout the western USA. Among the stores involoved in the recall are Trader Joe's, Save Mart Supermarkets and others. Read more here. Tests to the sprouts detected salmonella, which can be fatal. That's why the alfalfa sprouts are being recalled.

What Gives? First it was bagged spinach, then bagged salads, and now sprouts. Although the U.S. has a good, overall food safety record, its been declining for the last 10 years or so. Are you listening President Obama, McCain, Huckabee Clinton or Nader?

Election Year Memo: Presidential Candidates As Grocery Stores
Speaking of U.S. candidates for President (we like segways. Not the scooters, the word transitions.) Our evenings of late have been consumed primarily by two activities: writing this blog and watching the Presidential debates and related coverage. So, naturally, we got to thinking about what the Democratic and Republican candidates for President have in common with grocery stores or supermarkets.

As a result, we bring you our very own version of, "Presidential Candidates as Grocery Stores:"

Barack Obama: Obama is the Whole Foods Market, Inc. candidate. Like a Whole Foods' store Barack is eclectic, smooth, thoughtful and urbane. But, like Whole Foods, Obama also comes from humble origins. Whole Foods targets its stores primarily to the well-educated; college grads and post-grads. College educated Democrats are choosing Obama over Clinton big time.

But, also like Whole Foods Market, Obama does not want to be viewed as elitist, which he isn't. He wants organic foods for everyone, just like Whole Foods' does. And, he is appealing more and more these days to lower and middle income Democrats. Just like at Whole Foods,' the message is important.

Like Whole Foods Market, Obama has crossover appeal. He attracts indpendents and even some Republicans, along with Democrats. there's even a group of Independent and Republican voters termed "Crunchy Cons," who are supporting Barack for President. These folks are conservative, but don't embrace the traditional GOP line. They shop at places like Whole Foods Market, are generally young and well-educated, are environmentalists and health-oriented consumers, and are looking for political and social change. They aren't liberals though...we like to call them "Whole Foods Market Conservatives."

Hillary Clinton: Hillary Clinton on the other hand is trying to appeal to everyone, especially lower and middle income Democrats, who are proving to be her base of support. That's why Hillary is the Wal-Mart candidate. Her motto, "I'm ready to assume the duties of President on Day One," reminds us of Wal-Mart's can-do attitude. Her pep-rallies also remind us of how Wal-Mart store managers rally the troops every morning before the store opens by leading them in the "Wal-Mart Cheer."

Just like a Wal-Mart store, Hillary can be all things to everybody. She can out-Liberal the Liberals and out-Conservative the center-right. Similar to Wal-Mart, Ms. Clinton has had to be the "Low-Price Leader" in her race against Obama, as he has beat her in fundraising hands-down. Her cheerful optimism even reminds us of the Wal-Mart smiley face.

And, of course, Hillary is no stranger to Wal-Mart, Inc. She spent a number of years on the mega-retailers board of directors when she was First Lady of Arkansas during her husband's two-terms as the state's Governor.

John McCain: Johnny Mac, as his friends call him, is without a doubt the Trader Joe's candidate. Like Trader Joe's, McCain is small, but stout. He packs a huge punch into a little frame, just like the small-format specialty grocer packs tons of goods into its 10,000 square foot stores.

McCain also is quirky, just like TJ's operations and product mix. Johnny Mac might one day present himself as a "Conservative's Conservative," then do something "liberal" like being the only Republican to vote against George W. Bush's famous tax cuts, saying, "They benefit only the rich."

Lastly, with tongue planted firmly in cheek of course, rumor has it that some of McCain's U.S. Senate colleagues used to call him "Two-Buck Mac" for the amount of money he likes to spend when he bought them lunch. As we all know, Trader Joe's is famous for its $1.99 bottle of wine nicknamed "Two-Buck Chuck."

Mike Huckabee: Huckabee is the Kroger Co. candidate. He's a little bit upscale--well educated, dresses well, loves good food, is articulate--but is mostly still just folks. Like a typical Kroger store, Huckabee isn't going to knock your socks off. He's likes to say, "What you see is what you get." That's sort of Kroger's motto in many of its store banners.

Huckabee, like Kroger, also is essentially middle-America. Although Kroger operates supermarket chains on the left and right coasts in the U.S., they are known as the grocer for middle-America primarily. Huckabee also has left and right coast tastes--he plays the base guitar with a rock band, loves appearing on talk shows in Hollywood and New York City, as well as loves hosting Saturday Night Live--but has firmly positioned himself as the favorite of middle America and Christian Evangelicals. Huck is just a small town preacher from Hope, Arkansas.

Kroger, though, has been moving into the natural, organic and healthy foods' categories in a big way the last couple years. So has Huckabee. He lost a couple hundred pounds over the last few years by giving up a high-salt, high-fat and high-carb diet for a healthy one. He also says he eats natural and organic foods as much as possible. Weight loss and diet is a major plank in his platform in fact.

So, there you go. As a voter you now have an additional variable--grocery stores--whichyou can use in choosing which Presidential candidate you will support and vote for in the 2008 election. Consider it a public service offering form us to you.

[To our readers: We would love to read which grocery stores you match-up with which Presidential candidates. Use our comment box to express your opinion, and to VOTE on your favorite from our four "candidates as grocery stores" above.]

The Friday Fishwrap Week-Ender

The Topic: Honest Food Labeling

Enjoy your weekend!

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