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There was an outcry from the MNB community in response to our continuing reports on Safeway’s hard line with the unions representing workers at its Dominick’s stores in the Chicago area.

It was not, to be honest, kind to Safeway…suggesting that if the company has this much trouble engendering sympathy and loyalty among its consumers, it is going to be a long road.

For example, there was some dispute of Safeway’s charge that it is the union that has caused it to have problems in the Chicago market.

One MNB user wrote:

“As both a employee of a supplier to Dominick's and a consumer who shops there, I can attest that the decline of Dominick's has not been tied to the lack of union productivity, but rather the Safeway migration from branded products offered in an upscale environment to a private label Mecca, where your choices are perhaps one or two branded items and a wide range of Safeway Select.

“I live in Glen Ellyn, a very upscale community in the Western suburbs of Chicago, that has vast disposable income and wants the upscale shopping experience and branded products. Clearly, Safeway has misjudged the market that they are in and have tried to turn Dominick’s into Cub or Aldi Stores. I have already started to shop elsewhere, and have recently begun shopping at Costco for bulk items.”

MNB user Tom Russell wrote:

“Bring it on Safeway! Our family would love to have Dominick’s back as a Chicago owned/operated chain. Safeway has been a disaster as an owner with their central buying, out of stocks, and disregard for the product preferences of Chicago shoppers. I for one would be glad to have Safeway out of here.”

A Northern Illinois MNB user wrote:

“I can't think of anything that would make me happier as a consumer than to thumb my nose at Safeway and say "Get the heck out of Illinois!" They killed one of my favorite grocers. Dominick's had great stores and were] innovative and had a loyal following. Safeway ruined it. And not just with the Safeway brands, either. Their whole approach was different. They gutted the appealing parts of the shopping experience that Dominick's had so carefully cultivated. There's nothing that differentiates it from a lot of other supermarkets now. They definitely miscalculated because they thought they needed to be in the Illinois market to compete with Aldi, Cub, Eagle, etc., and so they promoted a discount atmosphere in a store that had cultivated an appeal to specialty shopping. I mean, we all like value, but who wants to wander around in aisles of nothing special. And the prices weren't that good, if that's what you're bent on. I feel like a corporation imposed themselves on me. Choice is a very precious commodity, and they forced themselves on us. I still don't understand why they didn't just buy Dominick's and let them be. They were successful. It's hard to believe that if Dominick's is sold, it would ever come back.”

Another MNB user wrote:

“Most shoppers in Chicago would rejoice if Safeway sold Dominick's. In fact, to hear some employees tell it, they would be more willing to make concessions if it was someone other than Safeway that owned the chain. The issues are not just about pay and benefits; it's also about pride and being part of an organization that makes an effort to listen to its customers and its associates. Dominick's loss of business should not be a surprise; the worst meat and the worst variety replaced what was once the best. Toss in higher prices and then ask ‘what were they thinking?’”

And yet another MNB user wrote:

“Here's hoping the union sticks to their guns. Safeway has such done a good job screwing up Dominick’s that we eventually switched all of our shopping to Jewel. The integration of Safeway private label brands was both awkward and confusing and I noticed quite a few customers wondering who Safeway was and if Dominick’s was going away. Who said retailers aren't considered brands - there is quite a bit of loyalty to the Dominick’s brand out here. Not only has Safeway diluted the Dominick’s name they stopped stocking items that they used to carry for years. Because of that we had to go to Jewel each week for a few items and since price and store presentation was basically the same we just decided to move all our shopping to the store that carried what we need. It could only be a step up for Dominick’s should Safeway pull out.”

Another MNB user wrote that in Chicago, Safeway is making ”the same mistakes it has made in the DFW area with the Tom Thumb stores. Why does everyone want to be a Wal-Mart?”

In a related issue, there was criticism of Safeway’s move at Genuardi’s to eliminate Boar’s Head deli products. We got an email from a Safeway employee that said:

“In response to your readers' comments on Genuardi's, I'd like to set the record straight on the Boars Head luncheon meat issue. It was Boars Head's decision to pull out of Genuardi's stores, as well as Tom Thumb for that matter. Our preference was to sell Boars Head along with our Safeway Primo Taglio brand of premium luncheon meats. But Boars Head preferred to be exclusive and left on their own. As far as quality, Primo Taglio, as with all Safeway Select products, is equal to or better than national brands, such as Boars Head, but at a lower price.”

Thanks for setting the record straight…though the question of quality clearly is up for debate.

There were other subjects that captured the attention of the MNB community…

For example, we have continuing dialogue about Wal-Mart’s strategies and role in the retailing continuum. (It’s too hard to recap the action so far…suffice it to say that MNB user have been focusing on Wal-Mart’s apparent strategy of putting oversized stores into small towns and driving everybody else out of business. You can check out the past few days’ discussion by clicking on the “archive” button at the top of the page.)

MNB user Ken Robb writes:

“If you think a Wal-Mart Supercenter looks out of place in Charlotte MI or Prairie du Chien WI, then you haven't seen the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Gentry AR, population 2,165 (or 50,000 if you count the chickens). The supercenter looms over the small town. There are few other retailers or any kind of business there now...except for the Little Debbie plant on the edge of town. They're the ones who make Oatmeal Creams and ship them to Wal Marts all over the region.

“Sam Walton is a god in Gentry AR. It seems like everyone there either works or shops at Wal-Mart. That's not true of course. You can raise, process or pack chickens in Decatur a few miles to the north (where the smell from the chicken processing plant permeates the town) or there's always a job on the production line at Little Debbie. Some residents make the daily commute over to Bentonville where they have a clerical job at Wal-Mart's Home Office. It's a modest building compared to the supercenter. Any retailer whose office is in the backroom of their store would easily recognize the unassuming Wal-Mart Home Office. It's just a little bigger.

“I don't remember how long Wal-Mart has been in Gentry. Probably forever. The folks in Decatur up the road tried to get Sam Walton to build a Wal Mart in their town, but he wouldn't do it. So one of Decatur's local business leaders opened his own discount store. It's pathetic. Life has been permanently changed in Benton County. People say you wouldn't recognize the area now. Folks down there don't know about Wegmans, Ukrop's or Stew Leonard's. Upscale retailing? Are you kidding? There may be an opportunity for a different kind of game in upstate New York, Richmond VA or Fairfield County CT, but in small towns like Gentry AR, Wal-Mart holds all the cards.

“It is really hopeless? Not really. But I believe the answer requires a new awakening for supermarket retailers. Don't let the big guy do whatever he wants. Don't have a strategic marketing plan for your business? Get one. Has it been a long time since you conducted a consumer focus group? Do one. Are your meat and produce offerings fresh and first rate? Fix it. Will your cost of goods allow you to stay within 5-7% of Wal-Mart's everyday low pricing? Find a new wholesaler.

“Now is the time to act. Not later.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

We also got an email from an Wal-Mart employee who is a regular correspondent with MNB:

It's hard to be too general in any description of Wal-Mart. That it's filling in with more store, Supercenters or the new Neighborhood Market concept may be the case in many large or large size markets just as they may be meeting a particular retailing threat like Meijer by building more stores in the same area that they move into. Whatever focuses on their needs of the particular Wal-Mart marketing area in question is always a primary concern for management.

“It hard to sometimes relate directly to a question concerning different areas of the USA.

“Where Sam built lots of small stores in almost every town compared to a state like Virginia which was one of the later ones he built in, 1988-89; but now has 43 Supercenters in comparison to Michigan with only two, Ohio with 14 and Indiana with 32. Total store count in any one of these three states probably outnumbers the total in Virginia.

“That's why, in part, there will be more Supercenters in the states further away from Bentonville , in states where Wal-Mart hasn't as large an early presence, or has a commanding retail presence such as in Texas. Better food distribution in one area than another will be based largely on the number of SCs in the area. This holds true also, I believe, in general merchandise distribution as well as the SC's sales in GM will be larger than in an original store without the grocery side.”

And MNB user Steve Panza wrote:

“What's wrong with wanting 100% of the business? The realities of obtaining it may be too costly, but 100% is a good goal to have. If other retailers would be this aggressive, nobody would be crying the Wal-Mart blues.”

Good point.

Want to know why people are singing the Wal-Mart blues? Consider this email from MNB user Bob Vereen:

“Last week, I bought a Smart card reader for my digital camera at Target, having found on the manufacturer's web site that Target carried the item. My wife was with me and also wanted to get something at a nearby Wal-Mart, so while she did her shopping, I checked Wal-Mart's electronics department. Found the same item, same manufacturer, for $27.88 versus the $39.99 I paid minutes before at Target.

“Quickly went back and got my refund at Target. Cannot imagine such a huge discrepancy. No wonder Wal-Mart wins converts.”

We wrote yesterday about how the obesity issue is creating a fat target for some litigators, which prompted a number of letters, including this one from MNB user Brad Morris:
“What happened to personal responsibility? Who is responsible for raising Americas’ children?

“When we discuss the overweight or obesity how is anyone other than the individual (or perhaps genetics) to blame? This is not a situation where for decades a small group of food (tobacco) executives have tried to hide the fact that high-fat, high calorie diets (cigarettes) are bad for you. Additionally, high-calorie or high-fat food can be consumed by many without any adverse side effects. Ask Dr. Atkins. Unlike cigarettes, if used properly it will not kill you or even harm you; however, too much of anything is bad.

“Although I am not a frequent fast-food consumer, I have been known to devour the rare piece of beef now and again. If I have a heart attack should I sue Morton’s, Sullivan’s, or Smith & Wolensky’s?

“If I am in an automobile accident in my little Miata, should I sue Mazda for my injuries because they should have only marketed safer cars like Volvos to me? Why didn’t they tell me it wasn’t as safe?

“Should I need a special license to buy a deep-fryer for my home?

“Although there are many shades of gray, there is a point at which people must decide for themselves what to do and it is no one else’s fault but their own what they choose.

“It is not the jobs of the American legal system to legislate healthy eating habits for children. It is the job of their parents.

“The fast food industry isn’t as much driving what America eats, as it is trying to serve what America is asking for; quickly and cheaply. There is a very good reason you do not see the McLean sandwich on the menu anymore. . . it didn’t sell.

“By the way, you can now buy a salad-shaker and yogurt fruit cup at McDonald’s instead of a Double-Quarter-Pounder-with-Cheese.”

MNB user Jem Walsh has another perspective:

“I don't think much of lawsuits, even less of lawyers and even less of politico-regulatory bureaucrats controlling the food industry. But if the lawsuits open the debate on food safety in earnest, they will be worth the time and effort. Upton Sinclair's battles pale in comparison to the adulteration and danger in most prepared and fast foods today, but the enemy remains the same. For the sake of commerce, how much companies can profit and get away with, in non-labeling their foods, strikes the same sort of chord in me that "minimum levels" of meat by-products, settled after The Jungle brought light to that industry. That was a joke in itself, but at least we now know how much rat dung is allowed in our hot dogs.

“People must begin to hold the government accountable for food safety. The government must also take responsibility for the current health crisis, regardless of the lobby to sweep dangers of foods under the table. If we can't rely on good foods being served and bad foods being labeled as such, then we have not come far from Sinclair's world. Our populace is dying way before it should, given our advantages, but we blindly rely on the government to keep us healthy. That is a bad deal, since health is a personal responsibility. Yet, food companies offer us pseudo-foods, fat foods, and chemically-based non foods, and then have the gall to question why the public would want to know if they are safe, while the government scratches its head in confusion? So, the court system may be the channel for change (although I am not holding my breath!).

“We are all curious now that "weight-challenged" people sue over others as a result of problem originating from their lifestyle choices. In this case, though, there may be a greater good to come from it. We have to get the debate to the serious level it deserves.”

Jem, however, may be in a minority among MNB users. (Which doesn’t necessarily make her wrong. We’ve spent a lifetime holding minority opinions that we thought we right…) MNB user Bob Wheaton writes:

“Let's get things right and out of the courts. For shame if consumers can't read or do simple math. A sad commentary on our life if someone lacks self control, eating, and looks to blame someone else for their lack of control.”

We wrote yesterday about Coke’s rumored new ad campaign that may revolve around the tagline “real” and feature celebrity endorsers like Julia Roberts and Robert DeNiro. In response to this, MNB user Walter Wahlfeldt wrote:

“I love the irony. The tagline is “real”. Coke’s choice of spokespersons: ACTORS.”

But very good actors…

Actually, we sort of mocked DeNiro yesterday (a dangerous thing to do), writing, “What‚s he going to do, stand in the kitchen looking at a Coke bottle
and say, ‘You talkin‚ to me? Nobody else here, you talkin‚ to me?’ Most of DeNiro’s roles would have him smashing the Coke bottle over somebody’s head, not drinking it…”

But one MNB user thought that this was the stuff of creative genius:

“Having DeNiro do his ‘you talkin to me... line’...That could be very very campy. A good creative director could wonderful stuff with that and I'd love to see the out takes on that film shoot.

“There's an award in there somewhere?”

Maybe we missed our calling. (Can they just get Scorcese to direct it…?)

We wrote yesterday about the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) Staff Wellness Day, prompting an email from MNB user Gene Grabowski, GMA’s vice president of Communications and Marketing:

“Thanks for letting folks know about GMA's first staff Wellness Day. It's the first in what we plan will be more.

“I wanted you to know that the reason behind the day. We at GMA feel our industry has to step forward in whatever ways it can and let the world know that we care about this issue because it touches every one of our consumers and our own families. So we thought our actions at GMA would speak louder than words.”

We agree.

And in that case, GMA’s member companies ought to work actively with retailers to establish consumer wellness days in supermarkets all across America.

Because actions really do speak louder than words.

On the ongoing topic of Stew Leonard and Stew Leonard’s (the man and the store), MNB user Steve Dutkiewicz writes:

“I couldn't help but notice that you express disappointment in Stew Leonard the tax evader, yet rightfully give him high marks as a businessman. I know your beat isn't political commentary, but the immorality of the heavy tax burden we all carry should be addressed here. Stew's sin pales in contrast to the politicians’ insistence on spending millions to subsidize public art or the billions they spend on foreign aid, while working families struggle to pay their taxes.

“I'm not making a hero of Stew, he is probably ashamed of his actions and how they affected the company. I just feel in a business forum such as this, it shouldn't go unsaid how bloated our government has gotten the last few decades as it tries to throw money at every perceived problem the politicians think they must solve. That is the tragedy of it, as was what happened to Mr. Leonard. Let's not be undermined by a weakness of being silent while our once great country is taxed to death.”

This is the great, almost always unspoken defense of Stew Leonard’s in the business community…that we are overtaxed, and therefore he was just keeping what was rightfully his.

While we admire Steve for putting it out there, we have to respectfully disagree. Equating anybody’s tax fraud in the 20th century with the Boston Tea Party just doesn’t cut it.

And finally, even as votes were being cast in Oregon about the GMO labeling issue, MNB user Mitchell Herzog, a student at Portland State University, asked a very perceptive question connecting that issue to the obesity litigation issue:

“Doesn't this obesity legal issue have a common thread with the GMO labeling bill being voted on in Oregon? Has anyone (pro or con) came out with comparative costs for labeling vs. a public education program that educates people and corrects incorrect assumptions. Whether it be related to fat, chemicals, or any other health issue, isn't there any organization out there willing to step up to the plate and educate the public? Seems like a lot of costs and lawsuits could be avoided if there were a more proactive approach to food education.”

Gee, a common sense approach.

Will somebody out there offer Mitchell a job? (We’ll funnel him any and all inquiries…just send them to

See you tomorrow….
KC's View: