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    Published on: May 30, 2013

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Bloomberg Businessweek has a story about the lucrative song ever written, which, it notes, consists of three chords and about 208 words.

    The song: "Margaritaville," by Jimmy Buffett.

    The song is more than just a paean about hanging out on the beach, drinking booze and generally being lazy. It is, in fact, the foundation of a company that generates more than $100 million a year. (Margaritaville Enterprises is private, and so does not release financial information. The $100 million figure is several years old, and the company probably is doing a lot more than that.)

    The company owns and operates some 27 Margaritaville restaurant complexes around the world, the story says, and the company "sells everything from beachwear to furniture and also oversees at least one Caribbean island resort, two American resorts, and four casinos. You can buy Margaritaville rum and combine it with a Margaritaville drink mixer in your very own Margaritaville blender that costs $349.99."

    There essentially are two entities - the company that is based on the lifestyle espoused by the song, and then the song itself. ("Margaritaville" as a song doesn't even make the top 10 when it comes to profitability - "Happy Birthday To You" is number one, generating more than $2 million a year," followed by three Christmas songs, "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "Yesterday.")

    But it is when you combine the two that the song's power is seen as a lifestyle and as a branding vehicle.

    We often write and talk here on MNB about the importance of telling a story ... that a clear and unambiguous narrative can do wonders for helping a brand to thrive.

    "Margaritaville" proves the point. It is one word, but it speaks volumes about the brand, the guy behind the brand, and even the people who are loyal to the brand.

    And Jimmy Buffett has been assiduous about making sure the brand is protected, from taking legal action to make sure that his copyrights are not infringed upon, to living a lifestyle that reflects the brand. (Though the latter doesn't seem so hard to me.)

    The song may paint a picture of the beachcomber style, but the brand equity is all about focus, hard work and vision.

    And maybe a cold adult beverage from time to time.

    That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Ipsos is out with a study saying that two out of three people "say they never or rarely turn off their mobile/smart phones ... Only 12% of people say their phones are off a lot of the time and 21% say they're off some of the time."

    The story goes on to say that "while they're not always talking on the phone, they want to be ready in case they get a call or need to make one." This suggests a paradox, Ipsos says: "While we’re very busy connecting with those who are not near (which sometimes means only a room away),chances are we are much less present in the place we really are."

    This seems both a little bit frightening and entirely reasonable to me. Because you can count me among the two-thirds of people who rarely turn off the phone.

    Which means, I think, that companies with an aggressive and targeted mobile marketing program have an enormous target to aim at, and a big canvas on which to paint.

    Just don't abuse it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    As was widely speculated upon just 24 hours ago, it was announced yesterday that China's Shuanghui International Holdings Limited is acquiring Smithfield Foods for $7.1 billion, including the assumption of Smithfield's debt.

    According to the announcement, Shuanghui International is the majority shareholder of Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development Co., described as "China's largest meat processing enterprise and China's largest publicly traded meat products company as measured by market capitalization." And Smithfield is the world's largest pork producer and processor.

    "This is a great transaction for all Smithfield stakeholders, as well as for American farmers and U.S. agriculture," says C. Larry Pope, president/CEO of Smithfield, in a prepared statement. "We have established Smithfield as the world's leading and most trusted vertically integrated pork processor and hog producer, and are excited that Shuanghui recognizes our best-in-class operations, our outstanding food safety practices and our 46,000 hard-working and dedicated employees. It will be business as usual -- only better -- at Smithfield. We do not anticipate any changes in how we do business operationally in the United States and throughout the world. We will become part of an enterprise that shares our belief in global opportunities and our commitment to the highest standards of product safety and quality. With our shared expertise and leadership, we look forward to accelerating a global expansion strategy as part of Shuanghui."

    Shuanghui chairman Wan Long says that the acquisition will allow his company "to meet the growing demand in China for pork by importing high-quality meat products from the United States, while continuing to serve markets in the United States and around the world. The combination creates a company with an unmatched set of assets, products and geographic reach."

    Once the deal is closed, the companies said, "Smithfield's common stock will cease to be publicly traded" and will become "a wholly-owned independent subsidiary of Shuanghui International Holdings Limited, operating as Smithfield Foods. Mr. Pope will continue as president and chief executive officer of Smithfield, and the management teams and workforces of Smithfield's Independent Operating Companies will continue in place after the transaction ... Shuanghui has pledged to maintain Smithfield's headquarters in Smithfield, Va., and to continue Smithfield's philanthropic support of community initiatives and investments in sustainability."

    In its coverage this morning, the New York Times reports that Shuanghui is being driven by a growing Chinese middle class that that has a real hunger for pork, "but that rapidly growing appetite has strained its food production systems, leading to breakdowns and a number of food safety scandals." Acquiring Smithfield allows Shuanghui to leap over those problems and create a faster, smoother supply chain.

    At present, it needs to be noted, China is not "allowed to export fresh pork or beef to the United States because it still has outbreaks of hoof and mouth disease. The Smithfield announcement reminded many people of video footage this spring that showed thousands of pig carcasses floating down a river that supplies drinking water to Shanghai. The source of the floating pigs remains a mystery, but they were hailed as a sign that a Chinese government crackdown on people selling dead and diseased pigs for pork was working.

    "In 2011, Shuanghui itself got caught up in that enforcement effort, after Chinese officials found it selling pork laced with clenbuterol, a veterinary medicine banned for use in animals intended for human consumption."

    And, the story notes, "A 2009 study by the Agriculture Department concluded that while Chinese officials were working to improve food safety and the regulation of food production - requiring the small number of food exporters there to gain certification - imports from China were still problematic."
    KC's View:
    Hate to see an American company like this swallowed up by a Chinese conglomerate. And I hate to say it, but I have to wonder how long current management and business practices will stay intact. At the very least, there will be questions raised about quality assurance and cost savings.

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    Greek yogurt has been getting a lot of good press in recent years, and has turned into a major industry, generating $2 billion a year in sales and growing.

    But now, apparently, there is a downside to Greek yogurt production - a byproduct of its being made is something called "acid whey."

    USA Today writes that this "nasty" liquid waste byproduct "can't be dumped, because it would prove too toxic to the environment, ruining waterways and killing fish." And so some farmers, scientists and yogurt manufacturers are looking for options.

    "One scientist wants to extract the small amount of protein to use in infant formula," the paper writes. "Other scientists believe they can extract the sugar to be used in other foodstuffs. And one farmer is converting the lactose into electricity generating methane."

    There is a fiscal necessity here - New York State, which has become a major producer of Greek yogurt and has used the industry as a tool to generate economic recovery, alone generated 66 million gallons of acid whey just in 2011.
    KC's View:
    hope they figure this out. Because I love my Chobani Lowfat banana Greek Yogurt, but I hate the idea that maybe I'm eating a product the manufacturer of which may be bad for the environment. Because at the end of the day, it is really all about me, and whether I feel guilty eating something...

    (Actually, a lot of people may feel this way. Knowing that acid whey is a toxic byproduct of something we enjoy may make that item just a little bit less enjoyable...)

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    Bloomberg reports that a field in Oregon has been found to be growing gene-altered wheat that was never approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and that the discovery "shows a failure of oversight that safety advocates say may endanger consumers and U.S. trading relationships.

    "Scientists said the rogue wheat was a strain tested from 1998 to 2005 by Monsanto, the world’s largest seedmaker, which withdrew its application for approval amid concern buyers would avoid crops from the U.S., the world’s biggest wheat exporter."

    The USDA, according to the story, "is investigating how the unapproved seeds slipped out and were growing nine years after St. Louis-based Monsanto ended its wheat program. The discovery may prompt foreign buyers uneasy with gene-altered crops to stop buying wheat from the U.S., according to critics including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety." And Monsanto says that "the Oregon discovery is isolated and shouldn’t concern consumers or trading partners."
    KC's View:
    Forgive me if I don't find what Monsanto says to not have a lot of credibility at this point.

    The story notes that "the wheat discovered in Oregon was bred to resist glyphosate, the key ingredient of Roundup. The product permits farmers to kill unwanted plants without endangering the crop developed to resist it, which the company markets as Roundup Ready." And, of course, Monsanto says that "there are no food, feed, or environmental safety concerns associated with the presence of the Roundup Ready gene if it is found to be present in wheat."

    But that's not really the point. The real issues are transparency, oversight and corporate arrogance.

    I wonder how many of these fields there are out there. I wonder if we'll ever know about them all. And, I wonder how this will impact not just foreign sales of wheat, but also initiatives like the one begun by Whole Foods, which is demanding that manufacturers label any genetically modified ingredients that are in products it sells. This discovery raises a lot of questions, but does not provide a lot of answers.

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    Fascinating study from MyWebGrocer and FGI Research that looks to segment "online grocery shoppers and planners by examining their opinions on in-store and online shopping preferences. While many digitally active shoppers are using similar solutions to improve their grocery buying experience, their attitudes and motivations differ.  Understanding how these shopper segments think, as well as act, is critical for both grocery retailers and brands looking to engage with them digitally.

    Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued MNB sponsor. But we would have posted this story even if it were not a sponsor, so it seemed reasonable to post it despite its support.

    The results identified five distinct shopper types:

    • The Reluctant Shopper "minimally plans to make the grocery trip bearable, primarily reviewing online weekly specials a few days before they shop."

    • Traditional Grocery Enthusiasts "are the oldest group of shoppers, leveraging online resources mainly to research grocery store weekly specials.  This group enjoys the in store shopping experience."

    • The New Digital Shopper "is the youngest and most ethnically diverse group, with very active schedules.  They do all of their planning online, search for deals, and are leveraging mobile and ecommerce to streamline their shopping when it’s available to them."

    • The Passionate Planner "enjoys planning and excels at it, as she builds lists in advance, uses online meal planning tools, and searches for recipes and product reviews online."

    • The Affluent Online Shopper group "is extremely busy and has little time to plan and go to the grocery store" and "feels that online shopping is very easy and convenient. "

    MWG and FGI said that they leveraged the Grocery Voice Panel, described as "a consumer panel of 30,000 digitally active grocery shoppers and planners, to conduct this research.  The Grocery Voice Panel is comprised of highly qualified respondents who have agreed to participate in market research studies about why they shop the way they do."
    KC's View:
    And the thing is, I have to believe that more and more, as digital natives make up an ever greater percentage of the population, the people who are in the last three categories are going to outnumber the people in the first two. Which means that every retailer has to start formulating strategies for how to be relevant to and appeal to those shoppers.

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    The reports on a new study saying that "at low doses, such as those considered safe for humans, mice exposed to bisphenol A (BPA) in utero showed sex-specific changes in their brains that could have affected social behaviors such as grooming and aggression, according to a study published yesterday (May 27) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "Specifically, Frances Champagne from Columbia University in New York City and colleagues found changes in estrogen receptor expression in the cortex of male mice and in the hypothalamus of females whose mothers’ had been exposed to BPA. These expression changes were associated with epigenetic modifications to the genes coding for that receptor, which could have affected the animals’ social behavior.

    "In the paper, the authors write that 'low-dose, prenatal BPA exposure induces lasting epigenetic disruption in the brain that possibly underlie enduring effects of BPA on brain function and behavior'."

    To be fair, not every scientists agrees that the impact of BPA on mice will necessarily be the same on humans.
    KC's View:
    I have no idea what any of this stuff means. (I learned something though, because I had to look up what "epigenetics" is. Mostly, I learned that I probably should have paid more attention when I took biology at Iona Prep back in 1969-70.)

    But here is what I do get from the story. BPA = Bad stuff.

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    Amazon, which has decided that it needs to compete with Netflix in the original content arena, announced yesterday that it has chosen five projects from 14 pilots that it produced that now will go to series. Two are comedies and three are kids' shows, and all were evaluated based on actual viewership by Amazon customers as well as reviews posted by viewers.

    One of the pilots chosen is "Alpha House," written and produced by Garry Trudeau of "Doonesbury" fame, about four US Senators who room together in Washington, DC.

    Amazon's strategy is to move from just being a content distributor to offering proprietary content that customers can't get elsewhere. The approach is similar to that of Netflix, which reportedly got big numbers from its "House of Cards" series that was only available to its streaming customers, and now is reportedly seeing an increase in streaming activity with its revival of "Arrested Development."
    KC's View:
    The marketing lesson is the same as it was with "House of Cards." One of the ways that you stay in business these days, at a time of heightened competition that is coming from virtually every direction, even from companies that you never used to compete with, is to provide differentiated product that is connected to consumer needs and wants in a seamless, frictionless way.

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    Crain's Chicago Business reports that both Roundy's-owned Mariano's Fresh Market and Walmart are contemplating expansion into the Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, with locations under consideration that would be less than a mile from each other.

    "The projects provide a vivid example of how retailers are scouring the market for development parcels with strong population densities, often in Chicago," the story says, adding that "parts of Bronzeville, once home to scores of public housing units that have been demolished, have grappled in recent years with vacant lots and population loss, which could complicate both companies' plans."

    Fast Company reports that News America-owned Dow Jones is considering the creation of "its own social network as well as an instant messaging service for financial clients," which would allow it to compete more effectively with LinkedIn, albeit with a somewhat more targeted and narrow audience.

    • Ahold-owned Stop & Shop said yesterday that it is launching the Stop & Shop Prescription Savings Card, described as a way to make it easier "for customers and their families to receive instant savings on brand name and generic prescriptions." The card, the company said, "is not insurance, but offers discounts for prescriptions and personalized savings throughout the store on products customers need to stay healthy."

    The card, the company said, is to be used "for any prescriptions that a customer or his/her family member pays for out-of pocket. If customers have health insurance coverage, they can use their Stop & Shop Prescription Savings Card for any prescriptions that are not covered by their insurance or for savings for their family members not covered by insurance. A one-time enrollment of $10 per household is required to receive the Stop & Shop Prescription Savings Card. As a thank you for joining, customers will receive $10 off a future grocery purchase.

    Bloomberg reports that McDonald's CEO Don Thompson told an investors meeting yesterday that hamburgers and chicken will remain the company's top priority. “I don’t see salads as being a major growth driver in the near future,” he said, underlining, as Bloomberg reports, that the fast feeder "s having a hard time persuading customers to buy salads."

    Time for Hannah Robertson to call a press conference...
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    The annual Fancy Food Show comes to New York City this year from June 30 - July 2...and Kevin Coupe and Michael Sansolo plan to throw a party right in the middle of it that will knock your socks off.

    We can't tell you exactly where it is ... because it is still a secret. But we can tell you that it is on Monday, July 1, from 6 pm to 8 pm, in Manhattan ... not too far from the Javits Convention Center, but just far enough so that you can relax with friends, hang out with Michael and Kevin, drink good wine, eat, nibble to your heart's content and enjoy a little NYC hospitality away from the pressures of the show.

    But this is an invitation-only, retailer-only party ... so if you'd like to join us, we need you to send me an email ASAP - to - so we can get you an invitation and put you on the guest list.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 30, 2013

    On Tuesday, MNB took note of a New York Times piece saying that a new study from Gallup suggested that people who love their work and careers largely have taken responsibility for creating those jobs, as opposed to expecting to find such a climate when they arrive at a company or take a job.

    I commented:

    In other words, they largely accept the construct that people are responsible for their own happiness. That doesn't mean that companies have no responsibility for helping to foster job satisfaction ... just that people have to look out for themselves and be their own best advocates. (Remember that in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Col. Saito urges the British prisoners of war to be happy in their work ... but he's not ultimately interested in that. He just wants the bridge built.) Being the architect of your own happiness doesn't seem like it should be such a radical notion. But maybe, these days, we need to be reminded of such old fashioned concepts.

    MNB user Christopher Gibbons responded:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful article. Great points on the importance of employees feeling involved, enthusiastic, empowered and engaged. As a store manager for over twenty years, I have tried to promote these values and allow my co-workers to have the freedom to have control over their work, feel part of a team, be creative and have fun at work. I loved your reference to The Bridge on the River Kwai and Colonel Saito’s ironic “Be happy in your work.” Too many leaders talk about the importance of “morale” and “teambuilding,” but their words often ring hollow.

    The part of the article that resonated with me the most was the importance of having a good boss. “But people who love their jobs also have bosses who inspire them, get the most out of them and truly care about them. That’s no accident. People who want the most from their work go boss-shopping. They may change shifts or make lateral moves in a company or industry to work for bosses who can become influential leaders in their lives.”  I am going to send this to every one of my managers. We will read these words out loud at our weekly meetings. I may plaster these words on my office wall, so that I am forced to read them every day. I’ve always felt the importance of a good boss is paramount in most people’s lives, the importance of which is not recognized nearly enough for the impact it has. Many  years ago, my older brother relocated to another state to continue working for a great boss. At the time I didn't understand that.

    I had the opportunity to make a career change a few years back and interviewed for a position with Lunds and Byerly’s. We were looking to relocate our family to the Twin Cities from the east coast and I knew that if I was going to stay in retail grocery, the only company that I would want to work for was L & B. I flew into Minneapolis on a Tuesday morning and met with the two directors of store operations, Art Miller and John Majchrzak. I immediately found them to be professional and engaging. They both smiled often and told personal stories. We had a one hour interview and I flew back home that evening. A week later they called and offered me a job which I accepted. Here’s the thing: I didn’t take the job because of the salary (which was less than I was making at the time) or the position (which was a step below my previous job.) I didn’t take it because Lunds & Byerly’s has some of the most beautiful grocery stores anywhere in the world (which they do.)  I took the job for two reasons: Art Miller and John Majchrzak. In just one hour with these two gentlemen, I knew that they were the kind of people that I wanted to work for and work with. For the past eight years, I have been extremely fortunate to work for a great company and two great leaders. Art and John both retired recently, but their legacy lives on. They cared about their people and allowed them the freedom to be themselves at work. That’s priceless.

    As Colonel Nicholson, brilliantly played by Alec Guinness, reflects on the bridge:

    “Still, it's been a good life. I wouldn't have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you're nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men's careers. I don't know whether that kind of thinking's very healthy; but I must admit I've had some thoughts on those lines from time to time.”

    I don’t believe that the Colonel understood the impact that he had on the lives of his men, the Japanese guards, Colonel Saito or everyone else in the story. He is like the majority of leaders that don’t see the extent to which they influence people’s lives. For good or for bad. The sum total of our lives may seem small to us at times, but for the people we lead, we can make all the difference in the world. Like Art Miller or John Majchrzak did for me.

    So as a boss, who do we want to be? We really do need to ask ourselves that, if we haven't done so already. I know that for me, I strive to be a leader that positively affects the lives of the people I work with every day. I don’t get there all the time and I have to constantly remind myself that I’m always “on stage.”
    But that’s the challenge. To inspire our people. To give them the tools they need to be successful. To allow them the freedom to grow, to be creative, to connect with others, to have fun.
    As a leader, to do anything less would be, Major Clipton says while surveying the carnage at the end of the film, “Madness. Madness.”

    Can't do better than an email like that ... rooted in real-life experience, thoughtful, and using ample movie quotes.


    From another reader:

    The timing of your Tuesday morning eye-opener is spot on. I left my job on Friday because of a soul-killing boss. Even though I'm sitting at my home computer and waiting for the state's on-line unemployment registration form to verify my home address, I'm happier than I have been in a very long time. Fortunately, I'm at a point in my career when I'm able to weigh mental health against income — because I qualify for Medicare and can tap into my retirement account, albeit much sooner than I intended.

    This is not how or when I intended to to finish out what has been a most enjoyable career, but when when you run into one of those bosses who make going into work each day hell on earth, you have to make a choice. I've worked for some incredibly wonderful bosses through the years and that makes the reality of these last few years even more distressing. Having experienced both sides of the coin, I can attest first-hand that when the atmosphere is positive and the bosses inspiring, employees will go the extra mile and and search out the new, the innovative, the exciting. Deadly bosses kill ideas, originality and any desire to achieve.

    In the scheme of things, I count myself very lucky. If I have to cut back on material things, that's small price to pay for saving my soul. It's never too late for reinvention and I look forward to the next phase of my creative life.

    Regarding the story yesterday about a new Pew Research Center study saying that four out of 10 US households with children have what are called "breadwinner moms" - defined as "the sole or primary source of income for households with children younger than 18" - one MNB user wrote:

    The story (and statistics) failed to address households headed by two moms. The assumption by the writer that households with children must either be headed by a single mother or by a man and woman is telling.  As gay marriage is now legal in 12 states and DC (not to mention those of us living in red states who are in committed relationships who can't legally marry), those reporting on family issues must take a closer look at their definition of "family".


    I used the Pew study as a jumping off point on which I commented on how slowly some segments of the culture seem to adapt to new realities, and segued into a comment about the guy I referred to as a "billionaire bozo" who said that women could not be stock traders after they became mothers because they lost all their focus.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    What’s with all the drama? Your comments started with an assumption and digressed into a completely unrelated subject. Ultimately, you ended in a spot that was completely contrary to the trends highlighted in the article. Come on, you’re better than that.

    Well, apparently not.

    Actually, I don't think I contradicted myself at all.

    Longtime readers on MNB know that I often will digress into other subjects if I think it is appropriate, if I think it is relevant, or if I just feel the whim.

    In this case, though, I think I was commenting on a broader issue and that all the issues were connected.

    With all due respect.

    Responding to yesterday's piece by Kate McMahon in which she wrote about how Papa John’s founder and chairman John Schnatter responded to a racist rant delivered by two employees in Sanford, Florida, that ended up on the internet, one MNB user wrote:

    Unfortunately you can have all the screening possible to make sure the employees you hire are good decent people, but as is always the case, people can fool you. Plus the fact that most delivery drivers etc...are temporary employees at best.

    All you can do is set policy and act fast when employees screw up. Papa John's did the right thing.

    And another reader wrote:

    Sad to hear the ignorant comments made by two degenerate individuals at Papa Johns.

    I was pleased to see the quick response by the CEO.  As you said, in today's world news travels fast....and social media will punish any company quickly for events like this.  Something to consider how the CEO is villain-ized or held accountable for the actions of all front line employees.  When you lead an organization with the size and volume of Papa Johns, you will always have situations where employees do the wrong thing, have mental health issues, legal issues, etc based on the sheer numbers.  While the company culture and ethics need to not tolerate this, to say that the CEO is responsible for every behavior my humble opinion, ridiculous.  How he responds is certainly measurable....and a reflection on him...but everyone wants to attack these days. 

    Can we really believe that the CEO himself can prevent all poor human behavior....and when something goes amuck that we need to expose the company as racist, intolerant, etc?  This isn't about's about two classless people that ended up working for the pizza place.  It could have been Dunkin, Dominos, or Taco Bell.  I'm not going to boycott getting a pizza because two people out of 20,000 make poor choices......I hope this event doesn't have a negative impact on their sales and the rest of the good associates at Papa Johns...that would be the real sad outcome.

    I agree that a CEO can't be held personally responsible for idiots hired by the company ... except that when you put your name on the box, appear in TV commercials, and try to use your force of personality to brand the chain, you have to live with the fact that when things go bad, you have to take the hit and respond.

    On balance, the positives outweigh the negatives.

    Another reader wanted to chime in about the following passage in Kate's piece that referred to another racial issue in Sanford:

    It ... comes at a time of heightened racial tension in Sanford, where neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman awaits trial on charges he fatally shot unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin last year.

    The reader wrote:

    Kate, this is what is wrong with social media…truth…and lack of research and personal responsibility…by those wanting to be first, rather than right!  George Zimmerman has been refuted by neighborhood watch, as neither being affiliated with the group or a captain…he was merely a vigilante. Please check your facts.

    There may be some reasonable confusion on this issue. Most of the stories I have read have referred to Zimmerman as either a "neighborhood watch volunteer" or a "former neighborhood watch volunteer," though he was not on duty at the time of the shooting, It also has been made clear that at this point in time, legitimate neighborhood watch groups want nothing to do with him.

    On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

    Read your article this morning about Smithfield being acquired by a Chinese company. We've all heard the stories about tainted meat products in China. My niece is a student at North Dakota State University and grew up on my sister's farm and ranch in central North Dakota. She recently returned from a two week trip to China as part of a student program to learn agriculture in other parts of the world. Part of their program was to document daily the things they have learned and observed. She emailed copies to me and here is an excerpt of one of them:

    I was surprised at the difference in technology between the wet market and Metro supermarket. Even though the wet market was the largest market hub in Shanghai, the technology it utilized was very minimalistic. In comparison, Metro (similar to Costco or Sam's Club) was using marketing and technologies that were extremely advanced. Perhaps the most interesting technology at Metro was the fresh product tracking system. Each fresh item-including beef, pork, seaweed, etc.-was labeled with a barcode that could be scanned at an in house scanner. As soon as the item is scanned the location of the farm where the harvested animal or plant was raised appears on screen. It then shows how the products are processed, the journey the product takes, refrigeration temperature, and the face of the farmer who grows the product. A product from Kingbull, a specialized farm we visited earlier in our trip in Yangling, was scanned and the exact farm and farmer we met popped up on screen. We had also seen this same tracking technology being researched in Nanjing Agricultural University a few days earlier. It was incredible to be able to see connections and see a product go from farm to supermarket and also the connections from research to customer utilization. Today really helped me to make connections as to how the whole agricultural system can come together in China.

    It seems that the Chinese are ahead of us and I wonder how much information we really get that is accurate. Also, in the United States we have had our own issues with food safety, so I'm not sure we are the right people to be calling the kettle black. As with anything, we only hear the bad and not the good. The good thing about her trip was she got to interact with people on farms who do what she is used to doing and finding out that their techniques and processes are very similar to what American farmers do. She also saw in the universities that the research they do and the equipment they use is much the same as what she has at NDSU. There are still many ways that China as a nation is behind the world, but it appears
    they are on the right track. Hopefully our students learned something.

    On the other hand, a lot of people may feel this way, as expressed by a reader:

    I have always looked forward, during the holidays, of sitting down with friends and family with a beautiful and traditional Smithfield ham on the table…never again!

    Finally, the other day in commenting about the return of AG Lafley as CEO of Procter & Gamble, I wrote:

    What is the message to the folks at P&G when the board seems to feel that the bench strength is not strong enough to provide a new CEO, and that it has to go back to the last guy? This is different from the state of affairs at JC Penney, where they brought back a guy who was let go because things weren't working. But I'm just curious. Shouldn't every company the size of P&G have a succession plan to deal with just such an occurrence?

    Which prompted one MNB reader to ask:

    Curious - what is the succession plan at MNB World Headquarters?  Are you taking resumes?

    I hadn't really thought about it.

    I always figured that there were three ways this could all go...

    1. I drop dead at my laptop. End of MNB.

    2. I decide to stop doing this at some point. End of MNB.

    3. Or, some company decides that MNB is worth investing in, because this kind of daily coverage, commentary and conversation has value that goes beyond me, and we figure out a succession plan together. And MNB survives. (This is sort of the Robert B. Parker - Ace Atkins model, except that I'm alive for the process.)

    We'll have to see what happens. Life is filled with possibility.
    KC's View: