business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we had a discussion here with an MNB reader who objected to my argument against an official position being taken by the US in the current NAFTA renegotiation that would limit the ability of the pact’s three members - Canada, Mexico and the US - to require labels on junk food that would to warn consumers about obesity-related dangers.

That MNB reader wrote:

Kevin, you have to be a complete idiot to think that a warning on a candy bar would stop obesity. I also think you would be quite cozy to live your life completely controlled by the government.

What you and most far left individuals want is to tell people what to do and when to do it. I just don't understand why people want to live like this.

My position, restated:
Information is not regulation. Information is just information. People still get to make their decisions, except that maybe those decisions are a little better informed. At least some of the companies that fight against this kind of transparency, I think, may have something to hide.

But this reader came back at me:

If a company is told to put information on their wrappers it is a regulation. Information is voluntary. Guess speed limits signs only provide information, yeah right.

I disagree with your characterization, but that’s fine. I have no problem with companies being required to provide relevant information…that’s what we did with the tobacco companies, and I’m okay with it here.

From another reader:

I have some perspective on the topics of obesity and candy bar labeling. In the early 2000s, I worked in marketing for a food CPG manufacturer. We were conducting foundational consumer research on the “energy bar” segment that was growing like wildfire at the time. Focus groups were shocking. First of all, I anticipated that frequent users of the energy bar segment would be triathletes, marathoners and weekend workout warriors. I was mistaken. Group after group, the consumers were mostly overweight and obese.

A verbatim that was representative of the sentiment: “I don’t have the time to work out, so I eat an energy bar instead.”

For those that are unaware, most of these products (at the time) had as much sugar and as many Calories as a Snickers bar. Perhaps education and transparency would do our collective waistlines good?


On another subject, from MNB reader Phil Censky:

I am fascinated by the Cornell study conclusion that cooking at home (with a cookbook that predates my grandmother’s cooking, no less) contributes to obesity. I’d much rather see a statistical analysis that looks at how dollars spent on restaurant food (takeout included) correlate to increases in obesity over time. Demonizing a cook book seems counter-productive.

I am a statistical n of 1, but I’ve found that when I cook more, including bringing my own lunches to work, that my weight goes down. Conversations with friends and colleagues suggest I’m not an outlier. It will be very interesting to see if grocery retailers and/or meal ingredient delivery brands can position themselves to capitalize. In the meantime, I’ll keep my knives sharp and cutting board oiled.

Regarding Toys R Us, from MNB reader Lisa Malmarowski:

Pardon my French, by why in the hell isn’t anyone talking about the EXPERIENCE of shopping at a uber large Toys r Us? It’s miserable. The stores are overwhelming, messy, unimaginative and often dirty.Toys are supposed to be FUN! I don’t give a rat’s backside that Toys R Us has failed - I’m surprised it was still afloat.

If you want to succeed and thrive in retail, you have to offer a reason to set foot in a store. A local, albeit small, toy store is thriving in my neighborhood - they just moved to a larger location. It’s FUN to shop there. They have events, you can try out most of the toys, they have extremely well-trained staff that know their product lines and can recommend toys for kids ages and interests. And they offer complementary gift wrap. I know I could call ahead, ask them to recommend a gift, buy it over the phone and they would have it wrapped for me to pop in an pick up on my way to the kid’s party.

When we make businesses into mega-large volume movers, we lose that magic. I don’t know how they will survive unless someone can really reinvent the whole thing.

Meanwhile, I will do my best to support local, eschew pressing the ‘easy button’ by shopping mindlessly on Amazon, and give gifts with meaning that will be used and loved.

Look, I’m no saint, I click express buy like anyone else when the need is there, but conscious consumerism has to start somewhere, a little at time.

PS - I don’t have kids or grandkids and most of my friends that do have kids have made a conscious choice to buy less for them - this mindset probably plays into why Toys R Us failed as well.

And, from another MNB reader, regarding the execs who have left Whole Foods since its acquisition by Amazon:

More “fake news” according to John Mackey.   He said Tuesday in the Summit there has been no more turnover than usual and the merger is going well.

I’ll go with the Wall Street Journal on this one. 
KC's View: