Posts tagged ‘Whole Foods’

So How Did It Go?

Since I blogged on the colonoscopy run-up, I supposed I am obligated to close the loop.  As Dave Barry warns, the prep is the bad part.  A day of eating lime jello combined with five or six hours of massive diarrhea.  Uncomfortable, mildly embarrassing, but quite manageable. The good part is that you know it is coming, you can prepare for it, and you know it is going to be over by the end of the day.

The procedure was a breeze.  The drugs are like a time machine.  One minute you are laying down, with the IV inserted and the next minute you are teleported 45 minutes into the future and in recovery with the whole thing done, feeling mellow.  No pain, before or afterwards.

Only two after-effects.  One, they apparently inflate your colon with air, like a bicycle tire tube, so they can see better.  Once I woke up, I passed gas in epic style, reminiscent of Peter Griffin in a Family Guy episode.  Second, I was freaking ravenous, since I hadn't eaten anything solid for 36 hours and anything at all for 12 hours.  That was solved by picking up the largest steak I could find at Whole Foods on the way home.

All is well medically, by the way.

Things I Am Glad For

I am happy that my neighbors here in Phoenix are not allowed a hecklers veto to prevent grocery store chains, or any other business, from serving me at convenient locations.  I live walking distance from an intersection with three grocery stores (Whole Foods, Fry's, Albertsons) and I love it.

A CoyoteBlog First -- Foodblogging!

OK, I am not a foodie.  I enjoy good food, but have never really appreciated sophisticated food or food that takes hours of preparation.   The steak on the grill is at least as appealing as the veal dish that took all afternoon to put together.

I know other bloggers often publish recipes.  If I were to do so, it might look like this (from an, unfortunately, actual experience)

1 bowl of Cap'n Crunch

Substitute 1/2 cup cheap vodka for milk

Preparation notes:  Never, ever do this again

That being said, we had the opportunity to have a world famous chef and writer, Hugh Carpenter, over to our house last night.  Hugh is a friend of my wife's from his summer cooking school and was kind enough to help us host a dinner party for some friends when he was in town in exchange for his room and board.   The fun part was he agreed to whip up a dinner with whatever we had in the house, which was pretty amazing.  Sort of an Iron Chef Arizona, with everything as the secret ingredient.   I would still be agonizing over how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon in the first recipe item in the time he whipped up a couple of sauces and some appetizers.

DSC_0705

Here is Hugh with my wife.  Our guests are chipping in to help make the wontons  (Hugh actually is a big believer in this, and often advocates getting the guests to chip in on the preparation like this - its fun, a great icebreaker, and reduces pre-party stress on the host.

DSC_0699

The list of folks Hugh has cooked for is amazing.  I find his cookbooks to be easy and down to earth and have good food in them.  They are here, and he has a new book entirely dedicated to chicken wings which may actually get me in the kitchen.

What people like my wife who are really into cooking really rave about is his cooking school in the Napa Valley.  There is a lot of cooking and wine drinking, of course, but the venues are great, often in the private homes of many of his friends and associates.  Highly recommended if you are into that sort of thing.

Oh, and since I am foodblogging, I guess I should tell you about our meal.  We had these pork wonton thingies in some sort of brown sauce.  We had black cod in some kind of chutney stuff with some sort of mixed rice thingie and this other vegetable deal.  We drank some sort of white wine except when we were drinking some sort of red wine.

Rachel Ray, watch out.

batter-blaster-can

PS-  OK, I was actually able to introduce Hugh to a new food product.  He asked what I usually made the kids for breakfast, and I said "spray pancakes."  He had never heard of this, and so I proudly showed him my spray can of pancake batter (from Whole Foods, no less).  I couldn't tell if he was shocked or amazed.

Health Care "Rationing"

The whole "health care rationing" debate is reaching new levels of absurdity.  In part, this is because the very term "rationing" is a confusing misnomer.

So here is what it boils down to:  For every product or service purchase, someone makes a price-value trade-off to determine if that product or service should be purchased for a given price in that particular instance.

One option for making this decision is to have the person who actually will consume the product or service -- and whose money will also be used to complete the transaction -- make this price-value tradeoff.  This is how we make these decisions for just about, um, absolutely everything that gets purchased.  Since it is your money and you are the one who will enjoy whatever is being purchased, it makes sense that you make the decision - is the price worth it?  Do you buy a cheaper substitute?  Do you do without?

A second way to do this would be to have someone who has you specifically in mind make the price value tradeoffs for you.  This might be like your wife volunteering to go out to buy you some new underwear.  While results may be superior for this approach in a few cases (e.g. my wife buying me clothes), in most cases this approach is fraught with information asymmetries that will likely lead to a suboptimal purchase.  Consider, for example, my wife buying me the cheap 28" TV when I had wanted to drop the big bucks on a 60" beauty.

If one were sloppy, he might say that this second approach is the role that exists with insurance companies or is being proposed for the government.  But this isn't the case.  Because these third parties are NOT making the decision with me and/or my personal preferences in mind.  They can't.  While my wife may have an imperfect understanding of my preferences, a government health board has none.

So a third model, and almost certainly the worst in terms of individual satisfaction, is to have a third party make price-value tradeoffs for me only with some notion of average preferences for average people, or worse, with an incentive system that has absolutely nothing to do with my satisfaction at all.  This is clearly the case for the government, and is probably the case for many private insurers today -- though at least in the latter case one could imagine a regulatory regime that allowed for much more competition and a range of offerings with different service levels and pricing, such that I was more likely to find a pairing close to my preferences than I would in a one-size-fits-no-one government regime.

Skeptics worry that such a range of choices would not exist under private competition, but in fact it does in every single market where the government allows it.  Take grocery stores, since the President of Whole Foods has come into so much criticism from government health care promoters.  The choices in grocery shopping are simply staggering -- just think what different price/value points Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Safeway, AJ's, and the farmers market offer.

I am constantly amazed when people say that government health care is no different than private competitive models because there will always be rationing.  If you cannot see the difference between "rationing" for yourself based on your own budget and preferences and "rationing" by government committee, well I suppose you deserve what you get.  Except for the problem that unfortunately, I will be forced to take it too.

Open Letter to Whole Foods Boycotters

It is good to see that you have found a tangible way to respond to the editorial written by the Whole Foods CEO.  Your ability to pursue such a boycott is one of the great things about a free market. There are literally hundreds of food shopping choices in a large city, with a variety of value propositions from the low-cost but ambiance-challenged Wal-Mart or Target to the farmers market. Its great to see folks exercising their choice in the free market to take their business elsewhere.

Besides, if nothing else, it provides the majority of us entertainment value as we enjoy the irony of people exercising their free choice shopping in the highly competitive and diverse grocery marketplace to boycott someone who advocated maintaining choice and a diversity of options in the health care market. Hope all of you have great success boycotting the single payer medical system you long for when you don't like something it does, and I hope the single one-size-fits-all insurance option you have happens to match your individual preferences.

Anyway, I give you an A for political activism but an F for marketing if you believe Whole Foods customer base is all liberal or progressive. It may be so in downtown SF or Seattle. But most of Whole Foods stores are in places like Scottsdale, and Houston, and Dallas. For a large portion of Whole Foods customers, it is not some progressive statement, but it is simply a premium-priced grocery store selling premium quality foods. Though I suppose the Scottsdale country club mom in her new Jag gets some psychic boost from shopping there, kind of like buying a carbon offset.

Seriously -- I bet that most of Whole Food's most profitable customers just don't care about this progressive stuff. They don't go looking for fair trade coffee, or whatever. They don't care Whole Foods buys all wind power (in Texas, where the market allows this). They don't know how the employees are treated and paid. I shop there and I had no clue as to their HR policies until this week when they have been in the news.

Whole Foods does this stuff because Mackey and most of his team really believe in it. They are truly passionate about it, not like some company like Kraft who creates an organic cheese SKU because the consultants said there was a market niche for it. Really, are there 5 other corporate CEO's in the Fortune 500 whose beliefs and the way they manage more closely match what progressives would want to see? Is there even one? But this is the guy y'all are choosing to go after, this one company out of all the Fortune 500, because he disagreed with the progressive orthodoxy on a single piece of legislation? Jeez, this is like conservatives boycotting Fox News because they put a single liberal pundit on from 2-2:30AM.

Boycotting Whole Foods

I don't tend to shop at Whole Foods because they offer a value proposition that does not appeal to me.  Their prices are too high for products that generally don't seem noticeably better than ones I can get in other stores.  To some extent the placebo effect of having "all natural" on the package does not really work for me, though I do buy most of my fish and meat there  (and not just because I like the irony of buying only meat products from a store populated by vegans).

That said, I like having the choice in stores.  I even drop by a farmers market once in a while, though generally the hassle is not worth it for me.  The same is true in beers -- I am seldom in the mood for something as dark and rich as a Belhaven, I love the explosion of choices in beer we have seen since the dark days of the late 70's/early 80's.  Other people will make different choices.  Cool.

Which makes it all the more ironic that those who benefit from the explosion in retail choice in the free marketplace are using that choice to protest the CEO of Whole Foods for advocating similar levels of choice in health care.  Anyway, I would write more but Radley Balko did a much better job here.

You see, he shared his ideas on health care reform, thinking that you, being so famously open-minded and all, might take to a few of them, or that it at least might start a conversation. I guess he felt he'd built up some cache with you, and wanted to introduce you to some new ideas. His mistake wasn't in intentionally offending his customers. He's a businessman who has built a huge company up from the ground. I'm sure he knows you don't deliberately offend your customers. His mistake was assuming you all were open-minded enough consider these ideas without taking offense"”that you wouldn't throw a tantrum merely because he suggested some reforms that didn't fall in direct line with those endorsed by your exalted Democratic leaders in Washington. In retrospect? Yeah, it was a bad move. Turns out that many of you weren't nearly mature enough to handle it.

Its hard even to understate the how absolutely nuts self-styled "progressives" have gone over this pretty tame and sober editorial in the IBD.  Here is just one example -- this is a mainstream green blogger and not some weird comment to a Kos post.  I honestly thought this was satire at first:

I agree with CEO John Mackey that it's okay to make money by making your green business big. But Mackey crossed the line with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, whose very publication put him in the company of the lunatic right-wing fringe who edit the paper's opinion section.

The op-ed reads like a page from the Republican playbook, touting individual responsibility for one's health. What a load of unorganic crap!

Holy brothers-keeper Batman - He's advocating individual responsibility!!  Here, since I have not reproduced it before, are the "lunatic" ideas of Mr. Mackey:

"¢"‰Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).

"¢"‰Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits.

"¢"‰Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.

"¢"‰Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.

"¢"‰Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

"¢"‰Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost.

"¢"‰Enact Medicare reform.

"¢"‰Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren't covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

The tort reform area is one where Obama is particularly disingenuous. It is just amazing that anyone could write about the cost of medicine being driven by too many useless procedures without once mentioning the words malpractice or defensive medicine.  I wonder if this might explain Obama's silence on tort reform (via maggies farm)

legal

Offset Sellers Only Double-Dipping?

From Steven Malloy:

Congress
began investigating the carbon offset industry this week. The inquiry
could produce some "inconvenient truths" for Al Gore and the nascent
offset industry.

Carbon offsets ostensibly allow buyers to
expunge their consciences of the new eco-sin of using energy derived
from fossil fuels. Worried about the 8 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)
emitted each year by your SUV? Similar to the indulgences offered by
Pope Leo X in the 16th century, you can absolve yourself of sin by
purchasing $96 worth of CO2 offsets "“ typically offered at $12 per ton
of CO2 emitted "“ from offset brokers who, in turn, supposedly use your
cash to pay someone else to produce electricity with low or no CO2
emissions....

A
Capitol Hill staffer told me that the congressional inquiry would look
into the possibility of "double-dipping" in the offset industry.

Only double-dipping?  Earlier, I argued that the purveyors of offsets may be triple dipping:

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to
    consumers.  Since the
    electricity is often expensive, they sell it as "CO2-free"
    electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas,
    where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the
    carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to
    electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets
    government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being
    "CO2-free".  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless
    investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass
    finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you
    saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people
    to whom they don't have to pay dividends or interest "”just the feel-good
    sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

More Anti-Trust Fun and Games

Regulators can always declare a merger to be monopolistic -- they just have to define the market narrow enough.  For example, if the FCC and FTC are considering calling satellite radio a separate market from terrestrial radio as an excuse to stop the Sirius-XM merger.  The NAB, the trade group fro terrestrial radio, has been going ape trying to block the merger, knowing that the two together will cause its stations to bleed listeners to satellite even faster than in the past.  Hilariously, though, the NAB is having to twist itself into pretzels as it goes to Defcon 1 trying to stop the merger by ... arguing that satellite radio is a separate market from terrestrial radio and thus the merger is monopolistic.  Begging the question, then, why they are working so hard to block it, particularly after the FCC has allowed huge consolidation and merger activity among NAB members.

Now, history is repeating itself yet again, as the FTC threatens to block the Whole Foods - Wild Oats merger because... it claims organic food grocery stores are a separate market from other grocery stores.  Uh, right.  Extra points, as in satellite radio, for claiming consumers will be irreparably harmed by a merger in a "market" that did not even exist 2 decades ago.

I'm Confused. Why Is This Illegal?

Apparently there was another payola bust.  I'm confused.  Why is this illegal?  I guess in the 1950's I might understand it, when there was only one way to listen to music anywhere outside your home.  But today there are about 20 different ways, including several flavors of radio.  If a radio station overplays the same song to the point of insanity, just listen to something else. 

Paying for placement in overcrowded distribution channels is routine in many industries and certainly not the subject of federal law.  If you don't believe me, try taking your new brand of potato chips over to Safeway and try to get on the shelf.   Now, I know folks would argue that this contributes to Safeway's selection being bland.  But that is also why new competitors, like Whole Foods, have emerged to serve folks who don't like Safeway's selection of products.

By the way, does anyone think its funny that record producers are in the news for paying for play at the same time they are in the news for charging for play?

Update:  More on charging for play:

On March 1, 2007 the US Copyright Office stunned the Internet radio
industry by releasing a ruling on performance royalty fees that are
based exclusively on the number of people tuned into an Internet radio
station, rather than on a portion of the station's revenue. They
discarded all evidence presented by webcasters about the potentially
crippling effect on the industry of such a rate structure, and
rubber-stamped the rates requested by the RIAA (Recording Industry
Association of America).

Under this royalty structure, an
Internet radio station with an average listenership of 1000 people
would owe $134,000 in royalties during 2007 -- plus $98,000 in back payments for 2006. In 2008 they would owe $171,000, and $220,000 in 2009.

TerraPass Business Model

I don't have any inside information on TerraPass, the company made famous by providing the $399.75 certificates that offset all your emissions for a year.  I do know that the numbers don't seem to add up, as I wrote here and Protein Wisdom similarly wrote here.

However, I thought about their business model some (since I have been on a role with new business models) and it strikes me that it is brilliant.  Because I am almost positive that they are (legally) reselling the same carbon credits at least three times!

Think of TerraPass not as a company that hands out little certificates, but as a business who makes money through energy projects.  These projects generate electricity without producing CO2 (e.g. wind), or in the case of their cow-poop projects they generate electricity by converting a very bad greenhouse gas (methane) to a less bad one (CO2).

So, for each Kw they generate, there is a certain number of tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided vs. if they had generated the same Kilowatts with fossil fuels.  (How many tons depends on what fuel you assume the power would have been made with -- my guess is they assume coal, since that gives them the biggest offset, though in fact the marginal fuel in most areas is natural gas in peaking turbines, which produces a lot less CO2).

Anyway, they can claim some number of tons of avoided CO2.  But I am pretty sure they are reselling these abated tons at least three times!  Here is how I think it works:

  1. Their energy projects produce electricity, which they sell to consumers.  Since the
    electricity is often expensive, they sell it as "CO2-free"
    electricity.  This is possible in some sates -- for example in Texas, where Whole Foods made headlines by buying only CO2-free power.  So the carbon offset is in the bundle that they sell to
    electricity customers.  That is sale number one. 
  2. The company most assuredly seeks out and gets
    government subsidies.  These subsidies are based on the power being
    "CO2-free".  This is sale number two, in exchange for subsidies. 
  3. They still have to finance the initial construction of the plant, though.  Regular heartless
    investors require a, you know, return on capital.  So Terrapass
    finances their projects in part by selling these little certificates that you
    saw at the Oscars.  This is a way of financing their plants from people
    to whom they don't have to pay dividends or interest "”just the feel-good
    sense of abatement.  This is the third sale of the carbon credits.

All, by the way, entirely legal, though perhaps not wholly ethical if you really care about reducing CO2 emissions and not just being able to cover your ass to smugly deflect criticism.  This is actually a brilliant way to finance electricity projects, one that Enron wasn't even smart enough to dream up.

And there is nothing wrong with buying these certificates.  The International Star Registry has sold thousands (millions?) of people on the idea that they can have a star named after themselves.  Of course, no actual official body that names stars accepts these as real names, but that's OK, the certificate kind of makes a cool graduation gift (friends of ours did the ISF thing for my father-in-law after he died and my wife really liked it).

Postscript:  By the way, this ignores the ability of such a company to resell the same credits to multiple certificate holders, since the whole CO2 credit thing is pretty damn hard to audit and no one is even trying.  I don't think these guys are doing so, but someone will think of it.