Hucksterism gets richer: Amazon to buy Whole Foods in $13.4 billion deal

When you’re the second richest guy on the planet, what do you pick up when you go to the shops for a little retail therapy?

Buy Whole Foods for $13.4 billion (U.S.).

That’s what Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, with a personal wealth of $84.7 billion, did on Friday on his way home with some all-organic crap bread, cheese and ice cream.
I’d be more like Jimmy Buffett: “I went to Buckhead to get some ice cream and next thing I knew I was on I-75 headed for Florida.”

According to Michael J. de la Merced and Nick Wingfield of The New York Times the Amazon deal marks an ambitious push into the mammoth grocery business, an industry that in the United States accounts for around $700 to $800 billion in annual sales. Amazon is also amplifying the competition with Walmart, which has been struggling to play catch-up to the online juggernaut.

For Whole Foods, the deal represents a chance to fend off pressure from activist investors frustrated by a sluggish stock price. Whole Foods last month unveiled a sweeping overhaul of its board, replacing five directors, naming a new chairwoman and bringing in a new chief financial officer. It also laid out plans to improve operations and cut costs.

Forget all the organic, sustainable, dolphin-friendly products: Whole Foods is a cut-throat business that attracts gullible consumers to drop extra cash on food with a lot of adjectives.

A couple of centuries ago they would be called hucksters, or medicine-men.

With Amazon, Whole Foods gets a deep-pocketed owner with significant technological expertise and a willingness to invest aggressively in a quest for dominance.

Amazon has designs on expanding beyond online retail into physical stores. The company is slowly building a fleet of outlets, and much attention has been focused on its supermaket dreams. It has already made an initial push through AmazonFresh, its grocery delivery service.

The e-commerce giant has been testing a variety of other retail concepts. It has opened a convenience store that does not need cashiers, and has explored another grocery store concept that could serve walk-in customers and act as a hub for home deliveries.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, Amazon would pay $42 a share for Whole Foods, a 27 percent premium to Thursday’s closing price. After the deal was announced, shares of Amazon rose as much as 3.3 percent while other major retailers, including Target, Walmart and Costco Wholesale fell sharply.

Whole Foods, which was founded in 1978 in Austin, Tex., is best known for its organic foods. The company built its brand on healthy eating and staked its reputation on fresh, local produce, albeit with a high price tag.

But the company has increasingly faced fierce competition from rival supermarkets. National retailers like Costco, Safeway and Walmart have begun offering organic produce and kitchen staples, forcing Whole Foods to slash prices.

 

‘I was going to Buckhead to get the paper and next thing I knew I was on I-75 headed for Florida’ Buckhead steakhouse fails health inspection

Another intrepid barfblog.com contributor passed this on about a semi-famous Atlanta steakhouse up in the Buckhead area, famous for the politicos who dine there.

jimmy.god's.own.drunk“The Steakhouse” on Old Ivy Road failed its most recent health inspection.

The popular restaurant, that’s been in the area for more than 20 years, has a loyal clientele, and several customers were surprised by the score.

“I think a lot of people go there. They take clients. It’s kind of well-known for business dinners and things like that. So, I’m kind of shocked,” said Angie Miller, who ate at the restaurant for Valentine’s Day.

The report says an inspector found food being stored in the same ice used for drinks, a hand sink being used as an ice bin, steaks stored at improper temperatures, slime on the inside of the ice machine, live flies in the kitchen, food items uncovered (in a walk-in cooler) and no soap or paper towels at sinks inside of the building.

When Channel 2 Action News went into the restaurant, we saw a score of 100A still posted despite the recent inspection.

The restaurant says it disagrees with the inspector’s findings.

A manager sent Channel 2 Action News a statement, saying, “Our facilities have been inspected at least annually for 25 years and we have never received an unsatisfactory score. We respectfully disagree with the results of the inspection that occurred on February 29th, 2016 and are taking the appropriate steps to administratively appeal the report.”

And I don’t have a video, but if this Jimmy Buffett version of God’s Own Drunk is worth the 12 minutes.

Too cool for toilets: Jimmy Buffett fans leave buckets of poop at concert

Jimmy, ya gotta say something to your fans.

Last Saturday’s Jimmy Buffett concert in Mansfield, MA left a foul taste in everyone’s mouth. That’s because the legions of drunken retirees who make up Buffett’s fan base apparently like to make their own homemade toilets for these events, which they then leave, brimming with excrement, for some poor bastard to clean up.

jimmy.buffett.toiletAccording to police lieutenant Sam Thompson, the Parrotheads are just too rock n’ roll to use the designated bathrooms.

Local police chief Ronald Sellon called the leavings “unsanitary and just disrespectful. [T]he most common model is a 5-gallon bucket with its rim lined with a foam pool noodle for a seat, stashed inside a tent.”

‘Germans must stop fingering Spain’: Top-5 dumb things in German E. coli O104 outbreak

Amy went to France the other day and I’ve got the 1973 classic, Come Monday by Jimmy Buffett running through my head (check the video below; now that’s a moustache).

But Amy’s worried about cucumbers.

This is a photo of her airplane meal.

For a continent that prides itself on traceability and farmers’ markets, the response to the E. coli O104 outbreak, which has killed 17, stricken 470 with severe kidney disease and sickened some 1,500, has been woefully inadequate.

And now, 10 days after the outbreak emerged, the Germans say it wasn’t Spanish cucumbers in some sort of European revisionist history (they’re good at that).

Here are the top-5 dumb things about the E. coli O104 outbreak; at some point politics may take a back seat to public health; but this is Europe.

5. Don’t blame Spain

Yesterday, the Minister of Agriculture for Spain did what every politician does and fell on her sword by eating the suspected produce – killer cucumbers (left).

Spain’s agriculture minister Rosa Aguilar defended her country’s fresh produce and said it is still unclear exactly when and where the vegetables were contaminated.

She even tucked in to some cucumbers grown in Spain on Monday to show they cannot be blamed for one of the largest E. coli outbreaks in the world.

What no one has mentioned is the on-farm food safety steps that Spanish and other growers, distributors and retailers take to ensure microbial food safety. An outbreak this huge is an opportunity to brag – if procedures are in place. But maybe that’s why no one is bragging.

4. Terrible journalism

Why has no one tried to track down the source and looked at food safety procedures? The New York Times, 10 days into the crisis went with, Outbreak of Infections, probably the worst headline ever. E. coli O104 is not herpes. Time magazine went with, don’t panic, but be concerned.

3. It’s a trade/money thing

Contrary to humanistic goodwill, most food safety trade issues have nothing to do with public health and everything to do with market access. That’s why Gerd Sonnleitner, the head of the German Farmers’ Association (DVB), called for stronger regulation of imported vegetables and said there has been unwarranted fearmongering about German vegetable products.

“We have very strict rules over the entire chain on controlling and accepting what we think is right,” Sonnleitner said. “Unfortunately imports are tested much more laxly.

So why isn’t Sonnleitner explaining all the things German farmers do to enhance on-farm food safety?

No need. They’ve decided to sue German health authority the Robert Koch Institute and the Federal Consumer Ministry for damages over warnings about eating vegetables made to the public in the wake of the E. coli bacteria outbreak.

2. It’s a small risk thing

More people die every day in car accidents than are likely to perish from the current E. coli outbreak. Yet we know every time we get behind the wheel of a car that we are taking a small risk. We don’t, on the other hand, expect to die from eating a cucumber.

The left-wing Berliner Zeitung was the strongest proponent of the latter case, arguing that 21st-century consumers were so geographically and psychologically disconnected from their food production that they had only themselves to blame.

The right-wing Berliner Morgenpost pointed out that swine flu resulted in a much higher death toll than that caused so far by E. coli. And swine flu, ultimately, was seen as media hype.

Even the small risk posed by the bacteria could be avoided by taking sensible hygiene precautions. And if a person does get sick, they can see their doctor right away.

Who writes this stuff?

1. It’s a women thing

At the beginning of the public phase of the outbreak, Gerard Krause of the Robert Koch health authority responsible for epidemiology, said,

“Women prepare food more often, and it is there they could have come into contact with it, possibly while cleaning vegetables or other foodstuffs.”

In a German version of blame-the-consumer, the Robert Koch Institute has recommended people improve kitchen hygiene, making sure in particular that cutting boards and knives are clean.

It’s doubtful that 1,500 women practiced lousy kitchen cleanliness at the same time across Germany.

Fear and loathing in Las Vegas: mint (julep) and food safety family values version

As the plane landed in Las Vegas, I barfed.

I’d been sent here to speak about food safety issues at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Mint Industry Research Council and, since their product is processed during harvest and the oil extracted by heat and then used primarily in toothpaste and chewing gum, I had little to offer.

Whether it was the turbulence throughout the flight into the record western U.S. rainfall – and we were at the back of the plane so we could get an extra seat for daughter Sorenne – or something else that upset my delicate constitution, there really is nothing quite like barfing into one of those paper bags provided in every seat jacket while a plane lands. In a rainstorm. In Las Vegas.

(The volume those bags can hold is amazing.)

Next it was off to one of those hotel-casinos where the meeting was to be held, just as news broke that a norovirus outbreak had sickened hundreds of guests and staff at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel in North Carolina.

Workers at Harrah’s are cleaning slot machines every two hours with a solution of water and bleach in an effort to control the outbreak. Door knobs, escalator handrails and restrooms are being sanitized hourly.

The night was spent zoning-bordering-on-hallucinating. I didn’t sleep. A bottle of Gatorade later, I was ready, and spoke during lunch about the need for growers of anything to explain and articulate their practices in a consistent and compelling manner, or face the wrath of a public wary of unsubstantiated food safety claims.

I still really like hanging out with food — including mint — growers. Mint Industry Research Council executive director dude, Rocky Lundy (above, with me, left), explained to me there were about 550 growers in 7 states with total acreage close to 120,000. That’s a lot of mint. But the numbers have declined somewhat from foreign competition. It’s a familiar tale.

Feeling better the next day, we decided to take in Jimmy Buffet’s Magaritaville restaurant. Sure it’s touristy stuff, but who doesn’t like Jimmy? (Chapman). And while the establishment did feature the usual, “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” sign (above, right), at least it was under the apt words from Jimmy’s underappreciated 1978 song, Manana:

Women and water are in short supply

(The next line is, “Not enough dope for us all to get high.” The song also contains bits about Steve Martin asking if anyone wants to get small, and Jimmy hoping that Anita Bryant never ever does one of his songs. So many cultural touchstones for 1978 in one song. Oh, and usually when I take pictures in bathrooms I do it when no one else is there because people might think it was creepy, but traffic flow – I said flow – was constant so took the pic anyone with the dude at the urinal and another, properly, washing his hands.)

Las Vegas also features a prominent letter-grade restaurant inspection disclosure system as shown in this picture from a Vegas-strip Denny’s. Promote that A (above, left).

Today it’s family, football and food in Vegas before a hopefully less eventful return to Manhattan.

And this is Sorenne watching the Minnesota-New Orleans game this afternoon, with a bunch of Minnesotans in Las Vegas.

Are self-serve buffet restaurants in hospitals a good idea?

Some employees at a U.K. hospital are saying the only buffet in a hospital should be named Jimmy (with an extra ‘t’ right, exactly as shown).

A new self-service buffet is making a pig’s breakfast of infection control at Coventry’s University Hospital, angry staff claim.

The help-yourself spread was unveiled at the hospital’s main restaurant last week and is open to workers, patients and visitors.

Shocked hospital workers say they were only warned about the change days earlier when a sign went up.

They claim the self-service system is a hygiene disaster waiting to happen.

Allowing sick patients to handle the food could quickly spread infections, such as the highly contagious norovirus sickness bug, staff say.

One angry worker told the Coventry Telegraph,

 “I think it is disgusting. Patients have been coming in with catheters and drip tubes in and rummaging through the piles of toast. Who knows what infections they are bringing down from the wards.”

Craig Smith, spokesman for contractor ISS, said the self-service breakfast buffet was launched to offer its customers more choice after consultation with staff and visitors.

“It is not unusual to have a self-service restaurant in a hospital – it is in place in hospitals up and down the country.”

The peanut butter solution

With at least eight dead, 575 sick and 1,200 products recalled because of Salmonella in peanut thingies, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee began hearings yesterday to figure out the peanut butter solution.

Some want jail time for company execs; more inspectors; public oversight of microbial test results; a single food inspection agency; better auditors, and so on.

Maybe the 1985 movie, The Peanut Butter Solution, had it right. Or late 1960s psychedelic band, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy. Or the B-side to the Jimmy Buffett tearjerker, He Went to Paris, from the 1973 album, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, "Peanut Butter Conspiracy."