Crying wolf on sequester or simply crying?

03/08/2013 09:57:00 AM
Tom Karst

Nobody important wants to become a sequester expert, I suppose, because that means the sequester will be long-lived and its unwanted ills will be visited on nearly every federal program.

The effect of sequester cuts on federal agency budgets is being debated on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis. The buzz this week is that President Obama overhyped the automatic spending cuts. However, as some of the cuts become more deeply felt, that may well change.

In the stories I have read, I haven’t seen the link to the Office of Management and Budget’s master document detailing the administration’s cost-cutting plans for various agencies.

After I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for cuts to the Agricultural Marketing Service budget, the department’s FOIA officer sent me a link to the plan.

If you want every last detail on sequester cuts for all federal agencies, check out the 83-page document for the skinny on how government will cut the fat.

My Twitter account recently passed the 2,000-follower plateau, though some of my newest followers include an automotive shop, a youth pastor and, yes, more ever-abundant social media marketers.

And so the adventure in social media continues. One useful Twitter tool I found this week is called Twitter Counter — useful for tracking the escalating number of my auto shop followers.

———

Speaking of social media, one poll question in the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group this week asked “What is generally the biggest weakness in Wal-Mart’s fresh produce departments?”

And Wal-Mart, the market research is on me.

The options:

 

  • out of stock;
  • marginal quality;
  • selection;
  • freshness; and
  • identity.

 

Too early to tabulate the poll results, but early comments didn’t hold back on Wal-Mart’s shortcomings.

For all of Wal-Mart’s success and future aspirations to buy local and save consumers billions, it seems the chain still needs to up its performance at the department level.

Drawbacks include lack of training for produce department staff and low-quality produce in some stores. Lack of attention to reusable plastic containers on display also hurt its image, one observer said, and culling was not aggressive enough to removed bruised or old product.

One reader advised, “The better merchandising retailers focus attention on the display throughout the day. Putting out what sells on a timely basis instead of piling it up high is better for the product and quality for the consumer. Take a look at the attention that someone like Wegman’s gives at each item on display throughout the day.”

Sure, Wegman’s is a high bar, but readers think Wal-Mart can be better. Like I said, the market research is on me, Wal-Mart.

Another nifty Web tool I found this week is the USDA’s Food Access Research Atlas. Plug in your address and you can see whether you live in a food desert or food oasis.

And, of course, follow me on Twitter @tckarst and check out The Packer’s new social site, The Packer Market.

———

Check out the new USDA’s series on the distribution of the Food Dollar. In 2011, the farm share of the food-at-home dollar was 22.9 cents, while the market share was 77.1 cents.

Retailers can’t be accused of taking ever-larger margins from growers, however.

Compared with a high of 24.8 cents six years ago, the retail share of the at-home food dollar shrunk to 21.4 cents in 2011, the lowest point since 1993. Maybe we can at least credit Wal-Mart for lower retail margins?

tkarst@thepacker.com

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