Safeway For Sale

You may have heard by now that the second largest grocery chain in the country (after Kroger) is in talks with a potential buyer. The announcements have been coy about the identity of the potential buyer but speculation has centered on Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm that bought 600 Albertson’s stores in 2006, and pared the lot down to 200 over the next seven years.

Safeway, headquartered in Pleasanton, is the fifth-largest employer in the East Bay and currently owns 1400 stores.  It has already divested itself of 213 stores in Western Canada and is in the process of unloading 72 Dominick’s stores in Chicagoland, apparently getting itself in shape for a sale.  Safeway is being closed-mouthed about negotiations as would be expected. The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represent Safeway employees, are posting updates on their website, as available.  Cerberus was involved in a similar takeover of the Albertson’s chain  in 2006 which , according to the Union, “did not go well”. If any stores are closed, you would expect them to be stores in low-income areas or historically unprofitable stores. Considering the long distances between the  North Coast stores (Crescent City, McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka and Fortuna, with Eureka already converted one store to a VA Clinic) one would think the remaining stores were safe, but who knows?

Traditional grocery stores have come under intense pressure from competitors such as WalMart, Dollar General and on the other end of the spectrum, Whole Foods. Kroger’s reported a 3% growth for the first three quarters of 2013 while Safeway showed less than 2%.  Whole Foods reported 5%, which if you’ve shopped in their stores explains their nickname,  “Whole Paycheck”.

Let’s hope that things go smoothly and well for our friends and neighbors who work for Safeway. Change happens but hopefully this will be positive change.  

 

 

 

GO-Biz Forum Packs Wharfinger

        A crowd of 70 entrepreneurs, hopefuls and civic officials gathered yesterday at the ungodly hour of 8:30am to hear about Governor Jerry Brown’s GO-Biz program which was initiated in 2011 as ”a single point of contact for economic development and job creation efforts”. Their excellent website sets forth some of the success GO-Biz has already had in retaining and/or luring back businesses who were planning to move out of state. GO-Biz administers the state Innovation Hub (iHub) program which includes 12 regional innovation clusters which bring together government, academia and businesses through innovation incubators. The North Coast, it would seem,  is a logical place for such an incubator.

       The  speakers included Louis Stewart, who spends his time on the road promoting the program, and  Professor Steve Karp, who heads HSU’s Sponsored Programs Foundation.  This foundation runs as many as 300 projects, grants and contracts concurrently ranging from studies on bats and bees, hydrogen -fueled cars, and the discovery of 100 new species of fungi in Guyana. They employ around 300 students and 500 staff and faculty in cutting-edge research.  Third was Sergio  Herrera from the Humboldt Bay Tourism Center, which we’ll be examining in detail in a future post.

      Then there were the entrepreneurs themselves, first Milia Lando and Rosa Dixon, the founders of Natural Decadence, a gluten, nut, and dairy-free bakery.  (They didn’t give samples but the pictures of the chocolate pies had people drooling). After only two years in business they have recently inked a deal with Whole Foods which will give them distribution in 130 stores on the West Coast and In Hawaii. They have been using the commercial kitchen at Redwood Acres but are on their way to the national Anaheim Food Show and a national launch. They have a great story too, the business having its roots in their struggle to cope with food allergies, theirs and their children’s. Their future is so bright they should have been wearing shades, but that would have detracted from their excellent and heartfelt presentation.

      Last on the program was Greg Dale, Southwest ops Manager for Coast Seafood, a frequent and enthusiastic advocate for our shellfish industry. They used to say of Maria Tallchief, the ballerina, that she could make you feel that there was nothing as worthwhile as being a dancer.  Greg can make you feel that there’s no higher calling than wrangling oysters. He reports that the permitting process- which involves seven agencies- is still onerous and efforts are being made to fashion a Model Permit Process involving  pre-permitting, in conjunction with Morro Bay and Tomales Bay. Much luck to them.  He reports that the demand for shellfish is so great that there is a $200M shortfall.  How great to have a product that is sold before you take it out of the Bay. We need more of those.

      GO-Biz is an important program and the civic leaders who attended included Eureka Mayor Frank Jager and the entire City Council, and Supervisor Mark Lovelace, who came by before the BOS meeting, as well as many others. You will doubtless be hearing more about an iHub for the North Coast. Pay attention. This could be a great step toward strengthening and diversifying our one-crop economy. 

GPU Update, How NOT to Present before the Board of Supes, and More on Megabus.

By now you know that the 13-year saga of the General Plan Update is mired in a review of basic principles which were agreed upon ears ago and now- what a surprise!- seem to need amending. This is not because the County has changed.  It’s more due to the political climate and the emergence of HUMCPR as a force.  I went down to lend my voice to sticking with the original principles, largely because the extreme length of this plan update is ridiculous and I wouldn’t like to see Humboldt County come in for (more) bad publicity  for dragging out this process even further. If we end up on 60 Minutes for this , it will be an exception to the rule that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  This is bad.  We will be known for  two things in this State: marijuana and ineffective government.  A bad combination, don’t you think?

      Also, I can’t think of anything more harmful to effective economic development than unclear or shifting zoning.  I got there early because I though there would be a huge crowd.  There were only five people signed in to speak when I signed in. The vast majority (I believe about 40 people spoke) sort of materialized during the meeting and didn’t sign in at all, so that part is apparently optional.

      I have presented before the Planning Commission and the Supes several times but never as poorly prepared as last night. I ripped my notes out of the printer and went flying out the door, no review, no prep.  I stumbled and fumbled through my remarks which were basically a plea to stick with the original principles, since the revisions seemed to me to be vague and enabling sprawl. Some of the other  presenters- Dan Ehresman, Scott Greacen- were forceful and effective. Others sounded like they needed to be wound up. IF YOU DO THIS BE PREPARED.  Sometimes public testimony really does have an effect. Don’t know about yesterday, but it definitely did in the Forster-Gill situation. 

      When they started going through the new/old language principles my ADD kicked in and I left, probably to rejoin the process at the next meeting on October 7. Many of the attendees last night were realtors, paid representatives of environmental groups or CPR folks and some had been involved in the process for years. I will never be a Supervisor because $80K is not enough to do this kind of mind-numbing analysis. I would go nuts.

Let’s see how the Supes do.  If you haven’t attended these meetings, you should show up on the  7th.  If you’re going to speak, practice a little first. We heard some awfully poor presentations and it was hard to tell what point some of the folks were trying to make. And I used to think the Supervisors were overpaid…..

MORE ON MEGABUS

With no trains, miserable air service and ever-climbing gas prices, many Redwood Coast businesses and their employees are taking a second look at bus transit. We featured Megabus a few posts back but didn’t mention their parent company , Stagecoach Group, which is headquartered in – wait for it- SCOTLAND. At least they didn’t paint the buses plaid. In America their revenues are up 22% in the last three months. That’s callled growing like wildfire, but the best news for us is that Greyhound is having to upgrade its service in order to compete. We can only pray…..

 

Local Food Month-let’s celebrate Humboldt’s bounty, and by the way, where’s the local yogurt?

 It’s that time again: Local Food Month, cleverly timed to coincide with harvest season. Whenever I travel outside the local area I am reminded that we are so lucky to have access to food that hasn’t been shipped from a thousand miles away. You could spend an hour rummaging through a Publix or a Winn-Dixie in Florida and not find any local food at all.  Here’s a link to the event listings and don’t forget to check out the “Red Carpet  Premiere” Saturday night at the Eureka Theater which will feature food, films and fun. The Humboldt Made site has all the details and a link for ordering tickets in advance.

       At the same time I’m relishing the local cheeses, jams etc I can’t help wondering why there’s no local  source for a food I eat everyday, and a lot of you do too.  I’m talking about YOGURT. It’s easy to make (we used to make it in our dorm room at Davis) and when In later years I had occasion to visit the Continental Culture Company in Altadena,  I found that their operation wasn’t much more complicated. They had one building that was hot and humid, where the culturing took place, and another that was refrigerated for storage purposes. Later they became a huge company and I used to see their products all over Southern California, in health food stores. Now, they’re out of business, mourned by their fans a having been the only lactose-free yogurt available.  I didn’t know there was such a thing.

       I used to buy the 39c Lucerne yogurt, oblivious to its mushy texture and lack of flavor but then, like a lot of you, I discovered Chobani and got hooked on its heft and chalkiness. Chobani retails locally at Winco for about a buck and at Murphy’s for $1.50 or so.  So my 39c investment has become at least a dollar. Chobani was in the news this morning for contamination problems in its Idaho plant. Their growth has been spectacular. The Economist has a very interesting account in its August 31st issue of how Hamdi Ulukaya, a son of Kurdish immigrants in Turkey,  bought an 85-year-old yogurt factory in upstate New York in 2005. This year he will sell more than $1B , a healthy chunk of America’s $6.3B market. The company is changing; Mr Ulukaya is hiring a COO and a new ad agency.

       So what’s the difference between “Greek” yogurt and any other? Greek yogurt is strained to remove the whey, the watery liquid that separates out during the process, leaving more protein than in the supermarket stuff, in fact about twice as much. No, I don’t own stock in the company.  Mr. Ulukaya retains sole ownership.

       So what is stopping some Redwood Coast entrepreneur from entering this market?  We have the dairy infrastructure, the marketing image of green fields and free-roaming herds and a population that would probably support a local yogurt if one were available. It seems like a natural. You could have “Redwood Raspberry” or “Humboldt Honeycomb”. If someone finds a way to make our major ag product palatable to the taste buds, you could get into “Weedwacker” or “Green Giant” although I guess that’s copyrighted . Anyway, the possibilities are endless. And you don’t even have to pay me a consultant’s fee. Just gimme some good yogurt.

UPDATE: The lime Chobani I ate earlier today was apparently from the batch (06-12, exp Oct 7) that  some people, mostly  kids, have become sick from and which Chobani is replacing with coupons in what is called a “voluntary recall”. I feel absolutely fine. Another opening for LOCAL yogurt!