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Retailers on Fortune’s list have recipe for success

BY Michael Johnsen

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY ITS IMPORTANT — It’s no coincidence that Publix and Wegmans are two companies that also routinely wind up at the top of customer service surveys — testimony that satisfied employees who enjoy their workplace generally add that special ingredient to customer service. Having a totally energized work force, and knowing what it takes to keep them that way, that’s the "secret sauce" in retailing.

(THE NEWS: Fortune names Wegmans, Whole Foods, Publix top employers. For the full story, click here)

In June 2010, Publix and Wegmans ranked No. 5 and 13, respectively, out of 27 on Bloomberg Businessweek’s Customer Service Champs 2010 list.

The business news organization credited Publix for installing an auto-replenishment system in 2009 that improved out of stocks by 19%. But Publix also is one of the country’s largest employee-owned companies, and attaching $2,326 — the average amount awarded to employees holding Publix’ privately held stock in 2009 — to exemplary customer service can’t hurt the shopper experience, either.

Wegmans is another employer that invests heavily in its employees. Wegmans’ budget for customer service courses increased 13% in 2009 to $27.3 million, despite the fact that the country was in the middle of a recession. Another employee perk that hasn’t been cut because of a bad economy is tuition scholarships — 1,424 Wegmans employees explored higher education opportunities in 2009, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

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Pfizer extends tender offer for King

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK — Pfizer again has extended the expiration date on its tender offer to buy Bristol, Tenn.-based King Pharmaceuticals to Jan. 28, the drug maker said Friday.

Pfizer announced in October that it would buy King for $3.6 billion, or $14.25 per share. King manufactures branded prescription drugs, including several painkillers.

In December, Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, had extended its offer for King until Friday.

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Obesity and its toll are soaring, CDC says

BY Jim Frederick

ATLANTA — Obesity rates continue to soar among the U.S. population, particularly in children. And the result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, leads both to “psychosocial problems and to cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol and abnormal glucose tolerance or diabetes.”

Childhood obesity now affects some 12.5 million children and teens, or 17% of all youth in America, the CDC noted in a report issued Friday. That’s a dramatic increase in recent decades, with obesity rates tripling in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the agency.

“During the past 10 years, the rapid increase in obesity has slowed and might have leveled,” the report added. “However, among the heaviest boys, a significant increase in obesity has been observed, with the heaviest getting even heavier. Moreover, substantial racial/ethnic disparities exist, with Hispanic boys and non-Hispanic black girls disproportionately affected by obesity.”

Citing one study, the CDC noted that 70% of obese children had at least one additional cardiovascular risk factor, and 30% had two or more. What’s more, “although the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in teens is very low, a recent report estimated that 15% of new diabetes cases among children and adolescents are Type 2 diabetes [cases]," the agency said. "In the 1980s, Type 2 diabetes in teens virtually was unheard of.”

Behind the rising obesity rates, according to the report, are such factors as “shifts in food consumption, changes in physical activity levels and higher levels of TV-viewing, with the consequent inactivity and marketing of food to children.”

Among adults, the news also was dismal: A full third of grown-ups in the United States are now obese, the agency said. That 34% obesity rate translates into nearly 73 million adult men and women who are significantly overweight. Equally striking, according to the agency, is the fact that on average, U.S. adults weighed 24 lbs. more than they did in 1960. That means “increased risk for health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers,” the agency noted.

It also means skyrocketing healthcare costs. “Although obesity prevalence has remained mostly flat in the past 10 years, the costs associated with obesity have increased substantially during the same period,” the CDC reported. “One study estimated that approximately 9% of all medical costs in 2008 were obesity-related and amounted to $147 billion, compared with $78.5 billion 10 years before,” the report noted.

The CDC is recommending a wide range of approaches to deal with the obesity epidemic. Among them, according to the agency, are “strategies that alter the food and physical activity environments in places where [people] live, learn, work, play and pray.”

The agency’s recommendations extend from the beginning of a child’s life. “Breast-feeding has been shown to have substantial health benefits for children,” the report noted. Other recommendations include “decreasing consumption of high-energy-density foods, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, decreasing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and decreasing time spent watching television and exposure to food marketed to children.”

For kids, fast-food consumption should be cut way back, the report added, and “activity levels can be increased by making it safer to walk or bike to school. Quality school physical education programs that keep children moving the majority of their time in physical education class should be implemented,” the CDC noted.

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