Planet Business

This week: Guilt lanes, cat urine smells and the great global wine shortage


Image of the week: Detroit devil
The posters depict Michigan governor Rick Snyder, with some Halloween-style alterations, during a protest against the filing of Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy.

According to officials, the city’s financial status is in such dire straits that the bumpers are falling off police cars, and bankruptcy is the only way back to health. Municipal workers fear, however, that the city is trying to use bankruptcy to eviscerate its pension liabilities – in other words, their retirement income.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Snyder signed into law a controversial pilot measure that will cut off unemployment benefits for jobless individuals who fail or refuse to take a drug test offered by a prospective employer – and employers can choose whether or not to share the results of the tests with the state.
Photograph: Rebecca Cook/Reuters

In numbers: Vino in absentia
Demand for wine exceeded supply by this many cases last year, according to research by Morgan Stanley analysts Tom Kierath and Crystal Wang. It is the deepest shortfall since records began 40 years ago.
Number of cases of wine currently produced by about one million producers worldwide. As consumption turns to the 2012 vintage, the shortage is likely to push up prices globally.
Percentage decline in wine production in Europe since 2004. There was a 10 per cent fall last year alone due to “ongoing vine pull and poor weather”. Time for the Second Coming?

The Lexicon: Guilt lanes
There they are, just sitting there, rows upon rows of rectangular-shaped chocolate, wrapped in gold foil and deep purple. You line up with your trolley, weary from so many aisle battles, only to find your stomach rumbling as you approach the checkout.

Or maybe, with kids in tow, you’ve done your best to bypass all the sweets in the supermarket for 95 per cent of your visit, only to find them waiting at the end for your child’s pester power to do its worst.

These helpful till-side confectionery stands are known as “guilt lanes” in Britain, where the government has signalled it is having “conversations” with retailers about getting rid of them on the grounds they are part of the obesity problem, not the solution. The quinoa, kale and pine nuts, meanwhile, are stocked in the “smugness aisle”.

Getting to know: Zhang Xin
Real estate mogul Zhang Xin shrugs off the “China’s most powerful woman” tag in an interview in the Times. Now overseeing an empire worth an $3.8 billion, the self-made Zhang (48) was a teenage sweatshop worker whose “motivation for working in the factories was to get out of the factories”.

She saved for a flight from Hong Kong to London, where she learned English and was educated to postgraduate level, heading to Wall Street next, then back to Beijing. There, she and her husband, who also comes from poverty, built the Soho property business that is reshaping the city skyline.

She is devoted to Weibo – China’s equivalent of Twitter – saying it is “pushing society to be more open” – and believes her tweets are read by the Chinese authorities. “I don’t know how to lie,” she says, invoking the time-old honesty paradox.

The list: Products that stink
If in doubt, blame the cat. A number of Dell users have complained that their Latitude 6430u Ultrabooks “smelt of cat urine”, with one customer noting on Dell’s hardware support forum that he “thought for sure one of my cats sprayed it”. The poor feline.

Dell, which has admitted the smell was caused by a now-resolved manufacturing issue, has advised affected users to send for replacement parts. But what other consumer products have been notable for their unexpected odours?
1 Lipitor: Pfizer recalled 191,000 bottles of the cholesterol drug in 2010 after a number of patients reported a “musty odour”.
2 Ghost limos: Rolls-Royce recalled 19 of its Ghost limousines in Australia after a “minor fuel vapour venting issue” resulted in a disconcerting scent.
3 Tylenol: The over-the-counter drug was one of several Johnson & Johnson products found to have a mouldy or mildew-like odour.
4 Fruit Loops: A “waxy” smell from the packaging of certain Kellogg’s cereals prompted the recall of millions of boxes from US shelves three years ago.
5 Levoxyl: Odour issues, as evidenced by this list, are not exactly uncommon for Big Pharma, and on this occasion the Pfizer thyroid pill was said to have a “plastic-like” smell – whatever that means.

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