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Charging More for the House Brand

Tesco, the $88 billion British grocery giant, is tackling the U.S. market by putting a premium on many of its house brands. Consider its kids' snack pack, created for the hundreds of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores it is opening in the next five years. The private-label Smart Box is sold alongside Oscar Mayer's Lunchables in its first 15 stores, launched recently in the Southwest. But Fresh & Easy's clear plastic box—with, say, crackers, string cheese, raisins, carrots, and organic milk—is $2.99. Lunchables, whose offerings include pizza and nachos, goes for $2.10. "Our strategy is to let the food talk for itself," says Simon Uwins, Fresh & Easy's chief marketing officer. About 50% of Fresh & Easy's items are private label, vs. 20% at most supermarkets. Researcher TNS Retail Forward predicts that the shops—smaller than supermarkets, bigger than convenience stores—will have sales of $10 billion by 2015. Chander Alagh, who owns a 7-Eleven in Los Angeles, says his sales dipped after a Fresh & Easy opened nearby on Nov. 8, but just for two weeks. "They're not selling cigarettes," he notes.

An Uptick in Untruths

Dissembling is on the rise in business, according to the latest biennial survey of the nonprofit Ethics Resource Center. Some 25% of nearly 2,000 U.S. employees said they had observed their colleagues or their companies lying to customers, suppliers, workers, or the public, up from 19% in 2005. The industries in which people are most likely to bend the truth: hospitality and food (with 34% of employees observing falsehoods), arts, entertainment, and recreation (also 34%), and wholesalers (32%). Why the rise in prevarication? Patricia Harned, the center's president, says that since Enron, businesses are focusing more on compliance with the law than on building cultures where lying isn't tolerated. Future polls, she says, will ask about specific lies—from "providing false information to shareholders and the public" to "making false promises about the benefits of a product."

Plenty of Room at the Inn, Cuz

Hotels.com is all for keeping your sofa bed a sofa during the holidays. And it may get its wish. A survey by the online booking service, a unit of Expedia (EXPE), shows that 87% of Americans would like some relatives—especially cousins—to stay in hotels while visiting them this holiday season. Perhaps signaling a generational shift, 40% of 25-to-34-year-olds even preferred their parents to sleep out, vs. 21% of those 45 and over. The same survey asked 1,000 adults how much they thought a night in their guest room was worth. The answer, on average: $149. (The average daily U.S. hotel rate is $93.74, according to Smith Travel Research.) Women put a higher value on home accommodations than did men, perhaps reflecting realities about who changes the sheets and cleans the bathrooms.

Check That Check

Check fraudsters are on a tear. Attempted fraud has more than doubled since 2003, to $12.2 billion last year, according to a study by the American Bankers Assn. Actual losses were up 43%, to $969 million. Technology is an enabler, says Jane Yao, who oversaw the survey. "Without the Internet, some of these crimes would not be possible." While forged signatures and dumpster diving for unshredded checks are still common, Yao says, criminal rings have taken up "phishing"—sending e-mails disguised as bank correspondence to get customers' account information. And advances in laser printing are spurring a rise in counterfeit checks, which now account for 28% of losses. Meanwhile, bankers are citing a new scheme in which victims are sent a large check and asked to wire some of it back as cash to the scamster as a "fee." When the check—a supposed lottery winning, say, or advance commission for home-office work—bounces, the consumer is liable for any amount he has drawn against it. The ABA and the U.S. Postal Service have launched FakeChecks.org to educate people about such ploys.

Low-Carbon Cars

French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën builds the cleanest cars sold in Europe, according to a recent study by an ecology group, the European Federation for Transport & Environment. Luxury-car kingpins Daimler (DAI) and BMW were at the bottom of the list, which ranked 14 automakers according to the carbon dioxide their models emitted. General Motors (GM) came in at No. 6; Ford (F) at No. 7. The European Union wants carmakers to reduce their emissions to a 120g/km on average by 2015, a level the German carmakers insist is unrealistic.

These Books Write Themselves

Chances are you've never heard of him, but Philip M. Parker is the author or editor of 300,000 books. More precisely, software he created wrote the books—almost every word—automatically. Parker, 47, a marketing professor at INSEAD, a business school based in France, recently won a U.S. patent for his invention, so anyone else aspiring to write 300-page nonfiction books in under 30 minutes has to find another way.

Parker sells his volumes in digital or print-on-demand form via outlets such as Amazon.com (AMZN) and Ingram Book Group. "He may be the most prolific author in history," says Amazon's Kurt Beidler. The books tend to be ultraspecific. Take The 2007-2012 Outlook for Rollerball Pens in Greater China ($495) or the $14.95 volume of crossword puzzles in Zarma, spoken in southwest Niger. "It's the ultimate expression of the long tail," says Parker, referring to the idea that in the Internet era, even items with limited appeal can find a market. Parker, whose software searches databases for the content of his formulaic genres, won't say how many books he has sold. But he vows this is just the start.These days, his computer is creating video games.


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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