Consumer Confidential: Wal-Mart cuts benefits, Starbucks goes ‘Blonde’


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Here’s your fly-like-an-eagle Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--The nation’s largest employer will provide fewer health benefits to some employees. Wal-Mart will no longer offer health insurance to new part-time employees who work fewer than 24 hours a week and will charge workers who use tobacco more for coverage as healthcare costs rise. The company is also slashing the amount it puts in employees’ healthcare expense accounts by 50%. Wal-Mart isn’t alone in looking for ways to cut spending on healthcare. Starting next year, Wells Fargo will ask employees to fund their own medical expense accounts or choose to pay higher insurance premiums and have the company fund them, following the lead of companies such as General Electric that offer account-based healthcare plans. A study last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average annual premium for family coverage through an employer increased 9% to $15,073 this year.

--Do ‘Blondes’ have more fun? Starbucks hopes so. The company is launching a decidedly non-European new Blonde roast. It will launch in both Starbucks outlets and supermarket aisles in January. Speaking at a Chicago press conference, Annie Young-Scrivner, Starbucks’ chief marketing officer, said 40% of the 130 million coffee drinkers in the U.S. prefer a lighter-roast coffee. The new blend is aimed at them, as well as at the millions of one-time customers who had their first cup of Starbucks and announced it tasted like rocket fuel. Starbucks Blonde will come in two varieties: Veranda and Willow. You know, classic coffee flavors.


-- David Lazarus