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About the Author

Teri Bernstein, MBA, CPA has been teaching full time in the Business Department of Santa Monica College since 1985.  Prior to that, she worked in Internal Audit and Special Financial Projects for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, CBS, Inc., and Coopers & Lybrand (which is now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers).  She attended the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

  • Toyota criminal penalties: Are fines a real punishment? Why isn't Toyota in jail?

    image (of a Prius that had accelerated to 90 mph on a mountain road) from the Colorado State Patrol, published in the Los Angeles Times Toyota recently entered into an agreement to pay a multi-billion dollar settlement as a result of a known problem that caused deaths. The documented problem was that of sudden, unexplained acceleration. Last week, Toyota settled a criminal case brought against it by the Justice Department. Various lawsuits remain, but costs to this point include: $1.6 billion settlement of civil claims in a class-action lawsuit on this issue a $1.2 billion payment to the Justice Department, a criminal penalty, relating to wire fraud issues National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fine, which is capped by law at $35 million an agreement that Toyota will not be allowed to deduct its criminal penalty on its tax returns, which means that the American taxpayer will not lose out because of this settlement Part of the Justice Department agreement also stated that no individual executives will be prosecuted for these injuries and deaths related to the sudden acceleration problem. “The rules of evidence sometimes do not allow you to use certain kinds of evidence and certain documents against individuals, although they might be admissible against the company itself. Although there is an admission that they were individuals who engaged in conduct which provides for a basis to bring a case against the company, they are not charged here,” explained Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. Toyota can afford these penalties, as its current year profits total about $19 billion. If an individual person had committed these crimes, it is unlikely that they would get off without any jail time. Here are some mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for individuals: Mandatory sentencing guidelines, Federal, from Wikipedia But Toyota is still allowed to operate. Toyota's stockholders continue to make money. According to the doctrine of " Corporate Personhood ," corporations have many of the rights as individuals. But if a corporation has the benefits of a person, should it also not be subject to the same criminal penalties? Source: "T oyota sudden-acceleration suit is ratified ," by Tina Susman and David Hirsch, The Los Angeles Times , March 20, 2014. " Toyota admits deceiving consumers; $1.2-billion penalty is record, " by Jerry Hirsch, The Los Angeles , Times, March 19, 2014. Follow up: What do you think? Is manufacturing a car when you know a defective part will cause deaths a punishable crime? Is it better to charge money penalties or to give the corporation the same penalty a "person" would receive: inability to work for a time period. What are the pros and cons of shutting down a corporation the same way an individual would have his or her business life shut down by incarceration? Should individual executives be prosecuted? Discuss the pros and cons. Comment on the agreement that Toyota cannot deduct its penalties from its taxes. Can individuals deduct fines such as parking tickets on their tax returns? Discuss the reasons for tax deductions and how criminal penalties fit into that logic.
  • Coffee convenience bad for the environment (and expensive)

    image from As a committed coffee enthusiast, I periodically pine for a Keurig single-service brewing machine. The problem is, the little cups that that machine requires are not only expensive--they are bad for the environment. Still--the convenience and the visual artistry of it all does speak to me. I have to admit that the first time I tried to use this machine--at a motel--I had no idea how to manage it, and I made every mistake, creating a colossal mess. Now, however, I am an expert, and each morning--as I am either making my pot of home brew or walking the 1/2 a block to my neighborhood coffee house--I fantasize about what it would be like to have one of those splendid little single-brew machines. I'm not alone. In 2008, single-pod coffee sales were $132 million; in 2013, they were $3.1 Billion. But there are issues. First, to properly recycle the remains of the pods means separating the aluminum top, from the plastic pod, from the wet coffee. Do users really do that? Probably not. Moreover, the #7 plastic that almost all of the K-cups are made from is not recyclable. In addition: there are a lot of tiny cups to recycle. To put it in perspective, the 8.3 billion cups produced last year by Green Mountain for Keurig machines would circle the earth more than 10 times. For now, I'm sticking to home-brewed or my Tall red-eye half-caf dark in a personal cup at my local coffee place. Source: " Your Coffee Pods' Dirty Secret ," by Maddie Oatman, Mother Jones , March 19, 2014. Follow up: Make a chart comparing the cost of a cup of coffee, 5 cups, 10 cups, 20 cups, 100 cups and 365 cups brewed vs. K-cup. What can you conclude from this analysis? What are all of the environmental and health issues of these cups, according to the article?
  • China wants U.S. milk

    image from powdered milk produced by Fonterra, and were part of a bribery scandal. Above is a picture of a shopping aisle in China--fully stocked with powdered milk. In the above photo, however, the milk is being removed because of a bribery scandal involving a foreign company that paid to have its product stocked on these shelves. The market for non-domestic milk product in China is particularly high for two reasons--breastfeeding is unpopular, and the 2008 melamine-tainted Chinese milk that poisoned over 100,000 infants is still on the minds of parents. Responding to this demand are tiny farming towns in the United States. The town of Fallon, Nevada, has built huge processing plants to convert milk into powdered milk for shipping overseas--since shipping to nearby California has been thwarted by "Real Milk from Real California Cows" advertising campaigns. image from Fallon, NV production plant from the article linked below Because U.S. milk consumption has plateaued, the new Chinese market represents a growth opportunity. Source: " China's thirst for milk gives dairy farmers a boost ," by David Pierson, The Los Angeles Times , March 15, 2014. Follow up: What might happen to domestic milk availability and prices as a result of factories being built to process powdered milk for overseas shipment? Is this production and sales system sustainable? Why or why not?
  • GM auto defects ignored for years; deaths mounted

    Kelly Ruddy's Chevy Cobalt from the NYT article linked below Here is the problem with several low-to-mid-priced General Motors (GM) cars: suddenly--even at freeway speeds--the car stalls out, totally losing power to the engine, steering, power-assisted brakes, and air bags. When did GM first become aware of these problems? Since 2003 an average of two complaints per month have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) about these random "shut-downs." Who knows how many complaints were lodged with GM, but didn't make it as far as the NHTSA? What was done? Even when former Congressman Barney Frank intervened on consumers' behalf in 2010, the NHSA responded: “ At this time, there is insufficient evidence to warrant opening a safety defect investigation .” By this time, there had been at least 78 deaths and over 1500 injuries due to the sudden ignition failure problem. The NYT analysis shows that the NHTSA as well as General Motors seemed to ignore data relating to this problem. The vehicle recall now in place involves 1.6 million vehicles. Source: " Auto Regulators Dismissed defect tied to 13 Deaths " by Hilary Stout, Danielle Ivory and Matthew L Wald, New York Times, March 8, 2014. Follow up: With whom does the responsibility for car defects lie? The manufacturer? Government regulators? The consumer who buys the less-than-top-of-the-line car? Who should "pay" for damages and why? Do you think that government regulation takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the manufacturer? When a manufacturer becomes aware of a defect, what communication, financial, production, and legal procedures should kick into place? Are the issues only "civil" or are they possibly "criminal"?
  • Sweet-to-the-core product launch

    image from article linked below Pictured above is one of Ben & Jerry's new "core" ice cream flavors: Hazed and Confused. There is a core of Nutella (chocolate/hazelnut), surrounded by hazelnut ice cream and chocolate ice cream with fudge chips. The products in this launch have multiple ice creams in one yummy container. Ben & Jerry's is a company that started in 1978. During that time, they have expanded world-wide and have remained profitable. One way that they have continued to thrive has been to adapt their product line on a regular basis. This product launch is one innovation. The other products that are a part of this launch are: That's My Jam Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Salted Caramel I wish I could say I'd already done a product taste test. Which flavor do you think will be most successful? Source: " Ben & Jerry's Nails It With New Core Ice Cream Flavors, " Huffington Post, February 25, 2014. Follow up: Read about Ben & Jerry's on their website, linked above. What attributes make Ben & Jerry's different from other corporations, and in what way is it similar in terms of structure? What are Ben & Jerry's "core" values? How do they influence the following: marketing campaigns? product manufacture? employee relations?
  • Drugs made in India found to be substandard...and a lot of our Rx are imported from India

    image from " Bad Medicine" American Enterprise Institute From the New York Times: " India, the second-largest exporter of over-the-counter and prescription drugs to the United States, is coming under increased scrutiny by American regulators for safety lapses, falsified drug test results and selling fake medicines ." The FDA has recently increased its inspection schedule of Indian drug producers, and has banned the export of several generic version of medicines including Accutane and Cipro, which had been found to be adulterated. Worries about drugs produced in India reached a high point last week, when the Indian drug producer Ranbaxy (which had been found in violation of safety violations "too numerous to count") asked the FDA to please let them continue to ship drugs while they are trying to fix the problems. The FDA said no. I would say that Ranbaxy is "unclear on the concept" of the importance of drugs being produced to a high standard of safety. But the problem is not just with that one firm in India. G. N. Singh, India's Drug Controller General, said in an interview with The Business Standard : “ If I have to follow U.S. standards in inspecting facilities supplying to the Indian market, we will have to shut almost all of those .” Some of the problems that have occurred include: over 100,000 orders were knowingly shipped of antibiotics with no medicine in them the World Health Organization study estimated that 1 in 5 drugs made in India are fakes counterfeit medicines in a hospital in Kashmir resulted in hundreds of infant deaths drugs shipped to Uganda had counterfeit labels from Cipla, a company which tries to maintain high standards. I have started looking at the labels that are on the medicines provided through my health plan. Sure enough--almost all of them are made in India. Hmmm... Source: " Medicines Made in India Set Off Safety Worries ," by Gardiner Harris, New York Times, February 14, 2014. Follow up: What are the possible remedies for this situation? What might you do to protect yourself? Would you pay more for drugs manufactured in the United States? Would a private auditing company's seal of approval be better? Who should be in charge of regulation of drugs taken by Americans? The U. S. government? The Health care provider that contracts with the drug companies? Explain your thoughts on this matter.
  • Body parts: an entrepreneurial business opportunity?

    image from OK...These are mannequin body parts. So I guess it isn't quite as gruesome as real body parts. But who knew they would represent an entrepreneurial opportunity? Actually, the business-- Mannequin Madness --has been in existence for 15 years. The revenues are modest but not inconsequential: they range from $500,000 to $800,000 annually...and the work involves selling, renting and recycling mannequins. The entrepreneur, Ms. Henderson-Townsend, says that she was perusing Craigslist one day...and came upon a person selling mannequins and parts. She bought the entire inventory for $2500. She first ran a rental business part time, but, when her employer went bankrupt in the following year, she pursued the business full time. She found that it was moderately easy to accumulate the non-biodegradable mannequin parts as inventory...which she then recycled to Sears, Nordstrom, Ralph Lauren and Kohl's. The Environment al Protection Agency gave her an award for recycling more than 100,000 pounds of mannequin in a year. She hopes her newly independently-contracted "controller" can help her figure out how to manage and control her business and her profits. In addition, she ha s been reading: “ How Rich People Think ” by Steve Siebold. She is trying to develop her "million dollar mindset" in order to maximize her business potential. Sources: " Turning Body Parts--Mannequin Body Parts--Into a Business ," by Coleen DeBaise, The New York Times--Small Business, January 9, 201 4. “ How Rich People Think ” by Steve Siebold, published by London House Press, July, 2010. Follow up: What wacky business opportunity can you brainstorm, given that this one was viable? Check out the book “ How Rich People Think ” by Steve Siebold. Do you think it will help Ms. Henderson-Townsend achieve her goals?
  • Outside the box: high pay for workers increases profits

    [View: utility/ :550:0] " The Good Jobs Strategy " TEDx at Cambridge 2013 Zeynap Ton , an MIT professor, has studied retail sector jobs and profits, and has found that companies who pay workers well are more profitable in the long run. She found that, initially, cutting jobs and hiring minimum-wage workers produces short term gains, but when customer satisfaction decreases, sales and profits suffer. Originally writing in the Harvard Business Review , Ton noted that companies that offer high pay, flexibility, advancement opportunities and personal autonomy were also profitable. She profiled four companies in particular: Costco, Trader Joe's, Quiktrip and Mercadona (a Spanish company). photo taken by Wilfredo Lee for AP photo These were some of the practices employed by those companies that helped the human resource plan work: simplification of the product offerings and fewer sales promotions; training of employees in mastery of a wide range of tasks; letting employees make minor decisions (enriching individuals' expertise and job buy-in, as well as lessening the need for management time) elimination of waste in all other areas but staffing--such as advertising and logistics management. Adam Davidson's article in the NYT Magazine delineates his personal experience with the furniture retailer IKEA. IKEA changed their human resource strategy between one visit by Davidson and a second visit. Davidson's first experience was terrible--lost in the huge store, and unable to find staff capable of helping him, he vowed never to return. When he reluctantly DID go back--the experience was totally different (he was even greeted at the door by someone who pointed him directly to the area he needed to go to). What had happened in the meantime was that IKEA had hired an " operations management " firm named Kronos , who helped them set up a system along the lines of Ton's research. Sources: " Thinking Outside the (Big) Box, " by Adam Davidson, New York Times Magazine, January 5, 2014. " The Good Jobs Strategy ," by Zeynap Tom, published by New Harvest, January 2014. Follow up: Check out the stock prices for Walmart and Costco from 10 years ago, five years ago and today. What conclusions can you draw from an analysis of stock prices, compared with human resource policies? According to the NYT Magazine article, what other researcher backs up Ton's claims, and how many dollars in increased sales can be obtained for every dollar spent on workers? What does the field of "operations management" or "workforce management" entail?
  • What's new in "social" for 2014.

    image from vimeo of additional social media predictions from 2Factory Social media. Who would have thought, ten years ago, that this would be a major focus for marketers? In 2013, young people tired of Facebook...but that is partly because of the newer products and trends on the horizon. One take on what is coming up: Single purpose is better than multi-purpose . Apps are where it's at to deliver specific services. Want a social resale shopping experience? Try Poshmark . Do you want to do some free reading? Try Wattpad . Are you a Mormon...and do you need a marriage-minded date? Try Tinder. Temporary is better than permanent ...and its corollary: anonymity is newly popular . With all of the privacy issues and the realization that so much of one's internet life is permanently available, apps that let data disappear are appealing. Have a look at Snapchat . "Swiping" is the short path to everything. Need a Christmas tree? A kitten ? A few finger taps on your smartphone and you can have what you want. Delivered. Video has begun a new leap forward . The mini-experience of Vine is just the beginning. As memory space becomes more compact and high definition cameras are even available on phones, the video universe will continue to open up. "From zero to hero in record speed." Apps can come out of nowhere and go viral. " Hockey stick growth " (and its corresponding sudden decline) is becoming the new life cycle for social media products. Who knows what will grow in 2014... Source: " 5 things to expect in social in 2014 ," by Jennifer van Grove, CNet news, December 31, 2013. Follow up: Watch the vimeo link from 2Factory (linked under the image at the top of this post). List and describe the additional trends in social media delineated in that presentation.
  • Pepsi taking over the snack world

    Image from Pepsi has reached a deal to be the soda and snack food supplier to the rapidly growing Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant chain. This caught my eye for several reasons--not the least of which was that my alma mater, the University of Michigan, is playing in the Buffalo Wild Wings BCS Bowl game this holiday season (against Kansas State). This new deal means that Pepsi products--the colas, and Mountain Dew--will be supplanting any Coca Cola products in the restaurant from here forward. In addition, other Pepsi brands, such as Doritos corn chips, will be incorporated into the menu items at Buffalo Wild Wings, just as Doritos have been incorporated into the menu at Taco Bell. What will we see in the future? A "Dorito-encrusted wing" or a "Mountain Dew cocktail"? Hmm. Spokespersons for Buffalo Wild Wings (Sally J. Smith) and PepsiCo (Kirk Tanner) said that they look forward to taking advantage of Pepsi's relationships with entertainers and sports players as well as increasing the tie-ins with fantasy football. PepsiCo’s chief executive, Indra K. Nooyi, agrees with pursuing these strategies. The new partnership will be following some of the marketing synergies that have worked between Pepsi and Taco Bell. Source: " Pepsi Deal Underscores An Emphasis On Snacks ," by Stephanie Strom, New York Times, December 11, 2013. Follow up: How much has Buffalo Wild Wings grown over the last three years? What has happened to Pepsi sales over the same time period? What does this say about Pepsi's decision-making strategy for the future?
  • Business tool: Naps

    image from Brian Halligan is the CEO of HubSpot , an "inbound marketing software platform." His experience is that all of his brilliant ideas arise either when he is falling asleep or just waking up. Even though these epiphanies arise only once or twice a month, it is important to him to nap on a regular basis, and he encourages his workers to do the same. Much of his workforce is part of "Generation Y." He has rethought the business culture and his management style in terms of what motivates and nourishes those in this generation. Some of the preferences Halligan tries to cater to include: workers wanting to work wherever they can work workers wanting freedom, but who are also willing to take on huge responsibilities workers wanting to change jobs about every six months (so he changes routines and assignments frequently) workers being motivated more by learning than by money. Halligan's philosophy about Human Resource management seems radical, but he seems to have been willing to adapt with the times--an important attribute in an information-technology-based company. Source: " Brian Halligan, Chief of HubSpot, on the Value of Naps ," by Adam Bryant, The New York Times, December 5, 2013. Follow up: What is an "inbound marketing software platform"? What is a "seam head"? What is "VORP"? Do naps work for you in the same way they work for Halligan? How do your own sleeping patterns either help or hinder your working life? Do Halligan's views about the "Gen-Y" worker ring true to you? Why or why not?
  • Subscription craze now includes socks

    image from Sock of the Month Club Lately "subscribing" seems to be all the rage in marketing. Gym memberships have long been marketed as a monthly cost, and "book of the month" clubs and "wine of the month" clubs preceded internet marketing. Lately, even non-profits want you to give on a monthly basis. I wrote a few months ago about a shaving club subscription model. The convenience seems to appeal to consumers, and the regularity of the revenue stream appeals to the sellers. Sock-of-the-month clubs are now in vogue. I was a little disappointed when I first saw this article, because the sock clubs first addressed were for men--for example Soxiety , Sock Panda and Ankle Swagger . Men's online sock sales have risen 29% (and store sales have risen 4%) over the last year ! As it turns out, women's sock clubs have helped increase sales even more. One interesting marketing tidbit in this arena is that women buy more when there are abundant choices, and men buy more when there are fewer choices. There are now so many different sock club subscription services, it will be interesting to see how they differentiate themselves as competition increases. Source: " Sock-of-the-Month Clubs Rise Online, Bringing Subscriptions to Feet ," by Andrew Adam Newman, The New York Times, December 3, 2013. Follow up: Would you subscribe to a sock club? Would anyone on your holiday gift list like a subscription? What opportunities are arising in logistics because of the rising popularity of subscription product services?
  • Peanut Butter Business Opportunity

    Image from Notice AG-DPPD-S-14-0026 was issued on November 20, 2013, by the federal government to solicit " Peanut Butter Products for use in Domestic Food Assistance Programs." The notice came from the USDA'S Kansas Commodity Office (KCCO). Responses are due by December 3, 2013. The requirements to apply to be the supplier include: product must be produced in the US Packaging must be subject to the World Trade Organization Government Procurement Agreement and Free Trade Agreements, pursuant to FAR clause 52.225-5. KCCO will specify the pack sizes, quantities and delivery schedules. Vendors must meet FAR Subpart 9.2, per questions can be addressed to Bids must be submitted vis WBSCM (whatever that is), and " Submission of the above by any means other than WBSCM will be determined nonresponsive." It sounds as though there are a lot of hoops to jump through to qualify to sell or give peanut butter to hungry people. Maybe it is a profit-making business venture, endorsed by the government. I wonder who makes money on these deals? Source: " Peanut Butter for use in Domestic Food Assistance Programs ," by FedBizOpps.Gov, November 20, 2013. Follow up: What other business opportunities should the government promote, if any? Why or why not?
  • A labor of love becomes a sustainable beef-farming business

    image taken by Jim Wilson for the New York Times: TomKat Ranch cattle The husband-wife team of Tom Steyer and Kat Taylor, of "TomKat Ranch," did not have the same vision and desires. Tom Steyer was a retired investment banker--the founder of Farallon Capital --and his wife Kathryn was a chief executive of One PacificCoast Bank. What did these two know about cattle farming and beef sales? But the business evolved and succeeded, in spite of the original intentions. Leftcoast Grassfed is the company through which TomKat Ranch sells its beef...and Leftcoast Grassfed has exceeded the projections and expectations of the investment specialist part of this team. “We could sell 10 times the amount we raise, in 10 minutes,” said Tom Steyer. When they bought the property, they had no intention of being in the beef business. They intended to create an area to demonstrate best practices for soil, water and energy conservation. Cows were part of the system for maintaining the land, so sustainable agriculture evolved as part of what was becoming a "huge science experiment." Steyer had devoted himself to environmental preservation as his retirement focus, so the project evolved as a labor of love more than a business proposition. One of the goals became to put into practice the theories described in Julius Ruechel's book, " Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef .” If large herds of cattle, with their weight and sharp hooves, were churning up (cultivating) the ground, forcing dead plant materials deep so it could be broken down by bacteria, then that could fertilize the earth, allowing better, healthier grasses to re-grow there. In addition, the cultivation would allow rain to penetrate better and reduce water run-off. The article did not mention the manure, but I imagine that would be a factor in fertilization as well, since the cattle were not being fed harmful antibiotics. According to Wendy Millet (formerly of the Nature Conservancy), conservationists--once opposed to cattle on the grounds of methane production harming the atmosphere--now believe that migrating herds of grass-fed ruminants might be part of a cycle of replenishment. TomKat is trying to reproduce the cycles of migration, and are alternating types of farm animals (including birds and pigs), to maximize conservation of resources. Meanwhile, they are selling sustainable beef at a profit--partly because of co-operative arrangements with nearby farms. Source: " An Accidental Cattle Ranch Points The Way in Sustainable Farming " by Stephanie Strom, New York Times, November 11, 2013. Follow up: Have you ever started out on one path, and found yourself doing something that you have never imagined because of it? Maybe it has been travel to another part of the world, or learning to play an instrument, or having an avid interest in astronomy or baseball. Have opportunities for a new career path become apparent? If this hasn't happened to you, do you know of anyone who followed an interest that led to a unique career? According to the article, what other environmental issues does Steyer feel strongly about? How might these interests have related to his former career in investing with Farallon Capital? How are investment vehicles with an environmental bias performing in the marketplace currently? Is the TomKat experience typical or unusual? Describe the system of co-operative arrangements with nearby farms that makes the sustainable beef operation work well.
  • "Pumpkin-flavor" is a marketing hit

    [View: :550:0] video from the New York Times Is it OK to market something as "pumpkin" if it doesn't really contain any pumpkin? I guess that is a moot point, since sales of "pumpkin-flavor" products are soaring this season. For those fond of details and chemistry, the video above explains the elements of pumpkin flavoring quite clearly. For those fond of pumpkin flavoring, you are in luck this season. USA Today reports: " Pumpkin is everywhere these days, " says Andrea Riberi, senior vice president at Nielsen . " And, seemingly earlier than last year. " Sales of pumpkin-flavored items were $290 million last year; about 70% of pumpkin related product sales occur between September and November. Here are some of the places "pumpkin flavor" shows up this year: Starbucks, of course, with its "Pumpkin Spice Latte" Dunkin' Donuts--with pumpkin pie flavored buttercream in its pumpkin doughnuts Bruegger's Bagels M&M's--sold exclusively by Target: "Pumpkin Spice M&M's" Pop-Tarts Pringles... "Pumpkin Pie Spice Pringles" Baskin-Robbins Pumpkin Ice Cream Marshmallows: Kraft's "Jet-Puffed Pumpkin Spice Mallows" Vodka: Crop Organic pumpkin-spice flavored vodka Beer. New Belgium's "Pumpkick Ale" Room deodorizer by Glade What will they think of next? Pumpkin is associated with Thanksgiving, and cozy fall gatherings, but its pervasive appeal is a little baffling...perhaps a marketing miracle if you take one expert's perspective: " Since when does a squash-flavored beverage sound good? " --Richard Bernstein, blogger's husband image from Source: " What's In It: Pumpkin Flavor ," by Aaron Bird, with Michael Moss, New York Times , November 12, 2013. " Pumpkin Flavored Everything Comes Early, Often ," by Bruce Horovitz, USA Today , October 9, 2013. Follow up: Does the image of "pumpkin" suggest anything to you? Does it get you in the mood for the holidays? What pumpkin products might appeal to you? Have you seen any other ways pumpkin flavoring has been used?
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