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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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Kate's Take: Bucket List

by Kate McMahon

The Ice Bucket Challenge is the hottest hashtag in social media today, with uber-celebrities and just plain folks experiencing a big chill to raise funds and awareness for the devastating neurodegenerative disease ALS.

Bill Gates, LeBron James, Mark Zuckerberg, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga and Gov. Chris Christie are among those who have taken the challenge and posted videos proving they did indeed dump a bucket of ice water on their head, or had a friend do the honors. (Full disclosure: I got dumped on.)

This viral phenomenon is being praised as stunning example of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as forces for good. It is also being criticized as “slacktivism” – or online self-promotion by people who don’t really care or donate a penny to the cause at hand.

I’ll go with the former. But first, the cold hard facts.

When a group of pro golfers launched the Ice Bucket Challenge this spring, they dared pals to douse themselves within 24 hours or donate $100 to a charity of their choice. The stunt requires participants to challenge others in their video, and the challenge spread on Facebook. Two young men fighting ALS – New Yorker Pat Quinn and former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates joined in, and encouraged family and friends to target the campaign to ALS-related charities. The ALS Association followed up with a decidedly old-fashioned approach, sending emails to past donors. Soon, there were ice cubes flying coast-to-coast.

Since July 29, the challenge has raised a whopping $22.9 million for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, compared with $1.9 million during the same period last year. The ALS Association said that included 307,000 new donors, with the numbers increasing hourly.

Participants have shared more than 2.4 million ice bucket challenge videos on Facebook – up from 1.2 million last week. And there have been more than 2.2 million mentions on Twitter since July 29.

Amazing numbers, but critics are quick to point out that the challenge is an either/or proposition – ice water bath or donate $100 – but not both. One Slate writer called for a donation-only “No Ice Bucket Challenge” -- noting that “a lot of the participants are probably spending more money on bagged ice than on ALS research.” Others are quick to complain that Matt Lauer never mentioned ALS when Savannah Guthrie dumped ice water on him on the Today Show – but that was before the ALS connection gained traction, and he also donated to a hospice in Florida. President Obama recently opted to make the $100 donation to ALS research when nominated by family matriarch Ethel Kennedy.

Is the challenge perfect? No. Are ALS patients and their families gratified that attention is being paid to this disease? Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes.

“Did we ever imagine the level of awareness or the money that is coming in? In our dreams we did,” Nancy Frates, mother of 29-year-old Pete Frates, told the New York Times.

Happily there is an alternative to the “either/or” and Jimmy Fallon nailed it on his show – Both. It appears more participants are doing just that – taking the ice water, making a donation, and just as importantly, focusing on raising awareness about a disease that affects some 30,000 Americans and has no known cure.

I was nominated by my 19-year-old daughter Emily, and heartened that she and her friends learned about ALS and supporting a worthwhile cause. Sure it was fun (and frigid) and generated lots of “likes” on Facebook, but it also meant something.

I’ve written many MNB columns about the sheer speed and unpredictability of social media, and why retailers, marketers and service providers need to be nimble to compete. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a perfect example of how one idea quickly galvanized the nation, and a window on what we can expect from social media in the future.

To learn more ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge, I encourage you to click here.

Comments? As always, send them to me at .

Wednesday Morning Eye-Opener: Nut Job

by Kevin Coupe

Salon reports that there soon could be a Nutella shortage, owing to an "unusual March weather in Turkey" that "put a strain on the region’s hazelnut crop and driving prices up 60 percent" According to the story, each 13-ounce jar of Nutella contains more than 50 hazelnuts, which means that it is time for Nutella addicts to start hoarding.

Salon goes on to note that "Nutella joins almonds, limes, high-end coffee, olive oil and avocados as the latest example of foods that, as we’re increasingly being reminded, are dependent on specific climate conditions. (While climate change may not be specifically responsible for Turkey’s late-March frost and hailstorms, unseasonable weather and extreme precipitation, in general, are expected to have major consequences for agriculture.)"

In other words, while we're used to having unfettered, economical access to a wide range of products, unstable climate conditions may change that … something to which retailers, manufacturers and consumers may have to acclimate themselves.

It'll be an Eye-Opener.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Corporate Drumbeat


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With A Fading Pulse, RadioShack Struggles To Find Some Life

The New York Times has a story this morning about the fading retail company that is RadioShack, which has found itself almost completely out of step with the nation's electronics needs and desires - people don't buy component parts the way they used to, its big bet on mobile phones has left it enmeshed in a market that is highly competitive and low margin, and it has stores that tend to be small, dingy and low-impact, especially when compared to entities like the Apple Store and e-tailers like Amazon.

The company has tried to close more than a thousand stores, or a quarter of its fleet, but its creditors have resisted that tactic. And it brought in a new CEO, Joseph C. Magnacca, who had seen a measure of success at Duane Reade, hoping that he could unearth some latent retailing magic at the chain.

But here's how the Times describes RadioShack's continuing problems:

"Mr. Magnacca and his team have put a plan in place to try to turn around the brand, and fill its stores with unique, higher-margin merchandise.

"The company hopes to replace some of its dingier, outdated stores with those awash in bright light and clean lines, sometimes nearby. They have opened 125 new or extensively remodeled stores around the country, one of them on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

"The store is carefully maintained, organized and interactive. A display of Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, dotted with small rectangular mirrors, greets customers at the front of the store, where shoppers can test both the sound and the look. An array of phones and tablets are available for tapping and testing. In the back, someone deep into a D.I.Y. project can find a small soldering iron or a breadboard socket.

"But just 10 blocks away right in front of a subway entrance, a small, narrow RadioShack illustrates the neglect that characterized so many company’s stores and repelled customers. Despite some new signage and merchandise — all RadioShack stores have received at least some basic upgrades — dank gray squares provided carpeting and bits of the storefront’s siding were peeling away from the building. The smartphones on display cannot be tested; only stickers affixed to their fronts show what the home screen looks like."

KC's View: Add RadioShack to the list of retailers that simply did not judge the market correctly, did not pay attention to how consumers were changing and how other retailers were innovating, and soon found itself in a virtually untenable position.

I hate to say it, but it hard to imagine circumstances under which RadioShack is able to avoid the same graveyard where we find the carcasses of companies like Circuit City, Borders, Virgin Superstores, and Blockbuster Video. And every other retailer needs to see the RadioShack saga as a cautionary tale.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Uber Tests New Delivery Service In Washington, DC

GeekWire reports that Uber is testing a new service that it calls "Corner Store" in Washington, DC, allowing users to order from a list of more than 100 drug store SKUs and have them delivered on the same say.

According to the story, "The service, which is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., is fairly simple. Users set a delivery location, Uber sends over a text message with an item list once a driver is available, and that driver then calls the customer to confirm the order. There is no delivery fee and tips are not required … The new offering is similar to UberRUSH, a bike courier service Uber is testing out in New York City, but Corner Store is more focused on drug store items. Uber says it is testing Corner Store for a limited time but will continue offering it to users if the program proves popular."

GeekWire says that prices seem competitive, and in some cases are better than those offered by Amazon.

KC's View: I'm not sure how the economics of this work out, but it may be more a case of making Uber ubiquitous than really making Corner Store a profit center.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Corporate Drumbeat

From Samuel J. Associates...

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Trade Associations Go To SCOTUS To Challenge Swipe Fee Ruling

The Hill reports that a number of trade associations - including the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the National Retail Federation (NRF), and the National Restaurant Association (NRA) - have " asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a March ruling that upheld the Federal Reserve’s debit card swipe fee rules." The petition asks the Supreme Court "to examine the decision that left the swipe fee cap at 21 cents per transaction, rather than lowering it."

The argument is that "the 21-cent figure included costs that went beyond those allowed" by Dodd-Frank legislation."

The retailers originally won the case in US District Court, but lost on appeal, and now is challenging that ruling in the Supreme Court.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

In Effort To Gain Traction And Expand, Uber Hires A Political Pro

The New York Times reports that Uber, the start-up private, car sharing service, has hired political strategist David Plouffe, who helped to engineer (twice) the election of Barack Obama as president, to be its new senior vice president of policy and strategy.

According to the story, Plouffe "said he planned to run Uber’s communication efforts much like a political race, pushing to woo consumers and regulators alike in the company’s fast-paced expansion across the world … Plouffe’s move to Uber is the latest example of someone from a position of influence in Washington moving to a big technology company to help it expand its communications, policy or lobbying efforts."

And, he tells Politico,“We’ll be trying to change the point of view of established politicians, and there’s a lot of resistance coming from people who want to protect the status quo."

“As more of a techie and entrepreneur, it’s new territory to understand how politics works and how campaigns are run,” Travis Kalanick, Uber's CEO, tells the Times. "We needed somebody on the policy and strategy side who is also a kindred spirit as a data geek."

KC's View: Plouffe was reported to be a likely chief of staff during Obama's last two years in office, but he clearly thinks that working in the private sector can be both more influential and more financially rewarding. There are few guys out there who know as much as Plouffe about how to accumulate, analyze and then use data in the service of a cause, so this is a big hire for Uber.

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

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From Park City Group...

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Sprouts Says It Will Enter Alabama As Part Of 2015 Expansion

Sprouts Farmers Market, said yesterday that it plans to open its first store in Alabama in early 2015, as well as add six additional locations to its growing roster of fresh, natural and organic grocery stores.

The new Sprouts stores are slated to open in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as in Bakersfield and Daly City, California; Cumming, Georgia; Liberty, Missouri; Scottsdale, Arizona; and South Jordan, Utah.

KC's View: I have to wonder if every time the folks at Whole Foods see a Sprouts sign, in the back of their minds they hear the theme music from Jaws

Greenpeace Flexes Its Muscles, Pushing Tech Companies On Renewable Energy

Advertising Age reports that Greenpeace is sponsoring an online video campaign designed "to pressure such tech players as Amazon and Twitter to get more of their energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro power." The campaign, the story says, "follows an April report from Greenpeace finding little progress by Amazon, Twitter and some others toward using renewable energy to power their data centers."

It also follows what the story describes as "a similar campaign by Greenpeace and Via two years ago" that prompted Apple to pledge that it will "get 100% of power for its servers from renewable sources." Facebook and Google also are said to have made "substantial progress" on a renewable energy front.

The story goes on to say that "Greenpeace has tried a similar domino approach to changing palm-oil sourcing in the packaged-goods industry, targeting Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble Co. in serial fashion in recent years. Even as it protests companies it sees moving too slowly, it heaps praise on others such as Apple, or P&G competitor Kimberly-Clark Corp., who've cooperated more with the group."

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

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E-conomy Beat

24/7 Wall Street reports that "retail e-commerce sales in the U.S. reached a new high of 6.4% of all retail sales in the second quarter of 2014 according to the U.S.Census Bureau. That is an increase of 4.9% sequentially and a hike of 15.3% year-over-year … The e-commerce adjusted total was $75 billion.

"On an unadjusted basis, e-commerce sales totaled 5.9% of all retail sales in the second quarter, up 4.8% sequentially and 15.9% year-over-year. The unadjusted total came to $70.1 billion."


...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

• The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "a billion-dollar forecasting error in Walgreen Co.'s Medicare-related business has cost the jobs of two top executives and alarmed big investors.

"At an April board meeting, Chief Financial Officer Wade Miquelon forecast $8.5 billion in fiscal 2016 pharmacy-unit earnings, based partly on contracts to sell drugs under Medicare. Last month, directors got a shock. Mr. Miquelon suddenly cut that forecast by $1.1 billion." The problem was that "Walgreen hadn't factored in, among other things, a spike in the price of some generic drugs that it sells as part of annual contracts."

The result: "In early August, the CFO of the nation's largest drugstore chain was gone. Walgreen said several days earlier that its pharmacy chief, Kermit Crawford, would retire at year-end."

The ability to count is really important when you hire a CFO. Write that down.

Reuters reports that PetSmart Inc. is exploring a possible sale of the company and other strategic alternatives. According to the story, "PetSmart said its board determined that it will explore alternatives to maximize value for shareholders, including a possible sale, following 'many constructive conversations' with a wide range of shareholders over the last several months."

• The Associated Press reports that "a unit of Hain Celestial Group Inc. is recalling some peanut and almond butter because of possible salmonella contamination.

"The company said Tuesday that there have been reports of four illnesses that may be related to the nut butters. They were sold under the brand names Arrowhead Mills peanut butters and MaraNatha almond butters and peanut butters. Also being recalled were some lots of private label almond butter from grocers Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Kroger and Safeway."

Editorial continues after a word from our sponsor...

Industry Drumbeat

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Now back to regularly scheduled editorial...

Your Views: TMI

Responding to yesterday's "Sansolo Speaks" column, MNB reader George Frahm wrote:

This morning’s Sansolo Speaks: Too Much Information; Too Little Knowledge article really hit home with me.  I enjoy reading the MNB daily not because I always or even regularly agree with the content and “editorial opinions” expressed, but because I do not!  The value of reading articles with a different point of view from my own is often times enlightening and invigorating and many times informational to the point that I learn something new.

As far as I’m concerned the revelation in the article of a new app, BuyPartisan that supposedly determines the political leanings of every product I purchase is frightening for many reasons, not the least of which is who is going to check the “facts” of the fact finders for BuyPartisan?  And since when does a CEO or any other single person speak or represent the viewpoints of everyone who works at a company? 

I have always believed that it is the diversity of thoughts and ideas that has made our companies and country strong.  I for one will not use such an obviously divisive app now or in the future.  I will be very curious to read how others react to the article.

MNB reader Mike Franklin, reacting to Michael's opinion of the BuyPartisan app, wrote this:

Michael…your opening story indicates you are not for full disclosure…which doesn’t surprise me…even though the App would indicate which way you lean politically…I’ll continue to read…I don’t fear full disclosure…unlike many in the food industry.

I have to admit that, having given it some thought, I sort of like the idea of the BuyPartisan app. Not that I would be a slave to its claims, but I think it might be helpful to see where certain companies come down in certain areas.

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

The mushroom cloud that you saw in the western sky last Friday was the result of my wife reading the comments regarding Lands’ End’s attempts to objectify women as part of their new advertising strategy.   She is not a subscriber to your website, but she receives content from me via email fairly regularly and your comments are frequently a part of our evening discussions.

We purchased our first clothing from Lands’ End back in 1981 and have been loyal customers since that time.   It would not be an exaggeration for us to say that our purchases over the years have accumulated into the thousands of dollars.  One of the reasons that we have remained LE customers has been because we knew that we could open a catalog received in the mail (even one that sold swimsuits) and know that the clothing would be tastefully modeled.  We have noticed the not-so-subtle changes in LE’s recent catalogs and have been disappointed.   If LE’s marketing strategy is changing to match that of the other sportswear retailers who have elected to show more skin and less clothing, then they will likely lose us as customers.

There are many reasons that I love and respect my wife….and one of them is that she has worked hard to educate our two college-aged sons that the promotional images of women shown in the media today are NOT typical and are unfair to the majority of women in general.   She is convinced (as am I) that the majority of these marketing decisions are made by men and that there are not enough women who are willing to speak out about the use of digitally enhanced and/or scantily clad women in advertising.   More than anything, she is far from prudish in her approach to life in general, but still thinks that it is simply impossible to live up to the expectations placed on her and other women based on what we see every day on television and in print.   Regardless, I find her to be a truly beautiful person both inside and out and am very proud of the person she has become over our 31 years of marriage.

Both of us respectfully take issue with the description of this as a “kerfuffle” to the extent that we believe there are many others out there who for years have shared the same opinions that we do but feel it serves no purpose to voice them.   While I don’t think that my wife would bother to take the time and effort required to notify a retailer about her feelings on the images they choose to use for advertising, (not that anyone would pay attention….) she certainly votes with her wallet every time she elects to update her wardrobe.   Maybe someday, enough women will do the same that it will truly be an “eye-opener” to a company such as Lands’ End.

Tell your wife that I consider myself chastised.

Yesterday, MNB took note of a San Francisco Chronicle report that the average, middle-income parents of a child born in 2013 can expect to spend $245,340 to raise that child through his or her 17th birthday, while high-income parents will spend $407,820 to raise a child for that same period of time. Low-income parents will spend about $176,550 in today's dollars.

Which led one reader to write:

Of course, people who think of their children as “expenses” probably shouldn’t have them….

Good point.

On the subject of anti-gun groups pushing Kroger to ban all "open carry" from sits stores, MNB reader Ernie Monschein wrote:

An understanding of both sides is fine, but put yourself in the shoes of customers and employees who have to be exposed to this posturing. Walking through a store with an AR-15 on your shoulder because you can is intended to intimidate others. And it works. If I were walking through a store with my three granddaughters and saw someone armed like this, I would leave and never patronize that store again. I would also call the police.  How do I know this person is not about to turn this weapon on the people in the store? Are you sure? I’m not. I’m not taking that chance that he/she is one of the “good guys”. I support the rights of gun owners, but this type of display is simply over the top. It is insulting and creates unnecessary anxiety. Why is it you aren’t talking about the rights of non-gun owners and responsible gun owners to an anxiety free shopping experience?

If you really think about it, your point is absurd as is you equating the value of the first and second amendments. We must simply stop defaming American culture by exploiting constitutional rights to the point they deny the constitutional rights of others.

I'm not sure I have the right to say that the Second Amendment is less important than the First Amendment. I can argue with the way it has been interpreted by some groups, but I don't think I can prioritize them. Even if I'd like to.

I totally agree with you about people who would openly carry an AR-15 into a store, just because they can. I'd probably do the same thing you'd do.

But I still think that retailers have to obey local and state laws, and that it is up to activists to change those laws if they are not happy with them.

Regarding the USPS, MNB reader Jeff Folloder wrote:

I'm in a very highly regulated business.  Two days ago I ordered copies of federal publications containing those regulations.  These publications are offered by the Department of Justice, on behalf of one of their bureaus, at no cost to me, the recipient.  I used an online resource to submit my request.  I received an email confirmation within moments.  I received the publications today.  Via FedEx instead of USPS.

Congress should pull the plug on this patient and sell off the assets and services to private enterprise.  Now.  Of course, Congress will also lose their ability to send out free mail if they do that…

PWS 29