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Lots of reaction to yesterday’s essay about the need for the food industry to develop new formats that cater to a new generation of consumers, as opposed to depending on traditional formats to lure this new demographic target.

MNB user Terry Shirley wrote:

“Excellent point regarding changing habits in lifestyle and impact on food stores. This is a great opportunity for niche, and independent operators to take the lead, and many probably are. As usual, the big chains will follow suit once they've seen success from the innovators.”

MNB user Norma Gilliam added:

“You are absolutely right on the money! Those younger consumers will buy food, they just may change where they buy it. Take a look at where the fast, casual restaurant business has grown. When retailers are looking at their competition, they need to take a look at the local popular restaurant menus. Not only do these young people not know how to cook, many of them either don't have the time, or choose to spend their time elsewhere.

“By utilizing demographic information and keeping a close look at the competition the retailer can compete, but they may have to make some changes to the way they do business with this group. Offering cooking classes and convenient foods will help, but they had better do a more efficient job with customer service as well. This is an impatient group of young consumers that have not learned to be "loyal" to the old ways and brands. They have money to spend and will choose to spend it in places that deliver the goods and services they desire.

“It's not easy for any retailer to market to just one group of traditional consumers. Tomorrow's success will come from those who can creatively, effectively and efficiently (profitably) market to several generations at one time.”

MNB user Bryant Wynes brought another perspective:

“I wholeheartedly agree with your observations - and your challenge to the food industry to address the needs of various demographics, especially younger consumers, if it is to enjoy a viable future. Unique or new prototypes have to be explored.

“But as a friend of mine from the Ozarks used to say, "I'm not sure this dog will hunt."

“The industry's roots are set deeply in a "one size fits all" approach compounded by an unwavering belief that all consumers are the target audience. We've spent decades building an infrastructure of stores, distribution, operations and merchandising which is financially dependent on large sales volumes - sales that have inherently come from appealing to mass markets. Too often we hesitate to target one demographic group, fearing we'll turn off others, thus turning our backs on large chunks of potential volume.

“Developing alternative formats which appeal to specific customer segments, requires a leap of faith that only a few are willing to exhibit. Even fewer give such entrepreneurial ventures the support, commitment and, most importantly, the time necessary to prove their worth. Remember HMR?

“We need to view these efforts with "new eyes," evaluating every aspect of the business by different standards than those traditionally used to measure success. We must be willing to learn from our experiments and integrate our learnings into the store. We've got to give them the time to develop. (Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market concept is a great example. How long did they take and how many stores did they open before they "got it right?" Are we sure they're finished yet?)

“There is certainly no lack of new ideas. Great opportunities abound, and there are true sparks of ingenuity among some of the more marketing-savvy chains and independents. But we'll not make the kind of strides Crate & Barrel has exhibited by trying to put a round peg in a square hole.”

Well, we never said it would be easy.

In a commentary linked to one of our stores yesterday, we noted thatFortune had ranked Wal-Mart as the most admired company in America, while another survey from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) suggested that the Bentonville Behemoth had declined a bit in consumers’ opinions.

One member of the MNB community (who happens to be a Safeway executive) wrote:

“I believe the Fortune survey was for investors and the ACSI was for shoppers. The interesting part is that Safeway's shoppers say they are increasingly satisfied with their experience, contrary to the inaccurate depictions of the company frequently seen in this space.”

It was precisely our point that different groups see the same company differently…it was, in fact, comparing apples to oranges.

As for inaccurate depictions of Safeway, we would refer you to the “Department of Clarification” story above.

Our story about possible problems at Target prompted the following email from MNB user Roxanne Diaz:

“As a native of Minneapolis and all around bargain shopper, I am a big fan and frequent shopper of Target (or as I fondly say with feeble French accent, "Targe' Boutique").
“I have a different perspective, however, on Target missing the mark. They are with out a doubt the higher-end retailer amongst the competition, which seems to leave them more vulnerable to economic downturns in general. But where they've really lost ground is in customer service.

“Long before you could buy Calphalon or Liz Claiborne at Target, back in the days when there really wasn't much in the way of merchandise to distinguish them from Kmart, there was customer service. Simple, old fashioned and pretty consistently good customer service. Clerks smiled and greeted customers at check out, they put bags into your cart, they exchanged niceties, and you had a sense that employees knew this was expected of them.

“As much as I have really enjoyed the expanded merchandise and higher quality items at very competitive prices, I really miss the helpful, friendly attitude that used to be the standard at Target stores everywhere. I wish I could say that the slip in recent years was isolated to my area, but I travel for business frequently. I have been known to visit Target stores in different states in the same day (lets not even discuss why) and across the board they have lost a critical distinguishing factor: service.

“If Target has forgotten how important it is for customers to feel like employees are helpful and friendly, maybe they should ask Kmart for a little first hand experience.”

That’s a cautionary note not just for Target, but for retailers everywhere.

Our story about the possibility of a new chain of Juan Valdez-themed coffee shops generated the following email from an MNB user:

“Oh goodie! Finally a boutique coffee store for folks who like a weak brew!”

Obviously a Starbucks fan…

And on that caffeinated note, we wish you a terrific weekend. We'll be back Monday morning with an all-new edition of MorningNewsBeat, when we'll be on location at FMI's MarkeTechnics conference in Dallas, Texas.
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