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    Published on: October 16, 2006

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    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    GENEVA, Switzerland – The second day of presentations here at the CIES IT & Supply Chain Conference offered some interesting juxtapositions, as speakers offered differing perspectives on the roles that technology can play in business.

    For example, there was a fascinating presentation by Peter Mahler, CIO of Australia’s Coles Myer, who painted a vivid picture of a company that until a few years ago had more than 600 different applications, which each of its many banners acting autonomously – leading to a massive waste of money and energy, not to mention an extreme lack of efficiency. The company now is engaged in an effort to consolidate its applications and processes, an effort that is as much cultural as technological as Coles Myer outsources what can be outsourced and instead looks to have “knowledge people” inside the company who can take a more strategic and tactical approach to the subject.

    One of the byproducts of the Coles Myer presentation, at least for us, was the appreciation for how complex and massive the company’s business infrastructure is. It wasn’t that long ago that rumors were rampant that either Wal-Mart or Tesco might try to buy the company…but based on the description by Mahler, this would be an enormous undertaking. Not that Tesco and Wal-Mart wouldn’t be capable of it…but it wouldn’t be easy. Or pain-free.

    There also was an interesting joint presentation by Bill Long, vice president and director of general merchandise business strategy at Asda-Wal-Mart, and Kenneth Forster, Coca-Cola's group director of strategic initiatives, in which they described in some detail the data-sharing system called Retail Link and how it endeavors to create “one version of the truth” that the retailer and the manufacturer can agree upon.

    In the presentation, Forster noted that “commerce” is defined in the dictionary three ways – as the exchange of money, as the exchange of ideas, or as a kind of intimate personal knowledge. Retail Link, the men argued, really attempts to achieve all three when it comes to establishing a relationship between supplier and distributor; it is designed to be more than just a communications tool that drives best practices, but also the foundation for a deeper, more intimate relationship between two companies.

    During the discussion session, which we were privileged to moderate, Han Willemse of Ahold used this metaphor to note that it was nice to see that Wal-Mart and Coke were both in love and living together, but wondered if that meant that neither company would be willing to have such a relationship with another. But both Long and Forster said that Wal-Mart works actively to have such relationships with other manufacturers, and that Coke would love to have such relationships with other retailers.

    (Which is where the metaphor probably should have stopped. Except that being a bit of a wisenheimer, we commented to the entire conference that “it’s nice to know that everybody is in love and that nobody is getting screwed.” What we never found out is precisely how the interpreters translated that into French, German, Italian and Japanese…)

    Finally, the conference ended with a presentation by Polar explorer Robert Swan, who has walked to both the North Pole and South Pole and has become a leading advocate for the environmental preservation of Antarctica. Vividly describing the changes that global warming and the hole in the ozone layer have wrought in some of the coldest places on earth, Swan argued passionately for a greater consciousness about such issues on the part of citizens, governments and businesses. It was the kind of passion that, in the words of Ian Mumby, head of supply chain, logistics and IT-food for Marks & Spencer, made him want to move issues like “sustainability” to the top of his list of concerns.
    KC's View:
    As always, CIES produced a conference that was an unusual and provocative mix of topics and speakers, and that offered diverse attitudes and approaches to those in attendance. It’s nuts and bolts and well as philosophies and theories. Good stuff.

    It is always our pleasure and privilege to be a part of these CIES events…and, as we’ve argued in this space before, we wish that more American retailers would avail themselves of the opportunities. The US retailers represented there were from Ahold, HE Butt, and Wal-Mart. And that’s it.

    It is tough to compete in a global environment if you take a narrow view of the shape and size of the globe.

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    After having been found guilty last week of forcing Pennsylvania employees to work off the clock and during rest breaks, the other shoe dropped for Wal-Mart on Friday as a jury there awarded the plaintiffs $78.4 million in damages. The class action case lists more than 180,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees as plaintiffs in the case – which works out to a little more than $430 apiece (without factoring in attorneys’ fees, which doubtless will bring down their shares considerably.

    MarketWatch reports that “in addition to the damages awarded by the jury, a state judge is expected to add ‘liquidated damages’ of about $62 million under state law, according to Michael Donovan, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case. That would bring total damages in the case to about $140.4 million.

    Wal-Mart had argued once the guilty verdict came in that damages should be limited to under $7 million in total, which would have worked out to less than forty bucks apiece for the plaintiffs before paying the lawyers. As it is, Wal-Mart reportedly plans to appeal the verdict and the award.

    MarketWatch also reports: “The verdict follows a $172 million judgment against Wal-Mart by a California jury last December, including $115 million in punitive damages to about 115,000 current and former employees who claimed they were forced to skip meal breaks. Wal-Mart is appealing the judgment. Wal-Mart also settled a similar Colorado case in 2004 for $50 million.

    “Wal-Mart still faces at least seven other major class-action lawsuits in the U.S., including a federal sex-discrimination suit filed in 2000 on behalf of 1.6 million former and current female workers.”
    KC's View:
    Watching all the current coverage of Wal-Mart is sort of a “two steps forward, one step backward” sort of experience. The company gets good press for lowering generic drug costs, it makes a real commitment to sustainable and responsible energy usage, and then it gets hit with a $78 million verdict.

    And the beat goes on.

    The important thing to Wal-Mart, we suppose, is that it is perceived as being “two steps forward, one step backward” and not “one step forward, two steps backward.” As it is, the company seems to be making progress. All forward momentum is good momentum.

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    There is a report this morning from the Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad that the ongoing merger talks between Ahold and Delhaize – which have not even been formally admitted to by the two companies – have been put “on hold” by the boards of the two companies.

    The suspension of negotiations, however, is said to be temporary, with expectations that they will start up again shortly after the boards have a chance to review related documents. There was one report of “personal friction” between the negotiators.
    KC's View:
    No real surprise here. Once the window was opened, it was hard to imagine that it could be easily closed. “Personal friction” can only hold things up so far if the deal makes economic sense.

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    The Seattle Times reports on a marked difference among some of America’s major brands – Coca-Cola, which spends about $2.5 billion a year on advertising, Nike, which spends $1.7 million on the same expense line, and Starbucks, which spends a whopping $87.7 million on the same category. To put that in context, both Coke and Nike spend about 11 percent of their annual revenues on advertising, while Starbucks spends less than 1.5 percent of its total revenues.

    “So much of the relationship with the company exists between you and that barista behind the bar,” Brad Stevens, Starbucks' top marketing executive, tells the paper. “We haven't been able to conceive of a way for TV advertising to repeat that, to capture the heart and soul of the company.”

    Rather, the Times writes, Starbucks “takes an unconventional approach to marketing, choosing parties and other in-person encounters over big national advertising campaigns.” It also depends on the cachet it has developed over time to get it free advertising on television programs and in movies. And, it co-sponsors events that can generate free coverage, such as offering free coffee last March 15, “when Starbucks hosted a nationwide coffee break, giving free coffee to customers who visited any U.S. store from 10 a.m. to noon that day.”

    It isn’t just Starbucks, though, that is taking this approach. “It is one of many companies, including automakers and Procter & Gamble, using nontraditional marketing to reach customers,” which is a kind of “throwback to the way businesses appealed to customers before the mass media came along.”
    KC's View:
    Want to know the power of a brand?

    We’re walking along the street in Geneva the other evening, and we turned a corner – and there was a Starbucks. It was like finding a little bit of home four thousand miles away from our real home. Same atmosphere, same comfy chairs, and, we’re relieved to say, the same venti skim lattes.

    Of course, it all depends on perspective. We never would have had the same reaction to a McDonald’s, which we would have seen as a shameful imposition of American mediocrity on a foreign culture. Which would not be fair.

    Fairness aside, though, all that mattered was the taste of the latte.

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    A new study by ACNielsen says that more than eight out of 10 US consumers say that people bear a personal responsibility for their own weight management and 62 percent see the value of exercising as a way of staying healthy, less than a third of survey respondents actually have tried athletic endeavors as a way of doing so.

    “Only the two most commonly tried weight control activities, eating junk food less frequently and reducing meal size, tried by 64 percent and 58 percent of consumers, have trial rates that come close to matching perceived effectiveness< according to the study, which also says that only six percent of the population blames fast food restaurants for weight gain, and only two percent point to food companies as bearing responsibility.

    According to the study, “The disconnect between advice and action continues when looking at consumers’ food choices. Though Americans acknowledge that certain activities would be effective for weight control, such as reducing how often they eat junk food (65 percent) and substituting water for sugary drinks or juices (61 percent), the rate at which they try these strategies does not always match their perceived effectiveness.”
    KC's View:
    Go figure.

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    The Boston Globe writes about the problems that CVS has been facing with its stock price, which has been in decline lately (down 18 percent from its recent high point) because of two events – the decision by Wal-Mart to sell selected generic prescription drugs for $4 apiece, and a Massachusetts court decision that questions how wholesale drug prices are calculated. The share price drop has occurred despite the fact that CVS’s sales and earnings have been up – Q3 sales were up more than 24 percent, with same store sales up by more than n in percent.

    CVS argues that the impact of the Wal-Mart program has been negligible, at least in the weeks since it was introduced in the Tampa market – the drug chain says it calculates that it has lost an average of one prescription sale a day. And it believes that the wholesale drug issue also doesn’t augur badly for the company, which CEO Tom Ryan says has a broad-based and reliable business plan – even though the stock price drop may be keeping him awake at night.
    KC's View:
    We’re pretty cynical about what we see as the too-pervasive influence of the stock market. We think Ryan should sleep easily if he thinks he is running his company the right way (and it looks to us like he’s doing a pretty good job). Follow the Costco/Jim Sinegal model – do the right thing for the customers and the employees, and it’ll be the right thing for the business.

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the bare mention of a proposal that would ban the use of trans fats in restaurant foods in New Jersey – a proposal under consideration in places like New York City – has caused an outbreak of consumer outrage among New Jersey residents.

    The general feeling, at least among the more vocal members of the population, is that government shouldn’t be meddling in such issues, that it will cause some of the state’s best-known and loved eateries to change longtime recipes (and not for the better), and that a far better approach would be to simply require the listing of trans fats for restaurant foods.

    The outrage has reached such a peak that State Sen. Ellen Karcher, who introduced the proposal, has received death threats.
    KC's View:
    The question is, did she get the threats from the Sopranos? Because if so, Tony ought to think twice, because he could do with a few less trans fats.

    To be serious for a moment, this story actually brought home the issue for us – because we have long said that Mueller’s Bakery, in Bay Head, New Jersey, makes the finest crumb cake on the planet. (It isn’t just us – whenever we meet people familiar with the Jersey Shore, we simply ask them about crumb cake, and they all know Mueller’s.)

    Would Mueller’s need to change its recipe if a trans fat ban were implemented? We’re not sure…but it certainly would be a shame if the taste of something so timeless and perfect were at all altered.

    Published on: October 16, 2006 reports that Aeon has gotten exclusive negotiating rights from the Japanese government to purchase a 15 percent stake in Daiei, the troubled retailer there that has been looking for an investor to help bail it out of financial difficulties. Aeon also reportedly will negotiate to buy an even bigger piece of Daiei’s Maruetsu grocery retail subsidiary.

    The award apparently leaves Wal-Mart out in the cold; published reports have said that Wal-Mart also was looking to invest in Aeon so that it could add to the Japanese network of stores that it has built through its acquisition of a majority of Seiyu.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    When it comes to food, there are two kinds of people in the world, argues a review posted over the weekend on “There are those who leap out of bed smiling and eager to start the day, the kind who come up with team-building exercises for their departments, who stay out late into the evening line dancing because it's just so darn fun, and who wake up again the next morning still smiling and eager to start the day…Then there are the rest of us, the ones who see people like that and want to barf-o.

    “Rachael Ray, the turbocharged personality who has built an entire career on the notion that anyone can pull dinner out of their (expletive deleted by MNB) in under a half-hour, has, in the past year, gone from high profile basic cable star to full-blown media juggernaut. She is the face of her own magazine, the author of a string of bestselling cookbooks, and the host of approximately a bazillion Food Network series. In September, her eponymously named daytime talk show launched with the highest ratings for a syndicated debut since Dr. Phil hit the airwaves four years ago. Earlier this year, Time named Ray one of the 100 most influential people in the world. She has become, to crib from her bottomless supply of stock phrases, a big ta-da.”

    The questions are, why is Rachael Ray such a star, and what does that tell us about America’s relationship with food? seems to have the answer…or at least one answer:

    “Perhaps she's a star because that breakneck energy and interjection riddled vocabulary are genuinely appealing, although if that's the case I may have to move to another, far more dour corner of the globe. I prefer to believe she's made it despite the relentless ebullience, that she connects because she understands that for a whole lot of people, getting dinner on the table is a major accomplishment. You work late, you take care of your kids, you have no time to shop. You contemplate choking down a solitary Luna Bar or picking up a supersize bucket of trans fats at the drive-through. Rachael Ray says there's another option, and with her chipper, can-do attitude, she demystifies cooking. If she weren't sugarcoated to the gills, her message would be almost too tough to take. Suck it up, she's saying. If I can do it, you can to it. Take one lousy half-hour and get a hot meal together, for yourself and for your family. A real meal, preferably the kind with some lean meat and fresh vegetables. No expensive equipment or specialty store ingredients; no fancy French terms or techniques. No excuses.”
    KC's View:
    We’re unabashed fans of Rachael Ray, so we “get” the appeal.

    But the real story here is how she is an advocate for precisely the kinds of food decisions and options for which more supermarkets ought to be actively campaigning. Stores ought to rate themselves on a kind of Ray-meter: do they achieve the kind of enthusiasm that she exhibits?

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    Reuters reports that the Humane Society of the United States has petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish a moratorium on the development of food made from cloned animals, saying that too many questions remain about ethical, cruelty and public health issues. However, it should be noted that selling food from cloned animals is not currently allowed under US law, though as long as three years ago FDA said that an initial assessment suggested that cloned animals were as safe to eat as conventional food.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    ABC News reports that “in an effort to tap into consumer demand that has slanted more recently toward spirits like vodka and rum, which offer drinkers a multitude of fruity, salty and spicy flavors,” American breweries “are getting creative with flavors and the way they package and market their beers to draw customers back to beer -- and some of the new offerings are a long way from the traditional light and dark beers of decades past.” Typical of the new attitude toward beer – Miller will introduce a chocolate beer for the end-of-year holidays. This follows in Anheuser-Busch’s BE, a caffeine-infused beer with a blend of herbal stimulants, and Tilt, a malt beverage enhanced with caffeine and fruit flavors, as well as Miller’s Mickey’s Stinger, which also has caffeine.
    KC's View:
    Chocolate beer? Not sure we can go there.

    It's gonna take one helluva ad campaign...

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    Internet Retailer reports on a new Nielsen/NetRatings study suggesting that 75 percent of online shoppers recommend the sites they patronize to other shoppers, and that 55 percent of them are actually forwarding emailed marketing messages they get from these online retailers.,

    The study also suggests that these online shopping advocates tend to be “moderate spenders” rather than bi spenders, and also tend to be younger and more affluent than the average online consumer.

    • A new study in the UK says that Internet sales there increased last year by 56 percent to the equivalent of about $190 billion (US).
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that “Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has enacted a new attendance policy that penalizes workers for multiple unexcused absences and requires them to call an 800 number whenever they get sick, changes critics say are part of a bigger effort to nudge out unhealthy and long-tenured employees.” However, Wal-Mart defends the change by saying that it “benefits employees by documenting their requests for time off instead of relying on harried store managers to remember each request,” according to the WSJ.

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Wal-Mart has offered to build five supercenters within the Chicago city limits – not coincidentally, each of them in “wards whose aldermen helped the mayor block a proposed minimum wage for big-box retailers like Wal-Mart.”

    Crain’s characterizes the offer as an ‘election year goodie,” noting that it “means the prospect of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in construction work would be on the table at the same time the aldermen, and presumably Mayor Daley, will be making their case to voters in advance of the February city elections.”

    The City Council voted earlier this year to create a higher minimum wage and mandated health benefits for employees of big box stores, but Mayor Richard Daley vetoed the bill and was upheld when the Council voted on the wage bill one more time.
    KC's View:
    Reminds us of ““The Untouchables,” and the words writer David Mamet put into the mouth of Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone: “That’s the Chicago way.”

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    • The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Kroger plans to build a 127,000 square foot Marketplace store that will carry groceries as well as home furnishings, housewares, and art, as well as housing a bank, Starbucks, pharmacy and gas station, in Hebron, Kentucky.

    According to the Enquirer, “The first Kroger Marketplace in the region, a 108,000-square-foot store in Liberty Township, Ohio, opened in July. Earlier this year, Kroger said it wanted to build 10 of the Marketplace stores in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Northern Kentucky areas.”

    Crain’s Cleveland Business reports that Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) has “raised the specter of a federal investigation into the sale agreement between Royal Ahold and Giant Eagle” that will have the latter buying 18 stores from Ahold’s Tops division. Kucinich is arguing that the deal leaves Giant Eagle in too-dominant a position in the region, and he reportedly wants to know if there are other options to Giant Eagle.

    Reuters reports on a new study by Mintel, the market research company, saying that the UK’s ethical food market is burgeoning, hitting the equivalent of almost $4 billion (US) in revenue this year, with sales of organic, free range and Fair Trade foods up 63 percent in the last 12 months.

    What this suggests, the study says, is that such concerns are growing far more mainstream, no longer being taken seriously just by niche or fringe groups.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    • Anheuser-Busch has named longtime company veteran Robert Lachky to be its first chief creative officer, according to a report in Advertising Age.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    We got the following email from an MNB user who, thank goodness, wanted to be critical of another news organization that goes by three letters:

    Thursday 10-12, NPR’s “All Things Considered” afternoon show had another story about e coli and the Salinas Valley. There were facts worthy of reporting regarding the tracing of the e coli source. In closing the story the reporter stated that there had been “numerous outbreaks of e coli” in fresh produce from the Salinas Valley since the late 1990s. This is patently irresponsible reporting! “Numerous” means a “great many”, and “great” means “notably large in size.” (Webster’s Collegiate). As the son, brother, nephew, cousin, and grandson of publishers, editors, and reporters, I recognize editorializing by a reporter through the simple addition of a single word. It’s an old and revered technique. For a reporter to say “numerous”, when “several” would have been appropriate, in a story with as broad an audience as NPR enjoys is an attempt at fear mongering. This may seem like nitpicking to some, but these nuances in definition influence people. I urge fellow MNB readers to write to their local NPR stations demanding a correction of the use of “numerous.” “Numerous” implies an out-of-control situation. “Numerous” fosters fear amongst shoppers. “Numerous” implies an industry that doesn’t care. The numerous people I know in this industry take pride in providing good things for people to eat. The NPR story, with the irresponsible use of “numerous” implies differently.

    We didn’t hear the story, so we’re not sure of the context or inflection. And we have no idea of the reporter has any biases in this area. We would suggest, however, that even if this could fairly be called “irresponsible” (and that may be a slight overstatement), it certainly may not have been on purpose. Sometimes, when you’re on deadline, you choose the wrong word because you’re in a hurry, or because you really think that “numerous” and “several” are synonyms. Which, by the way, our thesaurus says they are.

    Just FYI…

    On the subject of CIES and our feelings that American retailers should be greater supporters of its global conferences, MNB user Paul Schlossberg wrote:

    Agree with your comments on this subject. Have been to Europe about 10 times for trade shows and have learned so much.

    These trips also allowed me the time to do "store checks" across a wide array of retail formats. There was also the opportunity to see some terrific foodservice operations (at business and industry and healthcare sites). It's exciting to see the way food and beverages (and non-foods too) are merchandised in European stores and foodservice operations. You could describe it as being passionate about what they sell. That is so different from what the norm is here.

    Many retail innovations - such as in-store dining counters were observed in Paris in the late 1990's. These ideas are just getting to U.S. supermarkets. It is most certainly news here (in fact it's very good news) - but it's not new.

    I believe it was Yogi Berra who said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." You've got to get out of town, maybe even out of the country,
    to be sure you're watching in the right places.

    We’ve had a lot of coverage of the banks and credit card companies and how they are ripping off retailers and consumers…which means that this email wasn’t a huge surprise:

    Here is one experience as to why credit card companies have sacrificed any loyalty from me, at least: Recently a long term credit card that I use, which I originally got as a “branded” card from an airline, levied late fees on my trivial balance (a $15 late fee on a $20 balance is pretty irritating).

    So I looked at my recent payments and I had paid them on the same day for years – why the sudden late charge? I called the credit card company – and was told they had switched me to a 20-day payment cycle, but since I had complained they would put me back on a 25-day cycle.

    Until this happened I had no idea that they changed the length of the cycle – or that anyone COULD change the cycle without some sort of proper notice. It was probably buried in some flyer with my bill, among all the unwanted marketing crap – but I never saw it.

    These guys basically took what use to be a monthly transaction and turned it into 20 days, with no adequate notice. By the time their bill gets to me it is down to 2 weeks, and unless I want to do electronic payment, I have less than 6 business days to write and mail a check before getting nailed for a fee.

    Pirates have nothing on these people.

    And, we got the following email from MNB user Jerome Schindler:

    Had to tell someone. On the way home from a live theatre performance at about 11 pm we stopped at a large Kroger Store in the Columbus suburbs to pick up some things. When going to check out I found that the only checkouts open were the self-checkouts. I was told the only "live" checkout person was on break and therefore I was forced to either wait for 10-15 minutes for that person to come back from break, or endure the idiotic Kroger self checkout system.

    Perhaps I am just a cranky old man but I believe I have the right to expect a cashier to check out my purchases. If they remake “Rainman” the phrase will be "Kroger Sucks" as Kmart will probably no longer be around, and I'd like to be the actor saying it as I could do it with genuine gusto and conviction. The next time I stop in that area for a supermarket purchase I will make the extra effort to go to the Giant Eagle on the other side of the road. Kroger has proven to me many times over that they do not deserve my patronage.

    I am so ticked off you can use my name. I'm in the phone book if the Kroger President wants to call me.

    We would have to agree with the argument that if the store is open, there ought to be at least one person manning the checkouts…and that to suggest that the customer needs to either self-checkout or wait 15 minutes really isn’t appropriate.

    Kroger probably isn’t the only chain or store guilty of this mistake. Here’s the real problem – if a store is going to stay open late, they can’t treat the graveyard shift like a graveyard. Otherwise, it’s going to be where they bury all the sales that end up going elsewhere, to stores that seemingly care just a little bit more.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2006

    In the American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers swept the Oakland Athletics in four games and now move onto the World Series.

    Meanwhile, in the National League Championship Series, the NY Mets have tied things up with the St. Louis Cardinals at two games apiece. Game five is tonight.

    In National Football League action…

    Buffalo 17
    Detroit 20

    Carolina 23
    Baltimore 21

    Cincinnati 13
    Tampa Bay 14

    Houston 6
    Dallas 34

    NY Giants 27
    Atlanta 14

    Philadelphia 24
    New Orleans 27

    Seattle 30
    St. Louis 28

    Tennessee 25
    Washington 22

    Kansas City 7
    Pittsburgh 45

    Miami 17
    NY Jets 20

    San Diego 48
    San Francisco 19

    Oakland 3
    Denver 13

    KC's View: