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    Published on: July 11, 2007

    Excellent piece in USA Today this morning about the difficulty of buying American food products – and the broader problem of trying to understand where all food products come from. Which is “becoming a chore for more and more Americans,” the paper writes. “With a steady diet of news about contaminated products coming from China and elsewhere, and the spread of a consumer movement to buy locally produced foods, people are paying more attention to the source of their food.”

    Much of the piece focuses on a trip through the supermarket with our old friend Phil Lempert, food trends editor of the “Today Show” and publisher of SupermarketGuru.com.

    An excerpt:

    “Lempert has been sent to the market, with reporter in tow, to research this question: If you want to buy foods produced only in the USA, what are your options when you head to the supermarket?

    “He grabs a package of Marie Callender's Ranch Croutons and starts going down the ingredient list, peering over his glasses to read the text. When he gets to ‘hydrolyzed corn protein, spices, dextrose, natural & artificial flavors, dough conditioners …’ he stops.

    "’It shouldn't have to be this hard!’ he mutters, throwing the bag into his cart. ‘The average consumer spends 22 minutes on a shopping trip. You have to worry about fat and calories and health and money. Now if they have to think about where the food comes from, too …’”

    Another excerpt:

    “Why is it so difficult to find out where foods come from?

    “Lempert believes manufacturers resist explicit labeling because they fear consumers' reaction if they know how far some of their food has come.

    "’A consumer who sees that the items are from 10 countries isn't going to want that,’ he says.”
    KC's View:
    Good piece. Go read it. And then, start thinking like a shopper.

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    The Lakeland ledger reports that Publix Super Markets is testing a curbside carry out service for deli items at one of its Fort Myers, Florida, stores, allowing customers to phone in orders, park in designated spaces, and pay an employee who brings the order to them.

    According to the story, Publix allocated several parking spaces near the entrance to the store for the experiment, and is using a video camera to monitor them. Just a week old, there are no plans at this time to expand the test.

    The Ledger notes that this is just one in a series of innovations being taken by Publix as it looks to connect with shoppers in new ways. For example, after a series of building delays, “on Monday the company finally debuted its in-store Carrabba's Italian Market at a location in Sarasota. The 1,000-square-foot eatery features a wood-burning pizza oven and grill and offers a selection of items from the popular Italian chain. The ‘mini-restaurant’ does not offer table service, but … limited seating is available for customers to wait or eat.” The venture is said to be the “first of its kind for Publix and Carrabba's, which is part of Tampa-based Outback Steakhouse.”
    KC's View:
    Publix always has been good at trying new things and not being hemmed in by some of the limitations that sometimes afflict “big” companies.

    My only question about the Carrabba's test is that I’m always leery about using other foodservice brands in the store. Perhaps Publix thought that the chain brought greater pizza expertise and credibility to the venture, but I’m never crazy about hyping other (competitive) brands.

    But I’m willing to be open-minded. Let’s see how it plays out.

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    Independent grocer Dorothy Lane Market has decided to install a biometric payment system in each of its three stores.

    According to the Cincinnati Business Courier, “Customers entering the store can either use the finger scan or swipe a card to receive a printout of personalized product discounts. And at check-out, customers can pay via the finger scan, and debit the amount from a checking account.” In addition, shoppers will be able to enroll in the Pay By Touch-run program “or upgrade from Club DLM, the store's loyalty program.”
    KC's View:
    This last sentence is the most important in the story, because it puts its finger on one of the things that has always made Dorothy Lane Markets unique (other than its wonderful food culture and the leadership of Norman Mayne, one of the real treasures in the food retailing business).

    Dorothy Lane Market always have been extraordinary in its disciplined approach to loyalty marketing – it uses a card program not just to accumulate data, but to actually use it to reward shoppers and lead them in new and appropriate directions. It uses its card program to actually establish a relationship with the shopper, not just to offer indiscriminate electronic coupons.

    Using biometrics in this regard makes perfect sense, because it heightens the relationship…and builds on a level of trust and connections that already exists. I suspect that when the folks at Dorothy Lane were considering this program, they very much looked it as a tool that could be used in the service of a broader strategy, not as a strategy unto itself.

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    Published reports say that Wal-Mart has completed rolling out its "Site to Store" service, which allows consumers to order products online and then get free shipping – as long as they picked the items up at a local Wal-Mart bricks-and-mortar location.

    The service now is available at more than 3,300 US stores, and the retailer said that about a third of all orders placed at Walmart.com have used it during the past four months since the service was announced. In addition – and this is worth paying attention to – the company said that 50 percent of all the orders placed using the “Site To Store” program were first-time orders on Walmart.com.

    "We don't want to compete with the stores," Walmart.com CEO Raul Vazquez tells Reuters. "We want to complement the stores."
    KC's View:
    It is too early to offer a final judgment on the “Site To Store” concept, but not too early for me to eat a little humble pie on this one.

    When this first was announced a few months ago, my recollection is that I was skeptical – that the idea of picking up an online order at a local store seemed to go against all the reasons I like to use the Internet for shopping.

    But clearly I’m a little out of the mainstream, at least in this case. Go figure.

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    Forbes reports that a series of nationwide protests are expected to take place in India next month, as small retailers there band together to demonstrate against the targeting of that country by major global businesses such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour. While there are strict regulations against international retailers setting up shop in India, companies such as Wal-Mart are embracing joint ventures with local businesses that allow them to get around the regulations.

    “We will tell Wal-Mart and all other big Indian corporations like Reliance and Bharti to get out. They must not take away this business from small workers," said Rajendra Thacker, general secretary of the Mumbai Mahanagar Vyapari Seva Parishad or Save Mumbai Business Group.

    According to the story, “The entry of large corporations into the retail sector has sparked protests in India where the estimated $280 billion market is dominated by more than 12 million mom-and-pop shops. Sales through company-owned big-box stores - also called organized retailing - currently account for less than 5 percent of the market.”
    KC's View:
    I don’t know nearly enough about the India economic or competitive climate to make an informed comment on this. I would only say that history suggests that globalization is a tough trend to resist, and that economic investment in India by major global retailers probably is inevitable.

    In the end, the mom and pop shops will have to learn that “compete is a verb.” If they spend all of their time and effort trying to resist the tides of competition, then they may be ill prepared to actually fight back when these big players come to town. And ill prepared is the one thing they cannot afford to be.

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    The Wall Street Journal reports that new studies conducted in the UK suggests that food advertising on television actually does seem to prompt children to eat more.

    “In two similar studies,” the Journal reports, “researchers in Liverpool compared the effects of television advertising on the eating habits of 152 kids between the ages of 5 and 11. In both studies, the kids watched 10 ads followed by a cartoon. In one session, the kids saw ads for toys before they watched a video. But in another session, the toy ads were replaced by food advertising commonly aired with children's and family programming. After both viewings, held two weeks apart, the kids were allowed to snack as much as they wanted from a table of low-fat and high-fat snacks, including grapes, cheese-flavored rice cakes, chocolate buttons and potato chips.

    “After the 5-to-7-year-old kids saw the food ads, they ended up eating 14% to 17% more calories than after the toy ads, according to a study published this month in the medical journal Appetite. But the changes were even more dramatic among the 9-to-11 year-olds. They ate from 84% to 134% more calories after being exposed to food ads compared with their snack intake after watching toy advertising,”

    There is one bit of good news in the research – the compulsion to eat doesn’t seem limited just to fast food or junk food.

    “Because most parents can't monitor every ad their child is exposed to, one solution is to simply make sure your child only has access to healthy snacks after watching TV,” the Journal writes. “That way, a post-TV binge won't do much damage. Notably, in the Liverpool studies, kids' consumption of healthy foods, such as grapes and low-fat snacks, also jumped after seeing food ads.”

    The release of this research is timely, considering that a group of US food manufacturers are said to be ready to announce voluntary restrictions both on what they market to kids and how their child-oriented food products are formulated – moves that likely are aimed at preventing the government from having mandatory restrictions in these areas.
    KC's View:
    I have a question. Perhaps a silly question.

    If an advertising agency submitted a commercial for a food or beverage product that did not make the viewer – whether an adult or child – either hungry or thirsty, wouldn’t that ad be deemed ineffective? And wouldn’t, in the long run, that ad agency get canned for being incompetent?

    I thought these ads were supposed to make viewers hungry or thirsty. I thought that was the whole point.

    Why is this such a surprise?

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    The East Bay Business Times reports that “though Save Mart Supermarkets has converted more than 40 former Albertsons stores throughout Northern California to its own nameplate in recent weeks, no such decision has been as yet for its Bay Area locations. So for the time being, the Albertsons name will remain on its 70 stores in the nine-county region.”

    Reports say that the stores could be called Save Mart, or could use another company banner, Food Maxx. Or a new name could be invented for the Bay Area units.

    Save Mart bought the 100 stores from Albertsons LLC last February, more than doubling its size at the time.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    • The San Diego City Council was unable yesterday to override the mayor’s veto of a law that would ban big box stores from being built within the city limits – which was seen by local observers as a major victory for Wal-Mart, which argued that the measure was anti-competitive.

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Wal-Mart has gotten tougher in its dealings with young shoplifters, “lowering the age at which it will prosecute and authorizing store managers to call the police if a parent doesn't appear within an hour to retrieve a child.

    “The policies, which went into effect Monday, now include prosecuting first-time shoplifters as young as 16 years old, compared with the previous limit of 18. The company also will prosecute younger shoplifters whose parents don't quickly respond to a store's call, and children repeatedly caught stealing.”

    The company cited rising shrink rates as the reason for the change in policy. It was just a year ago that the company said it was going to become more lenient toward such kids, preferring to focus on organized shoplifting rings. Company spokesman John Simley tells the Journal that store managers have discretion to be tougher or more lenient on a case-by-case basis.
    KC's View:
    I don’t want to sound for a moment like I don’t want these kids to remember getting caught shoplifting as a life lesson. Because they need to.

    I just hope that discretion is used.

    There’s a paragraph in the story that reads:

    “Wal-Mart's new policy permits store managers to call police regardless of the age or amount of the theft if a parent can't be contacted by phone within 30 minutes or doesn't appear at the store within 60 minutes after being contacted. The same policies cover those accused of trespassing at a store. Formerly, parents were given 45 minutes to be contacted and 90 minutes to appear.”

    It just occurs to me that some parents may be tough to reach because of their jobs, and may not be able to make it down to the store in 60 minutes. (Like, say, if they worked for a giant discounter and the call came at a busy hour and the manager couldn’t let them off work.)

    Subjecting them to the criminal courts may not be the most effective use of discretion. Or the courts.

    Published on: July 11, 2007

    Responding to yesterday’s piece about John Mackey of Whole Foods complaining that the FTC was being selective and unfair in its attempt to block his company’s acquisition of Wild Oats, one MNB user wrote:

    Mackey is just preaching to the choir. The bottom line is that the Bush administration is not going to rubber stamp any business deals that involve hippie pinko commie companies. If Whole Foods waits another 18 months and tries again, it should go very smoothly in round two.

    Maybe.

    I would have preferred to think that the administration would not be using political agendas in deciding such things, but perhaps that ship as permanently sailed. The stories in the New York Times and Washington Post this morning about political interference in how the US Surgeon General did his job and addressed public health issues are, to say the least, disquieting.

    On a similar, though unrelated, political tangent, MNB user Steve DelBonis wrote in about our story saying that a Chinese food safety official found guilty of taking bribes and “purposeful neglect” had been executed:

    Response from a friend that I shared this with: Scooter Libby should be on his knees thanking God he wasn't born Chinese.




    We wrote yesterday about the new Wendy’s Baconater, which has so much bacon and meat that they ought to throw in a Lipitor with the meal. One MNB user wrote:

    While I visit fast food joints occasionally, I actually like Wendy’s for their fresh burgers. Arguably McDonald’s has the best fries, but I’d have to say that of the big chains Wendy’s has the best burgers followed closely by BK, and Dairy Queen.

    That said I usually order a single cheese with everything, not the larger offerings you were referring to in the piece. But the average job-site construction worker burns a few more calories that a guy hitting a keyboard. He can afford to feed his hunger. And for the record my wife is totally appalled by the BK Patty Melt commercials with the seductive blonde rolling around with her burger. For me its all eye candy, can’t afford either!

    Besides these creations are probably smaller than the $9 burgers you’d get at your local bar and grill with 3 fried Idaho’s on the side of a platter big enough for three.





    On the subject of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), one MNB user wrote:

    I just returned from a great European trip with my daughter for her 16th birthday (yes, she’s spoiled and I love doing it). One of our daily rituals was to find a local market/street vendor and buy fruit. Wonder of all wonders, local street vendors, particularly those near borders, had all of their products marked by country and/or region of origin, and had duplicate displays for “local” fruit and that that came from somewhere else. They used a really sophisticated process…they hand wrote a label telling me where it came from. Seems to me it’s a solvable problem, and a chance for those that have a great sourcing program to educate customers why strawberries from one region have a different taste profile than another region.

    No argument here.




    Finally, we got a ton of email about “Sansolo Speaks,” the first column written by our new partner (some would say “co-conspirator”), Michael Sansolo. Some excerpts…

    MNB user Ray Stewart wrote:

    Give 'em hell Sansolo--I'll always support your Right to be Wrong. I wish you the best.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I read your first piece with interest - KC has been building you up...

    Just a couple excerpts...
    1. "Rachael Ray turns me on."
    2. "There are amazingly smart people in this industry"..."We need way more diversity in the industry and fast."..."The industry possesses more good research, studies and guidebooks than anyone can use"
    So the industry is a smart monoculture that can't use research? Sounds like "good ol' boys to me...which leads back to your quote about Rachael...wasn't that statement a little sexist?

    If the people in this industry are so smart, why is there a lack of diversity...without diversity, isn't thinking mostly the same...and how can that produce good research?


    FYI…Michael is one of the least sexist people I know. Which is reflected in this email from another MNB user:

    I look forward to reading plenty of rants, continued “thinking outside of the box” and your ever-present genuine respect and appreciation for women.

    MNB is lucky to have landed you!


    Agreed.

    MNB user Frank Riso wrote:

    Welcome to MNB. I agree with a lot of the things you mentioned, NYC, this industry and our ability to agree and disagree. However, as one former cashier to another, win or lose I will always be a Yankees fan. Do we agree on the Giants at least?

    That’ll have to be for one of his fall columns…

    MNB user Jim Swoboda wrote:

    Good to see you on the "netways".

    You have great points. As you recall, the ECR effort included many very bright people. I had the good fortune to work with a lot of them. The challenge looking back is some of those with vision who truly threatened the status quo were publicly lauded and privately whipped. You call to action should be heard and those who hear the call should learn from the lessons of 10 years ago. Great things can be achieved by working together and trust will be a great by product.

    On a fun side, I can't believe you are so grounded after having lived in D.C. for so long. That place sucks the wisdom right out of people. Congratulations on not being one of them.

    Designated hitter has to go. Worst thing in baseball...well maybe the second.

    Parents are great! I wish everyone had a mom and dad as did I and clearly you. I only hope I live up to their example with my children.

    Glad you said Rachael Ray and not Rosie! That would have scared me.

    Lastly, I have learned great lessons from my children that prompts me to share one. The other day, my 12 year old son was getting ready in the morning when I heard my 16 year old daughter ask, "does my hair look okay?" to which he replied, "I don't think I am qualified to answer that..." Boy, I wish I had been that wise at his age!

    Look forward to many great writings from you and Kevin.


    MNB user Ruth Raphel wrote:

    Mike's column is a great edition to an already great food industry report...

    We’re blushing.

    One of the things Michael wrote about yesterday was the fine art of counting change at the register, which led one MNB user to write:

    ... the art of counting change (and the math skills it teaches) is something we could use these days. Agree wholeheartedly. BTW, where do you stand on the issue of handing the change to the customer (or the customer handing the change to the cashier)? I was taught to place the coins in the palm and THEN hand the bills. Now they seem to hand the bills with the change sliding around inside, with the change very often shooting out onto the floor or ground at the drive-thru.

    I asked Michael to respond to this:

    I'm totally with you. Coins first, bills follow and you can grab your purchase and move on. Putting the coins on top makes me nuts! (But I love the little cup of pennies many put out these days!)

    I think you’re both living in another decade. I can’t remember the last time I paid cash in a supermarket…
    KC's View: