retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    The Washington Post reports that “the rate of health-threatening high blood pressure has started rising among American children for the first time in decade< and is seen by researchers as a natural and unwelcome result of the nation’s childhood obesity crisis.

    “After dropping steadily since the 1960s, diagnoses of early hypertension and full-blown high blood pressure began creeping up among children and adolescents beginning in the late 1980s as the obesity epidemic apparently began to take its toll, according to an analysis of data collected from nearly 30,000 youths by seven federal surveys,” the Post writes.

    “Although the increases so far have been small -- just 2.3 percentage points for early hypertension and 1 point for full-blown hypertension -- they translate into hundreds of thousands more children developing what often becomes a chronic, lifelong condition. Considered primarily an affliction of the middle-aged and elderly, high blood pressure is a leading cause of a host of health problems, including heart attack and stroke – the nation's top killers.”

    This is just the latest in a series of findings that traditionally adult diseases are finding their way into the nation’s child population. There also are higher rates of diabetes and high cholesterol among US young people, and these rates also are traceable to the nation’s obesity issues.

    “This is very worrisome," Elizabeth G. Nabel, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, tells the Post. "Typically in the past we didn't begin to see high blood pressure until someone was in their 30s or 40s. This is another piece of evidence suggesting that the obesity epidemic will likely turn into a heart disease epidemic.”
    KC's View:
    We’re not just killing ourselves. We’re killing our children.

    As a society, at what point are we going to wake up and realize that when we allow our kids to eat so much fast food, allow them to avoid exercise in favor of video games, and allow them to avoid interacting their families by not scheduling regular and frequent family meal times, we’re not just ignoring our responsibilities as parents, but actually creating a climate that threatens their physical and mental health?

    Not to climb on my high-horse here, but this strikes me as a ludicrous situation, because it is completely avoidable.

    It also is a situation that the food industry is in a unique position to address, it seems to me, both in how it formulates and markets products.

    It occurred to me after writing the piece last week about Hannaford’s Guiding Stars program – which assigns stars to good, better and best foods and gives parents a credible, actionable source of information as they choose which products to give their children – that one of the best things about it is the fact that the folks at Hannaford weren’t just acting like businesspeople. They also were acting as parents, and showing greater responsibility for the products they were selling to fellow parents.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    US District Judge Richard J. Holwell has ruled that a New York City rule implemented by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene that requires fast food chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus is illegal.

    According to various press reports, Holwell said in his ruling that federal law mandates how calorie should be posted if restaurants choose to do so, and that New York City could not supersede federal regulations. However, he apparently left the door open for the city to get around his ruling – Holwell also said that if the health department calorie rules were applied to all restaurants with 10 or more outlets, and not just fast feeders, then it would not appear to be in conflict with federal law.

    Fast food chains had joined together to appeal the NYC rules – said to be the first of their kind in the nation – on the grounds that the regulations violated their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. However, Holwell’s ruling reportedly did not address that claim.

    The city is considering an appeal.

    "The actions of these restaurants will deprive consumers of important information for a few months, but we are confident that calorie labeling can be legally mandated by the city and will help New Yorkers be better informed and make healthier choices," said department spokeswoman Sara Markt, who charged that fast food restaurants are "so ashamed of what they are serving that they would rather go to court than post calorie information where their customers can actually use it."
    KC's View:
    Once again, I have to wonder if the fast food chains are trying to fight a battle in a war that already has been lost, even if they don't know it yet.

    Transparency is increasingly important to American consumers, and have to wonder if it is just a matter of time before it won’t matter what departments of health require – consumers will demand such information be posted, and the chains will have a choice between being transparent and obstructionist.

    This isn’t just a New York fight, by the way. There are a number of states that are considering similar legislation, all of which probably are watching the NYC battle very carefully.

    Now, there will be a perfectly legitimate argument that government should stay out of it and let the free marketplace determine what information chains provide. And while I agree with this sentiment to a point, I can't help thinking that the same argument probably was made when the government decided to regulate and crack down on the tobacco industry. Thank goodness those pleas were ignored, or there’d be many more people dead and dying from cancer and other smoking-related maladies.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    The Los Angeles Times reports that LA Councilwoman Jan Perry has proposed a new ordinance that would ban the opening of any new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles for the next two years. The move came after an analysis showed that South LA has both the county’s highest obesity rates and the county’s highest concentration of fast food restaurants.

    The ordinance is designed to be a stopgap measure while Los Angeles considers longer term options – such as a New York City-style requirement that would mandate the posting of calorie counts on menu boards. The NY regulation, as reported above in MNB, has been struck down by a judge…though the city apparently has options that it is considering.
    KC's View:
    If communities can ban Wal-Mart, I suppose they can ban fast food restaurants.

    I have no idea if this is legal or not, but I have to admit that it sounds like a good idea.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    Stew Leonard’s, the four-unit chain of fresh food stores based in Connecticut, has announced that beginning this weekend and running through the end of October, it will sponsor a series of farmer’s market events focusing on locally grown produce.

    “Corn, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, peaches and apples are just several of the locally grown produce that will be featured at Stew Leonard's ‘It's All Native’ farmers markets events taking place at all four store locations throughout the months of September and October,” the company said in a statement. “Growers from family farms in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey will be on hand to answer questions and help consumers connect to where their food comes from and how it is grown.”

    Events will include sampling, cooking lessons and special programs for children.

    "The biggest benefit to buying local for many consumers is simply that the food just tastes better, because it is fresher. The farmers that we work with literally deliver the fruits and vegetables to our stores the same day they are picked from the field," said Stew Leonard, Jr., president and CEO of Stew Leonard's.
    KC's View:
    I’m sure that other retailers around the country are doing similar things, but I’m aware of what Stew’s is doing because it has been my main supermarket for the past quarter-century. But I still thought it worth mentioning, because it may spark an idea or two among folks who aren’t embracing the local food movement, or who aren’t sure how best to market it to their customers.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    MSNBC reports that Starbucks, which has long refused to market its products to children because of nutritional concerns about young people drink caffeinated and sweet beverages, is considering a change of stance in this area.

    The reason is simple. People under age 18 are a significant portion of the company’s customer base, as anyone who has found the chain’s chairs filled with chatty teens can attest. In addition, many moms use Starbucks as a “third place” where they can chat with friends, and they often bring their children with them, creating an apparent need for more kid-friendly products.

    “Starbucks spokesman Brandon Borrman said there are still no plans to market specifically to children, and grown-ups need not worry that the Cartoon Network will be playing on the flat-panel screen of their neighborhood Starbucks anytime soon,” MSNBC writes. “But Borrman said Seattle-based Starbucks is considering whether to add new drinks or drink sizes that better meet the needs of kids or teens.

    “Right now, it only lists limited kids’ items, such as milk and hot chocolate, in a smaller size, while teenagers have the choice of adult-sized, and often heavily caffeinated, beverages.”

    Borrman tells MSNBC, “We need to be realistic about who comes into our stores, so if we have children who are coming into our stores that are on their own, we want to make sure that we have products that are appropriate to that age group. Do we have an alternative to a venti-size caffeinated beverage that would be more appropriate?”

    No timetable has been set for when Starbucks could introduce more kid-friendly beverages.
    KC's View:
    Admittedly, I have a bias here. Not only am I an enormous Starbucks fan and consumer, but my son until recently was a Starbucks barista. (He’s taking a break for his first semester at college, but plans to rejoin the company on a limited schedule next year.)

    But when I look at those teens sitting around Starbucks sipping drinks and talking, I see a good thing. They’re not getting into trouble. They’re engaged in a kind of mature socialization ritual. There’s really little downside, except for the fact that sometimes I can’t get a seat.

    I’m not sure about the nutritional aspect, but I’m a lot more comfortable with my teens sipping a hot Starbucks latte than guzzling energy drinks. (And if we adults are going to continue doing stupid things like asking teenagers to be wide awake in class as early as 7:30 in the morning, I suppose we have to live with the notion that they are going to need a little pick-me-up.)

    Starbucks probably has to be careful about how far it goes in this area, but if the folks in Seattle want to create more kid-friendly beverage options for their stores, they should go right ahead.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    Burger King announced a series of initiatives designed to address childhood nutrition concerns:

    • Healthier menu items for kids.
    • A pledge not to market products to kids that do not meet certain nutritional guidelines.
    • A decision to sell an item called “Apple Fries,” in which apples are cut to resemble French fries and served in the same containers as fries – but are not cooked and are served skinless and cold.

    "We not only want to better inform parents and kids about these new menu options but also to demonstrate through product innovation that better-for-you foods can be fun and taste good," said John Chidsey, Burger King's chief executive.
    KC's View:
    All smart moves.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    For a moment, look at the first six stories featured on MNB this morning:

    • Childhood High Blood Pressure On The Rise
    • Judge Strikes Down NYC Rule Mandating Calorie Postings By Fast Feeders
    • Los Angeles Considers A Fast Food Moratorium
    • Connecticut Retailer Embraces “Buy Local” Trend With Fall Promotion
    • Starbucks Considers Menu For Young People
    • Burger King Sets New Kid-Oriented Priorities

    Notice a theme?

    That’s right. They all have to do with diet and nutrition. To a great extent, they have to do with children, and a growing health consciousness in this country – not to mention concern about long-term implications about how our children are raised and what we feed them.

    I choose the stories for MNB, so the level of importance that I have given them is a reflection of my own concerns and interest.

    But here’s the deal. I give them this kind of priority not out of some sort of social altruism, but because from a marketing point of view, this issue is very much the center of the target. Dead center. These are issues to be acknowledged, addressed and even embraced as retailers go to market.

    I will return yet again to a projection made by the Institute for the Future, that within a decade virtually every consumer decision will have some sort of health component to it.

    It’s happening.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    The Chinese government reportedly has agreed to begin the process of eliminating the use of lead paint on toys being shipped to the US, MarketWatch reports, as well as “to improve the safety of all toys, fireworks, cigarette lighters and electrical products” shipped from China to the US.

    "This is an important signal from the Chinese government that it is serious about working with CPSC to keep dangerous products out of American homes," said Nancy Nord, acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in a statement. "We will be looking for meaningful cooperation on the ground -- that means not just with the Chinese government, but also with industry at both ends of the supply chain."

    The announcement comes after a series of recalls of toys made in China that had too much lead paint, which can be a health hazard.

    MarketWatch notes that the US Senate begins hearings today that will look into current toy safety standards to see if they are adequate, and that the Toy Industry Association (TIA) “supports federal requirements to make safety testing and inspection mandatory.” The TIA reportedly “is working with American National Standards Institute to develop standards to verify that products comply with U.S. safety standards, and to certify that laboratories are qualified to conduct testing.”
    KC's View:
    I received a note from an MNB user this morning who is in Beijing, China, attending an International Food Safety and Quality Control Conference and Expo that has been hosted and organized by the government there to, in the words of the invitation, “develop a safe food supply chain nationally; explore and share successful food safety experiences, research and technologies with foreign countries; and strengthen competitive capabilities of food import and export of Chinese companies in the international marketplace.”

    This MNB user seems optimistic, writing, “It is interesting that it is the scientists and industry members that are driving change. The Chinese officials are saying all the correct things here, may be a sign things are moving in the right direction.”

    I hope so. I would, however, note that the MarketWatch story is very specific about the fact that the Chinese government is responding to political and economic pressure by working to eliminate lead paint from toys shipped to the US…which leaves open the possibility that Chinese manufacturers may not be so exacting in terms of standards for toys shipped elsewhere.

    But I suppose it is a start.

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    Ahold-owned Peapod and Stop & Shop have announced what they call “a new, first-of its-kind facility solely dedicated to serving the needs of businesses, schools and non profit organizations in the metropolitan Boston area.” The new distribution center will make deliveries to fulfill online orders only between 7 am and 4 pm Monday through Friday, and will offer roughly 4,000 SKUs selected for their relevance to the workplace, including a catering menu, fresh produce, snacks, beverages, cleaning supplies and office supplies.

    According to Peapod President Andrew Parkinson, “This is a high growth potential area of our business and we believe we can offer a unique value proposition – supermarket selection at supermarket values -- with no subscription or high minimum order requirements … A growing trend in the workplace today is to provide convenient, nutritious food and beverages on-site for employees. Peapod by Stop & Shop makes it easier for companies to do so by offering the convenience of online grocery shopping and delivery."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    The Charlotte Business Journal reports that Harris Teeter will open an in-store medical clinic in its Matthews Township store, which will be operated by Carolinas Medical Center.

    “The facility, dubbed CMC-Express, will offer medical care for minor illnesses and injuries as well as provide vaccinations,” the Journal< writes. “The clinic will have a waiting area and private exam room staffed by nurse practitioners … Carolinas Medical and Harris Teeter will consider expanding the clinic to other Harris Teeter supermarkets if the Matthews Festival facility is successful.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    • Dean Foods Co. has named Coca-Cola veteran Rick Zuroweste to be the new chief marketing officer of its dairy group, effective September 17.

    • Sears Holdings Corp. has named J. Miles Reidy, CFO at Capital One Financial Corp., to be its new CFO – the third person to hold the job there in 2007. He succeeds William Reidy, who has been serving both as CAO and interim CFO since the departure of the previous CFO, Craig Monaghan, who left the job last January after just six months.
    KC's View:
    I suppose that the problem Sears has in keeping CFOs is that the nature of the job requires that the occupant know how to count. And once they look around the company and do the arithmetic…

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    On the subject of CBS’s various supermarket-oriented promotions for its fall TV schedule, MNB user Joe Cannon wrote:

    I believe one of the points that many of us in the 40+ crowd need to remember is that our kids are motivated to buy in an entirely different way than us. They don’t read the paper, they don’t watch commercials, but if you make it loud enough, bright enough, or cool enough and hammer the message away they just might open up their wallet or use their finger to pay the bill. I’m sure you can relate to your kid texting and IM-ing away while watching TV and talking to you all in unison. Therefore we can’t simply think about how we react to advertising, but need to look at the bigger picture as companies such as CBS and SignStorey work to remain relevant and evolve in an attempt to reach an ever-fragmented audience.

    I don't disagree…except that virtually everything CBS is doing is playing to the people who still shop in traditional ways at traditional stores. I believe in non-traditional communication vehicles. What I object to are communication vehicles that detract from the store environment and what ought to be a cohesive marketing message.

    Responding to our story about a brewing battle between Giant Food and a new Wegmans in the Harrisburg market, one MNB user wrote:

    It doesn't matter what wonderful new things Giant does. Whatever Giant does to try to compete against Wegmans will be like taking a knife to a gun fight.

    Regarding the federal government’s efforts to assure the safety of imported products, one MNB user wrote:

    Like almost everywhere, this is no place for government interference. It's the responsibility of companies who source from overseas to monitor the safety and efficacy of products they ship into the marketplace. After all, it's their owners/shareholders who get blasted when something they missed slips all the way through the pipeline to the consumer. The Feds ought have no role in that equation.

    If someone gets sick or dies from an unsafe imported product, then it isn’t just the owners and shareholders who lose.

    I’m a taxpayer. With all the debate about border security, it seems to me that an intelligent use of tax dollars would be a truly effective program that will guarantee product safety.

    We had a story yesterday about a company that is testing the delivery of coupons via cellphone, which led MNB user Bradley DuLong to write:

    At first I thought this is a great idea...but with the growing number of employees at companies stealing email address for spam how soon should we start seeing spam sent to our cell phone? We are now starting to get tele-marketers...
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2007

    In 1970, the cultural icon Kermit the Frog sang, "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." Now almost 40 years later, those words still ring true for most corporations interested or involved in sustainable issues. With awareness for "all things green" never higher, industry experts, analysts and especially marketers would like to believe that consumer understanding of sustainability has advanced to the point where it is a household word. Today, just as a decade ago, protecting the environment and saving the planet are relevant issues. But when the Hartman Group asked consumers what "sustainable" meant to them, they got a very different take on the "big picture."
    To learn more, go to:
    KC's View: