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    Published on: September 20, 2007

    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

    Or, to simply read the commentary in text form, continue below…

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop…your first stop for retail website design services.

    There’s been a lot of discussion here on MorningNewsBeat lately about advertising clutter, in part prompted by my general resistance to in-store television networks that don't advance the cause of the retailer as much as they advance the priorities of the company that owns the network. The debate got started when CBS bought SignStorey, and some guy at CBS started talking about how he’d be thrilled if the whole world got sick and tired of seeing CBS promos because of the ubiquity of its various networks. Now, maybe I’m crazy, but that’s not my idea of smart marketing. It just sounds like a lot of noise and clutter to me, and the kind of marketing that could turn off the consumer rather than prompting positive behavior.

    Now, let’s be clear. I am in favor of electronic marketing. I just think they need to be a lot more selective and customized than a lot of the stuff I see out there, which tends to be annoying and intrusive.

    Let me give you an example of what I mean by intrusive.

    There is a company out there called Healthquest Technologies that is marketing something called Wizmark, described as the first “interactive urinal communicator.” Apparently they put these things in men’s room urinals, and they have electronic sensors that can tell when somebody is standing there. And then, on the premise that they have a captive audience, the damn things will talk or sing or do pretty much whatever the advertiser wants it to; the company that makes it says it is perfect for male-oriented marketing campaigns.

    They gotta be kidding. It’s bad enough these days that you can’t walk into a public men’s room without worrying about whether you have a wide or narrow stance or happen to tap your feet…now, you have to deal with advertisers chasing you down to one of the few places where you have no option but listen – you can’t leave, and even if there were an off switch you couldn’t use it because your hands are busy!

    Women of America, I know that it always annoys you that there are longer lines for ladies rooms than men’s rooms…but trust me, you have the advantage here because as far as I know, ladies rooms don't have urinals.

    Again, I want to be clear. You put your ad in the place where I am trying to take care of my personal business, I won’t buy your product. Period. And I think there are an awful lot of other guys who would feel the same way.

    That said, if you do want to put in television screens over the urinals and have them permanently tuned to ESPN…that, I think, we can live with.

    For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Wal-Mart, which has been one of the nation’s biggest “proponents of energy-saving, compact-fluorescent light bulbs,” plans to unveil a private label line of the bulbs, essentially doubling its bet it can engineer a significant change in what consumers buy and how much they spend on energy consumption.

    The retailer, according to the Journal, “plans for its Great Value CFL bulbs to cost less than brand-name bulbs, pricing a pack of four bulbs at $7.58, or roughly the price of a three-pack of brand-name bulbs. The Bentonville, Ark., retailer intends to stock its bulbs in 3,000 -- or nearly three-quarters -- of its U.S. stores this month. It is expected to announce its plan today.”

    The Journal notes that “Wal-Mart has promoted CFLs for the past two years as a cornerstone of its green strategy to cut its waste and offer environmentally friendly products. Working with suppliers such as General Electric Co, the retailer pledged in November to sell 100 million CFL bulbs by the end of 2007. At last public disclosure, it had sold more than 80 million. Andy Ruben, Wal-Mart's vice president of strategy and sustainability, said during a Sept. 4 speech that CFLs account for 15% of light-bulb sales at Wal-Mart, up from 5% nine months ago.”
    KC's View:
    This is a vivid example of how an environmental initiative can also make tremendous business sense. Every once in a while, someone will ask me if Wal-Mart is serious about its environmental strategies, and my response is that it is a silly question.

    Wal-Mart is serious about everything. Being smart about energy and the environment is a good pubic relations move for a company that has had its share of bad press, but it had to have a strategic foundation as a smart business move.

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    More than 100 meetings were scheduled to take place yesterday on Capitol Hill as executives from around the country flew to Washington, DC, to lobby members of the House of Representatives to pass the Saving Our Community Pharmacies Act of 2007 (H.R. 3140) and members of the Senate to pass the Fair Medicaid Drug Payment Act of 2007 (S.1951). Both of these bills would prevent pharmacies to have to absorb Medicaid reimbursement cuts that are scheduled to take effect in January 2008 and that the pharmacists believe would force them to alter patient care.

    In addition, the pharmacists are looking to delay the implementation of a rule requiring that all Medicaid prescriptions be written on tamper-resistant prescription paper. According to a prepared statement, the provision “does not allow sufficient time for physicians to be notified of the new requirement and obtain these prescription pads. If a prescription is not written on tamper-resistant paper, the new law puts the pharmacist in the position of potentially having to deny prescriptions to Medicaid patients.”

    The lobbying offensive is a collaborative industry effort among the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    Nice piece in the Journal News about D'Agostino Supermarkets, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this fall. Nick D'Agostino III makes the point to the paper that while the “company continues to cater to an upscale clientele through its gourmet foods and its services and amenities,” the company “plans to keep the format of a supermarket rather than a gourmet specialty store,” because the latter identity would be too limiting. That said, D’Agostino identifies his chief competition as Food Emporium, Fresh Direct and Whole Foods … and the 18-store chain has to make sure that it identifies points of difference that will keep people coming back.

    That means a new website that offers online shopping to compete with Fresh Direct, and having a product selection that can compete effectively with Food Emporium and Whole Foods. But the big difference, according to D’Agostino: "It's the relationship with the customer; I think that's what we have to always go back to. We have quite a few stores where cashiers and customers have relationships, and people come in to say hello to the cashiers and they share stories about their lives. ... Whether it be 75 years ago or now, it's how you relate to the customer and how you serve their needs."
    KC's View:
    It was just a couple of days ago that we were reporting on a New York Times story about the decline and growing irrelevance of Gristedes in New York. And now, we see that such a decline isn’t inevitable, and that D’Agostino’s has avoided such problems by remaining vital and relevant to its shoppers.

    Good to know.

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that obesity is becoming an issue in France, and men, women and children there seem to be getting heavier – leading many parents, physicians and government officials to try and figure out how to reverse the problem before it gets worse.

    “The problem is nowhere near as bad as it is in the United States, where 65% of the population has serious weight problems, or in parts of southern Europe such as Spain and Portugal, where the vaunted Mediterranean diet hasn't helped the one-third of the children who are more than just plump,” the Times writes. “But people here have gotten away from the concept of food as a luxury eaten in modest quantities. Bread, for instance, has always been a staple, especially when people didn't have enough money for meat or cheese. Now the French can have all three -- and do.

    “The lifestyle of the wealthy West has also caught up with France. Working parents increasingly don't have time to shop at outdoor markets and instead use processed foods, often frozen, from the supermarket. And there is more snacking, less savoring going on.”

    The issue in France is much the same as in the US – people eat too much, too often and get too little exercise. But there are other shifts taking place as well – for example, a growing number of French women don't know how to cook, which means that they tend to rely on processed foods and snacking, which doesn’t bode well for the French waistline.

    And there are other consequences. “Hospitals have had to get MRI machines and gurneys big enough for obese people,” the Times writes. “Pharmacies, usually restrained in the variety of brands they offer, devote shelves and shelves to products to help the French shed inches. Euromonitor reports that in 2006, for example, the French spent 15 times more per capita than Americans on creams, gels and other potions that promise to reduce cellulite.

    “As the French silhouette expands, so grow the clothes. Perhaps it doesn't seem that way looking at international clothing labels, where typically a French size ‘extra large’ is a U.S. ‘medium.’ But now French manufacturers are resizing. A French 42, equivalent to U.S. size 12, would have been a 44 or 46 (size 14-16) a few years ago, according to a recent article in the business magazine L'Expansion.”
    KC's View:
    : It all started, I suspect, when a McDonald’s opened on the Champs-Élysées. It’s been all downhill from there. (Actually, it is one of the nicest McDonald’s I’ve ever been to, with a little café – but it also sells burgers and fries and all that other stuff.) Now there seems like there are a number of burger joints on that most wonderful of avenues, which makes it just a little bit less wonderful.

    What’s really interesting about this story is that it seems like the notion of French people never getting fat has long been a fiction. After all, it notes that best-selling book, “French Women Don't Get Fat” had to carry a different title in France - "These French Women Who Don't Get Fat: How Do They Do It?" (Which almost sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” line…)

    The shame would be if the French food culture were to somehow dissipate because of these concerns. It seems to me – and maybe this is wishful thinking – that we ought to be able to eat well and eat smart. And that food companies ought to lead this charge, not resist it.

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University has released a study suggesting that while alcohol manufacturers and distributors say they have cut their radio ad spending, “36 percent of alcohol radio ads were placed on shows that are ‘youth oriented,’ meaning that listeners between the ages of 12 and 20 were more likely per capita to listen to them than adults,” according to a story from MSNBC.

    CAMY Executive Director David Jernigan says that the expenditures don’t make sense, if the companies don't want to reach kids. CAMY’s position – dismissed as unrealistic by alcohol marketers – is that alcoholic beverages should only be advertised on stations and programs where minors only make up 15 percent of the audience.

    But as MSNBC writes, “Beer Institute President Jeff Becker said … that brewers do not violate the beer industry's voluntary guidelines. The rules say beer ads should reach a listening audience in which people younger than 21 compose no more than 30 percent of the total.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    In the UK, the Guardian reports this morning that five major supermarket chains – Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, William Morrison Supermarkets and Safeway – have been charged by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) of colluding with each other over the prices of milk, butter and cheese. A number of dairy processors also have been charged.

    "Businesses should understand that where we find evidence of this kind of anti-competitive activity we will use the powers at our disposal to punish the companies involved and to deter other businesses from taking such actions,” says OFT director Sean Williams. Other sources at OFT tell the Guardian that they have a large amount of “robust evidence” and that the chains face "significant penalties” that could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

    However, the chains all have denied the allegations and have promised to mount a “vigorous defense.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    The Financial Times reports that yet another British farm has been identified as having sheep that may have foot-and-mouth disease. This is the third farm in the county of Surrey to have livestock diagnosed recently as having the disease; all the farms are within a less than two-mile radius.

    According to FT, “All the sheep on the third farm, the exact location of which has not been disclosed, will be slaughtered to prevent the infection spreading.” More than 1,000 animals reportedly have been slaughtered to this point, and farmers have been prohibited from moving livestock through the so-called “protected zone” within which all the farms are located.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    Published reports say that the owners of Italian supermarket chain Esselunga have confirmed that the company, which generates around $7 billion (US) in annual revenue, is on the sales block.

    However, they are not confirming another report – that UK-based Tesco already has acquired 49 percent of the company. Tesco also is not commenting on the report,

    A press conference, at which the impending (or completed) sale will be discussed, is scheduled for Friday.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    • Ahold-owned Peapod and Stop & Shop have opened a third distribution facility on Long Island which the company says will position the Internet grocery retailer to better serve all of Long Island – Nassau and Suffolk counties – as well as sections of the New York City borough of Queens.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    • Hans-Joachim Koerber reportedly is resigning as CEO of Germany’s Metro AG, effective October 31. He will be succeeded by Eckhard Cordes, chief executive of Franz Haniel GmbH, which owns 34 percent of Metro.

    Published reports suggest that there were strategic differences between Koerber and Cortes that led to the change in leadership.

    • The Kroger Co. has named Rick Going to be president of the company's new Michigan division, effective immediately. Going is a 26-year veteran at Kroger, and has had roles that have included being vice president of Retail Operations and vice president of Merchandising for Kroger's Cincinnati/Dayton division.

    • Coca-Cola has named Chad Scales, the former vice president of the food division at Unilever North America, to be its new vice president of brand marketing innovation, a new position.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    • General Mills said that its first quarter revenue rose seven percent, to $3.07 billion from $2.86 billion during the same period a year ago. Q1 profit was up eight percent, to $288.9 million, up from $266.9 million in the period a year earlier.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 20, 2007

    An email appeared yesterday on MNB in which one of our readers talked about people making rugs out of bread bags, and I said that I didn’t even know what a bread bag was.

    Dumb. Really dumb.

    One MNB user responded:

    It's the plastic bag the bread is packaged in, Silly Boy. I can remember the Wonder Bread bag in white plastic with colorful dots. My grandmother also made the throw rugs from the bags. They were good for in front of the kitchen sink because, being plastic, they were not damaged by water. These are not heirloom quality mats we're discussing here, strictly utilitarian.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    You don’t know what a bread bag is? It’s that plastic thing that the bread comes in that keeps it fresh. It usually has a kwik-lock or twist-tie closure on it to help from getting stale. Something tells me that not knowing what a bread bag is has nothing to do with being raised poorly because it is quite evident that you only do on-line shopping at premium (or as you say “reputable”) retailers. LL Bean? Amazon? Apple?

    Not to digress, but if you are suggesting I am a child of privilege you'd be wrong. My dad was a schoolteacher with seven kids (I’m the oldest), and I can remember vividly him buying powdered milk to mix in with the liquid kind so he could make it last longer for less money. We weren’t poor by any means, but hardly wealthy. Maybe my mom made rugs out of bread bags, but I have no memory of it.

    Still another MNB user wrote:

    Of course you know what a bread bag is (and you've probably already received a hundred notes on this). It's the plastic bag that a loaf of bread comes in. The mental leap you probably had difficulty making was the idea of crocheting rugs out of plastic bags ... which of course was the point of the letter. People don't bother to find creative ways to reuse things any more. Half the time I don't think they bother to get recyclables to a recycling bin if there's a trash can handy.

    Well, close to a hundred notes.

    And you’re right. I had trouble making the leap from plastic bread bags to rugs. In fact, I’m still having trouble imagining it…but I’ll take your word for it.

    In a piece about how the online shopping experience was rated poorly by what I felt was a surprising number of shoppers, I spoke enthusiastically about…which led MNB user Don Brandt to write:

    Kevin…it amazes me each time you rave about…I tried to send books to a friend in China earlier this year and it was a nightmare…my requests for information produced inaccurate details and at one point I was double billed for the purchase…in the end the books never arrived and were ultimately “lost!”...I bought the books locally for less money…shipped them to my friend for less money, and my friend actually got the books in a week…the long and short of it is that I’ll never do business with Amazon again…they are expensive, confused, and slow to respond…I did finally get a credit to my credit card for the missing purchase…

    What can I say? My experiences with Amazon have been the polar opposite.

    Finally, we ran the following email yesterday:

    How about companies becoming friendly to those of us that are 55 years old or older. I work for Kelloggs and I have had more than one person ask me when ask me hen I'm going to retire and the possibility of making room for a younger person. Let me assure you that I "my carry my weight."

    To which MNB user Shelly Sinclair responded:

    I obviously also work at Kellogg and just wanted to quickly respond to the person who commented that they were being asked to retire to make room for a younger person. I felt the need to comment that my experience with the company is completely the opposite. I love working for this company and I truly believe they value their employees and strive hard to make them happy and retain them as long as possible. (And no, I don't work in HR.) Many people do retire 'early' from Kellogg but I think that is in large part because they have such a lucrative 401K and pension plan. Obviously my positive view of the company is so strong that it prompted me to write.

    Good for you. And good for Kellogg’s to have someone like you.
    KC's View: