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 24, 2007

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart plans too ask about 30 suppliers to measure the amount of energy it takes to make certain products, including : DVDs, toothpaste, soap, milk, beer, vacuum cleaners and soda.

    The move, according to the Journal, “is the latest attempt in a push by Wal-Mart that the company says should both help the environment and cut costs. Wal-Mart has said it wants to cut packaging waste at its stores by 25% within three years, double the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet within 10 years and eventually operate entirely on renewable energy. Moves such as the packaging cuts involve changes by suppliers.”

    Here’s the interesting paragraph from the Journal story, and the one that really tells the tale…and explains why other retailers should be doing the same thing:

    “A sense is growing among U.S. business that the federal government is likely to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions in the next few years. That would give companies like Wal-Mart an additional financial incentive to curb emissions. The likelihood of regulation also could give businesses an incentive to search for lower-emitting suppliers. Details of such potential rules are far from clear. The Bush administration is to hold a meeting in Washington this week of officials from major emitting countries to discuss how to structure an agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. The U.S. has declined to ratify that climate-change treaty, saying it would unfairly crimp the economy.”

    Wal-Mart is not saying whether it will use the energy information to make choices between one supplier and another.
    KC's View:
    First of all, it is unlikely that Wal-Mart would gather this information and not use it … though it is most likely to use the data as a cudgel against manufacturers not being energy efficient.

    This is good for the environment, but the real advantage for Wal-Mart is economic. It is so far ahead of this wave that there is almost no way that it can be swamped when all these new rules and regulations come crashing down on US businesses.

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    The New York Times reports this morning that “offline retailers are increasingly offering a way for consumers to shop online but pick up the goods in stores, allowing them to avoid shipping costs and choose from a wider selection of items than their local stores can stock. Because customers tend to bolster these purchases with others once they get into the store, retailers are profiting handsomely.”

    One example of the trend is Wal-Mart, which has completed a national rollout of its “Site to Store” service, and now says that roughly one-third of all its online purchases are utilizing the program.

    “It’s gone incredibly well,” says Raul Vazquez, CEO of “None of us expected to see it reach this percentage of sales at this point.”

    Also apparently true is that consumers see the real value of the program. “It is not yet clear whether customers are merely buying goods they would have bought anyway at the stores,” the Times writes. “However, in eliminating shipping charges, the Site to Store program is erasing a hurdle cited by many consumers who browse, but do not buy, online.’s customers have avoided a total of $10 million in shipping charges through this program since it was introduced this spring.”
    KC's View:
    Customers want what they want, where they want it, how they want it, when they want it, at a price they think is appropriate. It is retailers job to fulfill this laundry list of “wants” – which means having a menu of choices for consumers, who want to be in control of the shopping trip.

    One other note – the same consumer who wants to shop the store on Saturday may want some groceries delivered on Tuesday and then will use the online ordering and pickup service on Thursday. It’s a moving target…and retailers have to be facile and flexible enough to satisfy this customer. Or, the shopper will simply find another retailer that fits the bill.

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “a number of Web-based subscription services are now offering their own version of quick and easy meal planning by providing a week's worth of recipes, replete with a shopping list. Their target market? Time starved parents who want to put a satisfying and nutritional dinner on the table, without using the same few tried-and-true meals every week.”

    The Journal tested five such services and found that “most of their recipes keep your time in the kitchen relatively fuss-free by using canned or prepared ingredients or emphasizing one-dish meals. But even when the recipes make claims of speediness, they don't realistically account for the fact that much of the prep work -- chopping onions, peeling garlic -- takes time. (This is the same criticism that's often leveled at Rachael Ray.)

    “The services deliver their recipes via email and/or post them to their site. Some give subscribers lots of customization options and go beyond dinner to include brunch, dessert and side-dish recipes; others stick to a week's worth of straightforward suppers. And some also maintain an archive of past recipes. What really distinguishes the services is their varied approach to food, from a more contemporary, world-cuisine aesthetic to an almost retro casserole-oriented style.”
    KC's View:
    Would I be presumptuous to suggest that at least part of the reason these services exist is because their owners saw a gap in the marketplace?

    In some ways, that’s hard to believe, considering everything that is available online, in magazines and in cookbooks. But clearly, there is some need that food retailers and manufacturers are not satisfying, despite al their efforts. That’s something to consider, if you’re in the business of selling food. It is something worth focusing on, because these are the kinds of opportunities that can help a business redefine itself.

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    USA Today reports that American vacationers are increasingly looking for “special” and “authentic” food-oriented vacations, which is creating new opportunities in the travel business.

    “’Special’ and ‘authentic’ mean ascending on a crane to harvest olives, or making goat cheese, or creating a customized blend at a boutique winery that's usually closed to the public, or working with a beekeeper to collect honey from hives,” USA Today writes, with vacationers – admittedly, usually affluent vacationers – looking for hands-on experiences that will put them more in touch with where food and wine come from.

    “In pockets of the country where artisanal food producers and winemakers thrive — most notably California, the Northwest and the Northeast — entrepreneurs occasionally stage winemaking ‘camps’ and shopping/cooking sessions to drum up interest in their professions and sell a little more of their products,” the paper writes. “But the latest trend is for those producers to partner with upscale lodgings, rental services and/or culinary concierges to offer customized experiences for the guests.”
    KC's View:
    Forget for a moment that the kinds of events being described in USA Today are fairly upscale with a specific demographic appeal. I think there is something else happening here, which is a trend toward appealing to people’s natural curiosity.

    I only bring this up because sometimes I think food retailers underestimate the kinds of opportunities that may exist in this area of the business. Not that everybody wants to learn how to bake bread or filet fish or butcher meat…but it seems to me that this could become an interesting way to build community and to find out what people are interested in.

    After all, you only find out where your borders are by pushing against them.

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    • In the UK, the Mail reports that “Tesco has launched a charm offensive with American suppliers by promising a formal process through which they can complain to bosses … The world's third-biggest supermarket chain met suppliers to smooth the way for opening its first US convenience store in November. It wants to allay fears prompted by a Competition Commission investigation into the British grocery market.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    Big changes could be in store at Metro AG, which last week announced that its CEO of the last eight years, Hans-Joachim Körber, would leave the company next month and be replaced by Eckhard Cordes, a former auto industry executive who described as an “energetic cost-cutter” and who is the CEO of Franz Haniel GmbH, an industrial holding company that owns 34.2 percent of Metro.

    Cordes, the Journal writes, “faces the tasks of fixing weak business units and boosting shareholder value, possibly through asset and real-estate sales” and “will take on a mixed bag of stores, ranging from highly profitable consumer-electronics stores to unprofitable supercenters and a lackluster department-store business.”

    The Journal reports that Cordes will have to decide “the future of Real, Metro's struggling food-retail unit, which includes a chain of supercenters called Real and a supermarket chain called Extra. Real was already in the middle of a turnaround when Metro bought the German business of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The cost of merging Wal-Mart stores into Real's business has further strained the unit. In the first half of this year … As CEO, Mr. Cordes will either need to step up Real's turnaround, or consider selling the division, analysts say."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    The Boston Globe features an interview with Dunkin’ Donuts CEO Jon Luther in which he talks about the company’s expansion plans. One of his goals, according to the piece, is to continue to shift the company towards beverage sales as opposed to doughnuts, though he acknowledges that this tends to take as long as five years in new markets.


    On competition… “By advancing outside New England, we've let competitors know that we're alive and well and we're formidable. Starbucks decided to do drive-throughs like we have. They went to faster equipment. I have a healthy respect for competition. If we have no competitors in the marketplace, complacency sets in and consumers don't get the same care and concern that they would if someone was across the street doing the same thing.”

    On anti-trans fat legislation… “The minute the government can get into your refrigerator is the end of democracy. People should take personal responsibility for what they eat and what they don't eat. And we should provide those choices for those who want to eat less indulgent or eat less healthy … If there is the slightest doubt the consumer can be harmed, we're going to do the right thing. We started a long time ago working with our suppliers to eliminate trans fats - before it became politically sensitive in the last 18 months. We'll do the right thing.”

    on international expansion plans… “It's much easier to obtain real estate and get things done. If today I signed a franchise agreement with someone to build a freestanding store here, it would take almost 18 months. Ten years ago, that was 12 months. Over in China, it'll take 12 minutes. It's a very different world. I went to the grand opening of the first store in Taiwan earlier this year. We did $62,000 the first week. Our average US store does $20,000 per week. Now it's settled down to $32,000. But it's huge volumes.”
    KC's View:
    The end of democracy” may be a little bit over the top, but his point is well taken, even if enormously self-serving.

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    The Associated Press reports that a lawsuit against Starbucks has been given class action status by a Florida judge, who ruled that a suit could go forward that charges that the retailer can be sued on behalf of 900 store managers. The suit suggests that the managers are just “glorified baristas,” and as such ought to paid “overtime wages, damages and attorney's fees that could total tens of millions of dollars.”

    The case apparently hinges on how many non-managerial duties are being performed by these managers; the AP notes that Caribou Coffee is facing a similar lawsuit.
    KC's View:
    Not to judge the merits of the case, nor to defend Starbucks, but I have one observation.

    When I walk into my neighborhood Starbucks, the manager sometimes is making coffee, and he knows instantly, without my saying anything, that I want a venti skim latte. If he’s nearby, working the register or just supervising, he’ll tell the person making the coffee what I’m going to order.

    This sort of hands-on approach, I think, makes him a better manager, not a lesser one. If he were in his office al the time “managing,” I’m not sure he’d be very good.

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    What makes a hot organic product?

    This week, I will have the privilege of leading a discussion at the Natural Products Expo East about “what makes a hot organic/natural product”… and I’m curious what you think. Are there specific attributes that make a product “hot” at this particular point in time? Are there marketing strategies that are most effective in making products successful? And is there a “hot” organic or natural product that you would point to as typical of a runaway success?

    As always, you make me smarter with your input…and if you have suggestions for issues I should raise or questions I should ask, just let me know.

    And, if you’re going to be at Natural Products Expo East, stop by and say hello.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    • The Columbus Dispatch reports that Giant Eagle “is lowering prices on 450 items by about 12 percent. The items to be reduced include canned goods, pastas and dinner mixes -- products that can be used by customers to ‘develop quick and easy meals,’ according to the company.”

    • The international Herald Tribune reports that UK retailer Sainsbury is more favorable toward a proposed $21 billion (US) takeover offer tendered by Delta Two, the investment arm of the Qatari government. The Sainsbury family originally was resistant because they were concerned that the financing would overload the retailer with two much debt, but Delta Two then restructured the bid to make it more acceptable. However, local press reports suggest that it is far from a done deal, with much due diligence and regulatory approvals still to come.

    • Susser Holdings Corp. will acquire San Angelo, Texas-based Town & Country Food Stores, a 160-unit chain of convenience stores in Texas and New Mexico, for about $361 million.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    The Boston Globe reports that “a local cancer charity that has raised more than $1 million for Massachusetts General Hospital by selling memorial bracelets recalled about 200,000 of the beaded accessories yesterday after receiving a report that a 9-month-old boy became ill after ingesting lead when he put one in his mouth.” The supplier, according to the Globe, was from China.

    And the New York Times reports that “one million cribs designed by Simplicity for Children, a manufacturer based in Pennsylvania, have been recalled after the suffocation deaths of at least two children, the government said yesterday. It was the company’s fourth recall in a little more than two years.” The ribs were made – though not designed – in China.

    Meanwhile, Mattel reportedly apologized to the Chinese government over the weekend, saying that it was sorry for having harmed China’s reputation through the recall of almost 20 million China-made toys during the summer for safety reasons. There is some debate over the context of the apology, with some people criticizing Mattel for apparently kowtowing to a government that has had few safety regulations enforced or even in place. But Mattel has denied that this is what it did.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    •The Associated Press is reporting that an Iowa family is suing Supervalu and a canned vegetable manufacturer, Lakeside Foods, because they say they fund a snake’s head that was the size of a golf ball inside a can of green beans.

    The family is claiming mental anguish.

    • Thanks to the MNB user who sent along a story from the BBC saying that a store in Aberdeen, Scotland, has been dealing with an unusual shrink problem.

    There’s this seagull that walks into the store when the door is open, grabs a bag of Doritos – always the same brand and flavor – and then carries them outside, where the bag is ripped open and shared by a number of other seagulls.

    The process has become so popular that local folks have started paying for the Doritos so that the seagull can't be locked up for shoplifting.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    No doubt you read over the weekend that Marcel Marceau died at the age of 84. But what wasn't always mentioned in the obituaries is that in Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie,” he was the only person who spoke out loud – a single word, “No.”

    Which always just seemed funny.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    In a story on Friday about another China-related safety scare, I wrote the following commentary:

    I’m actually beginning to feel a little sorry for China, because the hits on its reputation just keep on coming. It is going to be interesting to see how many more “Made in America” signs we all see in the coming months, especially as we get close to the holidays,. Many, many more, I’d expect.

    One MNB user responded:

    Why would you feel sorry for a country and it's practices when they are intentionally trying to poison Americans? They certainly do not feel sorry for you, me or any other individual in the country.

    I’m not sure that they’re intentionally trying to kill people. But I do think that there has been an appalling lack of regulation over there, and that we’re going to find out that it is far worse than we think.

    As for feeling sorry…it was just a momentary, uncharacteristic and probably misguided feeling of compassion. I won’t let it happen again,

    Another MNB user wrote:

    If the dollar continues to devalue we will definitely see more made in America.

    That certainly seems to be the trend of the moment, doesn’t it?

    And MNB user Angie Dahman wrote:

    It was interesting in an article a week ago that was on MNB said the Chinese government was going to start to lower (and eventually eliminate) the amount of lead used in making its products. My question is if this was a common practice by the Chinese why would the big toy companies even set up shop over there to have them produce toys they knew would make it into the hands (and mouths) of millions of children. Was this the toy companies turning a blind eye or were they actually in the dark about what went into making these toys. Either way, shame on them for not doing their homework. As a recent consumer of children’s toys I am staying away from toys made in China and you would be surprised that when you get away from the major toy retailers that there are many choices. And my 8 month old won't know the difference 🙂

    We’ve been talking a lot about marketing trends here lately, which led one MNB user to complain:

    As for your beloved Netflix - I get disruptive annoying pop-up ads that sometimes even my pop-up blocker can't stop.

    Why does Netflix think this is a good idea - 99% of us despise that sort of marketing.

    I would agree with you. (Though my Apple Safari pop up blocker seems to filter them all out – I never see them.)

    We’ve also been going back and forth about lately, as well as a report saying that more and more people are dissatisfied with online shopping in general. One person expressed extreme dissatisfaction with Amazon, and some folks have suggested that people who don't like online shopping may be of a demographic that is uncomfortable with technology in general. Which led another MNB user to chime in:

    As I happen to know the person who reported the problems with Amazon, let me tell you--he is one of the earliest technology adopters I know, and has been very involved with online activities for years. As a matter of fact he introduced me to the net through Netscape--which gives you an idea of the time that has passed since then.

    I have had less than stellar experiences with Amazon as well, and have shared that with you from time to time as you wax rhapsodic about them. And considering the number of transactions I've been involved with online over the years, I don't think I can be classed as a rank amateur or chronic whiner. They just haven't been good for me. For out of print I have found it much better to go straight to the dealer through, and for the few current titles I order I use Barnes & Noble because they still have stores I can browse in and I personally think that's worth a bit of financial support.

    I know there are legions of people out there who swear by Amazon, but don't form patronizing opinions about those whose experiences have been different.

    It certainly was not my intention to patronize anyone, and I suspect that the person who suggested the “not comfortable with technology” scenario didn’t mean it that way either. I think it is just that when people have a high opinion of a service, we search for reasons for why other people might not.

    This is actually instructive. It’s best not to assume anything about shoppers. We’re all different…and generalizations probably are a bad idea.

    I asked last week in “OffBeat” if Mets fans or Red Sox fans are more suicidal at the moment. It ended up being a better weekend for the Mets than the Sox…and MNB user Dina M. Perugini wrote:

    Definitely Red Sox fans are more suicidal. Between the debacle weekend series with the Yankees and the complete trouncing by the Jays, this displaced Connecticut girl has had major heartburn all week! It is probably a good thing that I can’t get good cannoli here in Boise to drown my sorrows in!

    At least you clinched a playoff spot. Still, the post season can't be looking too promising…

    Finally, I wrote on Friday about a Jimmy Buffett concert I attended on Thursday night, which led MNB user Tom Devlin to write:

    Just wanted to say last night was my first Buffet concert and I was floored by how simple his shows are and how when you keep it simple everyone can relate. The words to “Changes in Latitudes” have always been one of my favorite songs. Also loved the fact how he sings other artists tunes and enjoys them like they are his own … I met some people last night that have been to over 30 and 50 shows respectively. JB will not be playing that long for me to catch up but I truly loved every moment.

    Welcome to Parrothead Nation.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2007

    In Week Three of NFL action…

    NY Giants 24
    Washington 17

    Miami 28
    NY Jets 31

    Arizona 23
    Baltimore 26

    San Diego 24
    Green Bay 31

    Indianapolis 30
    Houston 24

    Minnesota 10
    Kansas City 13

    Buffalo 7
    New England 38

    Detroit 21
    Philadelphia 56

    San Francisco 16
    Pittsburgh 37

    St. Louis 3
    Tampa Bay 24

    Jacksonville 23
    Denver 14

    Cleveland 24
    Oakland 26

    Cincinnati 21
    Seattle 24

    Carolina 27
    Atlanta 20

    Dallas 34
    Chicago 10
    KC's View: