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    Published on: September 27, 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, experts in the art of retail website design.

    I’m not sure if this radio commercial is running all over the country, but it has been on New York radio a lot lately - and it really, really annoys me. The product being sold is wine, and it has one of the cutesy names like Flying Moose or Swimming Rabbit or Flatulent Duck…it doesn’t really matter. But the basic pitch goes like this: “Don't be one of those guys,” and then they describe “those guys” as people who know the difference between one vintage and another, or know what wines go with what foods, or know a little something about where various wines come from. Instead, the ad says, you should buy this wine, because it just tastes good and requires no knowledge whatsoever.

    Now, I have no problem with the idea that wine should be demystified and made more accessible to more people, though I’ve certainly stated my case on MorningNewsBeat that too much demystification ends up diluting the romance that goes along with wine, which I’ve always thought of as being one of its best attributes. But I understand that not everyone concurs with me on this, and I’ve learned to accept it. And I would certainly never belittle anyone who would disagree.

    But what really burns me up about this commercial is that it goes out of its way to insult people who know anything about wine, and to basically take the position that knowledge is something to be ridiculed. This is a particularly American attitude, I think - it casts suspicion on people who are educated or want to be, it belittles nuance, and prefers things to be black and white or good and bad. Since when did we become a culture that doesn’t trust knowledge or the desire to have more of it? Some people like to say that America is a land of eroding values, but I would suggest that any culture that does not value intelligence is a truly a culture in decline. And this ad is a small but telling example of how this could be happening here.

    Now, there will be some folks who will say I’m getting defensive because I’m a wine snob. In some ways that may be true, but the reality is that I don't know that much about wine, but I’m interested and would like to learn more. The same way that I’d like to know more about jazz and classical music, the same way that I’d like to have a greater appreciation for Faulkner, and the same way that I like to travel to foreign cities and learn something about the people who live there. I don't know much about wine, but I do know that there are differences between vintages and the wines of various countries and regions, and I know that there are certain wines that go better with some foods than others. As with many subjects, I’m not that smart about this subject, but I’d like to be smarter. To suggest that people who know this stuff, or want to know this stuff, are either arrogant or insufferable or obnoxious - or all of the above - strikes me as being incredibly insulting and really sort of ignorant.

    Flatulent Duck, or whatever the wine is called, could certainly be sold as being for people who simply want to enjoy a good wine without worrying about vintages and regions and matching foods. But it doesn’t have to belittle people who are interested in knowing more about the subject. It is a stupid, annoying commercial.

    By the way, there’s a beer commercial out there that takes exactly the opposite approach - it has fun with a cultural divide without insulting anyone. It is the terrific Bud Light commercial with the guy who brings bottles of beer to the opera to make it bearable - but when the soprano hits a certain note, the glass starts cracking and the beer starts exploding all over his suit. And it’s got a great punch line when a guy turns to the now-soaked fellow and says, “First time at the opera?” and holds up a can of Bud Light. It’s a great commercial that never fails to make me laugh, and it does so without insulting anyone’s intelligence.

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

    Published on: September 27, 2007

    Wal-Mart announced yesterday that by May 2008 it plans to only sell concentrated products in the liquid laundry detergent category in its U.S. Wal-Mart Stores and Sam's Clubs.

    According to a statement released by the company, “The commitment will save more than 400 million gallons of water, more than 95 million pounds of plastic resin and more than 125 million pounds of cardboard. For water alone, this is the equivalent of 100 million individual showers. Since approximately 25 percent of the liquid laundry detergent sold in the United States is sold through Wal-Mart stores, the potential savings in natural resources through the entire retail industry could be four times as much.

    “The technology to concentrate liquid detergent has been available for more than a decade, but was little used due to lack of interest in commercialization. Partnering closely with its suppliers, Wal-Mart made the decision to offer only concentrated detergent, and leading manufacturers began transforming their facilities to accommodate this request, leaving less capacity for old-fashioned detergents with high water content. This encouraged other retailers to move toward selling only the concentrated version of liquid detergents.”

    The announcement was made by CEO Lee Scott at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. "People expect businesses to step up and work together to help solve the big challenges facing the world," Scott told the conference. "What we have done is work with suppliers to take water -- one of our most precious natural resources -- out of the liquid laundry detergent on our shelves. We simply don't want our customers to have to choose between a product they can afford and an environmentally friendly product.”

    The announcement came on the heels of a terrific column in the New York Times by Thomas L. Friedman in which he looks at Wal-Mart’s environmental strategies, and suggests that the retailer is far ahead of both the American and Chinese governments.

    “The ‘Wal-Mart environmental moment’ starts with the C.E.O. adopting a green branding strategy as a purely defensive, public relations, marketing move,” Friedman writes. “Then an accident happens — someone in the shipping department takes it seriously and comes up with a new way to package the latest product and saves $100,000. This gets the attention of the C.E.O., who turns to his P.R. adviser and says, ‘Well, isn’t that interesting? Get me a sustainability expert. Let’s do this some more.’

    “The company then hires a sustainability officer, and he starts showing how green design, manufacturing and materials can save money in other areas. Then the really smart C.E.O.’s realize they have to become their own C.E.O. — chief energy officer — and they start demanding that energy efficiency become core to everything the company does, from how its employees travel to how its products are manufactured.”

    Friedman’s premise, in essence, is that Wal-Mart has become a leader in this area by actually daring to lead – and that this gives it a kind of moral authority as well as long-term and short-term financial benefits that will give it advantages over its competitors. And, he writes, this is the same sort of approach being taken by the state of California, as it has embraced a “real carbon-reducing strategy” beyond that being adopted by the federal government.

    “At such a key time, if the U.S. government adopted a real carbon-reducing strategy, as California and Wal-Mart have, rather than the obfuscations of the Bush team, it would have a huge impact on China and only trigger more innovation in America,” Friedman writes, suggesting that “Leadership is about ‘follow me’ not ‘after you.’ Getting our national climate regulations in order is necessary, but it will not be sufficient to move China. We have to show them what Wal-Mart is showing its competitors — that green is not just right for the world, it is better, more profitable, more healthy, more innovative, more efficient, more successful. If Wal-Mart can lead, and California can lead, why can’t America?”
    KC's View:
    Wal-Mart’s decision about selling only concentrated detergent is the definition of leadership – and not just in terms of the environment. Yes, it will save water, plastic resin and cardboard. But it also does something else very important – it eliminates SKUs in a crowded department, which allows Wal-Mart to be both environmentally conscious and even more efficient.

    As for Tom Friedman, he is consistently one of the most provocative pundits out there, and whether one agrees with his politics or not, I think he’s right on the nature of environmental leadership. And Wal-Mart is a great example.

    Published on: September 27, 2007

    Reuters reports that former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials told a House of Representatives subcommittee yesterday that the FDA “ignored hundreds of proposals that could have improved the safety of food imported into the United States.” The problem, according to the former FDA staffers, is that the government has been more focused on domestic food safety issues than on imports.

    "FDA has failed to implement literally hundreds of proposed solutions to specific import problems, which would have enabled the FDA to begin to progressively focus its limited resources where the risks are indeed the greatest," said Benjamin England, a former FDA official.

    The FDA is looking to Congress for more authority with which it can do its job, and the Bush administration has named a cabinet-level task force to evaluate the current state of readiness and make suggestions for improvement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2007

    A new study released by Gladson Interactive suggests that 90 percent of the over 200,000 products examined contained at least one error in either product height, width or depth dimensions – and that nearly one in every five products had errors of greater than 25 percent.

    According to Gladson CEO Mike Spindler, “Studies conducted in the mid-1990’s by a leading packaged goods manufacturer estimated that a planogram goes out of compliance at the rate of ten percent each week,” he says. “Based on our findings, there is a high probability that most planograms are never set as intended in the first place due to these product measurement inaccuracies.” These inaccuracies, he says, are a major cause of out-of-stocks, which lead to customer dissatisfaction.
    KC's View:
    This is the kind of technical stuff that I must confess that I know very little about. But it sounds bad…and it makes me wonder whether other industries suffer from the same kinds of problems.

    Published on: September 27, 2007

    • The Tribune-Review reports that Giant Eagle will now be able to purchase a former LeNature bottling plant in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, even if not through the original process that it intended. A bankruptcy court has approved the sale of the plant to Cadbury Schweppes, which plans to sell it to Giant Eagle.

    The decision came after the same judge ruled that Giant Eagle had placed inappropriate pressure on Cadbury Schweppes – threatening to stop selling some of its products – when it discovered that the beverage company was bidding against it to acquire the plant.

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) yesterday called for aggressive measures by the industry and government to strengthen America’s food safety system and restore consumer confidence, as FMI Vice President of Food Safety Programs Jill Hollingsworth testified before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on the proposed Food and Drug Import Safety Act (H.R. 3610).

    “This effort must include how food retailers and wholesalers work with suppliers, our commitment to train our own people and our outreach to consumers,” Hollingsworth said. “It is a farm-to-table challenge that needs a farm-to-table solution. It is a domestic and an international problem that the industry and government must address together.”

    • CVS reportedly will expand its in-store health clinic presence by opening 10 facilities in the Pittsburgh area by the end of the year. This puts CVS’s health clinics in 24 states and in almost 300 stores. The company says it should be in 400 stores by the end of the year, and in 650 by the end of 2008.

    • Whole Foods is opening a new “market hall” concept store in Oakland, California, hat will have an unorthodox layout focusing on convenience and shopability, as well as an environmentally friendly design.

    • Published reports say that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is considering abandoning its administrative proceeding that is looking into the acquisition of Wild Oats by Whole Foods. The FTC tried to stop the deal in the courts by claiming it would be anticompetitive, but lost the case – which freed Whole Foods to close the deal.

    According to FTC Deborah Majoras, it would be extremely unusual for the agency to pursue the administrative case once it has lost in the courts.
    KC's View:
    It would also be like trying to get toothpaste back in the tube, since the integration of the two companies already is underway.

    Published on: September 27, 2007

    Internet Retailer reports that Meijer has launched its new e-commerce site, which features “several advanced features and functions, including rich media, guided navigation and a shopping cart that includes larger images and a shipping tax calculator,” as well as “other customer service features such as a text messaging service that alerts Meijer shoppers to gas price increases and specials at Meijer’s stores in Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.”

    • Anheuser-Busch announced this week that “despite lackluster traffic averaging 50,000 unique visitors per month,” it plans to stay with its Bud.TV website through the end of next year – and in fact, has decided to end a 25-year NASCAR sponsorship in order to focus more on Bud.TV, according to a story in the Hollywood Reporter.

    Anheuser-Busch already has invested more than $20 million in Bud.TV.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2007

    • Golub Corporation/Price Chopper Supermarkets announced that Jon Finlan, the company’s direct of internal audit, has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Internal Audit, reporting directly to Neil M. Golub, the company’s president/CEO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2007

    We’ve had a couple of stories this week about the twin issues of “working off the clock” and “what defines management.” The stories focused on a pair of lawsuits – one against Wal-Mart for allegedly forcing employees to miss breaks and work off the clock, and the other against Starbucks as store managers seek compensation, saying that they are just glorified baristas who have been classified as managers so that the company doesn’t have to pay them overtime.

    I have to be honest – I never really thought of these two stories as being about the same thing, but the emails sort of suggested that there is a connection.

    One MNB user suggested that part of the problem was that employee commitment has waned as the company has grown, and wrote:

    As a once hourly associate of Wal-Mart and now in management, I can relate to how working off the clock existed in the past. I used to work off the clock a lot, but not due to anyone forcing me, mostly because you felt so dedicated to get your job done you did not want to disappoint anyone. I had toured my department several times with Sam Walton and that leadership passed down through many mangers.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Shame on you for exposing the "dirty little secret" that most/all retail box stores try to keep below the radar. Apply for a managerial position at a national chain retailer and you'll find that the minimum expectation is 50 hours a week. Of course no overtime after 40 hours because you will be salaried. Then expect to actually work 55-60 hours a week to cover for the lack of hourly wage employees necessary to run the operation.

    Most managers are too busy running a cash register to actually manage anything. The only thing you'll get in lieu of salaried overtime is a less than meaningful title in charge of a department or system. As for customer service, forget it.


    Regarding people reporting varying degrees of difficulty with online shopping, one MNB user wrote:

    Have any of these e-commerce purchasing surveys removed airline ticket purchases. I purchase very little on the web except airline tickets because of return policies and mailing hassles. Also, unlike you, I do not appreciate getting e-mails about products they think I might like. I must admit that I am older, 64, and I did have great difficulty with 45 minutes to order a book to send to a different address. I found their online help connection by accident but in fairness once the tech called me I felt pretty silly for having not seen how to do the ordering. In addition, I like to get out of the house and go to Borders and peruse books.

    On the subject of Tesco’s expansion plans, and my guesses about where it might go in the future, MNB user Alexander Ntekim wrote:

    I would love for Fresh & Easy to come to Texas!!! The problem is like you said though - it would take some real guts to take on HEB and Whole Foods (in their home state of all places)... not to mention Wal-Mart, Super Target, Kroger, Safeway-owned Randalls, Albertsons, Fiesta Mart, Costco, Sam's Club, and Save-a-Lot (this is Houston and Dallas alone). Don't get me started on the endless list of independents Fresh & Easy would have to hold off.

    Think I'm over exaggerating? Just ask Winn-Dixie.

    MNB user Michael F. Parker wrote:

    In the history of food retail in the US, no company in specialty has been something for everybody. Correct me if I’m wrong!

    If the British invasion succeeds, then Tesco will be the most brilliant specialty food retailer in history. I really doubt this, given the arrogance of the British leadership and the large exit rate of American players.

    Responding to a story about environmental influences that add to the childhood obesity epidemic, one MNB user wrote:

    Am I the only one here who is sick & tired of hearing "there is no easy answer.” Yes, there is. It's not a "fun" answer, but it truly is easy. Get off your duff & DO SOMETHING. You're only fat because you sit at the TV, PS2, Xbox, etc. If you had cows to milk, hogs to slop, or cement to pour, you'd be a lot.... but I digress.

    Anyway, if your kid can't live without an ipod/mp3/cell phone/etc. , then at least make it a hand-cranked model. Tie their PS2 to a Schwinn Airdyne & we could power the WORLD!

    It's simple economics... put more out than you take in. Easy!

    But sometimes, reality intercedes, as another MNB user wrote:

    I would LOVE to have the time after dinner for a bike ride or a game of soccer! Unfortunately with both of us working full time – most nights we aren’t home until 6 pm. Then the mad rush is on to cook dinner, do homework, take baths and have some family time before our kids 8 pm bedtime. But still – being a responsible parent isn’t rocket science. It takes some work – but healthy, FUN lunches can be done. We send grilled cheese sandwiches (yes – cold); cucumber sandwiches; hot dogs or Mac & Cheese (sent in a thermos to keep warm); 100% juice boxes; fat free pudding; applesauce; yogurt; grapes, raw baby carrots and apple slices with our children to school almost everyday. We’ve had to become very creative since they attend a “Nut free” school. They are allowed to “buy” lunch every now and then (usually a pizza day). Do they get to have junk food? Of course they do. We have chips, ice cream, kids cereal, etc. in the house. We just strive for balance and moderation.

    For the record, we do eat dinner together every night, television is only allowed on the weekends and we try to have them involved is some kind of physical activity (soccer, dance, swimming, etc). We are not wealthy, nor are we the “earthy, crunchy” type. We will be the first to tell you we aren’t perfect parents. We are just trying to do the best we can to raise healthy, happy kids. Sure it takes a lot of work, but that is all part of parenting. Who said it was supposed to be easy?

    Can I hear an “Amen”?
    KC's View: