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    Published on: December 7, 2007

    The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) yesterday participated in a press conference with Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI), the Coalition for a Stronger FDA and FDA Alliance, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) to demand that the Bush administration increase funding for food safety operations at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    At the same time, Durbin sent a letter – cosigned by both Democratic and Republican legislators - proposing a significant funding increase for FDA’s Foods Program in the government's 2009 budget. The press conference and letter come in the same week as a report filed by an FDA advisory group said that the agency is so underfunded and understaffed that it is putting U.S. consumers at risk in terms of food and drug safety.

    “For years, Congress has pointed out that the FDA is understaffed and under funded,” said Durbin. “Now, the FDA's own science advisors admit the agency is failing at its mission. The only good news is that these reports may give us the momentum we need to change. I am calling on the Administration to commit to doubling FDA funding over the next five years. We simply cannot leave American families vulnerable when it comes to food safety.”

    KC's View:
    Nice to see all the trade associations getting along with the Democrats. Politics – and political realities - indeed make for strange bedfellows.

    The ultimate question is whether increased funding is adequate, or whether the whole food safety apparatus needs to be replaced by something modern and both more efficient and effective.

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    The Washington Post reports on a new study by the Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen saying that “being overweight as a child significantly increases the risk for heart disease in adulthood as early as age 25,” and that this seems to apply to “even those who were just a little chubby as kids, and possibly regardless of whether they lost the weight when they grew up.”

    David S. Ludwig of the Harvard Medical School describes the study as a “frightening glimpse” of the future, noting that the results suggest “long-term consequences for adult illness and death.”

    And, he said, “We don't have all the data yet. But by the time all the data comes in it's going to be too late. You don't want to see the water rising on the Potomac before deciding that global warming is a problem. We need national policies to address childhood obesity, too."

    KC's View:
    The implications of the study are threefold. (If you want to read the whole thing, check out the Postpiece…it is worth reading. Or, check out the whole study in the New England Journal of Medicine.)

    One, it means that the childhood obesity epidemic is almost certainly going to have an impact on the nation’s health care system, because as these kids grow up, they are going to create new and possibly crippling stresses on a system unprepared to handle them.

    Two, the study suggests that the time for intervention is in childhood – that if the problem of obesity is addressed early enough, the trend can be arrested or even reversed.

    Three, it implies that if society doesn’t address these issues seriously and comprehensively, the next generation could in fact have a shorter lifespan than our generation.

    By the way, it is worth pointing out that not all the news in this arena is bad. MSNBC has a story saying that the National Institutes of Health’s We Can! program “is teaming up with the Association of Children’s Museums, as well as the cities of Boston, Pittsburgh and Las Vegas, the three largest cities yet to adopt the 2-year-old initiative.

    “We Can! — short for Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition — is aimed at kids 8-13 and pushes commonsense steps to keep off weight, such as eating fewer high fat foods, exercising more and spending less time staring at television and computer screens.

    “But it doesn’t just try to persuade kids to give up the fun foods and activities that pack on pounds. It relies on parents to make it easier for kids to make healthier choices.”

    Which seems a better option than, say, sending kids to McDonald’s with coupons when they get good grades.

    But I don't want to beat that particular dead horse…yet. (Go to “Your Views” for that particular whipping…)

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    The New York Daily News reports that gourmet supermarket Balducci’s “has become the butt of the Jewish holiday by advertising its boneless hams as "Delicious for Chanukah."

    The ham was displayed in the window of Balducci’s Greenwich Village store. The mistake was originally pointed out by a customer, who posted pictures of the Chanukah ham on the Internet. The store then took down the signs, and the store manager told the Daily News that the blame rested with a store clerk who doesn’t normally work in the meat department.

    KC's View:
    Sure. Blame the store clerk.

    This could be a simple mistake, or it could be an unfortunately public example of a retailer of being out of touch with the consumer. I thought it was interesting that in the Daily News story, the store manager – after blaming the store clerk – decided to refer “all other questions to the company's marketing department in Connecticut.”

    One could observe that the problem may be that the store is in Greenwich Village and the marketing department is in Connecticut. For the record, I was born in Greenwich Village and now live in Connecticut…and I would suggest that those two places aren’t so much in different states as on different planets.

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    The Coca-Cola Co. announced yesterday that chairman/CEO Neville Isdell has laid out his succession plan, naming the company’s number two executive, Muhtar Kent, to replace him.

    Isdell will step down as CEO in July 2008, to be replaced in that role by Kent, currently the company’s president/COO. Isdell will remain as chairman until April 2009, at which point Kent will assume that position as well.

    Isdell, who came out of retirement in 2004 to lead the soft drink giant at a time when., as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, it was “reeling from sagging morale, sluggish growth and marketing issues.” He is credited with restoring the company’s strategic direction and marketing moxie.

    "I have a very, very strong belief that successful management transition is one of the key jobs of the CEO and the chairman," Isdell said in an interview with the Journal-Constitution. "It's one of the key goals I set for myself. ... I've been working on it for three and a half years, and I'm trying to do it the right way."

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    Advertising Age reports on a survey conducted by an organization called Common Sense Media of current presidential candidates, asking them about their views on media-related issues.

    Only Sen. Barack Obama, Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John Edwards and Gov. Bill Richardson have so far responded to the questionnaire. But this is what Common Sense Media says they think:

    • On the Democratic side, Sen. John Edwards is willing to support legislation that would fight childhood obesity. “If the rest of the food and beverage industry won't follow the lead of companies like Kraft and Kellogg and stop marketing unhealthy foods to children, government action may be necessary,” he said.

    Bill Richardson noted in his response that as governor of New Mexico, he banned junk food from all schools and mandated physical education for all students.

    But Barack Obama took a more hands-off approach: “We're never going to be able to shield our children from all the potentially bad influences out there. And it would be counterproductive to just build walls that shield them entirely. Our best hope is to educate our children and give them the information and the tools they need to make wise choices."

    • On the Republican side Mitt Romney did not answer the question about junk food and childhood obesity.

    KC's View:
    If I wanted to mean-spirited, I would suggest that the visual evidence shows that Richardson also should have banned junk food from the governor’s mansion.

    And I would comment that Romney probably is going to wait to see if he’s losing ground because of the junk food position, and then will make a major speech on the issue at the Bush presidential library.

    But I’m feeling benevolent this morning. No mean-spirited jokes. Today.

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    In Minnesota, the Star-Tribune reports that Wal-Mart and Target are showing different approaches in how they use the Internet this holiday season.

    “Wal-Mart has made the Web central to its holiday sales plan, publicizing special post Thanksgiving Day sales and tripling from a year ago the number of online-only deals in the last week of November,” the Star-Tribune reports, while Target “has shied away from trumpeting Web-only deals. For now, at least, it is sticking closely to the carefully crafted holiday promotions offered in stores.”

    KC's View:
    These different strategies seem to suggest fundamentally different opinions about the importance of the Internet in 2007. Target remains committed to the brick-and-mortar store model, while Wal-Mart seems willing to make sales wherever it can and whenever it can…and as a result, Wal-Mart expects its online sales numbers to go up 40-60 percent this year.

    It is also worth pointing out here that I was wrong recently when I dissed the notion of Wal-Mart’s “Site To Store” program, which allows people to order online and pick up items at a local Wal-Mart without paying for shipping. Wal-Mart says that not only has the initiative been a big success, driving a lot of its online sales, but that many of the people using the service are first-time customers. Which sounds like the best kind of result – not only more sales, but new customers.

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    Dow Jones reports that in the UK, Sainsbury and Wal-Mart-owned Asda “have admitted to fixing milk and cheese prices and have agreed, along with a number of dairy firms.” The two companies will pay total fines in excess of $235 million (US).
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    • BJ’s Wholesale Club says that its November sales rose to $746.3 million from $668.2 million in the comparable period a year earlier, with same-store sales up 7.7 percent.

    • Krispy Kreme Doughnuts said that its third quarter net loss for the quarter narrowed to $798,000, compared to a net loss of $7.2 million a year earlier. Q3 revenue fell almost 12 percent to $103.4 million from $117.1 million a year ago.

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it is that when I go off on an anti-junk food rant – as I did yesterday when I slammed the Florida program that rewards good students with McDonald’s coupons – it tends to irritate a segment of the MNB community.

    MNB user Will Kennedy wrote:

    I love your forum, but I have to disagree with your take on this article. Schools are not responsible for children's obesity, parents are. The school is just offering a reward. They are not driving the kids to McDonalds and forcing the burgers, fries, and drinks into the kids’ mouths. Also, McDonalds has listened to society and increased their healthy offerings in the Happy Meals, but it is still the parent's responsibility to decide if the kid gets a Coke or milk. Instead of ice cream, they could choose yogurt or fruit.

    All of this to say, schools are only one method in educating kids. Parents are responsible for their kids, nobody else. If we do not like what the schools are feeding your kid, then pack their lunch for them. We as a society have to quit putting the responsibility for ourselves and our families on somebody else, just because we want to place blame elsewhere.

    MNB user Mike Hooper wrote:

    I couldn't disagree more. While your point is taken regarding the nation's obesity rates and how this program is counter to the public opinion and recommended policy of our day, this program is meant as an incentive for improved schoolwork and attendance. I doubt that fresh fruit or gym memberships will encourage a 4th grader to hit the books a little harder, or convince a middle schooler that truancy can only have negative consequences. Rather, a Happy Meal may help these kids avoid what many people would agree to be the greater potential problem of ignorance. After all, a little extra knowledge from their health and science teachers may convince a kid not to redeem the coupon anyway.

    One of my suggestions yesterday was that kids could be rewarded with healthier food…which I’ll admit upon reflection has its drawbacks. One MNB user wrote:

    “Wow … yippee … Mom, Dad I just got an “A” in World History … can I go get my free “apple or piece of fruit from the supermarket” ??

    Ah yeah … right. I’d hate to be a smart kid in that school district.

    Any parent that is even slightly concerned about their kids’ nutrition will have them eating some form of fruits & vegetables on a daily basis so the occasional trip to Ronald’s place is a “treat” not the norm. A treat … like some way you indulge yourself as a reward or escape. Like a happy meal.

    “Apples for “A’s” is a catchy phrase but the “Happy Meal” still has more appeal when trying to reward the kiddies.

    How’s that quote go …. “you can catch more bees with … honey” ?!?!

    MNB user Chris Fries wrote:

    Kevin, a bit harsh don’t you think? What is your comfort food or reward food? Is it necessarily the best for you? If these kids are smart enough to get good grades, then they probably are smart enough to know what foods should be good for them and what food to eat in moderation, and their parents probably do too. A reward of a milkshake or French fries (or maybe even the fact they spend a half hour with a parent or both talking about school) occasionally should not be a bad thing if done in moderation. Hey, it’s Florida. Maybe they will be walking to their local McDonald’s or riding bikes to help burn off the non-nutritional calories they will be taking in! Moderation in their diets and using their intelligence for good choices should be stressed, not taken away just because it can be abused. Maybe they could tie in some physical fitness requirements also to go along with the reward to ensure more balance.

    It is a lonely position to take, but MNB user Lisa Malmarowski sided with me:

    I'm with you on this one with one caveat... I understand that schools are struggling with budget cuts and are looking for creative ways to reward students, but to reward with food, especially unhealthy food, is not the way to go.

    Anyone who's ever struggled with their weight knows you don't reward yourself with food! How about some big companies underwriting free passes to movies or the museum or books?

    And one MNB user made me laugh with this observation:

    Evidently Florida believes that it’s never too early to start bulking kids up for college football.

    Look, I understand that a Happy Meal is a better incentive than an apple. But I’m not backing down.

    We live in a society where school districts are banning cupcakes and treats from schools, even on students’ birthdays. (Which I think is over the top, by the way.) We live in a society where the childhood obesity epidemic is a fact, not a theory. And studies are making clear that this epidemic could have enormous long-term implications (see our story above).

    Handing out coupons to a fast food restaurant just seems dreadfully shortsighted.

    Okay, maybe giving out apples won’t have the came kind of impact.

    But how about gift certificates to a local bookstore, or to Or allowing kids to accumulate points that they could use toward the purchase of a computer?

    There have to be ways to offer incentives to kids that don’t involve junk food.

    I’m not backing down.

    MNB carried a story yesterday saying that under its new ownership, Tops Markets plans to open new stores, upgrade existing units and increase its payroll, adding about 100 people for corporate jobs in merchandising, marketing, finance and information technology. I commented that maybe the first changes ought to be seen in-store rather than at corporate headquarters…but I missed something that a number of MNB users pointed out.

    One MNB user wrote:

    There is nobody at corporate because those jobs were moved to Carlisle, PA with Giant. Gotta have someone running the ship...

    As a Tops shopper and an Ahold employee, I have respect for both companies and hate to see Tops go, but the one thing I do know is that the new Tops will focus more on the local interests and get back in touch with the customer base they have lost. They were doing it even when Ahold owned them right up to the time when the scandal happened, then the tough decisions had to be made. Heads were cut and offices merged. It was the "time of troubles". I feel both companies will succeed going forward, and if not, I still made a nice buck on the Ahold stock I have been buying since the scandal.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    New ownership, I assume, will have to rebuild the headquarters infrastructure first due to the fact that there is no local headquarters. Everything is being moved from Carlisle PA. to the Buffalo area, so Frank Curci wouldn't be too off base with his comments.

    Good points. I stand corrected.

    Finally, MNB user Rick Brindle had some thoughts about the decision by Jones Soda founder/chairman/CEO Peter van Stolk to leave the company, saying that it needs new leadership as it continues to grow.

    I really hate that Peter is leaving the day-to-day operations at Jones'. What a creative force and source of energy he is. He totally understands the power of Open Innovation, Consumer Centricity and the synergies of creating interdependency between online and offline marketing. He is also a heck of a speaker. I wish him well and am certain that this is not the last we have heard of Peter van Stolk!

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Washington Redskins defeated the Chicago Bears 24-16.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 7, 2007

    This week, Mrs. Content Guy, our 13 year-old daughter and I went into the city to see “Young Frankenstein,” the new Mel Brooks musical that just opened a month or so ago. I’m not entirely objective about the experience – the original movie is one of my all-time favorites, I have a weakness for Brooksian humor, I love the theater and am a big fan of musicals (except for anything written by Andrew Lloyd Webber). Nevertheless, I think I can summon up enough analytical skill to talk about the show…and even draw some off beat but relevant lessons from it.

    To be sure, I liked “Young Frankenstein.” It’s fun, it’s funny, the songs are good and the performances generally winning, with a couple of standouts. But it ain’t the movie. In fact, it isn’t even “The Producers,” which was Mel Brooks’ hugely successful last Broadway show, or “Spamalot,” the terrific musical based on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

    I think there’s a reason for this. “Spamalot,” while it uses “Holy Grail” as a jumping off point, actually is something (to borrow a Python phrase) completely different…as much a satire on the Broadway musical as a takeoff on the King Arthur legend. “The Producers” adheres fairly closely to the original movie, which has a strong narrative line.

    But “Young Frankenstein” sort of tries to have it both ways. On the one hand, it follows the movie very closely…enough so that my daughter, with whom I have watched the movie numerous times, was practically reciting some of them before the actors on stage. But it also tries to satirize the Broadway musical in some ways, which distracts from the story. And, because it wants to be hilarious at almost every moment, it means that every joke is BIG…which doesn’t always work.

    Take, for example, the famous scene in the movie in which Peter Boyle, as the monster, encounters a blind hermit, played by Gene Hackman. In the film, the comedy timing seems to be to be almost delicate – it has beats and rhythm and builds wonderfully, even as it gives the audience moments to catch their breath. But in the play, it is all played on one level – BIG – and it loses some of the charm it had onscreen.

    Now, “Young Frankenstein” already is a hit, and if it comes to a city near where you live, it certainly is worth seeing. But it offers a great lesson in the importance of pacing and the need for levels…whether you’re talking about musical comedy…or even about a retailing experience. I’ve always that thought that the best retailing has elements of theatricality. Maybe it is because I write about retailing for a living, but this was the metaphor I was thinking about as I left the show:

    Timing, and pacing, are everything.

    My daughter – who may have been the youngest person in the theater – makes me very proud when she likes movies like “Young Frankenstein.” (She’s also a big theater buff – even I was shocked to find out that this was her sixth Broadway show. I didn’t see my first one until I was older than she is now.)

    She liked the musical about as much as I did, I think, but it ends up that Mrs. Content Guy probably liked it more than both of us. The reason, I think, is easy to figure out – she may have been the only person in the theater who still has never seen the movie version.

    Which we’re going to have to fix one of these days. Because I can’t believe that I’ve been married for more than 24 years to someone who has never seen “Young Frankenstein.”

    (I obviously should have given her a movie test like the football test that Steve Guttenberg’s character gives his fiancé in “Diner.”)

    Don Imus is back on the radio, and I, for one, am glad. He deserved to be punished, but he didn’t deserve a career death sentence…and after listening this week, I’m convinced that he has a different outlook on issues like race and discourse.

    The thing is, he still seems to ask better questions of public figures than almost anyone else on radio or television, and he has an irreverence that I find stimulating.

    He isn’t and will never be to everybody’s taste, and that’s okay. I’m glad Don Imus is back, and is once again a big part of my morning routine.

    My wine of the week: the 2003 Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon, which is very, very good. We had it with burgers the other night, and it was perfect. Now, to be honest, it was a gift…so I didn’t know what it cost when I opened it to have with the burgers…and only later found out that it was a $40 bottle of wine.

    A very good $40 bottle of wine.

    But a good friend of mine once told me – after I’d unknowingly consumed a $60 bottle of wine with spaghetti (I have no idea why I get these gifts, but I do) – that the best way to consume an expensive bottle of wine 1) when you don't know what it costs, and 2) with some sort of favorite food, no matter how basic.

    Well, I seem to have this down to a science.

    That’s it for this week. See you Monday.


    KC's View: