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    Published on: April 9, 2008

    Supervalu announced that it will roll out later this month a new Wild Harvest private label natural and organic line of products that initially will encompass 150 SKUs ranging from mealtime staples like milk, eggs, meat and fresh produce to pastas and sauces, cookies, crackers, cereal and juice. Long term, the brand will include approximately 250 to 300 products across various categories.

    In addition to a broad selection of products from which to choose, Supervalu says that Wild Harvest is priced approximately 15 percent lower than branded organic and natural products and is positioned to meet or beat competitors' private-label organic prices.

    "With the Wild Harvest brand, we're focused on helping consumers 'organify their world' by delivering a wide assortment of affordable, fresh, healthy and wholesome foods at their primary grocery shopping destination," said Adam Graham, Wild Harvest brand manager. "Now, the entire family meal can be organic - at a lower cost - from products conveniently available at a local SUPERVALU-owned supermarket."

    “Organify your world” is, in fact, the slogan being used in advertising and in-store to promote the new line, which will be found in most of Supervalu’s banners, including Acme, Albertsons, bigg's, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher's, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw's/Star Market, Shop 'n Save and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy.

    "The Wild Harvest launch demonstrates Supervalu's renewed focus on being a more customer-centric organization," said Duncan Mac Naughton, executive vice president, Supervalu merchandising and marketing. "Significant research and consumer insights went into the development of the brand, which has enabled us to create a highly desirable offering that speaks directly to consumers' desire for fresh, wholesome and affordable foods that help them live a healthier lifestyle."

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the Wild Harvest introduction is part of CEO Jeff Noddle’s long-term plan to advance the company’s private label sales, from the current 15 percent of the total to 17 percent during the next fiscal year and eventually to 20 percent.

    Supervalu lays out the rationale for the line as follows:

    “Consumer demand for organic and natural foods, which has grown 10 to 15 percent annually over the past 15 years across all retail channels, is a sign of shifting priorities among grocery shoppers who are increasingly mindful of a product's ingredients, origin and methods by which it is made rather than a passing trend.(1) With even faster growth of 25 percent annually, supermarkets now account for more than 60 percent of all organic/natural sales.(2) This further demonstrates that consumers appreciate the convenience of shopping for both traditional and organic/natural foods in their primary supermarket.(3) These factors, along with consumers' evolving health-conscious lifestyles, provided the platform for the launch of Wild Harvest, which represents the first major brand initiative for Supervalu since the company's acquisition of select Albertsons properties in June 2006.”

    KC's View:
    Earlier this year, of course, Supervalu decided to shut down its five Sunflower Markets, which originally were designed to be a value-driven organic alternative to Whole Foods and its brethren, saying that the Sunflower units were not meeting profitability and productivity goals. The emails we got here at MNB showed that there were a number of people who had developed an affection for the Sunflower stores, so it will be interesting to see how they’ll react to the new Wild Harvest line.

    Ultimately, the dual goals of building both private label sales and natural/organic presence make a lot of sense, and seem aimed at precisely the correct strategy – to have a differential advantage that the competition cannot offer.

    At least not exactly…since Safeway does have its “O” brand that gives it a differential advantage. But this is where the bottle needs to be joined – where there are differences, as opposed to similarities.

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that almost three decades of video productions that were shot by an independent production company for Wal-Mart have suddenly come onto the market, opening a sometimes embarrassing window on the retailer’s private behavior.

    Among the revealing moments, the Journal writes: “A former executive vice president and board member challenges store managers in 2004 to continue his work opposing unionization. Male managers in drag lead thousands of co-workers in the company's corporate cheer. In another meeting, managers mock foolish or dangerous use of a product sold in its stores. In 1991, founder Sam Walton describes Hillary Clinton, then a Wal-Mart director, as ‘one of us’.”

    The material is on the market because the production company, Flagler Productions, suddenly lost the Wal-Mart account that had given it 90 percent of its revenue for almost 30 years, producing managers and shareholders meetings – virtually all of which were captured on tape. Because the agreement between Flagler and Wal-Mart was done with a handshake, with no written contract, Flagler maintains that the video material belongs to it…and since the company has been virtually destroyed by Wal-Mart’s decision to hire a different company, it is feeling a mite vindictive.

    Wal-Mart says it is reviewing its legal options. According to the story, there are a number of tapes that could prove to be valuable to plaintiffs targeting Wal-Mart on a number of fronts.

    The Journal notes that Flagler offered to sell the material to Wal-Mart for several million dollars, and that Wal-Mart reportedly countered with an offer of about $500,000 – on the premise that nobody would really be interested in the videotapes.

    KC's View:
    In the scheme of things, Wal-Mart may wish that it had written that check…because not doing so may prove to be a more expensive choice.

    I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if Wal-Mart actually did offer to buy the footage – no matter what the amount – that could legitimize Flagler’s contention that it owned the footage.

    Whatever the legal issues are, I have to say that as someone who has been producing videos for more than 20 years, I am very uncomfortable with the notion that Flagler has been employed by Wal-Mart for almost three decades – a long and respectable run by any standard – and now is stabbing the company in the back. (Though one could suggest that Flagler actually is stabbing Wal-Mart in the front, since it offered to sell the retailer the footage.)

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    USA Today reports this morning that “four of 18 beef slaughterhouses that supply the nation's school lunch program were cited for inhumane treatment of cattle in a recent federal audit, and one was temporarily shut down … The USDA didn't name the suspended plant. But a letter from the USDA to Sen. Herbert Kohl, D-Wis., chair of an agriculture subcommittee, said the plant failed to effectively stun cattle on the first attempt before slaughter, a somewhat common humane-handling violation. The plant corrected the problem and lost about a half day of production, says Amanda Eamich, USDA spokeswoman.

    “The USDA letter said the 17 other plants had ‘acceptable humane-handling programs and practices,’ but it cited three of them: one for cattle overcrowding, one for excessive use of stunning prods and one for conditions allowing excessive hesitation by cattle as they approached the stun box.”

    The release of the results follows the shutdown of the Westland/Hallmark beef slaughterhouse, which was revealed to have committed egregious violations of federal regulations covering the handling of cattle.

    KC's View:
    Here’s the line I don't understand:

    “The USDA didn’t name the suspended plant.”

    How come? How is this not public information? And how are the government and the food industry supposed to engender consumer confidence if they are not willing to be utterly transparent about the system, warts and all?

    The bottom line is that the report card is pretty good, and that’s a real positive. But lack of transparency makes it seem worse than it is, like there is something to hide.

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    The San Francisco Chronicle writes this morning that since Starbucks created a website that allows shoppers to suggest changes and make recommendations to top management, hundreds of thousands of people have responded with a wide range of ideas: “Create a punch-card system with a free drink after so many purchases. Give people a free cup of birthday joe or discounts for using their own mugs. Let customers forgo long lines by ordering their usual with the swipe of a card when they walk in the door.

    “Skeptics have panned, unveiled at the company's heavily attended annual meeting in mid-March, as an online suggestion box that's already grown stale. But the heavy traffic it's drawn and the message Starbucks is sending — that it's listening, and listening carefully — have impressed corporate marketing experts.”

    According to the story, “Starbucks is promoting MyStarbucksIdea on its main corporate home page and with counter cards in stores that say ‘Have an idea for us?’ on one side and the Web address on the back. But the company has long relied for promotion on word-of-mouth and an avid following of devotees and critics who regularly post their opinions on various Starbucks-related sites.

    “Part corporate blog, MyStarbucksIdea also has the feel of an online social network. Though users can't link up over e-mail or post profiles of themselves, the comments they post often read like friendly conversations — with people complimenting one another on their ideas or elaborating when comments about their posts make them feel misunderstood.”

    KC's View:
    I most agree with the expert who tells the Chronicle that while many companies view the idea of soliciting customer ideas as a necessary evil that is a cost of doing business, Starbucks seems to view it as a real opportunity – which is more than just a semantic difference.

    For me, this move illustrates that the connection that people can feel for the places they shop regularly. More retailers should go out of their way to solicit and embrace shopper opinions…it is the best way to learn and create community.

    By the way, I love the idea of offering discounts to people who bring in their own cups. Especially for a company that lauds itself for its environmental consciousness.

    By the way, another point on Starbucks…

    Business Week has a blog posting that poses the following marketing dilemma: “Starbucks ‘Everyday Coffee’ offering is an effort to Dunkinize the brand a bit. Is that a good idea? To water down the brand, if not the coffee, is risky.”


    But the biggest problem with the new Pike Place Roast, which debuted to great fanfare yesterday, is that it isn’t nearly as remarkable as I expected it to be when I read about it. It was good, and less bitter than some of the chain’s other blends (which I happen to like, by the way), but not a “wow!”.

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a least a small groundswell of support for mandated country of origin labeling on prescription medicines in the wake of the revelation that at least 19 people have died because they ingested contaminated batches of the blood thinner heparin from China.

    Drug companies say that such a mandate wouldn’t be practical or helpful, and that it is sufficient that medicines meet standards established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the argument from the other side is that especially now 0- when so much product from China seems to be suspect – consumers deserve to have as much information as possible.

    KC's View:
    One thing seems sure – China needs a good PR agent. Because with all the product safety issues, pollution, and the humans rights abuses, things don't seem real rosy for China’s public image.

    As for labeling, my feelings remain the same. There is no such thing as too much information, and utter transparency is not only a good idea, but increasingly a cost of doing business.

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    USA Today reports that a new study from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and its online division projects that “online spending is expected to rise a robust 17% this year, despite a sluggish economy that has bruised many brick-based retailers … Retail sales online, excluding travel purchases, are set to grow to $204 billion in 2008 from $174.5 billion last year, fueled by sales of apparel, computers and autos.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    The Republican reports that a Big Y store in Springfield, Massachusetts, is opening a “limited service medical clinic” in an existing sore that is being renovated to compete with a new Stop & Shop store being opened nearby.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    • PriceSmart, which operates warehouse club stores primarily outside the US, reported that its March sales rose 21.3 percent to $94.1 million, from $77.6 million last year. Same-store sales were up 14.1 percent for the month.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    Michael Sansolo wrote yesterday about the special charms of In-N-Out, a hamburger chain with units in just three states – California, Arizona and Nevada. In doing so, he apparently tapped into some sort of cult...

    MNB user Mike Heinaman wrote:

    As a former east coaster who recently moved to California after a brief stay in the Midwest, I was only recently introduced to In-N-Out and not only did I agree with Michael’s article, but I started thinking about whether or not there was an In-N-Out conveniently located for a stop on my drive home from work tonight. I usually try to avoid fast food, but their burgers seem more on par with a sit down restaurant than a place with a drive-through window. Plus, where else can you order something “animal style?”

    Also, as a quick note to the point about the benefits of having friendly and helpful employees like Michael’s experiences at In-N-Out, my wife and I recently went shopping at a local grocery store that had just been remodeled, and, while we were impressed by the improved facility, our thoughts afterward were much more focused on the positive experience that we had with the employees. We had several personnel with genuine smiles asking us if we needed help, and even had someone from the meat department search the store for an ingredient that we were having problems finding. We were in a different chain’s store a few days later and also had a positive experience with the staff, so, out of the numerous choices in our area, we now have our two favorite places to stop already established.

    MNB user Shawn Ravitz wrote:

    Great Points... I am a big fan of In N Out. When I travel to LA, Phoenix, or Vegas, it is a guaranteed stop (even if I have to take a cab through drive thru).

    One experience I have taken from them is to focus on one thing and do it exceptional! As a Wakefern member, our focus can easily get distracted by many things. In N Out is a great example of staying true to what you believe in, do it right, do it consistently and the biz will take care of itself.

    MNB user Paul Gilbert wrote:

    I can eat at a Wegmans any day I am in the office here in Rochester . But, I love cheeseburgers, I have an overwhelming desire to eat too many of them each week and I can only get a cheeseburger at one of them. Luckily, my weight and cholesterol levels all remain very good. I am always in pursuit of a great cheeseburger. I attend the Vegas ICSC each year and I have seen signs for In-N-Out burger but have never had one. After reading your story this morning, I am certain this May I will have my first In-N-Out burger. I cannot wait!

    MNB user Chuck Burns wrote:

    We moved to Colorado from California 2.5 years ago and one of the things we miss the most is In-N-Out. When we go back we make a point of stopping at the In-N-Out in Las Vegas; the first one we come to on the way to California. The quality of food is everything you said it was. My son worked there during high school and he spoke often about how they operate. The costly beefsteak tomatoes they buy, the lack of freezer in the store (everything is delivered fresh every night)., the buns that have to be a day old so they hold together better, the single source potatoes, the absolute cleanliness, and the emphasis on service.

    The menu is simple; but there is a hidden menu too. I always got a “Protein Setup” in which they eliminate the bun and wrap the burger in lettuce leaves. You could ask for a burger without meat and get extra cheese and end up with a grilled cheese. “Animal Style” was with grilled mustard and onions, and the founder’s favorite was something called a “Flying Dutchman” which was a stack of five patties and cheese. If you are really hungry and a “Double Double” isn’t enough you can order a “3 x 3” or “4x 4”.

    After my son had worked there a while his default expression became “Right On”. They install a “Can Do” attitude in these kids that is amazing. They hire in at higher wages and give regular raises as your skills grow. They work the kids hard and slackers and poor attitudes aren’t tolerated. One of their secrets may be how they treat, train and retain their managers. The manager in my son’s store was paid about 125,000 a year. Do you think that man had an incentive to do things right and keep his job. It is my impression that they grow in an organic fashion, no faster than they can self finance and generate quality managers that can instill and pass on their unique culture.

    I think “Pride” may be a watchword at In-N-Out. They try to do everything right. This even extends to their delivery trucks. As you drive around California you will often see their trucks; decked out Peterbilts, gleaming white with In-N-Out graphics. It looks like they detail them daily.

    In-N-Out is a great company and if they ever went public I’d be the first in line to buy stock.

    MNB user Phyllis Palmer wrote:

    Thanks for describing WHY on the In-N-Out obsession. I’ve never understood it. I live in Vegas, and have had experience after experience of friends from the East coast RAVING about In-N-Out and I just didn’t get it. Maybe it was because I don’t eat hamburgers (don’t get me wrong.. it has to do with a childhood experience of finding a roach baked in my hamburger bun at the grand opening of the 1st McDonalds in my western Maryland town). But you described the EXPERIENCE. THAT was the difference and now, I understand! Thanks.

    MNB user Steve Ording wrote:

    I read with interest your article about In-N-Out. I have traveled to the west coast many times and have heard of this chain but have never tried one myself. However if these are so good and they have such a cult following why aren’t they sold in grocery, vending or c-stores nationwide? I work for the oldest, finest fast food chain in the country with beyond a doubt the largest cult following in the country. I am quite sure you are familiar with White Castle. Our burgers are so good, so unique and such a part of American tradition that our cravers and cult followers can’t get enough no matter where they live!

    That’s why today White Castle is sold in grocery stores, vending machines and c-stores not only in the 48 states but also Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Philippines, Puerto Rico and several Caribbean Islands. This is indeed the proof of a great burger and loyal cult following. I can only hope you have had the extreme pleasure of dinning at one of our restaurants.

    I’ll answer this one. I think that In-N-Out is not in supermarkets on purpose – that it runs counter to the “fresh” value proposition that is at the core of its culture.

    BTW, I love White Castle…but while buying the burgers from the supermarket freezer case may build sales, I’m not entirely sure that it builds the company’s image…because they’re never, never as good. But that may just be my experience.

    MNB user Dennis McCoy wrote:

    Didn’t realize an easterner could really appreciate this place.. I grew up in California and remember when In-n-Out started. What I really had forgotten, probably an age thing, was how incredible they truly are. I love a great hamburger and your reference to Lipitor does identify how I have to cherish the few hamburgers that I can afford to eat per year. Given that I made two visits to In-n-Out during the visit to FMI in California and the first was a real disappointment because the line was so long and I was time pressed so I passed. Not wanting to allow that to happen again I watched closely for the next opportunity and my wife and I found that, and after the first bite we looked at each other and referenced that I can’t believe how great these are. Even better then we had remembered them, oh and I have had my share to remember from the past. This is one of those great food opportunities in this world. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect back on that moment.

    MNB user R. Dale Blotter wrote:
    I enjoy your daily blog and views on the state of the retail food world. I loved Sansolo’s column today on In-N-Out. I returned last week from a spring break vacation with family to LA and one of the first things we did upon arriving was to hit the In-N-Out for lunch. We lived in So Cal for 12 years and having an In-N-Out meal is one of the pleasures we truly miss. Like Mr. Sansolo, I try to make it to an In-N-Out whenever I am in their market area. Great burgers, fresh cut fires, great milk shakes and great service are truly the hallmarks of this operation. I’ve often wondered if part of their magic isn’t the fact that they don’t franchise but own all their stores and therefore control the product so well. Other food retailers would do well to learn from them.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I share your enjoyment of the total experience. A long time customer suggested that I order the Double – Double Extra Messy. It is fabulous – once a quarter.

    MNB is at the top of my Favorites list for daily review. Please keep it insightful and on the edge – we need it.

    MNB user Jared Damiano wrote:

    I wanted to drop you a quick email for two reasons. First, thank you for your article. My co-workers think that I am nuts when I make them plan to go to In-N-Out from the airport every time we are out west. Once we get there they understand why.

    The second reason is to ask if you wouldn’t mind sharing the name of the small restaurant in New Orleans (mentioned in the column). I am traveling there in two weeks and would love to stop by.

    Our pleasure.

    Michael was speaking about Mother’s, which is a wonderful place for things like gumbo and red beans and rice.

    I would add that the Acme Oyster House is one of my favorites, and you should also go to the Café du Monde for beignets and great coffee.

    Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a New Orleans restaurant that I didn’t like.

    But I won’t elaborate…because this clearly is a day for In-N-Out.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2008

    • The Tennessee Lady Vols won the NCAA women's basketball tournament, defeating the Stanford Cardinal, 64-48.
    KC's View: