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    Published on: May 20, 2008

    Join The Food Institute and The Hartman Group for an insightful webinar that will examine American consumers' understanding of what the term "buy local" means.

    According to a Hartman Group report, while "buy local" is a phrase with diverse meanings, many consumers are beginning to think about the idea of "local" in terms of everyday products and practices: almost three quarters of consumers (77%) say they are currently buying products they perceive to be locally made or produced. This 45-minute webinar is your guide to understanding consumer perceptions of what "buy local" means in the context of products, brands, retailers, restaurants and businesses.

    Among the findings that will be discussed:

    • 77% of consumers say they are currently buying products they perceive to be locally made or produced.
    • "Made or produced within 100 miles" is a popular definition of local producers.
    • Organic products make up a significant portion of local products purchased.
    • 82% of consumers prefer to support products made in their state or community.

    When: May 28, 2008 2 PM EST

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    Like so many other Baby Boomers, I’m burdened with the memories of years of pop culture that I couldn’t shake if I tried. For instance, I still remember the words to the theme songs for The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island and Secret Agent, among many others.

    Likewise I remember key commercials, such as the 12 ways Wonder Bread built stronger bodies. But every now and again my memory shocks me.

    For instance, though I have never been a coffee drinker do I remember to “fill it to the rim, with Brim,” a brand that disappeared years ago. Yet, I’m not alone. An article this past weekend in The New York Times Magazine studied companies that resurrect supposedly defunct brands like Brim, Eagle Snacks or Underalls (the last of which, by the way, was also the name of a character in "Caddyshack," but I digress.)

    Resurrecting the brands though isn’t the only story. What companies are finding is that the memories we have of these brands and commercials aren't always correct, which creates incredible marking opportunities. For instance, when asked why they would “fill it to the rim” with Brim, most people thought it was a reference to the taste of the coffee product. In truth, it was to sell the de-caffeinated attributes of the coffee.

    The need to resurrect a dead brand came across loudly during the recent Food Marketing Institute (FMI) convention and had nothing to do with the struggles of the meeting itself. Rather it was in a session on “new ways of working together,” which featured suppliers and retailers talking about ways to gain significant improvements by addressing issues jointly. The paths discussed included better alignment of staff on both sides, better sharing of data and better joint understanding of goals, problems and strategies.

    As one MNB reader astutely pointed out, it sounds suspiciously like ECR rising from the grave. Well, maybe that’s a good thing.

    ECR - Efficient Consumer Response - was an incredible industry wide project aimed at driving waste and inefficiency out of the system. It resulted in nearly 40 reports, meetings galore and whole new energy behind industry initiatives from just-in-time deliveries to category management. What’s more, the project didn’t contain itself to a single channel of retail. It spread easily to other channels and even other continents (and in fact, continues quite well in other parts of the world.)

    And somehow it also became a dirty word, which was a mistake. While ECR didn’t fully achieve its mission (just ask yourself if there are any inefficiencies left in your company or supply chain) it did make a difference in many ways. Industry dialog changed for a brief period as the emphasis moved to cooperation and mutual problem solving.

    Only the project ran out of steam well before the issues stopped coming.

    Think of how valuable a joint industry forum would be today for dealing with sustainability and efforts to reduce packaging, water, fuel and truck use; or food safety and the many problems that move throughout the supply chain; or the coming labor shortage and how companies can work together to eliminate jobs that cannot be filled; or health and wellness and how to better communicate with and serve the shopper; or battling organized retail crime across companies and channels. And that’s just for starters.

    The bottom line is that ECR was never about technology or supply chain alone. It was about finding a way to work on continuous improvement, an issue that all of retail has a stake in supporting today, tomorrow and deep into the future.

    As James Bond once taught us, you only live twice. Maybe the brand of widespread industry cooperation could stand another shot.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    The Washington Post reports that "for years, consumer advocates and nutritionists have said that schools should stock more healthful snacks, but schools and districts have been reluctant to make that change." However, "advocates say a number of obstacles have slowed efforts to overhaul the nutritional quality of snacks and drinks. Vending contracts with soft drink companies, for example, support a vigorous microeconomy. Budget-strapped principals have signed lucrative deals with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. For a cut of the sales, schools can buy band uniforms and other must-haves, while the company gets exclusive rights to sell its products on campus."

    And, the Post writes, "A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office found that almost 75 percent of high schools had signed exclusive soft drink contracts." Making it more difficult for companies trying to promote healthier options is the fact that they tend to pay lower commissions on sales, which puts them at a financial disadvantage. And then, there's the other problem – a lot of kids, given the choice, simply don't want to eat healthy snacks.

    KC's View:
    On so many levels, none of this should be surprising. After all, these are habits – both fiscal and physical – that have been formed over decades, and one shouldn't expect overnight change just because there have been headlines and studies highlighting the nation's obesity crisis.

    The first thing that has to change is the way parents shop for their families. You bring home more fruit and vegetables and healthy beverages, and less so-called "junk food," and you create a different mindset in your family. (This can takes years, by the way.) You also have to create a healthy approach to eating, which says that moderation and smart choices are better than denial and fad diets; indulgence is okay, if offset by exercise and intelligent eating the rest of the time.

    Retailers, by the way, should take a more active role in encouraging a smarter approach to shopping and eating. We're already seeing that with programs like the ONQI and Guiding Stars nutritional rating systems, and I would expect that we'll see a lot more of this down the road. But retailers should active partners in promoting these systems, and in developing marketing schemes that build on them.

    Once these foundations have been established, that's when you start making changes in the schools – in the cafeterias and vending machines, as well as in insisting on better physical education programs. As the parents of schoolchildren, not to mention taxpayers, we certainly have the right to influence public policy in this way. But you have to work on private policy first…you can't expect schools to do a job that you are unwilling to undertake at home.

    Interestingly, the Washington Post had a piece yesterday detailing what it called "a fragmented, inchoate response" to the national obesity crisis "that critics say has suffered particularly from inadequate direction and dollars at the federal level."

    The Post notes that "the problem at first was that the problem was ignored: For almost two decades, young people in the United States got fatter and fatter -- ate more, sat more -- and nobody seemed to notice. Not parents or schools, not medical groups or the government." But once the alarm was sounded and a national study was done in 2004, "the top recommendation of that seminal report was for the government to convene a high-level, interdepartmental task force to guide a coordinated response. No such body has been assembled."

    The Post writes, "Contrast that with the offensive mounted in European countries: France mandated health warnings on televised food ads. Spanish officials reached agreement with industry leaders on tighter product labeling and marketing as well as reducing fat, salt and sugar in processed foods.

    "Britain has gone the farthest, restricting food ads on TV programs catering predominantly to children and pulling sweets and sweetened drinks from schools. Eighty-five percent of all grades have at least two hours of physical education a week. The 2011 goal is five hours."

    No such coordinated, national approach has been developed in the US.

    But let me suggest that one of the reasons that there has been no coordinated national approach to the obesity crisis in the US is that there has been no overwhelming approach to the obesity crisis in many American homes. And until you do the latter, you can't do the former.

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that the US Department of Agriculture estimates that food prices will rise five percent during 2008, the largest single-year increase in the US since 1990.

    In addition, the five percent increase is significantly higher than the 3.5 percent increase that was projected back in January.

    The root cause – the cost of wheat, according to USDA, which is expected to push cereal and bakery products prices up as much as eight percent.

    And, USDA projects, the bad news will continue into next year, when the cost of meat and poultry is expected to go up even more than this year because of the high cost of feed.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    The Toledo Blade reports that Amish-run salvage stores in Ohio are "picking through the leftovers from America's supermarkets" and selling expired food and medicine to shoppers "dirt heap." And the sales aren't just being made to Amish customers – one retailer says that his parking lot has everything from horse-drawn buggies to Mercedes sedans.

    According to the Blade, "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't ban the sale of expired medicines or foods, with the exception of baby formula." The paper also notes that most of these businesses have been around for years, but are growing in popularity because of the economic hard times that have hit the US.

    KC's View:
    In the terrific 1985 movie "Witness," Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) at one point says that like the Amish hosts hiding him from killers, "I'm hell at whacking." I think he was referring to farm work, but it ends up that he could have been talking about retailing.

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    There is a terrific piece in the Washington Post this morning about the forensic laboratory made up of 22 chemists, microbiologists and food scientists that works for the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). According to the story, "GMA's members turn to the group's in-house forensics experts when they receive a complaint about an eyelash in a pot pie or a bug in a can of stew. The team of scientists, led by lab director Jeffrey Barach and GMA senior counsel David J. Herman, are tasked with figuring out whether the company is dealing with a prank, an innocent mistake, a production error or sabotage … Unlike law enforcement, however, the lab is not interested as much in who is to blame as in what happened so the company can try to prevent it from happening again. It may have to repair a machine. It may have to call the police. Or it may simply need to send the customer a coupon."

    And, the Post writes: "If having a team of scientists on call sounds like an unusual perk for a food industry trade group to offer, it is. The lab is a vestige of GMA's history, which dates to the start of the National Canners Association in 1907. At the time, canning was much less consistent than it is today, and people contracted botulism from eating food that was not properly sealed. The lab was set up to identify what wasn't working and to come up with better methods. It gradually developed an expertise in food forensics. When NCA later became the Food Products Association, which in turn merged with GMA in 2007, the lab became part of GMA.

    "GMA now handles about 1,000 foreign-object cases a year. Claims work, as it is called, makes up about a third of the lab's workload. The rest of the time is spent on research such as evaluating the sensitivity and reliability of tests designed to detect food allergens or performing 'tear-downs' -- an autopsy of sorts on a defective can. It is work that government agencies and private labs don't typically do."

    The title of the Post story: "CSI: Dinner Table."

    KC's View:
    Interesting piece, and not just because it is nice to read good news every once in a while.

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    CVS Caremark has announced a partnership with Google Health, a new product launched by Google, which is designed to allow users "to securely store, organize and manage their medical records and health care information online. This partnership will facilitate and enhance communications between consumers and health care providers by providing individuals with secure access to their medication history and personal health care information," according to a statement released by the companies.

    The official release says that "by integrating on the Google Health platform, patients who receive treatment at MinuteClinic, the retail-based health clinic subsidiary of CVS Caremark, will be able to securely import their visit summaries into their Google Health Accounts." The program will roll out nationally to the more than 500 MinuteClinic locations in 25 states during the course of the next several weeks. In addition, within the next several months, consumers who fill their prescriptions at a CVS/pharmacy or have prescription coverage from CVS Caremark will also be able to securely import their prescription and medication histories into Google Health.

    KC's View:
    This kind of integration, it seems to me, is the promised land of health care.

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    In upstate New York, the Daily Gazette reports that while "many supermarket shoppers depend on so-called loyalty cards for in-store discounts … few of them realize a simple bar code scan could end up saving them much more than money. Increasingly, supermarket chains are relying on these programs to gather the information they need to contact customers almost instantaneously after a recall has been issued."

    Case in point – Price Chopper Supermarkets, which has used the customer information accessed via the AdvantEdge loyalty card three times this year to identify shoppers who have bought CPG products that have been recalled, and then reached out to those shoppers via phone call.

    KC's View:
    You'd think that this capability alone would be enough to overcome the concerns of so-called privacy advocates.

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    Responding to yesterday's note that Bashas has decided to eliminate its home delivery service because of economic pressures and changing shopper priorities, one MNB user wrote:

    Seems rather counter-intuitive at a time when people are cutting back on shopping trips to save gas.

    Good point.

    Contributing to the ongoing coffee debate, MNB user Susan Scurlock Theiler wrote:

    I've roamed around to many McDonald's outlets in search of this so-called premiere coffee that is driving down the price of my Starbuck's stock, but I have not found it. I guess your test market report was the reason. I would need to go to Kansas City. My friend tells me the McDonald's in her town of Durham, North Carolina (home of Duke University) has an espresso bar. Forget it, I'm in Virginia. At least I discovered in my travels that McDonald's offers coffee to seniors (age indeterminate) for $0.42. That's 42 cents. And it's delicious. The staff is not sure what the age is to be considered a senior, but they assured me, "nobody's going to card you!"

    I'm probably sort-sighted about this, but I dread the day when I start looking for senior discounts…the same way that I throw out the AARP solicitations without opening them…and plan to "rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light."

    On the subject of the battle against credit card companies and high interchange fees, MNB user Jerome Schindler wrote:

    Perhaps the simple solution is to pass legislation that prohibits credit card companies from restricting the right of retailers to offer discounts for other forms of payment (cash/check/retailer own card), and/or impose their own surcharge for credit card use. The cost of using a credit card would then be very transparent to consumers.

    Competition would even be possible - the discount/surcharge might depend on the card used so a card that has lower expenses to the retailer would have a lower discount/surcharge.

    Under the current system a consumer, particularly one who does not carry a balance, is a sucker to pay cash and forgo the rewards being offered.

    MNB user Andy Ruff wrote:

    As a Loyalty Marketer, I really feel for the merchant who pays a high interchange fee on my credit card where I earn miles. Capitol One gets all the credit for the miles I earn by using their card (and therefore my loyalty to use it), but it is the merchant who paid for it! As far as transparency goes, Capitol One, et al, should have to say “be sure to thank your local retailer for the miles you earn!”, or better yet, “these miles aren’t really free, your local store had to pass the outrageously high fees on to you anyway”. Didn’t a bunch of tea wind up in Boston harbor over this kind of thing? Rewards without representation!

    MNB noted yesterday that pledged foreign food aid may also serve to promote the interests of companies developing genetically modified crops; I wrote: "What I would hate to see is what should be an act of charity turn into a political hairball."

    This led one MNB user to write:

    I care about the starving people around certain parts of the world as much as the next person...BUT...

    Are you kidding me! Monsanto sees an opportunity to spread their seed without opposition ...are the third world farmers going to get annual seed contributions from Monsanto...or will Monsanto allow the farmer to replant next year using some holdback seed...Oh! wait a minute, some of their seed doesn't sprout the next year! Monsanto needs to beef up its team of attorneys to be able to sue the small farmers in poverty areas for replanting their GMO seeds, or sue those farmers next to the GMO fields where drift has taken some GMO pollen...of course this will be a political hairball.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2008

    It is worth pointing out this morning that Jon Lester threw a no-hitter for the Boston Red Sox last night against the Kansas City Royals, as the Sox won 7-0. Not because it was, according to the Boston Globe, " he threw the first no-hitter of the 2008 season, the 18th in club history, and first by a Sox pitcher since rookie Clay Buchholz last Sept. 1, and the first by a Sox lefthander since Mel Parnell more than a half-century ago"

    No, what is more impressive is that Lester is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed about two years ago with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

    Again, from this morning's Globe story: "The Red Sox lefthander threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals last night at Fenway Park, which in baseball is often cast as an immortal act but for a cancer survivor is something to be taken with a touch of modesty (and) a pinch of humor…"

    KC's View:
    The great Robert B. Parker once said that "baseball is the most important thing that doesn’t matter."

    Sometimes, though, it does matter. Because it illustrates something larger.