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: May 27, 2008

    The Boston Globe reports that “the connected home” – in which all the various computerized devices in one’s house talk to each other and help to coordinate the owner’s life – is getting closer to becoming more than just myth.

    The first step is to actually allow television sets to communicate. The Globe writes, “Today, Comcast Corp. rolls out in Massachusetts a service that allows customers to start watching an On Demand program on the couch in the living room, then move to another room to finish the show on another TV with a digital cable box. Verizon already allows its television customers to record programming on a digital video recorder on one TV, but then watch it on another set in the house. Verizon also lets people look at photos or listen to digital music collections stored on their computers through their televisions, and has Web-connected widgets that show up on the TV, displaying traffic or weather.”

    Or, one could imagine, information from local retailers about nutrition, diet, or just specials.

    KC's View:
    This story grabbed my attention because it was less than two weeks ago that a Connecticut technology company called Ikan Systems announced that it is working with D'Agostino's Supermarkets to roll out a new system that will, among other things, allow shoppers to scan food products at home, create a shopping list, transmit that list to the retailer, and then have the products delivered.

    This is all part of the connected household, all part of the same technological continuum. And we all ought to be paying close attention, and figuring out both strategically and tactically where we fit.

    The temptation, especially during down economic times such as we now are experiencing, will be to put such considerations on the back burner. But none of us can afford to ignore this technological stew altogether…even if on the back burner, this pot needs to be stirred and watched. Carefully.

    One expert tells the Globe that we’re in a technological marathon, and only one mile in at that. But as someone who has run two marathons, I can tell you that each mile is important…because if you don't finish one, you can't do the next one. It is all about creating both balance and momentum…and one cannot survive without the other.

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    A report last week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the biggest challenge facing federal agencies looking to do a better job of assuring food and drug safety – and thereby preventing at least some disease outbreaks - is in creating a streamlined and effective communications system that links the various pieces of the chain.

    According to a Reuters story, “The 148-page report said the current system is impaired because thousands of local health departments, university researchers, corporations and other institutions often collect data for their own use, with no mandate to share information … The report noted that individual government agencies have a sense of ownership that can deter data sharing while the food industry has competitive, liability and other reasons.”

    The story also notes that “The United States has nearly 3,000 local health departments and retail inspection agencies, millions of agricultural producers and a wide range of government and university researchers, the study said. The federal government alone has 15 agencies that handle food safety including the U.S. Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration.”

    Among the recommendations made by the CDC in its study was that either Congress or the president should mandate information sharing and the creation of an infrastructure that would encourage and facilitate such communication.

    KC's View:
    Good luck.

    There are so many competing egos and agendas at work here that it is hard to imagine anything actually getting fixed. It seems to me that while such a step is incredibly unlikely, the only way to really fix the system is to figure out how you would create a new food and drug safety apparatus from scratch…and then do so, migrating responsibilities from the old bureaucracy to a new one that hopefully would be set up in such a way that it is both effective and efficient.

    Like I said. Good luck.

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    A new survey by Meredith Corp. and NBC Universal looks at women’s health and wellness priorities, and suggests that while they are more focused on these issues than ever, they may not be doing everything possible for a comprehensive approach to living longer and better.

    Among the findings:

    • Women are more concerned about diet/weight (56 percent) and eating right (36 percent) than they are about cancer (23 percent), cardiovascular/heart health (20 percent), and diabetes (18 percent) .

    • Many women are skipping important medical examinations, including annual physicals and cancer screenings . Less than two-thirds (59 percent) of all women get an annual physical, even lower among Gen Y women (44 percent), and nearly one-third of Boomer women are not getting their important annual mammograms, cholesterol checks or physicals; just 62 percent of women regularly give themselves a breast self-examination, while only 14 percent of all women get a skin cancer screening at least once a year.

    • Four in 10 women report that they are more than 20 pounds overweight , with Gen Y women more likely than Gen X and Boomer women to say they are at their ideal weight (29 percent vs. 9 percent, 7 percent respectively). More than three quarters of women say that they would consider improving their diets and doing some exercise in order to lose weight.

    • When it comes to achieving a healthy lifestyle, more women opt for simple strategies like “drinking more water” and “eating more fruits and vegetables” than more disciplined approaches like “exercising three times a week”, “lowering calorie intake”, “watching their sugar intake” and “using portion control.”

    • While most women like who they are inside and are satisfied with their “identity and development as an individual” (68 percent), only 4 in 10 women say they are satisfied with their physical appearance (40 percent) and/or energy levels (37 percent).

    • The majority of moms acknowledge that their children eat junk food, however, most (72 percent) will tell you it’s “not while I’m around.” Only 11 percent of moms say their children eat healthy all the time while 17 percent of moms say their children eat too much junk food.

    • Most women feel the battle against the obesity epidemic starts young, and in the schools with healthier choices for children (76 percent), mandated nutrition education starting at an early age (66 percent) and adequate funding of physical education programs (62 percent).

    KC's View:
    Let’s first be clear about one thing. Men are no better at this stuff than women. Probably worse.

    That said, it would appear from the results that there is a certain amount of self-deception going on. (What was the great Jeff Goldblum line – penned by Lawrence Kasdan - from “The Big Chill”? “I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex … Ever gone a week without a rationalization?”

    There are probably more women who are overweight than are admitting it, certainly more things they could do to take care of themselves, positively more of their kids eating crappy food than they care to concede, and they probably shouldn't be suggesting that the battle against the obesity epidemic starts in the schools.

    Not sure what retailers and manufacturers can do about this, except to clearly and consistently provide good and useful information to shoppers. The good news here is that people probably are getting more, not less, informed about issues like health and wellness. Which means that customers more and more will be seeking out stores that are a resource for information as well as a source of product.

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    Winning really isn’t everything. In many ways, losing is much more important if you can lessons from the loss.

    I really have no idea how many total speeches and columns I’ll deliver on various topics in 2008. But this much I know for sure: the one speech I’d really love to give is the one I won’t get to make.

    This Sunday, my son, Corey, will graduate from high school. As a proud parent, I’ll be delighted to watch him walk across the stage with his 500 classmates. And as a typical commencement attendee, I’ll be hoping the speeches are mercifully brief and give the students some kind of wonderful message.

    Barring some incredible event, that message won’t come from me. So I’ll deliver it here instead…after which you may feel free to throw the nearest hat into the air. My message would be this:

    Don’t fear failure.

    Too often, we try to do just the opposite. In fact, as your parents I know we’ve always tried to shield you. We’ve given you trophies for finishing in last place and we’ve railed against any teacher or coach who dared not love you. We were wrong.

    You see people who never fail are either superhuman or never take chances. The odds are you aren’t in the first group and you most certainly want to avoid the second. Failure is a strange thing. It sounds so awful after all, but it isn’t if we fail for the right reasons. And if we learn from whatever happens.

    Sometimes we fail because we didn’t work hard enough. We didn’t plan enough, study enough, train enough or do whatever it took to get ready. That’s never a good outcome unless at the end of the day we honestly assess our failure and promise to learn from it. The great baseball pitcher Christy Mathewson said, “You can learn little from victory. You can learn everything from defeat.”

    Sometimes we fail because we made the wrong choices. Sadly, life isn’t lived in hindsight, so we can’t know how to make the right choices in advance. Hard work can always help. And never fear asking questions and don’t dismiss the answers you don’t like.

    Sometimes the right choice is clear and we don’t make it. Again, learn from that. Doing the right thing may not always be the easiest or most popular choice. But it’s the only choice you won’t regret later and in the end, nothing will matter more.

    And understand that sometimes we fail because we simply fail. We make the right choices, we give the good effort and we do all we can. Yet we still fail. It happens.

    Failure stings and none of us like it. Don’t ever get uncomfortable with failure any more than you should get uncomfortable with success. Life isn’t meant to be lived half asleep. Seek out new challenges and try again.

    Stretch…again and again. Remember that your reach needs to exceed your grasp. When you do that, yes, you can fail. And yes, you can stretch. Sometimes you’ll actually get the unreachable and the world can change.

    Sure there are lots of things you should remember to do as you move on through life. Always nurture your sense of curiosity or your desire to learn. Court opinions opposite yours and try to understand why they are different. Remember the world is bigger than you and walk with humility. Treat people the way you wish to be treated. And donate blood because it’s mostly painless and it saves lives.

    But most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. Because winning really isn’t everything or the only thing. Trying is.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com .
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    The Sacramento Bee has a primer on the use of cloth, reusable shopping bags, noting that “using the bags is a good start … but not if you just buy them on a whim or out of guilt -- and then don't use them.”

    The Bee writes, “Several stores are trying to help with that by offering shoppers nifty incentives.

    “For instance, customers at Trader Joe's who use any reusable bag -- not just those sold by the store -- are entered into monthly lotteries for free groceries, and Whole Foods gives customers a refund -- which can be donated to charity -- for every recyclable bag used on a shopping trip.”

    KC's View:
    Two other suggestions that can increase the use of non-disposable bags.

    One is to give cashiers an incentive for encouraging shoppers to use the bags. At Stew Leonard’s, for example, people whop use cloth bags are entered into a lottery for a cash reward …and the checkout person who dealt with the winning customer gets an equivalent cash reward.

    Another is to do what I’m told Wegmans has done – put signs in the parking lot that remind people not to leave their reusable bags in the car.

    Everybody wins.

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    Financial commentator James Cramer, on TheStreet.com speculates on what will be impacted when the price of gasoline hits $5 per gallon.

    On the retail side, he writes, the effects can be seen when you go to a Dick’s Sporting Goods: “There isn't anything at Dick's that isn't sold cheaper -- although not necessarily better – at Wal-Mart. Dick's sells expensive sporting goods. You buy this stuff for your kids. They outgrow the stuff. They abuse the stuff. You are not going to go to Dick's to buy the more expensive version of something that's cheaper.”

    The same goes for food, Cramer writes, saying that people increasingly will shop at the likes of Wal-Mart, Costco and BJ’s Wholesale Club for the same “foodstuffs that you would have bought at a Supervalu or a Safeway.”

    Cramer concludes: “You get in your car that gets the best gas mileage or you buy a new one that does … and you either buy in bulk at Costco/BJ's or go to Wal-Mart. That's what the soon-to-be-$5 gasoline is going to do.”

    KC's View:
    The only thing I would question about Cramer’s hypothesis is that he pegs it to $5/gallon gasoline.

    For one thing, I think this already is happening, and much of the country is just approaching $4/gallon gasoline.

    Furthermore, all the evidence suggests that it won’t take long for $4 and $5 gasoline to be but a fond memory. Here in Connecticut, we blew past $4 with nary a pause. Betcha we hit $5 by the 4th of July. And then we’ll hit $6….$7….$8.

    And the rest of the country won’t be far behind.

    Of course, gasoline costs more than that in much of Europe, but they have an infrastructure and culture based on walking, bicycles, mass transit that make cars less critical to everyday life. Not here in the US, where the pain is going to be significant and people are going to be looking at how to make big changes in how they live.

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    The Oregonian reports that Kellogg’s has implemented a voluntary recall of Gardenburger products distributed between March 4 and May 6 of this year, saying that there appears to be a problem related to construction at its Gardenburger production facility that has no food safety implications.

    According to the paper, the recall was instigated when employees at an Oregon Burgerville restaurant opened a box of Gardenburgers and noticed something different about the look and texture of the patties. The recall affects products sold a retail as well as those sold in foodservice locations. Kellogg’s only acquired Gardenburger late last year.

    One interesting side story connected to the recall – in the interim, Burgerville has decided to source its vegetarian burgers from a small Oregon manufacturer, Chez Gourmet from Marie, that has been in business for just over a year. Burgerville executives had tasted the company’s burgers when they were being sampled at a local supermarket, so as soon as they knew they had a problem, they decided to give the local company a shot.

    It will be a challenge for Chez Gourmet, which has been manufacturing just 3,000 patties a week, and now will have to produce between 3,000 and 6,000 patties a day for the foreseeable future.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    • The Financial Times reports that Wal-Mart “has begun rolling out a global information technology system in a break with its traditional reliance on the home grown IT that underpinned its rapid expansion in the US … The shift to an external software package represents a significant shift for Wal-Mart, whose IT department historically spearheaded the development of technologies that have in the past transformed its business … Wal-Mart will continue to develop its own IT solutions, including RFID wireless tagging solutions, and hopes to create a global e-commerce platform that would both unify the systems used by existing online operations in the US and Europe and be replicable in new markets.”

    According to the story, Wal-Mart CFO Tom Schoewe says that the "efficiency of the home grown system has not kept pace with the corporation's growth.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Belgian beer manufacturer InBev NV is considering an unsolicited acquisition bid for US beer icon Anheuser-Busch that likely would exceed $45 billion.

    If such a deal were to go through, the Journal writes, it would create a company that would together “control 300 brands on six continents, brewing 10 billion gallons of beer each year.”

    However, Anheuser-Busch is said to be cool to such an offer, though the Journal notes that not all members of the Busch family may be on the same page when it comes to maintaining the status quo vs. enhancing shareholder value.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    The newest edition of Food, Nutrition & Science from The Lempert Report offers the following assessment of the 2008 Farm Bill, which has been passed by both Houses of the US Congress, vetoed by President Bush, and then passed into law by a Congress able to override the veto.

    According to the posting, "The five-year, $300 billion plan, which covers nutrition programs, farming, food and fiber production, and aspects of the lumber and horse farming industry, favors the continuation of ‘direct payments’ to those who farm crops like corn, rice and wheat. Many members of the House, Senate and Bush administration have criticized these measures, especially in light of the fact that consumers are currently facing spiking grocery bills. However, urban lawmakers have been more concerned with maintaining – and improving – the aid provided by the Farm Bill’s food and nutrition programs."

    For further information about the farm bill, and much more from Food, Nutrition & Science, go to:

    http://www.foodnutritionscience.com/

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    • JR Simplot, a self-made billionaire who made most of his money in the agriculture business – to the point where he had automobile vanity license plates reading ‘Mr. Spud” – died of natural causes over the weekend at his Boise, Idaho, home. He was 99.

    Not only did Simplot make a fortune in French fries and potato chips, but he also invested more than $20 million in the company that eventually became Micron Technology, one of the world’s major producers of computer chips.

    • Dick Martin, one half of the Rowan & Martin comedy duo that headlined “Laugh In” on network television in the late sixties, helping to revolutionize what was acceptable in terms of televised comedy, died Saturday at 86 of respiratory failure at a hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. While most young people know nothing of “Laugh In,” it was a show that created such catch phrases as “sock it to me,” “here come da judge,” and “you bet your sweet bippy,” and created a counter-culture-style environment in which even such establishment figures as Richard Nixon and John Wayne wanted to appear. In his later years, Martin directed many episodes of Bob Newhart’s various TV series.

    • Sydney Pollack, who directed such popular films as “Three Days of the Condor,” “Absence of Malice,” “The Firm,” “The Way We Were,” “Out of Africa,” and “The Electric Horseman,” died yesterday at age 73 at his home in Pacific Palisades, California. The cause was cancer.

    Perhaps his most successful movie was “Tootsie,” in which he played Dustin Hoffman’s perpetually perplexed agent, as well as directing one of the funniest comedies ever made; the last movie he directed was “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” a documentary that traced the creative process of one of the world’s foremost architects. And he produced “Recount,” the HBO film about the 2000 presidential election that premiered over the weekend.

    KC's View:
    Lately, Pollack spent more time acting than directing. One of his last and most memorable roles was as the managing partner of the law firm in last year’s excellent “Michael Clayton,” which was my favorite movie last year.

    In a statement after Pollack’s death, star George Clooney said, "Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better.”

    Can't imagine a better eulogy than that.

    Published on: May 27, 2008

    On Friday, I got the following email from MNB user Roger Hancock, which seemed to be prompted by the confluence of stories and commentaries that appeared that day…though there also was a broader – and legitimate – point being made:

    Your blog brings a perspective to the stories you report on that, as a whole, takes a wide-angle view. When people tend to be singly focused on the business at hand, which I have found to be almost universally true whether in small business or big, a step back for a broader view brings insight and energy.

    The economy, or more specifically, the economic period we are in seems to have grabbed you in a way that narrows this broad perspective. The economy has cycled for decades. This new phase that has more global inputs than ever brings new challenges. The future of energy sources and their allocation also brings new challenges, and ultimately will bring changes that create a sense of the unknown. Unknown often brings with it a feeling of fear.

    Working through the unknown, whether a new marketing concept (i.e. Fresh and Easy), or a merger between companies with very different cultures (loads of examples here), with an optimism that the finished product will add value to society and strengthen the human character, is one theme that your blog consistently carries. The economic challenges that the US and the globe face seem to be getting different treatment in MorningNewsBeat.

    Perhaps you are in the know about policies and agendas that inform your position. Even so, a voice of optimism will be a beacon that people look to as they weather economic challenges. Whether I eat spam or something even less appealing, the hope of a better day will make the drab diet more tolerable. I encourage you to spice your insights about what the economic times mean to consumers with glimmers of light that shine on a bright future.


    Excellent points.

    Funny, even as I was writing and reviewing Friday’s series of stories, I noted that there was a line of pessimism that seemed to be drawn through them. I thought about it, but decided not to make any changes – after all, these stories were what they were, and my reactions to them were honest, even if a bit of a downer.

    You’re right, though. I’m probably less optimistic when it comes to economic matters than I am in other areas – though I would point out that I fall into the Tom Friedman school of thought here, that there is tremendous opportunity to be found even in the financial tumult of the moment, but only if we make the hard rather than easy and political choices.

    Some of my pessimism probably comes from the fact that like most consumers, I’m dealing with economic issues every day in the form of two college tuitions and an SUV that has a year left on the lease. (That sucker is gone, and will be replaced by a hybrid, ASAP.) And I remain wholly unconvinced that no matter who wins the US elections this fall, real change may be impossible.

    But I’ll try to be better at looking on the bright side of life, especially on these issues, even if I cannot promise that pessimism will slip through from time to time. In the end, I’m just a consumer/citizen like everybody else – albeit one with a soapbox – and I’m feeling the same things that everyone else is.




    Every once in a while, I get an email that makes everything worthwhile. Such an email came in over the weekend from MNB user Ron Losch:

    I wanted to pass on a quick note of thanks for the work you do communicating timely issues related to the food industry. Your newsletter has been a viable part of my daily reading for as long as it has been out, not sure how many years now.

    On numerous occasions I have used your information to help train, coach and guide my team to a better understanding of what is happening in our business.

    After 44 years at Publix, I am hanging up my apron, to try and enjoy retirement. I only say this, because I wanted you to know how important your newsletter is to the thousands of food industry executives and associates, and although I will no longer work at Publix, I have forwarded your address to my home computer so I can keep my hands on the pulse.


    You brought a tear to my eye. And I thank you, Ron, and wish you a productive and rewarding retirement.

    KC's View: