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    Published on: June 10, 2008

    Publix Super Markets announced yesterday that it will acquire 49 Florida stores from Albertsons LLC. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the transaction is scheduled to close by September.

    The stores include with 15 locations in North Florida, 30 locations in Central Florida and four locations in South Florida, in communities that include Bradenton, Clearwater, Ft. Myers, Gainesville, Jupiter, Longwood, Naples, Orlando, Pensacola, Seminole, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and Tampa. The acquisition will allow Publix to operate four stores in Escambia, located near Pensacola, a new market area for the company.

    In a prepared statement, Publix CEO Ed Crenshaw said, “The demand for the high-quality service our associate owners provide gives us the opportunity to reinvest in these communities by acquiring these additional sites for Publix stores. We continue to focus on being the premier food retailer in the areas in which we operate.”

    The company said that “grand opening dates for all locations will depend on the scope of the remodels.”

    Publix also said in a statement that it “encourages impacted Albertson’s employees with a passion for food and a commitment to customer service to apply for employment.”

    The Albertsons LLC stores are part of the company that was not acquired by Supervalu when it bought out most of Albertsons in 2006. In its own press release about the sale of the Florida stores, Albertsons LLC noted that it “is working to become the favorite food and drug retailer in every market it serves,” though the number of markets that it serves and stores hat it operates are dwindling.

    KC's View:
    Shoppers will be well-served by this change. One cannot imagine, however, that this will make life any easier for Winn-Dixie.

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that “restaurants and supermarkets across the country pulled certain fresh tomatoes from their menus and produce aisles in response to concerns about a recent spate of salmonella cases, delivering a serious blow to the nation's tomato growers … Many grocers and restaurateurs were careful to say that, while they didn't believe their own tomatoes were unsafe, they were erring on the side of caution. The cascade of tomato-sales suspensions reflects the food industry's concerns that the slightest uncertainty about the safety of the nation's food supply will make consumers leery for a long time.”

    And that’s the big concern – that no matter what the cause of the salmonella bacteria is found to be (and it seems to be worrying health officials that they haven't been able to figure that out yet, despite 145 cases of tomato-related salmonella poisoning since April), it could take a long time for consumer confidence about the nation’s tomato supply to come back.

    KC's View:
    The real lesson here is that retailers have to be proactive not just about pulling tomatoes off their shelves, but informing customers about why the move has been made and what the retailer knows about the current situation. If the retailer is a source of information as well as a resource for product, it creates a level of trust with the shopper that can help to rebuild a category once things are safe again.

    It also is a good time to start sourcing from local farms, wherever possible…because that creates a different sort of relationship between customers and the food they buy. (And post signs identifying the local farms, with pictures of the local farmers, whenever possible.)

    But if you don't play the information game, it is going to be tougher to get back in the sales game down the road.

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    Who says there’s no time to make a good second impression? Apparently, some of the most mundane items in the produce department are trying to do just that.

    A recent article by Prevention editor Liz Vaccariello takes on some of the conventional wisdom about produce items that have been tagged with less than stellar reputations in recent years. As it turns out, baked potatoes, carrots, celery and even (gasp!) iceberg lettuce all have some terrific nutritional features. If you don’t believe me, read it yourself:

    Sometimes, things deserve a second look, but they won’t get that good long look without help. So let’s get helping.

    Raul del Rio, a Spanish marketing expert delivered a concise message on this point at a conference in Madrid last week. In del Rio’s words, the supermarket industry has carefully trained the shopper to value certain behaviors and in many cases, this training has led to nothing but problems.

    His prime target for criticism is the emphasis most stores place on convenience and how we make the speed that customers leave the store seem like the greatest benefit they can reap. The problem is that by emphasizing how fast they can leave, we have neglected to build up all they could enjoy by staying.

    Most of the great shopper experiences, food or non-food, happen when shoppers linger, when they browse and when they enjoy the atmosphere. Watch shoppers at an Apple computer store or Nordstrom or even at Starbucks. Half the experience comes from being there.

    Of course, not every trip is about lingering. In fact, many supermarket trips in particular are about speed and about dispatching the shopper back into the parking lot as quickly and painlessly as possible. The simple truth is the shopper has a complex life filled with complex and competing needs. The same person who wants to linger over one kind of product can’t wait to get moving when it comes to others. We have to understand and fill that need as best as possible.

    But it also raises lots of questions for us. Have shoppers come to regard food shopping (as opposed to many other forms of shopping) as a boring chore because it is, or because that is the self-fulfilling prophecy we’ve delivered? Have we sacrificed experience and enjoyment in the name of efficiency? Or have we simply filled the main need shoppers voiced without any sense of making them view food shopping in a different way.

    And the bigger question is this: in a time of economic uncertainty combined with concern about health and wellness, is the food store missing an opportunity to bring the shopper back inside to make the trip something special once again? Is it time to show off new products and recipes while providing a sense of how quick and easy cooking can be, plus additional information on how to fix the most nutritious of meals?

    In short, can we make food fun again?

    The chance for a second impression doesn’t come around often. However, as shoppers look for budget saving measures to cope with rising prices and everything, maybe the moment has arrived and maybe retailers other than Wegmans and Whole Foods are ready to jump.

    Maybe we can even use that moment to explain why iceberg lettuce and the like can be part of a good diet. There’s no harm in trying.

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

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that a growing trend in pediatric medicine is to manage children’s weight from a very young age, in the hope that early attention can help them avoid a lifetime of dealing with obesity issues.

    “The jury is still out on whether obesity programs for toddlers work or are even desirable,” the Journal writes. “Because such programs are so new, their effectiveness hasn't been well-documented and the limited research that exists is mixed. Experts also caution that children need a balanced diet and should be able to eat unlimited amounts of nutritious foods, like vegetables. Children up to about the age of 5 need a higher percentage of fat in their diet than do adults, so following professionals' nutrition advice is critical for parents who want to manage their children's weight.”
    KC's View:
    Seems to me that within reason, such programs make a lot of sense. You don't want to create a climate that breeds eating disorders, of course, but if you can start talking to children about intelligent choices from a very early age, it strikes me as the smart move…since they’ll be more receptive at that age than when they are teenagers.

    There’s also another advantage. If a doctor is paying attention to such things – and since obesity is a health issue with both long-term and short-term implications, it almost would be malpractice to ignore a child’s weight – then it also is an opportunity to educate parents about obesity issues and perhaps open their eyes a bit. Are some going to resist or resent such efforts? Sure, and you have to respect that. But as one of the most critical health issues facing this country, obesity deserves attention from the earliest of ages. It deserves attention from parents and doctors, and it offers an opportunity to food stores looking to do some innovative marketing to shoppers looking for guidance.

    By the way, I say this with some personal experience. When I was born, the general reaction was that I was so skinny that I looked like a “plucked chicken” (in retrospect, an unfortunate choice of words for a person with the last name of Coupe). But my sainted Irish grandmother was so worried about me that as soon as I could consume real food she started feeding me mashed potatoes made with heavy cream. By the time I was two, not only did I not look like a plucked chicken, but in the right striped shirt I bore an unfortunate resemblance to the average beach ball. (This is not an exaggeration. I’m still trying to lose some of that weight.)

    Now, this was a half-century ago. (I’m sorry. I have to stop a minute to wipe the tears off my keyboard. I can't believe I just wrote that this was a half-century ago. Sniff.) Times were different then, and people didn’t know then what they know now. Not only was my grandmother fattening me up, but my mother had a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit that she didn’t even abandon while pregnant. (Amazing I’ve survived this long…)

    But we do know more now. And not to use the knowledge that we’ve gained, and apply it at every possible juncture, strikes me as ridiculous.

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    Advertising Age reports that McDonald’s has begun testing the sale of bottled and canned beverages – ranging from oft drinks to Vitaminwater and Red Bull – is about 150 stores. The selection varies depending on the location, and the company says it will take some time to get the mix right…though it believes that the strategy will help it generate incremental sales and siphon some traffic away from convenience stores.
    KC's View:
    This is where my finely honed cynicism about fast food kicks in, because I think about someone going through a McDonald’s drive-through and ordering a Big Mac, large fries and a Red Bull, and my first thought it that the next place they drive ought to be a hospital, because they’re just killing themselves.

    On the other hand, it could be worse. They could be eating sliced tomatoes for lunch…

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    Internet Retailer reports that Costco is expected to generate $1.6 billion in Internet sales this year, a 33 percent increase from the $1.2 billion is sales rung up on its web site during the 2007 fiscal year. The company says that sales of furniture and consumer electronics are helping it keep its average transaction online at between $425 and $440.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    Reuters reports that Wal-Mart is positioning its new Marketside format – a small store concept that will debut in the Phoenix area later this year – as a quick option for fresh groceries.

    Wal-Mart envisions that in the long term shoppers might use its supercenters for a monthly big shopping trip, its Neighborhood Markets for a weekly fresh-oriented shop, and then use the Marketside stores for more frequent and convenient fill-ins. The 15,000 square foot Marketside units are expected to have mainstream groceries, albeit a more edited selection than would be found in traditional supermarkets.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    • What is being termed ‘the first-even inter-industry summit on food import safety” has been scheduled for July 9, 2008, in Washington, DC, to “exchange successful supplier management practices and discuss how to strengthen public-private partnerships that will enhance the safety of imported products.”

    Co-sponsors of the summit are: American National Standards Institute; Biotechnology Industry Organization; Consumer Healthcare Products Association; Food Marketing Institute; Generic Pharmaceutical Association; Grocery Manufacturers Association; Healthcare Distribution Management Association; National Fisheries Institute; National Restaurant Association; Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America; Retail Industry Leaders Association; and Toy Industry Association.

    Also scheduled to attend: US Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt.

    • The Associated Press reports that the New Jersey state legislature is considering a bill that would allow beer and wine sales in supermarkets. Not surprisingly, supermarket owners generally are in favor of the change, while small liquor store owners are fighting it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    • Tyson Foods announce that Dennis Leatherby, the company’s senor vice president of finance and treasurer, has been promoted to the post of CFO. He has been serving as interim CFO since the resignation of Wade Miquelon, who became CFO at Walgreen Co.

    • Walgreen Co. announced that it has hired Sona Chawla, the vice president of global online business at Dell Inc., to be its new senior vice president of e-commerce.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 10, 2008

    Interesting email from an MNB user considering the tomato-salmonella story that is all over the media these days…

    I was wondering about your opinion on Food Safety and the Media. Although there are plenty of companies that need to follow rules to prevent any food borne illnesses, I also think the media blows everything out of proportion resulting in drastic reactions from consumers that ultimately hurts businesses and the economy….when you think about additional food safety requirements that consumers don’t want to pay for at shelf.

    When do consumers take some responsibility for themselves….i.e. if you are on chemo or an older person and susceptible to food borne illnesses, why isn’t it partly the responsibility of these people to wash or cook their food more thoroughly? Also, where are the comparables? When 100 people get sick from tomatoes, why doesn’t the media say that MILLIONS of tomatoes are consumed every day, and as a result, not an imminent threat to your health?

    If there is actually a real threat, why aren’t cars banned? They kill far more people every day than any salmonella or listeria outbreaks, yet every time a car crashes, Ford doesn’t get sued….or Chevy or Toyota…. What about cigarettes? Alcohol? Drunk drivers are known threats to society, but somehow the responsibility is placed on the individual and not the alcohol companies. Everything needs to be put into perspective and it isn’t. I would give the media more credit if they reported both sides of the perspective and then let consumers decide the level of risk they would like to take.

    In the end, I don’t think there is one company out there that wants anyone to get sick from their products. There is no intention or malice, but the sue-happy world we live in seeks out any opportunity to magnify a situation if it means someone can make a buck. In the end, we all lose because soon no one will be willing or able to pay for the preventative measures that may or may not be necessary for overall food safety.

    You’re not going to be happy with this response, but I think the media generally does a petty good job communicating about food safety issues. Not every media outlet, of course, and not every reporter. But generally speaking, I’m not sure what the media could do better.

    It strikes me as self evident that if there have been 145 cases of salmonella poisoning, for example, that means that millions of people didn’t get it. Not sure that fact needs to be reported. (And I didn’t in my story this morning.) And I think there has been plenty of coverage of the relative risks involved in some of the other behaviors you mentioned.

    One good point – that the media probably needs to do a better job communicating about food safety at home. Most food safety problems happen after the product has been bought and taken from the store, and we could all do a better job in this area.

    Here’s the rub. I would never want to be the reporter or editor who did not run the story about a food safety issue on the theory that it might hurt a business or generate a lawsuit. Because if that story stops one person from eating a product that might hurt him or her, it was worth it.

    The media can legitimately be blamed for mistakes of fact and judgment. It probably is because I consider myself to be in the media, but I don't agree with your premise or conclusion.

    Regarding Wal-Mart’s public role in a recessionary economy, one MNB user wrote:

    I know you know this…but inflation and recession are two, albeit vicious, economic animals…AND let’s not anoint Wal-Mart as savior quite yet. Their extreme control of prices to serve their consumers has led to severe hardships on their vendors and their vendor’s vendors in many countries in this world, including ours. While they have made great strides in becoming a good corporate citizen – their sustainable practices towards their vendors is still lagging – which impacts considerably more individuals than they have customers…

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Wal-Mart and the Walton family have "always" been great for the country. The issue has been that some city "leaders", politicians and unions have gone out of their way to say untrue things about the company. By doing so the have prevented the company from entering their city or state and in the long run have hurt customers and potential associates. One of Wal-Mart greatest leaders, David Glass often said " don't do thing in the good times that you wouldn't in the bad…”

    Yesterday we reported about a lawsuit filed by Nebraska Beef against a church that bought its product for meatballs and then ended up with numerous people getting sick; the company maintains that the little old ladies who made the meatballs didn’t use proper food safety techniques and that it is being unfairly blamed for the illnesses.

    I commented that it didn’t seem like a good idea to ever sue a church or little old ladies, which led one MNB user to challenge me:

    What makes you think you "should never sue a church"? A church is just a building with people in it . . . people capable of doing very bad things. Ever heard of Catholic priests?

    And little old ladies are as capable of being rotten to the core as anyone else.

    Point taken.
    KC's View: