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: October 16, 2008

    Now available on iTunes…

    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

    http://www.morningnewsbeat.com/Radio/Radio_Listen_S.las



    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.

    There is a lot of talk in the industry about appropriate levels of transparency, and how much information the shopper needs, wants and should have access to. My general feeling is that we should just make everything and anything available to shoppers – they’re probably going to find out anyway, thanks to the communications technologies that not only make such transparency possible, but inevitable.

    An MNB user wrote in recently about a kind of model that he saw for optimum transparency, and I’m so impressed with the product and the process that I want to recommend that you check it out.

    The company is called Terra Creta, and it specializes in traceable estate olive oil from Greece. I have a bottle in front of me of Extra Virgin Olive Oil that tastes wonderful – great when drizzled over a slice of tomato and mozzarella cheese, or just when eaten with a hunk of crusty bread.

    But I’m actually more impressed with what is on the back of the bottle, as opposed to what is inside the bottle.

    Every bottle of Terra Creta has a lot number, and you can go on the Internet – either from a home computer, or from a handheld carried into the store itself – and see what the company calls the product’s traceability tree. I can almost instantly get information about the packaging, the expiration date, and can get information about the various inspections the product has gone through. I can find out when and where it was produced and bottled, and I can the results of all the lab tests performed on the olive oil. I can even see a map of the specific field where the olive oil came from and watch a video of the process.

    In short, it is utterly, completely transparent. No secrets here.

    And it is very cool.

    If you want to see for yourself, go to www.terracreta.com, and use my lot number: 21368. I think you’ll be impressed.

    This is the model for 21st century transparency. Technology actually makes it fairly easy – it is a matter of will, not ability.

    And in the end, I believe, customers will judge us on how transparent we are about all of our products and services, and how willing we are to open the knowledge circle so that every step of the supply chain is available for inspection and inquiry.

    Will it be easy? Of course not. Will it be counter-intuitive for an industry that often has taken a “father knows best” approach to communicating with consumers? Sure…but if anything, that is why it is a goal worth pursuing.

    For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    • Walmart announced yesterday that it will begin offering a special limited membership to its Sam’s Club stores - $10 for 10 weeks, which it believes will be enough to demonstrate value and get shoppers to sign up for long-term memberships (the lowest of which costs $40 for a full year…actually a little cheaper than the special when looked at on a per-week basis).

    • In an interview with Fortune, Sam’s Club CEO Doug McMillon addressed, among other things, the tough economy and the impact he thinks it will have on Sam’s. Some excerpts:

    On the economy… “We don't think next year is going to look a lot better than this year. I wish you could tell me what gasoline is going to be. As we think about next year, our focus is going to be very similar to this year - manage your expenses, be thoughtful about how you spend capital, and within those discretionary categories, take some risk but have conviction about where you take risk.”

    On Sam’s competitive advantage… “Look at retailers that have been having a difficult time - the consumer shifted money toward basics, and if you're dependent on specialty apparel or some specialty hard line, I'm sure your trip count was impacted. At Wal-Mart and Sam's we have basic necessities, and that value position creates traffic. So in an environment like this, we have a bit of a hedge, and many retailers don't.”

    On the company’s sustainability initiatives… “It's been an interesting journey. I remember the first conversation that Lee had with a group of us, and I didn't really understand what he was talking about. "Sustainability" was defined in a financial sense for me. As he started to broaden the conversation into the environment and then social issues, it sounded like potentially a big distraction. But in fact it fits within our overall mission - to save people money so that they can live better.

    “We underestimated how much financial benefit we could get from it. We found items that if you simply reduce the amount of packaging involved, save cost, and pass that on to the customer, you sell more. You're just eliminating waste. We thought we were efficient before, but we really weren't. It was as if somebody handed us a different pair of glasses, and the whole world looked different.”

    KC's View:
    Like the company or not, these stories make very clear that Walmart is going to be true to its core values while continuing to stress value…which to many consumers will be an irresistible lure.

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    Business First of Columbus reports that Giant Eagle, which has been operating a gas discount program for its shoppers, has expanded the program by “linking up with hundreds of retailers online … customers can shop at more than 600 retailers and get discounts on gas purchases at Giant Eagle’s GetGo convenience stores. The participating retailers include Best Buy, Macy’s, Apple, Home Depot, PetSmart, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Office Depot and Lands’ End. Customers begin shopping at Giant Eagle’s Web site but then are taken to the retailers’ sites to complete sales.”

    The paper notes that “Giant Eagle already sells retailers’ gift cards at its stores that qualify for gas discounts. For gift cards or online purchases, customers get 10 cents off per gallon for every $50 they spend.”

    KC's View:
    Look for a lot of retailers to seek new and innovative ways of saving people money in these tough economic times.

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    Tesco reportedly has been victimized by a pair of British teens who have posted a video on YouTube.com that shows them taking off their clothes in a Tesco store and then making vulgar gestures with products.

    However, the reports say that the retailer isn’t exactly surprised by the event, since it isn’t the first time that teens have disrobed while in the aisles.

    Store manager Emily Knowler has been quoted as saying, “This particular group have been here before. The last time the store knew about it prior to a fortnight or so ago was last summer when they did exactly the same thing and it was posted on YouTube then too. Clearly it’s a game for them and they appear to find it hilariously funny. Unfortunately that’s the mentality of some of the youths that live in this area. We have had to become very thick-skinned.”

    KC's View:
    Ah, those crazy Brits.

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    The Chicago Tribune reports that a new website has been created called DrinkLocalWine.com that is “designed to draw attention to all those regional wines made elsewhere, like the Midwest, by having wine writers from around the country focus on their local wines.”

    The goal of the site is to highlight the fact that wine is made in all 50 states, and that some of it is excellent.

    David McIntyre, a wine columnist who co-founded the site, tells the Tribune, “We want to highlight the new 'wine country' that has sprung up around us, with the U.S. wine industry more than doubling in size since 2002 and most of that being outside of California.” One example is Illinois, where there were 14 wineries in 1998 and now there are 80; the Illinois wine industry generates sales of $253 million a year.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    Published reports say that Costco is begin selling Starbucks gift cards at a discount – five $20 gift cards for $80, offering shoppers a 20 percent off. The cards will be sold inside Starbucks stores at a 10 percent discount.

    The goal of the program is to expand Starbucks’ customer base while offering values that seem relevant for the economic hard times – or, as CEO Howard Schultz put it, “remain a premium brand but stay within reach of most consumers.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    Advertising Age reports that ConAgra is partnering with real estate heiress Ivanka Trump to develop a new lunch product – the details of which will be made available next week.

    On her blog, Trump writes, “"With gas and food prices on the rise, more and more people are skipping the deli line and bringing lunch to work to save money. This is great, but all I hear is how boring a brown bag lunch can get and how people want something different, especially when they are stuck at their desks -- something I completely relate to."

    KC's View:
    Listen, I think that pretty much any meal innovation is a positive sign, and if this is something that allows supermarkets to gain greater share of stomach, that’s a good thing.

    And using Trump, who has appeared on her father’s “Celebrity Apprentice” television program, probably is a good idea for gaining visibility. (Though I must admit that I find it a little weird how Trump’s father exploits her looks for publicity.)

    But they’d better be careful, especially these days, about stretching credibility. Because I suspect it has been a long, long time since Ivanka Trump ate a brown bag lunch prepared by anyone other than a personal chef.

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    • The Coca-Cola Co. said yesterday that its third quarter profit was up 14 percent, to $1.89 billion from $1.65 billion during the same period a year ago. Q3 revenue was $8.39 billion, up nine percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    In a commentary earlier this week, I made a passing reference to a specific kind of attorney and described the type as “an ambulance-chasing shyster.” Which led one MNB user to write:

    As a Jewish lawyer doing real estate work, I take NO offense to the use of the word “shyster.” Though it’s literal definition is exactly how you used it, there is a school of thought that it has an anti-Semitic tone. I know that’s not where you were going…

    The fact is that I actually did a quick online check before using that word to see if “shyster” had the same kind of negative and racial connotation as “shylock.” It made no mention of it, so I went ahead.

    But I appreciate the email, and especially that you give me the benefit of the doubt. I meant nothing by it, but in these times of heightened sensitivities, I at least want to be transparent about my thought processes.




    I’ve been smacked around a bit this week by people who believe I have taken leave of my senses on the plastic bag issue, but did get one email yesterday that said:

    Don't give it up or let it rest! You have a privileged voice to use towards good and changing ignorant mindsets on plastic bags and transparencies of packaging and ingredients and oh yeah, doing the right and excellent thing, cause it is just, well, the right thing to do.

    Seen enough of the horrendous impact of our collective sitting back and letting greed and letting easy outs rule. Go, Kevin! Right is Might!


    Thanks.

    But the following email, addressing the savings that come to both retailers and shoppers when disposable bag usage is decreased, from MNB user Carl Finfrock seems more typical:

    Answer is simple; just give a $10 credit at the check lane for customers bringing their own cloth bags.

    If you think that would fly, I’ve got some land in Florida at a cheap price.


    Actually, Carl, at the moment it seems like almost everyone in Florida has some land at a cheap price.

    To me, the saving money is gravy. I use canvas bags because I’m making a tiny little dent in the amount of crap that goes into landfills. If enough of us do it, maybe the dent will be worth noticing. If not, it still seems to me to be worth doing.

    As I said yesterday, a man’s only as good as his dreams.

    MNB user Ann Thies wrote:

    I agree that we need to reduce plastic bags, but what do people use for kitchen garbage bags? I use the plastic bags from grocery, drugstore or where ever as liners. Any extra bags I have I recycle. I use paper bags to collect my recyclables and take them to curbside. I also have organic recycling, and purchase what is touted to be a biodegradable bag for holding the organics.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    As a retailer I'm very concerned about every town and municipality making their own rules for plastic bags. The reality is plastic bags are made from the same material that gets recycled at curbside. Unfortunately towns and cities won't allow this to be added to the recycling system. At store level most every store has recycling bins and they dispose of this product at their cost. In those bins are many different stores plastic bags. Also these bans are discriminatory because they are directed at food stores. Feel free to look at all of the plastic bags in my recycling bins! Paper isn't the solution either. Cutting down thousands of trees is a better option? Most cities and towns are singling out plastic while doing nothing with paper. There must be statewide solutions, but solutions that address the entire environmental solution which is RECYCLING and using reusable bags but not just banning one bag or another in one venue. What about plastic bags for chicken? frozen foods? fruits and vegetables? All these things must be taken into consideration before we make ludicrous new regulations from ideas that aren't well thought out but gets politicians’ names in the papers.

    I agree completely that it is infinitely preferable to accomplish a national shift away from disposable shopping bags through cultural persuasion rather that legislation. I also agree that if there are rules, they ought to apply to everyone, not just certain retail venues. And, I agree that they should be consistent, not differ from town to town.




    MNB had a story yesterday saying that the California Grocers Association (CGA) has joined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger “to unveil an historical agreement that makes the private sector key partners in the state’s disaster response system with the intent to expedite relief efforts and maximize critical resources. The governor announced that agreements have been reached with four private sector partners, including the CGA, Business Executives for National Security, the California Utilities Emergency Association and Wal-Mart Stores.

    Which led one MNB user to note:

    Doesn’t it seem ironic that so many cities in California fought to keep Walmart out, but now in a disaster, they’ll be expecting them to come in a provide them with emergency relief?

    Excellent point. That Walmart is signing onto such a program says a lot about the company.




    Responding to yesterday’s story about research from the Environmental Working Group concluding that a number of leading brands of bottled waters contain “a variety of contaminants, including cancer-linked chemicals three times higher than California's health standard,” MNB user Steve Lutz wrote:

    The EWG is an organization well known for junk science and scare tactics. Their basic approach is to create headlines designed scare consumers. Remember Alar? That was the EWG. After they blew up the apple industry the truth came out that the EWG extrapolated dosage rates to the point where a consumer would have to eat two boxes of apples every day to achieve the risk factors they created and then cited. And it worked; consumers were afraid despite the fact that the medical community agreed the story was bunk.

    This is more of the same from the EWG….junk science, partial facts, and non-peer reviewed conclusions designed to scare consumers and punish retailers. Sadly, in the 24 hours news/30-second media attention span we live in it’s a formula that achieves their objectives.





    Had a story yesterday about the rising popularity of goat meat, which I said I don't think I ever have tasted. One MNB user responded:

    Kevin, goat meat is everywhere. Boer goats are meat goats from South Africa and prized for their full, well-muscled frame. Tennessee meat goats are also thick framed and know as "stiff-legged" goats because of a condition called Myotonia, an inherited neuro-muscular condition which causes them to stiffen and sometimes fall over when startled. The Indo-Caribbean cultures eat goat meat, and it can be found in most Indian restaurants or markets. It is also sought after by Muslims, Greeks, Asians and Eastern Europeans particularly near the Caucasas.

    Curried goat and roast goat is delicious. Like venison, it is low in fat - it's great in stews and the Philippines dish called kaldereta and the Greek Chevon Souvlaki.

    Give it a try - you won't regret it.


    It isn’t nice to make the Content Guy hungry this early in the morning…




    Finally, MNB user Louie Yan had some thoughts about recent MNB Sports Desk stories about baseball and football:

    You miss any mention of professional hockey and soccer. The NHL is the premier hockey league in the world and players from around the world aspire to play on NHL teams. Soccer is the biggest sport in the world and the US is far behind in following it. As big as basketball is here, everyone forgets that the game was created using a soccer ball.

    You’re right…but on this one I am going to claim editorial privilege.

    Much as I might want to, I have to be a little careful about spending too much time on sports. (I could do an entire MNB just about sports and popular culture…but I’m not sure I could make a living from it.)

    I think baseball is the best sport on the planet, but I only really write about the playoffs because there are just so many games. Football lends itself to scores because the games are only weekly.

    And to be honest, I don't much watch professional basketball, hockey and soccer – when the World Series ends, I immediately start counting down to spring training. (The only other sport I might watch on TV is women’s beach volleyball…but if I start writing about that you guys are going to shoot me…)

    Sorry, Louie…
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    It will be the Philadelphia Phillies representing the National League in the World Series this year, as the Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1, taking the best-of-seven League Championship Series in just five games.

    Tonight, the Boston Red Sox try to avoid the Dodgers’ fate as they play game five of the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, who lead the series three games to one.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2008

    If you’re going to be attending Natural Products Expo East in Boston today, we hope you will try to stop by the New Products session that will be moderated by Michael Sansolo and Kevin Coupe between 3-4:30 pm. The session will include a look at the broad themes and influences affecting new product development, and a panel discussion with retailers and manufacturers that will examine what shoppers want and need.

    As an added incentive…Kevin Coupe will be at the EcoBags booth on the Expo East exhibit floor today from 5-6 pm…and the first 50 people to stop by to say hello will get one of the new MorningNewsBeat limited edition canvas shopping bags.

    See you in Boston! (Red Sox hats are optional…)

    KC's View: