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    Published on: November 12, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    To help out “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe, who is in the middle of producing a video project in Spain while simultaneously filing MorningNewsBeat each day, Michael Sansolo offered to contribute an extra column this week…

    As a one-time political reporter, I admit to being something of an election junkie. But the election of 2008 seems to have spread my affliction around the world. Everyone has something to say about this election.

    I say this after receiving countless questions about the election while visiting Santiago, Chile, this week. The questions were from business people amazed at the US election and unanimously voicing only one worry: that expectations for President-Elect Obama may be a little too high.

    (One important editorial note here. Just to provide a sense of context—you know how I like that word—these comments come from people few of us would classify as liberal. Many of the people I spoke with were one-time supporters of General Pinochet, who overthrew a socialist government in Chile just 30 years ago. While they voice lingering concerns with the authoritarian parts of Pinochet’s rule, they credit him with putting the nation’s economy and infrastructure on solid footing.)

    Their observations bear some consideration:

    First, they voice universal amazement that the US could elect a president from a minority group. Most said such a scenario is unthinkable in their country. They see the election result as a tribute to Obama’s well-run campaign, his ability to articulate a vision to the US population and an openness in the US electorate that is unmatched in other countries. Many of them also felt that Sen. John McCain ran a poor campaign and that Gov. Sarah Palin was not an asset to the ticket. (Interestingly, few knew anything about Joe Biden.)

    Second, they welcome a change in direction. While the economy in Chile is doing quite well, there is significant concern that any long-term problems in the US will hurt everyone worldwide. While they don’t blame President Bush for the problems, it’s clear that his level of support here in southern-most South America is very weak.

    Now, the feelings of Santiago, Chile, probably don’t excite many of us. However, the election and the deep feelings it stirred up to create some exciting business lessons. For me the biggest was this: how to expand the market.

    The simple truth is that Sen. McCain actually received the fourth highest popular vote total in history, trailing only Bush and Kerry in 2004 and, of course, Sen. Obama. So while he lost, he actually garnered more votes than Presidents Reagan or Clinton.

    Obama demonstrated how to expand the market. He drew unprecedented levels of support from young voters, Hispanics and African-Americans. In short, he won by building on the nation’s mood, articulating a simple message—Yes We Can—and expanding the market he needed to win. Consider that for a second: winning by expanding the market and attracting new participants. I’ve got to believe there’s a pretty simple business lesson in all of that especially for an industry looking to reignite interest in cooking and eat at home.

    Now there will be much more written about this campaign by people far better connected and smarter than I am. The issues and execution will be debated non-stop until the next campaign begins (say in three months.) Here’s the challenge: no matter how we feel politically, we should stop, listen and learn and decide what we can translate into business.

    I’m betting we can.

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

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    Upstate New York-based Price Chopper Supermarkets announced yesterday a new partnership with Eating Well magazine that is designed to “deliver delicious, easy recipes that meet stringent guidelines for taste and nutrition and are easily replicated by home cooks; report on the latest news on nutrition and health, providing actionable, science-based answers and encourage people to make informed, mindful eating decisions.”

    Eating Well editorial content is seen by Price Chopper as both compatible with its own “Healthy U” initiative, which provides information on nutrition and diet and offers a forum for Price Chopper shoppers to share comments on nutrition issues in stores, online, and at community events.

    The partnership will be realized, according to the retailer, through new >Eating Well recipes and health guides in stores, a new series of wellness topics and resources on the “Healthy U” page of Price Chopper’s website, and Eating Well cookbooks and magazines available throughout the supermarket’s footprint.

    KC's View:
    Not that Price Chopper needs the MNB imprimatur, but we offer it nonetheless. This is exactly the kind of thing we’re always talking about here – being not just a source of product, but a resource for credible, relevant and actionable information.

    Smart move.

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    The Daily Comet reports that Louisiana-based Rouse’s has opened its 35th store, making it the largest independent grocer in the state – and important enough that Gov. Bobby Jindal showed up for the opening of the Youngsville, La., store.

    Jindal, who already seems to be on everybody’s short list as a possible contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, pointed to Rouse’s as a paradigm of job creation.

    "You've got a homegrown business that's now expanding," Jindal said. "What makes this announcement so important to our state is not only are they hiring more people, but they sell Louisiana-made goods in their store."

    KC's View:
    I may have told this story before, but it is worth repeating.

    When I think of Rouse’s, I always think of a company that takes pride in the quality of the fresh foods it serves.

    Many years ago, when I was doing the late, lamented Supermarket Insights video programs, we once did a profile of Rouse’s. Now, normally when we did these shoots, the video production crew would want to be taken out for lunch, and never wanted to eat in the store. But not only did they want to eat at Rouse’s, but we had trouble getting them back to work when lunch was over…they just wanted to eat more.

    Knowing how video crews like to eat, that is a compliment of the highest order.

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    Business Week gives yet another version of what is becoming a familiar story:

    “Facing economic uncertainty, not to mention tighter credit, U.S. households are expected to scale back spending radically this year. As retailers brace for one of the slowest shopping seasons since the early 1990s, their focus has shifted to one area that promises to stay strong: kids' apparel. Chains such as Kohl's, J.C. Penney, and Macy's are gearing their advertising and in-store promotions toward children's clothing in a bid to garner what few discretionary dollars are being spent.

    “Ellen Davis, a vice-president at the National Retail Federation, says that children's clothing may even outsell toys this year. ‘In previous years, that would have been a because-you-need-it purchase, not a gift,’ she says.”

    KC's View:
    It used to be that underwear and socks are what you’d get when you stopped believing in Santa Claus. Oh, well…

    Maybe this isn’t a bad thing, in some ways. Maybe this will be an end-of-year holiday season during which ostentation and greed may take a back seat to more important things, like family and friends and good cheer, no matter what deity one worships, what religion one practices, or whether one believes in anything spiritual at all.

    That won’t be such a good thing for retailers. But it might not be all that bad for the culture.

    Comfort and joy, baby. Comfort and joy.

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    Business Week reports that Walmart has made a deal with the US Army Reserves that will have the retailer helping to recruit and train people who can work both for the Army and Walmart. According to the story, “An agreement signed Tuesday obligates Wal-Mart to interview and consider all qualified, participating soldiers for employment after they complete military occupational specialty training … When a reserve soldier who works at Wal-Mart is called to service, the company can draw on 1 million or so citizen soldiers to help identify a qualified replacement to work in the soldier's place. The arrangement is expected to lower costs of recruiting and training for Wal-Mart.”

    Similar programs reportedly exist at companies that include J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., Sears Holding Corp., Manpower Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp., among others.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    Dow Jones reports that during the most recent quarter, Tesco’s market share in the UK dropped to 30.9 percent, from 31.3 percent during the same period a year ago.

    Meanwhile, Walmart’s Asda Group maintained its hold on second place with a market share increase to 17.1 percent from 16.7 percent. Sainsbury saw a slight slippage in its third place share, to 15.9 percent from 16 percent, and William Morrison Supermarkets’ market share increased to 11.4 percent from 11.2 percent.

    KC's View:
    It seems like even as almost everybody in the UK tries to level the playing field through government intervention so that Tesco is less dominant, market forces seem to be acting all by themselves.

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    The Evansville Courier & Press reports that St. Louis-based Schnucks has opened its newest store, in Newburgh, Indiana, with Earth-friendly features that will “focus on lowering energy and water use, reducing contributions to landfill waste and increasing the use of recyclables and recycled materials.”

    According to Ross Hutsel, Schnucks director of facilities engineering, the retailer is “pursuing a ‘building block’ approach that allows them to upgrade each new store with the latest advances in energy and water efficient technologies and building practices.”

    "The new Newburgh store is a continuation of our work to date and another step toward our goal of achieving a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified prototype store design," Hutsel tells the paper.

    KC's View:
    Not sure when it is going to happen, but at some point I expect that retailers are going to make headlines when they open stores that are not “green.” Because that will be the exception, and worth paying attention to…and even shaming them into being more responsible.

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    • The Associated Press reports that Tesco “plans to expand its presence in China by opening new stores in the eastern coast provinces of Shandong and Fujian next year. In addition, the world’s third biggest retailer plans to open more stores in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where it already has 11 stores.

    This is a strategy with considerable upside – Shandong has a population of 94 million people, Fujian has 34 million residents, and Liaoning is home to 42 million people.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    • Rick Stewart, owner of Susanville Supermarket IGA in California, reportedly has been named IGA USA international retailer of the year.

    HealthDay News reports on a new study saying that childhood allergies to such items as nuts, dairy and seafood are on the rise – up 18 percent in the last decade to some three million children in the US. In addition, not only is the number of food allergies increasing, but also the severity of the allergies, which can result in “severe rashes; severe attacks of airway obstruction, called anaphylaxis; and intestinal problems.” And, more children today seem to having allergic reactions because of proximity, rather than through consumption.

    One reason for the worsening situation – children in industrialized countries increasingly are being raised with better levels of hygiene, which means they are not developing the natural antibodies that might help them fight off the allergies.

    • Published reports say that Supervalu spent $170,000 and Safeway spent $270,000 during the third quarter to lobby the federal government on issues such as retail crime, food safety and other issues.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 12, 2008

    Yesterday, Michael Sansolo contributed a column about the importance of context, using as an example the arrest of 10 college students in upstate New York for disturbing the peace by playing the “Star Spangled Banner” at one in the morning to celebrate the election of Barack Obama. His point was that context is everything – you have to know the whole story to make a judgment, rather than just pieces.

    His column elicited two very different responses.

    MNB user Mary S. Carpenter wrote:

    I agree with your article, context is key. However, your first paragraph didn't actually give the truth, so context wasn't the problem with understanding why these students had been arrested. They were not arrested for playing the national anthem, they were arrested for disturbing the peace (or violating a noise ordinance). How they disturbed the peace was by playing the national anthem. It is these skipping (or glossing over) the little details that get us all in trouble. Details are important, just as context is.

    I respect the views of others, even when they don't agree with mine, but when reports are sensationalized just to mislead, that's when I have a problem. Saying that the students were arrested for playing the national anthem is a headline one would expect in a supermarket tabloid.

    Comparing MNB to a supermarket tabloid is hitting below the belt.

    That said, I think you just made Michael’s point. Details and perspective, I think, are what give a story context. If you only hear part of the story, you can't come to an intelligent conclusion.

    I do have to say, though, that the cops who arrested the college students could have shown a little more discretion. They were celebrating democracy in a way that I certainly would not have done when I was a college student back in the mid-seventies. (I remember celebrating when Nixon resigned, but I don't recall anyone my age playing or singing the “Star Spangled Banner” as a response….)

    Maybe just asking them to be quiet would have been a more reasoned, even contextual response?

    And MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

    Just wanted to say that was a very impressive editorial; great lecture on context, an important point made well.

    On a tangential point, MNB user Beatrice Orlandini – who reads us every day in Italy – had some thoughts about the international reaction to Obama’s election:

    Every story has many sides to it.

    I can give one. The emotion for Obama's election was here in Italy, and in Europe in general, was incredible. It's not only because he is black (or half-black). His election to us all means that "change", real change, is possible.

    Even in stagnant times like these. So, yes, we are in a recession. Yes, the times are difficult. Yes, uncertainty looms ahead of all of us. But, there is hope that things can change, and for the better. And his victory speech, as well as McCain's, thrilled us all. You have no idea how many times it was downloaded, forwarded, printed as an example of a new way of doing politics.

    A politician whose words you could actually believe. Unheard of!

    His election can also mean - once again - the strengthening of our ties with the USA.
    The anti-American sentiment was pretty strong in the past years, and the Bush administrations had a lot to do with it.

    My American friends were bewildered when they came to Italy. They couldn't understand why as Americans they were so unpopular.

    Now, I am aware that with our Prime Minister we should be the most unpopular nation on earth, but that's another matter....

    Here, in the Old World, America has regained a lot of respect. I'd be happy if the same applied to my country.

    I will make two points here.

    One is that I looked at a pile of newspapers yesterday while walking down the street in Vigo, Spain…and almost all of them had on the front page a story about the meeting on Monday between President Bush and President-elect Obama. And more than a few people in Argentina and Spain have told me over the past week or so that they were riveted when watching the Obama-McCain debates.

    We Americans sometimes don't realize the impact that the practice of our sometimes-imperfect democracy has on the people of other nations, who aspire to achieve what we can occasionally take for granted.

    Second, I would be a little careful with statements like Obama’s “election to us all means that ‘change,’ real change, is possible.”

    Possible, yes. But keep in mind that up to now has been the easy part for Obama. It only gets a tougher from here, and change of any kind may prove to be an elusive and difficult achievement.

    Responding to yesterday’s notes about comments made about cooking by Kraft CMO Mary Beth West, MNB user David Peterson wrote:

    Kraft CMO Mary Beth West seems to have the same ideas about people cooking that I have had for quite some time.

    “People want to be involved, but not committed.” If a recipe has more than five ingredients and/or steps to prepare, most people will skip it and Google another one.


    I’ve been accused of being too in love with Wegmans for my own good…and one MNB user offered the following critique of how we covered Wegmans’ announcement that it was lower prices in anticipation of costs going down on specific goods, but was jumping the gun because of the economic woes being felt by many of its shoppers:

    I think that Wegmans is on top of their game in most cases and the PR they put out is great. This is one case where their message is being spun to overshadow reality.

    I am sure that Wegmans is not sharing the profit margins they operate under. Let us not forget that Wegmans is, in most markets, perceived as a high-end retailer and higher prices must be charged to pay for their 107K foot sales floor etc. Reads to me that they are lowering prices because their sales may be down and are trying to spin it their way rather than saying, "Our prices are much too high for this economy and we are lowering them to compete."

    The spin with "anticipated cost decreases" is just to capture the attention of popular media; which it did because they have had huge success with other positive message campaigns.

    Kevin, let's be realistic. Prices are not going to come down and Danny & Colleen Wegman are not lowing for the reasons stated. Our company is still receiving price increases and manufacturers are mostly saying that increases can be expected into 2009. Sounds like hype to me and that the company (Wegmans) may have to charge a little less in order to compete for a share of the basket.

    I have to admit that I was surprised by the amount of grief I got about a comment I made regarding a story about how nutrition concerns and resultant rules and regulations have made old-fashioned school bake sales an endangered species.

    I wrote:

    I take the nation’s obesity crisis as seriously as anyone, but I also fear that we are turning up the heat so high on this issue that we are baking all the fun out of life. And that’s a shame.

    There’s nothing wrong with serving healthier foods in school cafeterias, though I think that schools are only getting it half-right if they don't combine such initiatives with efforts to teach kids about nutrition, proper eating, and the importance of moderation.

    But I have to admit that I get a little
    verklempt over the desire to control every morsel that kids eat…right down to the notion of banning bake sales or the ability of a parent to bring in cupcakes to the classroom to celebrate a child’s birthday. It’s like we get so focused on political correctness that we can't allow ourselves – or our children – to loosen up a little bit.

    Not to over-analyze this, but maybe that’s because we’re better at imposing rules and regulations than we are at teaching. It is no wonder; imposing laws is easy, while taking advantage of teaching moments is a lot harder.

    MNB user Ellen Ornato wrote:

    When my sister’s kids were little her PTA created the “No Bake Bake Sale.” Granted, it was Dobbs Ferry, so their results might be a bit skewed. What they did was send home a note that said, “We don’t want to bake and you don’t want to buy it/eat it. Please send $5.” They raised $3,000!

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I’m right alongside the idea of getting rid of bake sales – not because of their calorie content but because they are a dated remnant of decades past. While there are obviously a lot of people who love to bake, for most mothers of school age children (especially those who are also juggling careers) baking is not part of our day-to-day lives – in fact, many people rarely if ever bake for themselves.

    In decades past, such events made sense since Mom simply had to make an extra batch of whatever she was going to make anyway – and other Moms had a motivation to buy something from a bake sale since it offered her family something different than she usually made for the after dinner dessert.

    But now…not so much. I’ve actually seen store-bought cupcakes at bake sales (contributed by a Mom who just didn’t have the time or wherewithal to bake her own) that probably sold at the bake sale for less than what she bought it for!

    There are far more 21st Century ways of raising money.

    Still another MNB user chimed in:

    We did a recent analysis of junk food available to kids at our local elementary school (exclusive of school lunches). With approximately 30 students and 180 days of school, between birthday treats, bake sales, and class parties, the kids were offered junk food approximately once every four days. I agree that food has a place in celebrations, however, getting junk food 25% of the time seems like too much.

    Okay, okay…I get the picture.

    Finally, I got the following email from MNB user Vicki Harkonen, who is the marketing coordinator for PureCart Systems, regarding a Wall Street Journal story we referenced about clean up systems for supermarket shopping carts:

    Kevin, we’re avid readers of your website.

    We were predominantly mentioned both in print and online in the Wall Street Journal this morning. We’re really disappointed that you chose to mention cleansing wipes, protective covers that minimize infants' contact with the seat, full-cart liners and portable, snap-on handles carried by consumers, but overlooked the product predominantly focused on in the article (PureCart)? Help us understand why you mention all of these other products and not even recognize our option too?

    To be honest, it certainly wasn't deliberate…just an editorial choice made at an ungodly hour while coping with jet lag. And I didn’t name any specific companies…though you’re correct that I did not mention your solution either by name or concept.

    However, flattery will get you everywhere … so as a one time only deal, I will quote what the original Journal story said about your company:

    PureCart's cleaning devices, launched two years ago, are now in 21 grocery stores in the U.S. Each machine costs about $7,500 a year for a store to rent; the company tells grocers that stores that provide the machines will draw more customers.

    Bashas' Inc., a chain of 160 grocery stores mainly in Arizona, has begun offering the PureCart-washing system in four of its stores and is looking to roll out at least 10 more in the next couple years.

    Hope that makes you feel better.
    KC's View: