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    Published on: May 20, 2009

    by Kate McMahon

    Content Guy’s Note: Kate’s BlogBeat is a new ingredient in the MorningNewsBeat stew – a regular look at what shoppers are talking about on the Internet, and how it impacts the conduct of business by retailers and manufacturers.

    They’re opinionated, prolific, passionate, tech savvy and control the family purse strings.

    They’re the “mom bloggers” and they mean business, in every sense of the word.

    Whether filing posts from their computers, uploading home video clips on “vlogs,” texting or Twittering, their clout in the social networking world is growing exponentially.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Baby Boom-generation mother of two teenage daughters. I gleaned my parenting and product information the old-fashioned way - from print media and TV and communicated by telephone (touchtone, not rotary dial).

    So I ventured into the burgeoning “mom blogosphere” with a reporter’s curiosity and touch of skepticism. Would the content consist of unedited chit-chat about morning sickness, terrible twos, home-schooling and sibling rivalry? Or would I find real time commentary, informative product reviews, advice and opinions from women across the nation? The answer is all of the above.

    And the takeaway for retailers, manufacturers and marketers – in short, the readership – is simple:

    Mind the mothers.

    “Mommy-Bloggers are one of the most clearly identifiable voices on the web,” said PR expert Peter Shankman after the on-line moms “Twitter-stormed” Motrin over a web video ad likening baby slings to a pain-inducing fashion accessory. “They are a force to be reckoned with.”

    And he was quoted in Motherlode, the New York Times’ parenting blog.

    In addition to controlling $2.1 trillion in annual spending, a recent survey showed that 71% of mothers use the internet for product information. And they fervently share their opinions, good and bad.

    Take the ongoing Jardine crib debacle. The Taiwanese manufacturer recently recalled another 96,000 cribs, on top of past recalls of more than 375,000 cribs, due to concerns that the wooden slats could break and lead to entrapment or strangulation. My MNB colleague Michael Sansolo addressed this mess last week, and noted consumer reaction would find its way to the web.

    Did it ever.

    A perusal of “mom blogs” showed a barrage of furious posts from frustrated parents, including one who learned of the recall via a Twitter from the site While Jardine manufactured the recalled crib models, the U.S. distributors, Babies ‘R’ Us and Toys ’R’ Us, were also caught in the cross-fire. And in addition to venting, the mom bloggers were advising on how to parlay the stores’ recall refund policy to demand monetary satisfaction.

    Jardine and Motrin have felt the ire of the mom bloggers. Future columns promise to delve into the flip-side of the mom-bloggers’ power, and how their reviews can not just break – but can help make – a product.

    Kate McMahon can be reached via email at .

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Supervalu-owned Albertsons plans to announce a major price-cutting initiative today “aimed at regaining budget-minded customers lost to discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp.,” as well as to “smaller, aggressively priced stores such as Trader Joe's, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and Smart & Final.”

    The Times reports that “Albertsons is calling its the new program ‘the Big Relief Price Cut’ and is pitching it as a way for Southern California shoppers to stretch their grocery budgets. The chain said prices will be reduced ‘on thousands of items in dozens of categories across the store . . . including basic stock-up items and staples from peanut butter and pasta to deodorant and detergent’.”

    According to the Times story, Albertsons is not alone.

    “After focusing on service and selection to attract shoppers, Vons owner Safeway Inc. has turned to more aggressive pricing in recent months. Ralphs Grocery Co. revamped its price structure and customer loyalty program last summer. A similar move in other regions helped Ralphs' corporate parent Kroger Co. grab back market share from rivals, including the big warehouse chains. Stater Bros., the San Bernardino-based chain, has felt compelled to keep prices in check, even when food manufacturers are charging more, because it is worried about losing customers during the recession.”

    KC's View:
    This was inevitable. Even though there were some so-called industry experts who just six months ago were saying that prices were not going to come down this year, it always struck me that the industry was going to have to respond to the economic slowdown and consumers’ reduced buying power by cutting prices…and that it was likely retailers would lead the charge because they, after all, are on the front lines.

    People who thought that the industry was going to keep prices up or raise them more weren’t paying attention to the shoppers…an the ones who got in front of the trend, rather than just being reactive, will end up being the real winners…especially if they’ve been able to do more that just talk prices. If you are perceived as an advocate for the shopper, you win. If you are seen as a sales agent for the manufacturer, you lose.

    It’s that simple.

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    Some 75 livestock producers testified before the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week, saying that they continue to object to a federal traceability program designed to keep track of the animals on their ranches in case of a disease outbreak.

    Only about a third of US ranchers are taking part in the program – which has cost more than $100 million so far - with the rest saying that the initiative costs too much, doesn’t prevent disease, and that it is nobody’s business what they have in their pastures.

    KC's View:
    I understand where these guys are coming from, but they are ignoring reality. We live in a transparent world, and traceability is a cost of doing business. They can fight it if they want to, but eventually the companies that provide complete transparency, do their own testing, and are completely open with consumers will be the ones with a competitive advantage.

    Of course, then they’ll probably argue that these companies shouldn’t be allowed to have such a competitive advantage…which is essentially what happened when the big meat companies fought successfully to prevent a smaller meat company from doing its own mad cow testing and then labeling its products as being “BSE-free.” One can only hope that these kinds of rulings will start to disappear, and that the rugged individualism of companies that want to be pro-consumer will assert itself over the lockstep, lemming-like desire by some companies to deny reality.

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    Interesting piece in suggesting that as Walmart looks to ramp up its quality and selection in its electronics departments, it is negotiating with Apple to expand its in-store boutiques devoted to the company’s computers, iPhones, iPods and other products.

    The belief is that Walmart is looking to take advantage of the fact that Circuit City has gone out of business and compete more effectively with Best Buy, which also has its own Apple departments. In addition, Walmart apparently believes that it has improved its image sufficiently so that it can sell Apple products without diluting the brand’s up-market equity.

    KC's View:
    There are two issues right now that probably make Walmart a better fit for Apple. One is that the computer and consumer products manufacturer reportedly is developing more products in the less-than-$1000 segment, which would work better in a Walmart than, say, a $3,000 computer. In addition, there have been numerous reports that current value-driven advertising by Microsoft, suggesting that people can get more for their money when they buy a PC, has had some impact…and Apple is looking for ways to respond beyond the design and manufacture of clearly superior products. (Okay, that last bit illustrated my clear bias in favor of Apple.)

    From the Walmart perspective, this vividly illustrates how the company is looking to expand market share on a number of fronts.

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    The Canadian Press reports that 600-store supermarket chain Metro Inc. plans to begin charging consumers in Ontario and Quebec a five-cent-per-plastic bag fee. The charge goes into effect on June 1, which happens to be the same day that the city of Toronto begins enforcing a law requiring retailers there to charge for single-use bags.

    Experts say that the move by Metro, which is similar to initiatives already adopted by Loblaws and Sobeys elsewhere in Canada, continues a trend that they believe will eventually become standard operating procedure at supermarkets and other retailer outlets around the country.

    Metro reportedly will use the money generated by he bag fees to fund $2 million in grants for environmental projects at schools in Ontario and Quebec.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    There is a piece on this morning that reports on a “definitive new look at the scope of employer ant-union campaigns” conducted by Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

    According to the story, “Corporations have ramped up a wide-range of tactics designed to punish and intimidate workers for seeking to form a union. In nearly 60 percent of union election campaigns, employers threaten to close the plant, half of employers threaten workers in one-on-one ‘sweat sessions,’ and in a third of the elections, they retaliate by firing workers.”

    Says Bronfenbrenner, "There's been a change in the nature of employer campaigns. They've become not just more intense, not just more aggressive, but they switched to a more punitive system: there's no more of this 'let's try the soft stuff and pretend to be nice’.”

    The US Chamber of Commerce has attached Bronfenbrenner for being pro-union in her research and therefore not credible.

    KC's View:
    No surprise here. Management sees the Obama administration and the current US Congress has being far more friendly to organized labor than the last administration, and so they’re drawing the line harder and faster.

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    A new report from Mintel, the consumer research company suggests:

    • There is “lagging interest in portion-controlled packaging. Only one in seven adults (14%) currently buy pre-measured packs, and the number one reason they do is convenience. Weight management comes second.”

    • For a number of reasons, the low-carb movement evidently is completely over. Mintel reports that “92% of people eat pasta. One in six Americans say they’re eating more pasta this year, with the number one reason being that pasta is an economical choice during challenging financial times.” In addition, “nearly half of people who report eating more pasta are doing so because they just “don’t get bored with pasta.”

    KC's View:
    Not surprised about this last one. I could eat pasta for dinner every night of the week. I don't, because it isn’t good for me. But I could.

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    Texas-based Super 1 Foods is hosting a grill-off competition this weekend, with 10 finalists participating from each of the company’s three regions. According to the company, “The final competitions will be held in Tyler, Texas, Ruston, La., and Lafayette, La. and will feature family-friendly events for customers throughout the day. Each finalist will submit their Certified Angus steak to three local judges. First, second and third place winners will receive a $600 Super 1 Foods gift card, a $300 gift card, and a $100 gift card, respectively. Each winner will also receive a trophy.

    “In conjunction with the Sizzlin’ Steak Grill-Off, Super 1 Foods will also be awarding a Kingsford Barrel Grill at each participating store to a winner in a separate contest.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    • An accusation by a coalition of labor groups that Walmart broke election laws by pressuring employees to vote against Democrats in the 2008 elections has been dismissed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which said that there was no evidence to support the charges.

    • The Triangle Business Journal reports that “the North Carolina Court of Appeals has denied Walmart’s attempt to win $30 million in tax refunds from the state.” The company had argued that the state had miscalculated its tax exposure by incorrectly combining three of its separate business entities, but the court unanimously ruled against the company.

    KC's View:
    So when it comes to official rulings, Walmart batted .500 yesterday. Not bad.

    Wish the Mets could do that.

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    • The Financial Times reports that RiskMetrics, a leading proxy adviser, is advising its clients to vote for Bill Ackman and Jim Donald next week when an election takes place for Target Corp.’s board of directors.

    Ackman, a hedge fund CEO, and Donald, the former CEO of both Pathmark and Starbucks, are two members of an alternative slate of directors looking to dislodge current members of the Target board that they believe have made the company less competitive.

    Target opposes the election of Ackman and Donald.

    FT notes that “Glass Lewis, another leading proxy adviser, said it was endorsing Target’s four nominees” and not supporting any member of the alternative slate.

    • The Staten Island advance reports that King Kullen plans to shutter a store on Staten Island, its second closing in the borough this year. The move leaves King Kullen with just four stores on Staten Island.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 20, 2009

    …will return.
    KC's View: