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: August 17, 2009

    So, did you see the stories at the end of last week about the Florida doctor who lost his job as head of the Bay County Health Department in Panama City because he used an electric sign outside his offices to criticize – sometimes by name and brand – foods that he said contribute to the nation’s obesity problem?

    Dr. Jason Newsom, who used to be an Army physician serving in Iraq, used the sign to make the following statements:

    “Sweet Tea = Liquid Sugar”

    “ Hamburgers = Spare Tire”

    “French Fries = Thunder Thighs”

    “Doughnuts = Diabetes”

    “Dunkin’ Doughnuts = Death”

    “America Dies On Dunkin’”

    It was these last two pronouncements that created the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – because there was a county commissioner who owned a doughnut shop, and a couple of local lawyers who owned a local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. They threatened to sue, and eventually Newsom’s bosses forced him to resign.

    Newsom says that he doesn’t regret his actions, that he saw doughnuts being served almost everywhere he went in a county with a 25 percent obesity rate and where 39 percent of all adults are overweight. Railing against the, he said, was as much his job as educating the public about flu shots.

    "My method was a little provocative and controversial," Newsom has been quoted as saying, "but there wasn't a person in Bay County who wasn't talking about health and healthy eating."
    KC's View:
    The San Francisco Chronicle had a story over the weekend saying that “obesity is the elephant in the room of health care reform, a public health catastrophe that kills more than 100,000 Americans a year, cost the nation $147 billion last year and threatens to shorten U.S. life expectancy for the first time since the Civil War.”

    In a lot of ways, experts tell the Chronicle, it almost doesn’t matter what health care reforms may be passed by legislators this year because the system will continue to be swamped by increased rates of diabetes and other obesity-related diseases.

    This is, in fact the cold reality of the situation in which we find ourselves as a nation – and, as the Chronicle writes, “Obesity is all but impossible to treat. Prevention is the only cure.”

    I have to admit that I am sympathetic to Dr. Newsom’s prescription, and I say that as someone who has struggled with weight issues almost all of my life.

    Could he have done it more diplomatically? Perhaps with signs along the lines of “apples = long life,” or something like that? Sure…but I’m guessing that Dr. Newsom thought that he actually owed his patients (the taxpayers who were paying his salary) the truth – unvarnished, unmitigated, even politically incorrect.

    The problem, of course, isn’t with people who occasionally indulge in a doughnut. The problem is that if you eat a couple of doughnuts every day, he likelihood increases that you’re going to end up with a weight problem. And that’s the battle that Dr. Newsom thought he needed to fight.

    Good for him. And shame on the government bureaucrats who thought that the job of running the county health department meant being less concerned about real health issues and more concerned with political considerations.

    Published on: August 17, 2009

    The Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece about anti-inflammation diets, which it says are part of an emerging field of science.

    According to the paper, “ The point of an anti-inflammation diet is not to lose weight, although it is not uncommon for its followers to shed pounds. The goal: to combat what proponents call ‘chronic silent inflammation’ in the body, the result of an immune system that doesn't know when to shut off. ” The damage caused to the body by years of inflammatory problems include heart disease, cancer and neurological disorders, which is why the adoption of an anti-inflammation diet can be so critical to extending one’s lifespan.

    Experts tell the Times that an anti-inflammation diet includes “vegetables, whole grains, nuts, oily fish, protein sources, spices such as ginger and turmeric and brightly colored fruits such as blueberries, cherries and pomegranates” – many of the same foods contained in the so-called Mediterranean diet. “Foods that promote inflammation -- saturated fats, trans fats, corn and soybean oil, refined carbohydrates, sugars, red meat and dairy -- are reduced or eliminated,” the Times writes.

    Doctors say this is not a quick fix – but that a long-term and dedicated approach to such a diet can have a profound effect.
    KC's View:
    Yet another example of the direct, thick black line that can be drawn between food and health maintenance – and how retailers need to be aware of these connections in order to market and merchandise their products for a generation with far more options and information than shoppers ever have had before.

    It is interesting to note, I think, how much anti-inflammatory diets have with other much-lauded approaches to eating. The ultimate message seems to be that eating healthy isn’t that hard…except that in 2009 America, it is very hard…or everyone would be doing it.

    Published on: August 17, 2009

    BrandWeek reports on new research from The Nielsen Company saying that “both private label dollar and unit sales significantly increased for the 52-week period ending July 11, 2009 versus the prior year.

    “Dollar sales grew by 7.4 percent to $85.9 billion within food, drug and mass-merchandisers (including Walmart), with shares recorded at 16.9 percent. This reflects an increase of 0.7 points from the previous year.”

    The report suggests that the strongest performing categories in private label tend to be those seen as commodities, with the least amount of manufacturer support, while private brands are less successful in categories where there is stronger media support from national brands.

    The top growth categories, according to the report, were frozen pizza and snacks, flour, and dry vegetables and grains, with the dry grocery and dairy departments generating 59 percent of total sales. Baby food, candles and incense, frozen pizza and snacks, cheese, and flour topped unit sales, according to the study.
    KC's View:
    None of this seems very surprising, except, of course, the high growth in the candles and incense segment…have t admit that I didn’t see that one coming. (There’s gotta be an interesting back story behind that, though I cannot imagine for the life of me what it is, never having used incense since my altar boy days, when I wielded a mean censer.)

    Published on: August 17, 2009

    • Kiss, the heavy metal rock band, is coming together for a new album and DVD that will only be sold at Walmart. The package will feature the band’s first new music in more than a decade, re-recordings of classic Kiss songs, and a DVD of a live performance.

    “Sonic Boom” is slated to be released on October 6. The release follows a pattern previously established by the likes of the Eagles and Foreigner of putting out new albums only through Walmart, which is the nation’s second largest music retailer, having been surpassed last year by Apple’s online iTunes Store.
    KC's View:
    Ah, now it all comes together.

    If you’ll recall, when I reported from Walmart’s annual meetings earlier this year, I reported: “Even an old and paunchy Gene Simmons of Kiss was there (sans makeup), though he never got anywhere near the stage and simply seemed to be wandering the floor of the Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas getting a lot of attention from young and not-so-young women.”

    And, apparently, getting at least some attention from Walmart’s music buyers.

    Published on: August 17, 2009

    • Numerous published reports say that Tesco is responding to the slow but steady diminution of its UK market share – with corresponding gains by Walmart-owned Asda Group there – by offering double Clubcard points s part of its loyalty marketing program.

    The change has no expiration date, though the company says it is constantly reviewing the highly successful Clubcard program as part of a broader approach to recession-minded marketing.

    • In Southern California, Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets announced that it will revive its successful Shop for Schools fundraising program, which gives registered schools $1 for every $20 spent by customers naming that store. The top fundraising school in the area then receives a $5,000 bonus from Fresh & Easy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2009

    • In Australia, The Age reports that Costco has at long last opened its first store there, in Melbourne’s Docklands. The unit originally was going to open last December, and then in July…but then was scheduled for mid-August.

    Costco reportedly plans to open as many as 30 stores Down Under; the next one is slated to be built in Sydney.

    QSR Magazine reports that Jamba Juice has licensed out its name to a company called Inventure Group, which will develop a line of frozen smoothie kits to be sold in supermarkets.

    "The make-at-home smoothie is an emerging category and represents perhaps the most literal extension of the Jamba brand to date," says Susan Shields, vice president for consumer products and licensing at Jamba Juice Company, adding, "We want to serve the healthy habits of our consumers wherever they live and shop.”

    The new kits are expected to be rolled out during the first quarter of 2010.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2009

    We continue to get emails about Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s Wall Street Journal piece decrying the Obama administration’s approach to national health care reform, and about last Friday’s responses to Mackey’s piece.

    MNB user Martha Whitman wrote:

    I was surprised to see you print one reader's statement concerning health care reform, "I especially resent the women. They never worked, had their husbands’ insurance and somehow don't get it. Entitled and clueless."

    Excuse me? In your same issue you report that women make almost 50% of the workforce and do more work at home then American husbands. Entitled and clueless? I wouldn't mind you publishing this man's comments if you had taken a stand against sexism and misogyny. Would you have let that gone to print if he had said that he resented black people, that they are lazy and entitled?

    In the interest of accuracy, the MNB reader who made the original statement was a woman, not a man…though I did not make that clear on Friday.

    I’m not sure if that makes it worse or better. Is it misogyny if a woman is making the statement? I’m not sure.

    I have to say that I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, the language exposed a raw nerve that I thought was interesting and illustrative…but on the other hand, you’re right…had the reference been to black people instead of female people, it never would have gotten through.

    At the very least, I should have commented on the statement and put it in context. Thanks for drawing it to my attention.

    And another MNB user chimed in:

    Regarding a comment from one of your users to John Mackey's piece, saying: "Rich folks, our politicians and our CEO’s will have enough money to pay for the extra care they want just like they do in Canada, Britain and other single payer countries…”

    I would agree with him that rich folks in Canada, Britain and other single payer countries pay for the extra care they want or need. They pay for it here, in America, where they come to get the care they can't get in their countries! So, if a single payer system is established here, and the consequent rationing of care follows, where will these folks go then?

    MNB had a piece on Friday about a New York Times report saying that “technology has shaken up plenty of life’s routines, but for many people it has completely altered the once predictable rituals at the start of the day.

    “This is morning in America in the Internet age. After six to eight hours of network deprivation — also known as sleep — people are increasingly waking up and lunging for cellphones and laptops, sometimes even before swinging their legs to the floor and tending to more biologically urgent activities.”

    MNB pointed out that these shifts create two issues for food marketers – figuring out how to reach consumers increasingly moving away from tradition media outlets (which has been, to be honest, a constant refrain here on the site), and figuring out what these people want to eat for breakfast that won’t drip on their keyboards.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I have read my local newspaper long before the computer is turned on in my household, but I am close to 50 and enjoy reading the paper with my morning cup of coffee. It doesn’t feel the same to hook up to the computer with my coffee.

    Alternatively, I know that my 20 something daughter checks her e-mail before she gets out of bed in the morning and before she turns off the light at night. She rarely reads the paper. It is a new world and ads in the paper are not reaching the audience they once did.

    Precisely my point.

    MNB user Jeff Folloder wrote:

    I used to never eat breakfast... and now I am almost always reaching for something handheld to go with the morning cafe' crema (freshly made from locally roasted beans in my fabulous Saeco superautomatica) whilst perusing the morning news and RSS feeds. Newspapers ceased to be a worthwhile alternative because of the presence of felines in the house. About the only mainstream news I get is the evening TV or disaster coverage. Like you, I tune out the ads and even have my Firefox browser set to magically remove 99% of online ads … So how is a marketer to get to me? New items are somewhat of a revelation to me, my daughters are convinced that I am impervious to the absorption of new trends (just not aware of them like I used to be), and that my tastes are decidedly "old school". I am, or at least should be, a primary target. Since I have created ways to insulate myself from most advertisements, shouldn't marketers be focusing on more effective ways to entice me?

    I predict that the point of purchase is going to become the new battlefield of innovation. That is no great feat of intuition, though. I'm guessing that most folks have created similar barriers to ads and that the point of decision is one of the few arenas left available. I don't know if it is going to be stunning packaging, clever POP, the in-store chef whipping up Coquilles St. Jacques with all of the ingredients at hand, or something truly new and imaginative... I'm just thinking that it's the last, best chance to sway my decision.

    I actually don't think that most people want to insulate themselves from marketing promotions – especially a younger generation of shoppers that thrives of knowing and adopting what’s hip and happening. (The use of this phrase, by the way, almost assuredly defines me as being neither hip nor happening. I can almost feel my kids rolling their eyes…)

    What most people want are relevant and imaginative promotions that have some connection to their lives. Which is why the notion of mass media is so 20th century…and why companies of all stripes and in all venues have to be seeking and defining alternatives.

    MNB user Jim Perko notes that Giant Eagle is using the Internet to get ahead of its print ad:

    In Pittsburgh (land of Champions – not in the summer months) one can sign up to receive their ad (Mondays) that will be out in a few days (Thu – to following Wed) for the following week. It definitely gets perused prior to all the ads that are in the paper or received in the mail. Shopping days are planned or could be planned around that ad.

    I agree with you!

    This discussion has some connection to another discussion we’ve been having here on MNB - about my belief that while companies like Redbox are doing very well right now and deserve a lot of credit for creating a new business model, eventually it will be an obsolete model because downloading of movies will overtake them.

    One MNB user responded:

    One issue I am not seeing discussed in the “physical vs. digital” discussion is PRICE! CD’s physical and CD’s (or single songs) digital are virtually the same price – the cost of playing – an IPOD or a stereo are roughly the same price. On this product I agree with you. Movie downloads and subscriptions to NETFLIX and its competitors are more costly than $1.00 to rent a movie from Redbox overnight. A “Kindle” requires a significant investment and then purchases for books that cannot be shared unless you pass your kindle around (not having a Kindle I could be wrong on this so correct me if so). When Rupert, the FOX, figures out how to charge for content on the Internet along with the rest of the business world I think you will see a slowing down of the transition to full digital. I am in my mid-sixties and read the newspaper everyday – much of it old news since I am on the computer as well but old – good habits are hard to break. My morning paper, however, has suffered greatly in volume and relies mostly on “wire” stories to stay affordable. I just hope the day never comes when I have to select my produce on line and have to have it delivered because everything is digital. Of course by the time that happens none of us will have to leave our little computer rooms or homes because there will be NOWHERE to go except on line.

    So cynical…

    I prefer to think that the online environment opens worlds to us and our children. It doesn’t close them down. As with everything in life, we all have choices.

    Of course, purveyors of various products and services in the physical world then have to deal with the challenge of being more engaging, of being worth the trip and the effort.

    Then again, nobody ever said this was going to be easy.

    I made a brief reference on Friday to Walmart not being a typically acquisitive company in the US, which led one MNB user to correct me:

    Actually, Walmart has had many US acquisitions in its history, but most of them were too long ago for most of us to remember. Here are a few off hand that I can remember:

    1981 - Big K stores (115 Stores)
    1987: Sam's acquires southern competitor Super Saver Wholesale chain.
    1993: Company acquires Pace Membership Club, a struggling chain owned by Kmart.

    Other noteworthy acquisitions include:

    Hutcheson Shoes of Ft Smith
    Anderson News (1990/1991)
    McClane 1990’s – Later sold and became a subsidiary of Berkshire-Hathaway Holdings.

    Thanks for the info.

    And finally, as is my wont, I quoted a particular song lyric on Friday, which led MNB user David L. White to write:

    Thanks for the reference to “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel.

    Upon reading it, I immediately pulled it up on the iPod and turned up the volume! For the record (pun intended), I actually converted the song from my vinyl album, so it still has the subtle pops and scratches, which seem to add to the character of the song. It’s going to be a good day.

    That’s music to my ears.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 17, 2009

    In the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club, 37-year-old South Korean golfer YE Yang shot a two-under par 70 on Sunday to pass Tiger Woods and win the tournament in what experts said was a stunning and unexpected development.
    KC's View: