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    Published on: September 23, 2009

    by Kate McMahon

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

    There is no time like the present to pull up a chair, log on, and join the culinary conversation at the cyber-kitchen table. Okay, make that the tens-of-thousands of conversations/recipe swaps/dining dialogues currently being carried on in the ever-expanding food blogosphere.

    It isn’t just a nice-to-do. In fact, it can be a critical component in any store’s marketing and merchandising efforts, because it offers a unique view of what customers are doing and what they are thinking.

    As noted in last week’s column, food blogs are growing in number and clout on the Internet, replete with advertisers and Twitter accounts. Single blogs have spawned “food communities,” food blog conventions, multiple books and television careers, and of course, the blog-turned-book-turned movie, “Julie & Julia.”

    This facet of social networking is like an open pantry and a seat at the table. And if you are a retailer, manufacturer, marketer or service provider catering to people who shop, cook and dine, these blogs reveal what people want now and in the future (keyword: healthy). Think of it as a free focus group at your fingertips.

    For example, paying attention to the blogs tells us that consumers everywhere are trying to be both environmentally pro-active and fiscally cautious during tough economic times – which often seem to be at odds. Cut to the blog itsfrugalbeinggreen.com and you will find a wealth of insight into how to balance the two. What are eco-conscious new parents buying or looking to purchase? Click on greenbabyguide.com and you’ll find out.

    Similarly, if you’re trying to understand the gluten-free community and what is top of mind for people with that condition, turn to wheat-free-meat-free.blogspot.com, where the Crispy Cook blogs and earlier this year shared a list of her 101 favorite gluten free blogs.

    Mothers are hyper-active bloggers, and a recent posting from Sunshine Mom on foodbuzz.com says it all. Alarmed by the amount of high fructose corn syrup in pre-packaged granola bars, she came up with her own healthy recipe to pack in her daughters’ back-to-school lunch boxes. Her followers were delighted.

    To find a blog that interests you or your company, or for specialties such as vegan or heart-healthy postings, check out the food communities, which include: foodbuzz.com (10,029 food blogs and counting); seriouseats.com, a huge compendium; foodieblogroll.com (5,253 blogs); bakespace.com (an “independent grassroots community”); chowhound.com; and the various blogs found on blogher.com; allrecipes.com; foodblogsearch.com and eatingwell.com.

    Whatever the stated subject matter, passion is the key ingredient in the most successful blogs. Several authors refer to it as their “obsession” with food, and their insatiable desire to share recipes, thoughts, advice and photos with like-minded food enthusiasts.

    There are a handful of blogs that turn up on every “best of” list, and with good reason. Readers are on a first name only with Pim of chezpim.typepad.com, a young San Francisco woman who shares her adventures in the kitchen and globetrotting travels. Heidi Swanson’s 101cookbooks.com is her “recipe journal” from her cookbooks, travels and other musings on “natural” cooking. Author/pastry chef David Lebovitz writes of “the sweet life in Paris” in davidlebovitz.com, and sweet it is. Another fave from Paris is chocolateandzucchini.com by 30-year-old Clotilde Dusoulier. New Yorker Luisa Weiss started wednesdaychef.typepad.com in 2005 by clipping and testing recipes from the New York Times and L.A. Times mid-week food sections. Meanwhile, from food-savvy Seattle, Molly Wizenberg’s orangette.blogspot.com has since 2004 charted her blogging career, book, marriage to a fellow foodie and the opening of their first restaurant last month.

    A dash or two of humor have elevated the profiles of other blogs, notably mattbites.com by Matt Armendariz and amateurgourmet.com by Adam Roberts. An award-winner guaranteed to give you a chuckle is cakewrecks.blogspot.com – “when professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong.”

    The MNB community also alerted me to readable blogs with recipes that any one of us might cook for the family, among them steamykitchen.com; smittenkitchen.com; inpraiseofleftovers.com and simplyrecipes.com.

    This column will continue to follow developments in the food blog world, giving MNB readers a reserved seat at the cyber-kitchen table.

    (BTW: Thanks for all the suggestions on wine blogs and dining out/travel blogs, which will be featured in future columns. And check out these blogs written by MNB followers or their children: judithcooks.blogspot.com; themanhattanfoodproject.wordpress.com; justmydinner.blogspot.com and anchormommy.com.)

    You can reach Kate McMahon via email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    The New York Times reports this morning that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of flavored cigarettes, a move that the paper says is “intended to end the sale of tobacco products with chocolate, vanilla, clove and other flavorings that lure children and teenagers into smoking. The agency will study regulating menthol products and hinted that it might soon take action against the far larger market of flavored small cigars and cigarillos.” However, there remains some confusion about what items fall into what categories, and further clarifications from the FDA seem likely.

    The ban takes place under new legislation that gives the FDA the ability to regulate the tobacco industry.
    KC's View:
    When this story broke yesterday, somebody sent me a link with a note saying:

    I hope you're happy KC. This is what you wanted! This is the new (expletive deleted) Prohibition.

    Which amazes me. This isn’t Prohibition. This is trying to save the lives of the some 3,600 children and teenagers who start smoking every day, more than a thousand of whom then become daily smokers.

    But you’re right. I am happy. Because of we can save some of these lives, it’s been a good day.

    And it amazes me that anyone other than a tobacco company executive might feel differently.

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    Meijer Inc. announced yesterday that it is extending its Grocery Express service, which “combines the convenience of online shopping with the ease, speed and attention offered by a personal shopper,” to its stores in St. Charles and Aurora, Illinois.

    The program originally was launched a year ago In Grand Rapids, Michigan, and has been deemed a success. It “allows shoppers to select grocery and health & beauty care products online at www.meijergroceryexpress.com, and have them delivered to their car at a designated location within the store's parking lot. The charge for an individual order is $6.95. The program also offers a $24.95 subscription for unlimited orders during a 30-day period.”
    KC's View:
    It does not surprise me that Meijer is moving more and more in this direction. It is what progressive retailers need to do…and it is noteworthy that the program has been a success even in Grand Rapids, which has had its economic issues in recent years.

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Starbucks is launched two applications for the Apple iPhone – one that finds stores and offers menu and amenity information, and another that will let people use their iPhones as their prepaid Starbucks cards.

    The latter application is being tested in 16 stores in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, a limited rollout attributed to the fact that there is high Starbucks and Apple usage in both markets.

    Both applications are free.
    KC's View:
    This is a good model for what retailers need to do in order to connect with the modern shopper.

    One other related note. Apple is celebrating the first birthday of its App Store, which currently features more than 65,000 free and paid applications. When I saw that the other day, I was amazed…because iPhone applications have become such an important part of my everyday life that it seems staggering that it has only been a year.

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    The Idaho Statesman reports on a new distribution center that it has opened in Boise,, which represents “the latest addition in WinCo's expanding empire of low-price grocery stores. Starting this week, the center will start shipping to stores in Idaho, Utah and Washington. The 42-year-old Boise company is projected to have 84 stores in the West by 2011, up from 67 today - a 25 percent increase … WinCo, which now has stores in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California and Nevada, will open two stores in Salt Lake City suburbs this year. Three more Utah stores are planned in 2010.”

    "The company's got the skill to literally beat every major competitor in every major trading area," Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, tells the paper. "WinCo can easily over the next 10 years add at least 100 high-volume stores, maybe more."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that while the recession may have affected people’s ability to purchase expensive cars, homes and vacations, they seem to be buying more candy than ever. “Alcoholic beverages, ice cream and movies aren't doing badly either, but candy and chocolate stand out as being recession-resistant,” the paper writes.

    Marcia Mogelonsky, a senior analyst at market research firm Mintel International, tells the Chronicle, “They've given up everything else, but they're not going to deprive themselves entirely; or candy is their replacement for something more expensive, like a nice dinner or another type of gift."

    Mintel says that US chocolate sales in 2008 were $16.6 billion and are expected to rise more than 2 percent to $17 billion in 2009.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    The Boston Globe this morning reports that Dunkin’ Donuts is facing more than 350 franchisee lawsuits, as it is accused “of aggressively targeting shop owners in an effort to terminate store agreements and collect hefty penalties for alleged contract violations.” One of the lawyers for the plaintiffs says that Dunkin’ Donuts “has turned its loss prevention department into a ‘profit center’ and gone after franchisees for infractions that include improper tax filings, unauthorized transfers of the business, and cracked floor tiles, among other claims, as a way to increase revenues during the economic slowdown.”

    The story says that Dunkin’ Donuts management defends itself by saying that “all employees and franchisees are held to the highest standards of professional and ethical contact and the company maintains the right to pursue legal action to remove franchisees who are in violation of any local, state, or federal laws. The business, which has 2,000 franchisees, said any legal action it takes is intended to protect all shop owners and ensure that customers have a consistently outstanding experience.”

    Dunkin’ Donuts has some 2,000 franchisees – which means that the lawsuits are coming from roughly one-sixth of its franchisee base.
    KC's View:
    If they start cracking down on Dunkin’ Donuts with cracked floor tiles, there’s going to be a problem with the store count.

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) has announced a new nationwide video contest, hosted on www.YouTube.com/SavvyCents, to recognize and reward innovatively frugal shoppers.

    “The ‘Savvy Supermarket Cents™’ contest is a way to showcase and reward the hardworking American consumer who knows how to get creative and get the most out of their paycheck,” says IRI Consulting & Innovation President Thom Blischok. “We invite people to submit their videos and show us their new habits and rituals when it comes to purchases at the supermarket, club store, mass merchandiser or drug store.”

    Winners will receive gift cards to the grocery, mass merchandiser, drug store or club store of their choice, courtesy of IRI.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    Crain’s New York Business reports that discount chain Aldi is building its first store in Queens, New York, expected to open early in 2010. Burt Flickinger III tells Crain’s that the company is likely to expand quickly in New York: “They shake up a market. And they don't come in with just one store. They'll open five, then 10 and 15.”

    • In western New York State, the Democrat and Chronicle reports that Wegmans Food Markets “has been named a finalist for a national award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recognizing companies that combine business success with community leadership.” There are four other finalists; the winner will be announced on December 1.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    • ConAgra Foods said that its first quarter earnings were $165.9 million, down from $442.4 million during the same period a year ago. Q1 revenue was down three percent to $2.96 billion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    • MyWebGrocer announced that it has hired Dan Vanchieri, formerly of Fox Interactive Media, to be its vice president of sales for the Eastern Region. Vanchieri will work out of the company’s first dedicated Manhattan office, allowing MyWebGrocer to expand its New York City presence.

    Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a MorningNewsBeat sponsor.

    • Sara Lee Corp. said yesterday that it has hired Marcel H.M. Smits, a former executive with a Dutch telecom company, to be its new CFO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 23, 2009

    …will return.
    KC's View: