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: November 10, 2009

    by Michael Sansolo

    It appears my troubles are over. In just the past few weeks, I’ve been the lucky person to whom countless people in varied countries wish to give scads of money. I’m so lucky. I may buy a baseball team.

    What’s more, I have found all kinds of easy avenues of supply for drugs and pharmaceuticals. And somehow my personal charisma has made me the object of desire of countless women. Oh, if only e-mail spam was anything but junk.

    Sadly, not all the junk has come from anonymous sites that my server gamely strives to filter out before it gets to me. I have also received countless e-mails from friends and family offering up anecdotes, news stories and important tips that sadly turn out to be completely wrong more than 75 percent of the time.

    The problem is these miscommunications actually matter and at times make a difference. A few weeks back my wife got a strange message from an old high school chum via Facebook. The friend’s doctor had recommended she start taking Vitamin D tablets and my wife’s friend wanted to know if this was a good idea. So she asked it of her network on Facebook.

    This story could end badly, except this woman was lucky to have many responsible and level-headed friends like my wife - who explained that she, too, received a similar recommendation and started taking the vitamins without any negative impact. Other friends gave similar experiences. Most interestingly, the friends together hit on the idea that their childhood under the near permanently overcast skies of upstate New York may have left them all deficient in Vitamin D. (An observation that would have been wonderful had it come from a doctor.)

    The woman who asked the question thanked the friends and complied with her doctor’s recommendation.

    But think about that for a second. What if this woman’s friends weren’t like my wife, a person of common sense and intelligence? What kind of advice might she have gotten? Could it have been more influential and her primary care giver? And would her doctor have known or been able to debate such advice?

    It’s a question business needs to start contemplating with great seriousness. In the new age of networking and communication, the sources of information and misinformation might be questionable at best and dangerous at the worst. Yet people are going to believe what they hear and read from their networks of trusted friends, even if they haven’t seen some of those friends in 25 years.

    It’s one of the critical reasons why I despair when I hear of companies downplaying the potential importance of social networking. To begin with, I think social networking is loaded with potential. It’s a place where companies can create a new relationship with shoppers, offering ideas, specials and connection. Imagine the power that could be unleashed by having key staff from produce, meat, dairy, pharmacy and more offer up information and enthusiasm about products and services.

    But more importantly, imagine what havoc could be unleashed if poor or incorrect information is distributed about you or your products without any answer. Think back to my wife’s friend and her vitamin deficiency. Certainly there are many worthwhile alternative ideas on how to get additional Vitamin D, but I’m betting there are some really awful ones too.

    The reality is today’s trusted networks might be fabulously responsible and informed…or they might not. Find a way to get involved and make it better yourself.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:
    Just a couple of follow-up thoughts on Michael’s column.

    I’m fascinated by the fact that the doctor made this recommendation but apparently did not explain the rationale. Apparently, he is living in a world where a doctor’s authority is unquestioned...which is not the same world in which many patients live. It is no longer enough for authority figures to tell people what to do...they have to explain why. And the explanation better be a good one, because it appears that some percentage of the population is as willing to take advice from friends as from experts.

    In other words, having the right content isn’t enough. You have to provide context.

    Now, there will be those who will suggest that this questioning of authority is indicative of the broader decline of western civilization. I’m not sure I agree...but then again, there is a long line of authority figures that I’ve questioned over the past 55 years. (I’ve always related to the great line in Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep,” when Philip Marlowe says, “I test very high on insubordination.”)

    The big point is that even beyond the social networking trend, it is critical for institutions and authority figures to create contextual frameworks for the suggestions and recommendations they make and the products they sell.

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Kraft Foods formalized its $16.2 billion bid to acquire Cadbury yesterday, as Kraft CEO Irene Rosenfeld refused to sweeten the offer that Cadbury already has rejected.

    Cadbury said the offer was “derisory,” and said it would not be successful. The company maintains that the merger of the two companies makes no strategic sense.

    Rosenfeld has said she will not overpay for Cadbury, and is taking her offer directly to Cadbury shareholders. estimates that the takeover battle could last as long as three months.
    KC's View:
    You gotta love any company that uses adjectives like “derisory.”

    I checked, by the way, and “derisory” doesn’t just mean inadequate. It means “ridiculously small or inadequate.”

    Just for the record.

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    Advertising Age reports that McDonald’s is taking what started out as an internal singing contest for crew members linked to its global franchisee conference and turning it into “an ‘American Idol’-style karaoke contest complete with bright lights, a massive stage and a global media conglomerate, “ bolstered by “marketing savvy and advertising dollars” and hyped via a variety of social networking tools.

    "I've always felt that our employees are our biggest assets," Dean Barrett, senior VP-global marketing, tells Ad Age. "So to allow our employees to have the fun and excitement and to have talent come through a unique and different way has been a lot of fun for me and McDonald's."

    For this, the third edition of the “Voice of McDonald’s” competition, the fast feeder “called for submissions last spring and combed through more than 10,000 entries to choose 30 semifinalists by October. They're releasing company-sponsored, production-quality videos for each performer this week, along with extensive biographical information and the ability to vote on which 12 semifinalists will appear at the global conference next April. On the first day, three finalists will be chosen to close out the festivities at the week's end, with one winner taking home $25,000.”
    KC's View:
    I’m not sure to what extent this is a real phenomenon as opposed to a savvy public relations ploy, but the concept does illustrate the importance of reducing the distance between the people at the top and the people on the front lines. Especially these days, when there is so much suspicion and distrust in a lot of organizations, anything that brings the two sides together and gives them a common purpose is a good idea.

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    Starbucks announced yesterday that it will rebrand its Gold Coast Blend of coffee as the “Morning Joe Edition,” as part of its broader sponsorship of “Morning Joe,” the MSNBC program that airs on weekday mornings.

    According to the Seattle Times, “To promote the renamed blend and encourage volunteerism, Starbucks and Morning Joe will air a special segment from a school in New Orleans on Friday, Nov. 20, and co-host a day of community service on Saturday, Nov. 21, to encourage viewers, employees and customers to volunteer. They've partnered with the HandsOn Network to help people find opportunities in their areas.”
    KC's View:
    Here at MNB World Headquarters, two constants every morning are Starbucks coffee and “Morning Joe.” Both serve as good ways to wake up.

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    Lee Scott, the former Walmart CEO who remains with the retailer as chairman of the executive committee, has become an operating partner at Solamere, a private equity and venture capital firm.

    The Wall Street Journal notes that Solamere “was founded in June 2008 by Taggart Romney, the eldest son of Mitt Romney, and Spencer Zwick, who served as campaign finance manager for Mr. Romney's 2008 presidential bid.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    Retail Forward is out with its monthly ShopperScape survey, reporting that:

    • While only 9% of shoppers plan to increase their near-term spending compared with 8% a year ago, the percentage of shoppers planning to curb their near-term spending declined from 53% to 45% year-to-year.

    • Only 7% plan to spend more this year on holiday gifts-the same percentage as last October.

    • Although 45% of shoppers say they are going to curb holiday gift spending, this percentage is significantly less than the 50% who planned cutbacks in October 2008.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    Advertising Age reports on a speech given by Walmart CMO Stephen Quinn to the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) annual conference in Phoenix, in which he attempted to redefine the notion of marketing.

    Noting that Walmart founder Sam Walton was not a big fan of traditional advertising, Quinn said, “I would argue that Sam Walton was one of the most brilliant marketers who ever lived.” Marketing, he said, is “making sure everything your company does is customer-focused. [Mr. Walton] was naturally focused on the customer, which really is marketing."

    • In the UK, the Daily Mail reports that Walmart has sold its Asda chain to its own subsidiary, Corinth, for the equivalent of about $11.5 billion (US). The move amounts to a structural change that the company describes as “good financial management.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    The New York Times reports that “despite a dismal ad climate, a handful of magazines have more ad pages in December 2009 than a year ago. Some magazines even ended the year with an overall increase in ad pages ... One reason for those increases: food advertising. Brands like Heinz and Hellmann’s are increasing their ads, trying to raise market share at a time when more people are cooking at home.”

    • Kroger and Nestlé Purina announced that they have teamed up to launch the second annual “Tales for the Pet Lover’s Heart” campaign, designed to celebrate “the unique bond between people and their pets, while raising funds for animal welfare organizations nationwide. Together Purina and the Kroger family of stores will donate $150,000 to animal welfare organizations in 2009 and will recognize six exceptional pet lovers’ tales via a national television special this fall.

    “The campaign invites pet lovers to share their favorite pet tales with Purina and Kroger online at For each story shared, Purina and Kroger will make an additional donation to animal welfare organizations.”
    KC's View:
    I was debating whether or not to include this last story when my golden lab, Buffett, walked over and put her head on my lap. Seemed like, good luck to Kroger and Nestlé Purina in this effort.

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    Last week, MNB had a piece about the latest reorganization efforts at Ahold USA, about which I expressed a certain skepticism. And yesterday, we posted an email that addressed the lack of continuity and consistency at the company over the past few years.

    To which another MNB user responded:

    I have the impression that you are generally fairly negative about Ahold and its U.S. operations. Is this still the result of everything that happened in the years through 2003? In recent years a lot changed, including a repositioning of Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover and an extensive store remodeling program at Giant.
    Last month, in recognition of its performance in 2009 and its potential for ongoing success, Supermarket News has even named Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover the winners of the 2009 Retail Excellence Award.
    Curious whether you have seen any changes in Stop & Shop or Giant stores and recognize the improvements in recent years.

    I think that there have been some positive change at Ahold in recent years, but I am hardly the only person to suggest that some of the centralization efforts at Stop & Shop and Giant-Landover have actually distanced the latter chain from its core consumers.

    I’ll also let you in on a little secret about awards given out by trade magazines. In most cases, the awards have been created so that publications can get companies to cooperate with the coverage - something they might not do under normal circumstances, but will when there is some sort of award involved. Awards are as much about politics as they are about actual achievement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 10, 2009

    In Monday Night Football action, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Denver Broncos 28-10.
    KC's View: