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    Published on: February 10, 2010

    by Kate McMahon

    A good will gesture goes a long way, as exemplified by the outpouring of humanitarian relief for Haiti. Good will shared through social networking goes even farther.

    Consider these two scenarios:

    One: You donate $50 to earthquake relief efforts while checking out at your local supermarket. Meanwhile, at corporate headquarters, the same supermarket’s foundation is making a generous donation to the American Red Cross.

    Both are essentially one-way transactions. Your experience, and connection to the store, stops there.

    Two: You receive an email message/Facebook live feed/tweet from your local supermarket about its charitable efforts. You make your $50 donation at the register, get updates from the store about how much money has been raised, where it is going, and how much the corporation is contributing in matching funds, and how the employees have contributed. You follow a blog or Twitter stream with fellow shoppers, see the positive messages and numbers add up, and feel good about your effort and your store.

    Believe me, Scenario Two has generated a lot of good feeling out there in the blogosphere and turned what was once a one-time, one-way transaction into a two-way relationship between consumer and retailer. And it should become standard operating procedure, because turning a transactional relationship into a actual relationship - which implies greater engagement and commitment both ways - can be a powerful marketing tool for any business.

    And even though the new trend toward “texted” donation has captured the media’s attention since Jan. 12, the front line of donating is still at cash registers. As expected, internet-savvy giants such as Whole Foods and Starbucks used their social networking prowess wisely in the weeks since the earthquake devastated Haiti.

    The most recent headline on the Whole Foods blog reads: “Together, We Donated $2.7 Million for Haitian Relief.” The story thanked the customers in 287 stores in the U.S., Canada and U.K. for donating $1.7 million to six hand-picked relief organizations, praised the store “team members” who pledged $58,400 to the Haitian Fund to aid friends and families affected by the quake, and announced that the Whole Planet Foundation had contributed $1 million toward rebuilding Haiti.

    Many other stores and their customers, such majors as Winn-Dixie and Publix among them, also donated many millions in relief funds, but I had to scour the internet and corporate sites to find the numbers. I also had to seek out the information on Walmart’s Facebook page.

    Conversely, when Starbucks first announced on Facebook it would begin collecting donations for the American Red Cross, that post received 11,683 “thumbs up” responses. When one blogger demanded to know what corporate Starbucks was doing to help, the response was immediate – donating $1 million.

    But it’s not just the big hitters utilizing social networking. PCC Natural Markets, a food cooperative with nine stores in the Seattle area, tracked thousands of enthusiastic “re-tweets” of its Twitter post when it announced: “It’s you, our loyal shoppers, who enable PCC to donate $25,000 to the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Thank you.” And the GoodGrocer Twitter account let followers know that shoppers at 244 stores under the SaveMart umbrella had donated $265,000 to the American Red Cross.

    Of course, given the unedited nature of social networking, the agitators and complainers had their say on the blogs as well – criticizing everything from the American Red Cross to the Haitian government to the war in Iraq.

    But the overall sentiment was one of support and gratitude, and a connection born of good will.

    Kate McMahon can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    USA Today carries a story saying that 170 tons of tainted milk powder that was supposed to be destroyed after it was originally discovered in 2008 was instead repackaged and put back on the market.

    The story notes that while the Chinese government had pledged to be more vigilant about food safety and ordered that all of the milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine be destroyed, it did not supervise or handle the destruction itself, and at least five different companies there are suspected of having put the products back on the market.

    There is no evidence to this point that any of the tainted dairy products have found their way into the global marketplace, but the government also has not been commenting on the new discoveries.

    Melamine was originally used in the dairy products to ramp up the appearance of protein, which allowed the manufacturers to garner a higher price.
    KC's View:
    The Chinese Communist Party may be the ruling political party in the People’s Republic of China, but it certainly appears that old fashioned moral corruption in the pursuit of high prices - not to mention the spectacle of politicians saying one thing and doing another - seems to be flowering there as well.

    China continues to be one of the best arguments for intelligent, efficient and effective Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    Customer intelligence consultancy Market Force Information says that a new customer survey suggests that Wegmans was the consumer favorite in the supermarket category, and Costco ranked highest in the mass grocer category.

    The company says that “Kroger received the highest number of votes from consumers across the country. This initially placed Kroger atop the list with 11 percent of the votes ... Publix and Safeway followed with 8 percent and 7 percent respectively.

    But not all retailers are created equal. While Kroger has almost 2,500 stores in North America, Wegmans – with just 75 stores – has less than one-thirtieth that number. Yet, Wegmans scored 3 percent of the total votes for favorite supermarket. Since consumers are likely to vote for retailers most familiar to them, Market Force drilled down into its results to determine which store chain would win out when the number of store locations was factored in. This analysis moved Wegmans to the top ranking position with a 9 percent score, followed by ShopRite with a 5 percent score, and Albertsons and Whole Foods each with 4 percent.”

    The report goes on: “When looking at mass grocers such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target and Costco, Market Force found similar results. While Walmart garnered the highest number of total votes, with fully 42 percent of the total, its store count must also be factored in. When re-indexed based on the number of stores, Costco took the lead.”
    KC's View:
    Might as well say it. How many other people are surprised that in the weighted rankings, Albertsons does better than Kroger?

    I’m sure the methodology is defensible, but I’m equally sure that for a lot of people it will not pass the sniff test.

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    New Jersey-based Kings Super Markets has decided to license the Guiding Stars nutrition labeling program in its 24 stores. Guiding Stars was originated by Delhaize-owned Hannaford Brothers, and now is used throughout Delhaize’s US chains, including Food Lion and Sweetbay.

    The Guiding Stars program uses a proprietary algorithm to evaluate all the products in the store and then award one, two or three stars to products qualifying as good, better and best in terms of nutritional value.

    “We are committed to exceeding customer expectations and Guiding Stars adds significant value by making it easier for shoppers to identify nutritious choices while they shop,” said Patricia Mikell, senior director of marketing at Kings Super Markets. “We aim to play a key role in helping our shoppers lead a healthy lifestyle, and Guiding Stars will be another important tool in achieving that goal.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    Marketing Daily reports that The Nielsen Company is out with new research saying that “while private label still represents a small piece of retail wine and spirits volume, its growth rates are considerably outpacing those of national brands ... Private-label/exclusive table wine and spirits brands now represent 3.3% and 4.6% of volume within their respective categories in total U.S. food, drug, convenience and liquor stores, per Nielsen.

    “However, sales volume for private-label table wines and spirits grew 29.4% and 7.8%, respectively, off of those small bases during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 9 versus the same year-ago period. Meanwhile, the table wine and spirit categories as a whole saw volume growth of just 1.6% and 0.9%, respectively.”

    The report says that while beer has been more resistant to the private brand trend, private label wine has been widely accepted by consumers who often are not even aware that they aren’t buying a national brand, but rather think they are simply buying small or even obscure brands.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    • The Journal of Commerce reports that Walmart is going from requesting a delivery guarantee from its suppliers to demanding one, “imposing new deadlines for getting goods to distribution centers as well as tough penalties on those that miss the mark.”

    According to the story on the new policy, “As of Feb. 1, companies delivering goods to Wal-Mart warehouses need to have their merchandise arrive within a four-day window leading up to a "must arrive by date," or a MABD. Suppliers that are consistently early or late in delivering goods and now miss the window could face a penalty” of three percent of cost of goods sold.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    • Research firm ComScore said yesterday that online retail spending during the fourth quarter of 2009 was up 2.9 percent to $39 billion, while online spending during the entire year was down a bit, from $130.1 billion in 2008 to $129.8 billion.

    The research shows that “more shoppers bought items online, while the average amount spent per person declined,” according to a story from Bloomberg.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    • The Coca-Cola Co. reports that its fourth quarter net operating revenue rose 5 percent, to $7.51 billion, on Q4 net income attributable to shareholders rose to $1.54 billion, from $995 million a year ago.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    • In Lubbock, Texas, the Avalanche-Journal reports that Dan Sanders has resigned as chief executive officer of 50-store United Supermarkets. Robert Taylor, the company's chief logistics officer, will serve as interim CEO until a search for a replacement is completed.

    • Unilever said yesterday that Walt Freese, the CEO and vice president of global brand development for its Ben & Jerry’s brand, is resigning to pursue other investment and business opportunities.
    KC's View:
    One of Freese’s accomplishments has been to allow Ben & Jerry’s to be on the edge of what corporations usually allow, encouraging the company to invest in the kind of social activism that is part of its cultural DNA. He didn’t treat the company as just another ice cream brand, but rather as a unique entity that deserves a different kind of nurturing. Kudos to him.

    Published on: February 10, 2010

    Yesterday, one MNB user criticized me for the positive things I said about an Audi commercial on the Super Bowl:

    While I agree on your take regarding the commercials, the one showing the “green police” and Audi left me feeling different than you.  It reminded me that our big and growing government has decided what kind of light bulb we have to buy (compact fluorescent), has told us what kind of car to drive (hybrid, SUV’s are evil), is telling us what kind of energy to use (wind & solar),  what kind of healthcare we are going to have or at least trying to (government run “public option”), how much money people can make (limitations on CEO pay), and more.  I realize that good humor is based on reality.  The reality of the “green police” is too close to reality for me and I don’t find it funny.

    Another MNB user took issue with this analysis:

    Kevin, I couldn't help but comment on the reply someone sent about the Green Police Superbowl commercial.  At the very least, the reply was awfully hyperbolic.  Someone needs to call BS, and since you passed on the chance, I suppose it has to be me.

    "...our big and growing government has decided what kind of light bulb we have to buy (compact fluorescent)" = BS.  Our government has done nothing to make us buy compact fluorescent bulbs.  They haven't done a single thing to curb the use of incandescent bulbs.  I need the reader to explain to me precisely what piece of legislation or what regulation they referenced to make this baseless statement.

    "...has told us what kind of car to drive (hybrid, SUV’s are evil)" = BS. Our government has done nothing to force us buy hybrid cars.  They haven't done a single thing to curb the purchase or continuing use of SUV's or any other low fuel efficiency vehicle.  My 15 mpg Jeep has not been confiscated from me.  I need the reader to explain to me precisely what piece of legislation or what regulation they referenced to make this baseless statement.  And don't feed me the Tax Credit for Hybrids because that originated under the prior Congress and Executive administrations.

    " telling us what kind of energy to use (wind & solar) = BS.  Our government has done nothing to force us use wind or solar power.  As a nation, we use just as much Oil, Coal, Nuclear and Natural Gas energy today as we did in the past.  I dare say we use more.  I need the reader to explain to me precisely what piece of legislation or what regulation they
    referenced to make this baseless statement.  Oh yeah, and I'm not buying the Cap and Trade legislation as proof of this.  I need things that are fact... not things that haven't happened yet (and likely won't happen in the current environment.)

    "...what kind of healthcare we are going to have or at least trying to (government run “public option”) = BS.  First of all, the legislation that is in the House and Senate do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING with respect to what KIND of health care we will receive.  It is Health Insurance reform.  Period. It does nothing do force anyone to do anything differently, including which doctors you can see or what procedures you can or cannot undergo.  Read the bills.  I need the reader to explain to me precisely what they refer to in the current legislation to make this baseless statement.

    " much money people can make (limitations on CEO pay)" = Partial BS. Our government has put limitations on CEO pay ONLY in those organizations that were bailed out using OUR money.  Now I'd like to know if your reader is OK with a bailed out CEO being paid a 3.5 Million bonus when it was HIS money who allowed him to retain their job in the first place?  I'll need your reader to explain this one to me as if I'm a second grader, because I'm baffled.

    "...and more."  I hope there's more, because not a SINGLE THING the reader
    listed is true.

    Let's start dealing in the truth, people.

    I’m glad someone wrote this email. I didn’t do a good enough job of being a BS detector yesterday...but sometimes it is even better when someone else does it.
    KC's View: