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    Published on: March 24, 2010

    SAN ANTONIO -- MNB’s “Content Guy” was at the Information Resources Inc. (IRI) 2010 Summit here, and filed the following stream-of-consciousness report...

    8:15 am....Whoever decided to serve smoothies as part of the continental breakfast gets big points. Ice cold, made with blueberries and bananas...and apparently healthy. Nice change of pace...and maybe indicative of the tone that IRI is hoping to set here.

    8:46 am...What is it with good looking women playing violins? As the audience files in, there are bunch of them on stage playing ... and this is the second or third time in the past few months that I’ve been at a conference where the opening act consisted of women dressed all in black playing fiddles...is this some sort of trend that nobody told me about? (Or, more likely, that everybody else knows about but that I missed...)

    8:50 am....Thom Blischok, IRI’s president of Global Innovation and Strategy, takes the stage. He is resplendent in a bright red blaze, white shirt and white tie. If the smoothies and coffee didn’t wake people up, the wardrobe did. But Blischok knows the value of putting on a show...he is overflowing with enthusiasm, and that has both tangible and intangible value.

    He refers to the violinists as the “Innovation Symphony,” and says that they show what can happen if we play different kinds of music. Notes that last year’s Summit in Las Vegas focused on gathering consumer insights that could have a real impact on sales and profits...but that this year, a third “i” has to be added...innovation. “Disruptive thinking,” he calls it. No argument here.

    Blischok also promises a “big announcement.” Hmmmm....

    8:51 am...Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, founder and managing partner of Symphony Technology Group and chairman of IRI. takes the stage. He’s wearing a dark suit.

    The past is past, Wadhwani says, and the industry is dealing with a “far more accelerated rate of change than we’ve ever seen before.” He notes that in the past, the industry has taken certain things for granted. It believed that national brands would always be strong, but the growth of private label has eroded that; it believed that prices could always be raised to mask the impact of a recession but maybe this isn’t true anymore; that promotions could always give sales a lift, but today maybe not so much; and that the first moment of truth is in the store, but the growth of consumer list-making - and shoppers’ fealty to what they write down - suggests that now the first moment of truth is at home.

    Wadhwani also suggests that the change in consumer mindset creates opportunities - because it means that consumers are shopping in more places to get the deals they need, which means that more trips are in play...and if a retailer can grab just one of those trips that it didn’t have before, it can have a real impact on the bottom line. But to do so, he suggests, the industry needs more granular information, a different approach to what he calls “shopper-centric brand management” and a more holistic view of the world in which the consumer lives.

    Interesting numbers. He says that intuitively, one would believe that during a recession, high income shoppers would increase spending, and low-medium income shoppers would decrease...but in 2009 the opposite was true...and spending by “low income, young boomers” went up 12 percent last year. The second fastest growing segment was retirees, who upped their spending by seven percent last year. But who in the retail/CPG business is targeting low-income young boomers and retirees?

    Ah, here’s the “big announcement.”

    Wadhwani says that in recognition of a changed marketplace and evolving needs in the retail and CPG industries, IRI is changing its name to the Symphony IRI Group, to take advantage of the synergies that exist between the various companies that exist under the Symphony Technology Group umbrella. The IRI name, he says, “is brand limiting for us”...the company has to move beyond market measurement to focus more on solutions capabilities...”without taking market measurement and analytics for granted.”

    9:44 am...Blischok retakes the stage. He doesn’t seem perturbed that he’s going to need new business cards. He’s delighting in the change, it seems, and says that “if you believe in status quo, you are in the wrong industries.”

    I don’t think he goes far enough. I would have said that almost no matter what industry you are in, a belief in the status quo is a kind of death sentence.

    9:49 am...Philippe Schaillee, senior vice president and chief marketing offer for Sara Lee, takes the stage. He makes an excellent case for both a more focused approach to brands and a broader consideration of how the consumer spends his or her dollar, using the Jimmy Dean sausage brand as an example. (He explains who Jimmy Dean was/is for the many people in the audience who seem to have no idea. Unfortunately, I remember Jimmy Dean from his performing days...I remember “Big Bad John” and his appearance in the James Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever. I feel old.) Schaillee says that the brand changed its approach to marketing and product development when management realized that Jimmy Dean sausage was only part of .7 percent of breakfast occasions...and that the company had to measure itself not just against other sausage sales, but also against the sale of yogurt, cereal, and waffles, as well as against both all in-home and eat-out breakfast occasions.

    10:33 am...John Freeland, president and CEO of IRI Symphony Group, does a brief bit of proselytizing. No argument here with his comment that the companies quickest to adapt will be the ones that succeed.

    11:01 am...Rick Anicetti, CEO of Delhaize Shared Services, takes the stage.

    The seventies and eighties were a time of “one size fits all...same, same, same...an efficiency machine built on productivity.” The bloom is off that rose, he says.

    Anicetti says that the industry has to have a far more granular in how it approaches information - has to have a better understanding of “trip missions.” To do so, he says, Food Lion has two “lab” stores that it hopes to grow to four by the end of the year...each has more than 100 cameras spread around the store capturing shopper pattern information...using facial recognition software...scoring hundreds of thousands of transactions...and then matching that data up with loyalty card information to get a far more robust view not only of what the customer is doing, but how and why.

    “The noise in the marketplace has become a roar,” he says. “How do we cut through that noise? It cannot be about price alone ... we have to have great customer insights.” He says this will require new tools, and new levels of collaboration between the retailer and vendors. “Traditional category management won’t succeed,” he says.

    Great line: “When I was a store manager, the most sophisticated piece of equipment that I had on my belt was a box cutter.” Times have changed.

    “Vendors must become multi-lingual,” he says. “You have to talk your language and my language...don’t think there is going to be a universal code for this kind of work.”

    And, Anicetti says, “vendors have to talk to me about something other than selling more boxes.”

    11:33...Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” is the final speaker of the morning. The speech is familiar but always worth hearing.

    The central message: “Greatness is a function of conscious choice and discipline...not circumstance ... decline is largely self-inflicted...ascent is largely self-created...

    12:45 pm...While attendees head off to lunch, I’m going to the workshop room where I’m going to prepare for the breakout session where I’m going to speak about the issues raised in our new book, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.”

    Should be fun.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    by Kate McMahon

    One of the hottest clips on YouTube this week strikes close to home. It’s a spoof on classic ‘80s hair metal music videos entitled “My Mom’s On Facebook.”

    That would be me.

    When I informed my teenage daughters last year that I was joining Facebook for professional reasons, they were mortified. I promised I would not “friend their friends” nor “stalk” their Facebook pages. Eventually, albeit a bit reluctantly, they opted to friend me.

    The video “My Mom’s on Facebook” clearly struck a chord with its young target audience and has gone viral, with 576,574 viewings in its first six days on YouTube. Performed by the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe Back of the Class, the raucous parody bills itself as a “hair metal anthem for anyone whose mom is ruining Facebook.”

    ”Facebook used to be a special place for all my college friends … now all my nightmares have come true. My mom just friended me.”

    All joking aside, Mom is on Facebook. So is Dad, and even some tech-savvy grandparents. Yet the myth that Facebook is the domain of the young still persists. And retailers, marketers and service providers who believe that myth are missing opportunities to connect with a huge chunk of the consumer market. Consider the statistics:

    • Facebook has some 400 million active users, up from 50 million in 2007.

    • Some 35.65 million females with children were unique visitors to Facebook in the U.S. in February, about 32% of the site’s U.S. total, according to comScore.

    • More than 40% of Facebook members in the U.S. are age 35 and older, and only 24% of users are 24 and under.

    • The fastest growing group of Facebook joiners is – you guessed it – the aging baby boomers.

    • And while the 18-to-24-year-old set is likely to try the newest, hot-this-second social networking application – last year’s Twitter, this month’s Foursquare – the adults who are joining Facebook are more likely to stick with it.

    So let’s get back to good old Mom, who holds the purse-strings. Forward-thinking advertisers are reaching out to mothers on Facebook. The laundry detergent Tide has more than 458,000 “fans” on its homepage, with dialogue and laundry advice. The Pampers’ site features chatter, tips and product sales, either online or through retail partners ranging from amazon.com to Target, Walmart and ShopRite. Sara Lee Deli recently launched a page with “Mama Saga” videos and solutions to common domestic dilemmas.

    We know the young Mommy Bloggers have become a potent force for making and breaking products through their online endorsements. Smart companies need to act on the reality that even middle-aged moms (like me) are on Facebook and increasingly turning to social networking to shop, compare prices, download online coupons and make major purchases.

    And, hopefully, not mortify their teenagers. Or at least not too much.

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

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    In Massachusetts, the Patriot Ledger reports that faced with an ongoing strike by 300 employees at its Methuen warehouse, Supervalu-owned Shaw’s Supermarkets has informed the union that it plans to hire permanent replacements.

    “The strike is almost three weeks old and we have no idea how long it will last,” Judy Chong, a company spokesperson, tells the paper. “We are certainly disappointed that it has come to this. But we are obligated to protect the business and the livelihoods of the other 25,000 associates who work for us in New England.”

    According to the story, “The workers at the Shaw’s perishable goods warehouse in Methuen have been on strike after they rejected a Shaw’s contract proposal on March 7. The workers’ union, Easton-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791, has also been picketing more than a dozen Shaw’s and Star Market stores since the strike began.”

    The union responded to the new development by calling it a scare tactic, and said that since the two sides have not met since the March 7 rejection, it was hard to understand how negotiations had broken down.
    KC's View:
    BTW...the labor-related moves at Shaw’s apparently aren’t just limited to what’s happening at the warehouse. We’ve been getting a number of emails saying that Supervalu told the staff there yesterday that it will be downsizing full-time staff in its stores by four percent...and that these folks will be out in just a few weeks (though they apparently are being offered the opportunity to be replacement workers at the warehouse...which seems like putting them between a rock and a hard place.)

    First they sell of the Connecticut Shaw’s stores. Now they’re downsizing full-time staff. Clearly this is a time of retrenchment at Shaw’s, and a lot of people believe that Supervalu will sell the whole damn thing sooner rather than later.

    If nothing else, this probably creates opportunities for the chains that compete with Shaw’s, both to acquire new locations and to be even more competitive against a chain that often seems at best mediocre and almost certainly in decline.

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    The New York Times this morning reports that part of the health care legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama yesterday is a requirement that ever big restaurant chain post calorie information on their menus, menu boards and drive-through signs.

    “In other words,” the Times writes, “as soon as 2011 it will be impossible to chomp down on a Big Mac without knowing that it contains over 500 calories, more than a quarter of the Agriculture Department’s 2,000-calorie daily guideline.

    “The legislation also requires labels on food items in vending machines, meaning that anybody tempted by a king-size Snickers bar will know up front that it packs 440 calories. The measure is intended to create a national policy modeled on a requirement that has already taken effect in New York City and was to go into effect in 2011 in places like California and Oregon ... The measure was approved by Congress with little public discussion, in part because restaurant chains supported it. They had spent years fighting such requirements, but they were slowly losing the battle. Confronting a potential patchwork of conflicting requirements adopted by states and cities, they finally asked Congress to create a single national standard.”
    KC's View:
    This is a smart requirement that will be good for people. It doesn’t tell people what they should or should not eat, it does not create taxes on so-called “unhealthy food,” and it doesn’t ban anything. It just gives people complete information. It creates transparency.

    And that is always good.

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    Kroger CEO David Dillon told an investors meeting yesterday that while Walmart may be about to roll back its grocery prices to respond to traffic decreases, he remains confident that his chain will continue to be competitive because 1) it is competitive on price, and 2) offers a better store experience than discounters like Walmart.
    KC's View:
    I was in a Kroger Marketplace store the other day in Ohio, and was blown away. Very cool format...and it struck me as extremely competitive.

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    • Published reports say that Walmart spent almost $1.78 million on lobbying the federal government during the fourth quarter of 2009.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    Interesting piece in USA Today about how “the food and plate sizes in 52 of the most famous paintings of The Last Supper and found that the portion sizes in the paintings have increased dramatically over the past millennium, from years 1000 to 2000 ... Over that 1,000-year period, the main course size increased by 69%, plate size 66% and loaves of bread 23%. The biggest increases in size came after 1500.”
    KC's View:
    This is interesting, but hardly worth categorizing as reflective of the globesity problem.

    The simple fact is that this evolution demonstrates something wonderful about the human condition. As the decades have rolled by, food has generally become more plentiful and cheaper.

    That’s called progress.

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    SlashFood.com reports that a new barcode is being designed that, in addition to providing product and price information, also will let people know how fresh the item is.

    According to the story, the barcode is designed to fade with age, “showing how long it has been in the store and letting both customers and store owners know when produce is past its prime.”
    KC's View:
    This seems like an idea that’s time should have come years ago. Though I have this odd feeling that I’ve heard it before...and will probably have a dozen emails by 11 am telling me where, when and how and why it failed to catch on.

    Published on: March 24, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View: