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    Published on: April 30, 2010

    The Financial Times has an interesting piece about the new marketing promotion developed by Walmart-owned Asda Group in the UK, in which it made an “Asda Price Guarantee” that it says insures that “it cannot, and will not, be beaten on price.” According to the announcement, “The launch of the Asda Price Guarantee heralds the official end of the grocery price war between all the major supermarkets, and covers over 13,000 branded and own brand products, and items on promotion.”

    According to the story, the promotion embraces the internet’s ability to provide price transparency, allowing “customers to use the internet to compare what they spent at its store against the same purchases at its main competitors, which include Tesco, the largest UK grocer, Sainsbury and William Morrison. The retailer said it will issue printed coupons from its website to cover the difference in any case where customers find they could have spent less elsewhere.” FT says that it is believed to be “the first time a retailer has chosen to work with one of the internet-based price-comparison engines that have been seen as a potential threat to their traditional business model.”

    The software enabling the Asda offer comes from a UK company called
    KC's View:
    One of the experts interviewed by FT says that this is the kind of “shocking disruption” that can make a real difference in how shoppers make decisions about which stores to patronize. At this point, we’re all pretty used to all the ads and commercials and promotions that promise this and that...but this is the kind of innovation that can be an attention-grabber.

    Question one: How does Tesco respond?

    Question two: How low can prices go?

    Question three: At what point does Walmart bring this technology to the US?

    BTW...this same kind of technology is available on some cell phones, using a bar code to identify what stores are selling a specific product in an area and for how much. But most retailers view this as a kind of nightmare...even as Walmart/Asda embraces it.

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    The New York Times reports on a company called Foursquare, that is using an online network connected to people’s smart phones to inform its clients - including PepsiCo, Starbucks, Macy’s and Tasti-D-Lite - when registered shoppers are near a either a specific store or a store that sell the client’s product. Those shoppers can then be sent an email or text message reflecting a specific deal, reward or discount.

    According to the Times, “the location-based opportunity is particularly big for consumer packaged goods brands like Pepsi. Those brands market their product heavily, but they depend on drugstores or restaurants to actually get consumers into stores. With Foursquare and apps that track consumers’ locations, Pepsi can strike a deal directly with the consumer.”

    The Times says that Pepsi’s Foursquare program will begin in June, and it is anticipated that “when a Foursquare user is near a Pepsi retailer, an offer to enroll the person in a Pepsi rewards system will appear. Once people are enrolled, whenever they check in at a grocery store or drugstore selling Pepsi, they will accumulate rewards points or badges that they can redeem for products or offers or donate toward charities.” The Times writes, “Foursquare is sort of a social application meets game. Its members press a button upon arriving at various locations to ‘check in,’ letting them accumulate points — they compete to be ‘mayor’ of a certain site, or the person with the most check-ins at that site, and can unlock badges for completing certain activities.”

    “It gives us immediate feedback for what’s going on in the marketplace,” Margery Schelling, chief marketing officer of PepsiCo Foodservice, tells the Times. “That’s invaluable.”
    KC's View:
    This is a very interesting idea. But I do not think I will be signing up. I simply hate the idea of dumbing down my smart phone with clutter. Which is what all this kind of stuff runs the risk of becoming.

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    In California, the Press Enterprise has an interview with Stater Bros. CEO Jack Brown, who talks about the chain’s current strategy of building customer count even if profits don’t go up.

    “Last quarter we just barely made a profit,” Brown says. “But that is OK. As long as we pay all our bills we can hold out ... our customer counts have gone up. From January through March of this year we served 500,000 more customers than during the same months last year.

    “What I am gambling on is when this is over and they all go back to work maybe half will remember who took care of them when they needed it.”
    KC's View:
    Seems to me that this is a pretty good bet. And I like the way Brown has a long-term view, and does not seem too-focused on short-term tactics at the expense of an extended strategy.

    There is one other quote in the story that I find interesting. At one point, Brown says, “Here at Stater Bros. 90 percent of our staff started by bagging groceries and worked their way up. It is a long process but a steady process.”

    Now, that’s an admirable approach in a lot of ways. But it also occurs to me that such an approach runs the risk of creating a culture that is so cemented and traditional that it is hard to change with the times or recognize some of the challenges and opportunities that merge in the marketplace.

    I’m not saying that this is happening at Stater Bros. But fresh blood, young blood, sometimes is necessary to shake things up a bit. If a company is going to have a culture in which nine out of 10 executives start as baggers, it also needs to have a culture in which people are encouraged to think outside the box, to question decisions and strategies, and not to fear for their jobs if they engage in non-traditional thinking.

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    The Coca-Cola Co. has installed 35 new climate friendly vending machines in the US Capitol building, described as being hydro-fluorocarbon-free (HFC-free) and featuring a natural refrigerant gas that substantially reduces direct green house gas emissions by 99 percent. The House of Representatives is said to be the first location in the US to feature Coca-Cola’s new HFC-free vending machines.

    Coca-Cola North America said that it will install more than 400 HFC-free vending machines and coolers in locations throughout the U.S. in 2010.
    KC's View:
    Now that Coke has installed gas-free vending machines in the Capitol building, maybe the next thing we could go for is a gas bag-free Capitol building.

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    Reuters reports that Walmart has promised to “implement additional beef safety measures to protect customers against food-borne illnesses ... Suppliers who do not operate slaughter houses must comply with the new standard by June 2011, while beef slaughterhouse suppliers would have a two-step approach, with the first step to be completed by June 2011 and the second by June 2012, Wal-Mart said.”

    According to the retailer, it will work with suppliers to make sure that the new food safety measures are implemented without any additional cost to shoppers.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) said yesterday that it has hired Kelly Ripa, of “Live with Regis and Kelly” to be the TV and radio spokesperson for what it calls “the most comprehensive price reduction program in the history of A&P.”

    Ron Marshall, the retailer’s president/CEO, said in a prepared statement, "Kelly personifies the A&P brand, as she shares our same dedication to family, quality and integrity.  She grew up in our neighborhoods and she's warmly welcomed into our homes every morning.  Kelly was the only person that I considered to inform our valued customers of this exciting new program."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    The Chicago Sun Times reports on the trade show run by the National Automatic Merchandising Association currently taking place at the city’s McCormick Place convention center, with several notable vending innovations:

    • “Branded Vending Concepts' new Quaker Oatmeal on the Go machine provides hot oatmeal with up to two toppings per serving.”

    • “Del Monte's machine sells fresh vegetables and fruits, including whole bananas. Sealed packaging slows down the ripening process to keep the fruit yellow up to five days.”

    • “Coke is testing a touchscreen machine that provides nutritional information about the vended drinks.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that Supervalu recently held a contest among its employees to create new flavors for its private brand Stone Ridge Creamery ice cream line - and the result is that three staffers “will see their fantasy ice cream flavors - and their own faces - in supermarket aisles across the country.”

    According to the story, “The three flavors, each featuring a caricature of the winning employee on their cartons, are now in freezers at Supervalu stores, including Cub Foods in Minnesota.”

    The three flavors are retail technology specialist Tom Lindberg's "Twisted Pretzel," Eden Prairie senior business support specialist Amy Youngblood's "Red Velvet Cake" and Chula Vista, Calif., direct store delivery receiver Joe Agrusa's "Italian Kiss."
    KC's View:
    I love this idea.

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    • Trader Joe’s has announced that it will open a store in Omaha, its first in Nebraska...responding at least in part to a Facebook campaign called “Bring Trader Joe's to Omaha, Nebraska”.

    • In Canada, Sudbury Northern Life reports that Loblaw is engaged in a debate with organized labor over its closure of the National Grocers warehouse. According to the story, the 107 employees who were laid off when the facility was closed for just under two month’s notice and what the union says is the lowest legally allowable severance payments (capped at $26,000), while management was paid “enhanced” severance, with some getting as much as $75,000.

    The union is prodding local elected officials to ask Loblaw to improve the severance payments to the rank-and-file.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2010

    The New York Times had a piece earlier this week about how members of the US military have developed an unhealthy addiction to Power Point, using the presentation software to illustrate plans, projections, strategies and tactics. The problem, some say, is that it oversimplifies issues and problems that should not be reduced to a slide, graphic or pie chart.

    “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” says Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

    Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps is even more blunt: “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” he tells the Times.

    Not everyone agrees. The story says that “Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting through some PowerPoint briefings is ‘just agony,’ nonetheless likes the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends. He has also conducted more than a few PowerPoint presentations himself.”

    And there seems to be a general consensus that there are certain times when Power Point is effective: “Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters. The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations ... are known as ‘hypnotizing chickens’.”

    That’s pretty funny.

    However, there are some important lessons here. Speaking as someone who does presentations for a living - though I use Keynote, which is the Mac software vastly superior to Power Point - as well as someone who has sat through countless presentations over the years, I know the pitfalls and the advantages of such software.

    I have a couple of rules that I try to abide by...

    1. The pictures are there to supplement the speech, not replicate it.
    2. The idea is to give the audience something to look at other than me.
    3. Simplicity is key. One vivid picture and one or two words is best.
    Visual jokes work. I like to do the set up verbally, then put up a graphic or photo as a punch line.
    Never, never, never utter the following phrase about a graphic: “I know you can’t read this but...” If the audience cannot read it, the graphic has no business being on-screen.
    6. Every slide should move the narrative along.
    7. The story has to work...even if the projector breaks.

    The BBC reports that a new Harvard Medical School study suggests that if a person naps after learning something, it actually makes it easier to commit to to memory. The study results reveal that while people are asleep, their brains tend to work on making connections and processing links relevant to the information they’ve just learned.

    I love this study.

    Though, as an inveterate napper, I keep thinking that I should be a lot smarter than I am.

    There was an interesting interview on “Morning Joe” the other day with Christine Lagarde, the French economy and finance minister of France, who was speaking about the financial troubles in the EU. She made a broad point that caught my attention, that there is a difference between transparency and clarity - transparency is just endless information, while clarity reflects a sense of ordered information priorities. The former is good, but the latter is better, she said...and I think that is an excellent point:

    Transparency is never a substitute for clarity.

    It may not last. It probably won’t last. But it is completely unexpected, and so I need to utter a phrase that is utterly delicious.

    “First-place New York Mets.”

    One of the realities of the Mets’ current hot streak is this. Just as they were not as bad as they looked during the first 10 days of the season, they are not as good as they’ve looked over the past 10 days.

    But the last 10 days sure have been a helluva lot more fun to watch.

    HealthDay News reports on a new study from the American Society for Nutrition, saying that “eating a Mediterranean diet may help keep your brain healthy as you age,” and that “adults over age 65 should look to include more olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their diet in order to improve their recall times and other cognitive skills, such as identifying symbols and numbers.”

    I’m not 65 yet. But pass the seeds. It’ll be here before I know it.

    Two wines of the week: the 2008 La Cana Albarino and the 2008 Raimat Albarino. They are both excellent and affordable examples of albarino, which is one of my favorite white wines - cold and crisp and especially good when served with spicy seafood.


    Finally, a personal note. Twenty-seven years ago tomorrow, I got married to a woman who would later become known as Mrs. Content Guy, a woman who has had to put up with more nonsense than any adult should have to tolerate. She’s stuck around...she’s been patient and understanding and encouraging - which is more than an overgrown kid like me deserves.

    So, Happy Anniversary, Mrs. Content Guy.

    That’s it for this week. See you Monday.

    KC's View: