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    Published on: May 11, 2010

    Now available on iTunes…

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    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MNB Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design. This special Tuesday edition of MNB Radio is being posted from Las Vegas...


    Baseball, as the late, great Robert B. Parker once said, “is the most important thing that doesn’t matter.” It also is true that baseball serves as a great metaphor for so many things. in our book, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies,” Michael Sansolo and I cite baseball moves that include Bull Durham and A League Of Their Own as offering wonderful examples of business behavior and attitudes to emulate and avoid.

    So it makes sense that a piece that former major league outfielder Doug Glanville wrote recently for the New York Times website would have some resonance for me. (BTW...you should check out Glanville’s regular columns on the Times “Opinionator” site - as a writer, he’s got really good stuff.)

    This particular piece, entitled “Too Much Information,” looks at the ways in which scouting has changed over the years, and the impact that these advances have had on player performance. Here’s part of what Glanville writes:

    “When I first arrived in the minor leagues, we studied our opponents by using our eyes and sharing information. When I reached the majors, the VCR was our friend — we watched hours of video in search of any pattern or tip that might give us some advantage. It took an inordinate amount of time to fast-forward or rewind to that key moment you needed to see, but at least we had a tool. Hopefully there was no rain delay that day or there would be a lot of fast-forwarding through static-filled screens. With those VCRs, patience was not only a virtue but a necessity. Then again, I am sure the generation before me would say the same thing. If it hadn’t been captured on 8mm film, it was hearsay and storytelling that supplied the information.

    “Today, with the massive possibilities of computers, scouting a player has taken a giant leap. There are cameras everywhere that can break down speed, swings, sequences, all at the touch of a button. (For better or worse, this also gives millions of people the ability to analyze every tidbit and then form their own opinion.) Now, not only can I tell you what Jamie Moyer will throw you, I can tell you when, and what he does to tip it off, and how he performs during day games, maybe even factor in how someone just tweeted that Jamie’s breakfast this morning didn’t agree with his stomach.”

    Not only can players assess other players, but they also can analyze their own performances to a far greater degree - looking at their swings, for example, over and over and over. This probably leads some players to be better hitters, but other players to become adrift in a sea of too much information.

    And this, finally, is Glanville’s big point. Again, in his words:

    “We know more, and we know it sooner. And the better players know what information to keep — and use to formulate a plan — and what to throw out.

    “But when all is said and done, if you don’t have instincts for what is happening, a perpetual stream of information just becomes a time-stealing vortex, and useless at best — even though you may know a lot more than you did when you started studying.”

    That’s the business metaphor.

    Even as you listen to or read this commentary, there are people here in Las Vegas, walking the floor of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) show, or attending general sessions or workshops, looking for information, looking for an edge. Or, they are back home in their offices, pouring over data, or making deals to accumulate even more data, so that performances of people and stores and products and categories can be analyzed down to the nth degree.

    But let me repeat Glanville’s admonition:

    “But when all is said and done, if you don’t have instincts for what is happening, a perpetual stream of information just becomes a time-stealing vortex, and useless at best — even though you may know a lot more than you did when you started studying.”

    He was writing about baseball, but he could have been writing about retailing, or virtually any other kind of business. And while he specifically refers to “instinct,” I’d be willing to bet that he would also classify passion as a major factor in getting it right.

    Sure, information is important. But it is no replacement for loving what you do, and developing an instinct for it. It is no replacement for prowling the aisles, or talking to customers, for being the shopper in a way that transcends mere data.

    After all, as they say in Bull Durham, “Baseball is a simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

    Think about it.

    For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    LAS VEGAS -- The 2010 Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Show began in Las Vegas yesterday with a presentation by Dr. Stephen R. Covey, in which the author of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” offered thoughts about how the workforce has changed since the Industrial Age, and how leaders need to adjust their approach - dealing with people as assets instead of as expenses.

    Cover referred to the shift as the “whole person paradigm,” and said that in the current Knowledge Worker Age leaders are responsible for unleashing talent rather than controlling behavior; reflecting moral authority rather than formal authority; creating a complementary team rather than a boss-centered enterprise; fostering internal rather than external motivation from associates; and a workplace in which there is a cultural responsibility for the business rather than just boss-owned responsibility.

    Such an approach, Cover said, goes a long way toward a distinctive, differentiated and sustainable workplace.

    In other FMI News...

    • FMI introduced a carbon calculator for its members developed by Verisae, a global leader in sustainability resource planning. The calculator is available free on FMI’s website, accessible only to members. Using the FMI Carbon Calculator, retailers can measure their company’s carbon footprint, establish a baseline, and learn the potential savings if they institute programs to reduce energy use.

    “This extremely useful resource will help retailers learn their company’s impact on the environment and measure progress as they implement sustainability programs. We appreciate Verisae providing this calculator at a time when the industry is focusing intensely on these issues,” said FMI president/CEOLeslie G. Sarasin.

    • FMI, the American Meat Institute (AMI) and the United Fresh Produce Association (United Fresh) announced the co-location of their trade shows – the FMI Exhibit and Education Event, the AMI International Meat Poultry and Seafood Convention and Exposition, and United Fresh – beginning in 2012 at the Dallas Convention Center in Dallas, Texas.

    The AMI Expo will be held April 30-May 3, 2012, and the FMI Exhibit and Education Event and United Fresh will be held May 1-3, 2012.  The three associations said that the “shows will offer their own exhibit halls, as well as unique education programming for their own attendees.  The partners will explore potential joint programming and networking events.”

    • FMI announced the election of two new vice chairmen - David Ball, president and CEO of Ball’s Price Chopper/Hen House Markets, who will serve as vice chairman of independent retailers and wholesalers, and Steven A. Burd, chairman/president/CEO of Safeway, who will serve as vice chairman of finance.

    In addition, FMI named five new members of its board of directors: Jim Donald, president/CEO of Haggen, Inc.; Dennis Eidson, president/CEO of Spartan Stores; Joey Hays, owner and president of five Tennessee supermarkets under the Food Rite banner; Tom Heinen, president and COO of Heinen’s Fine Foods; and Steve Junqueiro, president of California’s Save Mart Supermarkets.
    KC's View:
    On a personal note, Michael Sansolo and I were thrilled last night to host what turned out to be a fun party at Margaritaville on the Strip, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Diversey, RBS and TCC Retail Marketing. The margaritas were cold, and cheeseburgers, conch fritters, nachos and coconut shrimp delicious...and the conversation sparkling. We think that everybody had plenty to eat and drink...and we know that everybody walked away with a signed copy of our book, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.”

    To check out pictures from the party, check out our Facebook page .

    And one other note...

    If you are going to be at the FMI show in Las Vegas, I hope you’ll stop by and say hi - I’ll be at the MyWebGrocer booth (#2243) on this afternoon from 2-3 pm, and Michael Sansolo will be there tomorrow at the same time.

    Plus, we’ll be wandering the floor both together and separately...Michael will be wearing a suit, and I’ll be in jeans, sneakers and a Hawaiian shirt.

    As always, we love putting faces and voices with the names and opinions that we exchange on the site and via email, and we hope to see you.

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    There has been a lot of discussion here on MNB in recent days about social media, and specifically how Procter & Gamble was facing off with a flare up of criticism of its new Dry Max diapers, which some parents were saying on Facebook and other social media sites were giving their kids rashes.

    Advertising Age has a terrific piece detailing how P&G dealt with the controversy. Some excerpts:

    “The reality is that P&G, while trying to play it cool publicly, has been focused fairly intently on the burgeoning blowup since late last year. ‘We've been having daily 7 a.m. conference calls among all the functions every morning, including weekends, about this since we got the first inkling,’ Jodi Allen, VP-North American baby care told Ad Age between one of two TV interviews she did May 7 with TV stations from Indianapolis and Columbus.

    “Any critics who think P&G isn't listening to the consumer complaints might be surprised to see how intently it is. Four or so employees are regularly stationed in the brand's listening post ... monitoring and categorizing new Facebook posts and other social-media chatter. Ms. Allen, who used to read through verbatims from the brand's call center weekly, said she now does so daily.”

    “Whereas the company's most recent communications on the matter acknowledged parents' concerns while stressing the product's safety, the company's new tact was to take a tougher tone. The new statement referred to social-media complaints of diaper rashes from Dry Max as ‘completely false rumors’ from ‘a small group of parents,’ some of whom ‘have specifically sought to promote the myth that our product causes 'chemical burns.'"

    “Balancing the risk that the tougher tone will further anger critics on Facebook is the fact that, as Mr. McCleary (Bryan McCleary, external relations director for North American Baby Care at P&G) said, nothing the company has done so far has helped much there. The company heeded advice to engage critics, he said, which didn't help -- at least not within Facebook -- although a company comment on a Consumerist message section did seem to improve the tone of commentary there.”

    “At any given time, 250,000 U.S. babies have diaper rash, Ms. Allen said. But P&G has gotten only two reports for every million among the 2 billion Dry Max diapers it's sold so far. While it's not dispatching teams to every home that reports a rash, P&G is doing extensive follow-up calls when it gets complaints and inviting some parents to visit a pediatrician on the company's dime to explore the problems.”
    KC's View:
    It is worth reading the whole story. Click here .

    My goal in this whole social media discussion has been simply to make the point that the people using its various venues to communicate ideas and positions cannot and should not be ignored. It doesn’t mean these folks are always right...or wrong. But it is a force with which businesses must reckon, and must take seriously. See our next story...

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    Procter & Gamble may be be less than enthralled with the downside of social media, but USA Today reports on how some major brands are using the technology to get the word out about their offerings.

    “Instead of mixing traditional and non-traditional media,” the paper writes, “they're focusing very targeted promotions via Twitter, Facebook or even Foursquare on a small number of consumers who they hope will reward them with social buzz.

    “American Express is doing it with the cult hit TV show Glee via Twitter. Papa John's is using its Facebook page to prompt fans to create, name and earn a slice of profits from the sales of a consumer-designed pizza. And Pepsi, which shook Madison Avenue by spurning the Super Bowl for social media, has asked Mountain Dew's Facebook fans to help it create, name and market a new Dew ... if this is the future of how marketers reach their targets, it could affect every advertiser, agency and media format. For now, most advertisers prefer to mix traditional with non-traditional formats. Even then, some are using social media exclusively for specific promos.”
    KC's View:
    Some critics say - and they’re right - that one of the challenges of social media is that there can be more noise than substance...and that it can be hard to cut through all the clutter. All true.

    But a canny and targeted use of social media by marketers can be highly effective.

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    The Christian Science Monitor reports today that “the recall of romaine lettuce sold under the Freshway and Imperial Sysco names across the US points to the need for better food safety regulations and new legislation, but it is also focusing attention on America’s strong record.

    An E. coli outbreak possibly linked to tainted lettuce has reportedly sickened 19 in Ohio, New York, and Michigan, with cases reported on three college campuses. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is focusing investigation on lettuce grown in Arizona, according to the food safety advocacy group Safe Tables our Priority.

    “The outbreak – and the resulting concern about what is and isn’t safe to eat – has some focusing on the progress made in food safety, rather than on fears.

    “‘When you consider the macro view – the amount of food we process from farms to stores to stomachs daily to over 300 million people – I am frankly amazed at the limited number of recalls and sickness,’ says Greg Bonner, chair of the department of marketing and business law at the Villanova School of Business. ‘That is the reason why these outbreaks get so much attention when they do happen,’ he says.

    “A lot of progress has been achieved since the last reports of salmonella and E coli in 2007, say other experts. Farm groups, agricultural collectives, transportation firms, and processing plants have implemented voluntary regulations on cleanliness.”
    KC's View:
    I’m happy to go with the “always look on the bright side of life” perspective. But it has to be acknowledged that consumer trust continues to be eroded...and that the food industry needs to take steps to reverse this trend and effectively communicate with consumers.

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    The Charlotte Observer has a nice interview with Cathy Green, who recently has ascended to the presidency of Delhaize-owned Food Lion, which is facing economic and competitive challenges in the southeastern US.

    Some excerpts:

    • “The most important thing I had my eye on was our price positioning, especially given the economic situation. (Price) is now number one in the consumer's mind. To answer that need in the marketplace was my top priority ... We have a price position, (but) there's three elements for us. To work to be the low-price leader. Convenience - we have a lot of stores (and) they're just not as large as some of the big box stores, so you can get in and out more quickly. The other thing I would say is that...we want to be so ingrained in the community that people think about us first.”

    • “We can hold our ground and continue to grow it. We have a lot of stores in an area like Charlotte, and we are in a lot of rural markets as well. That provides us the opportunity to connect differently than some of the larger boxes. Developing that relationship with the customer, so that our customers become loyalists and ultimately advocates for our brand, is critical. There's huge power in that. Honestly, that is the only thing that a grocery store or a retailer can own, the relationship with the customer.”

    • “I think (the economy is) still difficult, which is why lowering prices is so critical for us right now. The shift in behaviors is continuing: The use of coupons, the use of shopping lists, all of us trying to really stretch meals to last, eating leftovers. I'd love to believe that we're starting to see some type of comeback, but for me it's too early to tell.”
    KC's View:
    I have immense respect for Cathy Green, and think that she is the perfect leader for Food Lion - smart, dynamic and intimately connected to the shopper’s needs and desires. She’s going to be great...

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    The Austin Business Journal reports that HE Butt’s opening of a new. limited assortment/discount format - Joe V’s Smart Shop - has drawn the attention of Trader Joe’s which has sent HEB “a letter telling it to immediately cease and desist its use of the word ‘Joe’ and threatened to ‘pursue any and all available legal remedies’ if those demands were not met ... While Trader Joe’s alleges the new name will cause confusion among the consuming public, HEB is asking a federal judge to give it a green light to use the new name, according to records.”

    Trader Joe’s does not currently have stores in Texas. The Journal writes that “the cease-and-desist ultimatum could signal that Texas is in its sights, or it could signal that HEB isn’t to be taken lightly, even if a chain doesn’t compete next door.”
    KC's View:
    Give me a break.

    Next thing you know, they’ll want “Morning Joe” to change its name because there might be confusion between the show’s political discussions and any possible in-the-future TV advertising that the chain might do.

    This just seems silly, especially because there are no announced plans for Trader Joe’s to enter Texas.

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    • Safeway Inc. announced the promotion of Kelly Griffith, the company’s President and General Manager, Perishables, to the role of President, Merchandising, reporting to Diane Dietz, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. Griffith will oversee the company's entire perishable and non-perishable business units including grocery, general merchandise, produce, meat, seafood, bakery, food service, and floral.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    Yesterday, I referred to “the $3 billion acquisition of Ukrop’s by Ahold,” which clearly was an imprecise figure.

    The actual price of the acquisition: $140 million.

    Apologies for the mistake. I have no idea what I was thinking.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    ... will be posted on Thursday this week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 11, 2010

    ...will return. (Our Margaritaville party went late last night...)
    KC's View: