retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a couple of fast food-related references yesterday...

Fast Company has a terrific little story about how MNB-fave Burgerville, the 39-unit Pacific Northwest fast food chain, has started providing nutritional information on customer receipts. The receipts do not just provide this data about the food people order, but also offers healthier alternatives; if a person orders a milk shake, it lets them know that a smoothie is a tasty but healthier option. A pilot program by Burgerville got such positive response from shoppers that the company is rolling it out chain-wide this week.

USA Today reports that KFC is on the verge of selling its 10 millionth Double Down - the bacon and cheese sandwich that is surrounded by chicken breasts instead of bread, the fried version of which has 540 calories, 32grams of fat, and 1,380 milligrams of salt. This success means that KFC will make the Double Down a permanent part of its menu; originally, it was scheduled to go off the menu on Sunday.

The company says that the Double Down is one of its most successful product launches.

On this latter story, I commented:

Clearly, Americans have spoken. It may be fat Americans with high blood pressure and bloated cholesterol levels, but they get a voice, too.

There may be wailing and gnashing of teeth in the health care and nutritionists communities, but KFC shareholders are going to be happy, and the chain’s executives have to feel like they are sitting pretty.

You can’t stop companies from selling crap like this. You can’t stop people from eating crap like this. Nor should we.

Though it seems entirely reasonable to me that it is appropriate public policy to insist that KFC and its brethren inform people about the product’s calories, fat and sodium levels. And it seems like appropriate private policy for companies to insist that people who eat in such a way that their health is negatively affected should pay more for health insurance. People need to have a level of personal responsibility...and they need to have the data so they can make informed choices.

For me, the assiduous responsibility of a company like Burgerville is far more attractive than the practices of KFC. Even more important, Burgerville’s food is a lot better. No contest.

Lots of comments on these stories...

One MNB user wrote:

You amaze me with your directness lately... “Clearly, Americans have spoken. It may be fat Americans….” You are the Joan Rivers of the Grocery Food business.

BTW…maybe you could petition to get this added to that bill you’d like to see passed on government/child obesity issues…or maybe a new law like the one for establishments that serve alcohol (Dram Shop Law or Common Negligence)-if you are a fat American, a restaurant should have the right to refuse to sell you items that will only make you fatter…and then maybe if the restaurant doesn’t do this, the fat American with high cholesterol can sue the chain or the family can hold the restaurant liable in the event of a fatal disease….oops, maybe you can do that all ready?

Smoking is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the country, accounting for about 440,000 deaths annually. Obesity is #2. Maybe we can force food service companies to put warning labels on the food. Imagine going into KFC and getting your Double Down wrapped in paper that says “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Eating this food may cause (or aggravate many pre-existing conditions), such as hypertension and elevated cholesterol. It may contain capsaicin which is known to stimulate the brain to release pain killers called endorphins. The release of this chemical creates the feeling of euphoria, or a natural high. Do not operate heavy machinery or drive within 2 hours of ingestion”.

Joan Rivers? Oooohhh.....that stings.

I’m just trying to keep the conversation lively.

MNB user Brian List wrote:

Not that I’m a big fan of KFC (I actually never eat there) but I did a quick comparison with a Burgerville Chicken sandwich with the double down. Both of these companies’ menu and nutrition facts are found within 2 clicks from a Google search.

KFC Double Down: 540 calories, 32 fat grams, 10 sat. fat grams, 1380 salt.

Burgerville Crispy Chicken Sandwich: 600 calories, 30 fat grams, 9 sat. fat grams, 1360 salt.

Pretty similar comparison, though you call the double down ‘crap.’ And again, I really do not like KFC’s food, but I think you’re throwing them under the bus a little bit here. I understand (and agree with) your argument about company nutrition transparency, but as I said earlier both nutrition facts were found with ease.  One of the reasons I stopped eating at Chili's for lunch was when I looked and found out what I thought was a reasonably ‘healthy’ chicken sandwich had 1,000 calories and 120% of my daily sodium intake for the day.  Take a look at that menu when you get a chance, its pretty shocking.

Fair point. Though I’m sort of in the grilled chicken-no fries-fat-free yogurt smoothies stage of my life, and would avoid that crispy chicken stuff.

Another MNB user wrote:

Perhaps, just perhaps…KFC knows its target market.

Me, I have not eaten in a “fast-food” restaurant (including Burgerville) since reading Fast Food Nation…You gotta know, passing a Burgerville each day on my way home from work, reading the street side menu board which talks about Northwest Blackberry or Oregon strawberry shakes…Walla Walla sweet onion rings…Tillamook Cheeseburgers®…makes it VERY hard to stick to my principles.

I do love the Tillamook Cheeseburgers ... the cheese makes it. You have greater discipline than I do.

Another MNB user wrote:

Not that you need to reprint this, this is more of a "Kevin made me think & research and now I need to tell him" thing. But because of your piece, I did go to the KFC website to "see" the Double Down (because of DVR - I really don't watch commercials anymore). Right underneath the picture and video of the "sandwich" there is a grid that gives the nutritional information. And it's not a tiny-impossible-to-read-microscopic grid either. I certainly am not pro-Double Down - I think it's a heart attack waiting to happen, but KFC is not hiding the fact that it isn't any good for you either. Just being somewhat fair.

Here's a question - do you suppose that even though nutritional information is becoming more readily available, a large population of consumers don't understand what that means? For example, the DD from KFC is 530 calories. Is it possible that many people wouldn't understand that this is about a third (generalizing) of their TOTAL DAILY calories? Or that it has almost ALL of your daily sodium allowance in ONE SANDWICH? Maybe this all comes down to education. Or denial...but that would be the cynical take...right?

I absolutely believe that most people have no sense of context when it comes to nutritional information.

MNB user Anne Maas seems to agree:

Wow - 10 million Double Downs. This just demonstrates the need to further educate the American public about proper nutrition and how it relates to their health. I agree that people should be allowed the choice to eat foods that are bad for them, but I don't feel that simply posting the calorie, fat and sodium counts to aid them in their choices is enough. Don't get me wrong - I'm happy to see that progress, but the numbers are not registering. People need to better understand that one Double Down eats up one third to one half of a day's worth of calories, more than half the recommended daily intake of fat, and close to a day's worth of sodium (numbers vary depending on gender, age, etc.)

I've had many conversations with individuals about nutrition and food choices. When I've pointed out the number of fat grams in a single serving of an item, I have often times been asked "is that a lot?" The same question was asked whether it were 2 grams of fat or 35 grams of fat. The numbers need to be included in a context that actually makes sense to the average Joe.

MNB user Peggy Long wrote:

Just yesterday I stopped at a Burgerville for lunch.  Whenever possible, I'll stop at Burgerville when I'm in Portland,. Oregon (live 5 hours away from the closest BV).  They always have incredible food options, but I'm the most excited when they start offering their fresh berry smoothies!  So I pulled in and ordered a large strawberry smoothie thinking that, even though it was a large and I could probably get by with a regular, since I don't get to have their great fast food very often, I'd treat myself.

Needless to say I was shocked at the nutritional information.  And, I'd been pretty pleased that I ordered the smoothie instead of the milkshake.  Here is what my receipt said:

“1 large fresh strawberry smoothie, calories 640.  That was over 30% of my daily calorie intake.  Fiber was 2 grams, fat was 0 grams and carbs was 139 grams.”

Needless to say, it put a major damper on my enjoyment, but I still give kudos to BV for letting consumers know and understand the nutritional values of the food we eat.  My takeaway:  1) I'm glad I live so far away as I'd order way too many fresh fruit smoothies during  the summer and fall.  2) next time I'll still treat myself, but will limit my order to regular instead of large smoothies.  3) I'll continue to order only fresh fruit smoothies and not their great burgers or halibut fish and chips.  Sometimes you just have to sacrifice the 'healthy' and treat yourself!  At least at BV the treat is always tasty and now you know what you're eating!

This may be the part of my standard message that most people miss:

There’s nothing wrong with indulgence!

Another MNB user wrote:

You need to lay off the Double Down. While I’ve never tried it, I do think it sounds DELICIOUS.

Yesterday, MNB referenced a Marketing Daily report that Walmart has “announced another round of deep price rollbacks on 22 favorite foods and everyday items, slashing an additional 30% off these products, citing evidence that its core customer is still feeling pinched by the economy. It says its research has found that mothers across the U.S. continue to worry about finances, with 75% searching for dollar-stretching deals.”

Walmart, which says that the new rollbacks are “the most significant rollbacks in the company's history,” estimates that “the reductions will save the average Walmart grocery shopper an additional $28 each week,” according to Marketing Daily.

My comment:

Maybe I’m wrong about this, but... In a lot of ways, I really like the new Walmart commercials about its rollback program. But in the back of my mind, every time I see one (which is often - they are ubiquitous) it occurs to me that Walmart’s entire value proposition was based on always having the lowest prices. When it says that it is rolling back those prices, isn’t it conceding - at some level - that the prices previously were not as low as they could have been.

One MNB user wrote:

Could not agree with you more in the view that Wal-Mart’s price cuts must be from a price level that should not have been that high.  In fact, every time that a merchant claims widespread price cuts, I wonder whether they will give me a refund for the higher price that I paid last week.

Another MNB user apparently did not think I was critical enough:

Ok, most of the time when you go on about Wal-Mart I just let it go. This time…no.  Not too long ago in my local Wal-Mart I was looking for rubber bark mulch.  They had it last season.   When I found the pallet I noticed that the price was up considerably.  Several days later inside the store in the garden department was a stack of the same with a roll back sign.  The sign stated that it was $15.00 and now it was $10.00.  Interesting because I went home and checked my receipt and it said $10.00.  Maybe it was $15.00 for a day I don’t’ know.  I am not that charitable when it comes to Wal-Mart though.  I will only shop there when I can’t find it anywhere else.  There is a desire to rant but that would not be productive so that’s it.

MNB user Chelle Blaszczyk wrote:

As I was out in the retail market today, I looked at Wal Mart for purple (lilac) nail polish. I saw it shown in a magazine as one of the new Spring/Summer things to brighten up your nails.

Okay, so now, not that lilac nail polish is highly critical to anyone's business, but what I found to me explains the difference between Wal Mart and Target. At Wal Mart, I had a hard time finding purple nail polish, let alone lilac nail polish. At Target, the purple nail polish was on an endcap with many of the companies having many different shades of purple nail polish for me and I did find a lilac nail polish at Target.

So to me the difference between Wal Mart and Target is that if I want to find something that is new and trendy, I'm not going to find it at Wal Mart; if I'm looking for the best price on a basic, I will find it at Wal Mart.

Just a small lesson in retailing, but never the less, an important lesson for Wal Mart to learn if they are going to compete as the economy recovers...

Thanks for my daily dose of retailing; I enjoy your insights and I also enjoy the comments from other readers who don't agree with you.

Me, too.
KC's View: