retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    There is a new study out about smartphone usage, reporting that:

    •Twenty-two percent of consumers use their phone to check prices, compared with 16 percent in 2009;

    • Twenty-one percent of Web-enabled phone owners use their phone to research products, compared with 16 percent in 2009;

    • Nineteen percent of consumers use their phone to browse for products, compared with 14 percent in 2009;

    • Fifty-three percent of online consumers own a smartphone or other Web-enabled phone;

    • Ownership of 3G-compatible Web-enabled phones has grown from 48 percent to 64 percent in the past year.

    The study was conducted by, a division of Experian, and specifically reflected behavior between March 26 and April 12, 2010.
    KC's View:
    The study is just a snapshot, a moment in time, but the message here seems pretty simple - mobile technology makes it easier for people to check prices, research products, and buy the things they want.

    The trend is only going to continue, and the numbers are only going to grow. For retailers to be relevant, they need to figure out where they fit on this continuum, and begin planning for as future in which they will communicate with their shoppers in fundamentally different ways.

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has signed into state law a bill that creates “a state-endorsed 13-member council, which will work across diverse sectors, to develop food system recommendations that state and local governments, businesses, agriculture and consumers can use to improve healthy food access in Colorado.”

    According to Maren C. Stewart, president/CEO of LiveWell Colorado, a nonprofit organization that helped sponsor the legislation, “There isn’t one single place or single group that addresses the complexities of food systems and their impact on health. For the first time in Colorado, the Food Systems Advisory Council will convene stakeholders from the multiple sectors that impact food systems to recommend policies and programs that will increase access to healthy foods.”

    LiveWell Colorado already has made a series of recommendations that will be considered by the council, including “providing incentives to support the economic development of healthy food retailers, including full-service grocers, mobile vendors, corner stores, and farmers’ markets and stands.”
    KC's View:
    One of the consistent criticisms made here on MNB of various anti-obesity initiatives is that they seem to be created in a vacuum, like throwing pasta against the wall to see what sticks.

    The Colorado move seems like a concerted effort to take a comprehensive look at the problem and create solutions that work with each other, and that work for the consumer.

    Which seems at least sensible.

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that heightened flavors seem to be on the agenda for some manufacturers, as “food companies are hitting their labs to try to torque up flavorings to appeal to the country's expanding palates, and, of course, boost sales of snacks, drinks and even main courses,” a kind of “flavor explosion.”

    According to the story, “The current flavor boom is a big change for a nation known for its mashed potatoes, chicken sticks, macaroni and cheese and other unadventurous fare. It's a reversal that has been in the making since the advent of processed food first began to drown out regional cuisines during World War II, food historians say.”
    KC's View:
    What this means is that more food retailers - that often specialize in lowest-common-denominator food designed not to offend, or excite, anyone - need to take chances. The results won’t be everyone...but they also could be surprising.

    One reason - as people get older, they crave bolder flavors for their aging palates. And there are a lot of us “older” people on which to focus.

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is out with its list of some of the unhealthiest meals being served by the nation’s restaurants, including:

    • Five Guys: “Take the Five Guys Hamburger. Its 700 calories (with no toppings) makes a Big Mac (540 calories) or a Quarter Pounder (410 calories) look like kids food. And the McDonald’s numbers include the burgers’ fixin’s. A Five Guys Bacon Cheeseburger has 920 calories and 30 grams of saturated fat (1½ days’ worth) without toppings. Think two Quarter Pounders.

    “And how many Five Guys patrons eat a burger without fries or a drink? Add 620 calories for the regular fries or 1,460 calories for a large. (The large is as big as three large orders of fries at McDonald’s.) Now your lunch of an unadorned Bacon Cheeseburger and large fries is up to 2,380 calories. Add 100 calories for every plop of mayo on your burger, another 300 for a large (32 oz.) Coke, and 300 more for every free refill. Five Guys may be a hip place to go for a burger, fries, and a Coke. But it’s no friend to your hips.”

    • The Cheesecake Factory: “A Cheesecake Factory Grilled Rib-Eye Steak with French fries and onion rings plus a slice of Tiramisu Cheesecake would set you back roughly 2,500 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. A serving of Pasta Carbonara with Chicken has 2,500 calories and 85 grams of sat fat (more than a four-day supply). If you fail to soak up every drop of the cream sauce with your complimentary bread, you may end up with only, say, three days’ worth of sat fat coating your four cups of white-flour pasta. Ready for dessert?”

    • P.F. Chang: “To make the chain’s Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo, Chang’s chefs fry the lo mein noodles enough to make them hard and crunchy...while you end up soft and flabby.

    “It’s always possible that you’re stopping at Chang’s before starting a 3-hour bicycle ride or 4½-hour hike. But on the off chance that you’re not going to burn off the dish’s 1,820 calories after dinner, you’re going to need some place to store them. How does your belly sound?

    “Speaking of excess, the Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo delivers an off-the charts 7,690 milligrams of sodium. That’s 3 teaspoons of salt—a five-day supply, and double the outrageous levels in Chang’s lo meins.”

    • Chevy’s: “Yes, there’s some crab and shrimp buried in the chain’s Crab & Shrimp Quesadilla. But you mostly get Frisbee-size white-flour tortillas stuffed with cheese and cream sauce and topped with guacamole and sour cream. They look so innocent, but the platter packs 1,790 calories and 63 grams of saturated fat plus 3,440 mg of sodium. Ay caramba!

    “Those numbers make the Crab & Shrimp Quesadilla more damaging than any other Chevys quesadilla, including the Fresh Mex pork Carnitas & 3-cheese (1,650 calories and 48 grams of sat fat).”
    KC's View:
    I can’t go on. It is all just too disgusting.

    Now, don’t get outraged on me.

    I’m not looking for regulation. Restaurants should be able to sell what they want, and people should be able to order and eat what they want.

    But how many people are ordering this stuff with no idea of what they are putting in their bodies? I’m not saying we should create universal paranoia about food, nor that that there is no place for indulgence. Far from it.

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    Marketing Daily reports on a Mintel study suggesting that Americans generally have an inadequate understanding of the need for fiber in their diets and how they can best get it.

    Here are the relevant passages:

    • “Nearly one-third (30%) of survey respondents report that they make it a point to eat naturally fiber-rich foods, and 37% say that they can get enough fiber from regular foods, so supplements and foods with added fiber are unnecessary, reports the market research firm. Yet, studies show that most Americans are failing to meet recommended daily fiber intake levels.”

    • “Some of the reasons: 27% still think food with added fiber usually has an unpleasant taste, 22% don't fully understand that fiber is important to health (that lack of fiber is associated with cancers, heart disease and diabetes, for instance); and 25% think that fiber is only necessary for those who suffer from irregularity or other digestive problems.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    Bloomberg reports this morning that Walmart-owned Asda Group has made a deal to acquire 193 UK discount supermarkets operated under the Netto banner and owned to this point by A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S’s Dansk Supermarked.

    Cost of the deal: the equivalent of $1.13 billion (US).

    • The Oregonian reports that Walmart has “agreed to a settlement this week that will provide as much as $4 million to 28,000 of its former employees in Oregon. The class-action lawsuit, litigated for nearly five years, accused the world's largest retailer of violating Oregon's wage and hour laws. The suit, a merger of two earlier lawsuits, claimed that the Arkansas-based company didn't pay -- in a timely fashion or at all -- wages, overtime or earned vacation owed to employees who had left the company.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    • The New York Times reports this morning in a page one story that “for nearly two decades, Public Enemy No. 1 for the food industry and its government regulators has been a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria that has killed hundreds of people, sickened thousands and prompted the recall of millions of pounds of hamburger, spinach and other foods. But as everyone focused on controlling that particular bacterium, known as E. coli O157:H7, the six rarer strains of toxic E. coli were largely ignored.

    “Collectively, those other strains are now emerging as a serious threat to food safety. In April, romaine lettuce tainted with one of them sickened at least 26 people in five states, including three teenagers who suffered kidney failure. Although the federal government and the beef and produce industries have known about the risk posed by these other dangerous bacteria for years, regulators have taken few concrete steps to directly address it or even measure the scope of the problem ... Part of the problem is that so little is known about the rarer E. coli strains, which have been called the “big six” by public health experts. (The term refers to the fact that, after the O157 strain, these six strains are the most virulent of a group of related E. coli.) Few food companies test their products for the six strains, many doctors do not look for them and only about 5 percent of medical labs are equipped to diagnose them in sick patients.”

    • Kroger announced that at its associates have ratified an agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers (U.F.C.W.) Local 1000 that covers more than 8,000 Kroger associates who work in 90 stores in and around Dallas for Kroger Texas.

    • Skogen’s Festival Foods announced the launching of The Marq, a new banquet hall and catering business that will serve customers in the Northeast Wisconsin area.
    The new enterprise is the result of Festival Food’s purchase of Apple Creek Inn, a longtime catering and banquet service that had operated in Northeast Wisconsin for 25 years.

    The purchase, remodeling and renaming of Apple Creek Inn is part of the company’s expansion of its offerings and services beyond food retailing, according to Mark Skogen, Festival’s CEO and President. “This was a unique opportunity to purchase a very successful catering and banquet company with a long-established reputation for excellence similar to our own. As a result, we will now be able to extend our brand and service while also providing support for our retail store catering operations, which continue to see heavy requests for their catering and food preparation services,” Skogen said.

    • In Illinois, the Daily Herald reports that “the first Mariano's Fresh Market, a new supermarket from Roundy's, will open July 20 in Arlington Heights after a related charity event July 19, according to village officials.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    • Art Linkletter, a television pioneer who became a star a half-century ago with programs such as “House Party” and “People Are Funny,” died Wednesday of natural causes. He was 97.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    ...will return next week.
    KC's View:
    Forgive me. My son had knee surgery yesterday, and I spent most of the day at the hospital with him, which left very little time to write and record my radio commentary. I appreciate your understanding.

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal had a story the other day about the ways in which Barnes & Noble is trying to revive a business in decline. The company practically invented the super bookstore format, but now is under pressure from as well as the digital revolution that “is rewriting the rules of the book industry, upending the established players which have dominated for decades. Electronic books are still in their infancy, comprising an estimated 3% to 5% of the market today. But they are fast accelerating the decline of physical books, forcing retailers, publishers, authors and agents to reinvent their business models or be painfully crippled.”

    The concern, for a company like Barnes & Noble, is that it could eventually go the way of Virgin, which has closed down all its music/movie retail stores in the US, or Blockbuster, which is desperately trying to save an antiquated business model imperiled by companies like Netflix and Redbox.

    Over the next three to four years, company chairman Leonard Riggio tells the , “a different, more diverse Barnes & Noble retail store will evolve, selling a variety of merchandise and serving as a showcase for digital products.”

    The question is whether it is too little, too late.

    Here’s the irony (and something I did not know):

    “When the fledgling digital book business emerged in the mid-1990s, Barnes & Noble was one of the first to embrace it,” the writes. “In 1998, it made a small investment in NuvoMedia Inc., maker of a handheld device called the Rocket eBook reader.

    “In what would prove to be the retailer's largest strategic blunder, Barnes & Noble abruptly pulled the plug on digital reading in 2003. E-book prices at the time about $20 or more, compared to a $25 hardcover—turned off readers. And there weren't many titles to choose from ... In hindsight, the move cost Barnes & Noble market share and momentum.”

    Now, you have the Kindle. The iPad. And the new Barnes & Noble Nook, which at the moment seems to be at best an also-ran.

    Timing is everything. But innovation also is everything. The difference, it seems to me, is that companies like Barnes & Noble seem to operating resolutely in the present, while companies like Amazon and Apple have their eyes trained on the future.

    Along the same lines ...

    Yesterday, Apple Inc. became the world’s most valuable technology company with a market capitalization of $222.12 billion, passing Microsoft, which sits at $219.18 billion. It is the second most valuable US corporation, trailing only ExxonMobil.

    It is, to be sure, one of the most remarkable corporate turnarounds in history, considering that Apple was almost dead about a decade ago, when Steve Jobs returned to the company it co-founded.

    Now, let me be clear about something.

    While I am writing this morning on my MacBook Pro (just the latest in a long line of Mac laptops that I have owned and loved), and my wife and kids own and use a wide range of Mac computers, laptops, iPhones and iPods (nobody owns an iPad...yet), and we even have Apple TV (an under-appreciated entry in the company’s catalog), I take no particular delight in Apple passing Microsoft in this particular category. To me, it is interesting and ironic, but little else. (Maybe I’d feel differently if I owned stock in either company.)

    The company I’m rotting for is the one being started today or tomorrow in some teenager’s garage or basement...the one that sees possibilities in directions where the rest of us aren’t even looking. The company I’m rotting for is the one that is going to push innovation and design, that sees opportunities in areas where most people don’t even see need. I’m even rooting for Microsoft to get its mojo back...because that pushed everybody else to innovate.

    Over the past few years, that’s been Apple. But as a company, it will only remain relevant if the folks in Cupertino keep their edge...and, in fact, continue to think different.

    if they start thinking and acting like a behemoth, if they start believing their press clippings, that is the beginning of the end.

    The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has the reassuring news (at least, reassuring to some of us).

    The era of the metrosexual man is over.

    Welcome, if you will, the new era of the “retrosexual.” The paper writes that the new man has “had enough of unisex salons, simpering emo music and the emasculating kryptonite of the Oprahsphere,” and that his “attitude and style hearken back to the strong, silent type of the '50s and early '60s. The retrosexual keeps things simple. He does not own more hair and skin care products than his wife or girlfriend. He does not ‘accessorize’.”

    Among the fictional characters cited as examples: Don Draper of “Mad Men,” Michael Westen in “Burn Notice,” and Raylon Givens in “Justified,” described as “alpha males who live unapologetically by their own code.” (Sometimes, as in the case of Draper, the code is not an entirely positive one, but c’est la vie...)

    Another word being used for this trend: "menaissance.”

    Now, I have to say, this news comes just in time. I now have a legitimate, media-sanctioned excuse to not see “Sex and the City 2.” (Michael Sansolo keeps trying to get me to see it. He even got me a copy of the first movie for Christmas. I am appalled.)

    However, it does seem to me that one of the qualities of a retrosexual man, if such a thing really exists, would be a steadfast refusal to pay attention to any such stories about such things.

    In some ways, it is all noise.

    To which, of course, I have now contributed.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa...

    Speaking of the “retrosexual” movement, by the way...I’ve decided that one of the movies I am most looking forward to this year is called “The American,” a thriller due in the fall about a professional assassin, played by George Clooney, who has to do one last job in Italy before he gets out. It looks totally cool - like the kind of movie that would have starred Burt Lancaster or Steve McQueen in another era.

    Check it out.

    I have some thoughts about the series finales that have aired since last we talked...

    “Lost,” it seems to me, had an amazing amount of emotional resonance to those of us who have followed the show for six years, despite the fact that some of it was confusing, there remained many unanswered questions, and there were plot holes big enough to drive a truck through.

    In some ways, it reminded me of the finale of Patrick McGoohan’s original “The Prisoner,” which abandoned logic for metaphor, and thereby offered a kind of truth more important than linear narrative or fact. This isn;t to suggest that “Lost” was more than it was; after all, in the end, it is just a TV series. But there was a kind of charge to the ending, which provided both a conclusion and plenty of fodder for people to debate, if they so choose. I loved it.

    “24,” on the other hand, failed this test. Despite the fact that many of us have followed the exploits of Jack Bauer since 2001, the final episodes provided an unsatisfying conclusion ... almost as if the writers knew they had run out of ideas, but thought they could hide that from the audience with smoke and mirrors.

    Maybe the expected movie version of “24” will be better. Maybe they just need a new canvas on which to paint. They have a fascinating character in Bauer, and Kiefer Sutherland created a compelling portrait even when his writers abandoned him. But there was no resonance there.

    “Law & Order” went out with a whimper, not a bang, probably because they shot the episode before the 20-year-old series had been cancelled. The best moment was when Sam Waterston’s Jack McCoy delivered a moralistic diatribe against a teacher’s union representative - it gave the episode real juice. And then it was over.

    I must confess that I have not watched “Law & Order” regularly for years, and don’t watch any of the spinoffs. But I’m sorry the original series has been was reassuring to know that it was there. (Of course, it probably will live forever in reruns, which seem to be always on somewhere.)

    One of the best things about my Connecticut office - known around here as “MNB Global Headquarters” - has been the fact that it is over a pub. The bad news is that two years ago the pub closed down, the victim of a slowing economy and a rent increase that it could not absorb.

    Today, however, all is right with the world. There is a new bar and bistro just downstairs from my office, called “The Goose,” and it is wonderful - the very essence of a great neighborhood saloon with a strong wine list, excellent tap beers, and killer food (my favorites to this point at the caprese salad and the sliders).

    If you are anywhere near Darien, Connecticut, check out “The Goose.” It’s terrific.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 27, 2010

    As pretty much everyone in the US knows, next Monday is Memorial Day here in the US, a national holiday that unofficially kicks off the beginning of summer.

    Which means that MNB gets to sleep in on Monday.

    I’m also going to push my luck a bit - just like I did last year - and take Friday off as well and turn it into a four-day weekend. The weather report looks reasonably promising, the ingredients for a Dark & Stormy (several of them, in fact) are in the larder, and I’m ready to put the top down on my car.

    So I hope you have a good weekend, and I’ll see you Tuesday.

    KC's View: