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    Published on: June 3, 2010

    Now available on iTunes…

    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

    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.

    The Associated Press had an interesting story the other day about the burgeoning amount of information that chain restaurants have to provide to their patrons, and how it is shaping the consumption - or at least the ordering - experience.

    “Welcome to the era of the menu as a spreadsheet,” the AP wrote. “More restaurants, either by mandate or by choice, are bombarding diners with calorie counts and other information. The disclosures on menus, menu boards and pamphlets are a victory for health advocates who believe informed consumers will make better food choices.” Not only are states and cities passing such laws, but a federal mandate was included as part of health care reform, with the FDA given a year to write the rules.

    When I read this, I thought about something that John Rand, director of retail insights for Kantar Retail Americas, said recently at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Show in Las Vegas. In the very near future, he said, supermarket shelf tags will no longer be static entities with just dollar amounts - they will have to have a “page two,” in which they provide all sorts of other information to a consumer who expects it to be available.

    I think that’s absolutely accurate. It is not hard to envision a time very, very soon when I will be able to walk down the aisle of my local food store and use my smart phone to drill down from the electronic shelf get ingredient and nutritional information, to read user reviews, to maybe even download recipes in text or even video form. I might even be able to instantly add my own comments to the database...or receive information that points me to other items in the store that are relevant to people who like this particular item. In other words, to a great degree import the online experience into the physical store.

    This stuff is all very exciting.

    Think about some of the stories that have run just this week on MorningNewsBeat. We had a piece about how some internet companies are responding to privacy concerns by bartering relevant bargains for data. Another one about how loyalty cards are beginning to find a home on cell phones. Yet another about how big box retailers such as Sam’s Club are offering their best customers highly customized deals. And now we have a discussion of how technology can make available all sorts of information via menu boards, shelf tags and even product labels. And then, combine this with all the opportunities available in online and mobile marketing.

    What’s really important, it seems to me, is to not think of these kinds of initiatives - and the hundreds of others that exist out there - in any sort of a silo. We have to be thinking in a holistic way...considering the possibilities for combining these sorts of technologies in a way that knocks the consumer’s socks off and blows the doors off the competition.

    In the end, this is not about the menu as spreadsheet, or customized deals, or permission marketing. Rather, it is about creating a robust and relevant shopping experience that works on a variety of levels, engaging with the customer and connecting to him and her in a proprietary and sustainable way.

    Easy? No.

    But probably necessary for long-term survival.

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

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    The New York Times has an interesting piece about a Kroger-owned Food 4 Less operating in the Englewood section of Chicago, which it describes as a “fresh oasis” that is thriving in one of the city’s “food deserts.”

    The success of the store - which apparently generates between $500,000 and $600,000 a week in sales - suggests that conventional wisdom about doing business in poor neighborhoods may actually be incorrect, “providing city officials and researchers with new clues about how far residents are willing to travel to stores and how much grocery chains are willing to spend to do business in poor neighborhoods.”

    According to the Times, “As one of only two full-service grocery stores within the nine square miles of greater Englewood - whose borders extend from 55th Street south to 75th Street, and from Western Avenue east to State Street - the Food 4 Less benefits and suffers from doing business in a food and retail desert. The store boasts the third-highest profit margin of the 15 Food 4 Less outlets in the Chicago region, but also has the highest security expenses, said Carrie Cole, the store director ... But Ms. Cole said the relative success of the store sends a message that it can pay to develop in Chicago’s low-income communities, which generally suffer most from a lack of fresh-food grocers. The store opened almost four years ago, and was followed by an Aldi store at 76th Street and Western Avenue.”
    KC's View:
    The general feeling seems to be that chain stores like Food 4 Less and Aldi can be more successful in inner city neighborhoods than corner stores, because they have greater buying power that allows them to offer lower prices...which, after all, are what poor customers really need. This creates cultural issues in Chicago, where Walmart would like to be part of the solution to the food desert problem, but has faced challenges from neighborhood activists and unions that are concerned about the impact on local jobs.

    I can understand the concerns...but these days, jobs are jobs, especially in economically challenged neighborhoods. It is hard for me to rationalize the protectionist attitude of keeping certain kinds of retailers out.

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that Walmart CEO Mike Duke said yesterday that the company plans to ramp up international expansion as a way to compensate for slowing US growth.

    The comments were made to Walmart employees at a meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where Walmart will be holding its annual meeting this week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    Nice piece in the Oregonian about the Abernethy Elementary School in South Portland, Oregon, which the paper describes as “the rare U.S. public school with meals made from scratch, but the school's 5-year-old comprehensive food curriculum goes much further. The cafeteria - dubbed Abernethy Cafe - uses ingredients from the school's gardens, where students grow everything from apples to zucchini. The kitchen also develops and tests recipes for use in other Portland schools.

    “And the school brings food education into the classroom. Recently, students used strawberries they had grown to make a salad and a drink. ‘Woven through food-related activities are lessons in math, science, history and social studies,’ said Sarah Sullivan, the school's garden coordinator.”

    Here’s the kicker, according to the paper: “The kids love it.”

    The paper notes that Nicole Hoffman “became school chef two years ago after volunteering two years in the kitchen while completing training at Portland's Western Culinary Institute. Now she creates appealing meals such as chicken panang curry and falafel with cucumber raita -- all within the confines of U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional guidelines for school lunches.

    “The test kitchen is considered a demonstration program, though, and hasn't been copied at other schools largely because of funding issues. The school receives the same amount per meal for its school lunch program as other district schools but pays higher labor costs for Hoffmann and an assistant to make meals rather than heat and serve prepared foods, said Shannon Stember, assistant director of the district's Nutrition Services. The PTA covers garden costs.”
    KC's View:
    There is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow...Nicole Hoffman will be at the White House tomorrow, meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama to talk about her anti-obesity initiatives.

    As far as broader applicability ... this is Oregon. I’m not sure that this program could be transplanted to many other places, but I also think that we never know what is possible until we try, until we make issues like healthy food in school more of a priority.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d like to find an excuse to go to the Abernethy Elementary School for lunch.

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    Canada-based Alimentation Couche-Tard reportedly has decided to take its $1.9 billion bid for Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores directly to that company’s shareholders, saying that it was “unfortunate” that Casey’s board of directors had rejected the proposal without negotiation.

    Couche-Tard’s management said it hopes that by going directly to Casey’s stockholders, it will encourage that company’s board to come to the bargaining table to negotiate a friendly merger. However, Casey’s board has advised its shareholders not to take any action on the offer for the time being; it has said that it will review the offer - which it previously dismissed as inadequate for its fleet of 1,500 stores - and make a recommendation within 10 days.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    In Idaho, KTVB News reports that “about 60 Supervalu employees in Boise learned Wednesday they will be laid off. Supervalu, which owns the majority of Albertsons stores, announced the layoffs will affect workers in the finance department.

    “In a prepared statement, the company said it began plans to assess specific functions within the finance organization in mid-March. Following that assessment, Supervalu decided to pass along some of the finance department's responsibilities to another partner.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    • Sprouts Farmers Market is opening its 50th store, in Sunnyvale, California. “As part of the Sunnyvale grand opening,” the company said, “the first Northern California store for the family-owned company, Sprouts has announced a wide-ranging partnership with Full Circle Farm, an 11-acre sustainable farm located just three miles from the new Sprouts location.  Sprouts will be helping to raise funds for the non-profit farm, and will help it to develop agricultural-based curricular programs targeted toward middle school students in Sunnyvale and Silicon Valley. To kick off the partnership, Sprouts presented Full Circle Farm with a $2000 check to help fund a new irrigation project.”

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that drug store chain Walgreen “is reversing a roughly 15-year-old alcohol sales ban by returning beer and wine to its shelves,” and “is hoping offering alcohol will boost its sales and market share, making it a one-stop shop without affecting its community-friendly image.”

    • Winn-Dixie announced that it has “introduced a new line of organic yogurts that appeal to consumers seeking products with added health benefits. Winn-Dixie Organic Active Yogurt is the latest addition to the grocer’s private-label offerings,” and is “all-natural, with no artificial preservatives or flavors, and includes probiotics and prebiotics to help support digestion. The yogurt is also USDA-Certified Organic and Kosher-Certified OU-D. Other health benefits include heart-healthy omega-3s, bone-building calcium and vitamin D, and three grams of fiber per serving. All are low-fat and have 150 calories or less per serving.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    • Supervalu announced that it has promoted J. Andrew Herring, the company’s senior vice president of Real Estate and Store Development, to be its new executive vice president, Market and Real Estate Development. “In his new role,” the company said, “he will be responsible for driving Supervalu’s major growth initiatives, including store development for the company’s traditional retail and Save-A-Lot stores and for its independent retailers, as well as new store growth. Herring will report directly to Craig Herkert, Supervalu’s CEO.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    Got the following email from MNB user Nicole Wilkinson about comments we made yesterday about Procter & Gamble’s customer-centric strategies:

    I'm sure it was probably an oversight on your part but I when you talk about P&G’s innovation strategy and their focus on forging "stronger and deeper relationships with customers".  Well I should remind you about the recent stories about P&G's Pampers and the new Dry Max technology.  Not only is P&G not forging a stronger and deeper relationship with their customers they are out rightly ignoring concerns from parents who have had issues with these new diapers.  They are deleting messages on their Facebook fan page and have continued to promote and sell their diapers as though there is nothing wrong (You actually covered this aspect a few weeks back).  I don't believe that passing off concerns from parents as "your kid just has a diaper rash" is way of forging a "deeper relationship with parents".  I think this is one area that P&G could easily improve their relationships with customers.

    We had a story yesterday about all the different ways that the banking industry is trying to head off financial reform that includes the regulation of credit and debit card swipe fees, and commented that “it seems pretty clear that the banks will do anything and everything to stop this amendment from going through; expect them to suggest that the bill will result in ‘death panels’ if they get even a hint that it might scare people into opposing financial reform at this level.”

    MNB user Jack Ericsson responded:

    Mentioning “Death Panels” in your discussion about credit card fees - how inappropriate. That ship has sailed…at least until after the next election.

    To mix metaphors a bit...the ship may have sailed, but I’m still willing to beat a dead horse.

    Sure, it may have been inappropriate. But I sort of specialize in being occasionally inappropriate, especially if I can get a joke out of it.

    Yesterday’s MNB featured the following sentence:

    The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), managed by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), announced yesterday that the On-Farm Food Safety Programme (OFFS) known as the CanadaGAP scheme, managed by The Canadian Horticultural Council (CHC), has been given full recognition by the GFSI Board of Directors.

    Which led MNB user john Rand to write:

    Whatever else, you are to be congratulated for a serious entry into the informal sweepstakes for Maximum Number of Impenetrable Acronyms in a Single Paragraph (MNIASP)

    And another MNB user agreed:

    Most acronyms ever in one sentence...But that's how they actually speak at the organization previously known as CIES.

    Actually, TBF, it was MNB’s CG who wrote that sentence. JHAGT.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 3, 2010

    Two important stories this morning...

    • Ken Griffey Jr. announced yesterday that he is retiring from baseball, leaving the Seattle Mariners before their game yesterday against the Minnesota Twins.

    Griffey, 40, had been relegated this season to a limited role as a backup designated hitter and pinch hitter because of reduced productivity reflected in a .184 batting average and just seven RBIs. However, the way in which Griffey’s career ended cannot diminish his accomplishments during 22 seasons - he was a 13-time All Star, 11-time Gold Glove recipient, and is fifth on the all-time home run leader list with 630. And perhaps more importantly, Griffey’s name never came up during discussions of the steroids era, which tarnished such players as Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

    • Rookie pitcher Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers threw a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians yesterday - retiring the minimum 27 men in order. Except that he didn’t...because umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base on what should have been the third out, saying that Jason Donald was safe when it was clear - especially in replays - that he was out.

    Galarraga and the Tigers won the game 3-0 on the next play, and Joyce was despondent afterwards because he knew that he’d blown the call. But Galarraga simply smiled, accepted Joyce’s apology, and said, “Nobody’s perfect.”
    KC's View:
    Galarraga’s response to the umpire error ought to be required viewing for every Little League coach and parent ... because this is a kid who behaved with utter class, who demonstrated what sportsmanship is all about.

    As for Griffey...I was lucky enough last summer to get to attend a Mariners game at Safeco Field in Seattle, my favorite city, and see Griffey play in a Mariners’ uniform. For that evening, all seemed right with the universe, as if the planets were aligned.

    There is much to criticize about baseball. But Griffey and Galarraga, it seems to me, reflect much of what is wonderful about the greatest game.