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    Published on: June 11, 2010

    The next two weeks are going to create a bit of a logistical challenge for MNB...but hopefully we’re going to turn it into an opportunity.

    On Sunday, I head to Australia, where I am going to be moderating and speaking at the NACS Global Forum in Sydney. I’m actually going Down Under a couple of days early because I’ve never been to Australia before, and I am hoping to see a bit of the country (pubs, restaurants and the occasional retail experience) and have lots to write about here on MNB. Then, on Tuesday, June 22, I travel directly from Sydney to London, where I’ll spend the rest of that week covering the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Summit.

    What this means, however, is that over the next two weeks MNB’s usual posting times may get a little weird....and I’m hoping for your patience. But I’m also planning on writing more frequent updates from the conferences I am attending, and so you may actually get more than one email on some days. Again, I hope this works for you...

    During this time, we’ll also have our regular features on the usual days - Sansolo Speaks will appear on Tuesdays, and Kate’s BlogBeat on Wednesdays. (Michael may even chime in with an extra column or two if he can.) One feature that may not appear quite as frequently as usual will be Your Views...simply because I have no idea how much time I will have to read the emails. But I promise to try my best.My Web Grocer

    Thanks in advance to TCC Global...which is sponsoring The Content Guy On The Road.”

    TCC Global offers customized retail marketing programs that change shopper behavior - attracting new customers and building customer loyalty...generating 4-5 percent sales increases and expanding basket sizes...generating in-store excitement and creating real and tangible differential advantages for your stores.

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    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    The Detroit News reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) came to an agreement with Kroger late last night, less than 24 hours after its most recent three-year contract expired.

    The new contract - the terms of which have not yet been released - will, if ratified, cover 14,000 employees in 133 Michigan Kroger units.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    The New York Times this morning has an interesting story about a new start-up called Castlight Health, which is building a search engine that will allow consumers to identify doctors in a wide variety of specialties, do price comparisons, and even find out which doctors are covered under what insurance policies. The first customer: Safeway, which has made it a major priority to get its employees to take greater responsibility - through deeper knowledge - for the health and health care costs.

    “I’m a big believer in trying to create market forces wherever you can and then let personal accountability really drive the result,” said Steven A. Burd, Safeway’s CEO, tells the Times.

    According to the story, “Price transparency could significantly change the way health care is bought in the United States ... The lack of price information in health care has been a big driver of ballooning health care costs, analysts say, because costs are opaque to patients and heavily subsidized by employers. The patient has no incentive or responsibility to keep costs down. But many employers are switching to health plans that require patients to pay more out of their own pockets,” and a search engine like Castlight could be enormously useful.

    The start-up is being funded by venture capitalists (including Venrock, the investment arm of the Rockefeller family) and the Cleveland Clinic.

    Here’s how the Times further describes the service:

    “Castlight sells its service to employers and charges by employee per month. (It plans to eventually introduce a Web site for anyone to use.) Employees log on to a search portal, where they enter something like ‘colonoscopy’ to find a list of doctors nearby and how much they charge.

    “Some insurers have shared pricing with Castlight, but the company gleans most of the information from the explanation-of-benefits forms that patients receive after a doctor visit. Castlight developed a way to pull the information from the millions of forms provided to it by employers.

    “Anyone who has read an explanation of benefits knows that it often raises more questions than answers, and Castlight says it wants to provide health education in addition to price information. The site explains why a patient has to pay a certain amount and the standard number of tests that a doctor would order for a particular problem.”
    KC's View:
    Not only is this an excellent development in the healthcare field, but it points out the broader role that transparency is going to play at all levels of commerce and culture. And kudos to Safeway for getting in on the ground floor.

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    General Motors today is backing off from a memo that that was widely circulated yesterday calling for its employees to stop using the word “Chevy,” saying that for reasons of brand consistency it prefers the more formal “Chevrolet.”

    Here’s what the memo said, in part:

    "We'd ask that, whether you're talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer advertising or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate our brand as Chevrolet moving forward. ... When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such as Coke or Apple, for instance, one of the things they all focus on is the consistency of their branding. ... Why is this consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer."

    “Coke,” of course, actually is shorthand for Coca-Cola. But that’s beside the point.

    GM has now issued a follow-up statement saying that the original memo was “a bit of fun” but “poorly worded,” and that it was more appropriate for outside the US: “In global markets,” the statement said, “we are establishing a significant presence for Chevrolet and need to move toward a consistent brand name for advertising and marketing purposes. The memo in question was one step in that process.”
    KC's View:
    I’ve never owned a Chevy, but what I “got” as soon as I saw the original memo - and what GM seemingly did not “get” - is that the word “Chevy” is an affectionate nickname that speaks volumes about the brand’s longtime relationship with consumers.

    Glad to see they backed off. Could have been worse. They could have come out with “New Chevrolet.”

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    Smart & Final announced yesterday that it will open its first SmartCo Foods in Denver next Wednesday, the first of five to open in Colorado this summer.

    SmartCo Foods is a new format for Smart & Final, described as a “value-focused grocery store concept that blends the best features of a local supermarket, warehouse club store and farmer’s market.”

    Smart & Final originally announced the new format last March.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that “U.S. retailers, the biggest shippers and receivers of goods hauled in the U.S., are trading competition for cooperation by teaming up to transport each others' goods ... The Empty Miles program currently has 46 members, including retailers, manufacturers and trucking companies. Members pay $1,600 a year for access to a website that lists shipping days, destinations and return routes for empty trucks, as well as support to facilitate coordination for shipments.”

    According to the story, “The likes of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Macy's Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. are joining forces, at least on the highways of the U.S., to cut their transport bills and curb emissions by filling empty spaces in long-haul trucks with each others' merchandise.

    “The Empty Miles initiative ... grew from an industry panel discussion two years ago about how trucks are still traveling U.S. highways without cargo after making deliveries, with retailers in essence paying for round trips when they are only shipping goods one way. The situation costs retailers millions of extra dollars a year while producing unnecessary emissions as the trucks head back without cargo. The issue of empty return trips has bedeviled the retail and trucking industries for decades. Despite making progress at avoiding empty trucks, the onset of the recession and concerns about fuel costs gave the vacancy issue extra urgency.”

    The Journal notes that “the program was created by the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association, or VICS, a supply chain group that tries to make the delivery of consumer goods more efficient. VICS worked with GS1 US, an industry standards organization.

    • The Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions (VICS) Association announced the winners of the 2010 Roger Milliken Lifetime Achievement Awards last night at the VICS/U Connect Annual Conference at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort in San Antonio, TX. The Awards were given to Timothy P. Smucker, Chairman of the Board and Co-CEO of The J.M. Smucker Company, and Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans Food Markets. Winners of the Roger Milliken Lifetime Achievement Awards were decided by votes of the VICS Board of Directors.
     
    The VICS Roger Milliken Lifetime Achievement Award honors the leadership and outstanding contributions of an individual who has advanced the entire industry over his or her entire career to date.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    • Tesco said yesterday that Colin Holmes, its fresh foods commercial director, has resigned.

    The announcement came just two days after the company’s CEO, Sir Terry Leahy announced that he will retire next year, though Tesco said that Holmes had submitted his resignation several months ago.

    According to the Financial Times, Holmes “was on Tesco's executive committee and had been tipped as a possible contender to the Tesco crown ... (he) is not defecting to another retailer - for now at least. But his resignation will be a blow to Tesco as it tries to foster solidarity among its most senior staff members in preparation for Sir Terry's departure next March.”

    • Tops Friendly Markets announced the promotion of Andrew Brocato to director of community relations and special events. Brocato has been a part of the Tops team for 13 years in various capacities, including senior manager of community relations, manager of promotions/sports marketing, and media communications coordinator.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    Got some responses to yesterday’s “Broad Brushes, Stark Colors” MNB Radio commentary...

    MNB user Ben Ball wrote:

    I agree with a lot of what you said – but I think we have the opposite problem as well. Here’s what I mean.

    Pundits to politicians – we are much too willing to jump at the most readily available fact AND to incorporate that fact into support for our previously held paradigm. Using your words we are unwilling to work hard enough to understand and accept nuance.

    But on the other hand, we are also spineless as a society. We are unwilling to take a stand when one is warranted and to stick to it. We have no sense of commitment, loyalty nor personal obligation.
     
    Two of my favorite colloquialisms -

    1)       Pick your battles.
    2)       You’ve got to stand for something – or  you’ll fall for anything.


    MNB user Connie Montgomery wrote:

    Loved the article.

    Speaking of colors, we all tend to see Wal-Mart BLUE every single day.  And they are the biggest and the "baddest" in the business; or at the least are guiding the trends and pricing of their competition.

    The people who have discontent on your comments are trying to pretend the company does not exist and that their success is not real. I agree there is good and bad in the company, but "it is what it is".  Wake up to reality people!

    Personally, I go back and forth between Wal-Mart and HEB here in San Antonio for my shopping. Maybe I do not live in the "enlightened" world where some have such a large variety of Grocers to choose from.

    I live in an area with 3 Wal-Mart Super Centers and 3 HEB stores, one a PLUS, within 5 miles North, East, South or West from where I live and work.  There is one Fiesta Store in the mix, but that's it.


    A lot of people would think that a market in which one could choose between Walmart and HEB is a pretty good place to shop. 

    MNB user Ken Wagar wrote:

    Your comments are absolutely the most intelligent comments I have ever seen posted on MNB and I could not agree more with you on this issue.

    However I am sure some will accuse you of lacking passion, or being wishy- washy or some other such thing. These days it seems if you are not part of the lunatic fringe you get blasted from all sides.


    MNB user Don Longo wrote:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your radio commentary: Wal-Mart is the largest organization of its kind to ever exist on the planet; it does many things well and like any large organization it has plenty room for improvement. People who focus on just the negative overlook what that the company has accomplished what no other retailer ever has – not Sears, not Kmart… both were top retailers until they hit the same wall that Wal Mart smashed right through and continued growing.

    MNB user Steve Kneepkens wrote:

    I am amazed at how people and consumers see Wal-Mart so black and white. They have done a tremendous amount to increase the efficiency of not only the retail industry – but of many industries who study logistics, inventory management, and sustainable business practices. They have made mistakes along the way, but all organizations make mistakes. I am not an apologist for Wal-Mart either, but they have moved our industry forward – not backwards.

    The end result does not cover mistakes, but it should be recognized for what it is: The largest company in the world bringing value to consumers in markets they serve.


    MNB user Christine A. Myres wrote:

    You so often say exactly what’s in my mind and can’t seem to articulate, thanks for the comments on the way we so often take the easy route to opinion. I’ve been thinking lately about how everything seems to be black & white, no middle. And although I am still having difficulty finding anything positive about the Gulf oil spill, there are many other thing that deserve to be considered in all their complexity and not labeled so glibly as good or evil.

    And MNB user Randy Friedlander wrote:

    I’ve always counseled my children that when trust is lost, it’s very difficult to get it back.  The Walmart (Wal-Mart) of the 1990’s and early 2000’s created many of the negative perceptions that haunt the company today . . . accusations of discrimination, ruthless dealings with suppliers, a cult-like obsession with defeating the competition, and more.  Despite some very positive contributions to the contrary by Lee Scott and now Mike Duke, Walmart still has a big PR hole to climb out of. 

    As they say, “You can’t talk your way out of problems that you behave yourself into.”  Nevertheless, would the old Wal-Mart have embraced sustainability or commit to supporting food banks?  Would the old Wal-Mart CEO have spoken out in favor of health insurance reform?  Announced an intention to substantially reduce waste and emissions? Made investments in organic cotton farming when it costs more than double?  I doubt it.  They aren’t perfect, but they aspire to be closer to perfect than they are today.

    To some, Walmart is like the New York Yankees.  It’s common in America to despise the team with the most money and talent, and root for them to stumble.  But if there had been no Sam Walton and no Walmart, somebody else would have eventually stepped in as a ruthless EDLP competitor . . . with many of the same consequences.  Walmart is a uniquely American success story.  And, similar to the Yankees, you don’t have to like them to admire the franchise that they have built.




    On another subject...

    In my piece about Washington Nationals pitcher Steven Strasburg, i noted that while he was extraordinary against the Pirates, we’d have to wait to see how he does against the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Tampa.

    To which MNB user Bill Drew rightly responded:

    Strasburg is going to face the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays?  Seems as though you already have the Nationals in the World Series.  I have to give you an E1 for the comment, even though nowadays, the official scorers don't hand out errors as often as they used to.  Having said that, he is going to be a joy to watch - a potentially great pitcher with what seems like a good head on his shoulders.

    I guess I had a bit of a brain freeze on that one - the Nationals, of course, play in the National League, while the Yankees, Boston and Tampa are in the American League. (Not sure when that abomination called inter-league play will put them all together.)

    I should have referenced the Phillies and the Padres. (And, if they are playing at CitiField, the Mets...who only seem to be able to win at home this season...)
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    In the NBA finals last night, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 96-89 to even the best-of-seven series at two apiece.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2010

    Yesterday, my youngest child turned 16. Needless to say, at about 8:30 am, we found ourselves at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), so she could get her learner’s permit.

    Now, I have to admit that I haven’t been to the DMV for a long time. I think Mrs. Content Guy took our sons there, and in Connecticut, once you are in the system you don’t have to go back much. Re-registrations are done by mail, license renewal can actually be done at the AAA office (making that membership fee even more of a bargain that it already was), and if you buy a new car, the dealer takes care of registering it for you.

    Yesterday, my luck ran out. When I left the house, it was 2010. Somehow, when I walked in the doors of the DMV, it was 1952.

    Lines everywhere. People behind the counters who seemed nice enough but clearly were not being paid for speed. Systems that seemed designed to make the process arduous and inefficient. It was like one of the few analog outposts left in a digital world.

    It took us almost three hours. My daughter passed the written test (which took all of about 10 minutes), and then the rest of it was just wasted time.

    I couldn’t help but think that this is bad policy on so many levels. After all, the DMV is one of the few places where taxpayers actually see their government at work - and it is distressing on so many levels. (Connecticut, after all, has more than its share of budget issues.) Want to get elected to office? Pledge to fix the DMV, and then take those learnings and apply it to other functions of governing. (Sure, there are union issues that make the job difficult...but this kind of waste and inefficiency is simply intolerable.)

    I’m guessing that the DMV probably invests in studies and surveys and efficiency experts to help it improve, but I’d also be willing to bet that they asking the wrong questions. Sort of like the US Postal Service, which thinks that cutting back to five-day-a-week delivery will solve its financial problems when the real problem is how to compete economically in a world of email and social networking, not to mention FedEx and UPS.

    Not an easy job, to make such agencies of government efficient and effective. But if you can’t fix the DMV and the Post Office, how can you hope to fix more pressing and complicated problems like Middle East tensions and the Gulf Coast oil spill?

    I’m just asking...




    I should not miss this opportunity to wish my daughter a happy birthday. Big week for us. She turned 16, and one of my sons turned 21. And me only 35! (How did this happen?)




    I couldn’t help but notice this week the story on Salon.com about a subject that came up on MNB, in a very different form, several months ago. The new story goes like this:

    “As many of us know, women and men in Saudi Arabia must be careful not to mingle, as the insanely strict Islamic law bans mixing between the sexes who are not related.

    Recently, the Saudis have issued a fatwa that forces women who come into contact with unrelated men on a regular basis to breastfeed them so that they can be considered ‘relatives’ and not potential lovers.”

    What the hell is it with breast milk these days?

    Just last March, there was a story about the New York restaurateur who decided to use extra breast milk from his wife to give cheese he was making an extra kick. And now, it is seen as a way of circumventing certain Islamic laws (to varying degrees of success, according to Salon, since the sheikhs issuing these rules are not known for having a sense of humor or irony.)




    Not sure if you saw it, but it is worth catching up with “The Special Relationship” on HBO, about the ups and downs in the relationship between British Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and US President Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid). It is quite good, especially in the performances - Sheen has made a career out of playing Blair (this is the third time he’s played him), and Quaid, who I’ve always liked, seems to “get” Clinton’s appetites despite the fact that he has none of the president’s physical bulk. Especially good are Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton and Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair (who comes off as the smartest and savviest of the bunch).




    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend...and I’ll see you next Monday, when I hope to be reporting from somewhere over the Pacific Ocean...

    Fins Up!
    KC's View: