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    Published on: June 13, 2010

    ...sponsored by TCC, “changing shopper behavior”

    As I noted on Friday, 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.

    As you read this, I am probably somewhere over the Pacific, traveling to Australia, where I am going to be moderating and speaking at the NACS Global Forum in Sydney. (From there I am going to London for the Global Summit of the Consumer Goods Forum.) But I am going to keep posting MNB, even at unusual hours and odd frequencies, and I thank you in advance for your patience...

    The great thing about an extended airplane flight is that I get to catch up on my reading...

    There is a fascinating and long - 3,000 words - piece in Time about the rise of the celebrity chef. It is worth reading, and can be found here.

    The article covers a lot of territory, but here are the main points that grabbed our attention.

    • It is ironic that a time when it could be argued that many people have unhealthy diets and do less home cooking than at any time in recent history (with a slight reversal taking place only because the recession created certain economic imperatives), people spend more time watching other people cook than ever, and spend plenty of money on products and establishments made famous by mass media.

    • Some chefs seem to be about celebrity, money and power. Others seem to take their responsibilities seriously, understanding that they have the ability to help people understand the importance of health and nutrition, to improve people’s diets, and connect people in fundamental ways to the things they put in their bodies. (Don’t know about you, but Jamie Oliver looks like he’d be a lot more fun to spend time with than Gordon Ramsey.)

    • Food retailers need to take this trend seriously. Even people who eat Pop Tarts for breakfast are watching Bobby Flay or Emeril Lagasse cook on television, and this creates an opportunity to move them up, to sell them more and better stuff. You’ve got to be credible, you’ve got to make it accessible, but the opportunity is there once one decides not to always cater to the lowest common denominator.

    Good thing this fellow has job security...

    We’re still more than a week away from the Global Summit of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) in London, but it caught my eye that one of the summit’s keynote speakers, Prince Charles - the heir to the British throne and the future head of the Church of England - said last week in a speech about environmental issues that the world would be in better shape if it followed Islamic spiritual principles.

    According to The Mail, the Prince of Wales “argued that man's destruction of the world was contrary to the scriptures of all religions - but particularly those of Islam. He said the current 'division' between man and nature had been caused not just by industrialisation, but also by our attitude to the environment - which goes against the grain of 'sacred traditions'.”

    The prince, according to the story, “was speaking to an audience of scholars at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies - which attempts to encourage a better understanding of the culture and civilisation of the religion.” He was speaking “about his own study of the Koran which, he said, tells its followers that there is 'no separation between man and nature' and says we must always live within our environment's limits.”

    Perhaps the prince is to be commended for a certain diversity of thought and for being willing to say what most others would not. But can you imagine what would happen these days if a politician facing re-election made such a statement?

    Prince Charles is scheduled to make the opening keynote address - on the subject of “Food Within Nature’s Limits” - at the CGF Summit scheduled to take place in London June 23-25. It’ll be interesting to see if he brings up Islamic religious principles to an audience made up almost completely of hard-nosed capitalists.

    I’m thinking probably not. But we’ll see.

    World Cup Fever...

    Since I’m going to spend the next two weeks outside the US, I guess I’d better start learning about the World Cup, something about which I know next to nothing. here’s what I do know.

    • We call it soccer. Everybody else calls it football.

    • The US tied the UK 1-1 over the weekend, which apparently is almost as good as a win, especially in psychological terms.

    And that’s about it.

    On the other hand, I sort of understand the infield fly rule, which not everyone can say.

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    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    Reuters Health reports that a new study conducted by University College London of more than 8,500 UK adults born since 1958 showed that their children are 50 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than their parents were at their age. Which by itself isn’t news, considering how much ink and air time has been devoted to the obesity crisis.

    But here’s the kicker: one of the factors that researchers believe may contribute to the higher obesity rates is the fact that so many moms today have full-time jobs, which means that many kids have fewer family meals and less healthy food in their diets.

    The study does not come right out and say that working moms = more obesity; rather, it just suggests that this is one of the factors that may be contributing.

    According to the story, “The trend in mothers' employment over the past few decades may be one of the variables contributing to a general erosion in children's diets; the explosion in sugary junk foods on the market, food advertising aimed at kids, and the increasing availability of high- fat, high-sugar fare in schools are among the other factors that have been blamed.

    “The current study lacked information on the children's diets and exercise habits, so it is not known whether kids of working moms did in fact have poorer-quality diets or were less active.”
    KC's View:
    It is not hard to imagine that when moms are at work, their surrogates may not be as engaged with getting kids outside, playing with them, etc... and so less active exercise habits certainly could be as responsible for obesity as poor diet.

    But...

    While the facts presented by the study may be hard to argue, I have a certain problem with the conclusions ... at least to the extent that there is an implication that if fewer women worked, kids would eat better and the world would be less obese. I read this and wonder...What about the dads?

    It simply isn’t fair to say to imply that women should stay home in order to solve the obesity crisis. Men could stay home, too. That may not be the way a lot of cultures are oriented, but in enlightened societies, it seems to me that the conclusions ought to be drawn differently.

    Maybe what we need to do is have a world in which parents actually behave like parents. Where we all - regardless of gender - take responsibility for raising our kids, for paying attention to what they read and watch on television and look at on their computers and who they hang out with and what they’re doing and even what they are eating and drinking.

    Frankly, if we did that, I have a feeling that a lot of the problems facing our society might begin to fade a bit. It won’t happen overnight, but it seems like a worthy goal and a reasonable approach.

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Sears Holdings is expanding its MyGofer online shopping portal to include groceries and prescriptions that will be provided by the company’s Kmart division. The test of the expanded service currently is taking place in Manhattan and the Hamptons on Long Island, and the company plans to roll it out to Chicago and other markets later this summer.

    According to the story, “Sears Holdings Corp. launched MyGofer last year as a way to combine bricks-and-mortar retailing with Amazon-style online shopping. MyGofer.com allows shoppers to search tens of thousands of goods online, place orders from a computer or iPhone and pick them up at a Kmart store in as little as two hours — without getting out of their cars.” The delivery service is described by the company as a natural extension, prompted by a consumer base that increasingly wants immediate gratification.
    KC's View:
    As cynical as I have been about the chances that Sears and Kmart have for survival in a highly competitive environment, I suppose that there is at least a chance that this could work. I’m not sure many folks in the Hamptons will be interested in getting groceries delivered from Kmart (unless the truck making the delivery sports a faux Dean & DeLuca sign), but I’m not going to criticize the company for trying to be relevant for a 21st century consumer.

    History, unfortunately, has not been kind to either company when it comes to this kind of stuff. For the life of me I cannot remember the name of it, but it seems to me that Sears was a partner in a television shopping network that featured groceries as long as two decades ago. (Unless memory is playing tricks on me, I remember shooting a story about it for the old “Retail Insights” video program, but those tapes and scripts have been long lost.) And Kmart actually was better at the superstore business than Walmart when both companies were testing the concept; Gene Hoffman, the former Supervalu and Kroger executive, was instrumental in helping the company make giant strides in the food business. But Walmart was both more persistent and better at long-term execution, and Kmart became a food also-ran while Kmart stumbled and lost its way.

    Still, Sears and Kmart should go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    The Cape Cod Times reports that “in what could be the first major economic blow to local fisheries pinned on global warming, regulators are contemplating shutting down the lobster industry from Buzzards Bay to Long Island Sound for five years due to a drastic population drop brought on by temperature changes of just a few degrees in inshore waters.

    “Lobstermen south of Cape Cod have seen their catches nosedive for the past decade, from more than 20 million pounds in 1997 to less than 5 million last year. In the past, overfishing, water pollution, pesticides and an outbreak of shell disease were blamed for the failure of the fishery. But tough fishing regulations have done nothing to reverse the trend, and some scientists now believe water temperature may be the primary obstacle to recovery.”
    KC's View:
    It just seems like nine miles of bad road for so much of the fishing industry. First, we have the general concern that overfishing will eventually create broad shortages of various kinds of seafood. Then, we have the impact of the BP Gulf Coast oil spill, which is doing untold damage to both the environment and the economy, hurting specifically so many people who depend on the seafood industry in that area of the country. And now, this, in which global warming seems to having an impact on the lobstering industry.

    What is amazing to me is that these kinds of stories emerge, and the people who raise these concerns get painted by some as “alarmists.” I write things as innocuous as “we need to take care of our fragile planet“ which is hardly the most radical thing that anyone could say these days, and I get email from folks suggesting that I’ve lost touch with reality and have been brainwashed by the forces of liberalism.

    I don’t think so. These aren’t exactly the signs of the apocalypse, but none of this strikes me as anything that can be ignored.

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    More complaints are emerging that CVS Caremark is being anti-competitive by restricting where customers of its pharmacy benefits management division can buy prescriptions.

    This time, according to a report from Bloomberg, the grumbling is from the National Community Pharmacists Association, which says that its members are losing about five percent of their 118 million customers because CVS is requiring people to get their refills from its own brick-and-mortar or online stores.

    The story notes that the “trade group joins Walgreen Co., the largest U.S. drugstore chain, in escalating complaints about the way CVS Caremark operates its pharmacy benefits management division. The Caremark unit runs prescription drug programs for companies and government agencies, negotiating prices between drug manufacturers, clients and retail chains ... Ties between the Caremark unit and CVS’s retail stores, brought together in a 2007 merger, are drawing scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission and at least 24 U.S. states.”

    CVS Caremark maintains that it is not violating antitrust law.
    KC's View:
    It is interesting that the Bloomberg references a story that we noticed a week or two ago - that CVS actually wants to buy as many as 200 independent pharmacies a year in order to maintain a certain level of growth. Which is one way to silence the complaining parties - just send ‘em a check and take over their businesses.

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    The Boston Globe reports that while “establishments with at least 20 locations in Massachusetts were supposed to post calorie information on menus or menu boards by Nov. 1 ... the federal health care overhaul passed in March includes a similar requirement that supersedes the state rules adopted last year.” What this means is that Bay State consumers “can enjoy at least another year of blissful ignorance about the food they eat, including the fact that a large order of fries and ketchup may contain more than 500 calories.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    It was less than two weeks ago that MNB took note of a story in the Winston Salem-Journal reporting that there is a new billboard in Mooresville, North Carolina, for Delhaize-owned Bloom, that “emits the smell of black pepper and charcoal to promote a new line of beef ... A giant fork rises from the ground to the billboard, where it pierces a piece of meat.”

    Now, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is striking back with its own billboard that it says “shows a skinned cow's head on a slaughter hook and emanates the smells of rotting flesh, urine, feces, and blood. PETA's billboard will read, ‘Meat Stinks: Go Vegan. PETA.’ The group says that it has the studies and stats to show that meat stinks for animals, human health, and the environment.”
    KC's View:
    These guys are disgusting. I don’t mind them having a political opinion, but I pity the poor parent who has to explain the PETA billboard to a little kid.

    I’d do it this way: “In the world, there radical extremists who think that they are better than everyone else and that only their opinion is right. They also don’t have a sense of humor, and are to be avoided at all costs. Want to go get a bacon cheeseburger?"

    Published on: June 13, 2010


    • The New York Times reports that questions have been raised by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) about whether organic products from China are indeed organic, even though they have been carrying the “USDA organic” seal.

    According to the story, USDA “which uses private groups to conduct most organic inspections worldwide, has banned a leading American inspector from operating in China because of a conflict of interest that strikes at the heart of the organics’ guarantee. The federal agency also plans to send an audit team to China this year to broadly review the certification process.

    “Federal officials say the banned inspector, the Organic Crop Improvement Association, used employees of a Chinese government agency to inspect state-controlled farms and food processing facilities. The group, based in Nebraska and known by the initials O.C.I.A., has for years been one of the leading inspectors of Chinese organics for the United States market. Anticipating the department’s action, the group shut most of its operations last year.

    “The ban, to be formally announced on Monday, is likely to propel consumer worries about organic food from a country that many associate with food safety scandals and lax regulation, involving things like contaminated milk and toys coated in lead paint.”

    • The Associated Press reports that “Casey's General Stores Inc. has sued Alimentation Couche-Tard, saying the Canadian company violated U.S. securities laws by manipulating Casey's stock price during a takeover effort.”

    Casey’s General Stores has recommend that its shareholders reject a hostile acquisition bid of $1.9 billion that has been tendered by Canadian c-store giant Alimentation Couche Tard, saying that the Couche-Tard offer is too low.

    According to the story, “Casey's complaint, filed in U.S District court in Iowa, alleges Couche-Tard bought nearly 2 million shares of Casey's stock then announced its latest offer and sold the shares at a higher price on the same day. Casey's claims Couche-Tard manipulated the market by profiting from its own announcement and artificially depressing the run-up in stock price that typically follows the announcement of a takeover bid.”

    Couche-Tard said the charges have no merit, and continued to maintain that its offer is fair.

    • Burger King announced Friday that its fast food restaurants are running out of ribs, and that its pork rib promotion may have to be ended sooner than expected because of the item’s popularity. The company said that it has sold 10 million ribs since May 24.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    Tribune Media Services said over the weekend that it will no longer publish the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip, which was launched 86 years ago and spawned Broadway musicals and movies.

    Not that many people are likely to notice. At the end, only 20 newspapers in the US, were running the strip.

    The company tells the New York Daily News that “Annie could continue in the form of graphic novels, film, TV, games and maybe even on cell phones.”
    KC's View:
    “Little Orphan Annie” in a graphic novel?

    The mind boggles...

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    • Paul L. Singer,a former chief information officer and senior vice president at the Target Corporation, and former chief information officer and senior vice president for Supervalu, has passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 56.

    Ronald M. Lamb, chairman of Casey’s General Stores and the former CEO of the convenience store chain, passed away Friday. He was 74, and had been battling cancer.

    • Jimmy Dean, the country singer turned sausage entrepreneur who later sold the company that bore his name to Sara Lee, died yesterday at age 81.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    ...is on hiatus. But keep those cards and letters coming in (as Dean Martin used to say), and we’ll catch up down the road.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 13, 2010

    Here’s the sports metaphor of the week.

    This weekend, Daniel Nava, called up by the Boston Red Sox from the minor leagues to play left field, did something that only one other person before him had done.

    On his first at-bat, on the very first pitch, Nava hit a grand slam home run.

    According to the Boston Globe, “Nava is just the second player to hit a grand slam in his first at-bat with the Red Sox and the second in major league history to hit a slam on his first pitch, joining Kevin Kouzmanoff, who did it for the Indians in 2006.”

    But the story gets better. Again, from the Globe:

    “What made Daniel Nava’s arrival special was the path he took, which over the last five years was markedly different than most prospects. Nava was a walk-on at the University of Santa Clara, and was soon cut. To stay with the team, Nava became the equipment manager, which meant doing the team’s laundry at 3 a.m. ... Nava thought about becoming a coach or a scout, but instead transferred to College of San Mateo, a junior college, for two years. He returned to Santa Clara for his senior year, but was not selected in the 2006 draft.

    “He landed with the Chico Outlaws of the independent Golden Baseball League. There he produced to the point where Baseball America named him the top prospect in independent baseball, which led the Sox to sign him in 2008 for $1.”

    That’s right. One dollar.

    And, even better, the Globe reports:

    “Nava had received a tip from radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione during an interview for the pregame show. Castiglione sat Nava down in the clubhouse and shared a story he learned from Chuck Tanner of the Milwaukee Braves, who hit a home run in his first career at-bat on April 12, 1955.

    “His message: ‘Swing at the first pitch,’ Castiglione said, ‘because you’ll never get it back’.”
    KC's View:
    Beyond the obvious metaphor about perseverance and passion being critical to being successful in any endeavor, that notion of swinging at the first pitch “because you’ll never get it back” is a wonderful life lesson.

    Opportunities only come around so-often. Often they are disguised as tremendous challenges, and often we don;t move on them because there may be another opportunity, another chance, a better option.

    In life and business, we gotta swing. Sometimes you get a single, sometimes you miss the ball completely, and sometimes you hit a foul ball. But sometimes you hit a grand slam.