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    Published on: July 6, 2010

    Last week was an eventful one for whoever is in charge of assigning office space at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, as CEO Mike Duke made a series of moves that seem aimed at jump-starting the retailer’s soft US retailing operations.

    John Fleming, the company’s chief merchandising officer, resigned last week for what the company said were personal reasons; one report said that he wanted to spend more time with his family.

    The Wall Street Journal reported that “Fleming spent 10 years with Wal-Mart and played a notable role in overseeing product selection and relationships with vendors at the company, which had more than $400 billion in sales last year.” The story said that Fleming “had a rocky track record, including a failed attempt to take the Wal-Mart's brand upscale in 2005, said Deborah Weinswig, retail analyst at Citigroup.” In addition, Fleming was involved with an SKU rationalization effort that Walmart used to reduce the number of items and brands it carried, and increase its private brand presence - a strategy that largely seemed to backfire.

    Fleming’s departure followed the decision to replace the company’s head of US operations, Eduardo Castro-Wright, with Bill Simon, who has been serving as COO of the US retail business.

    Castro-Wright will remain as Walmart’s vice chairman, but will relocated to Northern California to run Walmart’s e-commerce business and work on reducing global sourcing costs. The company said that Castro-Wright wanted to move to the west coast because his wife recently had a heart transplant operation and cannot leave Southern California.

    Until Wal-Mart names a replacement for Fleming, the WSJ writes, “John Westling, executive vice president of planning, pricing and replenishment, will lead the general merchandise and replenishment teams. Jack Sinclair, currently general manager for grocery, will lead Wal-Mart's food and health and wellness merchandising teams. Both Sinclair and Westling will report directly to Simon.”

    The Journal writes, “While the company fared better with its low prices than did many nondiscount retailers during the recession, it has posted four straight quarters of softer sales in the U.S. The company's apparel business, in particular, has looked to be disarray in comparison with the inexpensive chic fashions of Target.”

    In other Walmart-related news...

    The Washington Post reports that Walmart is close to signing an agreement that will allow it to open its first store in the District of Columbia. That move comes as the retailer has finalized a deal with Chicago that could have it opening dozens of stores of various formats there.

    Indeed, last week the Financial Times reported that Walmart, in making concessions that reduced union opposition to its opening of stores in the Windy City, sets the stage for the opening of stores in other cities, such as New York and Los Angeles.
    KC's View:
    The Walmart moves, it seems to me, reflect a Bentonville mindset that does not rest easy when things are not going great. There are a lot of other retailers that would post four consecutive quarters of “soft sales” without making any major changes...but that isn’t the way Walmart does things. Some of this may have been coincidental - such as the Castro-Wright surgery - but it certainly creates an atmosphere of “deliver or die.” (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of overstatement...but you get the idea.)

    You have to respect that.

    The thing is, I think that as much growth as we’ve seen from Walmart in recent years, it may be nothing compared to what is possible if it gets its urban strategy right. Scary as it may be, the coming decade could be Walmart’s decade. There are only two obstacles - the possibility that Walmart doesn’t get it right, and the ability of the competition to put up a fight on every front. (And I’m talking real competition...not hiring some consulting firm to engineer dirty tricks.)

    One other thing. At some point, I’m guessing that somebody from organized labor is going to question whether people further down the organizational ladder from Castro-Wright would have gotten the same sort of consideration and health insurance coverage that he and his wife did. I’m also guessing that Walmart will have a ready answer for that one.

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that Target will open its first store in Manhattan later this month, in east Harlem, and will include an expanded grocery selection in the format.

    According to the story, Target “already about a half-dozen stores in New York - in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. It’s also occasionally opened temporary ‘pop-up’ stores in Manhattan. But Manhattan real estate is more dense, finding space more expensive and fitting a store into existing infrastructure trickier.”
    KC's View:
    Target seems to be able to open in places where Walmart has thus far been denied access, an ability that will certainly help its ability to compete with the Bentonville Behemoth. On the other hand, it seems likely that as Walmart develops and rolls out its urban strategy, it will be with small format stores that may be more targeted - pun intended - at the urban customer. Personally, I think the latter strategy may be more may take longer for Walmart to get there, but the rewards may be greater in the long run.

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    Dow Jones reports that drugstore chain Walgreen plans to test a chilled, fresh foods program in anywhere between 12 and 50 stores this fall. The test will likely take place in the Chicago market, and could include sandwiches, soups, wraps and fresh fruit.

    According to the story, sources say that “Walgreen's offering is expected to lead to a much bigger push into the fresh food sector for the company. In turn, the people say Walgreen will likely be selling meals such as chicken Marsala, macaroni and cheese and General Tso's chicken.

    “Watchers say the retailer has yet to sort out refrigeration and distribution issues--elements critical to any fresh food program's success.”
    KC's View:
    Increasingly, food retailers are going to have to get used to the idea that competition is coming from all quarters ... and that offense makes a lot more sense than defense. Shoppers are not going to think about format as much as they are going to respond to offers that resonate with their needs. Which means that retailers have to work hard not to be hemmed in by old-format thinking.

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    Interesting story on about the subject of gender and food, noting that while there are some exceptions, “in the American consciousness, real men still don't eat quiche and women stick with chocolate, tofu and yogurt. This could easily be the handiwork of the evil geniuses on Madison Avenue, but might these clichés also arise from some long-buried grain of truth? Are genetic differences responsible for our gendered eating? How many of our eating patterns come from gender socialization, and how many are hereditary? And why is it that food rarely seems to be categorized this way outside the U.S.?”

    The piece, by Riddhi Shah, notes that some doctors suggest that evolution and hormones could play some role in gender-oriented food choices. The thinking goes that men are hunters and therefore need more protein and see meat as a reward for their efforts, while pregnancy and menstrual cycles cause women to crave certain foods, such as chocolate.

    But here is where it gets really interesting, when Shah addresses the notion that these appear to be purely American preferences - somehow connected to culture and geography more than to gender:

    “I realized that my husband and I — both of us grew up in India — have eating habits that fly in the face of all these studies. My husband has an insatiable sweet tooth, can't go to bed without his nightly Mars bar, and diligently spends hours in the fruit aisle. I, on the other hand, am a complete dairy fiend, love my protein, adore a good whisky, and wouldn't notice if Ben & Jerry's stopped producing Cherry Garcia tomorrow (my husband would react with some emotion). And when I tried to think of differences in eating habits between men and women in India, I was unable to come up with anything conclusive — for every woman who likes chocolate, there's a man who likes it too, and for every man who is rabidly carnivorous, there's a woman who can out-meat him.

    “As I thought more about global dietary practices, it occurred to me that the U.S. has perhaps one of the more gender-segregated eating cultures in the world. (Can you imagine a French woman saying she stays away from red meat or a French man saying that chocolate is chick food?)

    “So while it seems possible that some food preferences could be put down to gender, it's obvious that American culture has a way of exacerbating them.”

    Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, tells Shah that you can chalk some of this up to old fashioned marketing. “People, he said, are more likely to eat a food when they associate with it qualities they'd like to see in themselves. So a man who wants to be strong and masculine is more likely to eat a food described as strong and masculine - hence the prevalence in American culture of meat as a manly food. Besides, he said, America has some of the most psychographically segmented advertising in the world - all messages that the food we eat is subconsciously saying something about us.”
    KC's View:
    In other words, it really is all the fault of the evil geniuses on Madison Avenue.

    This actually isn’t all that much of a surprise. Maybe this is an American thing, but many people define themselves by their clothes, their cars, their hobbies ...and so it is not hard to imagine that we will define ourselves by what we eat and drink.

    That said, retailers and manufacturers have to be careful not to adhere to too many stereotypes. After all, a lot of people may want to define themselves as being unorthodox in their choices...and they’ll challenge the notion of gender-driven preferences.

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    The New York Times reports that a number of retailers are introducing unconventional promotions designed to generate traffic and sales, keyed to the end of a number of government stimulus programs that may have had consumers spending more than they would have on their own:

    “Sam’s Club is introducing a program in which it facilitates loans for shoppers of up to $25,000, backed by the Small Business Administration. Target will give its credit card holders 5 percent discounts. Toys ‘R’ Us is instituting a holiday fund program where it adds to shoppers’ savings, and Staples and Office Depot are giving away office products for a penny or at no cost.”
    KC's View:
    The only problem I have with this whole approach is that it is reserved for times like these, when traffic is light and spending is down. These kinds of approaches, which reflect an aggressive, take-no-prisoners strategy in which every sale is in play and ought to be competed for, is the only way to go to market in 2010 and beyond.

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that “Carrefour SA, the world’s second- biggest retailer, plans to exit Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and is seeking offers for its operations in the Southeast Asian countries, said four people familiar with the matter.” Among the companies that may be interested in submitting bids: Tesco, Aeon, and Dairy Farm International.

    The story says that Carrefour is open to selling the divisions piecemeal, if that is the most effective way to unload the divisions.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    The Associated Press reports that the US Postal Service plans to ask the independent Postal Regulatory Commission for permission to raise postal rates, though the exact amount of the sought-after hike is not known.

    The current 44-cent first class rate went into effect in May 2009. The US Postal Service lost $3.8 billion last year, even though it eliminated some 40,000 positions in an effort to become more efficient.

    The Postal Service also has been floating the possibility that it could reduce delivery to five days a week as one way of solving its financial problems.
    KC's View:
    Get your “forever stamps” now.

    The real problem is that the US Postal Service has a broken business model. Raising rates, or reducing delivery days, will be just band-aids on a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    CNN reports that “a Colorado company is recalling about 66,000 pounds of ground and tenderized steak bison meat that may be contaminated with a potentially deadly strain of E. coli, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

    “Five cases of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in Colorado from June 4 to June 9 are believed to be associated with the products, officials said Friday. The meat was distributed to retail establishments nationwide and to food service distributors in Utah and Arizona. The products, produced between May 21 and May 27, are being recalled by Rocky Mountain Natural Meats of Henderson, Colorado.”

    Reuters reports that a new study by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver says that “eating a lot of foods and drinks sweetened with fructose significantly raises a person's risk of having high blood pressure ... The study is the latest to link a sugar-laden diet with higher blood pressure, but it also clearly fingers fructose as a major contributor.”

    The conclusions, however, have been questioned by both the American Beverage Association and the Corn Refiners Association, which both believe that the study misstates the connection between drinks with high fructose corn syrup and various maladies.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Blockbuster Inc. will be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, “after the troubled video-rental chain failed to address its lack of compliance with NYSE listing standards. Separately, the company won an extension through Aug. 13 from holders of senior secured notes, on which it said it wouldn't be able to make a payment due Thursday.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    There were a number of stories of note that were reported during the time I was recharging the batteries. Here are the ones I thought most worth mentioning with relevant commentary in italics...

    • One of the themes constantly sounded at the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Summit in London, which I reported on before I took some vacation time, was sustainability - especially as it relates to the world’s diminishing supply of seafood.

    For this reason, it was of great interest to come home to a New York Times Magazine article entitled “Tuna’s End,”which looked at the bluefin tuna and all species of tuna, saying that they “are the living representation of the very limits of the ocean. Their global decline is a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food.”

    Tuna, writer Paul Greenberg reports, “are both a real thing and a metaphor. Literally they are one of the last big public supplies of wild fish left in the world. Metaphorically they are the terminus of an idea: that the ocean is an endless resource where new fish can always be found. In the years to come we can treat tuna as a mile marker to zoom past on our way toward annihilating the wild ocean or as a stop sign that compels us to turn back and radically reconsider.”

    This long (7,600 words!) and, in its own way, highly charged piece of journalism can be found here. It looks at how cultural attitudes (different in developing countries than in developed nations), consumption trends, technology and the evolution of fish farms have affected the availability of blue fin tuna, and questions whether we will ever view this fish the same way we view, say, whales. It is worth reading.

    A few years ago, when I reported on a study suggesting that the oceans were becoming over-fished, I remember getting emails that wondered what I was smoking. There were people who thought such a possibility was ludicrous. Now, it has become a matter of accepted fact (though there always will be people who will suggest that such facts are fiction). I am persuaded that retailers and suppliers need to be on the right side of this debate, and ought to be front-and-center with messages saying that they are being responsible about their acquisition efforts. To do otherwise is to risk being on the wrong side of history.

    • Also on the seafood front, there was another New York Times article reporting that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering the approval of a genetically engineered salmon - which grows twice as fast as normal salmon - as being safe to eat...and even whether, if such approvals are given, whether it should be labeled as “genetically engineered.” (GM crops are not so labeled.)

    According to the Times, “The salmon’s approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon. Next in line behind the salmon for possible approval would probably be the ‘enviropig,’ developed at a Canadian university, which has less phosphorus pollution in its manure.”

    If approved, the genetically engineered salmon would be available for supermarkets to sell in about two years.

    I am conflicted about whether or not I would eat this GM salmon (though less confused about the enviropig, which needs a new name if it is to become appetizing). I am completely convinced, however, that such products ought to be labeled clearly as being genetically engineered. (Not requiring such labeling for fresh produce is a serious mistake.) Transparency demands it, and transparency ought to be a core value in every decision.

    • And, again on the seafood front, Greenpeace attacked Costco for selling “15 of the 22 ‘red-listed’ seafoods including two of the world’s most critically imperiled species: orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. ‘Red listed’ species which are at risk of extinction are determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural= Resources (IUCN) which is the world’s leading authority on the conservation status of species.”

    "As the third largest retailer in the United States and one of the largest seafood retailers, the scope of Costco’s impact on ocean ecosystems is tremendous,“ said Greenpeace markets campaigner Casson Trenor. “Unfortunately, it clearly puts short-term profits before sustainability and its lack of transparency in labeling leaves its customers without any guidance. It’s time for Costco to take responsibility for the impact it is having on our oceans.”

    Costco apparently has not responded to the Greenpeace charges.

    While Greenpeace is perfectly capable of occupying the fringes of reasonable debate, on this one, I think, its position seems reasonable. Costco needs to consider the “wrong side of history” factor.

    • SymphonyIRI Group and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced new research into attitudes toward food that differentiate families with healthy weight children and those with overweight or obese kids.

    Among the differences:

    “Children in healthy weight families tend to be more involved in food purchase decisions (76 percent of healthy weight families vs. 72 percent in families with one or more overweight/obese children, including accompanying parents on shopping trips (68 percent vs. 64 percent). In addition, parents in healthy weight families are more likely to be involved in preparing and cooking most meals (89 percent vs. 82 percent).”

    “Households with healthy weight children have fewer rules about eating than those with one or more overweight/obese children (46 percent for healthy weight families vs. 51 percent for families with one or more overweight/obese children). The traditional family adage of ‘finish what’s on your plate’ does not serve children well: just 28 percent of families with healthy weight children apply this rule vs. 38 percent for families with at least one overweight or obese child.”

    “The study found that 78 percent of healthy weight children play inside for 30 minutes or more per day, vs. just 71 percent of overweight/obese children. Similarly, 84 percent of healthy weight children play outside for 30 minutes or more per day vs. 79 percent for overweight/obese children.”

    “Parents of healthy weight children place a premium on most activities that lead to healthy weight. These include daily exercise (valued by 92 percent of healthy weight family parents vs. 88 percent of parents of one or more overweight/obese children), access to fruit and vegetables in school (89 percent vs. 85 percent, respectively) and limiting fast food (86 percent vs. 83 percent, respectively).”

    “Surprisingly, despite the hype about social media, very few parents of healthy weight or overweight/obese children visit these sites for key information. Both types of parents focus primarily on primary care physicians, other medical resources, friends and relatives and health and wellness websites, books, magazines and newspapers and nutritionists/dietitians to gain critical information.”

    The key word in this research is “families.” That’s where attitudes are formed, and where bodies are shaped. In the end, legislation and litigation will have far less influence than how kids are raised by their parents.

    • The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported that two commercial real estate companies are suing Supervalu for having hired a company, Saint Consulting Group, that created the illusion of grass roots opposition to the opening of Walmart stores in various markets, efforts characterized as “dirty tricks campaigns.” The real estate companies also are suing Saint Consulting.

    The “dirty tricks” were revealed last month in a Wall Street Journal article.

    This has the makings of a great marketing campaign for Walmart, which can simply ask the question, “What are they afraid of?”

    • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that after two decades in the Atlanta marketplace, Publix has for the first time taken the leadership position with 142 stores and a 27 percent market share, followed by Kroger with 131 stores and 25.5 percent, and then Walmart with 58 stores and 23 percent. The percentages were compiled by the Shelby Report.

    According to the story, “Publix’s new dominance in metro Atlanta has come after years of expansion, marketing and focus on quality and store presentation. Publix also is only in five Southern states, which could give the company a better handle on the southeastern consumer ... Less clutter, more consistent product placement and faster checkout experiences ... have been part of Publix’s initiatives to win market share -- along with intensive customer service training.”

    The paper suggests that Publix’s ascent to number one could be short-lived, since Kroger has a number of remodeling projects on the front burner that could shift momentum its way. At the same time, the Journal-Constitution writes, it is instructive that Walmart has been unable to move into the pole position despite the fact that many expected that the recession should have been able to help Walmart improve its market position.

    • Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, praised the California Assembly for passing a bill that would ban bisphenol A (BPA) from food and drink containers designed for children ages 3 and younger. BPA - a chemical found in the linings of cans and in polycarbonate plastic, including some sports bottles, food-storage containers and baby bottles - has potential links to a wide range of health effects, including an increased risk of diseases or disorders of the brain, reproductive and immune systems. The bill was passed by the California Senate last year and is now set for a concurrence vote, after which the bill will be sent to Governor Schwarzenegger.

    BPA is so over, and not just in California. (I thought this the moment that Walmart announced that it was anti-BPA.) Resistance is futile.

    • The New York Times reported that Whole Foods and a number of other chains have stopped selling unpasteurized versions of kombucha because of concerns that the alcohol content in them may be too high; federal regulators also said last week that they will be looking at kombucha to make sure that it adheres to all federal laws governing alcoholic beverages.

    • Kantar Retail and BrandZ are out with their annual ranking of the most valuable global retail brands, and the top 20 are saids to be Walmart,, Tesco, Carrefour, Target, eBay, Home Depot, Aldi, Auchan, Lowe’s, Best Buy, IKEA, Marks & Spencer, Asda, Kohl’s, Lidl, Costco, Sam’s Club, Safeway, and Sainsbury.

    “This report helps illuminate the radical changes reshaping retail as shoppers, chastened by the recession and empowered with technology, think differently about what and how they purchase,” said Wayne Levings, CEO of Kantar Retail. “Brand is a prerequisite of retail success ... How retailers build their brands impacts all aspects of their business. Brand alone secures an enduring place in the mind of the consumer. It is fundamental to the supplier-retailer relationship.”

    Reuters reported on a new Technomic study saying that “US convenience stores are challenging fast-food restaurants with expanded food and drink offerings ... The move helped U.S. convenience store sales grow 1.5 percent in 2009 to about $10.4 billion, excluding inflation.”

    "Convenience stores are investing in prepared foods, which is putting increased competitive pressure on quick-service restaurant chains," Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano said.

    See my “formats are dead” argument, above.

    HealthDay News reported on a new study from the Trust for America's Health saying that the country’s obesity problem continues to grow, with more than two-thirds of states now with obesity rates over 25 percent.

    According to the story, “Mississippi weighed in for the sixth year in a row as the fattest state, with 33.8 percent of its adults obese, while Alabama and Tennessee tied for second (31.6 percent). The other top 10, also concentrated in the south, were West Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina and Michigan tying with North Carolina for 10th place (29.4 percent).

    Michigan was the only state in the top 11 not in the South, an anomaly perhaps explained by the state's economy.”

    The report also showed that “income is a major driver of the obesity epidemic. More than 35 percent of adults bringing in less than $15,000 a year were obese, vs. only 24.5 percent in the over-$50,000 income bracket.” And, “blacks and Latinos bear the brunt of the obesity problem. Blacks and Latinos outweighed whites in at least 40 states plus D.C.”

    “The healthiest states in terms of weight were congregated in the Northeast and West,” the story said. “Colorado (19.1 percent) came in first, followed by Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Utah, Montana and New Jersey. The District of Columbia was the only region to experience a decline in obesity rates.”

    • Interesting story from the Associated Press about how some states have created exemptions from food safety laws for small manufacturers, farmers and amateur cooks, allowing them to sell products that have not gone through the standard inspection process.

    “The exemptions have touched off a debate about how to balance the need for food safety with a dose of regulatory common sense,” AP writes. “Supporters say they recognize food safety regulations designed for big commercial food handlers can be a burden for small-time cooks who just want to make a few extra bucks selling canned goods or other specialty products. Opponents say that without regulation, the public is at risk for food-borne illnesses.”

    Food safety ought to be a matter of science, not size. End of discussion.

    • Haggen Inc., which operates 33 supermarkets in Washington State and Oregon under its own name and the Top Food & Drug banners, will shortly be operating one fewer - it plans to close a Redmond, Washington, Top store on july 31. The company said that the unit, a former Larry’s Market that it opened a little over two years ago, did not live up to expectations.

    • The Wall Street Journal reported that “A U.S. appeals court ordered a new trial Thursday for the former marketing chief of Ahold NV's one-time U.S. food distribution unit, who in 2006 was convicted on fraud and other charges.

    “The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Mark Kaiser, the one-time marketing director for Ahold's former U.S. Foodservice Inc. unit, that the district judge overseeing his case erred in instructions to the jury.

    “On appeal, Mr. Kaiser had argued in part that the judge made mistakes in his instructions about the concept of so-called conscious avoidance, or deliberate ignorance of the alleged fraud.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    One of the things that I did while on vacation was appear on “12 On The Money,” a business program produced by Cablevision of Connecticut, to talk about The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies, which I co-authored with Michael Sansolo. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    ...will appear on Wednesday this week. Just FYI...
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    It has been a while since we’ve posted reader emails; my travel schedule simply made it tougher than usual to get through the hundreds of messages that I got while on the road in Australia and England.

    But let me see if I can give you a taste of what people have been writing about...

    On the general subject of healthy eating, one MNB user wrote:

    We spent a week in Sweden with friends, one Swedish, one American.  They have a 5 year old daughter.  It would be interesting for you do look into the way Sweden raises their children.   A sit-down lunch is served every day.  The students have to eat the school lunches and everyone sits until the whole group is dismissed for recess.  They do not use processed foods, or high-sugar content foods.  The children are sent outside for recess, no matter the weather.  The parents are also cautioned if they are over zealous about pushing too much education at too early an age.

    We spent 5 days out on an island in the archipelago at a family hostel.  Everyone shared a kitchen, cooking their own meals.  I did not see one bag of chips or candy, junk food.  We had yogurt and granola for breakfasts with fresh fruit as did most of the other families, along with cheeses and Ry-Krisp type breads.  I cannot find a yogurt in the US that comes close to the wonder yogurt I had in Sweden, thinner, smoother and way less sugar.

    MNB had a story some time back about a study suggesting that moderate drinkers were healthier than non-drinkers, and noting that “moderate alcohol consumption is a powerful general indicator of optimal social status.”

    MNB user Karen Shunk wrote:

    This made me wonder if the same inference could be drawn from other studies purporting to show that moderate drinking has health benefits.  Could it be that what these studies are showing, regardless of groups being compared, is that moderate consumption of alcohol is more an economic indicator than anything else?   This would align with other studies conducted in this country showing that economic status is a major determinant of health among different populations – but it’s not the conclusion the beverage industry would like us to draw.  I am in awe of their marketing prowess, but a little depressed, too.

    Michael Sansolo had a column recently about attending a James Taylor-Carole King concert, and what this taught him about the importance of marketing to baby boomers. MNB user Ben Ball responded:

    Great column, Michael. Besides bringing back some really good memories of my own -- first time I saw James play was sitting under an oak tree in McCorkle Place at UNC Chapel Hill as a student – his uncle later became Chancellor and James was occasionally found on campus in those years -- you also captured the essence of marketing to us boomers in one simple parable. Well done.

    On another subject, a reader wrote:

    You may be trying to compare ‘apples with oranges’, in comparing outcomes of Wal-Mart’s banking efforts in Canada with what might happen if Wal-Mart were to operate banking operations in the US.

    The Canadian banking industry is very highly regulated by the federal government, something Wal-Mart is not accustomed to and something that may cause it some problems with its banking efforts. Nonetheless, while healthy competition does exist in the Canadian financial industry it is no where near  comparison with the ‘wild west’ take no prisoners, competitive attitude in the US industry. (This of course is the main reason why the Canadian Banks thrived while their America cousins were collapsing last year).

    Wal-Mart’s bank card program will be a success in Canada in the same way similar programs with other Canadian retailers are successful. But that does not mean it would have the same success in the US environment.

    Regarding Walgreen’s efforts to overturn a San Francisco bill saying that drug stores should not be able to sell tobacco products, one MNB user wrote:

    Walgreen has a strong case here.  Agree (restricting the sale of products which kill you is a reasonable condition of a licensed business centered on wellness) or disagree (too much government) with the basic premise of the law, it has to be applied equitably.  If the connection is the licensed pharmacy and its commitment to wellness, why is the size of your store or the extent of your other offerings relevant?

    At some point, when referring top the “dirty tricks” campaigns against Walmart that were funded in part by Supervalu and Safeway, I must have said “all’s fair in love and war.”

    To which one MNB user responded:

    I disagree with your statement, "All's fair in love and war." Using fake names and misrepresenting yourself in multiple communications from multiple locations to give the false impression that your numbers are larger than they really are is neither fair nor honest. I'm no lawyer, but if these activities aren't criminal, they ought to be.

    More importantly, I think Wal-Mart's competition would be wise to invest their money to find ways to compete rather than trying to delay the inevitable.

    My thinking has evolved on this one. Dirty tricks are silly. At the very least, if a company objects to the growth strategies of its competition on legal/zoning grounds, it ought to have the cojones to be up front about it, rather than making it look like grass-roots community opposition.

    It reminds me of the Nixon years. Not good memories.

    There was a study recently that predicted “children growing up now will have the worst health in human history.”

    Which got MNB user Dan Jones thinking:

    Really?  Human history? 2.6 million years, 99% of it subsistence living.  80% of it before fire was able to be controlled for cooking food.  Just 300 years ago children were bled by barbers to relieve “bad humours.”  Even with Obamacare, I do not expect my children to “have the worst health in human history.”  Call me crazy.

    You’re not crazy. You picked up on something that I should have.

    Hyperbolic statements like these should be exposed for what they are.

    There recently was a story on MNB about how CVS wanted to get into the food business, and some experts suggested that the retailer wanted to do so in part because it wanted to avail itself of the slotting allowances often available in this segment. My reaction was that slotting allowances are one of the most corrupting influences in food retailing and that, if true, this would be a serious mistake for CVS.

    One MNB user responded:

    I’m a retailer and I happen to agree with you on slotting allowances, bad idea.  Please advise all of your CPG readers to stop offering them.  Until then, the CVS’s of the world will continue going after the money they think they are missing.  I think you believe that retailers invented slotting allowances. I’d never heard the word until about 30 years ago when one was offered to me by a CPG company.  The only way they will stop is when CPG’s have enough courage to stop offering them and sell products on their merits.  If a retailer bullies them, just walk away, you don’t need to be in their store.

    MNB user Glenn Cantor added:

    CVS would do well, and improve brand equity, by complimenting food selections to their health solution initiatives.  For example, one of the most challenging concerns of people with diabetes is what, and how, to eat.  CVS can improve their relevance as a diabetes solution center by offering food selections that compliment their medical products.  This should be in addition to the packaged drinks and nutrition bars they already sell.  Real people eat real food.

    As it is now, the food selections in both Walgreens and CVS are primarily convenience and snack products.  Drug stores are not commonly perceived as convenience stores despite attempts to compete for this business.

    I might disagree with you on the last statement. Talk to people in the c-store business, and they see Walgreen and CVS as their primary competition.

    Regarding a new online tool that will allow people to shop for physicians, with price and care transparency, one MNB user wrote:

    I am commenting on this piece more from a personal perspective than a professional one.  I myself am a price shopper.  Eggs, milk, bread, etc., I go for bang for buck.  Where I draw the line is the health and well being of my family.  I think "shopping" for a doctor would feel like I was devaluing the importance of the care my family received.  Safeway and other companies that employ this resource need to be careful in the communication of the tool as to not imply they are devaluing the importance of their employees' health.  That being said, I think the Castlight Health tool being presented could be improved ten fold by employing a user review function.  This would allow users to compare quality of care and price to derive an implicit value of care.

    Shopping doesn’t always mean you go for the cheapest. It means you look for the most appropriate and relevant.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    As to Castlight for med cost transparency - I find it interesting that we will reduce costs by adding a charge to see what the costs are. When one goes to a restaurant (with very rare exception) or Grocery store, with no exceptions that I know of, the prices are posted. Why don’t we require – oh yes, through our big, bad government - health care providers to PROVIDE information as to costs by having available a menu of costs in their offices or on line prior to services being rendered. That would be true transparency and it should not have a cost.

    I was complaining about boxed wines - which I saw a lot of in Australia - and got a number of emails in response.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I would hate to ever see any high quality wines, particularly reds, sold in a box.  However, I would welcome seeing box wines move beyond generally containing cheap garbage.  There is no reason that some medium priced whites, for example, a Honig or Goose Cross Sauvignon Blanc, should not be offered in such a convenient format.  For people who like to have a glass of decent white wine with dinner, it seems that this would work nicely.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Kevin I must strongly disagree with you on the box wine subject. Obviously you are a CT. snob with a very closed mind (SNL: “Jane you ignorant Slut”-Chevy Chase)(Just kidding by the way!!). I too once thought the way you did. There are some good selections= of boxed wine for everyday use, plus the packaging is recyclable and costs the producer much less than glass and they pass that savings on to the consumer. There is a brand called ‘Yellow+Blue=Green” that package their wine in ‘Tetra Aseptic’ packaging that is earth-friendly, lightweight packaging that costs less to ship, leaves a smaller carbon footprint and holds a full liter of wine, a third more than a traditional bottle. Simply put this is a better way to indulge your passion  for excellent wine while giving back to the earth, doing the planet a favor.

    When writing about boxed wine, I quoted a few lines from Ghostbusters, which led one MNB user to write:

    Your passion for wine rivals my passion for beer.  Dogs and cats living together = hilarious.  It's going to be OK.  Allow me to offer a bit of therapeutic counseling.  Try to place more focus on your own rituals and enjoyment, and try to keep in mind that boxed wine doesn't really impact you... unless the bottling and corking of wine is completely eliminated in favor of boxes only.  This nightmare scenario is highly unlikely, you should be able to enjoy your experience without so much personal anguish.

    Problem: Solved.  You're welcome.  The bill is in the mail.

    Thanks. But I’m still not drinking wine from a box. (Of course, the people who make wine in screw top bottles also managed to wear me why knows?

    We’ll have more tomorrow...
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 6, 2010

    Everything was working great this morning for an early MNB delivery...and then, possibly because of the heat wave we’re experiencing here in the Northeast, all the internet went down both at the office and at home. So I had to go in search of someplace where it was working...

    Sorry about that. Best laid plans...
    KC's View: