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    Published on: July 21, 2010

    The headline the other morning grabbed my eye.

    “STUDY: AMERICANS ARE TOO LITERAL ABOUT EXPIRATION DATES”

    The story was based on a survey conducted by ShelfLifeAdvice.com, which determined that more than three quarters of Americans “said they consider food unsafe to eat once the expiration date has passed, even if it has not spoiled.” However, the website notes that the dates on most foods - whether sell-by dates, best-by dates, or use-by dates - are extremely conservative. “If the product was stored properly, it should last well beyond the date on the package,” the site says; “many folks find them more confusing than helpful.  Moreover, these food expiration dates create anxiety, causing consumers to throw out a lot of perfectly good food.”

    I agree. The dates are confusing.

    But that’s the industry’s fault, not consumers’.

    What, exactly, should consumers do? The dates are on the products, the language is vague, and the impression certainly is left that once a date has passed, consumers should toss the stuff out and buy new stuff. (Of course, that does have its advantages for retailers, who get to sell more stuff.)

    Here’s an idea.

    Food packaging should mean what it says, and say what it means. Transparency and clarity ought to have the highest priority. When the industry avoids specificity, it doesn’t do shoppers any favors...and doesn’t help itself either.

    Trust is best engendered when information is complete, comprehensive, and contextual. And trust ought to be the ultimate goal for marketers.

    Maybe the headline ought to have read:

    “AMERICAN FOOD INDUSTRY TOO VAGUE ABOUT EXPIRATION DATES”

    To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault is not in our shoppers but in ourselves.

    That’s my Wednesday morning eye-opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    The Denver Business Journal reports that Whole Foods is introducing a new “GreenBox” - an environmentally friendly pizza container - at more than two dozen stores in the Rocky Mountain region.

    According to the story, “The GreenBox is made from recycled material and features a top that breaks down into pizza plates, eliminating the need for additional disposable plates. Also, the bottom of the box can be folded to become a compact storage container for leftover pizza, so plastic wrap and foil aren't needed.”

    If the introduction is successful, Whole Foods reportedly plans to roll the GreenBox out to additional regions of the country.
    KC's View:
    I always think it is the little things, like this GreenBox idea, that add up to the big changes that eventually change the world.

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    The Nielsen Company is out with new research suggesting that Baby Boomers remain a demographic buying group not to be trifled with.

    According to the report, “Boomers should matter to marketers and CPG companies because they spend 38.5% of CPG dollars. Yet it’s estimated that less than 5% of advertising dollars are currently targeted towards adults 35-64 years old (which includes the latter half of Generation X in addition to Boomers). With most marketers generally targeting 18-49 year olds, more than half of the affluent Boomer demographic is ignored entirely.
    KC's View:
    Michael Sansolo had a great column about this recently. If you missed it, click here.

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    The Boston Globe reports that Edith Murnane - a chef who owned a restaurant in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and “managed the sustainable food programs for Community Servings, a Jamaica Plain nonprofit that provides home delivered meals to people with life threatening illnesses” - has been named the city’s first Food Policy Director.

    According to the story, her job will be “to coordinate food policy across the city, having an impact on everything from school lunches to farmers markets, anti-obesity efforts to meals for home-bound seniors. The position will pay $75,000 annually, which will be funded by a grant from an anonymous donor and the Eos Foundation, a Massachusetts organization that focuses in part on nutrition, health, and education projects.”
    KC's View:
    This is the second story in as many weeks about major US cities hiring Food Policy Directors. (The other was Baltimore.) I think this is a positive trend, if it allows for an intelligent and coordinated approach to nutrition and public policy.

    BTW...just as a matter of interest...Community Servings is one of the major charities supported by a prominent Bostonian named Joan Hall Parker, who was married to the late Robert B. Parker. That’s what we call good genes.

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    Drug Store News reports that the Stillwater Medical Group has opened its second retail clinic inside a Walmart store in Richmond, Wisconsin. The first, opened last December, was in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota.

    According to the story, “The new clinic is staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants employed by Stillwater Medical Group. In addition to treatments for acute ailments like sinus infections, ear aches and sore throats, common vaccinations, camp, school and sports physicals are also available.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart is the target of a class action lawsuit in Colorado that “accuses the world's largest retailer of conspiring to limit medical care for injured employees in a bid to save money.

    The lawsuit alleges that Wal-Mart broke state and federal laws by using a subsidiary to control the treatment for employees with workplace injuries. Wal-Mart sent the injured workers to clinics run by Concentra Inc., which operates 300 medical centers and 250 workplace clinics in 40 states.

    “The suit, filed last year in the U.S. District Court for Colorado on behalf of roughly 7,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees in the state, accuses Wal-Mart, Concentra and insurer American Home Assurance Co., part of American International Group Inc., of conspiring to violate a Colorado worker's compensation law that bars companies from dictating medical care for workers hurt on the job.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    Fast Company has a nice story about how Chipotle has created “an informative and somewhat irreverent campaign for its website and product packaging” that management hopes will “alter the way Americans think about fast food and fast food advertising.”

    On its website, users can see the entire Chipotle supply chain - the “naturally raised animals, locally grown food and other sustainable ingredients” that distinguish the company from other fast feeders.

    “While we have never sourced these ingredients to be a marketing platform, it is what makes Chipotle so different from other restaurant companies” says Chipotle chief marketing officer Mark Crumpacker in a prepared statement.
    KC's View:
    Transparency can have a positive marketing impact...in addition to be the right thing to do. Nice synergy.

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    • In Toronto, The Star reports that “after years of thriving in the suburbs on its reputation for freshness, good food and good value,” Longo’s “is opening more downtown Toronto stores, including its biggest yet this fall in the high-profile Maple Leaf Square condominiums. Unlike its other urban stores, which at 7,000 square feet are small even by Longo’s standards, the store in Maple Leaf Square will be more like a full Longo’s suburban supermarket, though with an emphasis on features that appeal to urban consumers.”

    The move into urban markets is designed to give Longo’s more ammunition to compete with the likes of Sobey’s and Walmart, according to the story.

    • In upstate New York, the Troy Record reports that the seafood supplies at Price Chopper and Hannaford Bros. have not been affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, since “the majority of seafood sold in Northeast supermarkets doesn’t come from that body of water.” However, Price Chopper says that the perception of a problem has led seafood sales to “dip slightly” since the spill began on April 20; Hannaford says that it has not noticed a drop in sales.

    Forbes reports on a new consumer survey by Alix Partners saying that “although there are indications that the worst of the recession may have passed, consumers feel worse about their own economic conditions than they did a year ago ... Topping consumers' concerns: Personal debt levels and job security. Eighty-three percent of those polled said they planned to spend the same or less on non-essential purchases.”

    An imminent turnaround is not expected. Forbes writes that “consumers said they expect to resume their pre-recession spending in 2013. Improved economic conditions could, of course, speed up a recovery in consumer spending. But given how shell shocked shoppers have become - and how dependent on easy credit - the risk of further disappointment remains real as well.”

    • California-based Global Industry Analysts is out with a new study entitled, “Kids’ Food and Beverages: A Global Strategic Business Report,” which says that “growing health awareness, time constraints and the ensuing demand for functional and convenience foods has and will continue to drive growth and development of the kids’ food and beverage market, pushing total sales to nearly $90 billion in 2015,” according to a story in Candy Industry.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    We got a number of emails responding to Michael Sansolo’s column yesterday about products that are supposedly “new and improved,” but often are not so much. he cited both Windows XP and the constant flow of newfangled razor blades onto the market as two examples of “new” items that are not necessarily necessary.

    MNB user David Brewster wrote:

    I believe you are much too kind. Products (food and small appliances come to mind as good examples) defined as "new and improved" are often the same, or worse, more cheaply made, smaller, more expensive and repackaged - usually to disguise the change for the worse.

    Ice cream used to come in half gallons. and now with two hidden steps of new improvements is considerably reduced in quantity with packaging carefully designed to disguise that, and with "double churning" which adds air.  Coffee makers, which used to last indefinitely seem to last about 18 months - or I've had a lousy string of luck through several major brands.  The new pound is 12 oz., the new half-gallon was 1.75 liters and is now 1.5 liters.

    The new serving size is about half a single serve package when enumerating bad stuff in the food.

    How many times a week does a reputable provider of goods and services try to disguise cost / quantity / value by the words "new and improved"?  I think almost every time. 

    So Consumers Union is one form of vigilance ... and MNB is another.

    Keep it up.


    MNB user Tom Redwine responded specifically to Michael’s description of XP:

    Oh Michael, if only XP was indeed a program. Allow me to descend into a little nerdity here...

    Windows XP is an operating system. An operating system (OS) is like the automatic centers of the brain that control breathing and regulate heartbeats - the OS does all the breathing and regulating heartbeats for the computer, allowing it to run programs like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word and Excel, etc. in the "consciousness" of the computer (the fun parts that you and I play with).

    Upgrading an OS is rarely easy and often messy, and that's when you have a clear upgrade path designed by the manufacturer. However, Microsoft doesn't offer an upgrade path from XP to Vista's heir, Windows 7. Going from XP to Win7 (as I have done) may mean formatting the drive and doing a complete (from the ground up) install. Painful, time consuming, and you stand there for hours praying all your backups are good, because you'll have to restore all your personal data after the new OS is installed.

    Had Microsoft provided an upgrade path from XP to Win7, they'd've sold their enterprise customers in the first week. Instead, as business customers shelve older computers for new ones, they'll gradually embrace Win7, 'cause that'll be what's on the majority of PCs sold. Unless you're in a very large company with an entrenched IT dept and userbase; then, you're hosed.

    BTW, Win7 runs great on my wife's desktop, which used to run XP. My backups were good.


    All of this description, by the way, illustrates why I have a Mac.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Couldn't agree more about the razor blades example. I still use twin blades and hate the thought that they may no longer be available one day.

    And, from MNB user Dana Wise:

    I love the Gillette Sensor Excel, but I have not liked a single innovation from Gillette since.  I am a hoarder of the old style.  I even had to hunt in 3 different states for a replacement handle when I left mine somewhere other than my bag while traveling.  I will just say it was an ordeal trying new products while I hunted for the old style.

    Apparently I am in the minority of everything when it comes to personal preferences.  It isn't just razors, it is in virtually every consumable product ever made.  I don't know why, but I will be happily buying my favorite products for a year or two, and then they discontinue it!  No warning.  No last minute sales of everything left on the shelf (to allow me to stock up).  And worst of all - horrible replacement products.  Then the whole process starts over...uuugh!





    I’m not surprised that we got a bunch of email yesterday about the raw milk issue, which was brought up by Slate.com...and which I said I’d never drink; I prefer my milk pasteurized simply because it seems safer to me.

    One MNB user responded:

    Yet you eat hamburgers, sushi  - anything else?

    I probably eat lots of stuff that I should not. But raw milk isn’t going to make the list.

    MNB user Sara Hamaker wrote:

    Hi. I'm a frequent reader of your site but have never written before now. My family and I have been drinking raw milk for several years now, delivered each week by our "milkman" fresh from a farm in the next county. We're not rabid raw milk proponents and have visited the farm that provides our milk--it is clean and well-run. The cows frolic in the pasture and munch on grass, rather than being cooped up in a barn and fed synthetic hormones to increase their milk supply.

    One of the reasons we decided to drink raw milk comes down to its nutrients, many of which are lost because of pasteurization. As someone who breastfeed my children, I started thinking about how you're not supposed to microwave breastmilk when giving a bottle because it destroys many of the properties that make breastmilk good for the baby. I then realized how much of the "good stuff" in cow's milk that is zapped away by the high heat process. Personally, raw milk has not cured any diseases that we've had--and I remain somewhat skeptical of those claims from others. We love the rich creaminess of the milk and find it doesn't cause any type of stomach upsets, the way regular milk sometimes caused us. Besides, it's fun to shake the cream down before pouring.

    We certainly do not feel we are playing "Russian roulette" with our lives, as one FDA official put it. Frankly, we feel much safer drinking our raw milk than picking up veggies or beef at the supermarket, what with all the recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks traced to nuts, spinach, salsa, guacamole, and beef lately. Drinking raw milk does have it's risks, but we feel that whenever we can get our food directly from the source--be it raw milk, beef from a local rancher or vegetables and fruit from a farm co-op--we think our lives are the better for it.


    Okay, I just have one question.

    Do the cows really “frolic”?

    Because I’ve seen a few pastures in my day, and I’ve never seen a cow frolic. Generally they just seem to stand around chewing, maybe lumber around a bit, but never frolic.

    I’m just asking.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    There is nothing wrong with raw milk. The problem arises with cleanliness issues from the farmer to the purchaser. Pasteurized and homogenized milk offers significantly reduced nutritional value, except calories. I have not drunk milk for 10 years and do not miss it. I don’t miss the raw milk either…with all the little clumps of fat floating on the surface.

    MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

    I’ve often wondered if some people don’t realize that things like pasteurization cost money, in todays bottom line driven corporate culture would the dairy processors be doing something that costs them money, if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.  There is no way I’d drink raw milk, it is literally a crap shoot as to what diseases might be lurking in it.

    There’s no way I’d be elected in todays political climate, for one I’ll never run, and also, I do believe in reasonable regulation.  While I don’t want governmental regulation over all aspects of our lives, in some instances we do need to be protected from ourselves and from the excesses that can come when people are left to their own devices.


    And, from another MNB user:

    What planet do these people live on?  Cows don’t live at the day spa, it’s a farm, a dirty filthy stinking farm.  I’m with you on this one Kevin.  Ever driven past a farm and watched a cow take a dump? It’s actually hard to drive by one and not see nature take it’s course.   And I’m not trying to be crude here, at over 4 feet tall at the shoulder, to drop a load from that distance…well it splatters.  The odds of not having fecal matter on the udders and in your milk are slim to none.  Then there’s the dusty barn.  Even if you had a clean cow, a triple washed cow, dust would get on the cow and in the dust is not only dirt but dried up feces.

    Well, this would seem to clear up my “do cows really frolic” question...in more detail than I needed to have.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 21, 2010

    Lou Piniella, who moved from a career playing with Major League Baseball teams that included the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles to a managerial career with the Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and, finally, the Chicago Cubs, announced yesterday his plans to retire at the end of the season.
    KC's View:
    I’ve always loved Piniella’s fiery approach to the game, and wished many times that he’d come to the Mets, a team that could use that kind of passion and maybe even a little bit of fear of the manager.

    I also wish that he could’ve brought the Cubs to the promised land - the World Series championship that has eluded the team for more than a century. It would have been fitting, but it seems a remote possibility at best. no matter - Piniella always has been fun to watch, and we here at MNB wish him the best.