retail news in context, analysis with attitude

On Monday, in my “Eye-Opener” essay, I spoke about a chance encounter that my daughter and I had with Alejandro de la Loza, a Southern California sculptor who makes a living as a high school art teacher.

An excerpt:

Alejandro described for us the challenges of teaching high school art, that the skill abilities and interest levels can be all over the map. His goal is to engage each of his students in a way that works for them, not for him. That’s incredibly important, I think, and I’m not just speaking here as a pundit, but as someone who has seen both good and bad teachers over the years. My eldest son, now almost 24, put it succinctly a decade ago when he had a teacher he liked: “He teaches the kids, not the subject,” he said.

In all of our organizations, that’s something we need to integrate into our leadership strategies - that each employee is a different person, with different skill levels and different ways of learning. To treat them all the same, to talk to them all the same way, may seem like the most efficient way to do things. But I’m betting in the vast majority of cases, it is far from the least effective.

Alejandro also told us about how he teaches art, and how he integrates writing into his approach. Often, he tells the kids that they are going to make a book - an interesting notion all by itself in a digital world - and provide both the copy and the art. Beyond finding that kids often connect in some primal way to the notion of paper and ink (which will be encouraging to those who believe that physical books will never be replaced by Kindles and iPads), Alejandro encourages them to cut loose as much as possible.

And he doesn’t worry about mistakes. In fact, he told me, “Mistakes get extra credit!” He wants the students to be as innovative and free-thinking as possible, and sees it as his job to get out of the way of all that creativity. Now, there are a lot of people in business leadership positions who say that they encourage people to make mistakes, but I suspect that the recession has cut down on their number; I also think that “the freedom to make mistakes” is a vastly overworked cliche that gets a lot more lip service than actual adherents. But “mistakes get extra credit”? Now that’s the kind of message that could fundamentally change an organization. Think about it.

Finally, Alejandro said something extremely meaningful during out conversation, which took place as the waiters were cleaning away the dishes and I was sipping at the end of my Coppola Shiraz. Even people who are not that intelligent will behave more intelligently “if you tell them they are,” he said.

Another wonderful metaphor that ties into my general feeling that people and companies that refuse to cater to the lowest common denominator will be rewarded. Treat people as intelligent and aspirational and they actually will behave that way.

MNB user Randy Aszman wrote:

Wow. Maybe it’s the two cups of coffee … or the vitamins, salmon oil, and CoQ10 I just ingested. But this is the best report I have seen you submit. This needs to be sent to every school administrator in the country. Well done, and thank you, Kevin.

MNB user Marv Imus wrote:

And your daughters thoughts ? Would have been a great addition to the segment...

True. She also was wowed by the conversation.

Another MNB user wrote:

I'm not completely disagreeing with you but I did find some humor in some of this. It seems on some level that you're saying if we tell a complete moron that they're smart and offer bonuses for mistakes, that somehow our business will be rewarded. I don't know how many managers are going to buy into that.

That’s not what I was saying at all.

I was saying that when people make mistakes because they are trying to be different, innovative, extraordinary...that’s when they ought to be rewarded. Mistakes of laziness and negligence obviously should not get rewarded.

As for morons...well, I’d guess that there are a lot of people out there who behave moronically because that’s how they are treated.

My premise here is the same as the one as when my kids were little. I never, ever used baby talk. I don’t believe it it. I think that if you talk to kids as if they are intelligent, thinking human beings, and use complete sentences and good grammar, they will respond by thinking and talking like intelligent human beings, using complete sentences and good grammar.

Finally, here’s a reaction I didn’t see coming, from MNB user Richard Evans:

Interesting piece in your Monday Morning Eye Opener about tailoring the skill abilities and interest levels of students to their individual needs.

You said in part "In all of our organizations, that’s something we need to integrate into our leadership strategies - that each employee is a different person, with different skill levels and different ways of learning. To treat them all the same, to talk to them all the same way, may seem like the most efficient way to do things. But I’m betting in the vast majority of cases, it is far from the least effective."

May be a bit of a stretch but, makes me think of another saying in a similar vein.

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

It was a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase summarizes the principles that, under a communist system, every person should contribute to society to the best of his or her ability and consume from society in proportion to his or her needs. In the Marxist view, such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that a developed communist society will produce; the idea is that there will be enough to satisfy everyone's needs.

Novel point of view you have there.

Been called a lot of things in my life. But not often a Marxist.

But I really don’t think I was espousing a Marxist position. Far from it.

Yesterday, MNB took note of a new story saying that whole wheat bread sales have exceeded white bread sales for the first time.

I commented:

What’s interesting about this story is that, at least by implication, “whole grains”and “whole wheat” are made to sound like the same thing. But it’s always been my impression that this is not true...that there are whole wheat breads that are not much healthier for you than some white breads.

I always think that the industry needs to be careful about encouraging these kinds of mistakes...that the error may be the media’s, but the fault will be laid at the door of food retailers and manufacturers.

Got a number of responses to this...

MNB user Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for Oldways / The Whole Grains Council, wrote:

We enjoyed your piece titled "Against the Grain" in today's Morning NewsBeat.

Thanks for encouraging your readers to be savvy about finding whole grain foods. Both "whole wheat" and "whole grain" on a label can mean that all the grain in the bread is whole grain – or very little of it. Our Whole Grain Stamp helps, by telling you exactly how much whole grain is in each serving. If you're looking for breads (or other foods) made entirely with whole grain, look for the 100% Whole Grain Stamp; if you're still transitioning to the fuller, nuttier taste of whole grain, you may prefer a product that's made with a mix of whole and refined grain. (It's kind of like drinking 2% or 1% milk rather than skim.)

The Whole Grain Stamp is now on more than 4,000 products in every aisle of the supermarket, and it always guarantees at least a half serving of whole grain per portion – a significant contribution to our daily recommendation of three or more servings of whole grain.

Another MNB user wrote:

Years ago (early 90’s) I was working with a major mid-west retailer on a project to create planograms based on purchase behavior.  We were working on the DSD bread category and began by indexing stores based on white bread volume vs. wheat bread volume.  The underlying assumption was that more affluent areas would buy more wheat bread and we would expand that section of the planogram in those stores with the highest index of wheat: white.  Guess what…it’s not always true.  In fact, the correlation between “wheat” and “affluence” was actually the opposite.  The highest penetration of wheat bread unit sales was in the lowest income urban areas.  We never found anything that completely explained the anomaly to our expectations. What we did figure out was that what we meant by “wheat” was actually “premium brands” so we recalculated the index based on private label white vs. a specific premium brand.  At which point, everything fell into place and began to make sense again.

I guess my point in telling this old story is that “wheat” as a descriptor is basically meaningless when trying to make assumptions about behavior.  Although my point could also be that analysts have to be very careful when reviewing data and presenting results because people can jump to conclusions.

Another MNB user wrote:

For a bakery product to be called “whole wheat”, the first ingredient in the ingredients statement must be “whole wheat flour”.  If it is, then you can’t get much better than that.  Commercial bakeries (Brownberry, etc) will get it right as they know they must abide by FDA guidelines.  Where you can get tripped up is in the instore bakeries.  They tend to be loose w/the whole wheat description and, often, the first ingredient is simply wheat flour, the tip off the item is not baked from whole wheat.

Whole grain can be other whole grains than whole wheat.  But neither  (whole grain vs whole wheat) is superior to the other.  Wheat is just a type of grain. Other grains that can be considered to be whole grain are brown rice, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, corn, oats, rye, teff, triticale, millet, amaranth, sorghum, and wild rice. Wheat can come in the form of spelt, bulgur, wheatberries, and faro.

Many products that say whole grain may have a mix of any of the above whole grains or they may just have one, like whole grain oats.  Multigrain just means there are a few different grains in the product, but that does not necessarily mean any of the them are whole grain.  So, this is the term “multi grain” that can trick/confuse people as there doesn’t have to be any “whole” grains in that type of bakery product.  Again, looking at the ingredients statement will tell whether the grains are whole or not.

And MNB user Jane Andrews wrote:

Nutritionists like me love nothing more than seeing a trend like the one you reported:  whole wheat is surpassing white bread in sales.  But you raise the idea that whole wheat may not as good for you as whole grain: nonsense!  That’s because whole wheat is a whole grain.  In fact, most of the studies on whole grain health benefits have been with whole wheat – just because it’s our favorite grain – not to otherwise dismiss whole oats, corn, rice, rye and barley.  There is deception, intentional or not, in the marketplace.  Folks assume that healthy sounding names like “multigrain” mean that the product is whole grain.  Sorry, the product is most likely a blend of several, hence “multi” refined grains with not much, if any, whole grain.  Look for the word “whole” describing specific grains in the ingredient list:  the higher on the list, the better for you.
I think I have this all figured out now...

I think.

But I do have one question.

Are there whole grains in Quadro-Triticale?

Just curious.

Regarding the trademark dispute between the owners of Colgate and Aquafresh toothpastes, one MNB user wrote:

On the surface, to the uninitiated, most trademark disputes appear to be about nothing…

But, trademarks that are not fully protected by the trademark owner,  can lose certain rights…diluting the effectiveness of the trademark…

There are very little black and white areas of trademark protection, but every potential infringement must be explored. We do most of our explorations through open dialog and open communications and have never been to court…

As opposed to the lawsuits going back and forth now between the toothpaste companies.

Yesterday, I wrote:

While I was in San Francisco last week, driving in from the airport, I noticed a glistening steel and glass building with “” written across the top in bright blue. And the first thing I thought about as I looked at this building, nestled in the same part of the world as companies like Apple and Genentech, was whether they have card tables and lawn chairs as furniture in the Walmart offices there, just like back home in Bentonville.

Just curious.

One MNB user seemed to think my reference was out of date:

I take it you have not been to Bentonville for a while?

Last year. Did I miss the redecorating?

Another MNB user wrote:

Although it has been several years since I have been in them, don’t be fooled by the outside.  The inside is plastic and card tables and low cost chairs.  Nothing fancy other than the view.  The buyer’s did however have their own offices which is a big step versus what they get in Bentonville.

I do know one thing.

That building is very visible from the road, and fairly shouts out, “This is not your father’s Walmart.”
KC's View: