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    Published on: August 11, 2010

    by Kate McMahon

    Organic foods and online social gaming may at first seem an odd pairing, but today it adds up to a recipe for sweet success on the internet. The partnership between organic producer Cascadian Farm and FarmVille, the nation’s hottest social network game with 20 million daily users, has caught the web and the mainstream media’s attention.

    It’s also a perfect example of how quickly the cyber-landscape is changing and how a retailer, marketer or service provider can capture and monetize its target audience using innovative strategies.

    Let’s start with online gaming. Like many, I initially (and incorrectly) thought it was the limited domain of poker addicts and teenage boys waging wars or icing Mafia foes until 3 a.m. In fact, a recent Nielsen survey showed online gaming has overtaken email as the number two online activity, outpaced only by social networking, the most popular sites being Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

    And while participants cross all demographic groups, women are now the largest and fastest growing constituency of online gaming. (For the uninitiated, animated games such as FarmVille and Mafia Wars are free and are played through Facebook or iPhone applications. You can play solo or collaborate with friends and family, and spend real money on virtual “cash” to buy goods, crops or animals). About 60% of FarmVille’s players are women between the ages of 20 and 40, who play the game for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

    General Mills, which owns Cascadian Farm, first tapped FarmVille in May when its Green Giant Fresh subsidiary placed a coded sticker on broccoli and other fresh products at 4,000 Target stores across the nation. Users could redeem the stickers at TheGiant.com for five free FarmVille “cash units” – and $100,000 worth of units were cashed in over a five week period. Plans are in the works for that program to expand, reportedly to WalMart and other stores.

    Cascadian Farm, a Washington-state based producer of organic cereals, granola bars, vegetables and juice concentrates, joined the game with a promotion last month. It offered all FarmVille players, including beginners, a virtual crop of branded organic blueberries that can be harvested faster and bring a bigger cash return than other crops.

    The company, whose products are grown on 15,000 acres in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, said up-front its long-range goal was to teach players about organic farming and green living, and boost its name recognition and mission. Cascadian also created an avatar/blueberry tender named Farmer Joe Cascadian on Facebook and he had 5,000 friends in no time. (I’m still waiting for my friend request to be accepted.) The sites reveal involved and enthusiastic players, sending “photos” of their virtual blueberry crops, blogging about farming and recipes, along with well-placed links to Cascadian’s home page. And in a nod to the real world, the FarmVille site included a $1 coupon to be redeemed in an actual store.

    While the final numbers are not available, early figures shows that in less than four days more than 310 million organic blueberry crops were planted by more than 1 million people in FarmVille. That’s a ton of blueberries, and good will.

    Further evidence of a trend: Hot on its heels was an announcement Monday that Honda will introduce its soon-to-launched CR-Z sport hybrid August 23rd on a new site for car enthusiasts called Car Town. If your tastes run to Lamborghinis over lettuce crops, that might be the game for you.

    Comments? Send me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    WASHINGTON -- Even phenoms get the blues.

    My 21-year-old son is due to go back to college next week to begin his senior year, and so I took advantage of a business trip to the nation’s capital to take him with me so we could see the much-anticipated return of Stephen Strasburg to the Washington Nationals’ pitching rotation. Strasburg, one of the most heralded young pitchers in the major leagues, has been on the disabled list after an auspicious beginning, and not only did the timing work out, but we had seats along the third base line, just a half dozen rows in from the field.

    Unfortunately, Strasburg got hammered by the Florida Marlins. He threw 84 pitches in four-and-a-third innings and gave up six runs in a game the Nationals eventually lost 8-2.

    Which was sort of a buzz-kill on an evening when the temperature seemed to hover near 100 degrees; we were certainly expecting - or at least hoping for - a better performance from the young pitcher, and I was thinking that I’d get an “Eye-Opener” piece about the importance of pure talent.

    But instead, something else occurred to me as the Marlins kept hitting the ball and Strasburg looked almost lost on the pitchers mound.

    I looked around the ballpark, thinking about the fact that this was my second trip there this season. It was a lot more crowded this time, as it usually is when Strasburg pitches - he’s something special, and even the occasional poor performance has not diminished the city’s perception that he gives a generally mediocre team a better-than-usual chance to win.

    That’s a good business metaphor, especially for retailers looking to compete in a crowded and cutthroat marketplace.

    You can’t afford to be mediocre. You have to go out there every day to win, and you need to have at least one thing that you do better than anyone else, that distinguishes you in the customer’s mind, that gives you a differential advantage.

    For the Washington Nationals, it is Steven Strasburg. What is yours?

    One other note. Differential advantages are, by their very nature, perishable and assailable. Not only do you need to have one, but you have to have a kind of farm system that replenishes the team, that nurtures tomorrow’s advantage.

    Then, and only then, are you ready to play ball.

    And that’s my Eye-Opener for Wednesday.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    Supervalu announced yesterday that the president of its New England-based supermarket chain, Mike Witynski, is departing the company “to pursue other interests,” and will be succeeded by Larry Wahlstrom, the former president of the chain who was himself replaced by Witynski in 2009.
    KC's View:
    Other than to say that Wahlstrom is the right guy to lead Shaw’s right now because his experience makes it possible to hit the ground running, Supervalu isn't saying a lot about the change in leadership at Shaw’s.

    That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of chatter about the move, both inside and outside the company. And most of the chatter suggests that people think that this is a short-term fix ... that following on the heels of the company’s divestment of all of its connecticut stores, the whole chain is going to get sold, either in one piece or to a variety of buyers.

    At the very least, the image persists that Supervalu is a company in turmoil ... and within the organization, there are a number of people trying to understand the vision of CEO Craig Herkert.

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco has affirmed Walmart’s $85 million settlement of litigation charging the company with not paying employees for time worked; the settlement was part of a broader $640 resolution of global claims along the same lines.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    The San Francisco Chronicle this morning reports that Anchor Brewing Co., which has been owned and operated for almost a half-century by Fritz Maytag, now is owned by Anchor Brewers & Distillers LLC, which is controlled by “two experienced alcoholic beverage entrepreneurs” who say it is their goal to ramp up production and marketing without hurting quality. Terms of the deal were not disclosed; Maytag, 72, remains as chairman emeritus.
    KC's View:
    I hope the new owners take good care of Anchor Steam. It isn’t just a beer. it is a local treasure.

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    Casey’s General Stores, the Iowa-based convenience store company that has been the subject of a hostile acquisition bid launched by Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard, announced yesterday that it “has completed a private placement for $569 million of 5.22% senior unsecured notes due 2020 ... The Company intends to use the net proceeds from this offering to finance its previously announced recapitalization plan,” which is its way of spurning Couche-Tard’s entreaties.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    The Globe and Mail reports on the growing popularity of probiotics, described as “live organisms, usually helpful bacteria similar to those found in the human gut, that can change or restore the intestinal flora,” that are being marketed and used by consumers as a way of dealing with “candida, digestion, diarrhea, boosting brain development and boosting the immune system.”

    “The surge in popularity,” the paper writes, “comes after manufacturers homed in on the category's potential benefits and began adding them to everything from yogurt, infant formula and juices to bread, chewing gum and chocolate. They can even be found in some floor cleaners and aftershaves ... But health experts say the hoopla over probiotics has overshadowed actual scientific proof that they improve health, leading to confusion for consumers deluged with claims about products containing the micro-organisms.” In addition, there are different kinds of bacteria believed to have different kinds of health benefits, which confuses consumers, confounds marketers, and concerns regulators.

    The paper writes, “Regulatory agencies are trying to rein in the multi-billion dollar industry, which saw consumer spending on probiotic supplements triple in the United States between 1994 and 2003. The International Probiotics Association is planning a labelling scheme that would include a minimum bacterial count and an identification of the bacterial strain. There is also a move afoot in Europe to control the claims with regulation that demands companies produce the scientific evidence to support their labelling.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    The New York Times reports on a possible new use for butter - converting it to diesel fuel. There apparently is a process that has been invented that can make “biodiesel fuel out of a wide range of nonedible, low-value ‘fog’ - the industry shorthand for fats, oils and grease.”

    While turning edible butter into diesel would not be economical - unless, of course, your diesel-powered truck or car ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere and all you had handy were a cow and a butter churn - it is believed that “agricultural waste, including that of dairy farms, as one potential source of materials that could be turned into fuel.”
    KC's View:
    Little did Julia Child know...

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    • Publix announced the promotion of Charles B. Roskovich Jr. (Chuck) to Senior Vice President of Product Business Development effective Jan. 1, 2011; he will be responsible for overseeing the customer service, manufacturing and product business development operations.

    Roskovich began his Publix career in 1975 as a front-service clerk and spent much of his early career in the meat department. He became a store manager in 1993, district manager in 1995 and regional director in 2000. He has been the Atlanta Division Vice President since January 2008.

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced that it has hired Rhett Asher to be vice president of Industry Relations, and that he will “focus on enhancing the capabilities and services of industry relations at FMI, specifically the FMI/GMA Trading Partner Alliance. He will also support other programs such as loss prevention and risk management, technology, and marketing and merchandising.”

    Asher joins FMI from the National Retail Federation where he served as Vice President of Loss Prevention. He served in a similar capacity at the Retail Industry Leaders Association from 2003 to 2006.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 11, 2010

    Responding to Michael Sansolo’s column about modeling one’s own management techniques on what learns from good and bad bosses, one MNB user wrote:

    Absolutely right on.  I have been through exactly the same the management styles from superiors and have reflected on how lead as well.  You can never reflect, review and alter your style enough.




    Yesterday’s “Eye-Opener” piece reflected on the importance of front lien employees, as illustrated by the actions of the Jet Blue flight attendant who went a little crazy on Monday after being mistreated by a passenger.

    MNB user Gary harris wrote:

    I suppose there would be a lot of head nodding out there when folks heard about the Jet Blue incident. For most of us who have worked the front lines in retail or service industries, Steven Slater did what we all would have liked to do at one point or another in our careers; tell the offending party to attempt a biological impossibility, then walk away. Or slide away. With a cool one. Or two.

    While the most successful retail employees are those who can put their own issues aside for the sake of the customer (the very heart of what service is all about) none of us can know what Mr. Slater was going through given the news about his parents and whatever else might have been happening in his life. The heat of summer, getting hit in the head with a piece of luggage (according to another account) with no apology forthcoming, combined with his personal sorrows to create the perfect storm for something to snap. Thankfully his actions, unlike some other disgruntled employees who have made the news, didn’t involve weapons or retaliation against others, just an overly dramatic exit from the situation, and yes, probably his career.
     
    There, but for the grace of God…


    One MNB user wrote:

    Sounds like this flight attendant went postal, or should I say aerial.

    Your point about a business only being as good and successful as it's front line people is right on. It does not take but one such incident to permanently register in the minds of the public as being a company who does not put the customer first regardless of how big their public relations campaign is to the contrary.

    I made a brief stop at a c-store the other day to pick up gas and milk. The attendant kept me waiting while she waited on other customers who had come in after me because I was standing at the wrong register. There was no sign in place to inform the public that the register was closed and she did not feel it necessary to impart that information to me.

    When I finally asked her why there was no sign, she said she never puts a sign there.

    I told her it would be a good idea.

    She said she didn't have to and she didn't have to wait on me either.

    Needless to say, I left without my purchases and will not go back.

    I know that this may be just one employee with an attitude, but I will not soon forget the way I was treated and it will have to be an emergency before I will ever consider going in there again.


    Another MNB user wrote:

    As you think more about this incident…think about the following, it has always perplexed me…

    The marketing function of a company is to be the “voice of the consumer” inside the company. Along with very high-priced marketing executives, ad agencies and PR agencies, a company determines the best way to spend millions of dollars to give their consumer an unexpected brand experience.

    But in the execution of their long-term brilliant strategies, they hire, at minimum wage or slightly higher, individuals with very little experience or training in personal contact skills to carry out the brilliant  strategies  at consumer contact points…and then wonder why the needle doesn’t move.

    I feel bad for the brand and I have empathy for the flight attendant. (Yeah, I know this guy was a 28 year veteran, should have known better…but you fly…a lot…you know how uncivil people are becoming!)


    Yup

    And I’ll have some additional thoughts about this subject tomorrow in my MNB Radio commentary.




    On the advantages - real and perceived - of buying and eating local, MNB user John Rand wrote:

    I think this discussion conflates (a useful word we often forget to understand) two very different things. The Buy Local movement is not necessarily (or even mostly) about buying products that are provably more nutritious. I buy local corn, tomatoes, all sorts of garden produce (when my own garden doesn’t produce enough, that is)  because I think in many cases it is fresher and tastier, not fundamentally better nutritionally. We get berries and fruits in season from any of three local farms or pick-your-own operations when we can.

    But it is also about economics. I would rather spend my money locally with people in my community, keeping my money in circulation closer to home where it can improve my own area. I would rather support local agriculture because it at least ought to be better environmentally (less shipping, packaging, etc) although I can’t always prove it.

    And some of this is just a choice. It is harder to buy local for most of us these days – the local farmer is almost extinct in large portions of the country, especially in the most urban areas.  I am willing to vote with my money to support the ones who are left. Sure, sometimes the stuff is just better, and sometimes it just seems better, because I know the grower or the local butcher, and I trust the people I can know and meet and can personally assess a little more than other sources.

    A real apple , no matter where it comes from, is undeniably better than an apple flavored product. An apple from an orchard I can see, fresh picked, is better than any apple from farther away, just because it’s from here.


    One MNB user wrote:

    Another factor that some of us consider when choosing “local” , in addition to freshness, is the fossil fuels used in shipping.  Example:  Liquids in glass (and plastic) are heavy, so trucking wine, or spirits, for example, in from other countries then across the nation, adds hefty costs to the product.  And the water bottles from Hawaii and Fiji, and elsewhere!  If one is attempting to shrink their carbon footprint, buy local!

    And, from another MNB user:

    The Eat Local article misses the point. 

    The “Eat Local/Eat Seasonal” movement is about reducing your carbon footprint by creating demand for foods that weren’t shipped around the world or stored in a fridge for months.  This article attempting to “debunk” the value of local foods sounds a bit like the propaganda that claims organic foods are a waste of money because the vitamin content is not much higher than that of conventionally grown foods.  Likewise, the real value of “organic” is protecting the environment and limiting your exposure to chemicals… not getting extra vitamins!   This seems like deliberate obfuscation, not fact-finding.


    Maybe it was just me, but I didn’t read the piece as being an attempt to de-bunk the eat local movement...but rather as a way of putting it into context.



    On another subject, MNB user Mark Monroe wrote:
     
    It’s pretty silly to imply that because a smoothie has 73% more calories and 30% more sugar than a coca-cola that Diet Coke is better for you.  I’m sure if you ate enough apples, bananas, strawberries and pineapples, you could create the same excess in “calories and sugar” vs. a coca cola.  Simple sugars from fruit are not equal in nutritional value to high fructose corn syrup (duh).  Does that mean you should avoid fruits and stick with diet coke?  You might want to consult with a nutritionist on that viewpoint.

    You are normally a pretty thoughtful guy, so I’ll give you a pass on this one...


    I think I actually said I’d choose either water or a Diet Coke rather than a smoothie next time. Frankly, it is just a matter of calories.
    KC's View: