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    Published on: September 13, 2010

    There is an old saying that there are really only seven original ideas in the world, and that everything else consists of a combination of one and four, six and seven, one and four and six, and so on.

    Imagine if this notion were applied to the tried-and-true hamburger.

    The Associated Press had a piece the other day about a new Manhattan burger spot with an interesting approach to marketing - it is encouraging patrons to create their own burgers and then add them to the restaurant’s online menu. And then, if someone orders the patron’s burger, the creator gets a 25-cent credit on future purchases.

    This newfangled approach to the burger biz is called 4Food, and is located on 40th Street and Madison in midtown, and when you order “you can go at your own pace on one of the bolted down iPads. When you get to your table, you can continue dreaming up great creations — there's free Wi-Fi for browsing the Web while eating. You also also see Foursquare check ins and tweets about the experience on their 240-square-foot LED monitor, if that's your thing. And if it's all just too confusing, prebuilt burgers also are available.”

    It isn’t just the ordering process that is different. According to the story, founder Adam Kidrom “ doesn't like the way the average fast food burger ends up overcooked to make sure it is safe to eat. So after considering the barbecue trick of indenting the middle of a burger patty to help it cook more evenly, he decided to try removing the center entirely. From there, it was an easy leap to fill the hole with something delicious ... 25 different mixtures called VeggieScoops, such as avocado chili mango or edamame with sea salt.”

    4Food “offers five different buns, eight types of patties, 25 VeggieScoops, nine different slices (such as onions and pickles), seven cheeses and 16 condiments,” AP writes. And that doesn’t include lettuce and tomato.

    “My idea is that business is as progressive as you want it to be,” Kidrom says. "It can make lives more interesting and better. 4food is not the same old thing.”

    In other words, a burger joint with a differential advantage that sets it apart from other burger joints. Which is at least part of the recipe for sustainable success.

    That’s my Monday Eye-Opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    Fortune has a 4,500-word piece about Walmart CEO Mike Duke, who it characterizes as a highly disciplined and detail-oriented “doer,” a guy who uses Post-It and file folders to make sure he follows up on issues with his direct reports, and someone who is able to see the big picture as well as get caught up in the price of bananas in the company’s China stores.

    Duke’s predecessor, Lee Scott, describes him this way:

    “Mike is not only a good leader but a really good manager. There's so much said today about leadership. But I don't think in business you can forget the fact that you don't just have to lead, you have to manage ... Yeah, he's a better manager than I am. I think it's his ability to deal with data, his ability to set a schedule and follow that schedule, and to get all of the things done that he needs to get done. Mike is disciplined, and I think that causes him to be able to accomplish a great deal -- how he manages his time, how he manages his people, and the effectiveness of the time he spends with people.”

    Some other excerpts:

    • “He is so low-key and friendly that you might mistake him for the company's human resources chief -- as opposed to one of the world's most powerful businessmen. Still, to those who know and work with him, he's a demanding boss and a tough negotiator. He's constantly coaching everyone around him. He trusts but always verifies. And he typically has a smile on his face, even when he's doling out blunt feedback.”

    • “He also possesses a strong sense of business curiosity -- and it often leads to marketplace epiphanies. Consider the story of the Chinese bananas. Last fall Duke and Doug McMillon, the new 43-year-old head of Wal-Mart's international division and an oft mentioned candidate to be Duke's successor, flew to China to check in on the company's fast-growing business there. While scouting competitors, Duke became preoccupied with the price of bananas.

    “All the local stores they visited, he noticed, sold both domestic and imported versions of the fruit -- and they didn't appear much different in quality. But the homegrown kind cost about 20% less, on average, than the foreign fruit. Then Duke and McMillon walked into Wal-Mart's Wanda supercenter in Beijing. Duke went straight to the produce section and found that while Wal-Mart had a better price on imported bananas, it didn't have cheaper domestic bananas in stock at all. The CEO pointed out to McMillon and the local executives that Wal-Mart was ceding the entry-level portion of the banana market -- not exactly the formula that a little discount chain from northwestern Arkansas used to become the world's biggest retailer.

    At that point Duke's team reacted with the kind of speed and efficiency that would make Sam Walton smile. Within 24 hours, the Wanda supercenter had local bananas in stock at a market-beating price. In less than a week, all 49 stores in Wal-Mart China's North Region had them, followed quickly by the rest of its nearly 300 stores across the country. But for Duke the issue was not about the price of fruit alone. ‘It turned into a great conversation about opening price-point items: 10-packs of chopsticks, soccer balls, basketballs,’ says McMillon. ‘We started looking around the store differently because of his attention to detail’.”


    In many ways, Fortune suggests, Duke is exactly the right person to fix the problems created by the company’s Project Impact initiative, which among other things was designed to reduce item count, clean up price-driven “Action Alleys,” and make the stores more attractive to middle class shoppers - all of which managed to reduce the stores’ traffic counts and same store sales. Duke is said to be relentless about fixing the damage, and he has shaken up Walmart’s executive suite as a result.

    The story sums up Duke’s ultimate challenge this way: “To meet Wall Street's modest expectations over the next five years, the company must increase its profits by a mind-boggling $3.68 billion. To use the Fortune 500 comparison again, that's greater than 463 of the companies on this year's list. Sales, meanwhile, are expected to top half a trillion dollars. That means a lot of expansion overseas in markets like China, India, and Brazil, and a virtual army of new-store managers and other executives. ‘In the old days when the company was smaller, everyone could take their lead from Sam Walton,’ says Duke. ‘Today we need hundreds of Sam Waltons, many of them in China, Brazil, and other countries around the world’.”
    KC's View:
    Fascinating story, and worth reading the whole thing. It is interesting to read that Duke doesn’t seem to have a high tolerance for missteps, and is willing to make hard choices and fast moves when things clearly have gone wrong...which sort of matches up with the kind of friendly-yet-steely demeanor that he had when I interviewed him a few years ago. He’s a guy who is relentless about staying on message...which is critical for a company where brand equity is tied so closely to the low-price message.

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    The Dallas Morning News reports that it has been officially confirmed that 7-Eleven has submitted a $2 billion bid to acquire Casey’s General Stores’ 1,531 stores in the midwest. The $40 per share bid trumps a $38.50 bid by Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard, which has been rejected by the Casey’s board.

    The battle is shaping up to be a battle of c-store titans; 7-Eleven had $13.7 billion in sales last year, and Couche-Tard's U.S. sales were $12.8 billion, the Morning News writes.

    Casey’s annual shareholder meeting is scheduled for September 23, though Couche-Tard - which is putting up its own slate for election - has asked that it be delayed. Casey’s has said to this point that both offers undervalue the company, and that its analysts believe that the company should fetch $45 per share.
    KC's View:
    If Casey’s board’s intention was to create a bidding war that would drive the price up, then it has to be said at this point that it has been successful. It seems inevitable that Casey’s is going to get sold, and probable that the price is going to be closer to $45 per share than the $36 per share that Couche-Tard originally bid to get this whole thing rolling.

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    HealthDay News reports that Americans have largely not embraced the US government goals for how many vegetables and fruits people should eat each day.

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the story says, “in 2009, 67.5 percent of adults ate fruit less than two times daily and 73.7 percent ate vegetables less than three times per day. The goals of Healthy People 2010 were for 75 percent of people to eat at least two servings of fruit and 50 percent to eat at least three servings of vegetables every day.”

    Dr. Jennifer Foltz, a researcher in the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, tells HealthDay News that in order to get people closer to the national goals, the CDC will promote new programs that “involve promoting gardening, farmer's markets and bringing more fruits and vegetables into schools and workplaces ... In addition, Foltz said there could be programs to help retailers increase the availability of fruits and vegetables through incentives like tax breaks as well as making it easier for low-income people to afford fresh fruit and vegetables.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    USA today reports that Smithfield Foods is selling its 49 percent stake in turkey producer Butterball to partner Maxwell Farms for $175 million. Maxwell then plans to turn around and sell as 50 percent share in Butterball to Seaboard Corp. for $177.5 million.

    Smithfield CEO Larry Pope says that “our minority ownership position in Butterball did not permit us to execute the growth strategy that we believe was necessary to fully develop the company to its potential.” Which means, essentially, that Smithfield plans to be a pure-play pork producer, trying to compete more effectively with Hormel and Tyson.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    Safeway Inc. announced that its philanthropic arm, The Safeway Foundation, is donating $25,000 to the American Red Cross to help people affected by Thursday’s tragic natural gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California. In addition to the financial donation and the ongoing food and supplies being provided by local Safeway stores, the company is giving grocery gift cards to the families who were impacted.

    Just hours after the explosion, Safeway stores provided pallets of water, 200 pounds of ice and more than 250 bagged lunches to first responders on the front lines, workers at the emergency operation center at San Bruno City Hall and displaced residents at the temporary shelter set up at the San Bruno City Recreation Center. The company is also providing a method for community members to aid in this effort. Roughly 80 Safeway stores in the surrounding counties are collecting donations at checkstands for the American Red Cross’ San Bruno relief effort.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    Last Friday, MNB wrote:

    Bloomberg reports that Wegmans will offer free replacement reusable bags to customers who bought more than 725,000 bags at its stores that have been found to have high lead content.

    According to the company, notices will be posted in its stores and on its website today.

    The move came after the Empire State Consumer Project in Rochester found that the original bags had a lead content eight times higher than that allowed by New York law.

    Wegmans spokesman Jo Natale said that the retailer was not aware of the state regulations and is now rewriting its internal standards based on New York law.


    This story was not entirely accurate. Jo Natale wrote to give MNB some further details:

    I see you picked up the Bloomberg story.  Just to clarify – this is not a recall (although the story did not make that clear).  We’ve stopped selling these two designs, but they are safe to use.  This is not a food safety issue, nor a public health concern.  It’s a disposal issue.   We are telling customers to continue using the bags for as long as they wish.  When they’re a finished using the bags, they can return them to us for proper disposal.  

    Here’s the sign that’s posted in our stores today:
     
    Wegmans Reusable Shopping Bags Are Safe to Use
     
    We have stopped selling two designs of our reusable bags: the green pea and holiday 2009.  Testing showed elevated levels of lead in these designs only.     Other designs of our bags are not affected.
     
    You can safely continue using these bags.  
     
    THIS IS NOT A FOOD SAFETY OR PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE DISPOSAL IS THE ONLY CONCERN
     
    When you are ready to dispose of these two designs, return them to Wegmans for replacement.  We’ll take care of proper disposal.


    And...It isn’t that we weren’t aware of the law.  We don’t believe that the law applies to reusable bags.  It’s the Hazardous Packaging Law.  Our read is that reusable bags are consumer goods, not packaging.  They have intrinsic value.  The law is not clear, but rather than wait for clarification, we decided to make a decision.

    KC's View:
    Thanks for providing the additional information. Always nice to see when companies act because it is the right thing to do as opposed to being the required thing to do.

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    TheDay.com reports that Big Y Foods and the Western New England College School of Pharmacy “have partnered to create a Consultation and Wellness Center.

    “Located at the Big Y World Class Market in Springfield, Mass., the facility is one of the largest of its kind in the region and the first to be located in a supermarket ... Patients will meet with a pharmacist who will work with the individual and their physician to optimize their care. Services include education and training, blood glucose evaluations and medication review.”

    • The Wall Street Journal< reports that Carrefour has winnowed Tesco and Aeon from the companies bidding to acquire its stores in Southeast Asia. Bidders still in the running include, according to the story, “Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA of France, together with Thailand's Big C Supercenter PCL, which it part owns; Thai retail group Central Group; Thai consumer products manufacturer Berli Jucker PCL; and Thailand's largest energy conglomerate by revenue, PTT PCL, which runs convenience stores at its gas stations.”

    Carrefour reportedly is hoping to sell its stores in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia for in the neighborhood of $1 billion (US).
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    Kevin McCarthy, who played Dr. Miles Bennell in the 1956 science fiction film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as a lone man trying to stay awake and warn humanity that people’s bodies are being taken over by aliens while they sleep, died over the weekend. He was 96.

    “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” directed by Don Siegel (who later went on to direct “Dirty Harry”), was not a hit when first released in 1956, but it eventually became such a cult favorite - with its themes of the dangers of succumbing to peer pressure, “group-think” and McCarthyism - that it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” There have been at least three remakes - including the excellent 1978 version directed by Philip Kaufman (who later would helm “The Right Stuff”) and starring Donald Sutherland, and in which McCarthy had a small cameo role...running through the streets of San Francisco shouting warnings about the invaders.

    In addition to the ‘Invasion” films, McCarthy appeared in, among other things, the stage and screen versions of ‘Death of A Salesman,” “The Misfits,” and “The Best Man.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    We’ve had a lot of debate on MNB recently about the propriety of retailers like Whole Foods putting aside parking spaces for people driving green cars, which led MNB user Kristi Tisdale to write:

    A quick note about the preferred parking story – the LEED building certification process offers Sustainable Site credits for alternative vehicle strategies, like preferred parking for fuel efficient cars or carpoolers.   LEED does this because low emission or alternative fuel vehicles reduce air pollution.  The benefits of carpooling are self explanatory.

    I think Whole Foods should be commended for embracing the LEED process, helping consumers realign their energy consumption practices. (I know this because I’m currently studying for my LEED Green Associate accreditation with the ultimate goal of becoming a LEED for Retail Accredited Professional.)


    Good for you. Stories like yours give me hope.

    BTW...at my local Whole Foods the other day, I noticed that two clowns had parked their decidedly non-electric vehicles in the electric car-recharging spaces. Which is sort of the height of selfishness.




    I railed last week about companies that don’t pay attention to what customers want...and used as an example hotels that don’t provide free Wi-Fi service to people who say, overwhelmingly, that they want it. Lots of comment on this one...

    MNB user Gary Silverman wrote:

    I travel quite a bit for my job, and always have tons of work that needs to get done at my hotel.  When booking for my trips, I look for nice hotels that offer FREE Wi-Fi and some type of morning breakfast.  The Wi-Fi allows me to get my business work done, and to connect to my family and friends at home.  And the breakfast helps so I can save a little money for my company, but mostly so I can quickly grab something before heading to my meetings.

    A couple of weeks back, I actually stayed at the Hyatt in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  It happened to be a free night I had earned from all of my travels.  So I took my wife to the City and had a great time.  However, as nice as they were at the hotel, they didn’t offer free Wi-Fi or breakfast.  They also charged $45 night to park in their garage.  My first thought is, that had I not had the free night, I likely would not have stayed there.  I also must confess that I was surprised when I checked in, as because of my level in their bonus program, they offered me free Wi-Fi.  And while joking around with the very nice woman at the front desk during check in she gave me parking for half price.  Fortunately, there is a great breakfast place, The Hollywood Café directly across the street from the hotel with good food and reasonable prices.  Had a lovely morning sitting at a sidewalk table eating breakfast and people watching.
     
    Moral is, that had I not had a free night at the hotel, I would not have chosen to stay there, mostly because of the charge for Wi-Fi and the lack of a continental or regular breakfast.


    MNB user Tom DeMarco wrote:

    I do believe that actually Hilton is beginning to waiver from this policy.  I for one also extremely dislike having to pay for internet charges in any hotel and usually avoid that at all costs.  I stayed in a Hilton property a couple of weeks ago, and was told that Hilton Honors members that now have a Gold or Platinum status will no longer pay internet access charges in any Hilton property.  While this does not make it free to all customers, it certainly is a step in the right direction to give some type of a reward to their better customers.  My suggestion, is to continue to be vocal at any hotel you stay and speak to the property manager or voice the complaint on that chains web site.  Eventually, the policy will change.

    Maybe already. MNB user David Peterson wrote:

    Hilton has just changed their policy and every brand hotel will now have free internet service…and yes, it did drive me crazy when internet was free at a Hampton Inn and cost $12.00 at a Hilton hotel.

    MNB user Rich Heiland wrote:

    My new Droid X (an iPhone on a network that actually works most of the time) can be turned into a hot spot so I have taken the hotel charges off the table. I had an ATT wifi card that was $75 a month. I cancelled it. Now I plug in my charger (using the Droid as a hot spot does pull down the battery) and I am good to go. By the way, while the big expensive main line hotels still charge, I have stayed in cool $300 a night hotels (like the Hotel 1000) in Seattle, that don’t. So I would suggest looking for cool boutiques in cities that may not cost any more than the top of the line Hilton but often don’t charge for things like Wifi.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    Yes, the major hotel chains lost toll calls to cells phones.  Those same cell phones are taking away their internet business. With the new HTC smart phones and 3/4G networks, I have similar internet access in my pocket.  I can even tether my PC to the phone’s 4 G network.

    And, from MNB user Steve Panza:

    Luxury hotels charge for internet access because they can. Most of the guests during the week are business people on expense accounts. They just charge it to their employers. The major chains will refund internet charges to their top tier rewards members, but you have to ask about it. I've had bookings what included "free" internet only to see a charge appear on the bill. The front desk will take the charge off, but I bet they are hoping you won't bother looking at the bill until later.




    MNB reported last week about a new kind of vending machine being used in Japan that actually uses technology to capture the customer’s image, determining his or her gender and age, and then making recommendations about what products the customer might want.

    MNB user Paul Schlossberg, an expert in the vending segment, wrote:

    In a presentation earlier this week to food industry executives, we shared videos and insights about four different interactive vending machines.

    I was aware of the vending machine you described at Shinagawa Train Station in Tokyo. The water company deploying the new vending machine is owned by JR East, a Japanese railroad company. Some years ago, one of the railroad's top executives was quoted (I'm paraphrasing here), that their stations had to be more than just train stations. It was clear that retail developments would be important in their future. What is interesting is JR East moved forward to create and commercialize the solutions in-house.

    In the U.S. Coca-Cola and Kraft have each deployed interactive vending machines. The Coke machines are being tested at Simon Malls. The primary target audience is teens, These vending machines are not down some poorly lighted service access corridor in the mall. You'll find then in prime traffic areas in the center of the malls. The media exposure has been favorable. It is achieving extremely low cost (per thousand) media impressions with teens according to a Coca-Cola presentation at trade show. The new Kraft machines are being tested at vending sites. No results have been reported to date.

    The other two machines are concept machines.

    The first is a coffee machine - BeMoved - from Douwe Egberts (Sara Lee International). It was displayed at the NRA Show in May. There is no payment system. It has multiple shopping modes including a barista recipe process and a game where you must move to capture enough points to get your beverage. You can also register on-line with the BeMoved machine. You upload your photograph and designate the customized product "recipe" you prefer. And you can have multiple choices, perhaps one for the morning and another for the afternoon. When you go to the machine, access the appropriate screen and then select your photo. Your coffee (or other choice) is prepared for you. Not only is this a great experience, you also get a great cup of coffee.

    The other is an ice cream machine from Unilever. This machine has sensors to recognize whether or not you're smiling. When you are smiling, you are rewarded with a free ice cream. And you can upload your smile to Facebook.

    We are at the beginning of a new era for vending. It is what I call "The Vending Store of the Future." In the U.S., Europe and Asia, there are exciting developments and important changes in the vending shopping experience.


    Somewhere, Horn and Hardart must be smiling...

    I joked in my comment:

    This is cool ... and a little bit scary. I won’t be a bit surprised to find out that these vending machines were all built by Cyberdyne Systems and are all linked together via Skynet, and that our troubles are just beginning.

    The reference was very specific...and I was thrilled that some folks got it.

    MNB user Michael Freese wrote:

    And as you walk away it says....... "You'll be back.”

    Another MNB user wrote:

    If the vending machine springs to life and says “Sarah Conner, you have been selected for termination”, Consider the world’s future is eliminated.

    Thank You for constant references to the movies…I enjoy them.


    My pleasure. What do you expect from one of the co-authors of ? (BTW...we have a really cool holiday promotion coming up for the book...watch this space for details shortly!)




    It is interesting that the Japanese seem to be using these machines to attract young people. Compare that to the Washington, DC, mall that, as reported here last week, is using a sound-emitting machine to drive young people away from an entrance where they’ve been loitering. (Sort of like a dog whistle that can only be heard by teens, and that is really annoying.)

    MNB user Schindler wrote:

    Wouldn't Barry Manilow music do the same thing?

    I think that would qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.

    Commenting on this story, I wrote:

    Isn’t the real problem that these kids have no place to go, no jobs that they can work at, and maybe even no parents who care enough to monitor their behavior and make sure they’re doing something more productive than loitering at a mall?

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    Sounds like you want to treat the problem rather than the symptom. That is a bit novel in this day and age.

    Call me crazy...




    Last Friday, in “OffBeat,” I wrote:

    I’m not going to speak specifically about this subject, but I do want to say one thing because I cannot help myself.

    Burning any book is never a good idea. I do not believe that there has ever been a time when the burning of a book advanced a culture, improved a civilization, or matured a people. Ever.


    MNB user Steven Ritchey responded:

    I like to read, no I love to read.  Like you, I find the idea of burning books just plain wrong.  I remember a line from the Third Indiana Jones Movie, where Sean Connery remarks at a Nazi book burning that  they “should spend more time reading books instead of burning them”.

    There was a thoughtful editorial cartoon in the Dallas Morning News this week.  It  has on one side an American family watching television and on the other side is a Muslim family watching television, the American mother is telling her child, “Just because someone is Muslim, does not mean they are a terrorist”., the Muslim mother is telling her child, “Just because someone is a Christian doesn’t mean they  hate Muslims”.  I wish we could all realize that a terrorist is a Muslim extremist, just as history is dotted with Christian extremists and that most of us just want to get along in life the best way we know how.


    Another MNB user wrote:

    I liked your off-beat commentary on book burning.  As you have written a lot lately about the changing business environment, I wonder how long it will be before “book burnings” will become obsolete.  I don’t think “deleting” books off of Kindles or i-Pads will carry quite the emotional charge.  
     
    Although inadvertent, it is one more problem that technology will solve for us.


    And MNB user Dave Moore wrote:

    Your comment on this was the most succinct and clear statement on the subject I have ever heard. The Library council should put it on a t-shirt.

    Thanks. They can have it. With my compliments.




    And, on another, less serious subject, MNB user Dave Howald wrote:

    My wife and I saw “The American” last weekend.  The first time I had been in a movie theatre in months.  We absolutely loved the movie and Clooney’s performance.  I was surprised as we left the theatre with our fellow baby boomers.  I could hear a couple of them say the movie was “terrible.”  I realized then that most “American’s” are used to movies that have a neat and tidy beginning, middle, and end.  We loved this movie precisely because it didn’t.  I love a movie that challenges me to think and this one does.  My wife and I are still having conversations about it.  Keep up the thought provoking prose!

    Glad you liked it. I agree with you.

    There’s a business metaphor here, I think. Look for as future Eye-Opener on this...
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2010

    It is the first week of the National Football League season, and here’s how the game shook out:

    Oakland 13
    Tennessee 38

    Indianapolis 24
    Houston 34

    Atlanta 9
    Pittsburgh 15

    Detroit 14
    Chicago 19

    Cleveland 14
    Tampa Bay 17

    Green Bay 27
    Philadelphia 20

    Carolina 18
    NY Giants 31

    Denver 17
    Jacksonville 24

    Miami 15
    Buffalo 10

    Cincinnati 24
    New England 38

    San Francisco 6
    Seattle 31

    Arizona 17
    St. Louis 13

    Dallas 7
    Washington 13
    KC's View: