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    Published on: September 15, 2010

    by Kate McMahon

    As the resident mom in the lineup, I find myself drawn to social networking sites that deliver camaraderie, humor and useful information about smart spending, keeping my family healthy and my life in balance.

    And since I’m in good company with the legions of harried mothers who turn to Facebook, Twitter, thousands of mom blogs and brand pages on the internet each day, we thought it time to launch an “Engaging with Moms” column to appear in this space on occasion.

    Now this is not to say that fathers do not share the same concerns about family health, nutrition and budgets as mothers do in most households. My husband, similar to MNB’s Content Guy, takes on grocery shopping and other chores and is the primo purveyor of breakfast specialties and master of the grill.

    But in the battle for the hearts, minds and trillion dollar purchasing power of America’s social-networking savvy Moms, retailers, marketers and service providers can glean invaluable insight about what these particular consumers want in today’s changing economic times.

    Internet research and anecdotal evidence all point to mothers wanting their brands to be partners and respectful of their time. They don’t want to marketed “to” but rather engaged “with.” They are increasingly turning to the internet for product information and for making purchases and want to be recognized for their daily juggling act.

    The folks out at the family-owned Stremick’s Heritage Foods in Santa Ana, CA get this.

    The organic milk producer just rolled out a campaign for its soymilk, 8th Continent. The brand’s Facebook page features a contest entitled “Nice Job, Mom” and it salutes real moms who are not perfect, and choose to share their mom mistakes with others.

    The video message is delivered by family member Megan Stremick, the marketing director, who cheerfully acknowledges that it’s impossible to be the perfect mom and at the end of the day we all need a safe place to share our mom screw-ups and a laugh among friends. The winning stories receive such prizes as one year of service from Merry Maids or a complete room makeover.

    This engagement works to create a personal connection with the consumer, and keeps them returning to a Facebook page with ongoing dialogue, a website that provides nutritional information, recipes, store locators and coupons and a presence on Twitter. It reaffirms the family connection, and delivers camaraderie, humor and useful information. Just the right recipe for engaging with moms.

    Are you a mom with a unique story of brand engagement? Or a brand with an innovative approach to engaging with moms? Let me know...I can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    The Hollywood Reporter has announced that after eight decades as a daily trade magazine covering the entertainment industry, it is shifting to a weekly print publication format as a glossy magazine, and moving to an PDF version for daily coverage that will be delivered to subscribers email addresses. The Reporter has been in trouble for some time, but it is only now that the company seems to accepting the inevitable.

    I actually didn’t realize the extent to which the Hollywood Reporter management was in denial until I read the following on Wikipedia (which is, after all, the source of all knowledge):

    “The Reporter...was slow to modernize. The paper still used vintage IBM-style selectric typewriters in several departments into the early 1990s and was sluggish in upgrading operations by adding common business equipment such as computers, scanners, and color printers to all departments. Archival materials were routinely microfilmed as late as 1998 rather than digitized, even though the system to view it was in storage or broken. Many staff members did not have email several years after its use became relatively common in business.”

    I doubt that many food retailers are using IBM Selectrics; I cannot remember the last time I was in a store that did not have scanning, for example.

    But that doesn’t mean that every company is embracing the future.

    The issue in my mind is one of mindset. There are companies out there - and we all know their names - that are still fighting the last war, believing that they can cut their way to prosperity, thinking that somehow local roots or a long tradition give them the right to survive.

    But survival is a privilege. The Hollywood Reporter has learned that lesson, though it could be too late.

    As the legendary Norman Mayne, of Dorothy Lane Markets, once told me, it’s nice to be considered legendary...but his company has to go out and re-earn that description every day. Because legendary is what the company was yesterday.

    Tomorrow is a whole different story.

    That’s my Wednesday Eye-Opener.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    Terrific story in the Financial Times about how “the US online grocery business is in a revival that may finally see it emerge from the shadow of the spectacular bankruptcy of Webvan after its failed bid to launch a national home delivery service almost a decade ago.”

    Giving the segment a jolt is Walmart, which is “testing a new ‘pay online and pick up today’ service at some stores that includes items such as shampoo and toothpaste. The model is expected to provide the basis for an eventual move by Walmart into a full range of grocery and food products. Walmart declined to give details of the scope of the tests, or a potential launch date for the same-day, pick-up service.”

    FT also notes that the decision by Publix to get back into the online grocery business - it tried and failed in 2003 - also is an indication that online grocery shopping is becoming an increasingly important segment. (Full disclosure: This time around, Publix is working with MyWebGrocer, which provides e-commerce systems and services, on its offering ... and MyWebGrocer is a longtime MNB sponsor.)
    KC's View:
    The story notes that “online sales of groceries account for less than 2 per cent of total grocery sales in the US, compared with almost 4 per cent in the UK.” But the feeling seems to be - and I’m hearing this from a lot of people - that the market is primed for some fast increases in this share of market...mostly because with every passing day, the consumers coming into the marketplace are increasingly comfortable with and interested in buying food online. After all, that’s how they buy everything else.

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    Politico reports that “Senate Democrats say they are on the brink of passing a sweeping food safety overhaul the House approved more than a year ago - but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is set to block a final push from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to reach a consent agreement on the bill ... Coburn's office confirmed to Politico on Tuesday that the Republican is objecting to moving forward with the bill on the grounds that it will add to the burgeoning federal budget.”

    According to the story, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday he believed the bipartisan legislation - which gained momentum over recess as thousands of Americans fell ill from more than half a billion contaminated eggs - could pass within the next 24 hours. Sources close to the situation say committee staffers are working to fashion an agreement acceptable to the Oklahoma Republican.”

    Politico writes that “the pending legislation would give much-needed updates to a food regulatory system that is nearly a century old, granting the Food and Drug Administration recall authority. It would also impose stricter rules on mandatory inspections, trace-back protocol, access to company records, and whistleblower protections.”
    KC's View:
    I’m a cynic. I figure nothing gets passed until after the midterm elections.

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    The New York Times reports this morning that “a major egg producer linked to an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened more than 1,500 people conducted tests as far back as 2008 that indicated the possible presence of the dangerous bacteria in its henhouses, according to records released on Tuesday by Congressional investigators.

    “The records show that there were 73 instances over about two years in which sponges swabbed on egg conveyor belts and other areas in Wright County Egg’s barns showed the presence of salmonella bacteria, including the strain that infects eggs and causes human illness. In at least one case, further tests showed that the toxic form, Salmonella enteritidis, was present.”

    According to the story, there appears to be no evidence to this point that Wright County Eggs did anything to inform the public about the possibility that it was shipping salmonella-contaminated eggs.

    It was less than two years ago that the Peanut Corp.of America was accused of knowingly shipping contaminated peanut products because fixing the problem would have cost too much money and caused too many delays. However, it was reported last week that while Peanut Corp. is bankrupt, no charges have been brought against its CEO, Stewart Parnell, and the investigation has “languished.”
    KC's View:
    These issues should concern everyone in the food business, because continuing occurrences like these do nothing but erode confidence in the nation’s food supply. I have no ideas if the pending food safety legislation will fix the system, but we certainly need - and deserve - a food safety apparatus that is far more consumer-oriented and transparent.

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    Marketing Daily reports that Kraft Foods is partnering with a number of technology companies to test new “touchscreen snack vending machines that offer consumers a variety of interactive features - including instant access to ingredients/ nutrition information - while enabling marketers to deliver animated, video and interactive advertising and targeted promotions ... The machines feature a 46" Samsung LCD touchscreen panel in place of the usual glass facing, an embedded networked computer, and Bluetooth capabilities for mobile downloads. Banner ads stream across the top of the screen, and full-screen ads display when the machine is not in use.

    “With a touch of the screen, users can view rotating, 360-degree visuals of snack items and generate ingredients and nutrition details. They can opt to purchase more than one item at a time, and pay by credit card or cash (receiving cash-transaction change back in bills, rather than a cascade of coins).”

    The machines are being tested “at colleges and universities, healthcare facilities, transportation hubs and other high-traffic locations in the Boston metropolitan area,” and, according to Marketing Daily, enable the “tracking of all transactions and interactions, which facilitates inventory tracking and as-needed replenishment to avoid sellouts and maximize sales.”
    KC's View:
    Machines? These aren’t machines. (My toaster is a machine.) These new vending machines are miracles of modern technology! Yikes!

    Or, quite seriously, as an expert in this area, Paul Schlossberg, wrote the other day in ‘Your Views,” “We are at the beginning of a new era for vending.”

    Of course, I keep thinking about what could happen if I use one of these machines to buy a candy bar (which I shouldn’t be eating anyway). So I put the money (or credit or debit card) in, push the button (or whatever they use for a button on these contraptions), and the candy bar doesn’t come out because of some glitch that seems to affect vending machines. So what do I do? Hit the machine? Kick it? Shake it a bit, hoping to dislodge the candy bar or just make myself feel better? Those would be my normal responses, but in this case I’d be dealing with an expensive piece of modern technology; I’d never think of shaking or kicking my flat screen TV, or my computer, or the Bluetooth connection in my car, if they didn’t work ... but I’m not sure I’ll be so reticent about a computerized marvel in a high traffic location that won;t give me my damn candy bar!

    I’m just askin’...

    However, to make a serious point... Think about this story within the context of the “Eye-Opener” piece above, which described how a trade magazine almost became obsolete by not embracing technological changes. Could ignoring - or not embracing - the vending revolution have the same impact on food retailers that continue to do business the same old way?

    Again, I’m just askin’...

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    The New York Times reports this morning that the Corn Refiners Association is petitioning the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the name of “high fructose corn syrup” to “corn sugar.”

    “Clearly the name is confusing consumers,” Audrae Erickson, president of the trade association, tells the Times. “Research shows that ‘corn sugar’ better communicates the amount of calories, the level of fructose and the sweetness in this ingredient.” Surveys suggest that more than half of US consumers are worried that HFCS is a threat to their health.

    The Corn Refiners actually - and perhaps unexpectedly - have a prominent nutrition advocate in their corner: Marion Nestle, a professor in New York University’s department of nutrition.

    The Times writes: ““I’m not eager to help the corn refiners sell more of their stuff,’ Dr. Nestle wrote in an e-mail. ‘But you have to feel sorry for them. High-fructose corn syrup is the new trans fat. Everyone thinks it’s poison, and food companies are getting rid of it as fast as they can.’

    “Dr. Nestle says she thinks the plural ‘corn sugars’ is a better description of high-fructose corn syrup, which is actually a mixture of glucose and fructose. But she agrees that the corn refiners ‘have lots of reasons to want the change.’

    “‘Even I have to admit that it’s not an unreasonable one,’ Dr. Nestle said.”

    However, Nestle also says that Americans consume too much sugar of all kinds.

    The FDA has six months to rule on the name change request.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    MSNBC reports that Starbucks has decided to back off its previous decision to eliminate the small, 12-ounce “tall” size from its drive-through menus, after an outcry from consumers objecting to the move. The coffee retailer had said that it made the move merely to simplify the drive-through menus and that the “tall” coffees were still available, but critics said that the retailer was trying to get people to spend more money and consume more coffee.
    KC's View:
    What’s really amazing about this is that people got so outraged. I’ll actually buy the simplification argument, but isn’t it every retailer’s job to try to get people to spend more money?

    I read all the stories...and I even wrote a couple of them...but I can’t help wondering why people don’t have better things to do with their time.

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    The city of Brownsville, Texas, has decided to impose a $1 surcharge on every disposable plastic shopping bag handed out by supermarkets and convenience stores there, following up on a voluntary ban on the bags that went into effect last January, and a mandatory ban that goes into effect next January.

    The money collected between now and when the mandatory ban starts being enforced will be used to fund environmental programs.

    Late last month, the California State Senate voted to reject a bill that would have instituted a statewide ban on plastic shopping bags, which would have followed up on similar bans approved by cities that include San Francisco, Palo Alto and Malibu; reports say that the county of Los Angeles and the communities of Santa Monica and Redondo Beach are in the process of considering local bans.
    KC's View:
    My biggest problem with this ban is that dry cleaners, small hardware stores and pharmacies are all exempted from it. That’s nonsense - it isn’t like their plastic bags are less harmful to the environment. Maybe you give small retailers and independents more time to make the adjustment, but to exempt some seems patently unfair.

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    Dow Jones reports that Tesco’s UK market share has slipped from 30.9 percent to 30.8 percent in the most recent quarter, as Walmart’s Asda Group saw a similar decline, from 17.4 percent to 17.2 percent.

    Sainsbury’s market share during the quarter grew from 15.8 percent to 16 percent, William Morrison Supermarkets saw an increase from 11.3 percent to 11.4 percent, and Waitrose saw a share increase from 3.9 percent to 4.1 percent.

    The UK’s discount retailers -- Aldi, Netto and Lidl -- had a combined market share of 6 percent, compared with 6.1 percent a year earlier.

    The market share data was generated by the Kantar Worldpanel.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    Marketing Daily reports that a new study from NPD Group reveals the extent to which people are concerned about saving money in the current economic environment - 94% prepare a written list before leaving the house, and 72% say they never or rarely deviate from it.” In addition, seven out of ten consumers say they shop multiple channels to save money.

    • The New York Times reports that the Chock Full o’Nuts cafe chain, which started during the 1920s and became almost ubiquitous in New York City before virtually disappearing during the eighties, is making a comeback - the first new restaurant opened by the company in years has been unveiled on 23rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas. The irony - the Times notes that it is operating “in the shadow of Mario Batali’s high-end Eataly complex.” The company hopes to open as many as 50 outlets over the next 15 years.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    Harold Gould, the well-known character actor who was best known from The Sting, in which he played a con man along with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and also as Valerie Harper’s father on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and ‘Rhoda,” has died of prostate cancer. He was 86.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2010

    MNB took note yesterday of a USA Today report that Whole Foods has launched “a new color-coded rating program - with the help of  Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute - that measures the environmental impact of its wild-caught seafood ... Similar to a stoplight, seafood is given a green, yellow or red rating. A green rating indicates the species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally friendly ways. Yellow means some concerns exist with the species' status or the methods by which it was caught. And a red rating means the species is suffering from overfishing or the methods used to catch it harm other marine life or habitats.”

    My comment/question:

    Is it just me, or is there something mildly inconsistent about Whole Foods even selling seafood marked with a red light? Maybe there’s a good argument for it - like the customer wants it - but that seems somewhat out of synch with the broader message and reason for having the lights to begin with.

    One MNB user responded:

    I certainly hope it's just you!  Whole Foods is trying to educate shoppers, not dictate to them.  That's a pretty critical distinction, I would think.

    On the other hand, MNB user Jeff Folloder wrote:

    Was reading the piece on Whole Foods and the traffic light approach for seafood.  I was immediately struck by the same thought as you: why would they sell something with a red "light".  And then the opportunity dawned on me... They don't have to sell *anything* with a red light to make this work.  All they have to do is *list* the red light items and show the green light replacements that they do sell.  Education, marketing and sales all at once!

    And, from another MNB user:

    The problem with the ratings programs is that each organization has a different definition of what is ‘red flagged’. The programs are well-intentioned but they often don’t tell the whole story. Makes it difficult for retailers to make purchase decisions. And makes it difficult for consumers to understand what’s good and what’s endangered/overfished mercury-laden/etc. No wonder so many people eat chicken!

    MNB user Jessica Duffy wrote:

    At first I was skeptical about the red signs too. But as I learned more about it, I became more excited. I have often chosen Cod over other white fish because it’s a local New England favorite. I had no idea that the fishing practices in this region were so damaging. I checked and found out that Pollock is a green species, so I have chosen that over the cod now, fresh and frozen (even though the rating system only applies to fish in the case). I really appreciate having the information to make a decision. It’s the same for other products. There is no question grass-fed beef is better for your health and the environment, but we still sell beef that was “grain-finished”. It’s about making a choice based on all the information. The seafood rating system will potentially create more demand for green species while simultaneously putting pressure to change harvesting methods for red species. Maybe the red species populations can be improved with this kind of consumer pressure….

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    I had the same reaction as you to the Whole Foods red/yellow/green seafood labeling (as in “Why even sell the red?). Maybe they could extend this labeling system to eggs: green is for cage-free, yellow is for caged, and red is for chickens held in solitary confinement!

    MNB user Tom Duenow wrote:

    With regard to the Red, Yellow, Green rating system for seafood you missed an important point.  The fact is there is a market for the Red rated seafood.  The red rating will educate consumers and make them think twice before selecting the red options.  The red ratings may serve to reduce the market demand for such seafood and relieve much of the pressure such species are under.  To me, this root cause solution is brilliant.

    And, from yet another MNB user, a bit more cynicism:

    To me the press release is moot. I have already determined that Whole Foods is an entertaining place to shop, but they are neither a natural food store or a company practicing  sustainability. They are a green marketing company and are not on my radar (as if they care).

    On another subject, MNB user Philip Bradley wrote:

    This is in response to the reader who wrote in and said that fruit and vegetables were too expensive, and how could we expect those in the lower socio-economic bracket to buy them.  Well, the news is that fruit and vegetables will ALWAYS be more expensive.  They can't be produced like widgets.  And organic fruit and veggies will always be even more expensive, because they cost more to grow.

    As most people know, the cost of food here in the U.S. is much less than it is in Europe.  But guess what?  You see poor Europeans (at least Italians and Spaniards) buying fresh fruit and vegetables every day.  It's a question of perceived value and priorities.  As long as we see healthy food as something relatively unimportant, we won't be willing to spend what it costs to buy.  And that's unlikely to change--for one reason, when was the last time you saw a TV ad for fresh fruit and veggies?

    And, on the subject of Supervalu’s latest reorganization:

    In the last few years at Super Valu and the Albertsons banner, associates such as BDM’s , Category Managers, and other positions have had to interview for their jobs. Every year. What message does this send? Why doesn’t Senior Management have to interview for their positions? Who would want to work for an operator like this? Insane.
    KC's View: