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    Published on: January 19, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    There’s no easy way of saying this: everything you knew about yourself, your family, and your decisions is likely wrong. That is, of course if everything you knew about everything was based on your horoscope. Because whatever you thought your astrological sign was…well, it likely isn’t that any more.

    Due to constant movements in the cosmos, the folks in charge of astrological signs recently came up with an announcement bound to shock us all: They moved the dates of virtually every birth sign and added a 13th sign, Ophiuchus, to the 12 we all know. In my case, I switched from being a level-headed member of Libra to a somewhat more difficult Virgo. (It’s hard to tell whom the Scorpios ticked off, but your sign is now down to a six-day period in late November. )

    Truth be told, I really don’t care. I rarely pay attention to my horoscope and all I ever notice is that the predictions are written so broadly as to allow any interpretation anyone could want. I have a feeling that most people will be like me and barely note this change beyond a chuckle. Then again, there are some for whom this could be a life-changing event.

    No doubt there also will be many cynics who will see this shift as a clever marketing ploy by the folks who sell astrological knick-knacks, the tattoo removal industry and, of course, the tattoo industry itself. (Leo the lion comes off and gets replaced by Cancer the crab. A win-win for both sides of a single industry.)

    So why should we care? Because we, the food industry, does this same thing to shoppers all the time.

    Think about the aisles of a supermarket and all the products that went from being commonplace at one time to demons years or decades later. Whether it was saturated fats or trans fats, carbs, sugar substitutes or eggs. One week we are told butter is better and then we’re told to switch to margarine. (I honestly can’t remember which one is healthier this week.) In short, our products and ingredients have reputations that are constantly changing.

    And just as with the changing zodiac signs, we produce a mix of shoppers who are upset or don’t care or who think it is merely a clever marketing ploy aimed at getting them to buy something new. Because changes, like it or not, result in consumer confusion, frustration and cynicism unless they are provided clear and correct information guiding them on what happened and what to do.

    That’s why we should pause to consider the issue of changing astrological signs. All those misplaced members of Gemini or Pisces will likely be ticked that their guideposts have been moved, but they’ll be even angrier that there is simply no place to air a grievance. Remember that when the guideposts on food change, as they do with regularity, they know where to complain. We need to build both happy and smarter consumers and that means we need to address changes that might not have been of our own doing in a way that shows we care.

    There’s one more lesson in the world of physical science: magnetic north is moving. According to science journals, this happens virtually all the time due to shifts in the earth’s magnetic belts and molten rock beneath the planet’s surface. Again, I don’t understand all the reasons but I do get this: the direction a compass points is shifting, albeit slowly, away from what used to be the North Pole.

    It too is a great business metaphor because the direction we need to travel is also constantly moving. If we stick slavishly to the same path, guided by the same piece of equipment, we might find it taking us off course. Just as if we trust our fates to our stars, we might find ourselves suddenly wondering why that perfect description of our personalities is now completely wrong.

    Shakespeare had it right: ”The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” It’s up to us to change direction and up to us to educate those we serve in the changes that impact them.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:
    Yesterday, Michael and I were chatting about his column, and I was fascinated by the notion that the astrological changes would have an impact on the tattoo business. And so, separated by 3,000 miles (Michael was in Oregon, I was in Connecticut) but connected by phone, we started doing a little online research, and here’s what we found...

    Did you know that roughly 36 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 25, and 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 40, have a tattoo? Did you know that there are something like 20,000 tattoo parlors in the United States?

    I was, to be honest, startled by these figures. (None of my kids, to my knowledge, are tattooed.) It is remarkable the extent to which something that not that long ago was considered to be only marginally acceptable now has become pretty much mainstream. We’re still at the point where tattoos are being covered up in many workplaces, but I’m guessing that this will also change at some point.

    It is yet another marker of how the world has changed, and the extent to which businesses have to adjust their acceptability barometers. There’s nothing wrong with having standards, but we all have to adjust to broader cultural standards, or face possible irrelevance.

    This isn’t always easy. I also saw a study saying that 14 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 50 have a pierced body part other than an earlobe. I still get a little queasy when a see a barista or checkout person with some metal thingie sticking out of an eyebrow or nose...but I may have to get over it.

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Yesterday was one of those days when it became abundantly clear how the world of information has changed, and how content comes to us even if we are not seeking it out.

    It was just shortly after 9 am when the news simultaneously flashed across my laptop, iPhone and iPad - Regis Philbin will be leaving his morning show later this year after almost three decades on the air.

    As they continued, the headlines kept coming.

    • R. Sargent Shriver, the founding director of the Peace Corps, the architect of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, the United States ambassador to France and the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1972, died Tuesday at age 95 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

    • Sen. Kent Conrad (D-North Dakota) announced that he won’t seek re-election, making it less likely that the Democrats will be able to keep a Senate majority in next year’s elections.

    • Joseph Lieberman, the US Senator from Connecticut since 1988 who repeatedly defied party lines - running as an Independent when he didn’t get the Democratic nomination, and then annoying Democrats when he supported John McCain’s presidential bid - announced that he would be not run for re-election next year.

    • Apple Inc. announced that its first quarter net income jumped 78 percent to $6 billion, up from $3.4 billion in the year-ago period. Q1 revenue climbed 71 percent to $26.7 billion, vs. $15.7 billion in the comparable quarter. In announcing the numbers, Apple made no mention of CEO Steve Jobs’ latest medical leave, which dominated the news just 24 hours earlier.

    Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. The hits keep coming, the iPhone keeps buzzing.

    We’re never out of touch. Never out of reach.

    People of a certain age deal with it, understand it ... but young people simply accept it as being a fact of life. They know no other way of living than total accessibility and transparency.

    Sometimes the news will be interesting, sometimes not. Sometimes it won’t even be news, but it will be relevant information. And sometimes it will just be noise. Just as consumers will get better and better at being able to tell the difference, businesses have to get better at providing information and content that is useful, credible and relevant.

    And yesterday was one of these days when the change became abundantly clear.

    And that’s my Wednesday Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    The New York Times reports that Starbucks is expected to announce today that “customers of the 6,800 stores the company operates in the United States and the 1,000 that are in Target stores will be able to pay for their lattes with their cellphones instead of pulling out cash or a credit card,” an expansion of a program that the company has been testing in Seattle, New York, Northern California and in Target stores.

    According to the Times, “Various technology and payments companies, including PayPal, Bling Nation, Square, Venmo and now-deceased dot-com start-ups have been experimenting with ways to wean Americans off cash, credit cards or both. But the introduction of mobile payments in Starbucks stores may be the most mainstream example yet.

    “Owners of BlackBerrys, iPhones or iPod Touches can use them to pay by downloading the free Starbucks Card app and holding their phones in front of a scanner at Starbucks cash registers. The money is subtracted from their Starbucks account, which they can load with credit cards or, on iPhones, with PayPal funds.”
    KC's View:
    Starbucks may be doing it now...but I suspect that a lot of other companies will be doing the same thing pretty soon.

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    The Boston Globe reports this morning that while national soup sales are down 14 percent since 2008, a company called “New England Country Soup is looking to lead a soup revival with its signature all-natural, low-sodium offering, which comes in a convenient eco-friendly pouch and allows consumers to track the farm, field, or ocean from which each ingredient was harvested.

    “And the business is taking a bold marketing approach.

    “To garner attention as well as market share, the company is sending its soup pouches — along with cans of Campbell’s and Progresso — to food bloggers, challenging the critics to conduct their own taste tests.”

    “We are not setting out to unseat Progresso or Campbell’s from their positions,” founder M. Peter Thomson tells the paper. “What we want to do is establish a reasonable price point that provides extraordinary value to customer with a superior product.”
    KC's View:
    Being a big soup fan, I think that anyone who can generate some excitement in the soup category will be doing the industry a favor. I’m going to go out and look for New England Country Soup today....

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    The number of US convenience stores grew 1.2 percent over the past year and stands at 146,341 as of December 31, 2010, according to the NACS/Nielsen TDLinx 2011 Convenience Industry Store Count, released today.

    According to the report, “This increase in the NACS/Nielsen TDLinx 2011 Convenience Industry Store Count reversed a two-year drop in the store count and is the highest number of stores ever recorded, eclipsing the 146,294 stores from the 2008 count ... With the US Census Bureau data showing the U.S. population at 308.7 million, there is one convenience per approximately every 2,100 residents. NACS’ 2009 sales data shows that convenience store sales were $511 billion, or one of every 28 dollars spent in the country in 2009.”
    KC's View:
    The thing is, these are not yesterday’s convenience stores. They are multi-faceted stores that are competing on a number of levels with traditional supermarkets ... and that will continue to evolve and compete aggressively for share of stomach.

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that a new report from NPD Group says that “in the third quarter of 2010, more people rented DVDs from kiosks such as Redbox than from retail stores such as Blockbuster.” Furthermore, “with 31 percent of the U.S. market share, the use of kiosks is approaching the use of mail services such as Netflix, which...had 41 percent of the market. Retail stores, which are having a tough time competing against the newer services, were responsible for about 27 percent of U.S. rentals.”
    KC's View:
    et another reminder of how companies like Blockbuster completely missed the boat...and allowed themselves to be rendered irrelevant.

    All this is fluid, as downloading will eventually make all these physical transactions less important. The real lesson is that you have to keep in close touch with how the culture is shifting, and remain close to the edge.

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    The Associated Press reports that CVS Caremark is once again looking for a new president in the wake of a lawsuit by Walmart that stopped it, at least temporarily, from hiring Hank Mullany, the former head of Walmart's Northern US business.

    Walmart says that Mullany’s contract prevented him from taking a job with a competitor.

    According to the story, “The company said executives Mike Bloom and Scott Baker will lead the retail pharmacy business while CVS Caremark seeks a permanent president. Baker is in charge of CVS Caremark's internal operations and real estate, and he has been with the company for about 25 years. Bloom is in charge of merchandising and the company's supply chain. He has worked for CVS and CVS Caremark for 20 years.”
    KC's View:
    Regardless of what Mullany’s contract said, I think the question posed by some MNB users is a good one. How can any Walmart exec go to another retailer without potentially violating a non-compete clause? Walmart wants to compete with almost everyone ... and so it makes life after Walmart very, very dicey.

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    • Canada’s Financial Post reports that when Target starts opening the first of more than 100 stores in Canada in 2013, prices are expected to be a little higher, selection a little thinner and average size a little smaller than the company’s average stores in the US.

    • The New York Times reports that a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that “the Mediterranean diet - heavy on vegetables, fish and olive oil, with moderate amounts of wine - may be associated with slower rates of mental decline in the elderly ... High scores for adherence to the diet were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline, even after controlling for smoking, education, obesity, hypertension and other factors.”

    According to the story, “The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has significant strengths in its prospective design, large sample and use of a well-validated dietary questionnaire. But the authors acknowledged that they could not account for all possible variables, and cautioned that it was an observational study that draws no conclusions about cause and effect.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    • Sears Holdings announced that Robin Michel has joined the company as SVP and President – Food and Consumables & Health and Wellness, responsible for the oversight, leadership and growth both in-store and online for the company's food & consumables, health & beauty and pharmacy businesses. Michel most recently served as President, Giant Foods in Landover, Md.,

    • Target Corp. announced yesterday that Tony Fisher, the company’s vice president of merchandise operations, will be president of Target Canada, spearheading the company’s first venture outside the US which should result in as many as 100-150 stores being opened north of the border beginning in 2013.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 19, 2011

    Commenting on a story yesterday about nonfood retailers getting into the food business, I noted that Walmart started the trend...which led one MNB user to write:

    Not exactly Kevin….Wal-Mart may have been the first general merchandise retailer to begin selling groceries, but Meijer was the first to open the “Supercenter”, adding general merchandise to their grocery line, some 26 years before Wal-Mart.

    Meijer Thrifty Acres was the first so called “Supercenter”.  It opened in 1962 in Grand Rapids, MI.  They don’t use the name Thrifty Acres anymore, but you can see its influence in many of their hard-line and soft-line items.  For instance, you can buy many different MTA sporting good products, where MTA stands for Meijer Thrifty Acres.

    Wal-Mart opened their first supercenter in 1988, located in Washington, Missouri.

    In my opinion, having shopped at one and worked at the other, until about 10-years ago there was no comparison between the two companies;  Meijer stood for low prices and offered excellence in customer service and quality goods.  Wal-Mart stood for low prices only, with quality being questionable at best and service only slightly better than quality.  Now, Wal-Mart has done a tremendous amount of work to improve quality and maintain low prices, while Meijer struggled in the late 90’s to manage their P&L and continue to offer their expected level of service and quality.  In the 2000’s they have worked hard to regain and improve upon what was given up in the late 90’s.

    I didn’t mean to minimize Meijer’s contribution to format development. I was just talking about nonfood companies getting into the food biz to build traffic and sales ... Meijer came at it from the other direction, adding GM to its food selection.

    On the same subject, MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

    For decades, supermarkets used non-foods as traffic-builders and seasonal specials, selling many of the kinds of items hardware stores sold.

    Now non-food retailers are using food.

    All things are different and the same.

    On another subject, MNB user Chris O’Brien wrote:

    I gotta say I’m disappointed to hear that you’re a Lebowski skeptic - not because I feel a need to defend the movie (I think cult has spoken on that one), but because I think that a writer like yourself could really come to appreciate the subtlety of the script. If you do ever want to give the film another shot—here are two suggestions from a fellow writer and Lebowski fanatic…

    Don’t focus on the plot. The Lebowski gets better with repeated viewings because once you stop thinking about what’s going on and why, then you begin to enjoy the nuances of the characters and dialogue.

    Do focus on Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He plays a relatively small role, but his character pulls everything together in a brilliant and hilarious way. The scene midway through the movie in the limo where he finally starts calling Bridges “Dude” is priceless.

    Well, at least this is better than the emails I received from folks suggesting that what I really need to do was get stoned and then watch it.

    I think it may be a little late for that particular option...
    KC's View: