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    Published on: January 20, 2011

    The New York Times this morning reports that Walmart plans to unveil later today a five-year plan “to make thousands of its packaged foods lower in unhealthy salts, fats and sugars, and to drop prices on fruits and vegetables.”

    According to the story, “The plan, similar to efforts by other companies and to public health initiatives by New York City, sets specific targets for lowering sodium, trans fats and added sugars in a broad array of foods - including rice, soups, canned beans, salad dressings and snacks like potato chips - packaged under the company’s house brand, Great Value ... The changes will not happen overnight. Wal-Mart is pledging to reduce sodium by 25 percent, eliminate industrially added trans fats and reduce added sugars by 10 percent by 2015. Its other plans are less specific. In addition to proposing to lower prices on healthy foods, Wal-Mart is planning to develop criteria, and ultimately a seal, that will go on truly healthier foods, as measured by their sodium, fat and sugar content.”

    “In interviews previewing the announcement, Wal-Mart and White House officials said the company was also pledging to press its major food suppliers, like Kraft, to follow its example. Wal-Mart does not disclose how much of its sales come from its house brand. But Kraft says about 16 percent of its global sales are through Wal-Mart.

    “In addition, Wal-Mart will work to eliminate any extra cost to customers for healthy foods made with whole grains, said Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for corporate affairs. By lowering prices on fresh fruits and vegetables, Wal-Mart says it will cut into its own profits but hopes to make up for it in sales volume. ‘This is not about asking the farmers to accept less for their crops,’ he said.”

    The program will be phased in slowly over five years, and Dach concedes that not all the tactics have been worked out. “We think it’s a realistic target, but it’s aspirational in the sense that we can’t tell you today how it’s all going to get done,” he tells the Times.

    The Times reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said that while the moves by Walmart push the food industry “in the right direction,” it would have been better if the company had been more aggressive and set a faster timeline.

    The Times also reports that the “initiative came out of discussions the company has been having with Michelle Obama, the first lady, who will attend the announcement in Washington and has made healthy eating and reducing childhood obesity the centerpiece of her agenda. Aides say it is the first time Mrs. Obama has thrown her support behind the work of a single company.” The First Lady reportedly pushed Walmart to publish regular progress reports, a condition to which Walmart agreed.
    KC's View:
    The CSPI complaints notwithstanding, I think this is a positive thing...but I’m almost more interested in the things not mentioned in the pre-announcement chatter.

    One is the adoption of some sort of nutritional labeling system ... because I fully expect that Walmart is going to introduce some sort of proprietary plan with goals similar to those set by systems such as Guiding Stars and NuVal. It is my understanding that Walmart has been working on such a system for some time now, and so I would guess that it won;t be long before we hear about it.

    The other thing not mentioned - and, to be fair, it is not related to nutrition - is Walmart’s expected roll-out of online grocery shopping, almost certainly geared to store pick-up. That’s on the horizon, and getting closer ... and supermarkets need to be prepared.

    The big news here is that Walmart doesn’t want to just dominate the selling of food in the US. It also wants to dominate the discussion, to be perceived as a thought leader.

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    ST. HELENA, CA. -- Mary Poppins sang that it only took a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Well, the hook is no longer sugar, but top chefs clearly still like the idea of a little inducement to produce some healthier eating. And the idea, with or without a song, might have some merit.

    The World of Healthy Flavors leadership retreat here opened with some predictably bad news that Americans are in increasingly poor health and much of it is due to the foods they are eating. The conference, co-sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and Harvard’s School of Public Health, attracts a diverse group of chefs, dietitians and food specialists from food retailers, restaurants, institutions and more.

    The opening session featured four chefs detailing recipes that all featured a heavy dose of vegetables and other healthier ingredients. And all the chefs paid homage to Mary Poppins in their own ways. One chef suggested including a small helping of shrimp in a rice and chickpea dish; another suggested low-fat cheese topping stuffed peppers. Others used various spices and other inducements. In each case they explained that using such products will help get families to try new healthier foods that also pack an enormous taste wallop. (We got to sample all the dishes afterwards and the recipes were everything advertised.)

    More recipe tasting is planned for the balance of the two and one-half day conference at the CIA campus at Greystone, as are in-depth discussions of ways to address and improve Americans’ eating habits.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    Fortune is out with its annual “Best Companies To Work For” list, and among those making the grade this year are retailers such as Wegmans (#3), Zappos (#6), Nugget Market (#8), Stew Leonard’s (#18), the Container Store (#21), Whole Foods (#24), Quik Trip (#34),Publix (#67), Nordstrom (#74), and Starbucks (#98).

    Other food industry-related companies making the list are General Mills (#58), SC Johnson (#70), JM Smucker (#93), and Accenture (#99).

    At the top of the list this year, for the third year in a row, is software firm SAS, which Fortune lauds for what it calls “epic” perks: “on-site healthcare, high quality childcare at $410 per month, summer camp for kids, car cleaning, a beauty salon, and more -- it’s all enough to make a state-of-the-art, 66,000-square-foot gym seem like nothing special by comparison.”
    KC's View:
    One interesting note in the compilation this year is the list of the 15 companies out of the 100 finalists that have never had layoffs - and they include Wegmans, Nugget, Stew Leonard’s, The Container Store, Quik Trip, and Publix - which is an extraordinary legacy for these retailers to have, and an exceptional argument for these companies to make about their contributions to their communities.

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    Bloomberg has a story suggesting that “US investors should welcome, not fear, climbing commodity prices,” quoting Nariman Behravesh, a former Federal Reserve officials and current chief economist at consultants IHS, as saying that commodity cost increases are “largely a reflection of the fact that the pace of economic growth, particularly in the U.S., has
    picked up.”

    Michael Darda, chief economist for MKM Partners, tells Bloomberg that “commodity prices usually move in tandem with U.S. production, income and the stock market, so the increase is a reason to be bullish, not bearish, about the outlook, he said.”
    KC's View:
    Regardless of whether it is good or bad for the economy, rising commodity costs mean that many stores are going to have to adjust their approach to selling certain kinds of products. They’re going to have to stress “values” in addition to “value.” In the long run, I’m not sure this is a bad thing for the food industry.

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    A couple of interesting football-and-food related stories this morning...

    • Supervalu is out with its annual “Snack Down Survey,” conducted by Harris Interactive, examining people’s eating habits while watching the football playoffs.

    “Consistent with last year's inaugural survey, the majority of respondents said they ‘never’ feel guilty about what they eat while watching the games, however, this year a significantly higher percentage of men (60 percent) than women (46 percent) indicated no guilt about fumbling their health goals. In fact, the majority said they will choose snacks they don't consider healthy, apparently viewing the game as an excuse to tackle their favorite foods. Top picks for this year's game were dips and spreads, up from last year to 30 percent; chicken wings at 22 percent; and pizza at 17 percent. However, compared to last year's number one favorite, the ‘chips were down’ with chips and salty snacks such as peanuts, popcorn or pretzels falling from first place snack choice to fourth place at 14 percent. Ever popular burgers, dogs and brats came in at 9 percent.”

    Another result of the survey: “More than 80 percent plan on watching the Super Bowl in their own home, the survey found. Among those who plan on hosting a Super Bowl party, the majority of hosts plan on doing all of the preparation themselves. The amount fans plan to spend on foods and snacks is down compared to last year: half of those hosting a party plan to spend $50 or less, versus $100 or less in 2010.”

    • The other story is from Bloomberg:

    “Almost one in 10 sports fans has a blood alcohol content above the legal limit as they exit the stadium after football and baseball games, a study found ... The research, which involved giving breath tests to 362 attendees of 13 baseball and 3 football games, also found that 40 percent had been drinking, according to the report in the journal. Fans younger than age 35 were 9 times likelier to be above the legal limit. The use of alcohol by sports spectators is understudied, the researchers said.”

    In addition, “  Those who attended tailgate parties had a 14 times greater risk of being inebriated than those who hadn’t attended a party. Almost 1 in 4 people who tailgated reported consuming five or more drinks while tailgating, the study found.”
    KC's View:
    The irony? The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Robert Wood Johnson’s great-grandson is Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson IV, who also is the owner of the New York Jets ... and I’m guessing that if the Jets actually win this weekend, more than a few fans are likely to be over-served.

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    United Press International reports that a Canadian company, Mood Media, “is developing scents aimed at keeping customers inside businesses longer, giving them more time to spend money.” The company “has already developed scents called ‘Lotus Flower’ and ‘Enchanted Apple’ and is working with over 20,000 shops in Britain to boost their sales,” according to the story, which goes on, “The company is also working with shops in Britain to help them use sound as well as visual media, to boost sales.”
    KC's View:
    It always has been my contention that many food stores have virtually ignored the advantages that scents can give them ... the aroma of fresh bread, or cookies, or garlic, or freshly prepared foods can be enormous mood-setters and sale-generators because they make people hungry. The sad truth that if you placed blindfolded people in the middle of most supermarkets, they’d have no idea that they are in a food store.

    I think the smells have to be organic to the experience, and I’m not sure that “Lotus Flower” does it for me. But the idea is on the right track.

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    Shine, an online magazine from Yahoo!, has an interesting piece on what consumers looking for bargains should and should not buy at Whole Foods, suggesting that value-driven shoppers should skip its selection of conventional fruits and vegetables, the entire meat counter, and the HBC department.

    On the other hand, the story also notes that price-oriented shoppers can find good deals by shopping Whole Foods’ private brands and bulk foods. And, the story notes, shoppers with other priorities and who define “value” in other ways can find products worth acquiring when shopping for local and organic produce, local and/or sustainably raised meat, seafood and dairy products, and healthy, natural food products you can’t find elsewhere.

    Internet Retailer reports that “MyWebGrocer Inc. and ItemMaster LLC announced yesterday they entered a partnership that will provide MyWebGrocer’s retailer clients with free product images and data for use in their digital circulars, web sites, mobile applications and ad networks.

    “ItemMaster is the brainchild of Thomas Parkinson, co-founder of online grocer Peapod ... ItemMaster, which launched in 2009, was built to manage the thousands of images of the products online grocers carry and information on item ingredients and nutrition, Parkinson says ... Grocers using ItemMaster so far include Giant Food, Peapod and Stop & Shop. Participating manufacturers include The Hershey Co., Newman's Own Inc. and Perdue Inc.

    “Traditionally, retailers paid for these product images and data. But under terms of the partnership with ItemMaster, MyWebGrocer clients will now have free access to high-quality product images and greater depth of information about what’s in the products.”

    Full disclosure: MyWebGrocer is a longtime and valued MNB sponsor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    • Daymon Worldwide announced that Ed Wright, a longtime senior executive with the company, has been named President and COO of its North American Brokerage.

    The announcement says that Wright, a 28-year Daymon veteran, “will be responsible for creating a fully integrated system to better align the company’s resources and partnerships. He will also oversee the relationship with Anderson Daymon, a specialized sales and marketing organization that has served Costco exclusively since 1983.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2011

    We got into a discussion yesterday of the growing acceptability of tattoos, and I commented:

    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.

    One MNB user responded:

    Always good to see the allegedly most advanced civilization in the history of the world imitating primitive tribes, makes you feel real positive about the future of this country…..just an opinion.    Don’t print the name if you use it, I don’t need to be recognized for my “narrow mindedness!”

    You’re comment about your kids not having tattoo’s “to my knowledge” is great, I’ve heard many a parent state that only to find out…..good luck!

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I was quite interested in the stats you posted relating to the percentage of youth sporting tattoos.  As a Father of 2 daughters, both under age 25 I’ve learned that adorning their bodies with tattoo “art” is actually the “norm” amongst their peers.  Likewise, both girls have metal in on their bodies, with my youngest daughter leading the charge with no less than 5 piercings of which I am aware.  I don’t care to know if they have others, if you get my drift.

    From another MNB user:

    Sitting in the lead HR role for a mid-America based independent retail grocery chain I’ve also noticed that the tolerance shown by our store level managers in terms of what constitutes “acceptable” forms of “body art” and what is not acceptable through the years has morphed throughout the 90’s and the 00’s.  It’s nothing short of fascinating!  Same applies to hair color and hair styles that were once only worn by punk rockers are now commonplace among the proverbial “socker Mom’s” (multi-color layered hair that I first saw on Debbie Harry in the band Blondie back in the late 70's).

    And, another MNB user chimes in:

    I agree with your assessment - get with the times or be left behind.  Its not that I think that shaved heads featuring tarantula tattoos running down onto the visage will ever be acceptable in a retail environment.  However, I would suggest that the dress code variations I've seen at stores like Hot Topic, Spencers Gifts and Whole Foods are apt to be more commonplace as time goes by.  Please understand, none of this offends me!  But I also understand that the shopper who is older than I may not want to buy their deli items from an employee who has visible tattoos, body piercings, and wearing dreadlocks.  It should be noted that a dreadlock hairstyle would be acceptable if the employee is a Rastafarian - according to our labor attorney.

    Point taken.
    KC's View: