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    Published on: February 1, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    Every now and again I get a bit of information that reminds me how completely uncool I am. And today I find out that I’m apparently over the hill because I have never been - and doubt I ever will go - clubbing.

    I never thought of that as a huge character flaw, since I really have no idea what happens in that scene. Apparently, I am really wrong at least in the mind of Will.I.Am, lead singer of the Black-Eyed Peas. This coming weekend some of you might learn something about the Peas during the Super Bowl. After years of featuring Baby Boomer performers (Springsteen, the Who, the Stones, McCartney) the Super Bowl halftime show is going current with the Black-Eyed Peas.

    I advise you to watch them because for many of us, the Black-Eyed Peas are eye opening. Will.I.Am (yes, his name is a sentence) did an interesting interview in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine defining the group’s form of music mixing singing, rap and more. (He calls it “electro.” It’s likely you have heard some of their songs including “I Gotta Feeling,” “Boom Boom Pow” or even a stunningly energetic version of “I’ve had the time of my life.”)

    But first consider these two questions from the Times interviewer and the responses from Will.I.Am:

    Q: A friend of mine says that nightlife represents the greatest waste of human energy in history of mankind.

    A: Your friend probably doesn’t go to clubs. Right now in the world, clubbing is needed. It’s a time when people want to rub shoulders against people they don’t know and share, even if the sharing is expressing your like over a beat.

    Q: But clubbing seems to invite a lot of drinking and drug use.

    A: So do restaurants. I could go to a restaurant and get drunk. I could go to a restaurant and eat all the wrong food and get freaking diabetes and high cholesterol.

    Quite honestly, I have no idea if Will.I.Am is correct or crazy. But the point he makes in the interview is that his music is geared to a specific audience and he has no interest in explaining it to people who don’t get it. You can let that irritate you or you can try to understand. I think we have to try the latter.

    Years ago, Danny Wegman, CEO of the incomparable supermarket chain that bears his name, once talked to me about rap, a form of music that we both admitted we do not understood. Danny said he thought many people were underestimating the importance of rap as a new form of expression for a new generation and specific demographics. You can agree or disagree, but I’d argue that Danny likely has a better track record than most of us at picking up on trends.

    And that’s why we have to watch the Black-Eyed Peas and we have to listen to the words of Will.I.Am, even if we find them off-putting. Because in his statement, Will.I.Am is talking about how a specific group of people are socializing and the likelihood is that most of us simply don’t understand.

    The simple truth is that we live in an extremely diverse society filled with different customs, hobbies, social settings and more that are completely foreign to others. We all delude ourselves into thinking that what we do is the norm and what they do is odd because others would see it the opposite way. As a song from long ago taught us, different strokes for different folks.

    The challenge is to learn something about those folks and those strokes, even when we don’t really get it or even like it.

    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:

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    The federal government was out with its latest nutrition guidelines yesterday, urging consumers to “enjoy your food, but eat less” and, in the words of the New York Times story, “drink water instead of sugary drinks like soda, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables and cut down on processed foods filled with sodium, fat or sugar.”

    The guidelines were issued as a way of addressing the nation’s expanding obesity problem.

    According to the Times, “While the recommendations may seem obvious, it is nonetheless considered major progress for federal regulators, who have long skirted the issue, wary of the powerful food lobby. (The 112-page report even subtly suggests that people eat less pizza and dessert.)

    “Previous guidelines urged Americans to curb sugar, solid fats and salt, but avoided naming specific foods, let alone urging consumers to eat less food over all.”

    And, the Times writes, “While the guidelines are ostensibly for consumers and federal nutrition programs, they will undoubtedly put additional pressure on the food industry to reformulate processed foods, particularly to reduce the amount of sodium, which was emphasized in the report.

    “Similarly, the guidelines’ advice to reduce portion size could put pressure on restaurants, many of which continue to serve portions so large that they could easily serve two people under the government’s guidelines.”

    The Times story goes on:

    “The specific recommendations on various nutrients were largely unchanged in this year’s guidelines, compared to the last version in 2005, though reductions in sodium were given much greater emphasis.

    “Under the guidelines released Monday, about half of the populace should consume 1,500 milligrams of sodium or less each day. That includes children, African-Americans and anyone who is older than 50 or has hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Everyone else may consume up to 2,300 milligrams, about a teaspoon.

    “Now, Americans on average consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day.

    “In addition, the guidelines recommend consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids, replacing them with so-called good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The guidelines suggest making fruits and vegetables cover half of the plate at a meal, choosing fat-free and low-fat dairy products and eating more whole grains and seafood.”
    KC's View:
    MNB spoke yesterday with a registered dietitian who applauded the simplicity of the new guidelines, but suggested that they could be made even simpler.

    One key example: Do ordinary Americans understand some of the language in the recommendations in ways that allow them to act?  For instance, replacing saturated fats with poly- and mono-unsaturated is a good idea, but does everyone get that? Couldn't they simply say, use liquid plant based oils instead of stick butter, lard or shortening? The same could be said about many of the other recommendations - they just weren't specific enough, at least not in some people’s minds.

    I always think that simplicity and specificity is best.

    I also think that we’ll be getting the inevitable emails from some folks saying that this is the nanny state yet again rearing its head, ignoring the fact that a) these are just recommendations, not mandates, and b) there is a considerable body of opinion out there saying that the nation’s obesity crisis will have long-term financial, health and national security implications, reflecting a nation increasingly non-competitive in a 21st century environment.

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Since the day it was revealed that members of the Wilpon family - majority owners of the New York Mets - were among those victimized in the $65 billion Ponzi scheme engineered by Bernard Madoff, Fred and Jeff Wilpon have insisted that it would have no impact on how they run the team and invested in players.

    That is, no impact until last week, when the Wilpons announced that they are looking to sell as much as 25 percent of the team because of financial uncertainties surrounding their involvement with Madoff. The family currently is being sued by the trustee charged with liquidating all of Madoff’s assets, who believes that the Wilpons actually made “fictitious profits” over the long term from their Madoff investments, profits that should be returned to other victims.

    It’s hard to know at this point how the case will turn out. Mets fans - and you’ll have to trust me on this - are more immediately concerned with the incomparable pitching staff put together by the Philadelphia Phillies than they are with the Wilpons’ net worth.

    But here’s the eye-opening business lesson from all this.

    Since the Wilpons’ original claim that their Madoff issues would not affect their operation of the team, not one Mets fan that I know believed them. Not one. And I’d be willing to bet that not very many of their employees and players believed them either.

    The family had no credibility on this issue, because they seemed to be in denial. Furthermore, the steps they were taking with the team - not investing in free agents, for example, and not even appearing to be interested in negotiating with any free agent capable of hitting Roy Halladay - suggested that they were lying, or at least not in touch with reality.

    Nobody believed them. And nobody I know has much confidence in the Mets this season (and spring training doesn’t begin for another 12 days). Which is almost certain to hurt ticket sales, and the dominoes will continue to fall.

    In business, it is critical that we communicate the truth to our employees and customers, that we do our level best to maintain credibility over both the short-term and long-term. I’ve known a lot of business leaders over the years who refused to communicate bad or uncertain news to their employees, believing that it would hurt morale. But feigned optimism can irreparably ruin confidence in leadership, and then there is no place for the company to go.

    I used to work for magazine where the owners and publishers used to follow layoffs and bad news by calling meetings in which they would say that the business had turned the corner, that things were only going to get better, that there would be no more layoffs. And as soon as those meetings were over, people would immediately update their resumes, because nobody believed them - they were unwilling to be honest with us, unwilling to do more than apply a series of band-aids to the bleeding, and unwilling to allow us to be part of crafting the solution.

    Tell the truth. Honesty really is the best policy. For people and for business.

    That shouldn’t be much of an eye-opener. But it is.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    The Dayton Business Journal reports that Meijer has announced “the startup of, an online grocery ordering and delivery service available in the U.S. and abroad.”

    According to the story, “The company has sold bulk and multipack products in the past, but the new site will appeal to a broader array of consumers ... The site offers more than 5,000 items, with more than 3,000 available in individual sizes and the remainder in multipack and bulk. The stock includes non-perishable grocery and beverage products, both national and Meijer brands, as well as baby supplies, pet food, cleaning and laundry products and health and beauty items. Shipping charges start at $7.95 an order and there is no minimum order requirement. Deliveries takes between two and four days.”

    Previously, Meijer offered online ordering but only in-store pickup.
    KC's View:
    If you want to compete in the mainstream, you have to provide services like online shopping. Not sure that home delivery is a requirement at this point - my sense is that store pickup is the more desired and profitable option at this point. But to be relevant to the customer of the future, you have to offer the shopping experience that they prefer ... and they all shop online. Better start figuring it out now, because at some point, the train will have left the station and you’ll be irrelevant.

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    Crain’s New York Business reports that Walmart continues to make its case that allowing it to open stores in New York City will lead to jobs, low-priced food and increased sales tax revenue, arguing in a new report that “New York City residents spent nearly $200 million at about a dozen Walmart stores in the New York metropolitan area in 2010, a jump of about 20% from the amount reported in a previous 12-month period.”

    According to the story, “Opponents, meanwhile, continued to argue that Walmart will harm low-income New Yorkers. Walmart Free NYC, a coalition of labor, small businesses and community groups, blasted the retailer Monday for its recently-announced partnership with Jackson-Hewitt, a tax preparation firm that dishes out refund anticipation loans to low-income people. The loans, which carry sky-high interest rates, drain $54 million a year from the city economy, according to a report by the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project.”
    KC's View:
    No reason to doubt that eventually New York will follow the Chicago model, and Walmart will be allowed to open stores there. But it will take time and cost money.

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    The Oakland Tribune reports that “Safeway Inc. will combat an aggressive crop of rivals with an expansion that includes nine new stores in the West -- of which six will be in the Bay Area.”

    Among the competitors building new stores in Northern California are Grocery Outlet, Fresh
    & Easy, Foods Co., Sprouts Farmers Market and Henry's Farmers Market.

    "We are not just in a defensive stance," Karl Schroeder, president of Safeway's Northern
    California Division, tells the paper. “We also are going on offense in terms of building our business and building our market share ... We are clearly opening more new stores in 2011
    than we have opened in any one year over the last four or five years ... Our new stores aren't a knee-jerk reaction. They have been carefully thought out. We are thrilled they are coming together at this rate."
    KC's View:
    Now is precisely the time to get aggressive - especially in California, which may be the worst fiscal shape of any US state. (Got an email yesterday from one MNB user who suggested that California’s hard times was God punishing the state’s hedonists for their bad behavior. Which makes me wonder how some people are able to write emails with their heads someplace other than their shoulders looking at their computers. But I digress...)

    It is during a downturn that aggressive, progressive retailers can separate themselves from the pack - not by catering to the lowest common denominator, but by establishing clearly their differential advantages. Uneasy consumers tend to be in play, and Safeway is smart to go after the ones they don’t have, and work overtime to keep the ones they have.

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    The New York Times reports that 7-Eleven has opened a new eco-friendly store in Japan - the first of an expected 100 - that is “powered by solar energy and equipped with electric-vehicle chargers.” This “eco-konbini” costs 30 percent more to build than a standard 7-Eleven store, but the feeling is that the investment will pay off with long-term savings for the business.

    According to the story, “Along with the photovoltaic panels on its roof that generate as much as a third of the store’s electricity, the 185-square-meter, or 2,000-square-foot, eco-konbini in Kyoto also has a light-reflecting floor and sensors that automatically adjust the lighting. The store’s green credentials are colorfully displayed outside in computer-generated images, complete with animated descriptions.”
    KC's View:
    I love the notion of being upfront about the green credentials in a futuristic way - these are the kind of investments that companies ought to be proud of, ought to trumpet at every opportunity. It’s what every retailer ought to do whenever they install energy-efficient fixtures - put up a sign explaining in clear language what has been done, and why.

    It is all about being a responsible member of the community - and taking credit where credit is due.

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    The Des Moines Register reports that local police reports said that an Dahl’s Foods employee discovered a webcam attached to a light fixture in a women’s restroom in one of its stores. The company is not commenting on the report, but the police say that the webcam seemed to be in operation and was transmitting video when it was discovered.
    KC's View:
    When they find the perpetrator, persistent electric shock to his private parts strikes me as a perfectly reasonable punishment.

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Starbucks has launched a new promotion - if you buy but don’t like its Via instant coffee, it will replace it with a 12-ounce bag of ground coffee. The company said that the offering was a vote of confidence for the Via brand, which Starbucks has said was a $135 million brand in its first of sales.
    KC's View:
    It’s been interesting to see the varying reactions to Via over the past year. Some have suggested that it is nirvana for coffee drinker, which it isn’t. Some have suggested that it is one of the worst new products of the past year, which it clearly is not.

    I find this guarantee odd, though. If I bought Via and didn’t like it, wouldn’t Starbucks just give me my money back, no questions asked? I suppose that being able to get a bag of ground coffee would be a nice option, but somehow it seems counter-intuitive.

    Published on: February 1, 2011

    Got the following email from MNB user Jim Keller:

    Thank you for your article on the Silver Fox Club. As you indicated, the club was started fifteen years ago by Paul Corliss both to have fun as well as to recognize the senior talent in our industry.

    However, while the club does celebrate wisdom and longevity, I’d suggest that few, if any of the participants act like old folks. They are all vital and active leaders in the food industry and continue to play an active leadership role in their companies. This is especially true of leaders like Neil Golub, Ed Crenshaw, Bill MacAloney, Ed Kuehnle, Tom Haggai, Tom Blischok, Mike Gorshe, Joe Sheridan and virtually everyone in the group. In addition, most of these ‘Silver Haired’ executives have brought a host of young talent into the industry, both through their companies and their families. Paul’s daughter and four of my children are all active participants in the industry.

    To be honest Kevin, I think you and a lot of the FMI attendees are a little envious of the Silver Fox Club and just can’t wait until you can join this elite group of industry leaders.

    First of all, I can’t believe that Mike Gorshe is a member of the Silver Fox Club - his hair is less gray than mine.

    Second of all, I’m not envious. No aspersions being cast here, but I’m with Groucho Marx on this sort of thing: I don’t want to be part of any club that would have someone like me as a member.

    Finally, I want to be clear. I wasn’t attacking the Silver Fox Club. Just gently suggesting that gray and white hair is less worthy of celebration than a youthful outlook.

    We kid because we love.

    And, MNB user John Rand sent us the following email about Tops deciding to stop its test of in-store hand-held scanners:

    As you know, Kevin, I am constantly in and out of grocery stores all over the country, and the decision by Tops to discontinue the test of hand held scanners may say more about Tops than about the technology.

    In every case of which I am aware (Giant Eagle, Stop & Shop, Bloom just to name a few) the initial uptake on hand held scanners was similar to the 2 % level mentioned in your note.

    But the retailers who stuck with it accomplished a couple of things:

    The 2% of early adopters were invariably strong advocates and happy with the system – and if you pull it, you are taking something away from those who liked it, almost never a good thing for retailers.

    In time (a year or even two) the numbers turn up, in some case getting to as much as 10% or so of shoppers – showing that patience with rate of adoption of the new technology is a requirement.

    Such devices are almost invariably used at a higher level by younger shoppers and in particular by mothers shopping with “medium-size” children. How is that not a target audience?

    I personally feel that such scanners will disappear shortly, as they are replaced by mobile hand held technologies that relieve the retailer of the burden of device cost and maintenance – but the retailers offering hand- held scanners will be somewhat  better positioned for the change, not only with shoppers but with internal systems as well.

    In the meantime – how many perfectly successful items are purchased by  “only” 2% of the shoppers in a given store?

    All good points.

    I’m not talking about Tops here, but I would suggest that overall, the US food industry (and, I could argue, US culture in general) is obsessed with short-results and immediate gratification. There are a lot of industry initiatives that have been dismissed after a year or two because they did not did not double sales, traffic and profits, revolutionize the business, and grow hair on senior executives and make them appear 20 years younger.

    How many people said that “meal solutions” did not work as an initiative ... ignoring the possibility that the concept made sense, but that they had done it wrong, opting for short-cuts rather than long-term and considered investments.
    KC's View: