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    Published on: February 16, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    As every sports fan knows, putting together a team of all-stars doesn’t always produce a winning team. Sometimes the whole can be less than the sum of the parts and whenever it happens, it’s instructive.

    Apparently, it is happening right now on the great white way of Broadway, where the most expensive musical ever - Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark - is turning into an epic lesson. On paper, the musical should be a surefire winner. Its subject is a comic book character that is well known and loved, so much so that the franchise has produced three high grossing movies (with a fourth, a reboot, currently in production). The show’s director is a Broadway luminary. Bono and The Edge, the heart of the mega-group U2, supply the music.

    In other words, Spiderman is a can’t miss success. Except it apparently isn’t all that good. The show has gained a stunning amount of notoriety for the spate of injuries suffered by various actors as they fly around and above the audience on cables. There have been so many mishaps that the show’s official opening has been postponed time and again.

    Last week on the date of a one canceled opening night, the key New York theater critics decided they had waited long enough and finally reviewed Spiderman. It was an unusual and controversial decision, but the critics defended it saying the previews had gone on far too long and that theatergoers paying full price were owed the advantage of a review.

    Needless to say, this isn’t a happy story. The all-star show was panned. One critic said the only interesting moment in the show was when one of the far-too-frequent technical problems momentarily delayed the show. In short, they found the story empty and the musical boring.

    There is a great object lesson in this. Spiderman was blessed with all the best ingredients, but still came out flat. It’s like a perfectly designed store or product that seems to be blessed in every way except customer appeal. It’s why we all have to keep asking ourselves tough questions and remind ourselves that there is no sure thing. EVER!

    If you don’t believe me, buy a $250 ticket for Spiderman. It sounds like the producers can use the money.

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

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    Safeway has announced its new SimpleNutrition program, described as “an in-store shelf tag system that makes it easier for shoppers to find better nutrition choices among foods and beverages most important to them and their families. The SimpleNutrition green shelf tags on qualifying items are located throughout the store next to Safeway’s Everyday Low Prices and Club Card specials.”

    According to the announcement, “Safeway created SimpleNutrition as a first step in helping its customers modify the selection of products that support a healthier lifestyle. SimpleNutrition makes it easy to find nutritionally better items in store with green shelf tags that highlight up to two of 22 different nutrition and ingredient benefits, such as: Gluten Free, Organic, Sodium Smart, or Made with Whole Grains. Shoppers will see that the tags are simple to read without a complicated numbering system or confusing symbols. The products included in the program meet specific criteria, so shoppers can focus on the nutrition benefits they want or need most in their diet to meet their nutrition goals.”

    “Consumers are inundated with conflicting nutrition information and are often skeptical of the nutrition claims on packaging,” said Safeway’s Barbara Walker, group vice president, consumer communications and brand marketing. “SimpleNutrition is an ‘at the shelf’ program that simplifies and personalizes the grocery shopping experience so that shoppers can feel confident about making more informed food choices. While SimpleNutrition is not a replacement for the nutrition panel found on food and beverage packages, it provides shoppers with a quick snapshot of the nutrition and ingredient benefits that best match their nutritional needs.”
    KC's View:
    The gospel around here is simple.

    The more you tell customers, the better. The better the information, the stronger the connection to the shopper.

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    Reuters reports that the troubled Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) has asked the court overseeing its bankruptcy issues for permission to close 32 stores in six states - just the beginning of what the company said late last year might be a move to close as many as 100 of its 395 stores.

    The company has been in bankruptcy protection since December.
    KC's View:
    Dead company walking. Or maybe just stumbling.

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    Food Safety News reports that the Utah legislature is scheduled to consider legislation “that would exempt his state from federal food regulations, including the recently enacted food safety bill, if the food is not sold across state lines.”

    Utah state Rep. Bill Wright says that “within the state, it's state's rights. We already have regulations over those items. We function well now. We don't think they have a right or authority to regulate those items that are not interstate commerce, as long as they're grown within the state, packaged in the state and remain in the state."

    As Food Safety News writes, “The historic FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, signed by President Obama in January, contains exemptions for small farms, under certain conditions, to help reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses. The new law does not apply to farms and very small businesses that sell most of their food directly to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores within the same state, or within 275 miles, and have less than $500,000 in annual sales.” The FDA can “withdraw the exemption if food from an exempt farm or facility is associated with a foodborne illness outbreak.”
    KC's View:
    I’m actually okay with this approach to state’s rights if Utah also is willing to put large stickers on exempted food products that say, “This product not subject to federal food safety regulations.”

    Look, we can argue over whether the food safety bill was the best possible legislation. (I would suggest that it wasn’t, but that no legislation, by definition, is the best possible solution to any problem because legislation is the act of compromise.) And we can debate how the regulations can be made both more efficient and effective. (Which might happen if politicians could be convinced to somehow listen to the better angels of their nature, which is unlikely to happen on either side of the aisle.)

    But it seems to me that federal regulations are federal regulations - and that federal regulations are not, by their very definition, evil things. I don’t live in Utah, but if I happen to visit the state, I’d like to know that the food I eat there is subject to the same safety rules as the food in Connecticut or Florida or Ohio or Arizona or California.

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    The Nielsen Company is out with a new study into the consumer habits of grandparents, saying that “grandparent households spend 4.4 percent more per year than all other households, which equates to an extra spend of more than $300 a year. Interestingly, having multiple grandchildren does not translate to more spending. In fact, grandparents in the survey with only one grandchild actually spend two times more than grandparents with 2–10 grandkids. The exception is grandparents with more than 10 grandkids – they actually spend $79 less per year than non-grandparent households.” This may be because “grandparents with one grandchild are likely younger and still working and may be more inclined to show their love with greater spending. Similarly, households with more grandkids are likely to be older and therefore have weaker spending power.”

    According to the survey, “Fully 39 percent of grandparents in the Nielsen survey provide some kind of support to help their grandchildren. Nearly one in four (23%) buy clothing for their grandkids and one in five purchase food and beverages. Mom and dad benefit too, as grandparents help out with household and personal care purchases (16%), education expenses (10%), daycare costs (8%) and medical care/doctor visits (5%).”

    In addition, “Nielsen’s research also showed how grandparents who see their grandchildren daily or several times per week (one-third of those surveyed) are bigger spenders, suggesting opportunities for grocers to take advantage of those frequent visits.”

    The survey goes on: “If you think that older consumers aged 50+ are not digitally savvy, you are mistaken. In fact, in December 2010, Nielsen reports that consumers aged 50+ in the U.S. comprised roughly one-third (32%) of the active Internet audience on average taking into account usage at both home and work locations. And older consumers spent nearly 62 hours online in that month. Sending and receiving email is the most popular online activity, with 82 percent of grandparents finding this mode of communication fast and easy. Paying bills, checking the weather, printing maps and directions, reading the news, visiting social network sites, accessing personal health care information and playing online games are activities enjoyed by a surprisingly high number of older consumers.”

    The conclusion: “Developing targeted programs designed around their varied needs and desires will prove beneficial for the savvy marketers that tap into these lucrative households.”
    KC's View:

    Just as I get to the age when becoming a grandparent seems like a remote possibility, we’re no longer in a time when being a grandparent means occasional babysitting and handing the kid back to the parent when it goes to the bathroom or gets cranky.

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who specializes in writing about the nation’s food system and nutritional issues, is out with an online piece arguing for the mandated labeling of products that contain genetically modified organisms.

    Some excerpts:

    • “In the last three weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved three new kinds of genetically engineered (G.E.) foods: alfalfa (which becomes hay), a type of corn grown to produce ethanol), and  sugar beets. And super-fast-growing salmon — the first genetically modified animal to be sold in the U.S., but probably not the last — may not be far behind.

    “It’s unlikely that these products’ potential  benefits could possibly outweigh their potential for harm. But even more unbelievable is that the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S.D.A. will not require any of these products, or foods containing them, to be labeled as genetically engineered, because they don’t want to “suggest or imply” that these foods are ‘different’.”

    • “G.E. products may grow faster, require fewer pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, and reduce stress on land, water and other resources; they may be more profitable to farmers. But many of these claims are in dispute, and advances in conventional agriculture, some as simple as drip irrigation, may achieve these same goals more simply. Certainly conventional agriculture is more affordable for poor farmers, and most of the worlds’ farmers are poor ... To be fair, two of the biggest fears about G.E. crops and animals — their potential to provoke allergic reactions and the transfer to humans of antibiotic-resistant properties of G.M.O.’s — have not come to pass. (As far as I can tell, though, they remain real dangers.)

    “But there has been cross-breeding of natural crops and species with those that have been genetically engineered, and when ethanol corn cross-pollinates feed corn, the results could degrade the feed corn; when G.E. alfalfa cross-pollinates organic alfalfa, that alfalfa is no longer organic; if a G.E. salmon egg is fertilized by a wild salmon, or a transgenic fish escapes into the wild and breeds with a wild fish … it’s not clear what will happen.”

    • “In the long run, genetic engineering may prove to be useful. Or not. The science is adolescent at best; not even its strongest advocates can guarantee that there aren’t hidden dangers. So consumers are understandably cautious, and whether that’s justified or paranoid, it would seem we have a right to know as much as Europeans do.

    “Even more than questionable approvals, it’s the unwillingness to label these products as such — even the G.E. salmon will be sold without distinction — that is demeaning and undemocratic, and the real reason is clear: producers and producer-friendly agencies correctly suspect that consumers will steer clear of G.E. products if they can identify them. Which may make them unprofitable. Where is the free market when we need it?

    “A majority of our food already contains G.M.O.’s, and there’s little reason to think more isn’t on the way. It seems our ‘regulators’ are using us and the environment as guinea pigs, rather than demanding conclusive tests. And without labeling, we have no say in the matter whatsoever.”
    KC's View:
    It has been argued in this space for years that products with GMOs ought to be labeled as such; Bittman just makes the case more compellingly. For me, it is a matter of transparency and common sense.

    You can read the whole piece here.

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Target Corp. has signed a lease for a new store that will be opened in about 18 months at the site of the former Carson Pirie Scott & Co. store on State Street.

    According to the story, the new store “will occupy the first and second floor with a total of about 60,000 square feet of selling space. Roughly 10% of the store, on the upper level, will be focused on a scaled-down grocery assortment, according to Target executives on hand for the announcement Tuesday morning at the former Carson’s store.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    • The Boston Globe has an interesting piece this morning about Margaret A. McKenna, the former president of Lesley University, who now is running the Walmart Foundation - which was about the last job she expected to have after her retirement from academia.

    According to the story, “McKenna directs a half-billion dollars a year in giving, focusing on hunger and education. While she tackles issues close to her heart, she has also become an ambassador for the world’s most powerful retail machine, helping to burnish its image and lay the groundwork for its push into urban markets — including Boston.

    “McKenna is everywhere, presenting checks at store openings and meeting with politicians and community leaders around the country. Over the course of a few weeks last summer, she met with the superintendent of schools in Los Angeles and the head of the LA food bank. She spent time in Detroit, where Wal-Mart has no stores, meeting with nonprofit officials. And she helped design a $20 million philanthropy package for Chicago that’s part of the company’s expansion there.

    “In Washington, she met with Michelle Obama, in a discussion that would help lead to Obama’s healthy food initiative revealed last month with Wal-Mart. Before taking all that on, McKenna, now 65, had to do more than a little soul searching. When company officials at the Arkansas headquarters invited her to meet, McKenna was skeptical. She read every anti-Wal-Mart book and saw the critical 2005 documentary on the company.”

    “If I did not believe the company had the commitment to treat people fairly now, and to give back to the community, I wouldn’t be there,’’ McKenna says. “It couldn’t just be me, trying to make the bad guy look good. That just would not work for me.’’

    Even critics say that McKenna’s presence in the job shows how sophisticated Walmart has become about community relations - combining charitable work with business strategy in a way that seems to be extremely effective.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 16, 2011 reports on a debate currently taking place in Texas over the state’s position on $269 million in sales taxes that regulators there say that Amazon owes on transactions with Lone Star State residents. The bill is due, regulators say, because Amazon operates a distribution center in Irving, Texas, and therefore has a physical presence in the state.

    Amazon is fighting the bill, saying that it is exempt from paying sales taxes because it engages in online interstate commerce. At the same time, Amazon has announced that it will close its distribution center in Texas, lay off 119 people there, and also is suspending its relationships with affiliate businesses there. (Barnes & Noble has stepped into the breach, offering to do business with those spurned Amazon affiliates.)

    And now, Gov. Rick Perry - despite the fact that his state is facing a $27 billion budget gap - is lobbying for legislation that would exclude businesses such as Amazon from paying state sales taxes.

    The reason? According to Politico, “Perry says that if Amazon walks, Texas will be seen as ‘less competitive’ and fears other businesses will choose the same route.”

    In addition, Politico writes, the issue is “extremely political for Perry — and highly important if Perry wants to run for national office.

    “A key part of the Texas governor’s self-spun narrative is about creating a business friendly environment in Texas while at the same reducing greenhouse emissions and keeping the state in strong financial standing - all by just making government get out of the way of business and focusing on the limited functions he believes the state should serve.

    “The strong financial standing part is already starting to unravel — Texas is facing a massive budget deficit, as are most states. And now, if Amazon leaves the state because of a tax burden, Perry’s opponents will have the pin they need to burst Perry’s pitch.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    The Des Moines Register reports that convenience chain Casey's General Stores is suing Subway, the fast food sandwich chain, “in an effort to fight the latter company's claim of exclusive rights to the non-hyphenated, grammatically tortured term ‘footlong’ in promoting sandwiches and related services.”

    As the story explains it, “For years, Subway, with 34,000 outlets in 93 countries, has promoted its line of specially priced 12-inch sandwiches, some of which are described as ‘five-dollar footlongs.’

    “Casey's, which has 1,600 stores in the Midwest, is in the process of rolling out a similar promotion. At 180 of its locations, Casey's is now offering made-to-order sandwiches and is using the term ‘footlong’ on signs and menus.”

    Subway sent Casey’s a cease-and-desist letter, threatened to sue, and then Casey’s responded by suing first over the “footlong” name.

    According to the Register, “Subway's trademark application for ‘footlong’ has yet to be approved by the federal government. A&W, Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's and other restaurants are opposing the application.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    • The New York Times< reports this morning that Trian Group, the investment firm controlled by Nelson W. Peltz, has offered to acquire Family Dollar Stores for at least $7 billion. Trian already has a 7.9 percent stake in the retailer, and is looking to acquire the rest of the company.

    • The Texas legislature reportedly is considering bills to allow licensed raw milk dairies to deliver their milk directly to their customers at home or at a mutually convenient location like a farmers market. Proponents of the legislation argue that such deliveries will make raw milk safer because it will keep the product properly refrigerated until it gets into the hands of consumers; they also say that raw milk has more vitamins and minerals than the pasteurized variety.

    • Krystal Smith, of Hannaford Supermarket in Burlington, Vermont, has been crowned the best grocery bagger in America, winning the national Best Bagger Championship sponsored by ConAgra Foods at the National Grocers Association (NGA) convention and show in Las Vegas.

    The First Runner Up was Jessica Lewis of Yoke's Fresh Market in Washington; Second Runner Up was Andrew Hadlock of Macey's in Utah; Third Runner Up was Matt Medley of Lund's Food Holding in Minnesota; and Fourth Runner Up was Roland Mattox of Quality Foods in Georgia.

    • Keith Johanneson, president and chief executive officer of Minnesota-based Johanneson's Inc., has been named the winner of this year’s Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award by the National Grocers Association. The announcement was made at NGA’s annual convention and show in Las Vegas.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Chipotle Mexican Grill is considering unveiling a new Asian format, filing a federal trademark registration application for the name “ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen.”

    According to the story, “Chipotle announced its intention to launch an Asian concept in November. The company said it is developing the menu and will open one location this year. However, a spokesman said Chipotle isn't disclosing any details of the new chain now.”

    • In the UK, the Guardian reports that William Morrison Supermarkets announced the acquisition of Kiddicare, an online retailer, selling baby goods, for the equivalent of $112 million (US). The story notes that “Morrisons is the only member of the "big four", which includes Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's, that does not have a substantial internet business.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that “people who consumed higher amounts of fiber, particularly from grains, had a significantly lower risk of dying over a nine-year period compared to those who consumed lower amounts of fiber, according to a new National Institutes of Health study ... Other studies have suggested that fiber may lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, but there's been conflicting evidence on whether there's any mortality benefit from consuming fiber.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    Kenneth Mars, a longtime character actor who played major roles in two seminal Mel Brooks movies, died last weekend of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.

    Mars played Franz Liebkind, who wrote the play “Springtime for Hitler” in the original film version of The Producers, which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. And, he played Inspector Kemp - who spent much of the movie wrestling with a malfunctioning artificial arm - in Young Frankenstein.

    If that wasn’t enough, Mars had roles in hundreds of movies and TV shows, including great pictures like The Parallax View, Night Moves, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, What’s Up, Doc?, and The Little Mermaid (he was the voice of King Triton), plus two Woody Allen movies.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 16, 2011

    Got the following email responding to the stories and commentary about hospitals banning not just smoking, but smokers, as they look to present a more healthful image and more effectively manage their own healthcare costs, as well as the article and email about the grocery executive arrested and charged with soliciting sex online from a girl who identified herself as a minor.

    I have been with you and the letter since day four and I need to help you...

    Kevin, all this stuff on smoking and pervs needs to fade and fade fast.  You have built a personal brand that is strong and growing.  The only way you severely damage a personal brand image is when you push too far into peoples’ lives via your carrier (MNB).

    I am sorry for your loses but the choice our friends and parents make are THEIR choices and we honor them.

    Look forward, do not dwell on these type issues and guide the retail industry’s mornings with the beat of your news!

    Smart marketers know that the most valuable emails you get are the ones that criticize you - because a) they force you to think about what you are doing, and b) they come from someone who cares enough about your product to complain.

    However...I must say that I’ve thought about this a lot, and I respectfully disagree with you.

    Let’s start with the child prostitution arrest. I’m an old newspaper reporter, and that was just an interesting story on all sorts of levels, having to do with someone notable within the retailing business. And I’d be willing to bet that whether people liked reading that story or not, because it made them uncomfortable or queasy or whatever, it was one story this week that almost everybody did read. It’s called “news,” and I would not have been doing my job if I did not write about it.

    As for the smoking story...

    When I mention the death of my mom from lung cancer here on MNB, it is usually to put my opinions about the tobacco industry in some sort of context; I think that in this case, that kind of transparency is required.

    I actually think I was fairly balanced in my commentary on that story, because I am genuinely conflicted about it. I tried to lay out the pros and cons, and stimulate discussion and thought among the MNB community, which I think is what happened.

    I respect your opinion and thank you for your criticism, but that’s my “personal brand image.” I push the envelope in terms of what I write about and how, I say stuff that sometimes is uncomfortable, occasionally I go too far ... but mostly I just try to be more interesting than everyone else, while acknowledging that MNB won’t be for everyone.

    On the subject of whether one can or should decide not to hire people who are smokers, MNB user Brian Fox decided to make a movie connection:

    I can't believe Minority Report didn't somehow enter into the hiring debate....

    Spielberg has characterized the story as "fifty percent character and fifty percent very complicated storytelling with layers and layers of murder mystery and plot."

    The film's central theme is the question of free will vs. determinism. It examines whether free will can exist if the future is set and known in advance. Other themes include the role of preventative government in protecting its citizenry, the role of media in a future state where electronic advancements make its presence nearly boundless, the potential legality of an infallible prosecutor, and Spielberg's repeated theme of broken families.

    Love it when you guys bring up the movies...

    Got two great quotes from MNB users yesterday, both referring to issues of innovation, and I thought they were worth sharing:

    “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

    "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn." - Alvin Toffler

    Responding to my story about Nuval nutritional labeling in which I wrote that “the NuVal approach uses a proprietary system to rate every product in the store on a 1-100 scale ... with 100 being the best to eat,” Nuval’s Mike Nugent wrote:

    The higher the score, the better the nutrition.  Higher score = better nutrition.  I appreciate the reporting and don’t want you to stop, but I also am trying to avoid the wrath of the entire industry by calling things good, bad, best, worst, unhealthy, healthy, red, yellow, green, that sort of thing.

    Point taken.

    But will you forgive me if I were to suggest that while you may be endeavoring to avoid the wrath of the industry, you also are engaging in a kind of semantics?

    And, from another MNB user:

    I know people are probably tiring of the Chick-Fil-A vs. gays with an agenda story, but I couldn't help but chime in something that I've thought about since prop 8 was originally introduced into California.  It made me wonder about the reasoning of its supporters and still does.

    A highly religious gentleman that I know is vehemently against gay marriage and took the opportunity of Prop 8's introduction to be very vocal about his disapproval of what I would consider equal civil rights.  What fascinates me to no end is that he is thrice married, his first marriage having ended based on his infidelity and likely his second as well.  His history is common knowledge and yet no one challenges his faith or involvement in his religious community.  I, personally, have to suppress laughter when I hear the man speak of "the sanctity of marriage".

    If people want us to legislate biblical values (throwing the founding of this nation based on separation of church and state out the window, I might note), shouldn't he and those like him be banned from every remarrying?  I thought there was some rules in the good book about coveting thy neighbor's wife.  Not that I'm a proponent of that, I just think it's a kind of fun question and would love to hear a response from those on the other side of this issue.

    I’m sure we’ll hear from “the other side” on this.

    But think of it this way. He must believe in marriage because he keeps doing it....
    KC's View: