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    Published on: April 6, 2011

    by Kate McMahon

    It’s being called the “battle in the dairy case,” with a young aggressor taking on the ruling brands. And it’s prompting impassioned commentary in the grocery aisle, on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

    The challenger is Greek yogurt, one of the hottest new food categories to hit stores, with sales up a whopping 160% over last year, according to Nielsen statistics. Leading the charge is Chobani, which saw sales skyrocket 225% over a 52-week period, earning the Number 2 spot on Symphony/IRI’s ranking of the most successful new brands of 2010.

    The other players in this category include long-established, second-running Fage (pronounced fah-ye), and newer entrants such as Kraft’s Athenos, Yoplait Greek, Greek Gods and Stonyfield Farm’s Oikos product.

    For the uninitiated, Greek yogurt is made by straining the liquid whey and water from traditional yogurt. The result is a thicker, more tangy, and creamier yogurt. Here’s how one consumer blogger compared the two consistencies:

    “It's like the difference between, say, a Guinness Stout and a Bud Lite.”

    It’s also more expensive, costing from $1.25 to $1.99 per container (ranging from 5.3 ounces to 7 ounces), whereas a Dannon Light & Fit can be picked up for 79-cents.

    I was encouraged by both a sports trainer and my friend the discerning shopper/dieter to try Greek yogurt for health/diet reasons (more protein/more filling/0% fat options). I am now a complete convert, even though I’m (ahem) a bit older than the target demographic of young women.

    What struck me during a recent conversation at the supermarket, being replayed on food blogs and Facebook pages all over the internet, was how this acquired taste prompts such strong reactions.

    Just this week the epicurious.com blog epi log announced it was launching a Greek yogurt taste test, and the initial reader comments were emphatic: “Oh, Greek Gods!” and “Fage 2% - no contest.”

    And a YouTube video of a blogger’s blind taste test of two Greek yogurts has generated 4,457 hits. (For the record, the female tester recommended Chobani as the “gateway to Greek yogurt” for beginners. Her boyfriend made faces and loathed both choices – it’s a guy thing).

    And credit Chobani for capitalizing on this consumer passion to fuel its social media and advertising campaigns. “Real” fans are encouraged to share “real love stories” on its website and Facebook page, and the site makes it simple to upload YouTube videos or photos or even use your webcam. A campaign promo featured one “huge Chobani lover” Stephen Wright, an appealing young cyclist who rode 80 miles through rain, headwinds and lack of directions to see where Chobani was manufactured in Norwich, NY. The clip has generated more than 54,000 views on Chobani’s own YouTube channel.

    Meanwhile on the Chobani.com website, this week’s “most liked” submission was a folksy duet by Ruthie and Brandon, a pair of 23-year-old roommates from New York, entitled “CHObsessed.”

    Chobani has also forged a strong link with the food blogging community, including a “Featured Blogger of the Week” (using Chobani in recipes, natch.) And it is reaching out to “mommy bloggers” and photo-snapping parents to promote its new yogurt for kids, called “Chobani Champions.”

    The result is a real connection across the social networking spectrum, and a great case study on how to engage in a meaningful two-way dialogue with today’s consumer.

    (Full disclosure: I favor Chobani 0% Fat Vanilla, and Symphony/IRI is a sponsor of MNB’s occasional Spotlight series.

    Comments? Send me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    With enemies like these…well, the banks sometimes are the gift that just keeps giving. I’ve written a number of columns recently about the on-going battle between banks and retailers over the transaction fees charged on credit and debit purchases I remain hopeful that retailers can rally consumers to their side with education.

    Let’s change that. Just get your shoppers to watch the April 3rd edition of 60 Minutes. The task is done.

    In my area, 60 Minutes was preceded by an ad from the bank coalition decrying retailers for wanting to gouge consumers for $12 billion in swipe fees. Remember, these are the same fees the banks have been collecting in secret for years. They don’t want the fees to go away; they just want to keep them.

    But then the universe made me feel better.

    The opening segment on 60 Minutes was about people fighting their banks in court over delinquent mortgages. It seemed like a simple story until we met one of these people, a woman who worked for a time on forgery cases.

    The woman laid out in stunning detail how her bank used forged documents in court against her. 60 Minutes, doing what it does best, then took us into incredibly organized world of document forging for the banks. At one point we met a group of people who were all paid to sign documents as “Linda Green.” According to the document bearing her name, Ms. Green was a bank vice president at countless banks - all at the same time. Somehow the banks and their association were all unavailable to comment.

    The war over transaction fees won’t be won easily. But retailers should watch the 60 Minutes episode to remind themselves that while banks are truly necessary, there are countless reasons why many customers don’t hold them in high regard. And that means the general population might well understand and side with retail in this on-going battle.

    The 60 Minutes piece can be seen by clicking here.

    Watch it. It’s an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    A couple of intriguing studies about internet behavior are out...

    Elixir, a marketing firm specializing in helping companies acquire online shoppers, reports that e-shoppers take more time to research their purchases, looking both at qualitative and price issues before buying. “NetElixir found that, before purchase, the average consumer was repeatedly clicking on its clients’ search ads, the advertisements that accompany search results,” the New York Times writes. “That behavior signals that the consumers are running repeated searches in the same product category. Such clicks are up about 15 percent from two years ago, and consumers are taking about 12 percent longer from first click to final purchase.”

    Retail Systems Research (RSR) is out with a new survey of social media behavior by retailers, and found that “51% of respondents so far operate some type of social media. Yet in drilling down, we can see that for most, this translates to a simple Facebook page for customers to ‘like’ the brand. When asked which most aptly describes their social media strategy, the most popular answer is ‘we’ve been using it, know what we’re trying to achieve, but need to know how to measure better’ (43%). Similarly, 23% tell us that they are currently just trying to select the right social channel.

    The report goes on: “Clearly, the coordination of social media efforts across existing channels presents a tremendous challenge for retailers (56%) ... What is fascinating is that very few retailers blame the technology asset (15%), admitting instead that their ability to understand how different customers engage (54%) AND what consumers will ultimately appreciate as a valuable or ‘differentiated’ experience is largely undetermined (46%).”
    KC's View:
    All these trends are moving in the same direction - toward a more integrated approach to online marketing that is based on better information and more transparent policies, which will appeal to the growing number of people using the internet in all its various iterations as a way of becoming intelligent consumers.

    I actually think it is good news that one RSR finding is that “100% (of retailers) say they have no idea whatsoever what percentage of their annual sales is being influenced by the social channel.”

    True. But knowing what you don’t know is the first step in figuring out how to learn what you need to know.

    If you know what I mean.

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “U.S. public-health officials sought Tuesday to reassure consumers about the safety of food in the U.S., including seafood, amid news that fish contaminated with unusually high levels of radioactive materials had been caught in waters 50 miles from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

    “No contaminated fish have turned up in the U.S., or in U.S. waters, according to experts from the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They expressed confidence that even a single fish sufficiently contaminated to pose a risk to human health would be detected by the U.S. monitoring system.

    “They also dismissed concerns that eating fish contaminated at the levels seen so far in Japan would pose such a risk.”

    Meanwhile, New York Times reports that “despite assurances by health officials that radiation from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan is unlikely to show up in the food supply, worries about contaminated foods are growing among consumers, businesses and governments across the globe.

    “On Tuesday, the Japanese government announced new radiation standards for fish after high levels of radioactive iodine and cesium were found in fish caught halfway between the reactor site and Tokyo. In response, the European Union said it would tighten its own radiation limits for Japanese food imports. India said it would ban all food from Japan for at least three months.

    “In the United States, where about 4 percent of food imports come from Japan, the Food and Drug Administration has restricted some foods from the country. And the agency is working with customs officials to screen incoming fish and other food for traces of radiation.

    “So far, that screening has identified seven items that required further testing to see if the radiation detected exceeded normal background levels, according to Siobhan Delancey, an F.D.A. spokeswoman. Those items included tea and flavoring compounds. She said three of the items had been cleared for delivery and four were awaiting test results.”

    The entire story is complicated, but worth reading by clicking here.
    KC's View:
    The potential for consumer panic here is enormous, which means that retailers and suppliers will have to be very careful about providing information that is as reliable as possible. Shoppers will be looking for companies to be their advocates, and that is a kind of sacred trust.

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    Politico.com reports that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) has come out in favor of a delay in the implementation of the Durbin Amendment that would delay the implementation of Federal Reserve-imposed limits on swipe fees charged by banks for debit card transactions.

    Frank said, according to the story: “The Federal Reserve's announcement that they cannot meet the deadline on interchange fees confirms my view that this is the only part of the financial reform bill that needs to be amended. For this reason, I support legislative action to postpone the deadline so that we can revisit it."

    Frank is the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee; from 2007-2011, when Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, he was the chairman of the committee.
    KC's View:
    Opponents of any delay need to call the banking business their Barney Frank and raise them with some sort of major proponent of immediate fee limits.

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    Interesting piece in the New York Times the other day exposing a crack in the nation’s nutritional logic:

    “In Europe and the United States, the so-called Mediterranean diet — rich in olive oil, whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables and wine — is a multibillion-dollar global brand, encompassing everything from hummus to package trips to Italy, where ‘enogastronomic tourism’ rakes in as much as five billion euros a year. Studies at Harvard and elsewhere correlate the Mediterranean diet with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and depression. In America, health gurus like Mehmet Oz exhort followers to ‘eat like a Greek.’

    “But according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Mediterranean people have some of the worst diets in Europe, and the Greeks are the fattest: about 75 percent of the Greek population is overweight.” In addition, the story notes, “more than half the populations of Italy, Portugal and Spain are overweight. In Eastern Mediterranean countries like Lebanon, obesity is growing — especially among the young, an increasing number of whom are happy to trade their eggplants for French fries and milkshakes.”

    Experts now say that the “Mediterranean Diet” as it commonly is known is not one thing, but rather a little bit of this and a little bit of that - they share some common characteristics (less meat, more fresh produce, smaller portions), but there is no single “Mediterranean Diet” that can be mimicked by people elsewhere.
    KC's View:
    The whole idea of the “Mediterranean Diet” has always struck me as a kind of marketing construct, developed mostly because Americans need a magic pill that will help them lose weight, get better looking, develop stronger sex appeal, or whatever. That said, even if it doesn’t exist in reality, the concept remains pleasing to the eye, the nose and the palate...

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    • Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, which operates in the western US, announced yesterday that it is relaunching its “design a bag” contest - allowing people to submit an original design to its website and enabling customers to vote on their favorites.

    According to the announcement, “Last year’s Design-A-Bag contest generated more than 1,300 design submissions from customers and 24,000 votes ... The Design-A-Bag contest is part of a broader effort at Fresh & Easy to encourage the use of reusable bags. Today, the company also launched a reusable bag giveaway in celebration of Earth Day where customers can receive a free canvas bag through April 22nd when they spend $20 or more.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times writes that “California is putting itself in position to lead the fight for increased online privacy by trying to pass the country's first so-called do-not-track law to keep personal data from being grabbed off the Internet.” According to the story, the proposed legislation “would create a mechanism to allow users of smartphones, tablets, computers and any other device that accesses the Internet to tell website operators they don't want their online habits monitored.”
    KC's View:
    This is going to be one of the great coming debates. “Do not call” lists changed our lives, and many of us believe that we ought to be entitled to the same kind of protection on the internet.

    Published on: April 6, 2011


    Crain’s New York Business reports that “a New York City councilman is planning to introduce legislation to ban McDonald’s fast food meals unless they meet certain nutritional standards ... The proposed bill would make it illegal to distribute toys, games, trading cards or admission tickets along with any meal for children unless they have less than 500 calories, 600 mg of sodium and 35 percent of calories from fat, excluding nuts, seeds and nut butters.”

    The bill is similar to one passed in San Francisco last year.
    KC's View:

    I don’t think a ban is necessary. Just require the listing of calories, fat and sodium on every Happy Meal box, in really, really big letters and numbers.

    Mandatory labeling makes a lot more sense that legislative bans.

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that Diamond Foods will acquire the Pringles potato chip brand and operations from Procter & Gamble for $1.5 billion, plus $850 million in Pringles debt, bringing the total value of the deal to $2.35 billion.

    The deal turns Diamond to more than double its snack business in the US and become the world’s second largest manufacturer of savory snacks, behind only PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division. And, it gets P&G out of the food business.
    KC's View:
    The New York Times story notes that when Pringles was launched a half-century ago, it was pretty much a dud, and only became popular during the eighties, fueled by a reformulation and canny advertising.

    One interesting note in the Times story is that the iconic Pringles can was invented by a chemist named Fredric Baur, who, when he died and was cremated in 2008, had his ashes placed in a Pringles can. At his request. The story says that his kids stopped by a Walgreens on the way to the funeral home to pick up the can.

    There’s a metaphor and business lesson in there somewhere...

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    The Financial Times this morning reports that Dish Network, which provides satellite television services, will acquire bankrupt Blockbuster for $320 million, getting control of a business that has been closing stores as it lost ground to competitors such as Apple’s iTunes Store, Netflix and Redbox.

    FT writes that “in announcing the deal, Dish Network made it sound as if it might seek to preserve the Blockbuster brand. ‘With its more than 1,700 store locations, a highly recognisable brand and multiple methods of delivery, Blockbuster will complement our existing video offerings while presenting cross-marketing and service extension opportunities for Dish Network,’ said Tom Cullen, executive vice president of sales, marketing and programming for Dish Network. ‘While Blockbuster’s business faces significant challenges, we look forward to working with its employees to re-establish Blockbuster’s brand as a leader in video entertainment’.”
    KC's View:
    If they can come with an integrated plan that keeps the brand name alive while dragging the business model into the 21st century, it’ll be a noteworthy achievement. Good luck.

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    • The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that from now on, “Coca-Cola Co.'s Dasani bottled water will be sold nationwide in PlantBottles, which are made from 30 percent plant-based material. In addition, single-serve bottles for Odwalla juice and smoothies will contain up to 100 percent plant-based materials.

    “PlantBottle packaging is made using sugarcane ethanol from Brazil, and can be recycled. In 2010, more than 2.5 billion PlantBottle packages - including Dasani bottles with green caps - were available in nine countries. This year, that number is expected to double to more than 5 billion packages in more than 15 countries.”

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new website “compiles recall notices in a searchable table. The Web page displays information on recalls since 2009 by date, product brand name, product description, the reason for the recall and the firm doing the recalling. It also includes an image of the product label and links to the press release on each recall - which generally contain additional information.”

    According to the story, “The redesign was mandated by the food safety law signed by President Obama in January. The law also gives FDA the power -- as yet unused -- to order food recalls on its own authority instead of depending on industry cooperation.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2011

    In the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship game, the Texas A&M Aggies defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 76-70, winning its first championship in school history.
    KC's View:
    I cannot let the moment go by without noting that the NY Mets defeated the Philadelphia Phillies last night, 7-1. It may be the only time it happens this season...so I’m enjoying it.