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    Published on: June 22, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    It’s humid and sticky out there this morning, so it seems like a good day to open your eyes to a new product being sold in Boston, one that has nothing to do with the rampaging Red Sox or the championship Bruins.

    The Boston Globe reports that ice cream parlor chain Emack & Bolio’s has come up with a new creation called an ice cream pizza.

    According to the story, “Emack & Bolio’s isn’t using pizza ingredients such as red sauce and cheese. Instead, it views the pizza as inspiration for a dessert delivery platform that can be repurposed to serve as the packaging of a new type of ice cream sundae -- a sundae billed as a ‘hybrid of guilty pleasures’ ... the foundation of its menu offering is a brownie crust, and featured ingredients include vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and marshmallows. Then this melange is sublimed with a chocolate peace sign, chocolate raspberry “bleeding” hearts, and celestial stars and moon, the chain said.”

    The cost is $24.95.

    The reason for its mention here - great ideas that make you hungry are almost always Eye-Opening.

    And even sales-building.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    The New York Times reports that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has proposed new rules designed to speed the process of union certification or rejection.

    According to the story, the NLRB “wants to tighten the process by ensuring that employers, employees and unions receive needed information sooner and by delaying litigation over many voter-eligibility issues until after workers vote on whether to unionize ... Unions have long complained that it takes too many weeks after the petition is filed for a secret-ballot election to be held. They say the process gives management too much time to mount an antiunion campaign with videos and one-on-one sessions with workers.

    “American companies have repeatedly opposed any effort to shorten the period from petition to vote, saying it would become harder for managers to tell workers about the disadvantages of unionizing and to ensure that workers got both sides of the story.”

    The Times also wrote, “In another proposal that companies are likely to criticize because it makes campaigning easier for unions, the board would require employers to provide a voter list of all employees in electronic form sooner than now required, and require it to contain phone numbers and e-mail addresses.”

    Predictably, the AFL-CIO applauded the proposed rule changes, and the US Chamber of Commerce said that it was a “not-so-cleverly-disguised effort to restrict the ability of employers to express their views during an election campaign, to inform employees of the pros and cons of unionization.”
    KC's View:
    You’d think that streamlining the process would seem like a good idea in this era of electronic communications, when both sides can make their case via email, texting, Facebook and Twitter.

    I have to admit that I’ve never belonged to a union, and I’ve never been part of management in a union shop. So I have little personal experience with any of this - I always have sort of assumed that if I worked in a place where I felt that I was well treated, fairly compensated, taken seriously, spoken to honestly and where I felt I had some skin in the game, I’d probably vote against joining a union. If I felt exploited, I’d vote for it.

    But I know things are not that simple. Mrs. Content Guy is a teacher, and a union member. And I hear things that make me cringe - areas in which the union focuses on all the wrong things, and ignores all the important things. But I also get the sense that management can be exploitive, which makes me wonder what would happen if there were no union.

    New rules from the NLRB may change the time frame. But I cannot believe for a moment that they will change the level of dysfunction that exists between management and labor in many American companies.

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    Retailers seem to be getting used to the idea, albeit reluctantly, that the new world order requires of them a higher level of transparency about things like ingredients and prices.

    But now the New York Times is taking note of a start-up company that has created an application that not only tracks pricing, but the timing of pricing. The application, called Shopobot, “helps shoppers track prices and decide when to buy, starting with consumer electronics and videogames ... People can track the prices of certain items, receive alerts when a price declines past a certain threshold and get recommendations on where to buy items for the lowest price. For example, Shopobot can tell a user that a digital camera was $50 less on Amazon two weeks ago and is now least expensive on Newegg.

    “Shopobot crawls the Web sites of 12 retailers, including Amazon.com, Newegg.com and Walmart.com, several times a day or every couple of hours for popular items. It does not accept feeds from the retailers like many comparison shopping sites because the retailers often misrepresent their prices,” the company says.

    Shopobot has what is termed by the Times as an “undisclosed amount of funding from Google Ventures and AOL Ventures.”
    KC's View:
    Two reality checks here.

    One. This may be for consumer electronics and videogames now, but it isn’t hard to imagine the technology spreading to cover other venues and categories.

    Two. The balance of power just shifted a little bit more in the consumer’s favor.

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has informed the nation’s tobacco companies that they must add a series of large, graphic warning images - featuring such things as a diseased lung, a baby near a cloud of smoke, and a dead body, along with phrases like “smoking can kill you” - to their product labels by October 2012.

    The images, the Wall Street Journal writes, “are the biggest change to warning labels in more than 25 years. Such warnings were required by a 2009 law that gave the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products.

    “The supersize labels are the highest-profile part of an intensified war on tobacco by the federal government, which ranks it as the leading cause of preventable and premature death in the U.S., linked to an estimated 443,000 deaths a year. The adult smoking rate of 20.6% in 2009 has remained largely unchanged since 2004, and about 20% of high school students also smoke. The new color labels must occupy the top half of the front and back of a cigarette pack, and 20% of an ad's space.”
    KC's View:
    Good. Thew tobacco companies are complaining that this will stigmatize smokers who already know the risks, but I think the more important audience is made up of kids who have not begun smoking yet.

    I hope these things scare the crap out of them.

    And if they don’t, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    And if the labels stigmatize the tobacco companies even more (which is really what they are worried about ... if they were really worried about their customers, they’d stop trying to addict and kill them), so much the better.

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    Reuters reports that Walter Robb, the co-CEO of Whole Foods, told a consumer conference yesterday that the company plans to grow from its current 300 stores to 1,000 US stores, though he didn’t offer a timetable for the expansion.

    In addition, he said, Whole Foods plans to grow from six Canadian stores to 35 there. And, Robb added, Whole Foods’ five British stores have recently turned cash-flow positive.

    Robb also announced that Whole Foods, as part of its health and wellness initiatives, “plans to open five wellness clubs in different cities around the United States. For a monthly membership fee of around $50, members will get things like store discounts and access to supper clubs. The company also has hired medical doctors who have worked up a curriculum for the clubs and offer some services.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that “package design has become so artful, it has come to this: Even the barcode, the style runt of product labeling, is getting gussied up.

    “Beer, granola, juice and olives are sporting barcodes that integrate famous buildings, blades of wheat and bubbles into the ubiquitous black and white rectangle of lines and numbers.

    “Consumer-goods companies hope these vanity barcodes will better connect with customers.”
    KC's View:
    I cannot imagine any circumstances under which a bar code design would have the least bit of impact on whether I bought something or not. But I think I’d notice it, especially at self-checkout (which I use a a lot). And since pretty much any differential advantage is a positive, maybe the aesthetics of it would be pleasing, even if in a subliminal way.

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    Fox News reports that Walmart has begun testing its online grocery shopping service in San Jose, California. According to the story, “The ‘Walmart To Go’ test allows customers to visit Walmart.com to order groceries and consumables found in a Walmart store and have them delivered to their homes, the spokesman said.

    “Products include fresh produce, meat and seafood, frozen, bakery, baby, over-the-counter pharmacy, household supplies and health and beauty items.”
    KC's View:
    I want to beat this drum yet again...

    I think it would be a mistake to look at Walmart.com in a vacuum ... and that it makes the most sense to look at it within the context of the company’s various small store initiatives, and think about how these businesses could be integrated and made to offer a more complete shopping solution to consumers.

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    ABC News had an interesting story yesterday about companies that get the best - and most friendly - science that they can afford.

    The story used as an example David Allison, described as “a renowned scientist who runs an obesity research center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He has a 108-page resume and was honored at the White House.

    “But even though study after study have shown soda to be a significant contributor to America's staggering obesity crisis, he says there is too little ‘solid evidence’ ... Allison has said such studies haven't been rigorous enough to prove soda contributes to obesity, but critics say his skepticism stems from his financial ties to entities such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association, who, critics say, have paid Allison to poke holes in the scientific consensus.”

    The story goes on:

    “It's not just soda companies. Allison has also taken money from Kraft, McDonald's, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars and Nabisco, according to his financial disclosures.

    “Allison, who studied at Hofstra, Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities, was paid by the New York Restaurant Association to file an affidavit in its case against New York City and its law requiring restaurants to post calorie information on menus, saying the law might actually make people eat more.

    “His actions outraged many of his colleagues and Allison eventually submitted his resignation as the incoming president of the Obesity Society over the controversy that followed the filing of his affidavit, which he signed as president-elect of the Obesity Society.

    “Allison has also taken an industry-friendly stance when it comes to breast feeding.

    “The International Formula Council funded Allison's research questioning the World Health Organization's assertion that breast-feeding cuts a child's risk of obesity. The paper was published in the November 2008 issue of Obesity Reviews.

    “Critics say Allison is part of a concerted effort by big food to co-opt scientists not only by funding their research but by offering them lucrative speaking and consulting deals, in an effort to confuse U.S. families about the health effects of popular food products.”
    KC's View:
    The ABC News story suggests that this is hardly an isolated case, that the Allison case is similar to what tobacco companies used to do when they were defending themselves against charges that cigarettes were bad for you - they’d hire scientists, pay them a lot of money, and get results that bolstered their case. Until, of course, the weight of evidence became too much for even those bought-and-paid-for so-called scientists to push back against it.

    I would suggest that any public relations campaign that uses - implicitly or explicitly - the tobacco industry as a role model is almost certainly making a long-term mistake.

    I find it particularly interesting that Allison actually said that posting calorie counts on menu boards could make people eat more, not less. Which common sense would suggest is one of the most asinine arguments I’ve ever heard - if that were the case, then restaurants would have done so on their own years ago, and certainly wouldn’t be fighting it now. And, BTW... the Los Angeles Times reports this morning on the impact of calorie count listings on shopper behavior.

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    • San Francisco gets its first Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market today. The 10,000 square foot Tesco-owned format, which has 140 stores in California, Nevada and Arizona, is opening on 32nd Avenue at Clement Street in the Outer Richmond.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    • Foursquare, the mobile social networking website that offers users promotions based on where they are, has announced that it has passed the 10 million user threshold.

    According to ClickZ.com, the most popular brands on Foursquare are: “For apparel, Old Navy, H&M, and Victoria's Secret charted the highest, while on the retail front Target, Walmart, and Macy's got the most check-ins. Convenience stores 7 Eleven, Circle K, and Wawa lead their category, while Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo had the most check-ins among financial brands. New York-based Foursquare also broke out a home furnishing category, where Home Depot, IKEA and Lowe's are the most popular.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    MarketWatch reports that Supervalu-owned Shoppers Food & Pharmacy’s bid to acquire an A&PO-owned Superfresh store in Ellicott City, Md., was approved by the court handling the ongoing A&P bankruptcy proceedings.

    • The Network of Executive Women has awarded $20,000 in scholarships to seven college students pursuing careers in the consumer products and retail industry.

    Scholarships for 2011 were awarded in June to graduate students Katie Childress, attending University of Colorado, Boulder, and Jennifer Stellmacher Rheault, of California State University, Long Beach. Undergraduates receiving scholarships were Trang Ayers of Portland State University in Portland, Ore.; Katelyn Harvey and Colleen McDonnell of Philadelphia’s St. Joseph's University; Kari Lazarski of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Tamera Pumphrey of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

    The Network, the industry’s largest diversity organization, will honor the scholarship awardees at the NEW Leadership Summit 2011, Sept. 19-20, in Orlando.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    • George Zallie, Sr., owner and founder of Zallie Supermarkets, Inc., passed away last Saturday. He was 84, and was described in the Camden Courier Post as a man who “grew up over his father's grocery store and helped to expand ShopRite into a regional powerhouse,” and who was “a devoted philanthropist who founded the George Zallie and Family Laboratory for Cardiovascular Gene Therapy at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 22, 2011

    Got the following email from an MNB user:

    Have always enjoyed MNB even when I disagree with you or believe you are off target. I am a big fan and I respect your views and the thought you give to them.

    I have also always enjoyed the “Your Views” section to see what the reaction is to some of your reporting or your comments. Lately though, I find the “Your Views” section to be my least favorite part of MNB as it reflects the same mix of extreme views on either side of the issues that are bringing our country down. Oh how I miss rational discussion and group problem solving for the good of the whole group.

    I know the responses aren’t yours and I respect that you print extreme views from both sides, it is not you I have an issue with, but that section reminds me of the old CNN show Crossfire which did nothing except promote standing on the extreme sidelines lobbing  bombs at each other and talking over each other. Not a very productive practice in my mind.


    This is a hard one, and I certainly can appreciate what you are saying.

    You’re right that sometimes the discourse reflects the ideological chasms that exist in the country at large. Maybe that’s inevitable, but I do my best to keep things on the high road.

    Quite frankly, you should see some of the stuff that doesn’t get posted - especially the borderline racist stuff that gets sent to me about the President. Sometimes I’m shocked by what some people say. Though less so lately.

    I really admired what John Huntsman said yesterday about his presidential candidacy - that both he and Barack Obama want to talk to the nation about who would be the better president, not who is the better American. Unfortunately, in so many areas, the discourse falls short of that level.

    My goal here on MNB will try to keep things civil and illuminating, to shed more light than heat ... though that isn’t always possible. To be honest, sometimes I think the best way to illuminate people about the lunatic fringe - on either side of the aisle - is to highlight the lunacy and let them speak.)

    I appreciate the caution, and I will keep it in mind.
    KC's View: