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    Published on: July 13, 2011

    by Kate McMahon

    The burger is king. (And I’m not talking about that creepy plastic mascot in the TV commercials.)

    The coronation comes courtesy of a new study showing nearly half of today’s consumers eat a burger at least once a week, compared to 38 percent two years ago.

    And the burger’s reign ranges from fast food restaurants to pricier competitors, fueled by America’s “craving” for a great taste between the bun. We’re also willing to pay more for a quality, made-to-order product, as evidenced by the explosive growth of Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which has seen sales jump 44.5 percent in the past year.

    “The specialty burger craze has driven growth in a way that is almost defiantly separate from pricing,” said Sara Monnette of the food industry consulting firm Technomic. “The better burger restaurants in the fast casual segment have put the burger top-of-mind for consumers, and even the quick-service chains have begun to respond and focus portions of their menus specifically on quality perceptions.”

    Case in point: Burger King’s menu features both its premium XT Steakhouse burger at $4.69 along with its BK Stackers at a value-focused $1 for a single and $2 for a double. (On the higher end, the lunch burger at New York’s famed Gotham Bar and Grill weighs in at $22.)

    To the network of burger aficionados online, such as the entertaining A Hamburger Today blog on or the almost two million passionate fans of In-N-Out Burger’s Facebook page, the survey merely confirms the obvious.

    Other interesting tidbits from the Technomic poll of 1,500 consumers include:

    • A whopping 99 percent of respondents said they occasionally eat some kind of burger.

    • Twenty percent said they regularly eat a burger as a mid-afternoon snack, and 10 percent say they sometimes indulge in a late-night burger.

    • Why a burger? Thirty-six percent of respondents cited “a craving” as the primary reason for their most recent burger purchase.

    • Almost one quarter of consumers between the ages of 18-34 say it is important for vegetarian burgers to be available on restaurant menus.

    • Half of those surveyed said health-halo attributes such as all natural, hormone-free, steroid-free and antibiotic-free are a priority.

    And while most burger taste tests focus on the classic beef burger, the report recommends burger vendors try swapping out "standard ground beef" for Angus beef, turkey and vegetables to appeal to the consumer’s changing palate. It also noted that Americans are becoming more open to "exotic" toppings and flavors: guacamole, chipotle, pineapple and herbs.

    (The notion of a vegetarian burger with pineapple would be viewed as heresy in my household, where trips to the West Coast begin and end with a visit to In-N-Out Burger for a double-double with cheese.)

    But the lesson here, I think, is twofold.  One is that burgers have gone to a new level, and retailers can get more ambitious and innovative in what they offer.  But the other is that burgers are still less expensive than steak in most cases, and that also accounts for their appeal where recessionary attitudes remain pervasive.

    So you have a bifurcated appeal - people still need to save money, but they want to indulge from time to time.  A thick, juicy burger may be a kind of perfect solution to these mixed urges, because they can fill both needs, depending on where you buy them.

    Comments? Send me an email at .
    KC's View:
    It may be worth pointing out here that MNB users’ “ultimate burger list” can be found here.

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Washington Post reports that a new Shake Shack - the burger concept developed by Danney Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group - has opened in Washington, DC, and one of the first enthusiastic customers was First Lady Michelle Obama.

    That’s right. The same First Lady Michelle Obama who has made such a cause out of childhood nutrition and obesity issues.

    The Post noted that the First Lady ordered a ShackBurger, fries, chocolate shake and a Diet Coke - all of which came to 1,700 calories, if she ate the whole thing herself. (She was with friends, the the Post notes that it is at least possible that she shared her fries.)

    Now, some will suggest that this activity implies a certain hypocrisy on the part of the First Lady. (She got a lot of criticism earlier this year when she had ordered ribs while out to dinner one night.)

    But this misses the point.

    Obama has spoken passionately about the importance of making sure that everybody - especially children - have access to healthy food. She has spoken passionately about the importance of exercise. And she has spoken about the importance of moderation.

    The point of living a healthy life, I think, is being able to enjoy a Shake Shack burger and fries, (or whatever your gastronomic passion happens to be) and then go for a jog or a bike ride or just shoot some hoops with your kids later in the day.

    After playing “gotcha” about the meal’s calorie count, the Post does get this part right, quoting Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, as saying: "While the goal for healthy eating is to limit choices like fries and shakes, occasional treats won't hurt. The problem is that many Americans do this more than occasionally. It is good to see that even someone as committed to health as the first lady knows that healthy eating is about balance not perfection.”

    Balance. Moderation. And not denial.

    It shouldn’t be an eye-opener. But for many, it is. And should be.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    Netflix announced yesterday in an email to its customers that it is raising prices by 60 percent, with much of the hit being taken by people who gets DVDs by mail, as opposed to streaming movies and TV shows via the internet.

    As the New York Times reported, “What cost $10 a month — online streams of movies plus one DVD by mail at a time — will now cost $16 a month, the company said, tacitly acknowledging the high costs of mailing physical DVDs, but also admitting that many people still want the skinny little discs. Online streaming alone will remain $8 a month. Netflix advertised the change as a new choice for consumers.

    “For millions of customers, the shift in price might change the daily calculus of an entertainment diet made up of a myriad of choices: cable television packages, online streams, Redbox rentals and iTunes downloads. The price increase spurred complaints from thousands of Netflix customers on Facebook and other Web sites, some of whom said they may now rely less on physical DVDs and more on online options.”

    And, the Times goes on, “Thanks in large part to its four-year-old streaming service, Netflix has more than 20 million customers in the United States. The company expects that as broadband speeds become faster and TV sets get connected to the Internet, it can become an even bigger player in streaming video.”
    KC's View:
    Ironically, the Wall Street Journal has yet another piece - there seems to be one about every two or three months in some major newspaper - about the “small but dedicated cadre of film buffs, artists, cash-strapped couch potatoes and Internet-phobes who are helping New York City's independent video retailers stave off extinction,” refusing to make the shift (at least not completely) to Netflix or Redbox. It may be a surprise to some, but “a stalwart bunch of stores are paying their bills, paying small staffs and in some cases turning a profit - buoyed by New Yorkers with rarefied tastes, or just a soft spot for the corner shop.”

    Rarefied tastes, indeed. But they’re also smart to be playing to their customer service strengths, which are the things that Netflix and Redbox cannot do as well.

    I got that email from Netflix yesterday, and will have to think about what I will do ... I probably use DVDs more than my kids, who are enthusiastic users of streaming technology.

    But I also would not be surprised if within 30 days Netflix scales back the planned rate increase. This just feels like something that may get some tweaking.

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    The New York Times reports that Republicans in the US House of Representatives have “failed to advance a measure that would repeal regulations that increase efficiency standards for light bulbs, rules that they have assailed as an example of government overreach.” Those arguing for a repeal also say that new, more efficient bulbs will be too expensive.

    As the paper notes, “The first stage of the standards, which will be phased in from Jan. 1 through 2014, requires bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient. The second stage could require bulbs to be 60 percent more efficient by 2020 ... The restrictions could eliminate the familiar incandescent bulbs, which have used essentially the same technology since Thomas Alva Edison invented them.”
    KC's View:
    Here’s what I don’t understand about the “government overreach” charge. (And I know this will irritate some MNB readers.)

    I accept that it is a legitimate charge that sometimes government makes unwanted intrusions into people’s lives. But if it is determined by experts and scientists, let’s say, that it is important for the nation’s economic and environmental health and sustainability that we get more efficient in our usage of everyday electricity, isn’t it government’s responsibility to respond to big picture and long-term exigencies to which individuals and businesses might not pay sufficient attention?

    And, from a global perspective, even if other countries don’t make the same adjustments, isn’t it important to show a sense of leadership about things such as sustainability and the environment?

    Here’s the broader philosophical question: Are there times when it foes not make sense to be purely market-driven, because sometimes in the pursuit of profit, larger and even more important concerns may be ignored ... at our own peril?

    Perhaps this is what the President of the United States was thinking when he signed this unwanted government intrusion into law. In 2007. When President George W. Bush, a Republican, signed it.

    Is it fair to say that what really has changed is not the economy, not the environment, but rather the politics of the nation?

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that the US Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that Safeway-owned Vons, Supervalu-owned Albertsons and Kroger-owned Ralphs “may have violated antitrust law with their 2003 accord to share profits during a strike,” and said that greater scrutiny is needed to see if the companies’ actions were lawful.

    According to the story, “The supermarket companies had argued that the agreement, which called for sharing profits if any of the three were singled out for a strike, wasn’t anticompetitive because it lowered prices for consumers by reducing labor costs.

    “California sued the three grocers in 2004, saying the so- called mutual strike assistance agreement violated federal antitrust laws and led to higher prices. A 141-day strike and lockout at the companies’ Southern California stores was the longest in the industry’s history and was mainly over proposals requiring workers to share health-care costs and establish a two-tier pay system.”
    KC's View:
    Most interestingly, the Los Angeles Times reports that “the court also left unclear what consequences the grocers could face if they reached a similar agreement during any future labor struggles.” Which could be important as the two sides look at a labor situation which could, if not resolved, lead to another strike/lockout.

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    National Public Radio reports that is petitioning the state of California for a referendum that would let voters “decide whether to overturn a new law that forces online retailers to collect sales taxes there, setting the stage for a potentially high-dollar ballot fight next year that would pit business against business.”

    A new state law went into effect last month in California, NPR says, that “forces online retailers to collect California sales taxes by expanding the definition of having a physical presence in the state. The requirement now kicks in if an online retailer has a related company, such as a marketing or product-development arm, or affiliates in the state - individuals and companies that earn commissions by referring visitors to Amazon from their websites ... Amazon had thousands of affiliates in California, which received fees varying from 4 percent to 15 percent of each sale they brought to the company. Amazon, which is based in Seattle, cut ties with them after the law's passage.”

    The new law is said to be worth $200 million annually to the cash-strapped state.

    To get the referendum on the ballot during the next statewide election in February 2012, Amazon must gather 500,000 signatures by the end of September.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    MSNBC reports that “the death of an Arizona man and five other U.S. cases of severe E. coli infection were caused by the deadly food poisoning outbreak that has ravaged Europe, federal health officials confirmed Friday.

    “The death of the man, who had recently visited Germany, is the first U.S. fatality connected to the outbreak that has killed 50 in Europe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials didn't identify him, but said he was older than 65 and lived in Northern Arizona.”

    Advertising Age reports that incoming Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison met with Wall Street analysts yesterday, saying that her new leadership team will change “the course of Campbell’s history.”

    However, Morrison conceded that the company’s “growth has stalled and we have not capitalized on our market potential ... We have not responded as effectively as we must to demographic change and generational shifts in food preferences.”

    According to the story, Campbell’s “new strategy, developed after a nine-month review, puts an emphasis on reaching Hispanics and millennials while rolling out new products and packaging. In fiscal 2012, the company plans to reformulate 46 of its soup varieties focusing on taste, while launching 27 new products in North America. New offerings include ‘slow kettle’ soups, which are packed in clear containers to resemble front-of-store brands that are popular with younger generations. At the same time, Campbell will up its push for soup as an ingredient for easy meals, which is behind plans for a new line of Chunky soups in a larger 50-ounce size.”

    • In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that Target Corp. has struck a deal to make it the exclusive US retailer selling the Story HD, “the first device that accesses the Google e-book library via Wi-Fi.” The Story HD costs $139.99, and is positioned as a direct competitor to Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and the Sony Reader.

    • The Charlotte Observer reports that Harris Teeter shortly will introduce three varieties of a private brand beer, called Barrel Trolley - Belgian White Ale, Pale Ale and Amber Ale, which will debut this fall.

    The story notes that a six-pack will retail for $7.99 - more than mainstream beer, but less than the craft beers that Barrel Trolley is positioned to compete with.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    Take about a final, fateful trip.

    Sherwood Schwartz died yesterday of natural causes at age 94.

    For baby boomers, even if they did not know his name, his work was seminal ... he was the writer/creator of both “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    One MNB user had a great thought about Michael Sansolo’s column yesterday using the voice mail hacking scandal in the UK as an example of how silence about ethical breaches can threaten to bring down a company - in this case, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which seems increasingly likely to be the subject of government probes on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The column, at one point, noted:

    The story isn’t likely to go away, and now the whispering extends to Murdoch: “What did he know, and when did he know it?” is the familiar question being asked, one that we’ve gotten used to in some of the political and personal scandals that have unfolded recently here in the US.

    Which led to the following email:

    How is that CEOs and other executives often justify their compensation, which can be hundreds of times more than their average employees’, by stating that they deserving because they are responsible for the entire organization.  But, when things like this come up, they are just as likely to state something like, “This is a large organization, with many other leaders.  How was I to know?”


    Damn right. Great point.

    On the subject of extreme couponing and its growth in popularity, MNB user Amber Hartman wrote:

    I can understand the “thrill of the deal” that goes along with extreme couponing.  If I had more time on my hands I would probably do it as well.  However, the difference would be that I realize I could not possibly use 1,000 tubes of toothpaste in a lifetime and would get more of a “thrill” out of donating the free merchandise (that is basically hoarded) to those that could use it and may be less fortunate.  I wish there was a way of contacting these people asking for donations of their over abundance to organizations or individuals in need.

    MNB user Laurice Burdick wrote:

    Watching the show on extreme couponing, most of those individuals were giving to charities because they know they can’t possibly use the product before it expires. Some supply their families with groceries they need and a lot if it is GHBC.

    I believe this is much better than having something sit on a shelf and then thrown out. The US is a large nation of wasters. Just look at our landfills. What these people do is not easy and not everyone is doing it.

    Given a choice between watching a show about extreme couponing and having a proctology exam, I wouldn’t even think twice. I’d have the latter.

    We had a piece yesterday about a study saying that putting supermarkets in food deserts may not be the best way to get them eat healthier food, which led one MNB user to write:

    Kevin, looking at the statistics you provided I wonder what the correlation is between when we allowed “food stamps”  to be used for any products the person shopping wished to buy and the rise in obesity for welfare recipients.  Possibly we should have prepackaged food plans for families seeking welfare, which are based on nutrition for the family.  The government may be the major contributor to obesity, and if they were serious about reducing obesity and not keeping votes could be part of the solution.

    Two examples:

    Recently, I was told that students on the breakfast program in a district in Illinois receive mainly sweets, pop tarts etc, so they then go into the classrooms all buzzed up on sugar.  Where are the school nutritionist weighing in on this issue.  The argument will be that kids don’t like oatmeal and other healthy foods.  Also, pop tarts are certainly more expensive to the states than a 5 pound package of oatmeal or cereal. 

    Second,  awhile ago I was in a food bank dropping off some items in one area the recipients were allowed a choice of M&M’s or cereal, you can guess which one was going faster.  And the cereal would have fed the family for a few days, M&M’s consumed in a few minutes.  I am not blaming the food bank because they are subject to donations by the local supermarkets and wholesalers.

    I agree. Taxpayer dollars ought to be used only for products that are healthful.

    Try getting that through the US Congress.

    Regrading yesterday’s piece about the growth of medical marijuana shops in Colorado, one MNB user wrote:

    Sounds like a good place to open a 24-hour pizza shop or some sort of Potato Chip and Doritos “boutique”.


    Though maybe not in line with our general anti-obesity, pro-good nutrition stand.

    And finally, thanks to all of you who wrote in early to note that I had quoted the Los Angeles Times as writing about the “University of South Carolina in Chapel Hill.”

    I fixed it as fast as I could, but not fast enough.

    The thing is, the Times had it wrong, and I repeated the mistake. I know better, but it was 3:30 am (I had an early flight to catch) and the brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

    Sorry about that.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 13, 2011

    In last night’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the National league defeated the American League 5-1. The win is the NL’s second in a row after a 13-year streak of AL wins, and gives the winner of the National League pennant home-field advantage in the 2011 World Series.
    KC's View:
    Can’t wait until late October, when the Boston Red Sox come to Citi Field for the fall classic, a got-to-see rematch against the NY Mets...

    After which, All-Star MVP Prince Fielder will sign with the Mets...

    Sorry about that. I was daydreaming for a bit there....