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    Published on: July 19, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    Settling into our seats at a concert by the Baltimore Symphony last week, my wife and I both felt some trepidation. For even though our son is a classical musician, we aren’t really all that educated in classical music so the evening could have gone badly. Yet this night promised to be - and was - different.

    That’s because this concert featured the music (complete with impersonators) of the Beatles. Suddenly, despite our knowledge of classical music, we were enthralled. Seeing old favorites like A Day in the Life, Penny Lane or The Long and Winding Road performed by a rock band with a symphony gave us a whole new experience. Best of all, it has up contemplating a trip back even if the Beatles aren’t on the program. Our eyes were opened.

    That’s what creativity does. It gets people out of their comfort zone, contemplating experiences and purchases they might otherwise have skipped. It’s easy to think about that this week as we witness all the hoopla around Harry Potter and his final film. In many ways, the lesson of the boy wizard is just like what we found at the symphony, but it has nothing to do with movies.

    In many ways, Harry Potter author/creator J.K. Rowling changed the world that we knew and built a business success by turning conventional wisdom on its ear. It’s a lesson all businesses - especially supermarkets - can and should appreciate.

    Think back to 1997 when Harry first came on the scene. You may remember endless discussions about the death of reading. There was considerable concern that children worldwide were spending all their time on computer games and that books and reading skills were wasting away. Yes there were many classic books and new arrivals such as American Girls that were finding ways to interest a new generation in reading (and merchandise.) But Harry Potter was different.

    As John Granger wrote in the Washington Post this Sunday, Harry Potter stories were told with a flair, fun and imagination that drew young people eagerly back to books. Rowling built an environment where her novels were breathlessly awaited and consumed by her audience and other authors followed, finding new ways to make books, plot lines and reading current, exciting and exhilarating. Without Harry Potter, Granger says, it’s hard to imagine a world of Twilight, Kindles and more.

    The big question will be what happens to those young readers now, especially as book buying changes - witness Borders announcement that it is closing all stores. Will the appetite Rowling created guide readers to bigger and better. Twilight readers might experience the original Dracula. Others might move onto Shakespeare, and Fitzgerald. Just as the classical presentation of the Beatles might get me back to the symphony, Potter readers could move onto a world of wonderful books.

    And that’s where we find our lesson. Just as we moaned about the death of reading, we hear similar concerns constantly about cooking—an issue front and center to the food industry. We worry about how young people growing up in a culture of quick consumption will ever learn to appreciate shopping and meal preparation. At those times we need to think of Rowling and the energy she brought back to books.

    We know food shopping can be fun when it is enthused with passion and drama and we see that happening in a growing array of stores these days. We know young people love the endless offerings of food shows that fill almost every cable channel. What the food industry needs do is create the link into the store and the foods that build similar excitement and engagement. Let’s find ways to reach out to young people with accessible recipes and skills that help get them engaged in cooking and shopping like never before.

    Before Harry Potter, it was unthinkable that adolescents would line up for the release of books. Maybe the day will come where we create similar interest and excitement in the arrival of seasonal foods, holiday recipes or more? Impossible things happen all the time—like a classical concert ending with an audience dancing to Twist and Shout.

    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: July 19, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    FastCompany reports that Jawbone - the company that makes bluetooth headsets and wireless speakers - has come up with a new product called Up, described as a “wearable band” that “is infused with sensors and smartphone connected, allowing you to track your eating, sleeping, and activity patterns ... That data is then fed into a smartphone app, which also takes in information about your meals. (You enter meal data manually, in part by taking pictures of what you've eaten.) Based on all that information, the smartphone program provides ‘nudges’ meant to help you live healthier, day by day. For example, if you haven't slept much, when you wake up the app might suggest a high-protein breakfast and an extra glass of water.”

    In other words, the information collected by the Up band has the potential of having a major influence over how people behave and what they buy. And that’s an Eye-Opener.

    The Up band looks like one of the rubber wristbands that have become so popular, signifying a connection to charities such as Livestrong. It is described as a major advance in the business of body computing, and while a price has not yet been set, it is expected to be “affordable” and available to consumers by the end of this year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 19, 2011

    It was a roller coaster of a 24-hour period for Superquinn, the iconic Irish food retailer, as the company was placed in receivership by a syndicate of banks concerned that its more than $500 million (US) in debt was unsustainable, and then was sold by the banks to Musgrave Co., which operates under the SuperValue, Centra and Londis banners.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Local news reports say that Musgrave’s fast action should preserve, at least for the time being, the 2,800 jobs at Superquinn’s 23 stores.

    Musgrave reportedly plans to continue operating Superquinn as a separate banner.

    Superquinn was founded by Feargal Quinn in 1960, and became a legendary retail entity because of its attention to customer service and Quinn’s personal charisma. The Quinn family sold the company to the Select Retail Holdings consortium in 2005, saying that it hoped that the move would give the chain greater access to capital and an ability to get better sites. However, two years later the recession hit Ireland and Superquinn hard, and it has been difficult for the company’s new ownership to recapture the Quinn magic; there have been rumors for some time that the company would be sold.
    KC's View:
    Sad story, and not just because I’ve known Feargal Quinn for something like 20 years, and have done numerous stories about him and his legendary approach to retailing. There is no nicer, more cheerful person in retailing...or anywhere else, for that matter.

    It is yet another chapter in a story that, unfortunately, has many of them, about how a small family company finds it increasingly difficult to survive in an environment that seems to prize bigness, and in a process that seems accelerated by a tough economy. The Musgrave Group is controlled by another Irish family, which is a good thing, and I’m glad to see that it wants to keep Superquinn intact, at least for the moment. But it won’t be the same.

    Published on: July 19, 2011

    The New York Times reports that Aeon, Japan’s second biggest retailer, has acknowledged that it “sold beef from cattle that ate nuclear-contaminated feed, the latest in a series of health scares from radiation leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant ... Aeon said it had sold the contaminated beef at a store in Tokyo and at more than a dozen stores in the surrounding area.” According to the story, “cattle from Fukushima Prefecture were given animal feed originating from rice straw that exceeded the government’s limits for radioactive cesium.”

    At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reports that Ito-Yokado,part of Seven & I Holdings Co. (the nation’s biggest retailer), said it sold 92 pounds of beef from an animal shipped from Fukushima prefecture and contaminated with radioactive cesium at two of its outlets in Chiba prefecture early in July.”

    The story notes that “radiation continues to spill from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant more than four months after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami,” and it is now expected that Japanese authorities will “ban cattle shipments from Fukushima prefecture, and possibly wider areas.”
    KC's View:
    The irony here is that Aeon has always been highly progressive in its food safety and traceability efforts. When I was there working on a video project for the old CIES Food Safety conference several years ago, they took great pride in showing me a system that allowed customers to use their smart phones and QR codes on products to get information about product sourcing, and they even had code numbers for every piece of Japanese beef sold in their stores so that customers could be assured that it had been tested for mad cow disease; in Japan, every piece of beef was being tested for BSE, even as the US was testing less than two percent of its beef.

    That kind of transparency will serve Aeon well now ... it has a level of trust established with its customers, and hopefully it will continue to be both forthright and transparent in how it disseminates information.

    Published on: July 19, 2011

    Borders Group, unable to sell its eponymous bookstore chain, is seeking court approval to liquidate its 399 stores, a process that could begin as soon as this weekend.

    The company filed for bankruptcy protection back in February, but has been stymied in its efforts to find a white knight that would keep the company alive.
    KC's View:
    Last one out, don’t forget to turn off the lights.

    I sure hope this thing has not been engineered that the guys at the top are getting severance payments ... because these are the guys who mismanaged the company into the ground through their inability to see how consumer buying habits were changing and adjust to it.

    Published on: July 19, 2011

    The Los Angeles Times has a piece describing the extent to which the nation’s healthy eating trend is affecting the pet food business. Here’s how the Times frames the story:

    “These days, our pets may be eating better than we are. Big-box pet stores and precious pet boutique shelves are increasingly stocked with gourmet edibles that are corn-free, wheat-free, locally sourced, byproduct-free, free-range, minimally processed and raw. Many come with homey, inviting labels, and some look palatable even for humans. At Petco, a number of locations now have a wood-floored store-within-a-store for natural foods.”

    According to the story, “It's a matter of debate whether these foods are appreciably better for pets than the standard mega-brands — but just as with debates on human foods, passions can run high. Some pet owners are sure that the mega-brand foods are wreaking havoc on our pets' constitutions, and some veterinarians aren't too hot on them either, while other vets think they're just fine.”

    And, there’s more than just food: “If you think your pet's diet is still lacking, you can bolster it with supplements — containing brewers yeast, alfalfa, blueberries and more — that promise shiny coats, bright eyes and limber joints.”
    KC's View:
    Shiny coats, bright eyes and limber joints? Forget pets. That sounds like something I might be interested in on certain mornings....

    Published on: July 19, 2011

    • The San Francisco Business Times reports that Safeway has raised $10 million for prostate cancer research in its ongoing efforts to help fund anti-cancer efforts.

    • In Ohio, the Daily Record reports that “Buehler Food Markets' in-store pharmacies could become Ritzman Pharmacies, if the two can reach an agreement.” If a deal is made, the nine-store Ritzman “would own and operate the 11 pharmacies Buehler's has in its 13 supermarkets.”

    CNBC reports that in western New York, Sunoco is testing a program called the Craft Beer Exchange that “installs ‘beer-filling stations’ (taps and Kegerators) at Sunoco APlus convenience stores where they are allowed to sell draft beer in growlers, which are glass jugs, typically 64 ounces in size.” According to the story, “The program is entering the second of a three-month test phase and the company intends to study the results before making a decision about expanding to other areas, but the initial outlook is good.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 19, 2011

    • Karen Roberts, senior vice president/chief compliance officer at Walmart Realty, has been named EVP and president of the company, succeeding the retiring Eric Zorn.

    Replacing Roberts is Phyllis Harris, who has been serving as VP for environmental health and safety compliance.

    • Coca-Cola North America announced that Alison Lewis, the senior VP-general manager for the company’s Odwalla business, will take on the title of senior VP-Coca-Cola North America marketing. She succeeds Beatriz Perez, who was named chief sustainability officer last May.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 19, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View: