retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    by Kate McMahon

    I have two words for the creators of the “Got Milk?” slogan who thought a cheeky campaign encouraging men to buy milk to temper their shrewish mates’ PMS symptoms was funny.

    Get real.

    There’s nothing humorous about pre-menstrual syndrome, and an ad portraying women at “that time of the month” as irrational witches tormenting their hapless male partners is just plain sexist. And stupid.

    And certainly wouldn’t sell any milk.

    This “C’mon, what were these guys thinking” MNB column comes courtesy of the California Milk Processor Board and its longtime San Francisco advertising agency, Goodby, Silverstein and Partners. The two brought us the original, and now iconic, “Got milk?” campaign back in 1993.

    The new “Milk can help reduce the symptoms of PMS” campaign was launched July 11 with a link to a microsite,, featuring “humorous” tips to help the harried male. These included pre-approved apologies “for not reading between the right lines” and “for the things I did or didn’t do.”

    Within hours, the social media firestorm erupted. Angry posts demanding the campaign be yanked lit up blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

    Which comes as no surprise, of course, since a similar “Milk to the Rescue” campaign sparked criticism in 2005, before social networking gave consumer reaction lightning quick speed and power. What I do find stunning is the Milk Board and its agency went ahead with this controversial campaign knowing full well it would “ignite some social media discussion and conversation.”

    Some? Again, c’mon.

    “It certainly wasn’t our intent to offend people,” Steve James, executive director of the Milk Board, told the New York Times last week. “We certainly misjudged the heat generated by the people who thought we stepped over the line.”

    Kind of like misjudging the heat of a California wildfire, based on the angry, outraged comments I’ve read online. Even found the ads “sexist.”

    So they ditched the original ads and micro-site a month early for, which acknowledges the media maelstrom and apologizes to those who were offended while noting others found it “funny and educational.” The revised site provides links to blogs and media articles both extolling and damning the original campaign.

    Oh, yes, and also includes a link to the study that got this started, which found that calcium can help reduce PMS symptoms in some women.

    Of course the cynics among us might note that the controversy catapulted this campaign into a major new media and mainstream national media story, far beyond the California Milk Processor Board realm, just as the original “Got milk?” campaign captivated the nation. And we might question whether this was intentional.

    The bottom line here? To paraphrase a great English comic actor on his deathbed, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

    It is that rare comedian who can turn this kind of stuff into comedic gold. Larry David, over the past two weeks on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” managed to get laughs out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the subject of battered women. But that’s the exception, not the rule.

    Certain subjects simply aren’t comedic material in marketing campaigns. Particularly for a product as mainstream as milk and a women’s health issue as serious as PMS. And now that social networking is a game-changer in these uproars, the California Milk Processor board would have been wiser to stick with the milk mustache and leave the comedy to Larry David.

    Comments? Send me an email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    People may have a recessionary mindset, but that does not seem to be affecting, which yesterday said that its second quarter sales were up 51 percent to $9.91 billion - its strongest quarterly sales growth in a decade.

    And while profit dropped eight percent during the quarter to $191 million, analysts didn’t seem to mind; the general feeling seems to be that Amazon is being smart by cutting margins as it looks to grow market share.

    The Financial Times assessed the situation this way: “The sales, which beat the most positive Wall Street forecasts, underlined a shift to online shopping that reflects consumers seeking low prices and convenience and the more central role the internet is taking in their lives.”

    And the Seattle Times writes that “Wall Street appeared to see the extra expenditures as a sign that Amazon is bullish about the future, despite a sputtering U.S. economy.”

    Analyst Colin Sebastian, who follows Amazon for Robert W. Baird & Co. in San Francisco, tells the Times, "If they weren't investing all this money in distribution capacity and technology, they would have more business than they could handle. E-commerce growth in general is very healthy. People are spending more money online."

    Beyond the growth in e-commerce sales, it is worth noting that much of Amazon’s growth has come from its Kindle e-reader - a product that was introduced less than four years ago. Last May, Amazon said that it had sold more e-books for Kindle than it had print books during the previous year.

    This is a terrific and Eye-Opening lesson for any marketer - that the biggest threat to your business may not exist today. It isn’t on your radar screen, and yet has the potential of being a disruptive influence that could entirely change the competitive landscape.

    Remember the end of Return of the Jedi? The Rebel Alliance forces are trying to destroy the new Death Star before its construction is complete, only to find out - almost too late - that it is completely operational.

    You gotta do business like the competition is building a Death Star. (Though Jeff Bezos may not be comfortable with being cast as Emperor Palpatine.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “bagged salad producers such as Earthbound Farms and Fresh Express are experimenting with new ingredients and production methods to improve their products” and, as a result, increase consumption by Americans.

    The story says that “at Fresh Express Inc., a unit of Chiquita Brands International Inc., executives think adding more vegetables to bagged greens will get consumers to eat more salad. They are aiming to release a bagged salad that has not just lettuces but also cucumbers, tomatoes and red peppers, among other vegetables, by sometime next year. All shoppers will have to do is open, pour and eat.”

    And, “Organic producer Earthbound Farm plans to introduce ‘Powermeal’ salad kits like Blueberry Quinoa Protein Balance and Tomatillo Black Bean Energy later this summer. The company says add-ins like black beans and quinoa make these salads full meals.”

    These product introductions are meant to address the following reality: “Despite decades of nagging to eat more leafy greens and colorful vegetables, the average American eats a salad at mealtime only about 36 times a year. That's 20% less often than in 1985, when the average annual frequency was 45, according to market research firm NPD Group. Fewer than half of Americans - 49% - ate at least one ‘leaf salad’ at home in two weeks, compared with 75% who ate a potato dish and 81% who ate beef.”
    KC's View:
    I hadn’t thought about it before, but upon reading this story, I realize that this is a section of the supermarket that - despite the fact that it revolutionized the salad business when it was introduced - could use some new energy. Some of these new products sound interesting, and I’d certainly be willing to try them.

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    MSNBC reports that while there has been much coverage of the decision by Albertsons LLC to pull self-checkout systems from its supermarkets, there remains considerable evidence that other retailers are confident that the systems offer their customers a desired option.

    According to the story, “Self-checkout suppliers raked in $524.1 million worldwide in 2010, a 46 percent increase from 2007, according to technology research firm VDC Research Group, which projects growth of 84 percent over the next five years. As technology improves, self-checkout likely will migrate into store aisles as customers armed with smart phones use new apps to scan and pay for items on the spot.”

    The story goes on: “Not everyone loves the trend, of course. Of more than 160,000 who voted on an survey, about 35 percent said they loved self-checkout lanes while 37 percent said they hated them. About 28 percent said they used them when they had to.”
    KC's View:
    The great thing is that the 37 percent who don’t like self-checkout don;t have to use the technology.

    In the weeks following the Albertsons LLC announcement, by the way, the message I’ve gotten from a lot of people - including company insiders - is that this was less a strategic decision than a financial one. People say that the Albertsons LLC equipment was antiquated, and that the company simply did not want to invest in modern technology. So it was better to turn it into an advantage, talking about personal customer service, rather than admitting that it was a bottom line call.

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that Walmart will open its first Chicago-area Express store today, a 10,000 square foot store that also is said to be a harbinger of Walmart’s broader urban strategy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    RTE News reports that in the wake of concerns that Superquinn creditors could be out of luck now that the company - which went from ownership by Select Retail Holdings to receivership - has been acquired by Musgrave, there may now be a solution that will allow suppliers to recoup as much as 70 percent of their losses.

    Musgrave said last week when it acquired Superquinn - which had accumulated debts of more than $500 million (US) since it was sold by founder Feargal Quinn in 2005 - that it planned to save all of the 2,800 jobs currently at the retailer’s stores. But suppliers who were on the hook for merchandise already delivered to Superquinn looked like they might not see any compensation.

    Now Musgrave is saying that it has set up a fund to pay suppliers not covered by insurance.
    KC's View:
    I hope this all works out. It has turned out to be an ignominious turn of events for a proud and iconic retailing name, and I’m sure that the whole thing has been breaking Feargal Quinn’s heart.

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Dunkin’ Donuts hopes to be running on cash, and plenty of it.

    According to the story, “the initial public offering of Dunkin' Brands Group Inc. was priced at $19 a share, raising $427.5 million. The franchise-centric company, which houses both the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins chains, plans to use the funds to pay down debt and move beyond its Northeastern roots. Though Dunkin' doesn't have the same level of brand recognition as McDonald's or Starbucks Corp., the company also hasn't penetrated the western U.S. or other parts of the country as deeply, giving it more opportunity to expand. And it's there that it hopes to give both rivals a run for their money among caffeine cravers.”
    KC's View:
    Experts seem to think that while Dunkin’ Donuts could take a bit of Starbuck’s business, the bigger battle is between Dunkin’ and McDonald’s. But I suspect that DD is looking to eat away at both...

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    Meijer announced that it is opening a new format in the Chicago area - Meijer Marketplace, described as a kind of “mini supercenter” that is half the size of its traditional stores but that tries to offer the same benefits of the larger units, including a “tailored” grocery offering with localized appeal.

    According to the announcement, “Much of the focus on the new store in Melrose Park will be on providing a total grocery shopping experience with fresh quality meats and produce, as well as a wide variety of deli, bakery and pantry items.  The new Meijer store will include a targeted focus on Hispanic and Italian foods, providing a new shopping option for the ethnically-diverse community nearby.

    “The smaller-format store will offer the Melrose Park community the ‘Higher Standards and Lower Prices’ that Meijer customers have come to expect, featuring national and Meijer own brand grocery items, along with a full-service pharmacy offering a variety of national and Meijer brand health and beauty products.

    “In the general merchandise area, the Meijer Marketplace will feature key categories such as electronics, seasonal items, toys, sporting goods and a pet department, with numerous national brand products throughout the aisles. The store will maintain a flexible layout that allows Meijer planners to bring in new items based on customer feedback.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    Bloomberg reports that the Conference Board’s monthly Consumer Confidence Index for July was unexpectedly up to 59.5, from a revised June number of 57.6 that was an eight-month low.

    According to the story, “Easing fuel prices may make households more comfortable opening their wallets in the second half of the year. At the same time, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told Congress earlier this month that unemployment above 9 percent and falling home values are a concern for Americans, which may restrain any recovery in consumer spending.”

    And, Bloomberg writes, “The Conference Board’s confidence report showed a measure of present conditions fell to 35.7, the weakest since February, from 36.6 in June. The measure of expectations for the next six months increased to 75.4, almost entirely retracing the previous month’s drop.”
    KC's View:
    Consumer confidence is up this month?

    Apparently the people being questioned are not watching the news or reading the papers. Because based on the coverage of the fiscal debate in DC, I’m trying to decide between putting what little money I have under my mattress or burying it in the backyard.

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    • SymphonyIRI Group today announced a new relationship supporting Walmart’s customer-centric initiatives whereby the two companies are introducing a next-generation, Web-based shopper insights and collaborative planning platform, Customer Advantage™.  Powered by SymphonyIRI’ s, Liquid Data technology and marketing analytics, Customer Advantage will be available from SymphonyIRI beginning August 2011.

    Full disclosure: SymphonyIRI is an MNB sponsor.

    • The Boston Globe reports that Rite Aid Corp. has agreed to pay the state of Massachusetts $2.1 million to settle charges that it has been overcharging cities and towns for prescription drugs as part of workers compensation claims. Rite Aid has not admitted any guilt in agreeing to the settlement.

    According to the story, “State law requires pharmacies to offer state entities the best price paid by any company. Collectively, Walgreen Co., Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc., Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., CVS Caremark Corp., and Rite Aid have settled for almost $8 million in similar cases” since an investigation was begun by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

    • The Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is dropping hints that a long -rumored Whole Foods actually will be build in the city’s downtown area, and that the official announcement will be “just the first of other major announcements this week that will change ‘how people view the city of Detroit’.”

    • The Associated Press reports that Whole Foods has created a new charity, the Whole Kids Foundation, for the purpose of providing more children with access to healthy foods. According to the piece, “The foundation's first initiative is a program to help put in place or expand teaching gardens to help build children's relationships with food through the power of gardening.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    • Kroger announced that Donna Giordano, president of its Quality Food Centers (QFC) division in Seattle, has been promoted to the presidency of its Los Angeles-based Ralphs division.

    She succeeds Mike Donnelly, who was recently promoted to senior vice president of merchandising for Kroger.  

    • The Ohio Grocers Association (OGA) announced that it has hired Nate Filler as its new president/CEO, succeeding Tom Jackson, who is retiring after a quarter-century with the association.

    According to the announcement, “Filler comes to OGA after managing state government relations for Cardinal Health, one of Ohio’s largest companies. Previously, Nate held various positions in the Ohio House of Representatives, including serving as policy advisor to former House Speaker and current Secretary of State, Jon Husted. He also worked as legislative aide to former State Representative and Lt. Governor candidate, Tom Raga ... Prior to his political career, Mr. Filler spent nearly a decade working for the Kroger Company.”

    • Walmart announced that it has named Morten Knudsen - currently the vice president for corporate finance at Danone - to be its new CFO for Asia. He replaces Roland Lawrence, one of several Walmart Asia execs who left the company recently for other opportunities.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 27, 2011

    We keep getting email about Superquinn, such as this one from MNB user Jack Allen:

    Many years ago I participated in a planning session for a CIES marketing conference which was conducted at the headquarters of Superquinn. This was the first time I had the opportunity to visit Ireland, the birth place of my dad. I had been brought up spending many Sundays visiting my grandparents home in Brooklyn where I developed a taste (and a craving) for my grandmother’s home baked Irish bread - soda bread. During a mid-morning break at the planning session, I headed down to the store where upon entering I discovered the bakery displaying just what I was hoping to find. I bought a loaf of Irish bread, walked out to the parking lot and ate it—returning to the conference table a happy camper.

    I once related this incident to Feargal who seemed to take great pleasure in the happiness this event brought me.

    The extraordinary thing about Superquinn is that customers knew when the bread would come out hot and fresh, and they’d time their visits to the store to coincide with its availability. Because when it was gone, it was gone. Until the same time the next day.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    On Superquinn, isn’t one measure of the importance of a company the legacy developed and passed on by leadership to ensure that the enterprise is an ongoing concern? Doesn’t leadership have this obligation to their employees, stockholders, etc.?

    The book “Built To Last” years ago explored the importance of not running your business based on a person or a personality, but instead, building a company on values that would last. These values would be instilled in a company by great leaders like Feargal Quinn.

    The goal of a business should be to continue to operate and thrive even after the founder or leader is no longer in charge. I believe that this is the quintessential goal of all businesses. As my mom and dad taught me, leave a place nicer than when you arrived!

    All true.

    Except that once you’ve sold the company, you don’t usually have much influence over the new owners. And if they decide to focus on things other than the chain’s core values, and make mistakes that disenfranchise customers, there’s not much that a founder can do about that.

    On another subject, an MNB user wrote:

    Sansolo whines about the lack of information available in an older ballpark. Just what is he going to do with all that truly meaningless information that he really does not need to know.  In my opinion, all the bells and whistles of the new parks  only allows us to pack our brains with information so we can be kept busy.  We no longer talk, we text. We no longer talk, we read information between innings because our short American attention spans must continually be occupied and we couldn't talk anyway because there will be loud music playing.  I use technology and am all for the progress it brings and the easier life but it seems that sometimes the loss of humanity is too large a price to pay for knowing the speed of a pitch.  A separate issue -What percentage of our population can even afford to go to a professional game?

    When I go to the grocery store I want a clean store with fair prices and organic produce. I know what all the bells and whistles really do and that is drive prices up.  Check out the prices at the new Yankee stadium.

    I’m not sure that Michael was whining. I also think that he wasn’t suggesting that the technological bells and whistles were the core of the experience, but rather valuable and enjoyable complimentary elements that make the experience better. There’s a big difference ... and the metaphor carries over to retailing, and the difference between strategic planning and the implementation of tactics that support the strategy.

    Regarding the guy who quit Whole Foods and then wrote an uncomplimentary email about the company that was sent to every employee there - and then went viral on the internet - one MNB user wrote:

    With regard to the ex-employee – Of course the company disagrees and guess what?  It’s likely they don’t give a rat’s patooty what you think.  Welcome to Corporate America buddy.  If you don’t want to run into the same thing as you look for other employment, start your own business and make your own rules (be sure you treat your employees as you would’ve liked to have been treated) or work for a small company that doesn’t have time to waste on mission statements hanging on a wall that only collect dust.  Accountability for following those ideals?  Don’t frustrate yourself – it’s a waste of time and energy as there are few corporations that walk the talk.  At the same time I would ask you to hold yourself accountable, in any job, for doing your best and earning that paycheck.  In the end, that’s really the only power we have that is our very own wherever we are and in whatever we do no matter how big the brother may be.

    I’ve been around the block a few times.  I’ve seen good management and mismanagement and I’d never want to be in management.  My main purpose is to put food on the table and a roof over my head, so I constantly need to remind myself to “be a duck” (let the $%^& slide off your feathers).

    Geez. You’re more cynical than I am.
    MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

    What employer, after checking this individuals Internet postings, would hire this guy. The ex-employee may feel better, but he just limited his future!  We must all learn how to use the Internet more effectively, efficiently, prudently and judiciously!


    I guess it all depends on what your next career move is.

    My favorite resignation letter of all time was written by Robert B. Parker - who went on to write the Spenser novels - on August 15, 1962. He was resigning from what must have been an awful PR job, and he wrote:


    I hereby resign from The Prudential Insurance Company of America, effective September 1, 1962.

    Looking back over my years with the company, I note that there have been three of them.


    Robert B. Parker

    Exactly what we’d expect from the man who was the heir to the Raymond Chandler legacy. Chandler, of course, created Philip Marlowe, who once said, “I test very high on insubordination…”
    KC's View: