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    Published on: September 12, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Los Angeles Times reports on a new Gallup poll saying while Americans continue to prefer to work for a man instead of a woman, the margin is the narrowest it ever has been.

    When the question was first posted in 1953, two-thirds of Americans said they wanted to work for a man, while only five percent said they wanted to work for a woman.

    This year, however, only 32 percent of respondents said they prefer to work for men, while 22 percent say they would rather work for a woman.

    The good news from this poll, however, may be that - if you do the math - it appears that 46 percent of Americans don’t care. Which is a lot better than the 29 percent who didn’t seem to care in 1953 (though even that number seems high for a Don Draper world).

    Just’s another passage from the story that is interesting:

    “Currently, 56% of Americans have a man at the helm while 30% are led by a woman. Thirteen percent said they have no boss.”

    Here’s how we’ll know that we’ve made real progress - when nobody cares about the gender of their bosses, because what matters is how smart they are, what kind of leadership qualities they have, and whether they respect the abilities and talents of their employees.

    That’ll be a real eye-opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story about what Citigroup calls the “Consumer Hourglass Theory,”which posits that investors should “focus on companies best positioned to cater to the highest-income and lowest-income consumers.” The theory is that the ongoing recessionary mindset of the much of the American public and the apparent prosperity being enjoyed by the upper end of the socio-economic scale has helped to create a larger gap than ever between the haves and have-nots, forcing many marketers to adjust their their traditional approaches.

    Case in point: Procter & Gamble, which generally has focused on “the vast American middle class” that sought mainstream branded products, is having to aim lower than it has traditionally.

    According to the story, “P&G executives say many of its former middle-market shoppers are trading down to lower-priced goods - widening the pools of have and have-not consumers at the expense of the middle. That's forced P&G, which estimates it has at least one product in 98% of American households, to fundamentally change the way it develops and sells its goods. For the first time in 38 years, for example, the company launched a new dish soap in the U.S. at a bargain price.”

    The story goes on: “P&G isn't the only company adjusting its business. A wide swath of American companies is convinced that the consumer market is bifurcating into high and low ends and eroding in the middle. They have begun to alter the way they research, develop and market their products.

    “Food giant H.J. Heinz Co., for example, is developing more products at lower price ranges. Luxury retailer Saks Inc. is bolstering its high-end apparel and accessories because its wealthiest customers—not those drawn to entry-level items—are driving the chain's growth.”
    KC's View:
    There would seem to be little question that the space between haves and have-nots is widening, and that the middle is becoming a kind of marketing desert ... a hard place to grow new sales. Which means, I suppose, that companies that have been occupying the middle are going to have to consider their options ... because staying put sounds like an increasingly untenable position.

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    The Chicago Tribune reports this morning on how technology companies are trying to “put a fresh spin of loyalty programs,” taking them beyond the point where the shopper use a card (one of dozens on their keychain, as often as not) and get a price break.

    The story notes that “a steep discount can attract thousands of new customers, but merchants say the challenge lies in convincing buyers to return. That's where these new technology companies are stepping in, harnessing such things as mobile applications and social media to keep merchants close to their customers.” The goal is to create relationships, not just offer rewards, and to as much as possible wean people off coupons (or their electronic brethren).

    One example: MobManager, a Chicago startup “that helps merchants track daily deal customers, is trying to target the window between the initial coupon redemption and long-term loyalty ... (helping) businesses track voucher usage and target consumers with follow-up email promotions.”
    KC's View:
    The opinion here has long been that most loyalty programs are simply ways of giving out coupons, and that they have very little to do with loyalty. There has to be an improved connection between the store and the shopper, and it has to focus on more than just discounts. Stores have to prove to the shopper that they are loyal to him or her ... not just hand out discounts that they hope will make the shopper loyal to them.

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    Reuters reports that “the percentage of households where adults sometimes go hungry or cannot put enough food on the table fell last year, but the problem still affects millions, government data released Wednesday shows.

    “In 2010, 5.4 percent, or 6.4 million households, had ‘very low food security,’ defined as a reduction of food intake by at least one household member and a disruption of eating patterns because the household lacked resources for food.

    “The prevalence of such low levels of food security declined from 5.7 percent in 2009.”

    The story goes on: “The report said 85.5 percent of American households were ‘food secure’ last year, meaning they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all their members, said the USDA's Economic Research Service, which compiled the report.

    “But the remaining households - 14.5 percent, or 17.2 million - were food insecure at least some time during 2010. The overall rate of food insecure households was essentially unchanged from 2009. Despite the near stagnant rate of food insecure households, 14.5 percent is still one of the highest recorded levels since national monitoring of food security began in 1995.

    “The rate of food insecurity spiked in 2008 due to the economic recession and remained high in following years.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    • announced that it will launch a new online toy site,, which reportedly will offer 20,000 products. This is in addition to the 50,000 toys that Amazon itself sells on its own site.

    Amazon used to handle online sales for Toys R Us, but that relationship has been dissolved as Toys R Us has gone off on its own.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    • The Boston Globe reports that BJ’s Wholesale Club shareholders have approved a $2.8 billion deal that will allow private equity firms Leonard Green & Partners and CVC Capital Partners to acquire the company and take it private.

    The deal is now expected to close at the end of the month.

    • Cargill Inc. has announced a voluntary recall of 185,000 pounds of ground turkey, which comes on top of last month’s recall of 36 million pounds of the same product.

    The move, according to the story, “comes in the wake of one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history: As of mid-August, health officials had linked a strain of salmonella found in contaminated turkey products to 111 people falling ill in 31 states and at least one death in California. That recalled meat, which included fresh and frozen ground turkey, was produced at Cargill's processing plant in Springdale, Ark.”

    Health officials say that “the turkey being recalled might contain Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain that is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics.”

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Kroger Co. “said its second-quarter profit and sales rose, but the nation's largest grocery store operator said shoppers are feeling bleaker about the economy ... Kroger said customers are shopping more often, but buying fewer items per trip and also buying more store brands that are usually priced lower than national brands. With national unemployment of 9.1% and a volatile stock market, higher prices make shoppers wary. Kroger said product costs rose 5.2% in the quarter — seen most in seafood, meat and produce.”

    The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger’s private brand sales represent 27 percent of grocery department sales, up from 26 percent a year ago.

    Kroger’s Q2 net income rose 7.3 percent to $280.8 million, up from $261.6 million a year earlier. Revenue increased 11.5 percent to $20.9 billion.

    • The Boston Globe reports that Supervalu-owned Shaw’s Supermarkets has launched its new sustainable seafood program and “is now featuring fresh sustainable seafood as part of a partnership with the Marine Stewardship Council, one of the top certification and eco-friendly labeling programs for sustainable seafood, and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a nonprofit marine science center.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    There’s been a lot of discussion here on MNB about the travails of the US Postal Service, but one reader expressed surprise that there was no mention of time devoted to the subject by “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

    Truth be told, I fell asleep that night before the segment ran. But I went back and checked it, and it is definitely worth seeing, by clicking here.

    It is funny. But, oh so true.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    Cliff Robertson, who won an Academy Award for portraying the title character in Charly in the late sixties, and who played John F. Kennedy in PT 109, a film about JFK’s World Ware II exploits, died over the weekend. He was 88.

    Robertson perhaps became best known during the late seventies, when he blew the whistle on financial fraud at Columbia Pictures by then CEO David Begelman; while Robertson was proven to be right by subsequent investigations, his career suffered because it was seen that he’d challenged the Hollywood old boy network.
    KC's View:
    Three favorite Robertson performances....

    The Best Man, in which he played the ruthless presidential candidate Joe Cantwell.

    Three Days of the Condor, as CIA Deputy Director Higgins, playing cat-and-mouse with Robert Redford’s Joe Turner.

    • And The Man Without A Country, in which he played Phillip Nolan in a television adaption of Edward Everett Hale’s short story.

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    Got a number of emails responding to last week’s story about how ConAgra got a lesson in 21st century transparency recently, according to a piece in the New York Times, when it sponsored a dinner for New York area bloggers.

    The bloggers received invitations to dinner at a Manhattan brownstone, and were promised that they would enjoy a “delicious four course meal,” sangria made by TV chef George Duran, an education in food industry trends from “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert, and “an unexpected surprise.”

    The surprise, as it turned out, was that the lasagna served was “Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna by Marie Callender’s, a frozen line from ConAgra Foods,” the Times writes. “Hidden cameras at the dinners, which were orchestrated by the Ketchum public relations unit of the Omnicom Group, captured reactions to the lasagna and to the dessert, Razzleberry Pie, also from Marie Callender’s.”

    The story notes that this kind of scheme had been done before, by companies such as Pizza Hut that used the results for commercials. But the difference was that those events were attended by regular consumers - not by bloggers who see themselves as journalists, some of whom reacted angrily and publicly to what they viewed as a deception.

    I commented:

    The ConAgra situation points out a 21st century reality -if you do something that people see as deceptive or dishonest, the odds are that it will become very public very quickly.

    In some ways, it’s too bad. You have to be so careful about such things that it is almost inevitable that innovation could be stifled, because a failed effort could become as public as a success.

    And while I probably would have not been amused had I traveled into NYC for what turned out to be a warmed up lasagna dinner, I’m sympathetic to ConAgra, its agency, and to Phil Lempert. (Full disclosure: Phil is an old friend of mine, and I wrote for “Supermarket Guru” for a number of years.) The blogging world remains new territory, and it hasn’t been fully mapped out yet ... which means that it is a lot more likely that people may stumble along the way. They weren’t doing anything malicious. They just misjudged the audience. That happens.

    One MNB user wrote:

    On the issue of ConAgra’s fail—or actually their PR firm’s fail—I think the one thing that is being overlooked here is that these folks were invited to an event and promised a chef’s dinner. I too would be quite peeved if I got all dressed up and went to a special place for a special event and found out I was the target of a publicity stunt.

    It’s one thing to do a “taste test” at a supermarket..or even to tell a diner in an Italian restaurant that they have been enjoying Pizza Hut pizza.  But a bait and switch for a “special event”…hello?

    But another MNB user wrote:

    To me, the real eye opener of this piece was the elitism put on display by the bloggers.  I haven’t taken the time to read the whole Times piece so I don’t know if they paid for the meal or not.  If not, then on what grounds are they complaining?  If they disliked the food then so be it…but for those who may have enjoyed it, why is it so hard for folks to make that leap and admit it after they’re told it was a frozen entrée?  It brought me back to one of the closing scenes of the Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille in which the food critic finally finds it within himself to admit that while not everyone can cook, greatness can come from anywhere.

    He wasn’t the only one who felt that way:

    Interesting experiment by ConAgra, Kevin.  What is striking, I think, is the fact that the deceived bloggers reacted negatively to the dinner AFTER finding out what was served.  Did they feel slighted because it was frozen?  Or were they embarrassed because they thought the food was decent?  Heaven forbid the "blogger snobs" (my terminology) feast on what the commoners eat!! 

    On another subject - and a familiar one to MNB readers, Sam Copeland wrote:

    I wish I had something a little more retail-oriented to respond about, but I think it is worth mentioning that it appears Delta has followed United and created their own message from the CEO to precede the safety video.  Delta has been doing a lot of testing of various videos lately Within the last 6 months Delta changed up the video to highlight current Delta employees which resulted in them casting who is being referred to as “Deltalina,” a not-so-clever reference to Angelina Jolie due to her stunning good looks, to lead passengers “through the safety features of this [insert plane here].” A month or two ago Delta featured a 20 second commercial for Lincoln or Chrysler or some auto maker prior to the safety video.

    The new CEO video, which I believe started within the last few weeks (I travel every week, but make a habit of falling asleep before the plane takes off so I may have missed a couple, whoops), is a message from now CEO Richard Anderson where he babbles about being fortunate enough to sit at the founders desk every day and being so proud to run a company founded on integrity, respect and keeping passengers safe. The end.  That is the message.  It in no way actually communicates any value whatsoever to passengers.  I actually found myself wishing he would tell me they were painting planes or doing anything for that matter! When your slogan is “building a better airline, not just a bigger one” it would be great if you kept that message front and center by explaining how you are continuing to do that even years after the NWA acquisition. No video would have been better than one demonstrating that the CEO doesn’t know how to create value-added communication that will connect and resonate with customers.

    Last Friday, MNB took note of how the president of Domino’s Pizza in Japan, Scott K. Oelkers, has announced support for a $21 billion plan to build the first pizza restaurant on the moon.

    My headline: Fly Me To The Moon, Says Japanese Pizza CEO

    But one MNB user suggested that I sued the wrong song, and that I should have had the following line:

    When The Moon Hits Your Eye Like A Big-A Pizza Pie

    He is so right. I cannot believe I missed that one.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    The Dominos on the Moon will surely fail...good pizza, bad atmosphere.

    Another joke I missed.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    In Week One of National Football League play...

    Philadelphia 31
    St. Louis 13

    Atlanta 12
    Chicago 30

    Tennessee 14
    Jacksonville 16

    Pittsburgh 7
    Baltimore 35

    NY Giants 14
    Washington 28

    Carolina 21
    Arizona 28

    Buffalo 41
    Kansas City 7

    Detroit 27
    Tampa Bay 20

    Cincinnati 27
    Cleveland 17

    Indianapolis 7
    Houston 34

    Minnesota 17
    San Diego 24

    Seattle 17
    San Francisco 33

    Dallas 24
    NY Jets 27

    And in the US Tennis Open, Samantha Stosur defeated Serena Williams 6-2, 6-3, to win the 2011 U.S. Open women’s singles title.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 12, 2011

    by Susan Viamari, editor, “Times & Trends,” SymphonyIRI Group, Inc.

    The quest for affordability is driving consumers to seek out better deals no matter the cost. However, counterintuitive that statement may seem, it is spot on. Even as the price of gas continues to soar ever higher, 75 percent of shoppers still visit five or more stores to meet their CPG needs.

    Consumers’ cross channel search for the best deals clearly underscores the mindset of today’s CPG shopper—a mindset in which consumers are living with less and making purchases deliberately and cautiously.

    Consumers’ attitudes and behaviors today differ rather significantly from days gone by, when many Americans lived “outside their means,” drawing upon credit to keep up with the Joneses. Today’s attitudes and behaviors were shaped by prolonged economic downturn, and by the longest and deepest recession to hit this country since the Great Depression. Today, a full year after the recession has passed, aftershocks are still shaking the nation. Key economic indicators, including unemployment and inflation, remain less than favorable, and, consequently, consumers are firmly entrenched in savings mode.

    During the beginning of the economic downturn, shoppers flocked to value retailers, particularly supercenters and mass merchandisers, demonstrating a willingness to drive the extra distance in a desperate effort to save money. Today, grocery, drug, dollar and club stores are enjoying increased shopper visits, at the expense of supercenter and mass stores. Share trends reflect these shifts in shopper behavior.

    Across CPG channels, purchase frequency increased by 2 percent during the past year, with grocery, dollar and club channel trends closely mirroring industry average. Across other channels, though, trends vary significantly. For example, frequency within the drug channel accelerated sharply within the last year, increasing by 6.7 percent. This growth is being driven by a number of factors, including shifting trip mission trends.

    Quick trips, small “need-it-now” excursions with an average basket size of less than $40, have become more common as consumers look to minimize large one-time outlays of cash. With a broad assortment of health and wellness solutions and a growing assortment of food and beverage offerings, close-to-home drug stores are a logical destination for shoppers looking to quickly pick up needed items with only minimal gas and time investment. Dollar stores also are benefitting from this trend due to generally convenient locations and broader, expanded assortments. These efforts are clearly paying off, with dollar channel frequency increasing by 2.6 percent during the past year.

    When thinking about channel migration trends, CPG and retail leaders must consider changes in the channels themselves and how those changes will impact shoppers. For instance, as ‘big box’ retailers open smaller format stores, such as Target opening CityTarget, closer to downtowns, will shoppers continue driving to traditional value formats that tend to be located in more out-of-the-way locations?

    In the CPG industry, channel lines have definitely blurred during the last couple of years. As strategists, formats and technologies evolve, and as CPG prices continue to rise, this blurring is expected to continue.

    For more information about channel migration trends, download SymphonyIRI Group’s Times & Trends Report, “Channel Migration: A Quest for Affordability” by CLICKING HERE.
    KC's View: