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    Published on: October 12, 2011

    by Kate McMahon

    Planning a perfect tailgate party is similar to devising a winning football offense – a brilliant strategy can be upended by a fumble or a forgotten barbecue spatula/bottle opener/jar of mustard.

    Fortunately, there’s an app for that.

    Actually, there are several apps for tailgaters on the market, which should get retailers motivated to capitalize on these seasonal cookouts.

    And on a more macro level, these apps reaffirm that the smart phone and mobile technology are changing the way we communicate, work and even create our grocery shopping list. As noted in yesterday’s MNB, more stores are hoping to use apps, high tech bar codes called Quick Response Codes and other technologies to enhance the price-comparison and shopping experience. Tech-savvy consumers, particularly twenty- and thirty-somethings whose palms are seemingly glued to their smart phones, will soon expect nothing less.

    Of course fans of all ages participate in tailgate parties, which can range from hot dogs on a hibachi to the elaborate banquets at the “holy grail of tailgating” at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.

    The New York Times recently reviewed the newest tailgating apps, and gave thumbs up to Tailgating, which is free on iTunes for iPhones and iPads. For the app uninitiated, here’s how it works: Instead of actually creating a list, the app downloaded to your iPhone has “pre-loaded” checklists for gear and food, prompting you to remember both the BBQ wings, the tongs required to turn them and paper towels to clean up before kick-off. And beverages, of course.

    A similar checklist with 220 pre-loaded items is available on Tailgating Planner, which costs 99 cents for Android. Additionally, you can share your list (and shopping duties) with family or friends through Gmail or Facebook.

    The two newest apps, Tailgate Fan and TailgateChamp, are designed more for inviting and organizing guests and posting pictures of the food and festivities, rather than just pre-game preparations.

    Fortunately, there is a technological middle-ground for stores seeking to help customers put shopping lists on their handheld without making a huge technological investment. And that is through a website or Facebook page. For example, when I see a tasty recipe on the Whole Foods Facebook page, with one click I can add any or all of the ingredients to a shopping list in my already established “profile page.” That list can be then printed out, emailed or sent as a link to my Blackberry via text message. The Kroger site has a similar recipe-to-shopping list feature, which can be printed out or emailed to smart phones with internet capability.

    From tailgating apps to one-click recipe additions to shopping lists, consumers are expecting more and smart retailers should already be trying to meet those expectations. An app or site that helps you remember a key ingredient for your tailgate party or recipe will certainly help you remember the provider.

    And that’s a win-win.

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

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Got a press release yesterday that struck me as interesting...

    There’s a new company in Connecticut called Wise Waste that has partnered with a three-store IGA retailer, Tri-Town Foods, and White Gate Farm, a local organic farm. And what Wise Waste does is “facilitate the transportation of compostable materials from grocery stores, restaurants and other establishments that produce food waste, directly to the farm.”

    According to the release, Tri-Town stores get several benefits. The stores participate by “separating their compostable materials for recycling, citing their desire to become as environmentally friendly as possible and to support local businesses.  Tri-Town Foods has made numerous upgrades in the past few years aimed at reducing total kilowatt usage and reducing their carbon footprint. Local sourcing of product is an integral part of their business plan. Tri-Town Foods has made it a priority to provide local products in their stores including produce from White Gate Farm, closing the loop on full-circle use.”

    It may be that there are dozens of initiatives like this one happening all over the country, but I still found this Eye-Opening. The idea that a small, three store company would invest in this sort of circle-of-life program is something that I find heartening. And worth paying attention to.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    In advance of meetings with Walmart senior executives this week, at which the company’s leaders are expected to lay out their strategies and tactics for reviving the chain’s stagnant US same-store sales, a number of investment analysts met with current and former Walmart employees who laid out their assessment of the company’s problems.

    According to a report on the meeting released by the employees, they charged that Walmart’s low-cost approach to doing business has created a “vicious circle” resulting in nine consecutive quarters without any sort of sales growth.

    “Walmart is facing significant challenges as competitors are squeezing the company from all sides and same-store sales in U.S. are down year over year,” the statement said. “Management's single-minded focus on cost cutting has led to pervasive understaffing. This short-handedness, combined with the computerized management initiatives imposed by the Walmart home office, in turn leads to many long lines at the register and bare shelves as restocking lags. The shopping experience deteriorates for many customers, leading some not to return. That translates into lost sales, further increasing pressure to keep costs down-and the cycle repeats again.

    “The consensus inside and outside Walmart is that the company needs to change its approach,” said Greg Fletcher, a current Walmart associate from Duarte, CA. “The only way to break the vicious circle and increase profits is to invest more in workers and listen to what we are saying about how to improve store operations.”

    Among the specific observations made by the employees:

    • “Lower staffing levels implemented during inventory rationalization efforts, such as the ‘Win, Play, Show’ (WPS) initiative, remain even after the company abandoned WPS and added back SKUs to the assortment. This is leaving many stores dramatically understaffed, with many over-burdened employees unable to move inventory out of the supply room onto the sales floor. Even when inventory does make it onto store shelves, some employees are forced to cut corners at cash registers, undermining the company's point of sale data.”

    • “Training is virtually non-existent for many new associates, because many of them don’t have time to learn the company’s systems while completing their assigned tasks in the time required by the company’s computer systems.”
    KC's View:
    Now, these employees aren’t just interested in Walmart being more profitable because they are altruists, or because they own stock - their stated goal is to get the Bentonville Behemoth to pay its employees more, which they say will translate into higher productivity and greater effectiveness.

    What’s interesting to me about this is that many of the problems these folks are pointing out are the same ones that I hear about in emails both from Walmart employees and outside observers ... especially the lack of focus in the stores and persistent out of stocks.

    Let’s see what Walmart says in its meeting with the analysts. I suspect they won't be announcing any across the board salary increases, but the other issues will be more difficult to deny.

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    A new study from Ipsos suggests that “tablet ownership increases the frequency of mobile shopping, improves the purchase experience – and makes consumers who own both devices use their smartphone more often.”

    According to the study, people who own tablet computers buy almost twice as much from their mobile devices as people who only have smart phones, and that those people who have both a tablet computer and a smart phone made an average of more than 20 mobile purchases over the past year. In addition, the study says, “nearly two-thirds of dual owners indicated higher overall spending due to their mobile purchasing activity.”

    In addition, Internet Retailer reports on a new study from Accenture saying that 59 percent of online shoppers say that they plan to do most of their holiday gift shopping online - up from 41 percent who said the same thing a year ago.

    “Among consumers who do go into stores,” Internet Retailer reports, “more than half (54%) of consumers who say they will use their mobile phones for shopping this year say they will use their phones to compare prices in stores; 35% say they will use tablet computers for the same purpose.

    “43% of consumers planning to shop with a smartphone expect the device will help them get better discounts, while 36% of tablet shoppers feel the same. 32% say they will use a mobile device to receive alerts when a product is in stock.”
    KC's View:
    Sure, many of these folks are early adopters. But the momentum is growing, and penetration is going to happen a lot faster than anyone might have predicted a few years ago.

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    Pure-play online retailer FreshDirect announced that it has expanded its delivery circle, now offering its internet grocery shopping service to residents of Nassau County, which essentially makes up the western half of Long Island.

    FreshDirect, which started in Manhattan, has been gradually expanding its offering to the outer boroughs as well as to the suburbs in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
    KC's View:
    Slow but steady growth, not just by FreshDirect, but by most of the companies that are engaging in online retailing, seems to be the hallmark of the current climate. And that’s healthy, it seems to me. It creates a more sustainable environment, rather than a bubble that could explode at some point.

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    The Irish Times reports that now that its acquisition of the troubled Superquinn chain has been approved, Musgrave has established a new operating to run the business. Musgrave Operating Partners Ireland will have Tim Kenny, who has been the Group Finance and Business Development Director for Musgrave Group, as its Managing Director.

    “The establishment of this new division is the first step in the gradual integration of the Superquinn business into the Musgrave Group,” said Chris Martin, CEO, Musgrave, adding, “We will now apply our considerable expertise to help stabilise a business that has been greatly challenged by changes in the marketplace in recent years. In a declining market where consumers are spending less and continuously looking for value Superquinn has struggled to retain market share. We believe that working with the Superquinn team we can tackle these considerable challenges and develop the business for the future.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    Discover Magazine reports in its online blog that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “has completed its analysis of the first genetically modified animal likely to hit supermarket shelves: the AquAdvantage salmon, made by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies, Inc.,” which “grows 2-6 times the size of a normal Atlantic salmon in half the time, promising some respite for the planet’s heavily taxed natural fish stocks.”

    At the same time, Talking Points Memo reports that the FDA has concluded that the genetically modified salmon will not have a negative impact on the environment, and has passed that assessment on to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

    • Food Lion announced that two of its green grocery stores in North Carolina have been awarded LEED Silver certification. Food Lion stores at 1738 Bingham Drive and 5555 Waldos Beach Road, both in Fayetteville, N.C., feature a number of environmentally friendly construction and energy-efficient services, including an on-site recycling center, an educational kiosk and preferred parking for carpool vehicles.

    • The Bergen Record reports that Kantar Retail is projecting that 2011 “holiday spending will be significantly weaker than last year, and shoppers are becoming less confident about their spending power.” One wild card in the assessment is oil prices; if fuel costs stay relatively low, it is believed that it could prime the pump and convince people top spend a little more for the holidays.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that William Morrison Supermarkets in the UK says that it has “deepened its own price cuts in response to a new round of price promotions by competitors.”

    CEO Dalton Philips said that the company “has been ramping up its own nine-month long price cutting campaign since last week,” though he would not say how much Morrison’s has invested in price cuts.”

    Tesco precipitated the newest price wars just several weeks ago, as it looks to reverse small but consistent slippage in its UK market share.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    • Golub Corporation/Price Chopper Supermarkets announced that Sharon Gerasia, the company’s Manager of Associate Relations – Retail, has been promoted to the position of Director of Associate Relations-Retail.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    • Robert Schaeberle, the former CEO of Nabisco who helped to engineer that company’s 1981 merger with Standard Brands, which Bloomberg says “set the stage for the defining battle of the leveraged-buyout era - the $30.1 billion purchase of RJR Nabisco in 1989 by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts - reportedly has passed away of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    Got the following email from an MNB user about yesterday’s Eye-Opener about the growth in luxury spending:

    In reading your eye-opener on luxury spending, I am always surprised when anyone somehow thinks this is bad.  In your piece, I get the impression that you think this is bad in that it highlights the gap between have’s and have not’s.  The rich are not throwing these dollars into a hole in the ground.  They are “throwing” them into the economy. When a celebrity throws a party and is rumored to have spent millions on the party, my thought is “this is great”.  There is a very happy caterer somewhere, a florist is smiling, a lot of dressmakers and tailors are happy, hair salons and nail salons are feeling the love, etc.  When a rich person builds an obscenely large McMansion, I can only think of all the masons, carpenters, interior decorators, landscapers and other laborers/craftsmen/artists that will be working for a relatively long time on this one house, not to mention all of the merchants who will see their bank book balances rise w/the purchases to fill this house.  In my opinion, what is bad for America is when the rich do not spend, when they “hoard” what they’ve earned.  While I don’t know how they view it, their spending is what keeps others working.  And isn’t that what it’s all about—i.e. the economy, the constant circulation of money?  In summary, the rich are circulating money, and that is the only thing that ever keeps a stable economy humming.

    First of all, I’m not sure we have a stable economy right now.

    Second, while I suppose it could be argued that the affluent are not hoarding their money when they spend on luxury items, it also could be argued that when top executives make salaries and benefits that are insanely higher than the people on the front lines, and even lay off thousands and hundreds of thousands of people while taking salary increases, that is a kind of hoarding...and not good for the economy in the long run.

    However, let me be clear.

    I have no problem with affluence.  I aspire to it.  But I also think that somehow the system has gotten out of whack … but I'm not sure that government can impose solutions.  What we probably need is for some boards of directors to say that they are changing the way top executives are reimbursed, that people who get fired don't walk away with multi-million dollar severance packages even if they were incompetent, and that there probably ought to be some formula that connects how much executives are paid in relation to the lowest people on the organizational chart.  (Sort of the way Costco does it.)

    I absolutely believe in the free market, and do not believe that government should set standards and limits in this regard.  (Except, perhaps, in cases where the government helps to bail out troubled companies and industries…there is a reasonable argument that if companies are surviving because of taxpayer money, there should be some limit to how much senior execs should make.)  What worries me is that the foundations of the free market may eroding because of greed and short-term thinking, and that companies are institutionally unable to address the problem.  

    So, if government shouldn't and private industry can't….what is the solution?

    I have no idea. But I’m reasonably sure that if we don’t focus on the problem, we’ll never arrive at a solution.

    MNB user Tom Devlin offered the following thoughts about yesterday’s Michael Sansolo column about how hockey player Jeff Halpern has kept himself relevant and extended his career:

    What a fantastic Metaphor because I am sure a large percent of your experienced readers can relate to that story. I’m one of them - a young fiftysomething living in the world with a whole bunch of  twenty somethings, who are more tech savvy and not only up to date but truly the target consumer of many of the brands that I work with.

    Even though I use Facebook, Twitter and QR codes, etc. I am NOT the consumer and I’m always bugging my two high school students about the latest things they are doing. This weekend alone I was engulfed in the music world where now it is online radio, Pandora, Spotify and others. The scary part is, it will all change in the next six months.

    In addition, this weekend we started the college visits for my High School Junior and to see the advancement in colleges is mind boggling for anyone. This reality check goes with people, school systems, companies and internal departments. What really hit me is also all the funding that is available from scholarships to personal groups that you can write to. One group where funding was available was for parents who had twins !!!

    This MNB was a true eye opener on what Mr. Halpern did and what it really takes to stay in the game in  business and life.  I thank you for that.

    Our pleasure.

    Finally, I got the following email from an old friend, Eamonn Quinn. Now, when you read this it will almost seem like a commercial ... and while I don’t usually allow these to run in this space, I decided to make an exception here.

    Two reasons. First, I like Eamonn, and he hosted a dinner in Dublin many years ago at which I met two of my favorite people in the world, Ann and Fiach O Broin. Second, and probably more important in this context, he makes a point that needs to be made about a larger issue:

    I am following up on the Wal-Mart pork mislabeling story published yesterday. This is just one of many incidents recently where the origin of food products has been brought into question.

    As you know I am chairman of Identigen Inc, a company that specialises in DNA traceability for meat products, especially pork and beef.

    DNA is nature’s bar code and despite the best intentions, paper systems are very hard to implement in large processing plants.

    With a DNA traceability system the information is never lost. So that even on the supermarket shelf, spot checks can be done to ensure that what is in the pack is indeed what it claims to be.

    Superquinn implemented this system in 2000 partly in response to the BSE crisis but also to ensure that it could stand over its' standards. Superquinn still implements traceback® from Identigen today.

    The issue is really quite simple. In most production situations you are assembling many pieces to make one final product. In beef or pork production you start with one piece and proceed to break it up into many pieces or joints.

    The problem is that the first label will have to break up into multiple sub-labels and that is where confusion can arise. Precisely because of this problem, I believe that ultimately consumers will demand this type of assurance from the industry. The interesting thing is this is that it is not expensive to do, depending on the program it can usually be done for 2 to 3 cents per lb.

    You don't change an industry overnight but it is getting traction from some leaders in the industry.

    In the US we are beginning to see early adopters, such as PFG, a leading food service company, has just launched Braveheart beef into 11,000 restaurants with traceback®.

    Aurora black Angus has just commenced exporting US beef to Korea on the strength of a DNA traceability program.

    In Canada the Overweightea group is having great success with sturgeon valley pork a regional Alberta brand. 

    Just to be clear, DNA traceability doesn't make the product any better. It just ensures it is what it claims to be.

    Which I think most consumers would feel reassured about.

    I agree.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2011

    Last night, in the American League Championship Series, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Texas Rangers 5-2, leaving the Rangers with a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
    KC's View: