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    Published on: January 11, 2012

    by Kate McMahon

    Good-bye pie, kimchi and sliders. Hello Peruvian cuisine, pre-packaged “healthy” snacks, the power of mobile technology and anything potato.

    That’s my quick take on the multitude of lists found on the internet touting the expected Top Food Trends for 2012. These predictions come courtesy of the James Beard Foundation, the Food Channel, allrecipes.com, Esquire, epicurious.com, the Institute of Food Technologists and dozens of media and online food sites eager to proclaim the next cupcake and more.

    Among the macro-trends that I think are worth noting:

    It’s all about mobile: The tech-savvy shopper comparing prices on a smartphone, scanning barcodes, downloading a recipe/grocery list and checking calorie counts and nutritional info on a tablet will soon become the norm, not the exception. Rather than sit back and watch this technology juggernaut go by, smart retailers will embrace opportunities to interact with their customers on line, through social networking and the smart phone in the palm of their hand. Innovations such as Quick Response (QR) codes and mobile coupons are the now, not the future.

    (To be fair, there are those who feel that QR codes are a lot more interesting to marketers than shoppers, but it is early yet to draw that conclusion. I know that I’m fascinated by what they make possible, though I’m not sure if when I say so I am speaking with my pundit hat on or my mom/shopper hat.)

    Farm-to-fork, continued: Also known as loca-vorism or farm-to-table, interest in locally-sourced products continues to be of importance to shoppers and restaurant patrons. Ditto products with the prefix artisanal, heirloom or sustainable. While not an option in many parts of the country, locally-sourced products can be a significant point of difference for a retailer in a competitive market.

    Know your audience: There’s even a generational shift in health foods. Aging baby-boomers are seeking products with health “enhancements” such as glucosamine for joints and Omega-3 oils for sharpening the old memory. Younger consumers are demanding more gluten-free, nut-free products not solely because of allergies or food tolerance issues, but because they feel healthier on more of a “free” diet.

    Snack attack, continued: Consider the explosion of the 100-calorie snack pack. As snacking has shed its negative image and is now recommended by nutritionists, health-conscious consumers want guilt-free, pre-packaged choices such as baby carrots, low-fat chips and salsa, fruit, yogurts, whole-grain and popcorn products.

    You say potato: The lowly spud is making a comeback. Look for mashed potato bars and custom cut French Fries with dusts and dips at restaurants, and potatoes of all guises taking top billing on online menus and dinner tables.

    And the next hot cuisine is: “Groovin’ on Peruvian” says The Food Channel. But several sites counter that pop-up food trucks featuring any number of ethnic and regional specialties are the new now. On the other hand, there is no reason that both cannot thrive in 2012 ... and maybe we’re looking at an outbreak of Peruvian food trucks!

    And the new cupcake is: The French bakery treat called a caneles, “made from an egg-yolk enriched crepe-like batter that’s baked in copper molds lined with caramel and beeswax.”

    As for me ... I’m thinking that for the moment, I’ll stick with the old cupcake and start downloading more recipes, calorie-counting and nutrition apps for my smartphone. Though if that Peruvian food truck comes to my town, I’m pretty sure I’ll be checking it out.

    Comments? What’s the food trend that you are most looking forward to in 2012? Send me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Accusations come this way from time to time charging that I have a kind of blind faith in all things technological, and am callously dismissive of old-fashioned business models. (Not true, by the way. I just think that traditional business models have to adjust their strategies and tactics to compete with technological upstarts.)

    But in the interest of satisfying traditionalists (and I assume I don’t have any real Luddites in the audience, since you have to read MNB on a computer or smartphone)....

    Advertising Age reports on a literary website called TheRumpus.net that has come up with a new business offering - “Letters in the Mail,” which for $5 a month will send “almost weekly” letters from well-known writers including Margaret Cho, Emily Gould, Tao Lin, and Jonathan Ames. These letters will not be posted online (at least not by TheRumpus.com). The bet - and it isn’t a very big financial bet, since all that is required is a photocopy machine, a bunch of envelopes and some stamps - is that there are enough people out there who are interested in good writing and an old-fashioned delivery system that may feel more personal and intimate.

    Of course, Ad Age asks the obvious question: “Is there room for epistolary monetization in a media culture that prizes the immediate and the ephemeral?” The short-term answer: In less than a week, more than 575 people signed up. Which isn’t exactly an explosive triumph, though it certainly suggests that TheRumpus.net may be on to something that could turn into a niche success.

    The Eye-Opening lesson is this. There are lot of ways to reach consumers. There’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned methods...but they have to be practiced in a way that remains aware of practical, commercial realities. Keep this in mind - “Letters in the Mail” may be getting attention right now, but they also are being published by a website that sees this approach as differentiating, a way of putting its own stamp on literary communications.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    The Associated Press reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to close 259 offices around the country, part of an overall effort that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said would save $150 million a year from USDA’s $145 billion budget.

    According to the story, the moves will affect “USDA headquarters in Washington and operations in 46 states. Seven foreign offices also will be shut.” However, USDA insisted that while facilities may be closed, frequency and intensity of food safety-related inspections would not be affected.

    Vilsack said that he did not expect widespread layoffs at USDA.
    KC's View:
    I am all in favor of leaner, more efficient regulatory agencies. I just hope that these cuts won’t mean a less effective USDA. (Not that it is as effective as I would like it to be....)

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    The NewYorkTimes.com writes that the number of health clinics located inside retail stores “jumped 11.2 percent to 1,355 in 2011 after slow growth in 2010 and 2009, according to a report by Thomas Charland, chief executive of Merchant Medicine, which tracks the growth of retail medical care services.”

    This is a marked change from 2010, when the number grew just three percent, and 2009, when the number was stagnant.

    According to the story, “New entrants from the supermarket industry like Safeway are starting to expand rapidly. Walmart is also hoping to become a serious player in the clinic business, seeking proposals from established medical care companies instead of the start-ups it tried working with a few years ago.” And, the story notes, CVS already has committed to increasing its current fleet of 650 Minute Clinics by 100 a year through 2015.
    KC's View:
    Perhaps the concept of instore health clinics is crossing over from being a fad to a legitimate, long-term strategic approach for companies that want to be a resource for shoppers, not just a source of product.

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    The Charlotte Observer reports that Publix plans to open two stores in the Charlotte, North Carolina, market, its first push into that area with two stores just over the border in Fort Mill and Indian Land, South Carolina

    According to the story, “The move could dramatically ratchet up local grocery competition, depending on how many stores Publix eventually opens.”
    KC's View:
    I fully expect that companies already operating in the market, such as Harris Teeter and Food Lion, to rise to the occasion. it’ll make things more interesting for everybody, and be good for shoppers.

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    The Baltimore Sun reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), anticipating a tough series of bargaining sessions with Giant and Safeway, is embracing the “Occupy” movement, launching a website - occupygiantandsafeway.org - to build public support for its positions.

    The union’s contract with the two chains expires at the end of March.
    KC's View:
    Tom McNutt, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, is quoted in the story as saying that while employees have worked hard over the last three decades to make the two grocery chains highly profitable, top executives at the companies are "making the Sheriff of Nottingham look like a saint."

    Gee, that seems helpful.

    I’m sympathetic to people who worry about the diminishing middle class in America, but when a union official positions himself as Robin Hood, I get a little skeptical.

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    USA Today suggests in a story that major consumer-packaged-goods players - from Procter & Gamble to Kraft to Kimberly-Clark - are looking to create brand perceptions that more overtly make people feel good about themselves and their choices.

    Here’s how the paper frames the strategy: “Some will try to make you feel smart for saving money. Some, for saving time. And some for being a tad ahead of the cultural curve. New products are the life blood of brands — making them even more crucial in a topsy-turvy economy. The goal in 2012 isn't just to get you to buy the new product, but also to nudge you to very publicly gloat on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube about how savvy you were to make the purchase.”

    Two interesting passages from the story:

    • “The number of folks who turned to social media as a source to learn about new products more than doubled over just the past year — from 24% in 2010 to 49% in 2011, reports a new study by Sentient Decision Science for Schneider Public Relations.”

    • “The great race to catch the public's fancy with a new food, drink or gadget will almost certainly have fewer entries this year. U.S. product introductions will likely shrink in 2012, projects Mintel, the research giant. They shrank in 2011, too, to about 37,600 vs. roughly 41,000 in 2010, Mintel reports.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    The New York Times reports that the Indian government has decided to allow single-brand retailers - such as Apple, Gap, Ikea and Starbucks - to have total ownership of stores opened there, a move that the Times says is designed “to bolster flagging investor confidence and increase the flow of foreign money to support its slowing economy and the falling rupee.”

    The move comes just a month after “political opposition led the Indian government to indefinitely delay a decision to allow foreign retailers like Walmart into the country” as majority owners of chains, the Times writes.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    ...with the occasional commentary...

    • The Associated Press reports that coffee growers in Hawaii - the only place in the US that grows coffee - is looking for the state legislature there to strengthen labeling regulations for their product.

    According to the story, current state rules require that coffee packages say what percentage of the coffee was grown in Hawaii; to call the coffee Hawaiian, it must be at least 10 percent. Now, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association wants tougher rules that establish the origin and percentage of other coffees in the blend.

    It is noted in the piece that pure Kona coffee can sell for $25 a pound, but that diluting the product and not being transparent about it can only dilute the perception of what should be a differentiated and proprietary product.

    Transparency is all.

    • Whole Foods announced that it is expanding its offerings of organic wines with no sulfites added, and said that it now will be “the only national retailer to carry the first USDA Certified Organic NSA wines from Italy and Spain.”

    Geof Ryan, national wine buyer for Whole Foods Market, said in a prepared statement: "We see more and more interest in these wines from wine enthusiasts who believe NSA wines provide the most pure expression of the grape and from those who have sulfite sensitivities or allergies."

    • The Associated Press reports that “a listeria outbreak that killed 30 people and sickened 146 others might have been avoided if a Colorado cantaloupe processor had followed U.S. guidelines and washed the fruit in chlorinated water, a congressional investigation found.”

    Here’s the interesting paragraph from the story: “The FDA, which oversees produce, doesn't have specific regulations for cantaloupe processing and offers only guidance, the committee said in its report. The agency can't shut a facility for violations and doesn't regulate auditors hired by farms to certify that facilities comply with good safety practices.”

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Nielsen Holdings “has acquired fresh food data consulting firm Perishables Group Inc.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    According to the story, “Nielsen has been buying up other information providers to bolster its ability to offer more-complete retail data it calls ‘total store reporting’.”

    • The Washington Post says that “the main theme of the Consumer Electronics Show this year, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock this week, is the ultrabook. These lightweight laptops are chasing after the MacBook Air, trying to undercut Apple’s $1,000 price tag and add their own flair to the lineup of super-slim devices. Intel, the company behind the chips that make the devices “ultra,” has been pushing this newly named genre hard, announcing in its Monday keynote that at least 75 models are on their way.

    “There are three main distinguishing features of an ultrabook. First, they’re light and thin — really thin. Acer’s Aspire S5 Ultrabook is just .6 inches thick at its widest point, and the HP Envy Spectre 14 is .8 inches thick. Ultrabook makers favor solid-state hard drives that start up quickly and don’t add nearly as much weight to a device as a traditional laptop. Design is the key factor for any ultrabook, and many of the laptops mirror Apple’s devotion to slender, simple, shiny computers. Second, despite their light frames, they’re still most closely related to laptops than to tablets and run full versions of Windows operating systems instead of mobile software. Finally, they have a fairly agreeable price point ... Most more or less match the MacBook Air, ranging from around $900 to $1,500.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    • Published reports say that Linda Dillman, who ran Walmart’s supply chain business as executive vice president/chief information officer before becoming chief information officer at Hewlett-Packard, has returned to retailing - as chief information officer of QVC Inc., the online and television retailer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 11, 2012

    Got the following email from MNB user Craig Espelien:

    I usually do not say much about poor customer service, but I had my first (hopefully not last) experience in an Apple store today – and I would have thought I was at some other electronics store.

    To be fair, my expectations were pretty high.  I have been in multiple stores, never with the intent to buy anything, but have NEVER had anyone even come up and engage me.  Did not mind – as I was not in the market to buy.

    Based on the great write ups, experience our friends have had and your enthusiasm, I am now ready to take the plunge back into Apple products (had a couple of Macs years ago) to replace aging computers and to replace my BlackBerry Storm.  I went into the Mall of America store today – and it was a pretty sorry experience.  I spent about 15 minutes looking a MacBook Pros, doing some comparisons, looking a iMacs (again doing some comparisons) and was never engaged by any of the somewhat sketchy associates (lots of bad haircuts, sloppy dress and overall slacker vibe) before approaching the goof at the front of the store who was much more engaged with his iPad than with helping people.  Instead of helping me, he went to an iPad on the front table and indicated to the cloud that someone needed help.  After about 10 minutes of standing and waiting (and watching five people walk in and get helped while I stood there like an idiot) I left – and told the goof in front that it was a pretty bad display of service.

    I will probably go back – but to another store – and will be letting Apple know that they are VERY close to creating whatever the opposite is of a raving fan.  I am a 50+ non-techy who is pretty understanding of how to navigate technology (up to a point) and I can tell you that the folks that Apple employed at this store certainly turned me off – with their attitude and with their lack of focus on me.

    Thought you might like a counter point to the wonder that is Apple – but they should be embarrassed about this one.


    They should be. I suspect they are.

    We have some Apple folks who read MNB, so I suspect that they’re mortified at the moment. But I recommend that you be loud and persistent with your complaints to Cupertino.

    I’ve never had that kind of bad experience, but I am appalled by what happened to you.

    Here’s the big lesson. This kind of thing can happen to even the most progressive, most highly vaunted retailer - you are only as good as the last customer experience, only as good as the people on the front lines are.

    One thing - I do get what you are saying about the slacker vibe. Depending on the market (the Apple Store in Seattle may be the biggest example of this), the haircuts, clothing, tattoos, and piercings can be a little off-putting to those of us who are a little more traditional in our accoutrements. But I’ve learned to get past that - these folks know a lot more about tech stuff than I do, and I’ve decided that since they don’t seem to be judging me, I’m not going to judge them.



    Another report from the field from MNB user Adam Dill:

    Following your suggestion 5 years ago, we joined Amazon Prime.  We mainly used it for Christmas and Birthday present shopping to save on shipping.  In reviewing our 2011 spending (something my wife just loves when I do), I noticed that our annual “household category” spending at Amazon has passed up our spending at Target.  I pulled out my files from 5 years ago and although our total spending has only increased slightly, we have moved from 100% spending at Target to almost 60% at Amazon.  This might explains why my local Target Manager has stopped talking to me and why I have to give my UPS driver a larger tip each Christmas.  As my wife and I talked about it, we both felt that we have not lost any selection and have most likely saved time by shifting our orders to Amazon.  It also made us wonder how much longer Amazon can offer the Prime membership for only $79…with an average order costing $5 to ship, they have had to have a negative 8.75 ROI on our household.

    And although I am not a teenager, I have found myself using the Amazon PriceCheck app while shopping and ordering many things from Amazon as I am standing in a retail store.  I was at Best Buy over the holidays doing it when one of their employees caught me…he matched the Amazon price and then got the manager to add an additional 5% off.  Feels like the online competition is a win for me.


    Me, too.

    Attention must be paid.
    KC's View: