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    Published on: September 5, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Not to lean too much on Fast Company for inspiration, but let's give credit where credit is due - the magazine consistently offers fascinating and innovative editorial that challenges conventional thinking.

    The current issue has a piece about an organization called FeelGood that was founded in 2004 at the University of Texas at Austin, where a couple of college students decided to start cooking grilled cheese sandwiches and giving them to people who made donations that would be used to address local hunger issues. Within two years, the effort was so successful that the students turned their campus initiative into a nonprofit, "allowing students at universities across the country to open FeelGood grilled cheese delis. All the cash that the students raise goes to two organizations--The Hunger Project and CHOICE Humanitarian--that focus on ending hunger through sustainable practices."

    According to the story, "Students don’t just run FeelGood delis; they also learn about both hunger and entrepreneurship. FeelGood offers three curricula: a changemaker track that teaches leadership, a track that offers lessons on how to run a social enterprise, and a hunger track that 'lets students take a deep dimensional look at the issue of hunger'."

    And, Fast Company goes on: "There are currently 23 chapters of FeelGood at universities across the U.S. Last year, they raised a total of $58,000. The goal for this coming school year: $128,000. It’s ambitious, but we should never underestimate the fundraising power of a well-made grilled cheese."

    Now, some will say that $128,000 isn't all that much when it comes to combatting a national hunger problem. These are baby steps, to be sure. But only an impossible cynic would scoff, in my view. I am cheered by the image of college students around the country creating a private enterprise designed to serve the public good, and learning about leadership and business in the process. And it seems to me that there is a lesson here for business in how to engender trust and good feelings among consumers ... by sometimes thinking beyond the bottom line.

    Here's an idea.

    What if, on one Saturday all across the country, the supermarket industry were to team with FeelGood and sell grilled cheese sandwiches to customers, with all of the profits going to local hunger programs. It would be high profile, might raise a lot of money and awareness, could create connections with these students that might lead to sustainable relationships, and would be just plain fun.

    It would be comfort food to comfort and help the hungry.

    Just an idea...
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    The Associated Press reports that Stanford University researchers have completed a study into whether organic food is better for people who eat it, concluding that "there's little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics ... Eating organic fruits and vegetables can lower exposure to pesticides, including for children, but the amount measured from conventionally grown produce was within safety limits, the researchers reported Monday."

    "I was absolutely surprised," researcher and internist Dr. Dena Bravata tells the AP. "There are many reasons why someone might choose organic foods over conventional foods," from environmental concerns to taste preferences, she said. But when it comes to individual health, "there isn't much difference."

    The story goes on: "The Stanford team combed through thousands of studies to analyze the 237 that most rigorously compared organic and conventional foods. Bravata was dismayed that just 17 compared how people fared eating either diet while the rest investigated properties of the foods themselves.

    "Organic produce had a 30 percent lower risk of containing detectable pesticide levels. In two studies of children, urine testing showed lower pesticide levels in those on organic diets. But Bravata cautioned that both groups harbored very small amounts, and said one study suggested insecticide use in their homes may be more to blame than their food.

    "Still, some studies have suggested that even small pesticide exposures might be risky for some children, and the Organic Trade Association said the Stanford work confirms that organics can help consumers lower their exposure."
    KC's View:
    Predictably, a lot of people in the conventional food business had a "told you so" reaction. And a lot of folks in the organic sector had a "not so fast, things are more complex than that" response.

    Anybody who does not like these conclusions should just wait a few months. Or a few weeks. Because there almost certainly will be a study to come out that will contradict it, or elaborate on it in a way that challenges its conclusions. It's sort of like a city bus ... there will be another one along any time now.

    In some ways, while I find studies like these to be interesting, I'm not sure that they change many minds. People who see value in organics - both in terms of their beliefs about personal health, as well as for their environmental implications - will pay for them when they can. And people who either cannot afford them or don't see their value will not.

    It all becomes about personal choice and belief. And whole one study may say that organics offer fewer benefits than some believe, it does not seem to take a tremendous leap of common sense to suggest that the purer and less processed our food is - and maybe the more local - the better it will taste and the better it will be for us.

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    Talk about flexible pricing models...

    The Wall Street Journal reports on how, "deploying a new generation of algorithms, retailers are changing the price of products from toilet paper to bicycles on an hour-by-hour and sometimes minute-by-minute basis."

    According to the story, "The most frequent price adjustments are occurring among Web stores selling products on Amazon, which encourages ruthless competition between retailers vying for the top spot among search results. Sellers such as children's clothing store Cookie's use software to change prices every 15 minutes in order to stay on top of Amazon rankings ... A goal is to maintain the lowest price - even if only by a penny - so that their products will show up at the top of the search results by shoppers doing price comparisons."

    Of course, as in most things, there is an upside and a downside. The Journal notes that "once the low-price vendor for a particular item sells out, rivals selling the same product can immediately lift their prices without fear of being undercut ... So far, shoppers are winning the price game about as often as they lose—with about half of price changes going down, and half going upward, according to Decide.com, which tracks prices of products over time to determine the best time to buy them."
    KC's View:
    The simple reality would seem to be that if this kind of competition is taking place online, it will have to extend to offline retailers in various venues, which will have to figure out how to play this game if they are going to be competitive.

    Because I'm not sure anymore that there is online competition and bricks-and-mortar competition. There is just competition.

    And ... I can't help myself ... "compete" is a verb.

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that the summer's high beef prices "are just a taste of what is to come," as the drought "has parched pastures and curbed corn, hay and soybean production, driving up the price of feed. Last year, ranchers sold more animals than normal to slaughterhouses rather than pay the high cost to feed them."

    The story goes on: "With supplies trimmed, consumers and wholesalers across the country are facing higher prices. About 12.5 million cattle have entered the supply chain for slaughter this year through July, or 2.3% fewer than for the same period last year. Traders and forecasters are predicting more of the same next year as the nation's total cattle herd has shrunk to its lowest level in 60 years."

    Making things tougher, in the long run, is the fact that "the effects of drought on beef supply take far longer to reverse than they do with other meats." The Journal notes that "chicken producers, for example, can shrink or expand their flocks in a matter of weeks. For hog farmers, such changes take months. The impact from drought on the cattle herd, by contrast, is measured in years. Female cattle produce only a single calf per year."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    CNN reports that responding to the announcement by Toys R Us that it will not charge a fee for end-of-year holiday layaway orders from now until October 31, Walmart said yesterday that it is cutting its layaway service fee from $15 to $5. Toys R Us will charge $5 for layaway orders from November 1 through the holidays.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    The New York Times reports this morning that a number of high-profile diet programs have endorsed NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on the sale of jumbo sugared soft drinks in certain retail venues, a ban that he has said will help battle the city's obesity crisis.

    The support was announced at a press conference yesterday, the Times writes: "There was David Burwick, the president of Weight Watchers North America; Dana Fiser, the chief executive of the weight-loss program Jenny Craig; Dr. Arthur Agatston, the inventor of the South Beach Diet; Dr. Howard Shapiro, the founder of Picture Perfect Weight Loss; Dr. Pierre Dukan, the creator of the protein-based Dukan Diet that has taken France by storm; and Bob Greene, the founder of the Best Life diet regimen, who is best known for being Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer."

    The New York City Board of Health - which is made up predominantly of Bloomberg appointees - is scheduled to vote on the proposal next week.

    According to the story, "Many of the endorsers were careful to frame the proposal not as a restriction on choices but as a way to nudge New Yorkers toward controlling their portion sizes - a tenet of many weight-loss programs."

    Opponents of the proposal continue to maintain that Mayor Bloomberg is typical of a "nanny state" that inappropriately seeks to restrict legitimate personal choices.
    KC's View:
    I've never doubted the good intentions of the folks in favor of this jumbo soda ban. But I cannot get past the idea that it is a bridge too far.

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    Time has a piece on the trend of the month (or maybe the year ... or the decade ... depending on how things work out): Big Data.

    "From healthcare to finance to professional sports, data is being collected and analyzed like never before — but much of it goes on behind the scenes where the average person may not even notice. The retail sector, however, is different. By definition it interacts with average folks in a way that few other industries do, and retailers are interested in learning as much about their customers as they can. In the process, they are radically altering the buying experience for customers — both online and, increasingly, also in the world of bricks and mortar stores.

    "If you’ve done any shopping online recently – you’ve probably already seen Big Data in action. We’ve all experienced it: You go shopping for a pair of shoes online, put them in your virtual shopping cart, but then for some reason change our mind. Afterwards, seemingly every site you visit features an ad for that very pair of shoes at that same online store. The reason? Online retailers can give you a virtual identification number and track you as you go from site to site, and purchase targeted ads for products they already know you’re strongly interested in."
    KC's View:
    You can check out the whole story here, as part of the Time "future of retail" series.

    There would seem to be a simple truth at work here - that knowing more means selling more.

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    The Kroger Co. issued its annual sustainability report yesterday, saying, in part...

    • "Kroger has saved more than 2.34 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, which equals 1.47 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That equates to taking more than 292,000 cars off roads for one year."

    • "Today, one of Kroger’s new stores will consume 30% less energy than a store built in 2000. Kroger has reduced energy consumption thanks to increased use of LED lighting, motion sensors, skylights and control systems that monitor lighting, heating and cooling and refrigeration."

    • "In 2011, the company’s Ralphs/Food 4 Less Division designed and built a unique resource recovery system, which is expected to convert 55,000 tons of unsold organics, annually, into renewable energy that will power its own facility."

    • "In 2011, 19 of Kroger’s 39 manufacturing plants sent 'zero waste' to the landfill."

    • "Kroger was named the most generous company in America by Forbes."

    • "Kroger’s Family of Stores donated the equivalent of 160 million meals to local food banks through our partnership with Feeding America in 2011 ... Together, Kroger vendors and customers raised more than $5.5 million in support of women’s health and breast cancer awareness programs."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • The BBC reports that McDonald's plans to open its first vegetarian restaurant - "near the Golden Temple in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in northern India."

    According to the story, "The chain plans to open another vegetarian outlet in north-western India, near the Vaishno Devi cave shrine in Kashmir, which is a Hindu pilgrimage site that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

    "McDonald's has moved to provide more salads and other healthier foods with less sugar, salt and fat in them, in response to public concerns about diet. In India, its menu is typically 50% vegetarian.

    "Its signature dish in the country is the McAloo Tikki burger, which uses a spiced potato-based filling. It accounts for 25% of total sales."

    I don't know about you, but I'd actually be willing to try that McAloo Tikki burger...

    • The Associated Press reports on how "big chains like J.C. Penney and Lowe’s are trying to wean sale-addicted customers off of sales in favor of everyday low pricing. It’s the biggest shift in pricing in decades, but retailers have a long way to go to convince shoppers that predictable pricing is better than the temporary promotions that they’ve grown to love. In fact, early this year, nearly three-quarters of 1,000 shoppers surveyed by consumer research firm America’s Research Group said it would take discounts of at least 50 percent to get them to buy a given item. That’s up from 52 percent in 2005."

    I am aware that there is a contradiction in two of the stories I have chosen to run this morning ... that here we have retailers trying to move away from price promotion-focused marketing efforts, while we also have online retailers engaging in dynamic pricing that changes by the moment as a way of finding any advantage. Both can happen at once, as different retailers try to develop strategies that will serve them in a sustainable way. (BTW...check out the report from a JCP shopper in "Your Views," below...)

    Reuters reports that Starbucks "is offering consumers a deal this week through daily-deal company LivingSocial, a vote of confidence in Groupon Inc's main rival.
    LivingSocial, part owned by Amazon.com Inc, will offer a $10 Starbucks gift card for $5 on Wednesday. Customers have six months to claim the card, which can be used across the United States."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    Here is the email - from MNB user Roger Cooper, about a JC Penney shopping experience - that I referred to:

    Had the opportunity to shop a JC Penney's this Labor Day weekend at Washington Square in Portland, Oregon. I was with my best retail critic, my wife. She pointed out how much easier it was to shop their store and also she was impressed the new store within in a store concept e.g. the new Levi's department. She likes the new pricing strategy and says they are really on the right track with the current changes.

    She says she will be back as she felt good about the new merchandising feeling in the store. Not being a total stranger to retail operations as she had owned a Hallmark store in her past life.

    I explained what we in the retail have seen and heard of the results at JC Penney's and the pressure on Ron Johnson. Of that she says give the guy a chance!


    You're preaching to the choir here. I'm just not sure that it is a very big choir at the moment.




    In a story about Supervalu management changes yesterday, I commented that whatever new CEO Wayne Sales does, "he absolutely must not give out any more retention bonuses or stock options to the executive team. Because that would undermine any efforts to reinvigorate and create trust within the organization."

    Which led MNB user Michael Julian to write:

    Kevin, I think your comment about a retention bonus is the popular position; however it is difficult to openly state that a public company is for sale and convenience those execs you have promoted to leadership roles to not look for future employment without an incentive. The assumption is that the new CEO has chosen these individuals because he believes they were not responsible for the current problems and that they will be instrumental in the very difficult process of keeping the business together while trying to complete a sale.
     
    If as a shareholder of Supervalu I thought an incentive for key execs that paid off on a successful sale was part of recovering the most value for my investment it would not be hard to support the idea.
     
    I know that the reaction from the majority of the employees would likely be negative, but it is the age old problem of who is management responsible to the shareholders or the employees? It is easy to sit on the sidelines and say both but in a public company for sale I don’t know if that answer works.
     
    This is a complex issue without easy answers.
     
    Mr. Sales has a very difficult job to do.


    Agreed.

    And I get your point.

    I guess my response would be that it would be nice if people at the top would believe and act like the people on the front lines were important - indeed, critical - to the success and sustainability of an organization.




    Got a lot of reaction to yesterday's story about Walmart testing an iPhone application that allows people to scan products while in-aisle, and then pay for their purchases at a central checkout.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I wonder if this is not just another labor saving thing like getting rid of door greeters. Mores self check outs?

    From another MNB user:

    What about...jobs? Technology is becoming a job killer ... Scary stuff but inevitable I guess.

    MNB user Wally Schiek wrote:

    Regarding Walmart's move for customers to check their own purchases and bag them in the aisles, there is no mention of how they will put off the increased opportunity to steal easily.  There must be something that I'm missing.

    Another MNB user expressed the same worry:

    What are stores doing on the security/theft side of things for this.  I really like the idea, but haven’t ever heard any discussion on how stores manage those folks who put the product in a bag without scanning it, etc.

    From still another MNB user:

    Sorry to say I’m not with you on this….I absolutely abhor and will avoid self-checkout like the plague because I am the one that always, always has an issue.  The red light above me goes on alerting the whole front end that I’m a doofus and then I have to wait (with usually a long line behind me) for what seems a lifetime for a manager to come by and fix my problem.  When they can finally make self-checkout idiot proof, then I might consider using it more frequently.

    And from still another reader:

    One thing that wasn’t addressed is the loss of jobs that are realized through self scanning. While I use them myself now and then when I have only a few items, I have to think about who will lose their job whenever I do use them. I hope consumers continue to want the personal touch when checking out. That is, if the customer service is at a level that we want to continue to have.




    We also had a story about how Tesco is expanding into click-and-pick up model in the UK, which led one MNB user to write:

    Why go to the Store? Might as well shop on line and either have it delivered to you or just stop by and pick it up like some are advocating now?? What shame and what a world....

    I'm not sure I would characterize it as a "shame." Rather, it is the circle of life ... and new opportunities will be created even as old business models fade.




    MNB yesterday took note of a Los Angeles Times report on how "many older Americans are delaying retirement and being added to the workforce in record numbers. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans ages 65 and older are working or looking for jobs — the highest in almost half a century."

    The story noted that "the labor participation rates for other age groups have slid since the recession began at the end of 2007, most sharply for younger adults but also for people in their prime working years, their 30s to 50s. The contrasting employment paths of seniors and other age groups reflect a long-term population and lifestyle shift intensified by the recession. And the trend has significant implications for the broader economy."

    The upside of the trend: these older Americans are paying into Social Security, as well as paying income taxes, instead of just taking money out of the system. The downside is that when these older Americans get and keep jobs, that prevents their younger counterparts from landing those same jobs. Since the economy isn't growing at the pace that everyone would like it to, with too few jobs being created, this contributes to continuing unemployment and underemployment problems.

    MNB user Mark Raddant wrote:

    Retirement is of little interest to a lot of us.

    Unlike a lot of younger people who were both spoiled and instilled with the dream of a perfect job they love all the time, may of us older folks actually enjoy working and thinking our butts off and competing—even if our jobs may not be the dream job we might have wished for at one time.

    All the younger folks have to do to get us out of the way is offer more return to the employer for their earnings.  Be aware that often means spending time working when off the clock, researching, taking initiative, showing up early, staying late, and focusing on work while at work, and not on the myriad distractions so many younger folks feel entitled to.

    I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have walked through workplaces and seen Craigslist or eBay showing on screens.


    One note here ... don't assume that those young people on Craigslist or eBay are wasting time. They could be learning more about customer needs or finding business opportunities. (See Michael's column, above.)

    From another reader:

    The media can spin this subject any way they choose…..but the simple fact is that older Americans are working longer because many of them have done such a terrible job of saving money for retirement.   In my work, I see too many Baby Boomers who have reached age 50 or 60 and tell me that they are going to retire when they can’t work any longer.   The simple fact is that these same people have not saved nearly enough for retirement and know they wouldn’t be able to have much more than a subsistence standard of living if they stopped working.   The scary part comes when they have a significant health issue that won’t allow them to continue employment and they have virtually no savings to live on.

    Whether it is because Boomers won’t lower their spending rate, won’t increase their savings rate, or have decided that they are obligated to provide a college education for their kids, too many people have their priorities in the wrong order.  There is such an emphasis on “keeping up with the Joneses” that employees change jobs, cash out their retirement plan assets (rather than rolling them into an IRA or another retirement plan), and pay substantial taxes and penalties in order to be able to get their hands on the money today that is intended for long-term retirement savings.

    There is no doubt that there are people who have had legitimate issues with job layoffs, lousy market returns and a contracting economy who have had to spend retirement assets because they had no other choice.   I’m referring to the people who have been fortunate enough to remain fully employed through the last decade but can’t seem to make it a priority to save money for the future.


    And another reader connected the retirement story to my opening Eye-Opener about Voyager1 being poised to be the first manmade object every to leave our solar system:

    As much as I hope your blog is widely read, during this campaign season, I am also hoping that neither side has time to reply to your employment story. I would much rather hear Voyager 1 is looking for its creator, than another debate on unemployment and the economy. In fact I would also prefer explorers from the future looking for a whale to take back and communicate with aliens.

    Live long and prosper.




    And finally, from MNB user John Parvin:

    Saw your comments on Ron Hodge retirement, and you are right on about Ron.  He hasn't changed in the 26 years I have been here.  He's a down to earth guy who has made Hannaford a better place.  He will be missed by the organization, and by me for sure. 
     
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2012

    by Michael Sansolo

    There’s a strange principle in some areas of technology that has a tremendous corollary to business. Essentially it comes down to this: the more the merrier.

    For instance, when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it was an amazing achievement. Yet it’s even more amazing today when you consider the universality of the phone and the incredible ease with which you can call any corner of the globe. More people getting the technology didn’t diminish it; it enhanced it.

    Not that all of this is easy. In today’s world sharing dominates, shattering the old rules of control and economics. The world is awash in free apps or even free websites like this one that provide (we hope) incredible value for little of no commitment on your part. It may seem crazy - and the plummeting stock price of Facebook may bring more discussion and debate on this topic - but that’s the new world. We’re all just sorting it out.

    But where there should be no debate is in management. Fast Company ran an excellent article recently on the notion of sharing and power. Essentially, the article argued that the best managers and leaders are those who are comfortable with themselves and their positions to share knowledge, opportunity and power. This entire argument has nothing to do with modern times or technology; it’s all about people.

    Great bosses are multipliers who make everyone around them smarter and then reap the benefits of an engaged and high-performing team. Weak bosses diminish those around them, draining the energy and skills of their team. The article outlines three steps to get to the good side of this equation: provide choices, structure jobs to offer latitude and foster accountability.

    There was a time when those in charge - whether of a company or a simple transaction - possessed more information than everyone around them. That day is long gone. Today when you shop for a car, for example, it’s easy to walk into the dealership knowing more than any salesperson did 10 or 20 years ago.

    Likewise, when we interview applicants for jobs we’re aware that they have the ability through assorted websites and social media to know pretty much everything they want about our company. In fact, they may know more that the interviewer. (Conversely, we also are able to know more about them. How many job applicants would be sunk with a quick check of their Facebook pages?)

    It is logical that the best way to engage our staff is to understand the new paradigm of sharing and use it to our advantage as we grow our business.

    In this new world we need to engage associates like never before so we can learn what they bring to the table. Everyone has their own networks, their own bookmarked websites and apps, and no one can monitor it all. By sharing we all learn more, get smarter, stronger and more able to face the present and the future.

    Yet as with so many technologically enabled skills, it begins with basic human needs. So whether or not you read the Fast Company article, ask yourself this hard question: do you diminish or do you multiply? If you said the latter, make sure you keep doing it, but if you said the former, congratulations for your honestly. Now think about how you might be able to change and grow.

    And understand your bad habits are no longer secret. Change isn’t optional.

    You can access the article by clicking here.
    KC's View: