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    Published on: September 14, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Advanced-Television.com reports on a new survey showing that tablet computers are more and more being adopted by older Americans: "Tablet owners 55 and older who watch TV and movies weekly on tablets jumped from 11 per cent last year to 19 per cent in 2012, while owners in the 45-54 range also saw large percentage gains (15 per cent to 24 per cent). The actual number all of older viewers (tablet and non-tablet owners) watching TV shows and movies weekly on tablets more than tripled since last year, though that group is still a small percentage of total tablet TV and movie viewers. Meanwhile, the tablet viewing habits of owners 44 and younger were virtually unchanged over the past year."

    Sometimes, we all make the mistake of thinking that such technological innovations are put in front of older people with the same success as pearls are put in front of swine.

    But it also seems true that older people today are different - they are computer literate, interesting in trying new technologies, willing to experience new things. And I just thought this study about tablet habits was an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    Beef Products Inc., which until a few months ago was a primary purveyor of the product called lean, finely textured beef - better known as "pink slime" - is suing ABC News, saying that the network engaged in "false and misleading and defamatory" journalism that created the illusion that the filler was unsafe, which resulted in the company losing 80 percent of its business, closing three of its four US plants and firing 700 employees.

    South Dakota-based BPI is seeking $1.2 billion in damages. The suit names a number of individuals as defendants, including Diane Sawyer, the network's chief anchor, correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley, as well as Gerald Zirnstein, the USDA microbiologist who coined the term "pink slime," Carl Custer, a former federal food scientist, and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance manager who was interviewed by ABC.

    According to the Associated Press, "Critics worry about how the meat is processed. Bits of beef are heated and treated with a small amount of ammonia to kill bacteria, a practice that has been used for decades and meets federal food safety standards." BPI maintains that "ABC ignored that information, instead giving the impression 'that it's some type of chemical product ... some kind of repulsive, horrible, vile substance that got put into ground beef and hidden from consumers'."

    ABC News, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., said it will vigorously defend itself in the suit.

    The AP writes that the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, declined to comment and attempts to reach Foshee were unsuccessful. Zirnstein said that he "is just a scientist giving my opinion," and referred questions to his attorney.

    And, AP reports, "The Food Integrity Campaign, a whistleblower advocacy group that has worked with Foshee, said in a statement Thursday that Foshee was fired from BPI because he refused to participate in the company's 'misrepresentation of the product's safety to the USDA and to consumers ... 'Doing so took enormous courage for which they should be honored, not attacked. We believe that this product is questionable'."
    KC's View:
    The pink slime issue, in the end, is more about what people did not know, as opposed to what BPI did.

    It seems to me that one of the things that the food industry has to grapple with is the notion that people simply want basic, accurate information - or at least want it available, even if they don't use it.

    I'm not even suggesting here that BPI was doing something wrong; that's a different discussion. And I recognize that this kind of disclosure creates all sorts of problems and challenges for companies.

    But this strikes me as a new reality. Define yourself accurately, or someone else will define you, and perhaps in ways that could cause enormous damage.

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    The New York Times reports that while it does not surprise anyone that bioengineering companies such as Monsanto and DuPont are spending "are spending millions of dollars to fight a California ballot initiative aimed at requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods," it is somewhat surprising that "the companies behind some of the biggest organic brands in the country — Kashi, Cascadian Farm, Horizon Organic — also have joined the antilabeling effort, adding millions of dollars to defeat the initiative, known as Proposition 37.

    "Their opposition stands in sharp contrast to smaller, independent organic companies, which generally favor labeling products that contain genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.’s. And it has raised a consumer reaction on social media that has led some of the organic brands to try to distance themselves from their corporate parents ... The uproar highlights the difference between large organic brands that have driven the double-digit growth of the organic market and the smaller, independent businesses and farms that most shoppers envision when they buy an organic peach or shampoo ... Americans, however, are becoming much more aware of the role that food plays in their health and well-being, and consequently want much more information about what they eat, including whether it contains genetically engineered ingredients as well as salt and trans fats. So far, opponents of Proposition 37 have committed roughly $25 million to defeat it, with the largest contributions coming from Monsanto ($4.2 million) and DuPont ($4 million), which have made big investments in genetically engineered crops."

    Proponents of the initiative are expected to spend roughly half that much to support it.

    The Times notes that "although certified organic products are prohibited by law from containing genetically engineered ingredients, organic companies generally favor the labeling law, contending that consumers have a right to know what is in the products they buy. What is left unsaid is that it may also be a marketing advantage for organic companies, distinguishing them from conventional food producers."

    The thing is, because Kashi is owned by Kellogg Co., Horizon is owned by Dean Foods, Stonyfield Farm is owned by Dannon, and J. M. Smucker Company owns a number of organic brands, there is a sense that some sort of struggle of conscience taking place - the bigger entities oppose the initiative while the organic subsets favor it, though in some cases even the companies that philosophically agree with Proposition 37 think that such regulation ought to take place at a national level, not on a state-by-state basis.

    The Times reports that just this week, "Whole Foods, the retail mecca of the organic and natural foods movement, said it supported the California proposal, though with some reservations over the details - and without putting any money into the effort in accordance with its policy, a spokeswoman said."

    California Grocers Association President Ronald K. Fong testified yesterday before a California Legislature Joint Informational Hearing, saying that if approved, Proposition 37 would create a litigation nightmare for grocery retailers. The initiative, he said, isn't "really about the ‘right to know,’ but is about the ‘right to sue.’ And when it is time to sue, grocery retailers will be on the front line."
    KC's View:
    I was chatting with a senior executive in a California chain yesterday, and this person told me that regardless of one how feels about Proposition 37, it remains an indisputable fact that people want to be able to better connect the food they eat to the sources of that food. This trend is only going to gain momentum, and it is a reality that companies need to accept and to which they must adapt.

    I think it is fascinating to see how some organic companies are having to deal with the fact that their corporate owners may have priorities different from theirs; that sometimes is the price of having access to greater opportunities. And it strikes me as an entirely legitimate argument that such regulations need to be federal, not state-by-state.

    But I also suspect that the people arguing for a national solution may, if they win this debate, will suggest down the road that the federal government has no business intruding in such a manner.

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    As expected, the New York City Health Department voted yesterday to impose a ban on the same of jumbo sugared beverages - larger than 16 ounces - by the city's restaurants, mobile food carts, delis and concessions at movie theaters and stadiums, effective March 12, 2013. The city said it would begin issuing citations and imposing $200 fines to violators as of next June.

    The vote was 8-0, by a board that is made up of officials appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first proposed the ban.

    While the ban does not affect supermarkets and convenience stores, it could affect the sizes of containers sold by those two retail segments.

    Proponents of the ban say that it has the potential to impact the city's obesity rates. Opponents - who say they are looking at the possibility of a court challenge to the ban - say it inappropriately and illegally restricts consumer choice.
    KC's View:
    I've always felt that this is a bridge too far in terms of regulation. I accept that the motivations are rooted in compassion and concern, but education is always better than restriction.

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    MarketWatch reports this morning that Apple Inc. "appeared to have sold out of its initial inventory of the iPhone 5 just an hour after it began accepting preorders Friday, suggesting strong consumer interest in the new device.

    "The Cupertino, Calif. company's website began accepting preorders Friday shortly after midnight Pacific time. Within an hour, however, the company's website indicated that shipping times had slipped from an expected delivery on the device's launch day, Sept. 21. Preorderers were told their iPhone 5s would be available to ship in two weeks."

    It was just a few days ago that some economists were predicting that iPhone 5 sales could actually have an impact akin to that of an economic stimulus package.
    KC's View:
    An MNB reader wrote in yesterday busting my chops a bit for not spending any time yesterday reviewing the new iPhone 5, and wondering if I had placed my order yet.

    I won't be getting one anytime soon; I have a six-month-old iPhone 4S, and don't need to upgrade. Mrs. Content Guy needs a new phone, though, and she'll be annoyed to find out that there could be delays in getting one.

    I have to admit that I am amused by some of the criticism that Apple did not offer any enormous surprises with its announcement on Wednesday. There has been so much speculation and so many leaks over the past few months, it would have been virtually impossible to create that kind of surprise.

    That's the price of success. I also think that it'll only be a couple of months before we start hearing speculation about what the iPhone 6 is going to be like...

    Published on: September 14, 2012

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

    USA Today this morning is rolling out the first major redesign of the paper in 30 years, updating a look that revolutionized the newspaper business when it first appeared three decades ago.

    At the same time, the Gannett-owned paper is overhauling its website that, as Advertising Age reports, "it hopes will produce a more fluid, app-like experience that some would say resembles the Flipboard mobile app."

    The key seems to be creating a more integrated newspaper-website experience, which is a good metaphor for what bricks-and-mortar stores need to do when thinking about their online presence.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    • Johnson & Johnson named Sandra E. Peterson, the chairwoman and chief executive of Bayer CropScience, to be its new consumer health group worldwide chairwoman and will be responsible for overseeing consumer companies.

    According to the New York Times, Peterson "will be responsible for the company’s consumer units, which are responsible for some of Johnson & Johnson’s best-known products, like Band-Aid and Tylenol, but which are also still working to return popular brands to the shelves after a series of embarrassing recalls. Johnson & Johnson is under a consent decree with the Food and Drug Administration in which it has promised to overhaul operations at the three manufacturing plants that make its over-the-counter products."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    Got the following email from MNB user Elizabeth Archerd, responding to my note that someone asked me the other day if I think that organics are a fad.

    Here are definitions of fad from three online dictionaries:

    "A fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time; a craze."

    "A temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group."

    "An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, esp. one that is short-lived; a craze."

    The founder of the modern organic agriculture movement died in 1947.

    I've made my living since 1981 at an organic grocery cooperative, during which time I've been told repeatedly that organic is "just a fad" while the industry grew to billions of dollars of annual production in the USA alone.

    If organic is a fad, it has stretched the definition of "fad" beyond recognition.


    Agreed.

    MNB user Mike Franklin added:

    It’s all about eating as close to the sun as possible. Food in its original form, with original natural intent.

    Time, Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and processing moves the food away from the sun and away from the natural intention of the plant. Organic isn’t a fad…it is simply getting back to the original way of consumption…






    Got the following email from MNB user Paul Schlossberg about my story regarding Starbucks rolling out coffee vending machines across the UK:

    The challenge for brands is being available when the customer/shopper is thirsty or hungry. It's the "immediate consumption" categories. That describes foods/beverages consumed, usually with 15-45 minutes of purchase. Coca-Cola calls it W-A-R. They want their products to be Within Arm's Reach when someone is thirsty.

    You're commenting about a coffee company extending the number of deployment points for their brand. Vending machines can (now) deliver really good coffee. It is no longer the "brown flavored-water" of years ago. There is a new level of highly sophisticated technology for brewing coffee. Alternatives for the coffee include: freshly ground beans; super-concentrated liquid base; pods.

    Depending on the site/location population and traffic, the decision can be made to deploy either (a) a full-service operation, (b) any one of a wide variety of coffee brewing kiosks or (c) a vending machine. You can match the equipment and investment to the sales potential at a site.

    Think about the converse for a moment. Brands are launching retail stores, better described perhaps as foodservice outlets. In yogurt it's Dannon and Chobani. It's Unilever in tea. Or Barilla in pasta. And don't forget the Weber Grill Restaurant in Chicago. There will be more.

    Vending can, and should be, an active channel opportunity for brands. This means immediate consumption foods, snacks and beverages. It comes down to getting the brand closer and closer to the shopper.

    Companies should extend their reach and branding impact with well-targeted vending initiatives. The key is to design the "solution" to reach the target shopper, especially the brand's SHU's (super heavy users) away from home.





    I had a story yesterday about how Kroger is testing clothing sales, and referred to this as the "schmatte" business. ("Schmatte" meaning clothing in Yiddish.)

    Which led MNB user Mary Manning to write:

    As a former apparel merchant (at Kroger no less) I was a little surprised at the word "schmatte" in your article today.

    I know your writing well enough that you wouldn't use the word in its derogatory meaning on purpose, so I assume you meant it in its neutral meaning.

    But in the "rag trade" I think this means bad clothing, literal rags. If someone told me I sold schmatte, I'd be offended.


    I grew up working my way through school in the schmatte business … and the people I worked with never imparted to me the notion that the word carried any sort of derogatory meaning. And let me tell you, we were not selling rags…

    But to be clear, no disrespect was meant.




    On another subject, an MNB user wrote:

    Today’s article on Kroger’s strategy for battling Walmart included the following statement:
     
    "Also, customers told Kroger they don’t like waiting in line, something Kroger apparently did not already know. So Kroger spent several years addressing that problem and now says it has successfully cut customer wait time at checkout from 4 minutes to 30 seconds.”
     
    Speaking as one who spent 10 years in the business and over 50 years waiting in lines (not continuously, although sometimes it feels like it), on the face of it that is one of the most ludicrous statements I have ever heard.  What possible metric could be used to make that claim?  Heck, it takes at least that amount of time if you buy only a pack of chewing gum in the “10 items or fewer” line.  If you have a week’s worth of groceries and are standing third in line behind two other customers with a week’s worth of groceries you’re going to wait what? . . . a minute and a half?  Factor in the speed of the “Express” line is faster than the other lines, then if the overall average is going to be 30 seconds those express lines must be moving at the speed of light.

    I have no problem with a little hyperbole, but this really stretches credulity, no?  What am I missing?





    Regarding McvDonald's decision to post calorie counts on all its US menu boards, one MNB user wrote:

    I rarely go to McDonalds but went last night with my daughters to redeem a free coupon for a happy meal.  Happy that the meal came with apples, milk and a very small portion of fries.  Also happy that the menu had calorie counts.  Not so happy when I realized how many calories were in almost everything I was planning on ordering.  I ended up not getting anything as I knew that I could get something healthier at home.  And I’m an active guy who doesn’t count calories.  While I applaud them for providing this info, I do wonder how it will impact their sales. 

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Great idea posting calories which again will put the responsibility of eating properly back onto the consumer where it belongs and had always belonged. Obesity prevention cannot be regulated by government. People need to be accountable. Can we say "sugar tax" ???? Stupid !!!

    From another MNB user:

    I think McDonalds can use transparency to leverage its position and at the same time prove a powerful point about the abandonment of personal responsibility in this country. If I were them I would post the exact calorie count of everything on the menu. Then, when sales take little to no hit I would take the attitude of “see, I told you so” and begin a campaign of suing the local and federal governments over the cost of establishing that information campaign. I would then take the money won by those suits and offer free cheeseburgers to the homeless as an act of charity and in a stroke of delicious irony I would call them “Obamaburgers”. I’m kidding here, but you can see my frustration.

    Like your posted comment before “going to McDonalds for a salad is like going to a prostitute for a hug.” Customers in this country aren’t as dumb as the government would assume. They simply have a level of apathy that prevents them from listening to that voice in their head that says “this is the wrong decision”. You don’t need McDonalds to tell you that a Big Mac is bad for you and you shouldn’t need a government program funded by taxpayer dollars to tell you that eating a Big Mac every day is an unwise choice.
     
    Today legislation like the Affordable Care Act is all about “providing education” and “looking out for those in need (cough cough)”. But I don’t think the government is that stupid. As soon as they have proof that the education thing isn’t working they will begin to legislate exactly what you’re allowed to eat or do or think because clearly we’re incapable of being educated and we need big brother to tell us what to do.
     
    Obama: “What? We made them post calorie counts and people still eat at McDonalds? That’s an eye-opener!”


    Wow.

    I'd suggest that this email makes some leaps in logic, except that I don't find much logical in this email.

    There is an enormous difference between telling people what is their food and telling them what they can and can't eat. And I think when people suggest that one will inevitably lead to another, it strains credulity....




    The NYC ban on sugary soft drinks got the following reaction from an MNB user:

    This is the dumbest law ever. The everyday consumer is punished for what others should be held accountable  for in the first place...! However, it is a way for poorly managed liberal cities to make money....

    I'd be a little careful calling New York City a "poorly managed city." It is, after the all, the city that is the center of the known universe ... and I think that considering its size and complexity, it is an exceptionally run city.

    However, it did allow the reader to take a shot at liberals...




    Finally, thanks to all the MNB readers who noticed and liked the quick reference yesterday to "F Troop." That's the kind of stuff I live for...

    BTW...I noticed yesterday on Wikipedia something I did not know. On "F Troop," the Indian tribe was called the Hekawi, reportedly because members of the tribe once fell off a cliff and asked, "Where the heck are we?" But before the network censors got involved, the tribe originally had another name.

    The Fugawi.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears 23-10.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 14, 2012

    Sometime, I just get lucky.

    While in Florida this week, I met up with the mystery novelist Bob Morris for a drink at Prato, a terrific bistro in Winter Park, Florida. I've gotten to know Bob a bit because of some mutual interests, and I first met him because I was fascinated by his publishing of collected travel and food columns exclusively as e-books. (You can read or watch the piece I did about him on MNB here.)

    Hang out with Bob, and inevitably the food and drink are going to be pretty good. Or better. On this day, they were better. At Prato, he introduced me to Maduro Brown Ale, from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, which is a fabulously rich beer, all silky and chocolate, and perfect with the most amazing Bianco Pizza, made with marscarpone, taleggio, gorgonzola dolce, and candy stripe figs - it had this extraordinary combination of sweetness and spice, and was just wonderful.

    While we were chatting Bob introduced me to James and Julie Petrakis, who are chef/owners of two local restaurants, The Ravenous Pig (which apparently has a great reputation) and Cask & Larder, which just opened last week. And so, the next night, purely in the interest of research and scientific exploration - and because it was almost five o'clock and I was thirsty, I went with friends of mine to Cask & Larder, figuring that we'd help out the new place.

    They didn't need our help. While the bar wasn't very busy when we got there, within a half-hour the place was packed; regular customers of the Ravenous Pig seemed to be anxious to spread their patronage to the new joint in town. I can't speak for everyone, but I suspect that nobody was disappointed.

    The owners call Cask & Larder a "Southern Public House," and I'm perfectly happy to accept that description ... though I never would have thought that it would be a Southern Public House where I would first eat grilled lamb heart, served with popcorn grits, peaches, sorghum and roasted peanuts. That's right - grilled lamb heart. The good news is that it does not come to the table with the ventricles still pumping. The better news is that it is about as tender a dish as I've ever eaten in my life, with a wonderfully smoky taste to it. Equally good was the roasted black grouper, served with bacon-corn succotash and smoked ham hocks.

    It gets even better. (Yes, my research continued. The things I do for MNB...)

    They make their own beer at Cask & Larder, and while I heartily recommend the sampler because, well, that's just the best way to get a taste of everything, I am here to report that the Olde Southern Wit, a Belgian-style wheat beer with just a hint of coriander, may in fact be the best wheat beer I've ever had ... and perfect to compensate for the hot and steamy temperatures.

    All in all, I must tell you that Winter Park strikes me as the kind of place that would be found at the end of my personal rainbow. The hell with pots of gold; I'd prefer fantastic beer and food, like the kind they serve at Cask & Larder and Prato.

    Like I said, sometimes I get lucky.




    Regular readers of MNB will know that I am enthusiastically awaiting the release of Skyfall, the new James Bond movie scheduled to open in early November. Well, a friend sent to me a 90 second movie clip that mashes together chase scenes featuring all of the actors who have played James Bond ... and I suspect you might like it as much as I did. Check it out here.




    Another must-see for the fall: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis as the 16th president of the United States. Check out the intriguing trailer, just out today, here.




    Finally finished watching "Homeland" on Showtime this week, and I can tell you with great confidence that this show is every bit the worthy successor to "24," which it resembles in some ways. (It should; both shows share a producer.) It is one of those rare programs where you spend half your time trying to figure out different characters' motivations, and the other half being surprised when things go in a different direction. The acting is great, the writing is sharp, and the whole thing shows you why so many TV programs these days are better than much of the stuff in the movie theaters.

    The second season begins at the end of September, and I'm glad to be caught up. Just FYI...the first season is available both on DVD and on-demand on many cable systems.




    That's it for this week. have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Slainte!
    KC's View: