retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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.


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!”


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: