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    Published on: September 27, 2012

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    You may remember that a few weeks ago, we had a story about how Kraft Foods did an exclusive deal with Target - they were going to make a special Oreo cookie for Halloween, with a vanilla biscuit and a candy corn-flavored filling. And it was just going to be available at Target.

    Now, I try not to eat many Oreos anymore, and it will take all sorts of will power to not eat buckets of candy corn when it comes out around Halloween. But I have to admit, this new Oreo had me intrigued. As I said here on MNB, I felt professionally obligated to try one or two. Market research, y'know?

    So recently, when I found myself near a Target, I pulled my car into the parking lot, got out and went in. I never would have done so otherwise - so on that score, the exclusivity arrangement was doing its job.

    I walked up and down the aisles, searching for the cookie section. I found it. Then, I went looking for the Candy Corn Oreos, and there they were - buried amid all the other various kinds of Oreos, with absolutely nothing done to distinguish them just weeks before Halloween, or to point out that this was a Target exclusive, or anything else.

    There was absolutely nothing done to make distinct something that should have been distinctive. There weren't even any of the Candy Corn Oreos on the various Halloween endcaps and displays. Nothing.

    My point here is not to pick on Target. Because I'd be willing to bet that there are a lot of retailers that would make the same mistake. But I do think it is worth pointing out that when you have something unique, or exclusive, or distinctive, or differentiated, it is your job as a retailer to draw attention to the damned product! Sell, damn it!

    This is hardball. Increasingly, everybody is selling what you sell, and everybody wants a share of your sales and a share of your customers's stomach. You have to fight back to be as differentiated as possible. and while subtlety is to be admired sometimes, this is a case where Target missed the boat.

    For the record, I bought the cookies. Not bad. Tasted more like cake than candy corn, but not bad. And certainly a product that you'd think could be a big Halloween seller, if someone would actually take the trouble to try to sell it.

    Anyway, that's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    New York, the weekly magazine, has come up with an unusual solution to what it views as rising postal costs and slower postal deliveries.

    In Manhattan, to subscribers living in buildings with doormen and to commercial addresses, New York is now being hand-delivered. "Once the rollout is complete,Advertising Age writes, the magazine "will be hand-delivering nearly 60,000 subscriber and complimentary copies to Manhattan addresses," or about "60% of the magazine's file in Manhattan."

    The story says that hand-delivery is competitive with US Postal Service (USPS) rates, and also means that people will actually get the magazine on Monday, or a day earlier than if it were mailed.

    Ad Age also notes that "another weekly, Bloomberg Businessweek, has been using newspaper carriers to deliver many subscriber copies in major urban markets."

    This clearly is a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. And it strikes me as a stopgap measure ... because pretty soon will be able to just go to people online, completely avoiding the USPS issue.

    But it remains an Eye-Opening move.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    The New York Times reports that is launching a new website called that is designed to offer environmentally friendly products.

    According to the story, "Vine is part of Quidsi, the company that Amazon bought in 2010 that also runs sites like (baby stuff), (pets) and (toys). Vine will sell everything from cleaning supplies to baby accessories, beauty supplies and clothes — as long as they are green.

    "That means wildly different things to different people, but Vine has created its own formula. Products must fall into one of the following categories: they must be designed to remove toxins, energy-efficient, natural, organic, powered by renewable energy, reusable, made of sustainable materials or water-efficient."

    The Times goes on to say that "it won’t be obvious on that shoppers are buying from Amazon, just like on other e-commerce sites that Amazon owns, including, and Woot. But it is another instance of Amazon’s spider-like reach in the online retailing world in its quest to sell people anything they want to buy."
    KC's View:
    More than what it says about the green business, this says volumes about the level to which Amazon can differentiate. I can easily imagine it coming up with all sorts of other permutations ... like a store only for products made without GMOs. Or a store for products only made in the USA.

    It is easy for Amazon to do, by drilling down into its data, and can give it an advantage as it competes with more traditional retailers. Which means that traditional retailers have to find a way to fight back and find their own advantages.

    There is, of course, a certain irony that the products being sold on will require an airplane to get them where they need to go. Which may not be the most environmentally efficient way to buy an energy efficient product.

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    The Modesto Bee reports that Raley's, facing tough competition and continuing labor strife, is rolling out its first-ever loyalty program, called Something Extra.

    According to the story, "The centerpiece is a brightly colored customer card around which numerous perks revolve. Raley's touts the program as more tailored to individual shopper habits than a traditional price-discount card like those offered by rival grocers."

    The Bee describes how the program works: "Something Extra awards one point for every dollar spent on eligible products purchased. Extra points can be earned for buying certain items and participating in various promotions ... Points will be awarded to customers in the form of quarterly reward vouchers that can be used toward savings on future purchases ... Personalized offers will be based on customers' purchase history and product preferences, as well as perks for participating."

    "This represents a paradigm shift that has occurred in our own thinking," said Mike Teel, Raley's president/CEO, in a prepared statement. "In the past, much of what we did was based on what the manufacturers wanted. From this day forward, we're going to be customer-driven, doing what they want."

    Something Extra was developed with dunnhumbyUSA.
    KC's View:
    I continue to believe that the companies that know the most about their customers, and then use that information judiciously and effectively, will be the ones that will have the greatest advantages.

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    The National Restaurant Association (NRA) yesterday said that it opposes the terms of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit by a consortium of retailers against MasterCard and Visa over interchange swipe fees.

    "After careful and deliberative considerations, the National Restaurant Association Board of Directors’ Executive Committee decided unanimously to reject the proposed settlement agreement on interchange swipe fees," said Dawn Sweeney, president/CEO. "There is strong concern that the proposed settlement agreement will not achieve the litigation’s most critical goal – to fundamentally change a broken marketplace in which swipe fees are set."

    Among the other institutions that have come out against the settlement are the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the National Grocers Association (NGA), the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), Walmart, and Target.
    KC's View:
    Dead settlement walking.

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    McDonald's is developing its own television network, called the M Channel, which is designed to "offer exclusive content to entertain customers" as well as to "create promotional and sales opportunities" for other companies looking to access its customer base. As it develops, the channel also hopes to offer customized content, using local TV stations for reports on things like local high school football games.

    According to an Associated Press story, "The pilot project, which began testing in scattered Western outlets two years ago, recently completed expansion to all McDonald's California outlets from San Diego north to Bakersfield ... M Channel could expand to the roughly 14,000 McDonald's nationwide within 18 months of getting the 'go' from the company and franchisees." To date, the project has cost an estimated "tens of millions of dollars," the story says.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    FedEx, facing the erosion of at least some of its overnight document business, now is getting into the computer repair business, offering the service to a number of corporate clients.

    USA Today writes that "FedEx, which reported annual revenue of $43 billion in 2011, has been fixing its own technology gear for 30 years," and now is using the same unit to offer outside repairs. The story says that the "focus initially is on capturing a chunk of business from the enterprise market. But FedEx hopes to expand to small businesses and eventually consumers, especially those who drop in daily to the 1,900 FedEx Office locations worldwide."
    KC's View:
    Hasn't UPS been doing this for a long time? Doesn't really matter ... it just shows how businesses can and should adapt to changing circumstances.

    Published on: September 27, 2012

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

    • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that "Sunland Inc., which had announced a voluntary recall of its peanut butter and almond butter, has now expanded that recall to include its cashew butter, tahini and other products, the company announced Wednesday." According to the story, Sunland "recalled the products after one its products was linked to a salmonella outbreak at Trader Joe’s groceries ... The Sunland recall affects more than 100 products manufactured between May and Sept. 24. Four hospitalizations have been linked to the contaminated products."

    • The Fayetteville Observer reports on how more than 60,000 people have gone on a website called to urger major retailers - including Walmart, Target, Costco, Safeway and Walgreen - to pull off their shelves “Waggin' Train” brand chicken jerky dog treats, which were made in China and have been linked to hundreds of dog deaths.

    According to the story, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)"revealed they've received reports of more than 2,200 cases of illness, including 361 deaths, in pets link to chicken jerky dog treats made in China." However, to this point the FDA has only issued warnings, which led the consumers to start a grass-roots campaign to get the product pulled from the market.

    • You'd think they were selling iPhones.

    Bloomberg reports that Starbucks said yesterday that it has sold out of some of its new Verismo single-serve, latte-making coffee makers, though they are expecting a new shipment that should alleviate concerns about a consumer panic.

    The company says that it should have plenty for the upcoming holiday season.

    I'm kidding about the consumer panic. I think.

    Reuters reports that Dean Foods has confirmed that it "is weighing a sale of its Morningstar division in what could lead to a break-up of the largest dairy company in the United States.." Dean previously said that "it planned to spin off its WhiteWave segment, which sells Silk soy milk and Horizon Organic dairy products." The overall goal - "maximize shareholder value."

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports how Pete's Fresh Market, an area independent that got permission to buy city-owned land on the west side as a way to address what is perceived as a lack of neighborhood grocery stores, is facing fresh problems - what appears to be a series of shakedowns by locals who came to the site, asked for construction jobs, and threatened violence if none were provided.

    Sounds like something out of "The Godfather" or "The Sopranos." So much for putting an oasis in the middle of a food desert...
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    • Joseph Saker, the founder and chairman of Foodarama Supermarkets (now Saker ShopRites), and an early member of Wakefern Food Corp., passed away Sunday. He was 83.

    Saker also helped start the Academy of Food Marketing and Food Marketing Educational Foundation at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, one of the few business programs dedicated to the supermarket industry.  Joseph Saker had served as a past chairman and member of the Board of Governors of the organization.

    • Andy Williams, the crooner who hosted an extraordinarily popular variety show on NBC during the mid-sixties, had 18 gold records and three platinum records, and had late in life turned into an institution with a theater in Branson, Missouri, died yesterday after a bout with bladder cancer. He was 84.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a Reuters report that a gender discrimination class action suit against Costco has been certified by a US district court judge, and will be allowed to proceed.

    The story said that "three women plaintiffs say Costco's promotion system has a disparate impact on women employees who seek advancement to general manager and assistant general manager," and they sought to have the class action expanded to represent 700 people. One of the reasons that the judge said that the Costco suit is different from a gender discrimination suit against Walmart, which did not get class action certification, is that the Walmart suit was much broader, seeking to represent a whopping 1.5 million people.

    I commented:

    Or, maybe Costco needs to get better lawyers.

    Which led MNB user Pamela Hesselbacher to write:

    Read your column every day and love it.  While I don’t believe you did so intentionally, your commentary on the Costco Gender Bias Suit came off as a bit dismissive to the very large and very real issue of gender discrimination in the workplace.  I’m guessing/hoping that you were being tongue-in-cheek in implying that mega-corporations could make their problems “disappear” with enough money and the right legal team.

    The sad reality is that they can and do often get away with discrimination this way.  Instead of suggesting that Costco get better lawyers, perhaps you could have suggested that Costco and the likes start treating all of their employees with respect, regardless of gender.  That way, there’s no need for these class act lawsuits in the first place.  Or, make use of the notation so your feminist readers like myself don’t get all fired up when you make light of a serious issue.

    You're right - I was being tongue-in-cheek.

    There's nothing funny about a gender discrimination case.

    Without prejudging either the Walmart or the Costco cases, I've always wondered this about the companies where gender discrimination is practiced or tolerated: Is it possible that the men who work there did not have mothers or sisters or wives or daughters?

    Because that is the only way to explain why someone would discriminate against any woman.

    My apologies if it seemed like I was taking a serious issue too lightly. Though, to be honest, I sort of see making jokes about serious issues to be part of my job description.

    I wrote yesterday about a Wall Street Journal story concerning how a lot of CEOs have Tweeting anxiety. These executives, the story said, avoid Twitter and other forms of social media - "with its demands for quick, unscripted updates that can quickly go viral" - because they are afraid of making mistakes in public forums. However, there is increasing pressure on many of them to be accessible and "authentic," and these days, social media participation can be an important part of that equation.

    I commented:

    At some level, I wonder if this really is about how people define leadership. Some will be comfortable with accessibility and being open to comments from both employees and customers, and others will prefer a more insulated stance. It seems to me, though, that leaders have to define themselves within the context of what their constituencies demand. More and more, those constituencies are going to be demanding more open and engaged leaders.

    MNB user Steve Kneepkens responded:

    Ah, no. Leaders do not have define themselves by the context of their constituents. We need to define ourselves by our values, our ethics and our ownership in in ourselves and the decisions we make.. If that “leads” to a leadership position then it has defined you and you have defined it.

    So- if they are not tweeting – they are not leading? If we now define leadership by how often one is “public” we might as well have Snookie – or whatever her name is – run for President. We don’t need another celebrity President – just like we don’t need celebrity leaders. We need leaders that lead.

    I did not say that if leaders are not Tweeting they are not leading. And I would suggest that it is entirely possible to have values and ethics and a sense of self and still define their leadership styles by being more open and engaged with various constituencies that they want to follow them.

    I'm also not saying that every leader has to follow the same path, and be equally engaged and accessible through such technologies ... just that it seems to me that the direction of the culture demands different things of modern leaders.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    For CEO's there is always going to be exposure navigating the tricky waters of twitter. And if they are ever going to appear relevant, they are going to most certainly make a big gaffe. Guaranteed. It will always happen. But that may just be okay.

    Because here's the thing, tweeting is about spontaneous reactions to life around us. I found it hilarious that Mr. Papadellis was chastised --and censored-- by his communication director for planning a tweet that talked about drinking cranberry juice before eating Sushi blah blah. The idea that he was planning tweets and running them by a director is BIG FAIL #1, but ironically his director stopped him from BIG FAIL #2. Tweeting worthless, self-interested blather hardly speaks to transparency and authenticity ... So long as as CEO's treat twitter as a carefully guarded PR outlet, they probably would be advised to stay away from Twitter."

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Lo and behold.  Tweeting reveals...that CEOs are human and have doubts. 
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2012

    The National Football League yesterday announced that it has reached an agreement with the referees union that will end the lockout and put actual referees back on the field in time for tonight's Baltimore Ravens-Cleveland Browns game.

    The agreement ends a dispute that put substitute referees and a number of apparently blown rulings in the spotlight, especially one last Monday night that appeared to result in the Seattle Seahawks winning a game that should have been won by the Green Bay Packers. (While it was only the third week of the season, the ruling would be meaningful if the Packers, say, were to miss the playoffs by a single game, or the Seahawks got into the playoffs by a single game.)

    The new agreement gives the referees a raise, but also allows the NFL latitude to bench officials who perform poorly. Most importantly, the officials wanted their pension plan to remain funded, a concession they got from the NFL.

    Worth noting, by the way, that the Associated Press reports that "a Las Vegas casino took an unusual step Wednesday and offered refunds to gamblers who lost money when the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers on a controversial touchdown at the end of Monday night's game. Derek Stevens, owner The D Las Vegas, seized on the attention being paid to the much-derided decision by replacement officials handling the NFL game and became the only casino in Las Vegas to offer refunds."
    KC's View:
    The NFL had to get a deal. It was getting pounded from all corners - the networks, the media, and fans, all of whom saw last Monday as the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

    One thing seemed clear. There was no way they could send replacement officials to Green Bay for a game. The NFL had to make a deal.