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    Published on: December 14, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Los Angeles Times reports that women now account for more than half the US population with drivers' licenses.

    That alone should not be much of a surprise, considering that there are more women than men in the US.

    But, the story says, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute believes that this trend has "big implications" for American cars and roads.

    Women tend to buy smaller, safer, more fuel-efficient cars than men, the Institute says, as well as tending to drive less and have a lower road fatality rate than men.

    And so, despite the old saw that women are worse drivers than men, it looks like America's roads are actually getting safer. (They may have a way to go, however, since men still account for 59 percent of all miles driven. That percentage is dwindling, though, and so eventually it seems inevitable that women also will be driving more miles than men.)

    It is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that among the two dozen companies said to be bidding on the assets of Hostess Brands, the bankrupt snack food company that makes Twinkies, Wonder Bread, Hostess CupCakes, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos.

    "A few of the bids are for all the assets, some are for just the cakes or breads businesses, and others are interested in individual Hostess plants or products, according to the person. Other first-round bidders include Grupo Bimbo SAB and Alpha Baking Co.," a source tells Bloomberg.

    Hostess is in its second bankruptcy, but decided to liquidate its assets after it could not come to an agreement with the striking baker's union.
    KC's View:
    One would expect that bakery and snack companies, plus some private equity groups, would be interested in acquiring some or all of the Hostess assets. But Walmart and Kroger are interesting entrants in the sweepstakes ... I don't know if they would make them proprietary brands that they would not make available to other retailers, or would sell them to other chains, figuring that a revenue stream is a revenue stream.

    But there's no question in my mind that they'd bring a level of marketing expertise and distribution efficiency that seemed to elude the Hostess management.

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune has a story saying that "this year's big run up in corn and soybean prices - courtesy of a searing U.S. drought - has put the state's and the nation's livestock industry on its heels. The reason is that feed is the primary cost in raising animals, and it's made mostly from corn and soybeans ... The feed squeeze is showing up at the supermarket, as well. Beef prices have been soaring since 2011 - when drought first hit the cattle industry - and chicken prices have been rising at a steady clip this year."
    KC's View:
    So we should think of this as the livestock feed cliff. As it looks like we may go off the fiscal cliff, which will mean that taxes will go up on everybody, buying food - or at least various kinds of meat - will cost more money.

    Gee, that ought to be good for the economy.

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    USA Today reports on how Nestlé Waters North America is being sued in Illinois for selling Ice Mountain spring water described in marketing materials that said, ""Imagine having fresh, great-tasting spring water right in your home or office any time you want it." The problem is that it didn't come from anyplace called Ice Mountain - it came from Chicago's municipal water supply.

    "'Nestlé Waters' failure to disclose this critical fact caused consumers to purchase five-gallon jugs that they wouldn't have otherwise purchased ... and caused consumers to pay more' than the pennies per gallon that tap water costs, alleged a Chicago Faucet consumer complaint filed Oct. 10 in Illinois federal court. The case echoes allegations in a previous case against Nestlé Waters, which sells Ice Mountain and other popular U.S. bottled water brands, including Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ozarka, Calistoga, Zephyrhills and Nestlé Pure Life."

    According to the story, the increasing popularity of bottled water "has also come with concern, criticism and legal battles. The Illinois case is the latest in a series of lawsuits and reports in the last decade that have focused on the sources, labeling, health safety, cost, government regulation and environmental issues surrounding major companies in the $11 billion-a-year U.S. bottled-water market ... Nestlé Waters has moved to dismiss the lawsuit, in part by arguing that FDA regulations for bottled water supersede state consumer laws."
    KC's View:
    From a consumer point of view, I have to say that I am completely sympathetic to the folks who have filed the suit. I don't think anyone is breaking any laws, but I am troubled by the fact that bottled water sometimes is nothing more than filtered tap water. Very simply, when I buy bottled water, I would avoid brands that I felt were being disingenuous.

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    Internet Retailer reports that has "launched a Facebook application that offers shoppers gift suggestions based on the information those consumers share on the social network." Called "Friends & Family Gifting," the application is designed to allow users "to organize their gift lists, find gift ideas and receive reminders of their friends’ birthdays and special occasions, as well as share gift lists via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or e-mail. Payment network MasterCard Worldwide is sponsoring the application."

    The story notes that Amazon's effort follows in a path already walked by Walmart and CafePress, but goes farther by "enabling shoppers to access consumers’ Amazon wish lists. Moreover, consumers can also use the tool’s manual option to enter information for children under 13, who are too young to be on Facebook."

    And, Internet Retailer writes, "The application’s launch comes just a day after Facebook announced that it has rolled out Facebook Gifts to all U.S. consumers. The tool enables U.S. shoppers to buy presents for friends on the social network."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    It was just a week ago that...

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr., editor in chief of the Wine Advocate newsletter, plans to phase out the print version and turn it into an entirely electronic publication, possibly by as soon as the end of 2013. Parker tells the paper that he will "offer incentives to print subscribers to make the change to an online-only format," and may even "offer them Kindles."

    That was Monday. By Friday, Parker changed his mind.

    Following what was called an "outcry" via postings on the Wine Advocate website, Parker said that the newsletter will continue to have a print version for the foreseeable future.

    Plans for Parker to step down as editor and sell a "substantial" interest in the newsletter seem to be moving forward, however.
    KC's View:
    In this case, it wasn't chilled wine that was on Parker's mind. It was cold feet.

    The move to pure digital distribution is inevitable for most print publications. But having the courage to move, and figuring out the timing, is something else.

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    Advertising Age reports that as of yesterday, a new Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rule called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM) says that television commercials "can no longer be louder than the programs they interrupt."

    According to the story, the issue isn't always one of volume, but rather context. Television programs usually have a broader palette of sounds, while commercials often are shown using the maximum volume allowed for broadcast television. Now, with the CALM rules, the FCC is mandating that commercials use "the same average volume as the programs they accompany."
    KC's View:
    I think we can all give a sigh of relief, now that the FCC will begin enforcing these important rules.

    No, seriously.

    There are a lot of legitimate complaints that can be made about how and where the government issues intrusive and unnecessary regulations. But this is one of those quality-of-life issues that I'm thrilled that the government has stepped in to address.

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that "November retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.8 percent seasonally adjusted from October and increased 4.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year. With this news, NRF is still expecting holiday sales to grow 4.1 percent over last holiday season."

    “Stable employment rates, lower gasoline prices and a recovering housing market have all contributed to a holiday shopping season that is on target to meet our original expectations,” says NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “American consumers are expected to spend cautiously as they monitor the situation in Washington and wrap up their holiday shopping lists.”
    Reuters reports that as expected, Coinstar-owned Redbox is ready to launch its instant video streaming service, which designed to compete with a similar service offered by Netflix.

    The service will cost $8 per month for unlimited streaming, matching the Netflix price, but also will include four one-night DVD rentals per month from Redbox kiosks. That is seen as an advantage to Redbox, though Netflix has a bigger library of films and TV programs.

    According to the story, "Redbox parent Coinstar Inc and joint venture partner Verizon Communications Inc will begin selling subscriptions to 'Redbox Instant by Verizon' later this month, the companies said in a statement on Wednesday."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    • Weis Markets has hired Kevin E. Broe, the former vice president of center store merchandising for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., to be its new vice president of center store sales and merchandising.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) said yesterday that Dick Bodamer, who worked for FMI for 13 years and is described as "a man who helped to build the association’s membership base and nurtured the needs of the industry," passed away on December 7. He was 72.

    • Norman Joseph Woodland, credited as the co-inventor of the bar code, has passed away from the effects of Alzheimer's disease and complications of his advanced age. He was 91.

    It is reported in the various obituaries that not only did Woodland, with Bernard Silver, invent the bar code while attending graduate school on Philadelphia in the late forties, but previous to that he had worked on the Manhattan Project, the US military's atomic bomb development team.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    MNB user Adam D.E. Hobbs had a question about a statement I made earlier this week:

    So, I’m naturally carnivorous and love a burger… and obviously you’ve made it clear that you love a burger as well.  But I have to wonder what you mean when you said you order them medium nowadays, having seen the ‘things’ you’ve seen in the processing of the chuck… can I take that concern over to the steak side? 

    Reason I ask: As I said, I do like a burger, but I don’t eat them often enough or love them intensely enough to really feel like ordering them medium kills the experience (which means I will probably start doing so, simply b/c I trust your opinion there).  However, I would definitely feel that way if I couldn’t get my NY Strip blue the way I like it – furthermore, I think the negative economic impact of that kind of regulation on steak is much more palpable, from both quality and pricing standpoints.

    In short, I suppose my question is – how do you order your steaks, Mr. Coupe?

    Medium rare.

    The way food safety experts have explained it to me, the difference between steak and hamburger is that a cut of steak comes from one cow, while a pound of hamburger comes from a lot of cows, not to mention going through a processing system that is not as reliable as one would like. I know people in the food safety business who never order burgers ... and other who will only order them well-done. I'm not to that point, but I do think they are persuasive.

    On another subject, MNB user Alda Lewis wrote:

    Retailers complaining of “showrooming” have no one to blame but themselves. By actually competing and providing a point of differentiation, some of the perceived effect of showrooming could be offset. I am an avid Amazon shopper and Prime member. There have been many times when I’ve been in a brick-and-mortar store looking at merchandise that suddenly caught my eye. Often, if it’s an unplanned purchase, I pull up Amazon’s mobile site to read the reviews and see if the product is worth buying (I call it “reverse showrooming”). If the reviews are mediocre, I pass, but if they are good, I may decide to purchase in store if the price is not too much higher than the online price.

    Retailers should have some wiggle room on pricing when dealing with reasonable customers: if something is $40 on Amazon, paying $42 - $45 in-store would not bother me as I’d choose to pay the premium to take it home with me immediately. Seeing a $40 Amazon product being sold in-store for say, $55, is a problem. Having quality merchandise at a reasonable price point should be the bare minimum, regardless of who the competitors are. Retailers who are concerned with Amazon’s disruption of the retail model, but are not looking internally at their own faults (i.e. the Kmart example you posted) have a lot of work to do if they want to survive. Building so much complexity into the model (different online and in-store pricing) without mastering the basics is a recipe for disaster.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    The whole issue with finding the crockpot at Kmart with a lower price on line may simply boil down to operational failure at the store level. The appliance might have been on sale in the store, and someone just forgot to put the sign on it.  In Kmart there are usually several barcode scanners located around the store that can be used to price-check items. Perhaps your correspondent could have saved some time by using one of those and finding that the crockpot would ring up at the lower price when they went through the checkout line.

    This in no way excuses the issue at the store level, if it was simply carelessness, but it does point out that this person resorted to one solution when there may have been another at hand.

    I think it is nice that the spirit of compassion and understanding is alive this holiday season, however misplaced it may be.

    With this report from the shopping trenches, MNB user Jennifer Wells wrote:

    First time writer.. and a one year reader.. enjoy your NewsBeat every day.  My gripe here is that on Cyber Monday I bought many gifts from conventional retailers… as well as Amazon and Google Play.

    I was glad to get my step-daughter’s gifts checked off and got some good deals.  Unfortunately of the 5 gifts I bought from JC Penney, I found out this week that 2 are unavailable.  Not coming late.. totally out.  Not only that.. but they blamed “their supplier”.  I bought from them.. not their supplier.  So now, not only do I have to scramble, but I lost the opportunity to save as well.  If they would have told me when I went to check out that it was an issue I could have made another choice.  Conventional retailers better get their supply chain in order if they hope to get into the game, make money and not instead, make unsatisfied customers.

    We had an email the other day from a Massachusetts resident who is irritated that Amazon will soon be collecting sales taxes for online purchases there, and he complained that this was yet another example of government reaching into his pocket, and that it hurts him because he now "will be paying more for my Amazon purchases."

    Another MNB user responded:

    This is a common fallacy.  A more accurate statement would be "Now I will be forced to pay for something that I should have been paying all along."  Most folks easily forget that sales tax is really sales and use tax.  In most states, folks are required to pay a use tax on all items purchased for which a sales tax was not collected.  That means that your reader should have been reporting his purchases to Massachusetts and paying the correct use tax to the tax man.  That use tax is oh so convenient to ignore and oh so poorly collected does not change the fact that it would be more accurate to state that he doesn't like the fact that his relatively unaccountable status as a "tax cheat" has been blocked, at least for purchases made via Amazon.

    From another reader:

    First, I must express my appreciation for MNB, having only recently become acquainted this past year. I thoroughly enjoy your delightful mix of the past and present, business and pleasure, the arts, the sciences, and everything else you throw in! It is usually the first thing I read in the morning...particularly now that I have more morning time after recently becoming a corporate Supervalu unemployment statistic.

    I especially appreciated the extensive space given to Supervalu comments today (Dec 12), particularly the first MNB user who had 10 years with SV and objectively chronicled many of the not-so-well-known issues with his/her comments.  Time after time those internal decisions left us incredulous but still committed to a smaller part of that very, very tired Titanic analogy...the musicians resolutely playing on deck, putting everything they had into doing what they loved until the very end. Heroes? Not my call. You, a jerk? I don't think so...(and that user no doubt has a Jewel background).

    I am sure that many of your readers are weary of the SV saga, but thanks for continuing to provide the ongoing details.  I was one of the few remaining dinosaurs; 30+ years of service beginning in the stores and ending in Corporate positions including Retail ops, Supply Chain, and IT. I have met an amazing group of friends along the way, both SV/Albertsons alumni and vendors who will always be a valued part of my life and who will always have those great stories of the time when...

    And lastly, I can't help but smile when I think of the real irony here...if Cerberus ends up acquiring (and keeping) the Albertsons stores currently owned by Supervalu, they will likely become part of Albertsons LLC, with a leadership team comprised of very successful and respected previous Albertsons executives who continue to focus on their customers first, and as they comes full circle. Gotta love it!

    I read emails like these about Supervalu, and it often makes me think of a song...

    Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
    E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
    Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,

    Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

    Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
    Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
    Yet in my dreams I'd be nearer, my God, to Thee...

    Michael Sansolo wrote this week about A Christmas Story and declared it his favorite holiday movie. I demurred, saying that I prefer Love Actually is my favorite.

    We got some feedback on this.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Love Actually??  Not sure I would’ve guessed that as your favorite holiday movie…I would’ve thought you’d favor one of the more classic or traditional movies that have been out there for a while.  I certainly have nothing against Love Actually, I’ll admit it’s a good one but I have to agree with Sansolo on this topic.  A Christmas Story is a classic holiday comedy that never gets old.  Higher on my list is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation for that same reason.  But my all-time favorite is It’s a Wonderful Life.   There are a number of life lessons found throughout this classic and you have to have ice in your veins if you don’t tear up watching it!

    One MNB user wrote, about Love Actually:

    Wow--this may be the first time I've agreed with one of your opinions.  Perhaps my all-time favorite movie . . . period.

    From another reader:

    There are great Christmas movies out there such as The Bishop's Wife (original version), It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, etc... but the modern day (2005 release) one that has many insights as to individual differences and beliefs, tolerances and bias, yet points out how this special holiday brings out the best and the worst in all of The Family Stone.

    In my order of things, by the way, I love the Cary Grant version of The Bishop's Wife. It is one of my favorites. (The Denzel Washington remake was execrable, which makes at least two remakes of classic movies that he's been in that have been positively awful, the other being The Manchurian Candidate.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Philadelphia Eagles 34-13.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 14, 2012

    In case you haven't noticed, Alfred Hitchcock is enjoying something of a revival these days. Not his films, which never go out of style, and continue to be held up as examples of suspenseful and entertaining movie-making. But rather the man himself, who has been the subject of two recent movies.

    By far the better of the two is Hitchcock, in theaters now, and starring Anthony Hopkins as the master of suspense and Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma Reville. Hitchcock explores the time during which Hitchcock made Psycho, a time of great insecurity for the director. What I did not know - or at least did not remember, even though i've taken several courses about Hitchcock's films - was that coming off the enormous success of North by Northwest, Hitchcock was at loose ends - he didn't want to do another film along those lines, and yet more challenging films like Vertigo has failed at the box office. (Ironic, of course, because now Vertigo is ranked by film critics in surveys as being the best American film ever made, surpassing even Citizen Kane.)

    When he decided to make Psycho, which he described as a particularly nasty piece of work, Hitchcock was rebuffed by Paramount Pictures, which did not want to fund the picture, and by his associates - including Alma - who thought a horror film was beneath his talents. But Hitchcock persevered - even though he was plagued with self-doubt that was both professional and personal - to the point where he mortgaged his home to fund the production and used the crew from his TV show to keep costs down. (Psycho cost just $800,000 to make. Amazing, even for those times. I re-watched it a couple of weeks ago, and found it to be extraordinarily economical in its storytelling - not a wasted shot nor moment in the film. I've probably seen it a dozen times, but I'm always blown away.)

    I won't tell you much more about the plot, except to concede that Hitchcock is not a perfect movie. There are some scenes in which Hitchcock fantasizes about meeting the real killer upon which Norman Bates was modeled that I could have done without. But for the most part, Hitchcock is an entertaining piece of work, driven by an impish performance by Hopkins (what would Silence of the Lambs have been like had Hitchcock directed it?) and a lovely portrayal of Alma Reville by Mirren. (It won't matter if you don't get all the inside references ... they are fun, but you can enjoy the film on its own.)

    There are business lessons aplenty in Hitchcock. Many business people will relate to Hitchcock's desire to not do the same thing over and over, and the desire of investors to simply have him repeat himself because that's what seems to make money. Hitchcock was hardly the first or last entrepreneur (in movies, they would call him an "auteur") to mortgage his house to fund his business.

    But I think the most persuasive business lesson in Hitchcock has to do with how the master filmmaker, to some extent, believed his own press clippings and ignored the fact that his wife/partner had been with him for virtually his entire career, helping to choose projects, write screenplays, cast actors, cut films together in the editing room and even make post-production choices like music. Hitchcock got all the glory, which Alma Reville was fine with ... as long as he recognized and appreciated her contributions.

    In the end, Hitchcock is about the importance of collaboration, of understanding that it is exceedingly rare that an enterprise of any breadth and depth is a one-man show. Even the most praised entrepreneurs and auteurs need to recognize that.

    One element of Hitchcock's life that is only hinted at in the film is his obsession with cool blondes of the Grace Kelly/Eva Marie Saint/Kim Novak variety. It's there, but not exploited ... though there are scenes where Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel, warns Janet Leigh, played by Scarlett Johansson, not to let Hitchcock intrude on her personal life too much.

    However, this obsession is at the very core of the HBO film, The Girl, which explored the time when Hitchcock was making The Birds and Marnie, which, as it happens, came immediately after Psycho. Both films starred Tippi Hedren, a virtual unknown who Hitchcock planned to turn into the next Grace Kelly, but if The Girl is to be believed, those plans were derailed by an increasingly unhealthy sexual obsession on Hitchcock's part, which veered into intimidation, exploitation and even abuse.

    I have no idea the extent to which The Girl may be true, but I can tell you that sitting through it was a genuinely creepy experience. I liked Sienna Miller as Hedren, but Toby Jones as Hitchcock had none of Anthony Hopkins' droll sense of morbid humor, and he is about as interesting as a peeping tom. The Girl may be true, but it is no fun to watch. (In this, there is yet another business lesson - that when making an entertainment, even one exploring the darker impulses of someone like Alfred Hitchcock, it is important to be entertaining. After all, he always was ... no matter what the subject matter.)

    Speaking of entertainments ... over the past couple of weeks I've also had a chance to screen both North by Northwest and To Catch A Thief, two of Hitchcock's four collaborations with Cary Grant. (The other two are Suspicion and Notorious.) If you get the opportunity, follow my lead - both movies are just fabulous, with Grant never better than in his portrayals of a) an ad agency exec mistaken for and hunted down as a spy, and b) a retired thief living on the French Riviera, who is accused by police of stealing valuable jewels and has to find the real thief to clear his name.

    In the end, the Hitchcock oeuvre is really about enjoying the cinema experience. Not lowest-common denominator filmmaking, not condescending to the audience, and certainly not about doing things the way other people do them. It's what makes Hitchcock so special ... and a good lesson for anyone looking to create for their business a differential advantage.

    My wine of the week is a red - the 2010 La Posta Malbec/Syrah/Bonarda blend, which is wonderfully smooth and rich. I enjoyed it last weekend while making a visit to Bin 36 in Chicago, and it is a perfect example of the best kind of customer service.

    I went into Bin 36 and sat at the bar. Jimmy, the bartender there who I have gotten to know over the years, sees me, shakes my hand, and immediately pours me a glass of the La Posta - he didn't ask what I wanted, just made an assumption - and a good one - based on shared history.

    To me, that's the best kind of customer service - intuitive, knowing, and accurate. (And speedy.) By the way, it is not like I am a frequent customer - I only go to Bin 36 when I go to Chicago, which is maybe a couple of times a year. But I go to Bin 36 every time I go to Chicago, in the same way that I go to Etta's every time I go to Seattle. I may not live in the neighborhood, but these are my neighborhood pubs ... and the customer service is everything I could ask for and more.

    By the way...I know a lot of MNB readers are, like me, big "Homeland" fans ... which means that on Sunday night, you'll be on the edge of your seats waiting to find out how they're possibly going to wrap what has been a mind-blowing season. Season two isn't over yet, and I'm already looking forward to season three.

    One other TV note. Who are you rooting for to win "The Voice"? I can't shake the feeling that it is going to be Nicholas David ... but then again, I probably would have guess that Trevin Hunte would win, and then he got voted off the show.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I hate so-called "reality television" (except for news and sports), but 'The Voice" has totally suckered me in ... it just seems to revel in success, not failure, and that makes it kind of unique.

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

    KC's View: