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    Published on: December 17, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    After the events of last Friday, it somehow seems inappropriate to offer a clever or unusual or witty anecdote meant to draw a lesson from an unexpected story. Newtown, Connecticut, is about an hour from where I live and work, but right now it seems a lot closer. I have a wife who is a third grade teacher in a Connecticut elementary school, and it does not require many degrees of separation to find a connection to the people who live there, who teach there, who thought that it was a safe and secure place to raise their children, and in an awful few hours found out that they were wrong. Their lives will never be the same again.

    Few of us can imagine their anguish. Someone observed over the weekend that there are parents in Newtown who thought they'd be shopping for Christmas presents for their children this week, but instead are picking out coffins. I cannot conceive the extent of their agony.

    MNB is not the place for a discussion of the political and social issues laid bare by the events at Shady Hook Elementary School.

    But it does seem like the moment to recall the words of Winston Churchill, who once said, "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities."

    I hope he was right.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning about what appears to be an enormously successful collaboration between Walmart and Facebook that seems to have served both its purposes - it drove sales for Walmart, and made Facebook look like a revenue-generating entity that made it more attractive to investors.

    According to the story, it all started on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional beginning of the end-of-year holiday shopping season: "Over the next 72 hours Facebook and Wal-Mart rolled out the social network's biggest mobile-advertising campaign ever, consisting of 50 million ads. Wal-Mart's discounted deals on toys and televisions popped up in the Facebook mobile news feeds of tens of millions of people.

    "Unlike previous campaigns, for which companies paid Facebook only after users saw their ads, Wal-Mart prepurchased the ads and edged out other retailers for space during the all-important kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

    "Facebook now is considering making the option available to other companies." And, the story says, Facebook is "trying to deepen relationships with some of the world's biggest advertisers by tailoring ads to those companies and using those brands as labs to test new ad products. That allows Facebook to experiment with ad areas where it has been weak, such as mobile advertising."

    The story goes on: "For Wal-Mart, too, there is much to be gained by working with Facebook. After playing catch-up to Amazon.com Inc. for the last decade, the world's largest retailer doesn't want to fall behind online as customers increasingly rely on digital devices ... Using Facebook helped Wal-Mart make some quick changes. When Wal-Mart saw a pair of $88 speakers weren't selling as quickly as expected on Friday, it posted the item on its Facebook page as a 'special buy.' Wal-Mart said the item soon sold out across the U.S."
    KC's View:
    This is a harbinger of how things are going to work in the future, as retailers team up with tech companies to fund new ways to reach consumers and affect their behavior - and, perhaps most importantly, find out instantly which moves work and which do not, as well as which customers respond, and which do not. It is all about having fast, actionable information and then using it ... and as I've said here before, it is the marketers who can do this best that are likely to be the long-term winners.

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    USA Today has a piece suggesting that "the gamble some retailers are taking with same-day delivery may not pan out," that efforts by retailers such as Walmart and Amazon to offer same-day delivery in select markets, for the holidays,are not catching on.

    Jim Brownell, vice president of retail industry solutions at GT Nexus, described as "a company that helps retailers automate their supply chains," says that while companies are not saying how the tests are doing, he believes that they are not proving to be a big success, and that a lot of the reason may be cost.

    And Chris Merritt, vice president at supply chain management company Ryder, says "retailers should be focusing less on offering same-day delivery and more on reducing average delivery time, especially with free shipping promotions."

    Walmart is now testing same-day delivery in Northern Virginia; Philadelphia; Minneapolis; Denver; and San Jose/San Francisco, and generally costs about $10, costs $10 and is only applicable to some merchandise, including, in certain markets, grocery items. Amazon's "local express delivery" costs $8.99 per shipment, "plus another 99 cents per item included in the shipment and is now available in 10 cities." And eBay, the story says, "is testing an 'eBay Now' mobile app in San Francisco and New York City, using valets to deliver products to customers wherever they are, whether it's the office or a coffee shop, in as little as an hour. The first three deliveries are free; additional deliveries are $5."
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure I'm completely buying this analysis. First of all, these are tests ... and the idea of a test is to try something, see what works, and then make changes based on results.

    I also wonder if the companies involved could be using different metrics in determining success. For example, I would not be surprised to find out that one or all of these companies believe that while not many customers use the same-day option, having it reinforces their customer service image and their reputation for freshness ... and therefore gets people to buy more, even if not for same-day delivery. If that were true, it would mean that same-day options are helpful to the bottom line, even if there isn't broad usage.

    All I'm saying here is that in the new world order, we have to be careful not to apply old metrics to new models.

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    Gannett News Service writes that "two years after President Obama signed a sweeping food safety bill into law, the rules at the heart of the largest food safety overhaul in more than 70 years have yet to be put in place, blocked by their sheer length, growing complexity and a White House that critics contend has delayed their implementation for political gain." And the story says, "The longer it takes the food laws to be enacted, proponents of the law argue, the more time the country's food supply remains exposed to an unnecessarily high level of risk."

    It does not seem likely that momentum will pick up, Gannett writes: "The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency charged with implementing the new law, has been the victim of a push in Washington to rein in spending and some Republicans in Congress who have questioned the necessity and cost of the regulations."

    The story goes on: "A handful of power-boosting rules went in place immediately after Obama signed the new law. Among the most prominent were regulations that:

    • "Gave the FDA access to documents at a food company tied to an illness or death.

    • "Increased the frequency of plant inspections.

    • "Gave the agency the power to order a mandatory recall

    • "Allowed the FDA to suspend a company's operations.

    "But implementation of other measures -- such as requiring food production facilities to have a plan in place to identify and prevent contamination along with stricter requirements for overseeing the production and harvesting of fresh produce -- are months behind. Tougher oversight of imported foods also has been delayed. The law requires importers to verify the food they bring into the United States meets domestic safety standards. The food could be denied entry if it fails to do so.

    "The produce rule, for example, has been besieged with criticism that it was poorly written, and an insufficient job was done analyzing the costs and benefits for producers. All this has caused the rule to swell in excess of 700 pages, likely contributing to its subsequent delay, according to those who follow the food safety legislation."
    KC's View:
    Oy. This is the kind of stuff that makes me nuts - I think that stricter food safety regulations are a good idea, I hate - but am not surprised that government is inefficient at implementing them - and yet cannot get to the point where I think they are unnecessary.

    I do think it is interesting that the story notes that "many companies are already incorporating their own food safety handling and transportation measures into their operations. The threat of potential litigation, long-term damage to their brand and a surge in the use of social media tools by the public to communicate has put more pressure on businesses to meet or exceed existing food safety requirements."

    The piece quotes Ruth Comer from Hy-Vee: ""There is cost involved but it's a cost of doing business and certainly it's nothing compared to not doing it. If something isn't done and there is a food borne illness outbreak or another situation that one incident could be far more costly than any protective measures."

    No surprise here that a company like Hy-Vee would get it right.

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    The Kansas City Star has an extensive report on the US beef industry that employs dozens of articles to look at food safety, processing and packing procedures, and nutrition issues. To be honest, I've just begun to scrape the surface ... but I wanted to bring it to your attention because I think it is worth perusing by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    CNN reports that Walmart plans "to offer the 16 GB iPhone 5 for $127 (normally $189.97) and the 16GB iPhone 4S for $47 (normally $87.97), along with a two-year contract. They'll also sell the third-generation iPad for $399."

    The story says that "while the iPad sales just seem like an offloading of stale products, Wal-Mart's motivations for discounting the iPhone aren't exactly clear. Some, such as the LA Times, speculate that dragging sales are to blame. Whatever the case, it's best not to sleep on this deal if you're in the market for one of these devices. Wal-Mart told MacRumors that the sale is first come, first serve depending on inventory, and rain checks will not be issued."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that "a Hostess Brands Inc. union and a pension fund said they are appealing the court order that gave the bankrupt Twinkie maker permission to wind down.

    Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that object to the decision by the bankruptcy judge overseeing Hostess's affairs to approve some $1.83 million in incentives to 19 senior managers, while simultaneously allowing the company to liquidate its assets, including Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ho-Hos.
    KC's View:
    I don't blame them. I hate the idea of these top managers being rewarded for helping to drive the company into the ditch. But these days, that seems to be the American way.

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    • The Associated Press reports that Diet Pepsi, looking to reinvigorate the brand after years of losing market share to Diet Coke, is adjusting its artificial sweetener component. According to the story, "Cans of Diet Pepsi around the country now list a mix of two artificial sweeteners, a pairing that is commonly found in newer diet sodas. Previously, Diet Pepsi used only aspartame, which is sensitive to heat and breaks down more easily."

    • The New York Times reports that "Chobani, the yogurt company that grew from nothing five years ago to a roughly $1 billion powerhouse today," today plans to "formally open one of the world’s largest yogurt-processing plants in Twin Falls, Idaho ... The $450 million, 1 million square-foot plant is the company’s second."

    • The Associated Press reports that CVS Caremark Corp. is buying 19 pharmacies in Texas, from the Medicine Chest drug chain. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Reuters reports that carrefour could be fined as much as $80,000 (US) "for misleading customers over prices at one of its outlets in northwestern China," which in this case meant charging higher prices at checkout than were advertised on the shelves. Carrefour has apologized "and agreed to accept punishment," the story says.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    • The Kroger Co. announced today the promotion of Lynn Gust as president of the company's Fred Meyer Stores division, based in Portland, Oregon. Gust has been senior vice president of operations at Fred Meyer since 2011. He started his career with Fred Meyer as a parcel clerk in 1970.

    • Laurie Demeritt, president/COO of The Hartman Group, has been promoted to the post of CEO of the research and consulting organization, effective January 2. She succeeds Harvey Hartman, the company's founder, who remains as chairman.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    We've been having an ongoing discussion here on MNB about how to cook hamburgers and steaks, and what is safest.

    The conversation continues....

    MNB user Darren Williams wrote:

    Today you commented the following:

    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.

    It's actually a bit different that that.  Multiple food safety courses I have attended have taught that the E. Coli bacteria (which is the underlying fear of eating undercooked beef) is in the feces of the cattle that is slaughtered.  If during the slaughter process the intestine is compromised then the meat may get contaminated with the feces and in turn E. Coli.

    A steak only needs to be cooked enough on the surface as the bacteria can't permeate the meat, so a rare steak is fine.  Hamburger however is ground up, thus the 'surface' of the steak is now mixed in throughout.  Undercooked burger leaves the person consuming it susceptible to illness.  Cooking a burger thoroughly eliminates the risk by killing the bacteria.
     
    That said, I LOVE raw burger.


    MNB user Mark Boyer wrote:

    Kevin: the reason one might order a burger well cooked is because of the multiple surface ares in ground beef that might have become exposed to a bacteria. When a steak is cooked, the surface areas reach a temperature sufficient to kill the harmful bacteria. The bacteria is not really "in" the meat. It gets "on" the meat surface areas.

    From another reader:

    The difference in the safety of medium rare beef and medium rare ground beef had been explained to me as follows:

    In cooking a steak, the temperature used to grill it will kill what is on the outside of the meat—i.e. where the contaminants picked up in processing the cow are located.

    In cooking ground beef, however, many of the contaminants are to be found inside the burger. They got there as the contaminants on the outside were turned inward during the grinding process.  In other words, the grilling temperature does not reach the inner contaminants if not cooked fully through and so they live on---in your stomach.


    And from another MNB user:

    Regarding your answer to the gentleman who had concerns about eating his steak “blue” vs. eating a medium, medium-rare or rate burger. The problem with eating a burger this way vs. eating a steak this way is that that any bacteria will be found on the surface of all meats as bacteria need oxygen to exist. When you cook a steak to a “blue” degree of doneness, you are killing the bacteria (with heat) that is on the outside of the meat. When ground beef is processed (ground), you are spreading the bacteria that was on the surface throughout the burger. If the inside of the burger does not get to a 160 degree of doneness, the bacteria has not been killed. Any harmful bacteria would then be ingested and could make those with compromised immune systems (usually children or older folks) may become ill.
     
    As I’m sure you know, this is not a meat problem as people can also get sick from eating raw vegetables that haven’t been properly washed. So enjoy that “blue” steak but be careful about eating undercooked ground beef.


    MNB user Philip Bradley wrote:

    I buy my ground beef at my local food co-op.  The meat department grinds the beef themselves so the ground beef is fresh.  More important, it is from beef they purchase direct from the vendor, a small cooperative cattle business.  The meat department manager visits this vendor regularly and knows their processes inside and out.  As a result, I cook my burgers rare/medium rare with no fear of food safety issues.  This is one of the many advantages of buying from a food co-op--and we are fortunate to have more than a half-dozen here in the Twin Cities metro (sorry you don't have one in your area!).  It's worth the extra cost.
     
    MNB user Jill M. LeBrasseur wrote:

    Your discussion of how you order a steak versus a hamburger reminded me of a movie quote, but I can’t remember which film it’s from and was hoping you could help me. When asked how he would like his steak cooked, the man (maybe Groucho Marx, but I’m not sure) says, “Give it to a slow waiter and have him walk it through a warm room.” Can you tell me which film this is from? It’s just about driving me crazy this morning trying to remember.

    Great line. I've been trying to find the quote, but cannot identify it. Maybe someone in the MNB community can help...

    MNB user Chris Weisert wrote:

    I say… Eat more fish…It’s better for you anyway!

    Of course, we also know that the fish we order is not always the fish we eat, since suppliers seem to be playing fast and loose with species names.

    Which led MNB user Jim Dixon to write:

    This is an interesting situation in the Food industry but NOT restricted to just seafood .  The Beef Industry / Foodservice / Grocers -  all have played fast and loose with product names to sell product .  “ Beef Fillet “ can mean anything – you might think of a Tenderloin Fillet but you are eating a tenderized sirloin.

    Beyond the sensationalism of the Oceana announcement , what are the real facts of what they are finding ??  Does Oceana have an ax to grind with the seafood industry?

    Are there situations, yes. Passing off Tilapia as snapper , Bass as Grouper , Escolare for a tuna , and so on, is totally a problem – no question .  However I really feel the problem is not as big as stated.  As  a Midwest seafood distributor , our customer base want what they ask / pay for .  Grocers are Hyper about species and country of origin.
     
    Lets examine the real details of the mislabeling and find the facts .  Are we dealing with someone selling Farmed salmon as wild salmon ( wrong) or a Scottish salmon being sold as Norwegian salmon ( wrong but really no harm – they are the same species ) .
     
    Lets work to solve the problem and not drop a ton of new regulations on the seafood industry .  Frankly , the customers need to educate themselves and learn about the food they eat .  Ask questions and deal with reputable dealers.


    I have to say that I think that this is largely a supplier issue - my sense is that it is not retailers that are misinforming customers, but suppliers that are misinforming retailers. Not always, but most of the time.

    I see no political agenda for Oceana in doing this research and filing these reports., other than the fact that Oceana is pro-conservation, and that means being responsible in our stewardship of the oceans.

    Here is the hard reality. If the industry gets it right and fixes the problem, there will be no reason for new regulation. Get it wrong, though, and you will be giving the government an enormous reason to come up with new laws and regulations. Get it wrong, and you'll have no choice but to accept these new rules, and no right to whine about them.

    So get it right.




    We had a piece last week about how the rising cost of feed will create higher livestock prices, which will have an impact at the supermarket. MNB user Rich Heiland responded:

    You can't have this discussion without putting ethanol on the table. The government supports for ethanol leading to a diversion of corn to fuel. The support goes primarily to corporate farmers though some family farmers benefit. Ethanol is the biggest waste of time and money to come down the pike and obviously, no one was thinking "unintended consequences" when it all began. Raising livestock never has been a walk in the park but ethanol, combined with drought, has added to the misery.




    Regarding new federal rules that prevent commercials from being broadcast at a higher volume than the programs they accompany, one MNB user wrote:

    I couldn't agree with you more on this.  This is one regulation I am all in favor of.  No more scrambling for the remote to turn the volume down when a commercial comes on so it doesn't wake the baby sleeping on the other side of the wall!  And no more accusations from Mommy that Daddy is losing his hearing.  And no more unending requests to turn down the TV.  Both of which, for some mysterious reason, only seem to occur during commercials.  Oh wait, it's no mystery.  I just hope the FTC can actually enforce it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 17, 2012

    It's Week Fifteen in the National Football League...

    Atlanta 34
    NY Giants 0

    Denver 34
    Baltimore 17

    Green Bay 21
    Chicago 13

    Washington 38
    Cleveland 21

    Houston 29
    Indianapolis 17

    Miami 24
    Jacksonville 3

    New Orleans 41
    Tampa Bay 0

    Minnesota 36
    St. Louis 22

    Arizona 38
    Detroit 10

    Seattle 50
    Buffalo 17

    Carolina 31
    San Diego 7

    Dallas 27
    Pittsburgh 24

    Oakland 15
    Kansas City 0

    San Francisco 41
    New England 34
    KC's View: