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    Published on: March 12, 2013

    by Michael Sansolo

    To paraphrase a line from a famous gun rights advocate, "I have more technology than I need, but less than I want."

    My phone, my home and even my car are loaded with capabilities that I barely know how to use. Yet I can’t help myself. Tell me there’s some new widget that measures my workout, finds my golf ball or identifies the closest good pizza shop and I’m on my way.

    Truth be told, I understand why corporate leaders get tired of the endless argument for more technology. Simply put, they are still waiting for the ROI on the stuff they’ve been buying for years that never quite seems to deliver on all that promise. Instead of killer apps, we end up with piles of RFID chips.

    That’s why I also get really excited when I see technology that solves problems or opens new markets. Because to my mind, that’s the technology that really works. Two recent examples caught my eye: one for how it could impact food safety and the other for a possible discussion point on improving logistics.

    The first came from the pool of exceptionally unusual products featured at the recent South by Southwest Interactive Conference (SXSW). While the notion of an app that lets me “hate” rather than “like” things on Facebook is intriguing, I see real potential in a device aimed at the hospital industry.

    Recognizing that poor hand washing is a major cause of infections in hospital, Intelligent M has created a wristband that records how often and how properly staff wash. I don’t totally understand the details, but that strikes me as a device with incredibly quick ROI in the form of preventable illness and death.

    However, like most people I spend, thankfully, little time in hospitals, yet hours in supermarkets and restaurants and I know that clean hands are an essential part of food safety. If these devices work, they could help companies ensure safer food handling and create an interesting marketing idea.

    SXSW also featured bicycles that Tweet. Sounds silly except it’s not. The bikes are rentals that use Twitter to alert people in the bike sharing pool as to where they are and when they are available.

    I’ve had some personal experience with a similar service thanks to my daughter’s use of Cars2Go. Now unless you live in Washington, DC, San Diego, Miami, Portland or Austin, you’ve never seen this, but you should. I’m betting the company with its distinctive fleet of easy to park Smart cars ends up growing pretty quickly.

    Cars2Go enables city dwellers to easily rent cars whenever they want. Unlike the larger Zipcars, Cars2Go doesn’t require the user to get to any specific location. The cars are here, there and everywhere.

    For instance, when my daughter wants a car she checks an app that displays the location of nearby vehicles. When she finds one, she taps her membership card to a device on the windshield to unlock the door. Once inside, she enters her membership number to unlock the keys and she drives. When she’s done, she signs out and walks away. My daughter pays for the time she used the vehicle and the car is now available for the next user.

    Of course, she’s learned how to work the system properly. For instance, when she visits a supermarket she can’t risk someone else walking off with the car while she’s inside. So she takes the keys and pays for the minutes.

    With cars spread out around a city, fueling up obviously can be an issue. Cars2Go solves that in part by giving drivers an incentive of free rental minutes for filling the tank. (The company pays for all gas and maintenance.) In fact, minutes become a currency of sorts. When my daughter found one car that was left in less than pristine shape she alerted the company and got a bounty of minutes for that.

    Now renting Smart cars or Tweeting bicycles is a long way from pooling truck fleets. Yet it’s clear that someone is figuring out how technology can solve some interesting problems that might someday soon help truck fleets reduce empty miles.

    From little acorns grow mighty oaks. Who knows what Tweeting bikes can do?

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    A New York State Supreme Court judge has ruled that New York City's planned ban on the sale of jumbo sized sugary soft drinks by some retail entities is "arbitrary and capricious," and should not be enacted. The ruling came one day before the plan was scheduled to go into effect, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration immediately said that it would appeal a decision that it called "clearly in error."

    The New York Times reports this morning that "the decision comes at a sensitive time for Mr. Bloomberg, who is determined to burnish his legacy as he enters the final months of his career in City Hall, and his administration seemed caught off guard by the decision. Before the judge ruled, the mayor had called for the soda limits to be adopted by cities around the globe; he now faces the possibility that one of his most cherished endeavors will not come to fruition before he leaves office, if ever.

    "The mayor’s plan, which he pitched as a novel effort to combat obesity, aroused worldwide curiosity and debate — and the ire of the American soft-drink industry, which undertook a multimillion-dollar campaign to block it, flying banners from airplanes over Coney Island, plastering subway stations with advertisements and filing the lawsuit that led to the ruling ... The measure was already broadly unpopular: In a New York Times poll conducted last August, 60 percent of city residents said it was a bad idea for the Bloomberg administration to pass the limits, although Bronx and Queens residents were more likely than Manhattan residents to oppose it."

    In a hastily called press conference after the decision by Justice Milton A Tingling Jr. was announced, Bloomberg said, "I’ve got to defend my children, and yours, and do what’s right to save lives. Obesity kills. There’s no question it kills." And, he said, "We believe that the judge’s decision was clearly in error, and we believe we will win on appeal."

    The judge's ruling was based on an opinion that the New York City Health Department overreached in enacting the ban, a conclusion with which the Bloomberg administration disagrees. (The City Council did not vote on the ban, leading to the feeling in some quarters that Mayor Bloomberg was exceeding the limits on his power.) The Times writes that "the judge also criticized the rules themselves, noting they would apply only to certain sugared drinks — dairy-based beverages like milkshakes, for instance, would be exempt — and be enforced only in certain establishments, like restaurants and delis, but not others, like convenience stores and bodegas."

    The Wall Street Journal notes in its report that since taking office, the Bloomberg administration has been extremely public health minded. For example, "In 2002, Mr. Bloomberg convinced the council to approve a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. More recently, the mayor convinced the council to extend that ban to parks and beaches, public plazas and marinas." And, in 2006, "the Board of Health banned the use of artificial trans-fats in foods and required the posting of calorie counts at chain restaurants. The board's storied history also includes banning lead paint and requiring fluoride to be included in drinking water."
    KC's View:
    Arbitrary? Sure. It always has seemed to me that too much of the jumbo soft drink ban did not make sense, especially in how it applied to certain venues and not others.

    But capricious? I think not. I think you can accuse Bloomberg of a lot of things, but he has been pretty consistent in his approach to public health matters and making New York a more livable city. He may have been arrogant and sometimes overstepped his authority, but I really believe that Bloomberg did what he did with authentic and heartfelt motivations. (This is Michael Bloomberg, for goodness sake, not some Socialist do-gooder with no feeling for the free market.)

    I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea how the city's appeal will fare. I do think that in this case, education is better than outright bans, and so I will not be overly concerned if the judge's ruling is upheld.

    But let's be clear. New York is a healthier place to live because of the smoking bans, as are all the places that followed in the city's footsteps on this one. The city's consumers are more informed because of calorie counts on menus and menu boards.

    The big downside that I see to the judge's ruling is that it might encourage some clown to decide to launch a massive lawsuit to once again allow smoking in bars and restaurants, in public arenas and other places where the air has actually become safe to breathe. That would be a real tragedy, and I hope it does not happen.

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    We've all heard about wake-up calls.

    But now, the Benjamin Hotel in Manhattan have come up with a new twist on the concept.

    As described by the Los Angeles Times, the Benjamin decided that one of its primary goals ought to be helping guests get a good night's sleep. In addition to offering an array of pillow types, white noise machines and masseuses to get you in the mood for sleep, the upmarket hotel now has introduced what it is calling a "work-down call," which is sort of "the opposite of a wake up call ... You can arrange to have a sleep concierge call at a designated time to remind you to get ready for bed."

    Anya Orlanska, head of the hotel’s sleep concierge team, explains it this way: “We advise our guests to shut down all electronic devices and just unwind about an hour before you go to bed. That way you are guaranteed to get some rest. If you don’t get the proper amount of sleep, you are not going to be able to function."

    This seems ingenious in so many ways.

    For one thing, how great is it that the Benjamin has a "sleep concierge team"?

    But what's Eye-Opening to me about this service is the way that the hotel has identified a core value that one would think would be obvious, but that perhaps has been lost in the effort to provide all sorts of other ancillary services that can be differential advantages.

    This strikes me as very smart. Very perceptive. And very much needed. (And I say this as someone who spends an awful lot of time in hotels and never turns off his electronics...)
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    The Associated Press reports on a new study from Beverage Digest revealing the nation's favorite beverage...

    Water.

    Here's how the shift is described:

    "For more than two decades, soda was the No. 1 drink in the U.S. with per-capita consumption peaking in 1998 at 54 gallons a year, according industry tracker Beverage Digest. Americans drank just 42 gallons a year of water at the time.
    But over the years, as soda increasingly came under fire for fueling the nation’s rising obesity rates, water quietly rose to knock it off the top spot.

    "Americans now drink an average of 44 gallons of soda a year, a 17 percent drop from the peak in 1998. Over the same time, the average amount of water people drink has increased 38 percent to about 58 gallons a year. Bottled water has led that growth, with consumption nearly doubling to 21 gallons a year."
    KC's View:
    Sometimes, you don't have to try to legislate people's consumption habits. Sometimes, you can just let things happen.

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    Good piece from Bloomberg News about Whole Foods' decision to mandate that all of its suppliers list any ingredients with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their products by 2018, and asking whether this is just the first step in what could be an industry-wide trend.

    "The pervasiveness of genetic modification is a well-kept secret," Bloomberg writes. "Ingredients in as much as 75 percent of packaged food have had their DNA altered to resist pests, tolerate excessive heat or grow with less water. For two decades, seed companies, agricultural product makers and food processors successfully rebuffed calls for labeling. Last year, in a campaign filled with exaggerations and half-truths, food companies spent more than $40 million to defeat a California ballot initiative that required GM labeling.

    "The battle is far from over, however. After their loss in California, label advocates pressed ahead with similar drives in almost two dozen states, including Connecticut, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington. Amid boycott threats, negative publicity and the prospect of waging expensive campaigns across the country, food companies seem to be ready to concede the point; the public-relations cost of opposing basic disclosure has grown too high."
    KC's View:
    It seems to me that the most important thing about the Whole Foods decision is that it is a decision made by the company, for its shoppers. As a company, it is able to do things that government can't do ... at least not as effectively ... and the impact will be felt beyond Whole Foods' footprint. Once companies are providing labels for Whole Foods, those same labels can be used by other retailers.

    Maybe people on both sides of the issue will stop trying to demagogue it, and instead will embark on a mutually advantageous program of real and reassuring education.

    To quote the Borg, "Resistance is futile." People and companies may not like this Whole Foods move, but they're eventually going to have to get with the program. I'd suggest embracing it.

    One other thing. Whole Foods is saying this will be a five year effort. It's a pretty good bet, I think, that it won't take five years. It'll probably take two or three. And then, fairly quickly, people will start wondering what all the fuss was about.

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that General Mills "is launching a unique food delivery service, partnering with supermarket operator Coborn’s and focusing on the senior demographic ... The company is producing a new product for the delivery service, frozen full meals — beef stew with cheddar mashed potatoes, etc. — under the moniker Betty Crocker Kitchens. The meals will be distributed by CobornsDelivers, which covers the Twin Cities area."

    There are 25 meals in the line. If the pilot program in the Twin Cities works, the goal is to roll it out to other markets.

    According to the story, "Customers can order through the website www.BettyCrockerKitchens.com, a General Mills 800 phone number, or through CobornsDelivers’ website using the search term 'bck.' Orders are to be filled within 24 hours, General Mills says. The minimum order is seven meals for $55, including delivery."
    KC's View:
    Smart to use the Betty Crocker brand, which has a lot of equity, for this program. And it'll be interesting to see how these seniors respond to the home delivery aspect ... and how many orders are placed online rather than via phone.

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Fairway Group Holdings plans an initial public offering (IPO) for next month, with some experts suggesting that it could raise as much as $172 million to help "fuel new store openings."

    Fairway currently operates a dozen stores in the New York metropolitan area, with two more stores slated to be opened later this year.

    The story notes that Fairway originally announced its IPO intentions last September, but Hurricane Sandy intervened, damaging and closing stores and hurting inventories. While momentum was slowed, things now seem to be back on track.
    KC's View:
    For some reason, I find Fairway's moves in this areas troubling. The company still runs great stores, but I worry that the hunger for growth may stretch its culture beyond its ability to adapt to a larger scale. You end up trying to satisfy investors and shareholders before the customers, and that's always a mistake.

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    Sometimes, I encounter a piece of writing that just blows me away. This morning, I want to share one such story with you ... an obituary, written about a gentleman named Harry Weathersby Stamps, in Mississippi's Sun Herald.

    It is hard to excerpt this obit, but here's just a taste:

    "Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer's black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee's Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription. As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life."

    And the obit gets only better from there.

    You can read the whole thing here. And when you're done, if you're anything like me, you'll wish you'd known Harry Weathersby Stamps.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    Advertising Age has a story saying that in the public health arena, "sugar is shaping up to be the next public enemy No. 1."

    According to the story, "A fresh batch of initiatives and studies are recasting sugar from its former status as a substance that might decay teeth and add a pound or two to one that contributes to life-threatening diseases. In some cases, it's even been cited as a toxin poisoning the entire country ... And if anti-sugar proponents have their way, it could also end up on the radar of the Food and Drug Administration. On the FDA's list later this year will likely be proposed revisions to the 1990 Nutritional Labeling and Education Act. Potential revisions to nutritional labels, serving sizes and daily values could affect not only packaging but spur reformulation of the food inside and the need to address those changes in the marketing."

    This is not a movement without enormous potential consequences: "Soda and snacks might be the biggest sugar sinners, but the fact is that in some form or other -- whether it be cane or high-fructose corn syrup -- sugar is in almost every processed food Americans consume," Ad Age writes. "And if the sugar crusade broadens to the wider consumer population or the FDA requires label changes, companies may have no choice but to reformulate -- and tinkering with recipes could lead to serious sales consequences if taste profiles change significantly."


    • NACS announced that it has launched a website "to help retailers from all channels express their opposition to the proposed credit card swipe fee settlement. The site, www.merchantsobject.com, provides the tools for all retailers affected by the proposed settlement to express their opposition by opting out and/or objecting to the proposal.
     
    "NACS believes the settlement is a bad deal for retailers and announced in January that it will object to and opt out of the proposed settlement."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    • The Fresh Market announced the departure of Randy Kelley,
    Senior Vice President, Real Estate and Development, is said to be leaving the company "to pursue a new business opportunity."

    Until a replacement is named, the company said, Rob Koch, Senior Director of Real Estate, will oversee real estate activities, and Steve Showalter, Vice President of Construction, will oversee development activities.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View: