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    Published on: May 23, 2013

    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, Kevin Coupe here. This is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    I'm willing to bet that more than a few of you got the same thing in the mail that I did a week or two ago: five "Source Books" from Restoration Hardware.

    Seven pounds of everything you could possible want to know about anything that Restoration Hardware sells. Outdoor & Garden. Objects of Curiosity. Tableware. Small Spaces. And Interiors.

    Seven pounds of mailing material that I know I didn't ask for, that I know a lot of people didn't ask for, but that we got anyway.

    Seven pounds, in my view, of utterly useless, almost totally pretentious crap.

    But maybe that's just me.

    I called Restoration Hardware, because I was curious, but they didn't want to tell me anything. Not how many of these packages they sent out, not how much it cost, not what the return on investment was.

    So I went over to my local post office and asked them, just out of curiosity, how much it would cost to ship just one of these packages, at the cheapest possible rate. Between 10 and 18 dollars, they said, depending on how far it had to go. Yikes.

    Now, I'm sure some people find these Source Books useful, though not anybody I know who actually got them. I would have been just as satisfied with an email telling me that they were available online or as an application for my iPad, which, apparently, they are.

    I have to give Restoration Hardware a lot of credit - over the years, this is a company that has changed its spots, offering different kinds of products and trying to stay ahead of the zeitgeist.

    But there was one thing that the Restoration Hardware person said to me that sticks with me: "This is always how we've done it," she said.

    Two things.

    First of all, anyone who says "this is always how we've done it" ought to have their mouth rinsed out with soap. That just doesn't cut it in a 21st century competitive climate.

    Second, it seems to me that Restoration Hardware is making a classic miscalculation by treating all of its customers the same - which is to say, like people who all are interested in seven pounds of stuff about interiors and tableware and objects of curiosity.

    That's the same mistake, in my view, that I accused Ohio Wesleyan University of making last week - sending return address labels to all of its alumni, ignoring the fact that for most recent graduates, those labels are utterly irrelevant to how they live their lives.

    So I guess that's my message to Restoration Hardware - I may have bought a few things in your stores over the years, but that doesn't make me the same kind of customer as someone who would be interested in all this nonsense.

    You waste your money and my time and goodwill by treating me the same.

    Here endeth the lesson.

    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: May 23, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    This morning, I'm going to turn the Eye-Opener over the the Sierra Club. In its new issue, the Club has a story about what it views as one of the next great culinary trends. And I think it speaks for itself...

    You have to be careful not to overcook scorpions.

    The exoskeleton traps steam, and they're messy when they pop.

    "But get it right," said "Bug Chef" David George Gordon to the swarm of curious faces gathered to watch him work, "and they taste like soft-shell crab."

    It was Halloween night. I'd trekked across Portland, Oregon, for a bug-cooking demonstration at Paxton Gate, a store that owner Andy Brown describes as "a natural history museum where everything is for sale." Feats of unusual taxidermy covered the walls. There were piranhas, peacocks, and baby lambs mid-frolic. Owl pellets filled a glass jar in one display; another held mouse skeletons sitting upright in tiny royal costumes. It was nightmarish and wonderful, rewarding for the curious but troublesome for the squeamish. Much like what we were about to do.

    Bearded and jovial, Gordon calls himself a chef even though he's not associated with any restaurant. He began collecting insect-based recipes in 1996 and two years later published 'The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook,' which includes tonight's two demonstration recipes: tempura-battered mealworms and scorpion scaloppine. Both were made with limited seasoning, Gordon said, because he didn't want to overpower the taste of the insects. Dessert, however, was chapulines (fried grasshoppers) dipped in chocolate. They tasted like chocolate ...


    Not chicken?

    BTW ... the story also notes that "two years ago in the Netherlands, a chain of Costco-like stores called Sligro began carrying freeze-dried locusts, mealworms, and other whole insects supplied by Dutch company Bugs Originals. The company also makes a prepackaged product called Bugs Nuggets, which are 80 percent chicken and 20 percent mealworms."
    Anyway, you can read the whole piece here.

    Mangia!
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2013

    As it gets hammered on a number of fronts, Walmart said yesterday that it has hired a new chief publicist - Dan Bartlett, a former top advisor to President George W. Bush, who will take on the role of executive vice president of corporate affairs.

    Bartlett most recently has been CEO of the United States division of Hill&Knowlton Strategies. He is succeeding Leslie Dach, the former Clinton White House aide who has been serving as Walmart's chief image-maker.

    In addition to ongoing questions raised about its labor policies, Walmart also is dealing with a number of federal probes (as well as an internal investigation) into allegations that it has been bribing foreign officials in Mexico, China, India and Brazil to grease the wheels of growth there. It also is dealing with the collateral damage from problems in foreign countries where factories churning out low-cost goods have been found to be unsafe. And, the company recently announced quarterly earnings that were disappointing.
    KC's View:
    I hope it pays well. Because Bartlett is likely to be driving down nine miles of bad road in coming months.

    Published on: May 23, 2013

    The San Diego Union-Tribune has a fascinating piece about Barons Markets there, a four-store chain that "aims to do that work for its shoppers by bucking national trends and offering (get this) fewer options."

    The goal is very simple: Barons is positioning itself as the agent for the consumer, deciding which items are best and most appropriate for its shoppers, and in doing so, saving those consumers time and stress while creating a high level of trust.

    You can read the whole piece here.
    KC's View:
    MNB fave Glen Terbeek wrote the book on this in 1999 - "The Agentry Agenda: Selling Food In A Frictionless Marketplace."

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. Terbeek was predicting things back in the nineties that made the industry better. If the industry had adopted more of his ideas, the industry would be even more efficient and effective.

    Published on: May 23, 2013

    The Norwalk Hour reports that the Connecticut State Senate has passed a bill 35-1 requiring that all food containing genetically modified ingredients ought to be labeled as such.

    According to the story, "Senate Bill 802 would require food intended for human consumption that is entirely or partially genetically-engineered to bear the words 'Produced with Genetic Engineering' on their packaging. The phrase must be printed in the same size and font as the ingredients on the product’s nutrition facts panel. Unpackaged raw agricultural commodities must be labeled on their retail shelf or bin.

    "The bill imposes similar requirements on seed or seed stock intended to produce food for human consumption, which must bear a label on its holding container. The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection would be empowered to embargo food items which are not appropriately labeled.

    "Exemptions from the labeling requirements would include food prepared for immediate human consumption (such as in restaurants), farm products sold at a farmer’s market, roadside stand or pick-your-own farm, and certain processed foods which contain no more than 0.9% of genetically-modified components."

    And here's an interesting component of the bill: "If passed, the legislation would take effect on July 1, 2016, or as soon as July 1, 2015 if three of the following states also adopt a GMO labeling law: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania or New Jersey."

    The bill now goes to the state House of Representatives.
    KC's View:
    I know that a lot of you disagree with me on this one. But I continue to believe that transparency is not just the best policy, but also the ultimate weapon for companies looking to change consumer attitudes and behavior.

    Published on: May 23, 2013

    Publishers Weekly reports that Barefoot Books, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based publisher of children's books and educational titles, announced that its books no longer will be available on Amazon.com.

    The announcement was in character: Seven years ago, Barefoot Books stopped doing business with Barnes & Noble and Borders.

    According to the story, Barefoot "will focus on selling direct through its bookstore/studios in Concord, Mass., and Oxford, England, and its boutique in FAO Schwarz in New York City. It will also continue to sell direct on its Web site and to expand its Ambassador network of home-based sellers, which has been growing at a rate of 16% a month, according to Barefoot."

    “As entrepreneurs, we admire Amazon and its groundbreaking accomplishments,” cofounder/CEO Nancy Traversy. is quoted as saying. “However, Barefoot’s commitment is to diversity and to grassroots values. Living Barefoot is about creating a sustainable model, which enables individuals to build small-scale businesses.”

    Traversy tells PW that "she was unhappy with having Barefoot titles heavily discounted at the e-tailer, which sometimes began selling them before the press even received advance copies from the printer."
    KC's View:
    If Barefoot can grow its business and its authors' readership without access to Barnes & Noble and Amazon, then more power to it.

    It does have an advantage, I think, because of the niches it occupies. I'm not sure other publishers and authors would be well-served by the same strategy.

    I can tell you this. Based on our experience with "The Big Picture," Michael Sansolo and I cannot even imagine going to market without Amazon as a sales venue. Barnes & Noble was impossible to deal with, but getting on Amazon was relatively easy ... and not only have we sold thousands of books, but Amazon continues to be a viable and, dare I say, sustainable, marketing tool.

    Published on: May 23, 2013

    CNBC has a story about how Walmart is using Big Data to heighten the mobile shopping experience it is able to offer to the 50 percent of its shoppers that it estimates have smartphones.

    "Our mobile strategy is as simple as it is audacious. We want to make mobile tools that become indispensable for our customers while shopping in our stores and online," Gibu Thomas, global head of Wal-Mart's mobile division, said yesterday at the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas, according to the story. "Our goal is to create shopping tools that become second nature to the customer, providing assistance with every part of the retail experience from pre-store planning to in-store shopping and decision making to checking out."

    Thomas said that the "new breed of mobile-empowered customers is good news for us. Compared to nonapp users, customers with a Wal-Mart app make two more shopping trips a month to our stores and spend nearly 40 percent more each month."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2013

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

    • The Hartman Group has launched a new website - HartBeatVista.com - that is designed to provide an evolving video window on how people eat, drink, shop and cook.

    The site provides both original and curated video focusing on food culture, highlighting actual consumers, and both amplified and contextualized by The Hartman Group's staff of analysts and cultural anthropologists.

    Very cool site. Lots of insights, lots of content, and, I think, a strong thematic backbone. CEO Laurie Demeritt and her folks have a great tool here with which they can both absorb and disseminate intelligence about food.


    The Denver Business Journal reports that "about 40 Denver-area restaurants will offer dietitian-verified healthy meals under a new program being launched Wednesday by the University of Colorado's Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

    "The Healthy Dining in Colorado program builds on a national template that Healthy Dining, a nutritional consulting company, has undertaken by listing good-for-you options at participating restaurants on its website ... As part of the new program, the 40 restaurants — which have about 300 combined locations throughout Colorado — will create meals that emphasize lean protein, vegetables, fruits whole grains and unsaturated fats."


    GlobeSt.com reports that Subway "plans to add more than 3,000 locations worldwide ... The franchise system, the largest in the world in terms of number of locations, currently has more than 39,000 locations in 102 countries ... Since January, the chain has opened approximately 800 new stores in 54 countries, nine Canadian provinces and 46 states in the US, plus the District of Columbia."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2013

    • Mass merchandiser Kohl's Corp. said yesterday that it has hired Michelle Gass, a 16-year Starbucks executive who, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, "helped orchestrate the brand's turnaround in the U.S. a few years ago and most recently was tasked with doing the same in Europe," to be its chief customer officer, a new position.

    In the new job, Gass will be in charge of marketing as well as the company's e-commerce efforts.

    It was announced by Starbucks a few weeks ago that Gass would be moving back to the US in a corporate role yet to be determined.


    • C-store chain The Pantry announced that it has hired Boris Zelmanovich, most recently vice president of merchandising strategy at Big Lots, to be its new senior vice president and chief merchandising officer.


    Retail Week reports that in the UK, Morrisons has hired John Clarke, former chief technology officer and chief architect at Tesco, to be its new interim chief information officer. Clarke succeeds Ben Wishart who is movinbg over to Ahold as its new CIO.
    KC's View: