Published on: June 17, 2013
On a subject often discussed on MNB, reader Stephen Goldberg wrote:I’ve been reading the debate regarding requiring Nutritional Facts for Prepared Foods and decided it was time for me to chime in as I have a little more experience w/ the topic than the average bear (partial disclosure, I cut my teeth in this space creating, running, designing and driving Prepared Foods at Whole Foods essentially in the NE for a very long time and now ‘consult’).
For now, I’ll ignore the proposed regulation and dwell on the fact that for every retailer w/ more than (say) 20 locations, there’s really no reason not to have nutritional facts available on prepared foods for their guests.
Here’s why, though much of this is redundant from Thursday's views:
• Industry should ALWAYS lead w/ its best foot forward.
• The lion’s share of prepared foods sold by conventional Grocers (excluding Rotisserie Chicken) is prepared by the big commercial kitchens (Sandridge, Summer Fresh, Greencore, ASK, Winter Garden, etc, etc, etc) and the ingredients and Nutritionals are already available.
• Customers demand quality, continuity and consistency which requires the strict use of recipes!
• Owners, operators, shareholders demand profitability, consistency and predictability of margins. This to = recipes! That should gain the attention of your inner Ferengi.
I’m sure you’re picking up where this is leading!). IF you have recipes and you have continuity w/ ingredients (which you need to preserve customer satisfaction AND your profit margin!) then guess what? It's not a big leap to generate Nutritional Facts.
Think about this, some of the highest cost ingredients are also the ingredients that most contribute to (call it) uglier nutritional facts panels. IF, those who create the recipes are also reviewing those formulas for their nutritional profiles, as well as costs, they will be able to MANIPULATE recipes to be (potentially) more nutritious as well as cheaper (music to your ears?).
Most supermarket employees are NOT Chefs, even if they were, not all chefs are both creative and good at making money.
It’s a competitive advantage IF the retailer is serious about prepared foods.
Complete transparency is here to stay, as you have mentioned once or twice, and this may be the only place left in the store where complete information is not available. For those retailers that want to prosper in the coming decades vibrant prepared foods offering will be part of the equation, and thanks to a supermarket’s size, many have the volume to leverage Nutritional Facts that the local take-out joint can not!
My guess is that the MNB community believes that Grocers are a vital piece of our communities; therefore, we have a responsibility and obligation to foster wellness and health whenever possible, and supplying this information provides just that (true, not for all!). And those retailers that are pursuing full disclosure as well as healthier, more nutritious options seem to be rewarded by fantastic consumer loyalty and FAR higher bottom lines.
Lastly, yes, there are obstacles. Yes, it requires an investment. Yes, some items will have to be exempt (i.e. build your own sandwich bar). Yes, it requires a change in company culture as well as dedicated leadership... but, to me, it’s a no brainer…
You make excellent points ... and you get extra credit for the "inner Ferengi" reference.
Responding to stories about how Whole Foods is opening stores in urban markets and hoping to change its "whole paycheck" image, one MNB user wrote:I too enjoy their stores but could not shop there for everything. I can tell you that the CEO is sending the same message down to his people, but he needs a reality check. I know firsthand that certain departments are requiring twice the margin of their competition. That needs a long term fix as you know, and it cannot all come from suppliers.
On the subject of Walmart apparently doing business with factories in Asia that it previously said were on its banned list because of unsafe employee conditions, one MNB user wrote:I want to give Walmart the benefit of the doubt about them doing business with factories it said it would not buy from. I really do want to think it’s simply because of the complexity of the distribution system. However, given their previous track record of bribery, making people work off the clock, and other problems they’ve had with doing the right thing, it’s hard to. They’ve made it too easy to think of as a company whose sole purpose is to buy things cheap, and not a company with a soul or any kind of social responsibility.
From another reader:I totally agree with your statement, “The other is that Walmart is behaving in a cynical manner, saying one thing and then behaving in another, figuring that at the end of the day, the most important thing is cheap goods, and that the safety of workers in places like Bangladesh is less important than the price of sports bras in Ash Flat, Arkansas”.
To show you how one sided they are they require any factory producing a private label product to conduct quarterly fire inspections and it has to be documented by an outside company. For Walmart that does not apply. The home office in Bentonville is one of the largest with thousands of people working there. They have not had a fire drill this year. My guess is that they don’t mind making their suppliers become less efficient and increase their cost, which they can’t pass along, but they are not willing to spend the money to protect their own people.
Their leadership is at the bottom of the list when it comes to ethical and moral obligations. This is not the Walmart when Sam ran the company.
Wow. Didn't see that one coming.
I did a piece last week about the importance of sampling, which led one MNB user to write:I stopped at a Kroger store last weekend, out front they had a deli employee grilling baby back ribs, chicken and a few other meats. It smelled wonderful. She was giving out free samples and was selling a good bit of product. I’ve long wondered why stores don’t do more of this.
If you go into a Costco store on the weekend, you’ll find food samples all over the place. Sam’s does sampling 7 days a week. To me this is just smart retailing, like baking bread during the evening rush, or making sausage in the morning, cooking bacon, anything that smells good and makes you think of food. Too many stores are missing out.
Regarding Safeway's decision to sell its Canadian division to Sobeys, MNB user Greg Seminara wrote:The Safeway Canada sale appears as a win for Sobeys and Safeway and a loss for Western Canada.
Safeway was the # 6 player in Canada after Loblaw's,Sobeys,Metro,Walmart, & Costco.
So Safeway needed to get bigger through an acquisition of one of the "big 3" retail groups or exit.
Safeway would have likely fumbled a Canadian acquisition, as the three big players are all multi-format and have corporate stores as well as independents and are fairly well optimized. So Safeway sold and they appeared to get a good price. Canada has regional rivalries and food producers just like the USA. Safeway was a dominant player and anchor in Western Canada which accounts for 30 % of population. The loss of Safeway will concentrate 90 % + of Canada's retail buying decisions in the East.
There will be promises of local offices and buying in Western Canada etc., but in the long run all major decisions for Western Canada supermarkets will now be made at least two thousand miles away. This could signal a loss for Western Canada produced brands as well as USA brands from our west coast that entered Canada from the west through Safeway USA connections.
Responding to the possibility that Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. could acquire Fresh & easy with an eye toward reviving the Wild Oats brand, one MNB user wrote:I've always maintained that ANYBODY who would consider the purchase of Fresh & Easy with the idea of keeping it a grocery/food retailer would be absolutely delusional.
To be certain, F & E had many problems, but one of the biggest was their locations, footprints and interior "structuring."
Even non-industry people I know found the locations wildly inconvenient and described their visits as akin to shopping at a fabric store or a Blockbuster in a strip mall.
Really, how inviting is a drab, small building with a small parking lot and little to suggest that these are food/grocery stores.
At minimum, anybody purchasing the chain would have to execute some serious remodeling on all of their stores, something JC Penney tried to do and didn't get very far due to, uhhh, costs.
Does this look like a food store?
I got a number of emails on Friday for my piece remembering my friend, Joan Parker, the widow of novelist Robert B. Parker, who died last week.
MNB user Susan Pedrazzini wrote:Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the passing of Mrs. Parker. I didn't know her personally, but I from her interviews and appearances at book signings, it was so very, very obvious she was a remarkable person. Do you still have a link to the interview you did with Mr. Parker in 1985? He is my favorite author and I would love to read it.
Thanks. To read it, click here
From another reader:Your summary of time with Joan Parker was beautiful, truly heart felt and wonderful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this amazing person.
And another:Your writing abilities are unreal. Your story about your friend Joan Parker got to me! What a wonderful life experience for you my friend! We should all be so lucky...
And another:So I don’t really read books, and obviously never met her or Robert… but that piece you wrote on the friendship you developed was captivating… whether because it mimicked my own views of my respected ‘elders’ or because it was simply fantastically written…but either way, well done. Your reverence for the woman and her husband couldn’t be more palpable
And MNB user John Parvin wrote:Thanks for sharing your story/Experience about Joan Parker. It was powerful, interesting, and of course a bit sad. But, it had a "feel good" sense to it. You have a way of expressing yourself that is both easy to follow, and interesting (I think that was a compliment :). Keep doing what you do...
It's definitely a compliment. And thanks.
Finally, from MNB user Joanie Taylor:Loved, loved, loved your tribute to Joan Parker. My sympathies for your loss…and my thanks for sharing her in a way that otherwise never would have happened. You - and the people to whom you are instinctively drawn - continue to inspire and delight me.
A lot of the great women I've known in my life have had the name. My mom. My daughter's middle name is Joan. Joan Parker. And, by the way, Joanie Taylor.
Coincidence? I think not.