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    Published on: June 19, 2013

    This morning, I'd like to use the Eye-Opener to point out a fascinating confluence of stories in this edition of MNB - our first four stories all have something to do with the obesity issue.

    I'll comment on each one of them, but I'm struck by how much this issue remains top of mind ... and the extent to which companies that can address it in a contextual and information-driven fashion can turn it into an opportunity.

    Read on...
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    The American Medical Association (AMA) yesterday said that it is officially recognizing obesity as a disease, suggesting that this move could affect how doctors treat the condition and illnesses that are linked to it, such as diabetes and heart disease. The shift could also prompt insurance companies to cover treatments not previously included in their policies.

    The New York Times reports this morning that "to some extent, the question of whether obesity is a disease or not is a semantic one, since there is not even a universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes a disease. And the A.M.A.’s decision has no legal authority.

    "Still, some doctors and obesity advocates said that having the nation’s largest physician group make the declaration would focus more attention on obesity. And it could help improve reimbursement for obesity drugs, surgery and counseling."

    The distinction may be semantic, but the debate was contentious. According to the Times, "The vote of the A.M.A. House of Delegates went against the conclusions of the association’s Council on Science and Public Health, which had studied the issue over the last year. The council said that obesity should not be considered a disease mainly because the measure usually used to define obesity, the body mass index, is simplistic and flawed.

    "Some people with a B.M.I. above the level that usually defines obesity are perfectly healthy while others below it can have dangerous levels of body fat and metabolic problems associated with obesity."
    KC's View:
    While this may carry no specific legal power, analysts say that the advantage of such a statement goes a long way toward recognizing that obesity is a disease, not just a lack of discipline. To me, that transcends the arguments about body mass and definitions - this is as much about psychology as physiology.

    Where this matters, I believe, is in the way that society approaches the issue in terms of public policy. Food stamps ought not be used for products that can lead to obesity. School lunches ought to be made up of healthy products. Public schools ought to put new emphasis on gym classes that get kids out of their chairs and onto playgrounds and into gyms. And insurance companies ought to be encouraged to pay for preventive programs that actually can cut costs down the road because of decreasing rates of diabetes and heart disease.

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that beginning next month, Starbucks will voluntarily post calorie counts for all its beverages and foods on its menu boards in stores throughout the US.

    It is a step that was taken by Panera Bread in 2010, and McDonald's in 2012.

    According to the Times, Starbucks says that "the information is already available on its printed brochures and on its website and mobile app ... Starbucks said it has allowed customers over the years to create more healthful options by offering sugar-free syrup with no calories or fat since 1997 and launching a beverage-customization option in 2003.

    "More recently, the chain has introduced bakery items without artificial flavors or dyes, cold-pressed juices under the Evolution Fresh brand and salad bowls with fewer than 450 calories each, it said."
    KC's View:
    To me, it is all about information ... and the argument that "everybody knows" how many calories certain items have holds no water. Just be clear about nutritional information, and let consumers decide.

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    USA Today reports that fast feeder Taco Bell has "unveiled plans for a 'Power Protein Menu' - entrees under 450 calories with more than 20 grams of protein - that it also will begin testing on June 25 at its locations in Dayton, Ohio. Taco Bell also will test two additional zero-calorie beverages."

    "For Taco Bell," the story says, "the Power Menu is the first product line where the key driver behind it is balanced nutrition, says Missy Schaaphok, nutritionist and product manager for the fast-food chain. The products include a Power Protein Chicken Burrito, with 400 calories and 24 grams of protein. And a Power Protein Chicken Bowl, with 270 calories and 23 grams of protein."
    KC's View:
    I'm still not going to go to Taco Bell, but I think this is a smart move ... it at least suggests there are options for people who want to eat there but need or want to be careful about their diets.

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    The New York Times this morning reports how Nickelodeon, the children's cable network, has decided not to follow the lead of the Walt Disney Co, which has promised to ban advertisements for foods that do not meet certain nutritional standards from its child-focused channels.

    There appear to be two reasons for Nickelodeon's resistance.

    For one thing, there is money. Food ads are its third biggest revenue category, generating roughly 18 percent of its sales, and banning certain kinds of ads would put a crimp in its financial performance.

    For another, the company believes that it has done enough to raise consciousness about obesity issues, dedicating "10 percent of its promotional airtime to health and wellness messaging. It has also restricted the licensing of characters like SpongeBob SquarePants on certain junk foods and sent millions of dollars to communities to buy equipment like swing sets, among other initiatives. Once a year, Nickelodeon suspends programming on all of its channels and Web sites for three hours as part of a program called Worldwide Day of Play." Nickelodeon apparently believes it does not get enough credit for what it has done, so it is unwilling to give in to calls by activists to do more.
    KC's View:
    While I tend to think that the Disney approach is more responsible and responsive, I really don't care much what Nickelodeon does ... simply because, as a parent, I'm ultimately responsible for what my kid eats. I think my kids would tell you that one of the first things I taught them was this: "Don't believe commercials."

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning about the decisions that Walmart is making as it tries to catch up with's lead in the e-commerce arena.

    An excerpt:

    "Wal-Mart Stores has concluded it doesn't want to simply clone Amazon's model since it also has to worry about supplying its stores.

    "Instead Wal-Mart is creating a vast new logistics system that includes building new warehouses for Web orders, but also uses workers in stores to pack and mail items to customers, because Wal-Mart has determined it is faster and cheaper to send some shipments from its more than 4,000 U.S. stores ... Wal-Mart is being forced to invent its own solution because it still hasn't figured out how to economically deliver all its products into the hands of online shoppers, current and former executives say. It is a remarkable admission for the Bentonville, Ark., company, which became the world's largest retailer in part by the efficiency of its supply chain."

    And another:

    "Neil Ashe, Wal-Mart's president of global e-commerce, says Wal-Mart has solved similar conundrums before—most notably in 2005, when it reinvented its supply chain after plunging into the fresh-grocery business. Groceries now account for 55% of the company's U.S. sales.

    "Still, he concedes the online problem is challenging. He recounts a conversation at a director's meeting held at the e-commerce headquarters in San Bruno in March, when he was asked how long it would take and much it would cost to build out the e-commerce operation. 'It will take the rest of our careers and as much as we've got,' Mr. Ashe says he replied. 'This isn't a project. It's about the future of the company'."
    KC's View:
    He's right. It is the future of the company. And Amazon has a big e-commerce lead. The challenge is, in the broadest sense, to adjust a bricks-and-mortar culture so it can be accepting of e-commerce initiatives. It means breaking down silos that are difficult to eradicate. And it means dispensing with legacy issues that have been built up over decades.

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    Acosta Sales & Marketing is out with its bi-annual "The Why? Behind The Buy" report, reaching the following conclusions:

    The Economy Is Turning The Corner: "Consumer spending is on the rise and up 1.7% in the grocery channel for the first quarter of 2013 ... 33% of shoppers ages 18-44 (Gen X & Gen Y) reported they are making more routine shopping trips, and this number will continue grow as their careers advance, and they marry, have children and purchase homes ... (and) shoppers are buying more in categories across the store including frozen foods, pet food and household products."

    People Want To Eat Healthier: "50% of shoppers indicated that they read nutrition labels 'most of the time' or 'always' ... 81% of shoppers report that they 'usually' or 'sometimes' select and consume healthier foods."

    The Influence of Digital Engagement is Undeniable: "7 in 10 shoppers use Facebook and 45% of them visit brand pages at least monthly, primarily for coupons and special offers ... Year-over-year measurement of digital behaviors, such as visiting a store website to download a coupon, getting e-mails from a manufacturer/retailer and loading coupons onto one’s shopper loyalty card from a website, are on the rise across the board ... (and) 74% of shoppers polled believe that digital devices are important to log in and update loyalty points, while 71% use digital devices to post a product review."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    The Times of London has a story about something called the Helix cork, described as "a cork that does not need a corkscrew ... the Helix cork can be unscrewed and, for those not intent on finishing the bottle, replaced."

    The Helix cork reportedly is being introduced this week at the International VinExpo wine fair in Bordeaux, and looks like a stopper with a large head, but is made of cork and has "a thread finish that allows drinkers to twist open and close, without the need for a corkscrew."

    In addition, the corks are made of granulated cork from Portugal, and "wine stored in bottles with Helix corks had shown no alteration to the taste, aroma or colour after 26 months."
    KC's View:
    Perhaps a way to rescue western civilization?

    Published on: June 19, 2013

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

    • The San Antonio Business Journal reports that HEB, having already garnered considerable attention for exclusively introducing Whataburger-branded ketchup, spicy ketchup and mustard in its stores, now is bringing Whataburger fries to its shelves.

    The product is described as "a french fry cut from real potatoes that can be heated or eaten straight out of the bag."

    “It has been a great partnership,” Whataburger Vice President of Retail Dino Del Nano said in a written statement. “Our customers’ reaction to the availability of our condiments in H-E-B stores has been incredible, and we anticipate the same response with the new Whatafries. Texans know to expect great products from both companies.”

    The import of this went over my head until I spoke with Texans I know, who told me that this really is a big deal. So I bow, yet again, to the wisdom of the folks at HEB.

    • In Elmira, New York, the Star-Gazette reports that Wegmans Food Markets and Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences "are scheduled to announce a partnership that is expected to mean new investment and sales for the state’s cheese producers ... The alliance is expected to open new opportunities for New York’s crop of rising cheese artisans, extend support for artisanal cheesemakers both large and small and increase economic opportunity for dairy farmers."

    Columbus Business First reports that "Kroger Co. will open six more Little Clinic centers inside its Central Ohio supermarkets this summer, nearly doubling the medical care operations’ footprint in the region. The chain also is expanding a two-way referral and co-branding relationship with Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center that started with a trial run in Lewis Center ... Kroger is adding clinics because of increased patient volume and pressure from employers to keep down costs on emergency care."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 19, 2013

    On Monday, MNB reported that Whole Foods has said that it is establishing a new language policy for its employees, responding to criticisms that came after two New Mexico employees said they were suspended for speaking Spanish to each other on the job. (The company said that it had suspended the employees for poor behavior.)

    My comment:

    I'm willing to go with the Whole Foods' assertion that this was a misunderstanding based on lack of clarity, as opposed to an assiduously anti-Spanish policy.

    Here's my feeling. I don't give a damn what language employees use to talk to each other ... as long as they are not talking to each other in front of me when I am the customer, believing that their conversation is more important than taking care of the shopper.

    One MNB user responded:

    This is a case of ass backward political correctness.  As a native Spanish speaker, born abroad but naturalized 40 years ago yet still with an accent, I strongly believe speaking a foreign language in the presence of others is easily the greatest act of EXCLUSION I can think of.   if only the two speakers understand each other, everyone else is by definition excluded from the dialogue.  ENGLISH is the inclusionary language.  not only in the US, but frankly, increasingly, abroad!

    So if Whole Foods really wants to be inclusionary, English is the choice, not the language du jour in any one location or another.   This post makes me want to go off on acronyms, too, which are probably the second most exclusionary thing people do in business situations, often without a second thought.  But that’s for a different day….

    From another reader:

    When I worked in the garment industry, a couple of moons ago, my department was a mix of Chinese, Filipino, American and Latinos.

    As manager I had a department policy: if it is just you and someone else who speaks your language, feel free to communicate in it. The second there is someone with you, who does not speak it, you must revert to English.

    The reason was simply because it is rude to exclude your coworker in a conversation. You could simply be discussing the weather but they cannot understand you.

    If you wished to discuss something else in your language that was more private, that is why you had breaks, lunch and after work. If team was what we were then you respected your coworkers. If someone from another dept had come into our area, they were our customer and treated as such.

    There is never room for being rude at work.

    From yet another reader:

    To add clarity to your point; two of our female employees were pointing and making a comment about a customers shoes to each other. The customer in question’s mother was checking out 2 lanes over and witnessed the exchange though not hearing what they were saying to each other. She called to complain after she left the store, chastising our manager for their behavior. The truth of the story is the two female employees were pointing to the shoes because they LIKED them and thought they were cute! The sad fact is the mother interrupted that they were making fun, not knowing the complete story. By the way the two female checkers are two of our best. Just shows how actions can be misinterpreted and place two really good teammates in a bad situation, they both felt horrible about it also.

    Regarding assertions from the USDA that the rogue field of GM wheat in oregon is just an isolated case, one MNB user had a terrific observation:

    Let’s see: The very same folks who told us this field did not exist are now telling us no other field exists.  Can we get them to make a list of what they don’t know, why they don’t know it, and at exactly what time they failed to know it?  It might just help the rest of us confused folks.


    MNB took note the other day of a Yahoo! Sports story about how a federal court judge stood up to basketball legend Michael Jordan last week, taking a dim view of a lawsuit that Jordan filed in 2009 against Safeway-owned Dominick's in Chicago.

    The suit was filed when Jordan was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Dominick's took out an ad in local newspapers congratulating him - and, saying that he was "a cut above" other players, offered a coupon good for a discount on its Rancher's Reserve steaks. Jordan, apparently annoyed that his image and name had been used without permission, sued Dominick's for $5 million.

    While U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur has ruled that Dominick's has some liability for using Jordan's likeness without permission, he also said last week that Jordan's $5 million price tag was "greedy," and that he was making a "legal mountain" from a "legal molehill."

    I commented:

    What was intriguing about this is that in reading some of the other coverage of this lawsuit, the general consensus seemed to be that while Jordan may think he's being the best defender of his own image and brand equity, in fact he's managed to reinforce the image of him as being a great basketball player but often poor excuse for a human being. (I did not remember, for example, his petty and vindictive speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies ... but the stories about this lawsuit brought those up again.) Imagine how different the case would be if Jordan had argued that, in exchange for the use of his image, Dominick's should be required to supply steaks to Chicago's homeless shelters for a set period of time.

    Brand equity is, for most businesses, the most important thing they have. And it is interesting to consider what the best ways are to sustain and grow that equity. The suggestion from stories about this case suggest that Jordan, in defending what he views as his rights, is actually hurting the broader case.

    One MNB user responded:

    One of the unfortunate aspects of the USPTO is that if you own certain properties, trademarks, service marks or patents…it is your responsibility to protect them…any known use that goes without protection could result in the loss of some protections to the mark holder. This article was evidently written by an individual that does not know much about trademark regulations and was trying to make a point about brand equity. While he was writing his article, let’s remember that the Jordan brand equity is quite sound and profitable, and Jordan himself has fairly high Q-ratings…still…even though there are those that try to raise their own brand equity at the expense of others’ brand equity. It came from Yahoo Sports…consider the source…
    However, having said all that…the lesson is a good one to remember.  All decisions and actions need to be considered from your brand equity and brand strength position.

    I agree that people and companies have to protect their brands and trademarks. I have no problem with that. My argument is that there are ways to do it that actually help your brand rather than damage it.

    Got a nice note from MNB user Deb Faragher about the customer service piece I wrote for

    Great piece on what you learned at the movies, Kevin.  Of course, the unspoken here is that you sharing that experience will make a lot of folks think twice, given a choice, of which theater they’ll choose.  And if they’re like I am, once you’ve inconvenienced me or made me have an unpleasant experience, I won’t return for more and I let my friends know.  They just don’t get it.

    Which is, just FYI, a point that I'll be making again tomorrow in FaceTime.

    BTW...if you're interested, you can read the column here.

    We had a story the other day about a study saying that global retailers think that getting back-to-basics is more important than investing in new trends. My argument is that retailers not already executing the basics on a daily basis already are at a disadvantage from which they may not be able to recover - the basics are the foundation on which investing in trends like social media and e-commerce are built. If you have to get back to them, then you've already lost.

    To which one MNB user responded:

    I agree that back to basics is way over used.  However, one of the basics is giving the customers what they want. If the customer wants online/mobile sales, social media and app development then it has turned into a basic.

    I wrote about going to the driving range with my son on Father's Day, and my poor but enthusiastic performance there.

    Which led one MNB user to wrote:


    Going to the driving range is a gateway process that leads to getting hooked on golf; sort of like how marijuana is a gateway to 'hard' drugs.  A few good shots here and there and the next thing you know, you find yourself going back, and starting to associate with fellow golf addicts.  It starts out slowly a few Saturday games here and there; the next thing you know, you have a regular Saturday morning tee time, and are trying to play 9 holes in late afternoons for 'practice'.

    Golf becomes an addicting, stop now; before its too late!

    And from another:

    See, you really have baseball in your blood, you hit about a .333 average – not bad if you were swinging at those balls with a bat instead of a club...
    KC's View: