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    Published on: June 20, 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, I'm Kevin Coupe & this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    First, let me warn you. This is a rant.

    Here's the thing. My 19-year-old daughter loves meatballs. Always has. And over the years, we've found that it makes sense to keep a supply of meatballs in the freezer, just in case she's in need of some comfort food. The brand she loves is Rosina's, which makes Italian-style meatballs that just require warming up in a little vodka sauce. Give her some Rosina's Italian meatballs and some vodka sauce at pretty much any time of the day, and she's a happy person.

    The problem is that Stew Leonard's, the store where we've always bought the Rosina's meatballs, has stopped carrying them during the summer, I'm guessing because most normal people don't buy them when the weather is hot. But we're not normal people. I realized the other day that our supply in the freezer was running a bit thin, and since I'm going to be gone for the month of July, I figured I'd try to lay in a supply to get my daughter through the summer.

    I figured there were two ways to go about this. So simultaneously, I reached out to Stew Leonard's and to Rosina's.

    At Stew Leonard's, I told them that I'd be willing to order a case or two, and they said they'd be happy to accommodate me.

    At Rosina's, it was not so simple.

    First of all, the website is a disaster. In order to ask them anything, you have to fill out this long form with SKU numbers and the like. I just wanted to buy frozen meatballs, so that seemed silly. And, there was no ability for online ordering.

    So I called the customer service number, got a recording, gave them my name and phone number, explained the situation and that we were enthusiastic consumers of their Italian meatballs, and asked where else I might be able to buy them in either Fairfield or Westchester counties.

    I didn't get a call back, but a few days later I did get an actual letter in the mail ... which was interesting to me since I never gave them my home address. They had to look me up.

    Now, maybe one could argue that this meant they were trying to provide some old-fashioned service by sending an actual letter ... but that would be a crock. Because the letter was a form letter. It took four paragraphs for them to tell me all about the wonderful products they make, and one short paragraph to tell me that they were including a coupon. Which was not, by the way, in the envelope.

    And then, at the bottom, there is a short handwritten note: "You can find our Rosina Italian style meatballs at Stew Leonard's in Norwalk." And it was signed with a smiley face.

    Really? First of all, I hate smiley faces. (I know I sound like Lewis Black here.) But if they'd listened to the damned voice mail message, they'd know that I already knew that Stew Leonard's sold them. I was wondering about the other options. And they blew it.

    By being completely oblivious to what I was asking, Rosina risked turning a happy, longtime customer who was willing to drive a considerable distance for their damned meatballs into a customer who is totally ticked off.

    This stuff isn't hard. But it does require actually paying attention to what is going on around you. It is hard to be a smart marketer when you are purposefully deaf, blind and dumb.

    Now, we're still going to buy Rosina's meatballs, because the retailer, Stew Leonard's, saved the day. But let this be a cautionary tale for any marketer.

    Because here's the thing. These days, when you tick off one customer, that shopper is likely to share that negative experience with dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people.

    Like I just did.

    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: June 20, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Sometimes, stories just catch me by surprise because they are, quite literally, eye-openers.

    Such as this one, from a website called, provocatively, Food Poisoning Bulletin.

    The story had to do with a lawsuit that was filed charging that Gruma Corp., maker of Mission tortilla chips, was guilty of false advertising because it used genetically modified corn in the chips and then claimed on the bag that the product was "all natural."

    Now, I'm not a litigious guy. But this seemed like a legitimate complaint to me. After all, however you feel about products containing GMOs, it would be difficult to claim that they are all-natural.

    Except ... that's exactly what District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers concluded in a tentative ruling in favor of Gruma.

    How'd she do that? Well, it all comes down to the ruling by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in 2001 that there is no material difference between traditional products and those that contain GMOs, and therefore labeling was not called for. (I think I've made pretty clear how I feel about that piece of FDA prevarication.) The problem, the judge said, is that the FDA "has not addressed, even informally, the question of whether foods containing GMO or bioengineered ingredients may be labeled ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’, or whether GMO or bioengineered ingredients would be considered ‘artificial’ or ‘synthetic’."

    Therefore, the judge said, the FDA has six months to decide whether products with GMOs can be labeled as natural before she issues a final ruling. (Cue the GMO lobbyists to get busy making sure the FDA yet again rules their way.)

    I am gobsmacked.

    Not that she's wrong. In fact, she seems to be pretty much on the money about what the FDA has said and not said, done and not done.

    But I am astonished by the idea that any rational person - as opposed to one who has been, say, bought and paid for by a company highly invested in GMOs - could think that such products are natural.

    They are a lot of things. We can debate whether they are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, positive for global consumption or ultimately a blight on the world of agriculture.

    But natural?

    I don't think so.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    OregonLive reports that just three months after Supervalu sold its Albertsons stores to Albertsons LLC, the company has announced that it is discontinuing the use of loyalty cards, saying that customers won't need them to get lower prices.

    Here's what Albertsons is saying on its website:

    "This week, we began notifying customers that our Preferred Card is no longer required at our stores to receive sales prices on items. We know you’ve had your card for years, and you’re used to having to use our card when you shop to get a great deal.

    "Once upon a time, a shopper card set customers aside. It meant that you were taking extra steps to save money, and we offered special items that were only available at special prices when you had the special card.

    "The card isn’t so special anymore. Everyone has one. So we want to take the special step of not requiring one anymore.

    "Our customers are the only reasons that our doors open every day. Because of you, we exist. It’s that simple. We feel it’s our job to give everyone a great shopping experience, and that includes offering great prices to everyone."
    KC's View:
    When loyalty cards are just glorified ways of offering discounts, then the reason for them really is diminished ... because they aren't really about loyalty. They're about facilitating cherry-pickers.

    Said it before and I'll say it again. Real loyalty marketing demonstrates to the shoppers that the store is loyal to them ... as opposed to using discounts to foster some sort of illusory loyalty.

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    The New York Times reports:

    "When it comes to agriculture, the World Food Prize is the equivalent of the Oscars. This year, the prestigious award went the mastermind behind Monsanto’s big move into genetically modified crops ... the World Food Prize Foundation said the honor and the $250,000 cash prize would be shared by Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, and two other scientists, Marc Van Montagu of Belgium and Mary-Dell Chilton of the United States.

    "The foundation said the work of the three scientists, who helped devise a way to insert foreign genes into plants, led to the development of higher-yielding crops that can resist insects, disease and extremes of climate.

    "The prize has some public relations value for Monsanto and other supporters of bioengineered food. But the choice is also likely to add heat to an already intense debate about the role biotechnology can play in combating world hunger."

    The story notes that "genetically modified crops are grown on 420 million acres by 17.3 million farmers around the world," but also concedes that "the crops are shunned in many countries and by many consumers, who say the health and environmental effects have not been adequately studied."
    KC's View:
    Got it.

    One of the things that interested me about this prize was the fact that the awards ceremony was hosted, as it has been for the past decade, by the US Department of State, which says it does so because it wants to highlight "the role that science, technology and policy play in reducing hunger and under-nutrition."

    But then, as I continued to read up on the prize, I found the following story in Mother Jones, the left wing magazine and website:

    "While the US government's involvement might suggest that the prize is a neutral barometer of agricultural excellence, funders of the foundation which backs it have a vested interest in promoting industrialized farming around the world. In fact, many of the World Food Prize's major donors are among the biggest names in agribusiness today.

    "Out of 125 donors who contributed more than $500 between fiscal years 2009 and 2011 (the years for which the foundation's tax records are most readily available), 26 were either agribusiness or charities directly affiliated with agribusiness. Together, donations from these companies amounted to more than 28 percent of funds raised for that period, a Mother Jones analysis has found. The combined support of ADM, Cargill, Monsanto, and General Mills alone for this period came to more than a half million dollars."

    Yikes.

    So it isn't just the crops that are being genetically engineered? Because from the way this sounds, it also appears that the prize is being manipulated a little bit. As, perhaps, are we.

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    The mayors of 18 American cities have signed a letter sent to the US Congressional leaders that calls for limiting the use of food stamps for certain foods, suggesting that taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize the purchase of things like sugary soft drinks that have been related to obesity and other diseases.

    The cities represented by the mayors include New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Baltimore; Boston; Louisville, Ky.; Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis; Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Providence, R.I.; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; St. Louis; and Seattle.

    "We need to find ways to strengthen the program and promote good nutrition while limiting the use of these resources for items with no nutritional value, like sugary drinks, that are actually harming the health of participants," NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been spearheading the effort, said in a statement. "Why should we continue supporting unhealthy purchases in the false name of nutrition assistance?"

    According to the story, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program, declined to comment on Tuesday's letter. Representatives for Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, to whom the letter was addressed, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

    "The American Beverage Association, which has previously clashed with Bloomberg, said sugary drinks shouldn't be singled out as a cause of obesity. It called obesity "a complex health condition that affects Americans of all income levels."
    KC's View:
    I have problems using tax money for anything other than fresh foods and healthy packaged products. But maybe that's just me.

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the City Council there has voted 11-1 "to prohibit the so-called 'single use' plastic bags in pharmacies, food markets and any large store - including Target and Wal-Mart - that has a grocery section."

    The story goes on to say that the "vote offered a sweeping victory for environmental activists. Once the ban goes into effect, around one-fourth of California's population will be covered by laws that will move consumers toward reusable bags ... L.A.'s ordinance, first embraced by the council in March 2012, will be phased in over the next year, reaching large stores on Jan. 1 and smaller ones on July 1, 2014. Customers who want paper bags will have to pay 10 cents for each one, according to the ordinance."

    The vote comes just three weeks after the California Legislature defeated a similar bill that would have been state-wide in its impact. The Times reports that "opponents of the ban referred to the paper bag fee as an unfair tax. And they argued that it will hurt business in the region, particularly the plastic-bag makers that operate in the southeast section of Los Angeles County."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    The Boston Globe reports this morning that Dunkin' Donuts "will begin offering gluten-free doughnuts and muffins in all its U.S. locations this year, after a series of successful tests in Boston, Hartford and Miami.

    “At Dunkin’ Donuts, we recognize the importance of providing our guests with many options, including alternative choices for people with food and dietary restrictions,” said Michelle King, director of global public relations, in a prepared statement.

    The story notes that "according to a 2012 report from Packaged Facts, gluten-free sales in the U.S. are expected to reach more than $6.6 billion by 2017. Another recent study from research firm The NPD Group, Inc. found about one third of American adults say they want to cut down on or eliminate gluten from their diets to improve digestion. Meanwhile, about 1 percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, which causes gluten intolerance, but others have allergies to the protein without having the disease."
    KC's View:
    I don't eat a lot of doughnuts anymore. But I do wish that they'd bring back the original Dunkin' Donut that was made to have a handle on it. It was perfect for dunking ... which I thought was the point.

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    Crain's Chicago Business reports that drug chain Walgreen "is joining with Chicago-based solar developer SoCore Energy LLC to build more than 200 solar installations at Walgreen drugstores throughout California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. This expansion will bring the number of completed solar projects at Walgreen stores to more than 350, which the Deerfield-based drugstore chain says is more than any other retailer in the country. Walgreen has about 8,100 U.S. locations."


    • Weis Markets announced it has received the Silver Award in the 25th DuPont Awards for Packaging Innovation. Weis said it "received the award for developing the industry’s first closed-loop 100 percent recyclable modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) meat trays made from recycled plastics. The trays were developed in partnership with Clearly Clean Products ... a company that specializes in custom thermoformed packaging solutions."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Netherlands-based Royal Ahold has hired Hanneke Faber, most recently global leader for P&G’s Pantene, Head & Shoulders and Herbal Essences hair care brands, to be its chief commercial officer, responsible for customer service initiatives and global online expansion.

    Faber isn't just an accomplished businesswoman; the story also notes that she was "the Dutch national diving champion between 1985 and 1991."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    James Gandolfini, who played mobster-in-analysis Tony Soprano in HBO's groundbreaking series "The Sopranos," died yesterday while vacationing in Italy. He was 51, and reports varied about whether he died of a stroke or a massive heart attack.
    KC's View:
    In the history of television, there are a few actors who so completely connected with their characters that the roles became iconic and the portrayals the stuff of legend. Some that come to mind are Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo, James Arness as Matt Dillon, David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, and, yes, James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, who could at once be dangerous, introspective, pathetic and funny. It is hard to imagine anyone else in the role, he was that submerged into the character ... and while his passing is premature, to say the least, he leaves behind one of the most effective characterizations even portrayed on TV. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

    Published on: June 20, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View: