retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    by Kate McMahon

    "Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

    To any parent of a child with nut allergies, Halloween is a potential nightmare. Ditto birthday parties, school lunches and team snack times.

    College buddies Dave Leyrer and Pete Najarian, who each have a child with life-threatening nut allergies, decided to do something about it last year.

    The pair founded Skeeter Snacks, a line of cookies and snacks made specifically for those with tree nut and peanut allergies. Frustrated by difficult-to-decipher labels, their goal was to create an affordable, tasty product that was clearly nut-free.

    Eighteen months later, they are clearly on the road to success. Skeeter Snacks now are available on and in 2,000 stores nationwide, including Walmart, ShopRite, Costco, CVS, Toys-R-Us, Market Basket, Roche Bros., Hannaford and Walgreens. (Sales figures were not available for the privately held company based in Westport, CT.)

    And the product is clearly meeting a need. Peanut and tree nut allergies are the most common, the fastest growing and among the most dangerous and permanent of allergies. In 1997 an estimated 0.6% of children in America had a peanut or tree allergy. That number has skyrocketed to 3.1% of children in 2013, representing 38% of all allergies. “Nut-free” is becoming the norm in many elementary schools.

    For Skeeter Snacks, the business challenge was marketing the product as a great tasting treat for everyone, not a pricey item for “allergic” people that tastes more like cardboard than a cookie.

    Enter a quirky, recognizable mascot in Skeeter, billed as the world’s only squirrel with a nut allergy, and a multi-faceted social media marketing campaign. Laurie Witt, the firm’s marketing director, tells MNB that Facebook and Pinterest are the platform of choice in terms of increasing market awareness and ultimately driving sales, including the Store Locator option.

    I went with that option and first attempted to buy the product at the nearest Walmart, where it was sold out. Struck out at the next ShopRite, illustrating the downside of store locator guidance. But the third try was the charm at Toys-R-Us, where I purchased an 8-ounce box of Chocolate Chip Minis and Cinnamon Grahams for $3.99 each – labeled totally-nut-free, all-natural, whole grain, no trans-fat and no high fructose corn syrup. An informal tasting panel by the Connelly Kids (my neighbors) – the target market at ages 8, 12 and 14, none with allergies – gave a general thumbs up on taste, with two of three preferring the chocolate chip.

    Skeeter Snacks has also launched an innovative “No Nuts About It” Pin It to Win It campaign on Pinterest, the rapidly-growing content sharing service that allows members to "pin" images, videos and other objects to their pinboard. (I’m a new user on Pinterest, which was founded three years ago and is now valued at a whopping $3.8 billion.) The campaign encourages participation through weekly incentives and integrates all of the company’s social media sites.

    Beyond the numbers, the two dads said they hoped to create a product with wider appeal, so that the kids with allergies wouldn’t feel excluded, yet again, packing their personal “safe snack” for seemingly every occasion.

    I get that. On a personal note, I am very allergic to shellfish, and my daughters are moderately allergic, so we all have Epi-pens, question ingredients, scrutinize sushi and even have our dinners cooked separately at a group hibachi restaurant. However, managing a shellfish allergy seems but an inconvenience compared to the constant worry and due diligence that kids and parents with nut allergies face on a daily basis.

    So in the spirit of a safe and happy Halloween for all, I’ll be handing out Skeeters tomorrow night.

    Comments? Email me at .

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    A central tenet here on MNB since the beginning has been the necessity of paying attention to the broader worlds of popular culture, technology and business as a way of finding inspiration and innovation. My feeling has always been that I get a lot better sense of where the world is going by reading publications ranging from The New Yorker to Fast Company to Variety - as well as paying attention to an equally diverse range of websites, television networks, podcasts and newspapers - than I do by reading the traditional retail trade publications. I want my mind expanded, not limited by a kind of institutionalized epistemic closure.

    Yesterday, I bumped into a perfect example of this kind of expansive, even hip thinking. And, go figure, I found it where the air is sweet. I found it on Sesame Street.

    It's been awhile since I've watched "Sesame Street," but I caught up with a segment from the show on YouTube that showed exactly how with-it the show's writers are - because they produced a perfect-for-kids-but-also perfect-for-their-parents parody of "Homeland," the hit Showtime series. Called "Homelamb," it is absolutely pitch perfect, and hysterical … and all I could think of when I saw it was the fact that any parent who watched it with a child had to be enormously entertained. Which is all you can ask of a TV program.

    BTW …speaking of being with-it, I am intrigued by the fact that later today, First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to do a White House press conference with "Sesame Street" characters Elmo and Rosita, plus representatives of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the Partnership for a Healthier America. They're being mum about the exact subject, except to suggest that it is linked to the recent call by Mrs. Obama on the food industry to leverage the power of marketing to promote healthy products and decrease the marketing of unhealthy products to kids.

    Whatever they're planning, it seems to be that if they want to affect how kids think about food, any team that includes the characters and attitude from "Sesame Street" and the savvy folks from PMA has a strong likelihood of creating a winning strategy.

    Check back here tomorrow to see what they announced.

    Betcha it'll be an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    All Things D reports that Netflix, having thrown down a competitive challenge to traditional television networks by producing its own series - "House of Cards" and the revival of "Arrested Development," for example - now is doing the same thing to the movie industry.

    The story notes that the company's "content boss," Ted Sarandos, has said several times in recent days that the company is likely to start investing in movies that would run for the first time on the Netflix streaming service.

    “What we’re trying to do for TV, the model should extend pretty nicely to movies," he said. "Meaning, why not premiere movies on Netflix, the same day they’re opening in theaters? And not little movies — there’s a lot of ways, and lot of people to do that [already]. Why not big movies? Why not follow the consumers’ desire to watch things when they want?”
    KC's View:
    There have been suggestions in the media that there is no way that Netflix will ever be able to get movie studios to agree to debut major movies via streaming, at the same time as they are being shown in theaters. But I'm not sure that this is true. After all, it wasn't that long ago that few people would have guessed that Netflix would get into the series production business. Now, not only is Netflix doing it, but so is Amazon, seeking differential advantages and dedicated content consumers.

    While there are a lot of movies that should be seen on the big screen - Gravity instantly comes to mind - there are plenty of movies that might get a lot more exposure if they were seen on a multitude of platforms simultaneously. Someone just has to prove out the economics … and it is a pretty good bet that the company that does it will be Netflix.

    By the way, on a related subject…

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) officially recommending that parents should ban the use of electronic media during mealtimes and after bedtime, suggesting that "excessive media use is associated with obesity, poor school performance, aggression and lack of sleep."

    Well, good luck with that.

    Because National Public Radio's Marketplace reports that "a new study from the group Common Sense Media found that 38 percent of children under two have used a mobile device, like an iPhone or tablet computer. That’s up from 10 percent just two years ago."

    The story goes on: "Media companies have noticed. Disney just announced its new show for preschoolers, 'Sheriff Callie’s Wild West,' will debut on an app and only later come to TV. Disney’s own research found more than half of households with children now have tablets."

    One can assume that other companies will follow suit … looking to provide content to different platforms in the same way that Netflix is looking to attract fresh content to its platform.

    It is all about businesses not accepting the limitations that go along with traditional business models, and looking to find innovations and differential advantages wherever and whenever they can.

    It is all about ignoring conventional wisdom, because being conventional is no way to run a business.

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    Advertising Age reports that Red Bull is the subject of an $85 million wrongful death suit after a 33-year-old man died while playing basketball after having consumed the energy drink. The cause of death was reported to be idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy - meaning, his heart stopped.

    According to the story, "A Red Bull spokeswoman declined to comment on the case. She pointed out, however, that Red Bull is available in more than 165 countries because health authorities have concluded it is safe to consume. About 35 billion cans have been consumed since Red Bull was created more than 25 years ago, she added."

    The US Congress has held hearings into the safety of energy drinks, but most of the attention has been focused on limiting their consumption by kids 18 and younger.

    And more bad news for the energy drink business: Ad Age says that "Dr. Oz is also expected to take on energy drinks during an episode airing this week."
    KC's View:
    This is one of those categories that I'm convinced at some point will implode. It just seems inevitable to me.

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    City Wire reports that Walmart announced yesterday that it is promoting 25,000 employees around the country to "jobs with higher pay and more responsibility during its fourth quarter, for a total of  160,000 promotions accomplished this fiscal year."

    Walmart executives were said to traveling the country to announce the promotions in person at stores.

    “Our success from day one is a direct result of our associates and the hard work they do in taking care of our customers. We are proud to provide our people with additional employment opportunities and greater economic security for their families,” Walmart US CEO Bill Simon said in a statement.

    However, not everyone saw the promotions as a positive sign. The story notes that the company's critics were quick to say that "the move is a response to claims that the retailer has cut hours for full time workers and has a large number of employees who make less than $25,000 a year."
    KC's View:
    They say that this is just a public relations move like it is a bad thing. Well, I can think of 25,000 employees and a bunch more family members who think that Christmas came early this year.

    Is this an attempt to address an image problem? Certainly it is, at least to some extent. But isn't that what companies with an image problem are supposed to do?

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    USA Today reports that a new report, funded by Corporate Accountability International and The Small Planet Fund, charges that while McDonald's gets 100 percent of the "branded benefit" from Ronald McDonald House charity efforts, it only contributes about 20 percent of the funding that jeeps it going.

    "McDonald's is basically a minor financial supporter of its own Ronald McDonald House Charities and should immediately stop linking longtime spokes-character Ronald McDonald with it," the report says, while emphasizing that the questions it is raising are ethical, not legal.

    "McDonald's categorically rejects this self-serving and biased document and stands proud of the significant financial support and volunteer hours we have and will continue to provide to Ronald McDonald House Charities and other charities worldwide," Bridget Coffing, senior vice president of corporate relations, says in a response to the charges.
    KC's View:
    To be honest, it never occurred to me that McDonald's was contributing all the money. I'm a little surprised by the ratio, but the fact remains that this is an important charity with high visibility, and part of the reason that it is a high profile charity is the McDonald's support and visibility.

    If McDonald's gets 100 percent of the brand recognition for that, I don't see how this is bad, wrong, or unethical.

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    MarketWatch reports that Amazon's book publishing business - designed as a kind of private label publishing initiative that would produce physical books that would be sold in traditional bookstores as well as on Amazon, and e-books that could be sold for the Kindle - seems to be showing very little traction.

    "The business does not even merit much, if any, attention from Wall Street. On its earnings call last week with investors, not one analyst asked how the publishing business was doing and it was not mentioned in any analyst reports available to MarketWatch."

    In addition, the story notes, Larry Kirshbaum, the publishing executive hired by Amazon to run the business, will depart the company early next year.

    MarketWatch writes that "the biggest problem may be that many booksellers all around the U.S., especially rival Barnes & Noble, are for the most part, not selling the physical books published under Amazon’s imprints. The animosity between booksellers, who feel Amazon has completely up-ended the book publishing industry and driven some books stores out of business with its lower prices, has come back to haunt the e-commerce giant.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced that it now is accepting nominations for the Annual Store Manager Awards. Ten finalists will be honored at FMI Connect, The Global Food Retail Experience, scheduled for June 10-13, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Entries will be judged based on the person's impact on employee development, sales growth, customer satisfaction and community service, as well as originality and creativity of the entry.

    Nominations are being accepted across four categories: Small retailers (1-49 stores); Medium retailers (50-199 stores); Large retailers (200+ stores) and International retailers. Finalists from each category will receive two complimentary registrations for FMI Connect and three nights of hotel accommodations in Chicago. The four grand prize winners will each receive a $1,000 prize and a crystal award.

    •The New York Times reports that Sears Holdings is considering "splitting off" its Lands' End and Sears Auto Center businesses from the core Sears and Kmart chains.

    "We believe separating the management of these two businesses from Sears Holdings would allow them to pursue their own strategic opportunities, optimize their capital structures, attract talent, and allocate capital in a more focused manner while bringing our business unit structure to life outside of the Sears Holdings portfolio,” the company said in a statement.

    Sears Holdings. From all reports, it is close to becoming a dead company walking. Or stumbling.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    Yesterday, MNB wrote:

    "In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that Target plans to open 33 new stores in Canada next month, bringing the total number of Canadian units opened in 2013 to 124 - the largest number of openings in a year in the company's history."

    However, reasons I cannot explain, the headline read:

    "Target Plans 124 Canadian Store Openings Next Month"

    Maybe it was a brain freeze. Maybe it was a senior moment. Maybe it was my fingers once again moving faster than my brain. Or maybe I should've had more coffee.

    Whatever the reason, I goofed. I apologize. (Especially to the Target folks in Canada who suffered palpitations when they saw the headline…)
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 30, 2013

    Regarding the possibility of a tax of soft drinks in San Francisco, one MNB user wrote:

    The point is not to decrease soft drink consumption but to tax an 'evil' product to provide revenue to teach about good food. 

    I'd love to know how they did they their study - what it correlates to and where those numbers come from?

    I've been chubby, fat, obese - whatever you want to call it -  my whole adult life and news flash, I don't drink soda. I eat well, exercise, work out with a trainer in fact, choose organic, etc. etc. and I'M FAT.

    The riddle that is obesity isn't that simple and simply being fat doesn't mean you're riddled with disease.

    Besides childhood obesity rates are on the decline. I think the more interesting thing is to follow the money drug companies, diet companies and hospitals make on treating obesity in an of itself as a disease. 

    I questioned yesterday whether a tax that increases porches would actually affect consumption. One MNB reader wrote:

    Perhaps the price increase will do nothing to change people's behavior (I'm inclined to believe that's true, too), BUT if the money does indeed go to nutrition and recreation programs, perhaps it will increase the number of people who "are only going to do things like reduce soft drink consumption if they decide that doing so is good for their health."  I'm just sayin'…

    From another:

    Does anyone believe politicians can drive healthy behavior through legislation?  Are soft drinks the leading cause of obesity?  Why single out soft drinks?  What about salty snacks, cookies, cakes and candy bars?  Let’s impose additional taxes on every food that might lead to obesity.  Once we’ve racked up those wins, we can discuss taxing people who don’t go to the gym, or watch too much television, or spend too much time on their computers.  Open season on unhealthy behavior!  Wait…do we want that much government in our lives?  Are these proposed taxes on soft drinks opening the door for new revenue streams that continue to fund bad behavior by government?

    One reader thinks it is a pretty good idea:

    I would agree with you that it probably won't have a big impact on behavior, eg. Tobacco tax. But I love the funding idea!  If it doesn't work it could create a positive impact on funding. Very creative.

    Another reader chimed in

    I hope that referendum passes as I would love to see the extent of the likely result - huge increases in soda and sugared soft drink sales in the areas adjacent to the city of San Francisco.  Wonder if it would apply to internet sales deliveries into SF?  I am sure fruit juices and sweetened chocolate milks will be exempt though that is an illogical distinction from a dietary standpoint.

    From MNB reader Brian Polk:

    More overreaching by government. No surprise this initiative is in California. Somehow, the high speed rail program will become a health issue that this tax can be used to support.

    I get really tired of people bashing California, which, while it has had a tough few years, seems to be enjoying a resurgence.

    I love California. I love the geography, the people, the climate, and the diversity. Sure, it has its share of negatives … but so does every state.

    On another subject, MNB reader Mark Delaney wrote:

    You may have grown tired of the Southwest story but I have to take issue with one of the respondents who believes they’re still different. I was one of their first converts – largely due to convenient and on-time flights from Islip ( regional on Long Island ) to Chicago where I have a lot of business. I was one of their preferred “A List” members for quite some time – until the flight crews became less friendly, they got rid of directs to Chicago – now they want me to go to LaGuardia and if I’m going to put up with that heck on earth I have many more options especially given they’re often no longer cheaper – and they are as delayed out of LGA as any other carrier. Charging for bags would simply be another fall down the ladder from what they started as which was a pleasant, cheaper alternative to the other carriers. Many smarter than me would agree that it takes a lot of effort and investment to distinguish your brand from the others, it looks like they’re willing to risk giving that away and it may be very hard to get back – if they even can…
    KC's View: