business 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: January 6, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Interesting confluence of health-related stories this morning…

    MoneyWatch has a story about an NPD Group survey saying that "the percentage of Americans who are dieting is at an all-time low": only 19 percent of Americans say they are dieting, down from 20 percent a year ago and from about 30 percent in 1991.

    Two things are happening here, the story says. One is that people are transitioning from dieting to "healthier eating," behaving in a way that stresses eating organic foods or whole grains rather than focusing on denial. The other is that Americans have become more tolerant of being a few pounds overweight.

    The shifts in behavior, of course, have business implications, since companies in the weight loss business are going to be hurt by consumer trends that move away from dieting. Which means that weight loss-driven business models are going to have to look for a different pitch to make to consumers.

    • There also was a story on noting that "members of Sears’ loyalty program can earn points toward purchases at Sears and Kmart by logging into the Hoffman Estates-based retailer’s fitness site,, and tracking their physical activity.

    The Points for Progress program works with fitness apps and devices — the device must be a Fitbit or BodyMedia brand, both sold by Sears — and with Netpulse-enabled fitness equipment at more than 500 gyms in the U.S. and Canada.

    • Finally, the Boston Globe this morning has a piece noting that at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, 300 out of 3,300 companies exhibiting - or 40 percent more than the 2013 CES - will be focused on "digital health," as companies "are unveiling wearable health and fitness monitors, sensors for the home and software to tie it all together, providing real-time data for consumers."

    I'm not sure that Sears and Kmart can dig themselves out of the hole they are in though this initiative, but that's probably because the hole is so deep, not because the initiative isn't a good idea.

    And, I'm pretty sure that there will be yet another hit diet book out next week or next month, which there always is, because (as Charles McCord used to say) the last one didn't work. We all love the promise of a quick-fix, the idea of a magic pill.

    But it seems to me that this probably a good thing, as more people focus on broader health issues and perhaps less on yo-yo dieting that focuses on quick solutions to long-term issues.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    The Associated Press reports on a significant anniversary that will be observed this coming Saturday: Fifty years ago, the story says, US Attorney General Luther Terry "released an emphatic and authoritative report that said smoking causes illness and death — and the government should do something about it … In the decades that followed, warning labels were put on cigarette packs, cigarette commercials were banned, taxes were raised and new restrictions were placed on where people could light up."

    Fifty years ago, more than 42 percent of Americans smoked. Today, it has fallen to about 18 percent.

    Still, the story notes, "Smoking is still far and away the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. Some experts predict large numbers of Americans will puff away for decades to come … Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking, according to the CDC."
    KC's View:
    I'm struck by so many things when I read this story.

    One is that 18 percent of Americans still smoke. As Shakespeare wrote, "What fools these mortals be…" The majority of that 18 percent was born after the Surgeon General's report, and yet they continue to engage in risky behavior. (One of the things I'm most pleased about as a parent is that none of my kids have smoked. They watched my mom die of lung cancer after 40 years of smoking, and the image is cemented in memory.)

    Another is that it was a decade or more before the Surgeon General's report that warnings started coming about how smoking could cause severe health problems. Still, people kept doing it, the tobacco companies kept lying about the products they were selling, and people kept dying. I watch a lot of old movies, and I am always saddened when I see John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart or Steve McQueen, and realize that they died because of smoking … and wonder how much longer they might've lived and how much more creative they could've been if they had not smoked.

    Finally - and I know there will be people who disagree with me on this - I think that this is an area in which the government approach to public policy has gotten it right … that we are a healthier country today because of laws and regulations that have been passed.

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    Marketing Week reports that Tesco is overhauling part of its private label offering with a new health-oriented line called Tesco Healthy Living.

    According to the story, "The new brand replaces healthy food ranges 'Tesco Light Choices' and 'Tesco Eat Live Enjoy' and includes 230 products including bakery, ready meals and yoghurts. The new range will offer two options: 'Big on Taste, Lower in Calories', which offers products with 30 per cent fewer calories than comparable products and is aimed at people trying to lose weight, and 'Beautifully Balanced', aimed at people wanting to make healthier choices."

    The piece notes that this is the third private label line revamped by Tesco in the past year, the previous two having been its "Finest" and "Everyday Value" lines.
    KC's View:
    In line with this morning's Eye-Opener, I think it is interesting that Tesco has separated out the losing weight products from the living healthier products. They're not necessarily the same thing, and it'll be interesting to see which of these segments does better in the long run.

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    Excellent piece in the New York Times about how Marriott International is changing the way it does business, moving "from a sea of sameness to a world of difference," investing in its hotel properties in a way that will make them attractive and compelling to younger travelers. The company realizes that it cannot be boring if it wants to grow … and it has hired the first CEO in the company's history who is not a family member to engineer the strategy change.

    The first two paragraphs of the story make clear how things have changed at the company, which now is relying on a number of different hotel brands to drive growth and bring sexiness and variety to a company that always has thrived on discipline and dependability:

    "J.W. Marriott Jr., the 81-year-old chairman of Marriott International, flew to London in September to inspect his company’s new jewel: Edition, a sumptuous boutique hotel intended to anchor a new 100-city chain — the next W, if Marriott has its way. But Mr. Marriott did not stay overnight at the London Edition, as the new property is known, with its laser-lighted nightclub and guest-room paintings of women wearing toilet-paper turbans. He bedded down at Grosvenor House, one of the company’s more traditional luxury hotels.

    “'This is what I know, but I’m the past,' he said, sitting in the old-fashioned floral splendor of a Grosvenor corner suite. Edition, conceived in partnership with the boutique hotelier Ian Schrager, is about the Marriott company’s future. 'We’re trying to get some flash,' Mr. Marriott said. He rose wearily from his chair. 'I’m off to see the flash'."

    You can read the whole story here.
    KC's View:
    There are a couple of great lines from the story worth noting, both of them attributed to the new CEO, Arne M. Sorenson, and both of them focusing on the need for format diversity.

    At one point, he points to the importance of not being "buried in discipline," and how that can inhibit creativity. And at another he says, “Younger guests in particular tell us, ‘Please, whatever you do, don’t give me another beige room.’ ”

    I think those comments should resonate for marketers in a wide variety of venues.

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    Reuters reports that Walmart-owned Asda Group is attributing what it calls a strong in-store and online Christmas performance to a strategy that was not promotion-driven.

    "Our strategy was to focus on gimmick-free, simple every day low price transparency for our customers and to hold our nerve when it came to the sales," the company said in a prepared statement. "This was against the backdrop of many other retailers vouchering heavily and starting their sales early, and resulted in us seeing record footfall over the Christmas period."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    The Christian Science Monitor reports that most booksellers around the country - ranging from Amazon to small independent bookstores - seemed to have a strong Christmas season … even though, instead of there being one gigantic hit book, there were a number of strong titles from which to choose.

    According to the story, "Editors at bookselling industry newsletter Shelf Awareness say that every bookstore they queried reported holiday sales this year were at least as good if not better than last year. And for some stores, the 2013 holiday season was superlative."
    KC's View:
    The lesson here may be that even when a behemoth disrupts traditional business models, there is a way to compete … that one can be successful by being innovative, focused and stressing the things one does well and the things that the behemoth cannot do.

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that "U.S. cattle prices jumped to a record Friday, setting up a fresh hit of sticker shock for consumers at the grocer's meat counter … Analysts said the higher cattle prices likely will be passed along to U.S. consumers in the next few months. That would boost fresh-beef prices at retail that surged to a record $5.014 a pound in November, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 26% increase over five years ago.

    "Higher beef prices could further pinch per-capita U.S. consumption of the red meat, which has slumped 25% in the past three decades as Americans have turned to less-costly meats or avoided animal protein for health and other reasons."

    Philadelphia magazine reports that MOM's Organic Market, a small chain based in Maryland, plans to open a new store on Philadelphia's Maine Line with a 17,000 square foot store that "sets itself apart from places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods by stocking more organic products than other grocery chains, including a produce section made up entirely of organic fruits and veggies, and showcasing lots of locally sourced items.

    "The store will also have a cafe counter called Naked Lunch, where you’ll be able to get fresh juice, sandwiches, hot foods and more. The cafe will be open for lunch and dinner."

    • In Milwaukee, the Journal Sentinel reports that Roundy's is saying that "it will close its stores in Wisconsin early on Monday because of the cold weather that is forecast. 'For the safety of our staff and customers, all Pick 'n Save, Copps and Metro Market stores will close at 8 p.m. on Monday, due to the extreme cold temperatures expected in the area,' the company said in a statement. Stores will reopen at 6 a.m. Tuesday'."

    As of this posting, it is -12 degrees in Milwaukee, with the wind chill factor said to be between -40 and -50 degrees … all part of record cold temperatures hitting the middle of the country.

    • The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that Schnuck Markets Inc. has purchased the Columbia Centre Market Place, a 25-year-old grocery in Columbia, Ill. The store will close at noon Sunday, Jan. 12 and will reopen as a Schnucks store at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    We had a piece last week noting that the youngest Baby Boomers are turning 50 in 2014, which struck me as an Eye-Opener.

    But MNB user Dave Raczkowski had an even better take on the number:

    Is the eye opener that the youngest Boomers are turning 50 this year, or that, ostensibly, the oldest Gen Xers are turning 50 next year?

    Excellent point.

    Responding to last week's story about General Mills now making its traditional Cheerios without any GMOs, and the labeling of its boxes as such - which I think is very important - one MNB user wrote:

    While FDA has made noises about a GMO Free claim being misleading because FDA has determined that is a distinction without a difference, FDA would never try to enforce that viewpoint so food companies are free to label their products "GMO Free" if that is factually correct.  However not even General Mills wants to label foods that may not be GMO Free as "Contains GMO's", a statement that is essentially interpreted by many consumers as a "warning". 

    FDA has tolerance levels for things like insect fragments, mold etc.  Do you advocate that foods also be labeled to communicate that as well?

    To be perfectly honest, I have a pretty low tolerance level for insect fragments and mold … though I try not to think about what might be in the foods I eat.

    From another reader:

    Do you think that General Mills will label all GMO containing cereal as “made with GMO’s”?

    They could do that with all cereals today… could just about any other manufacturer if they so desired.

    Probably not.

    And another:

    Note that the label that is changing states “Not made with Genetically Modified Ingredients” as opposed to “contains Genetically Modified Ingredients” and General Mills made the choice. They are changing one cereal and one label. It will be interesting to see what the change does to the price of a box of Cheerios. Also note they are changing the cereal with least amount of sugar, much cheaper than changing the sweetened versions of Cheerios. I am not knocking them for changing, just noting that the change in packaging isn’t exactly what consumer groups are advocating, but what the food industry is advocating.

    I have to be honest here. While I've generally advocated the labeling of products that contain GMOs, ultimately I don't give an insect fragment which way it gets done. Label them as "GMO-free," or label them as "contains GMOs." I'm sure there are perfectly good arguments for why each if preferable, or even why we need both.

    We can get bogged down in this debate, and then nothing gets done. And that's what I find to be intolerable.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    It was Wild Card Weekend in the National Football League…

    Kansas City Chiefs 44
    Indianapolis Colts 45

    New Orleans Saints 26
    Philadelphia Eagles 24

    San Diego Chargers 27
    Cincinnati Bengals 10

    San Francisco 49ers 23
    Green Bay Packers 20
    KC's View:
    My compliments to the various companies - including Kroger, Meijer, and Procter & Gamble - that bought tickets at various venues, like Cincinnati and Indianapolis, to make sure that the games were sellouts and would not be blacked out for local television broadcast, as per NFL policy. (The tickets were distributed to various charities and veterans groups.)

    Published on: January 6, 2014

    Kick off 2014 with a 14 percent discount on special reports from The Hartman Group, only for MNB readers.

    This is a great way to get the most value for your research dollars. From Multi-Cultural Latino Consumers and Online Grocery Shoppers to Culture of Health & Wellness, Modern Eating Occasions and the soon-to-be-fielded Outlook on the Millennial Consumer, The Hartman Group provides the most comprehensive data and insights into how consumers are evolving and shaping the future of your business.

    To learn more or to order, contact Blaine Becker, Sr. Director of Marketing at:

    KC's View: