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: January 7, 2014

    by Michael Sansolo

    There are things people “know” that are debatable, sometimes just plain wrong and, in the worst cases dangerous.

    Columnist George Will wrote last week about some of the bad “facts” Americans believe. Forget about the controversial and just consider this: nearly 20 percent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth even though the opposite has been accepted scientific doctrine for hundreds of years.

    But what does that have to do with you and your job? The answer is plenty, because the retail food industry interacts with the population so regularly and in such an important way.

    Consider the recent cover story from Consumer Reports on the general safety of chicken. No doubt, many in this industry would take issue with some of the articles recommendations on issues from organics to the use of antibiotics.

    However, there should be no disagreement when it comes to food safety and there the article finds clear reasons for concern. In a survey of 1,000 respondents, Consumer Reports found a mixed bagged of safety practices. For instance, nearly all of those surveyed say they wash their hands regularly when handling poultry, while strong majorities say they have specific cutting boards for raw meat and they make sure to use separate plastic bags for poultry purchases in supermarkets.

    Yet, more than 70 percent say they wash chicken before cooking, a food safety no-no because of splattering. And although more than 80 percent say they cook chicken to the recommended temperature, only 30 percent say they have a thermometer to actually check if they are really doing just that.

    Certainly no one wants to cook in an unsafe manner. Rather the problem is that like the lack of celestial skills, many shoppers really don’t have the proper information despite years of non-stop reminders from media, the industry and virtually every package of chicken they buy.

    The point of this is that we can never make assumptions about what people do and don’t know - first, because assumptions are rarely correct and second, because we have to remember that we are seeing new people all the time.

    Last week MNB ran a short article that might have contained the most significant information for the entire economy. The article reminded us that this year the last of the Post-World War 2 Baby Boomers turn 50. The generation—my generation—that once warned us not to trust anyone over 30, will now be swearing that 70 is the new 50 and 50 the new 30, therefore keeping us believing we are forever young.

    But we aren’t. There are powerful issues the entire economy will face as the 77 million strong Boomer generation ages, from the lack of retirement resources, to demands on the health system to understanding how the job market and work force will change. Those demographic issues are among the reasons Amazon is working so feverishly to get products to us simply, why so many companies are experimenting with smaller stores and even why Aldi is trying to open as many units as possible.

    For so many reasons we seem to be constantly swimming in uncharted waters.

    At the same time, we have the equally massive Millennial or Gen Y cohort moving into adulthood and defining how they live, work, shop, cook and eat.

    And that’s why those misperceptions about chicken matter. We have to constantly remind ourselves that today’s consumers don’t remember the important messages of even just a few years ago, so our discussion of the basics never gets old. We have to engage them in how to cook, shop and eat to keep them safe and enthusiastic.

    We have to remind them about the power of eating meals at home with families, about nutrition, economics and all that other good stuff.

    And we have to remind them that in a world of Facebook, Twitter and the like, the sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth and certainly not them.


    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    So the other day, Mrs. Content Guy and I wandered into an appliance store, and my attention was immediately drawn to a television screen at the back of the store. It was a gorgeous, 56-inch screen that had the brightest, clearest, crispest picture I'd ever seen. It was extraordinary. It was magical. I wanted one.

    Except, of course, this Ultra HD TV screen was on sale for $5500, which was more than a little out of my price range. And, as I chatted with the salesman, we agreed that the reason that the picture was so amazing was that the image was being fed from a computer hard drive. If you play "The Blacklist" or "CSI" on that screen, it won't look any better than it would on a HD screen, because it isn't being produced and broadcast in Ultra HD. The production of such programming in Ultra HD almost certainly is years away.

    I joked with the salesman as we left the store that the Ultra HD TVs would start selling like hotcakes as soon as the format was adopted either by the NFL or the porn industry … if those content providers start making product available in Ultra HD TV, people would start buying TVs on which to play it. (Porn traditionally has been on the front lines of technological innovation, followed by sports.) Mrs. Content Guy rolled her eyes at that particular observation, we strolled out, and that's where the conversation ended.

    Except that the future arrived a little faster than I expected.

    Variety reports this morning that at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in LasVegas, Samsung announced agreements with Netflix, Comcast, Paramount Pictures, DirecTV, 20th Century Fox, and Amazon that will "bring 4K video to the company’s 2014 line of UHD televisions."

    What the agreements mean is that these various entities will either produce Ultra HD content or convert existing content to Ultra HD, which the companies believe will drive more people to buy the Ultra HD sets. Among them - Netflix, which will make the second season of "House of Cards," its breakthrough streaming TV series, available in the higher definition format.

    "2014 will be a breakthrough year for Ultra HD and it is important to deliver on not only the top-of-the-line products but also great content to fully enjoy the benefits of Ultra HD,” Kyungshik Lee, senior VP of the service strategy team for Samsung’s Visual Display Business, said in a prepared statement.

    No announcements about porn or NFL content being available in Ultra HD. At least not yet.

    But don't bet against it.

    Mostly, take this as a kind of Eye-Opening lesson … which is that the future almost always arrives sooner than you expect, and innovations almost always gain traction faster than you expect.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    Ahold USA said yesterday that it has reached a number of important milestones, including the opening of its 120th pick-up point for customers ordering from its Peapod division, and the opening of a "digital innovation hub" called Peapod Propulsion Labs, that "will serve as the company’s center of development excellence focused on driving the innovation that is powering the growth of e-commerce in Peapod and the Ahold USA divisions."

    “There is healthy competition for online talent and we want to attract that talent to fuel our ambitious growth plans. A highly inspired workplace in Chicago is a good start in getting key online talent into our company,” Jan van Dam, Ahold USA's executive vice president, e-commerce and supply chain, said in a prepared statement. “Peapod Propulsion Labs is designed to leverage Peapod’s e-commerce expertise across our organization as we continue to take steps to help customers shop where they want, how they want and when they want.”

    James McCann, Ahold USA's COO, added: "The retail world is changing fast and fulfilling the needs of the connected customer is a crucial part of future growth. 120 pick-up points, compared to eight only a year ago, represents great momentum and solid proof of our successful omnichannel execution. Our combination of in-store shopping, home delivery and pick-up points is key to delivering on Ahold’s Reshaping Retail ambitions.’’

    Ahold says that it has a company-wide target to triple its online food sales by 2016.
    KC's View:
    I always thought that it took a little longer than expected for Peapod to embrace the pick-up model as something that would effectively complement its delivery systems, but since they started there is no question that they've worked hard to exploit its possibilities as much as possible.

    And I totally agree with the observation that all these efforts - especially creating an innovation lab that can focus exclusively on reimagining the future and figuring out what the company's role in out will be - are necessary to remaining relevant and vital, not to mention competitive in a fast-changing marketplace.

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    Bloomberg Businessweek has a story about how dozens of supermarkets in Cleveland, Seattle and San Francisco are testing Apple's iBeacon technology, which "allows Apple to pinpoint the location of a smartphone user within a few feet by bouncing signals off of inexpensive sensors constantly on the lookout. Because the technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy to send and receive signals, it can do so in confined spaces like stores without draining phone batteries." This, the story says, "will allow companies to beam advertisements to people’s smartphones at the exact moment they’re standing in aisle six trying to decide which brand of beans to buy."

    The story goes on to say that "people have pretty high hopes for the new Bluetooth standard and iBeacon, and similar capability was integrated into a recent version of Android’s operating system. While the applications stretch beyond retail, stores have been pretty quick on the draw. Last month, Apple began using iBeacons in its own retail locations, and Macy’s (M) is working with Shopkick (PDF), an app developer, on a pilot program running in its New York and San Francisco locations." And, a company called InMarket "says it will activate its own iBeacons in more than 100 Giant Eagle and Safeway stores in the next few weeks, a major test for the concept’s appeal beyond the world of early adopters."
    KC's View:
    I'm sure there will be privacy issues here, but ultimately I think people will be attracted to a concept that will make the store more relevant to their needs, not less so. And that really what this does.

    I continue to firmly believe that in the long term, the retail winners will be the companies that accumulate germane consumer data, effectively analyze it, and then act on it in appropriate and relevant ways. If their use of the data appears to the consumer to be exploitive, that won't be a good thing. But if the message is that the retailer is serving as an agent for the consumer, on the consumer's side, then this technology will be welcomed.

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    Advertising Age reports on a new eMarketer study of how people use their iPads … which is important if your customers use tablet technology to either access information about products they want to buy, or actually do their shopping via tablet computer.

    • Email is the most used "sharing mechanism" on iPads, not Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest.

    • Google refers more than twice as many iPad users as Facebook.

    • The iPad's busiest hour: 9-10 pm. However, the "most thoughtful time" for the iPad is 12-1 am, when people tend to spend more time on their iPads.

    • "Men's lifestyle content" is said to be the most engaging content on iPads based on usage, with "business/finance" content coming in second.
    KC's View:
    I'm an enormous Apple fan - I write on a MacBook Pro, and regularly use an iPhone, iPad and even Apple TV. But when I see this data about how the iPad is used, I wonder if it all adds up to a user base that skews a little older.

    If I'm right about that, it isn;t a problem for me … but it could be a problem for Apple, which has to make sure it stays both cool and relevant to a younger demographic.

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    Internet Retailer reports that Safeway "has updated its web site so that visually impaired shoppers can use it. While the look of the site remains unchanged, it now meets the World Wide Web Consortium’s accessibility guidelines, Safeway says. Those guidelines include a minimum level of contrast for images and text and making sure the site’s functionality works fully with a keyboard, as some blind shoppers use keys, such as up and down arrows, rather than a computer mouse to navigate online."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    • IGA USA yesterday announced a new program, IGA Hometown Label Services, which it described as a turnkey "community-based marketing program that encourages community non-profit organizations to collect IGA Exclusive Brand product barcodes in exchange for funding towards organizational needs."

    According to the announcement, "eligible non-profit organizations submit an application to the IGA Hometown Label Savers team, identifying their preferred IGA store location. Once approved by the IGA Hometown Label Savers team, the organization is posted on the consumer-facing IGA Hometown Label Savers microsite … letting shoppers know they can start collecting IGA Exclusive Brand barcodes in support of their cause. Organizations collect bundles of 500 IGA Exclusive Brand barcodes from shoppers and submit them to IGA USA in exchange for a $15.00 donation good towards organizational needs."


    • It was just three months ago that Jos. A Bank unsuccessfully tried to acquire Men's Wearhouse. Now, Men's Wearhouse has "gone hostile" in its efforts to acquire Jos. A. Bank, the New York Times writes, "raising its offer to $1.6 billion and taking it directly to the company’s shareholders."

    The Times writes: "The moves signal a new stage in the takeover battle, one that began last year with Jos. A. Bank in the role of unwanted bidder. Now the pursuer is the pursued, one that has so And the onetime target has gone fully hostile, something that not even Jos. A. Bank was willing to do in its own aborted merger campaign."


    • The New York Times reports that Nestlé is selling Joseph’s Pasta, a Massachusetts maker of frozen pastas, to the buyout firm Brynwood Partner, as part of a broader strategy of focusing on core and profitable businesses.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.


    CNBC reports that Starbucks today "will launch portable, less expensive versions of two of its most popular beverages, its caffè mocha and vanilla latte drinks, in the U.S. and Canada," using the just-add-water drinks as a way of grabbing more of the at-home coffee consumption market.

    "At $6.95 for a pack of four," the CNBC writes, "the new drinks, which are the latest iterations of its 'Via' line, will cost less than their counterparts bought at the Starbucks counter. By spring, they will be available at grocery stores at $7.99 for a pack of five … The new line is Starbucks' first dairy-based drinks … The two new drinks join a line of instant coffees, 'Refreshers,' which are cool beverages, and seasonal drinks, like peppermint mocha."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    • C&S Wholesale Grocers yesterday announced the hiring of Mark Verdi, most recently a managing director at Bain Capital in charge of its Global Portfolio Group, to be the company's president, a new position.

    Verdi will take over day-to-day operational responsibilities from Rick Cohen, C&S's chairman/CEO, who will focus more on strategy and innovation responsibilities.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    Jerry Coleman, the former New York Yankees second baseman and MVP of the 1950 World Series, who found a second and more lasting career as a broadcaster, first for the Yankees and later as the voice of the San Diego Padres, passed away Sunday from complications following a fall. He was 89.

    Coleman also served as a Marine pilot, flying in the Pacific during World War II; his baseball career was interrupted when he was recalled to fly during the Korean War.
    KC's View:
    I have distinct memories of Coleman's broadcasting days with the Yankees, listening to him rotate between the radio and TV booths along with Mel Allen, Red Barber, and Phil Rizzuto. I was only a kid, and as often as not I was listening to games under the sheets on a transistor radio … and those experiences had a kind of purity to them. Today, kids access the games on their computers, while being able to simultaneously play games, look up stats, and chat with their friends. Which is all good, and I wouldn't give up the technology for anything, but there's something about that memory, and the sustained clarity of those voices in my mind, that makes me smile.

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 7, 2014

    In the BCS National Championship game, Florida State University scored a late touchdown to defeat Auburn University 34-31.
    KC's View: