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    Published on: January 8, 2014

    by Kate McMahon

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

    Now that farm-to-table has transcended trend status and even fast-food joints offer gluten-free choices, we turn our attention to the next new thing.

    Or in the case of freekeh, the next new old thing.

    The ancient grain is being touted as an up-and-coming superfood, according to our annual distillation of online 2014 food trend predictions from chefs, consultants, editors, marketers, bloggers and just-plain foodies.

    While unscientific, these prognostications are always intriguing and often prescient. As noted, local food sourcing has become a movement, while kimchi has lost its culinary cachet.

    So here is a sampling of 2014 trends:

    Mashup Goes Mainstream: The Cronut craze was just a taste of what is to come. Look for more mashup/eclectic combos in grocery aisles and on menus. While I appreciate the now omnipresent chocolate-sea salt combos and pretzel as the new bun or Dairy Queen Blizzard flavor, I still can’t wrap my tastebuds around Pringles’ Pecan Pie chips. The experts predict that hybrid cuisines debuting this year include Jewish-Japanese and Indian-Mexican.

    Cauliflower Is the New Kale: This cruciferous contender is moving beyond the vegetable dish. Expect to find it as a main course (a cauliflower steak entrée commanded $34 at one gourmet restaurant) and replacing the chicken in Buffalo wings or the mac in macaroni and cheese. (My daughter the chef introduced us to Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower Bites – very tasty.) Cauliflower is currently available in white, orange, purple and green.

    Going with the Grain: Now that we all know how to pronounce and prepare quinoa, make room on the shelves for freekeh, a young, green wheat that is toasted. Dating back to the 13th century Middle East, freekeh is high in fiber, packed with nutrients and low on the glycemic index. The hottest gluten-free grain is teff, which is considered a “resistant starch” and very filling.

    Going Beyond the Morning Teacup: Tea-infused cocktails and tea leaves in rubs, marinades and desserts are garnering attention. (My other daughter the baker points out that a chamomile cookie made the Food Network’s new 12 Days of Cookies list.) The proliferation of Starbucks-owned Teavana outlets as well as independent tea bars and tea emporiums will continue. And the Food Channel predicts that low tea, a quick afternoon pickup meal around 4 p.m., will be come popular.

    Snacks Get Respect: The “healthy snack” category can only continue to grow, as Americans shift from dieting to eating healthier foods. Researchers say nearly 60 percent of all snack foods are now positioned as being healthy, and will replace traditional calorie-laden snacks in the cash register racks. Case in point: While waiting in a Target checkout line this week, the product with premium placement was the Larabar Peanut Butter Cookie, which billed itself as Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Soy Free, Non-GMO and Kosher. Whew. Talk about politically correct.

    More on the Free Movement: As more consumers seek to eliminate wheat, dairy and nuts from their diets for general health reasons, not just food allergies, there’s a huge market for replacements. Expect to find more almond and cashew milks, and pastas and breads made from alternate flours such as buckwheat, quinoa and rice. Retailers that do not embrace/showcase these new products are missing out.

    The Quest for the Next Cupcake, Continued: Macarons, pies and caneles have been hailed as the next must-have dessert, but fell as flat as an undercooked chocolate soufflé. Ice-cream sandwiches and éclairs are this year’s nominees.


    So that’s the short-term view. When asked which current food trend will be the hottest 10 years from now, a survey of the nation’s chefs put environmental sustainability at the top of the list, followed by local sourcing, health/nutrition, children’s nutrition and gluten-free cuisine.

    This is a dialogue I look forward to continuing. In the meantime, my trend research during this week’s “polar vortex” led me to several recipes for tea-infused warm drinks. If you are feeling a similar arctic chill and would like me to share the warmth, please shoot me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about what is described as "a gantlet of people" who work for Amazon that, in addition to their full-time jobs, "play a crucial role in Amazon’s hiring process, interviewing job candidates in other parts of the company. With a word, they can veto any candidate, even if their expertise is in an area that has nothing to do with the prospective employee’s."

    The goal has been to create a more consistent and holistic organization that is less plagued by the silos that often hurt other companies, and the approach dyes back to Amazon's early days.

    However, there's one problem - as Amazon grows (there are now more than 110,000 employees), it has become harder and harder to have enough bar raisers to go around.

    The Journal writes: "There are several hundred bar raisers today across the company, according to former employees, though Amazon won’t confirm a total. Some employees shun the bar-raiser designation, a voluntary program that comes with no extra pay, even though it reportedly can lead to speedier promotions, because of the time demands. Bar raisers may be asked to assess as many as 10 candidates a week, for between two and three hours each, including paperwork and meetings—all while doing their regular full-time job, be it in finance, marketing or product development.

    "That has led to a crunch of bar raisers at times, some managers say."

    There are a couple of things that grab me about this story.

    One is how smart the whole bar raiser concept it. I've been doing this a long time, and pretty much from the beginning, I've heard industry experts decrying the whole silo problem as being one of the central handicaps hurting the retail business. It is very smart for a company to try to eliminate the problem from the beginning.

    That said … the notion that Amazon has grown to the point that it is having trouble being loyal even to a core organizational tenet gives one a sense of the challenges that will continue to face the company. I've heard this before … and that Amazon is trying to compensate by relying more on algorithms than on individual expertise, which could create problems down the road, especially when it comes to any rollout of Amazon Fresh.

    This won't be an easy road for Amazon. And I have to wonder if the next 10 years of the company's existence could actually be more challenging than the first 10 years.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    The Portland Business Journalreports that New Seasons Markets has announced plans for a new store in Southeast Portland's Woodstock neighborhood - directly across the street from a Safeway store. It will, according to the story, "include underground parking for 56 as well as a street-level store, covered parking and a rooftop deck."

    Wendy Collie, the New Seasons CEO, is quoted as saying, ""We love everything about Woodstock — from its students and families, locally owned restaurants, and the fact that there's a working farm nearby."

    New Seasons currently operates 13 stores, with three more in development. When the Woodstock unit opens, it will be the retailer's 17th.
    KC's View:
    I can't say it enough. One of the real pleasures of living in Portland during the summers is having the opportunity to shop at stores like New Seasons, which offer an intelligent approach to shopping, cooking and eating that makes me feel smart just for walking in the front door.

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    The New York Times reports that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged four companies claiming to manufacture weight loss products - Sensa Products, L’Occitane, HCG Diet Direct and LeanSpa - with deceptive marketing, "asserting they made 'unfounded promises' that consumers could shed pounds simply by using their food additives, skin creams and other dietary supplements."

    The companies have agreed to pay a total of $34 million in fines, though they have not admitted or denied any fault.
    KC's View:
    Go figure. You can't lose weight by using a skin cream or sprinkling powder on your food.

    But here's what I don't get.

    If these companies have been lying to consumers, don't let them get off without admitting that they lied. Because if they lied, they stole.

    And while we're at it, why are such companies allowed to stay in business if they are peddling crap to people who don't know better?

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    CVS yesterday announced the launch of what it is calling the Family Vitamin Center, described as "a new health hub on CVS.com that empowers customers to learn more about the vitamins and supplements that can support their personal health goals. This new online resource helps take the confusion out of the vitamin aisle and arms users with comprehensive information about hundreds of vitamins and supplements. The Center features an interactive questionnaire and guidance tools that provide personalized supplement recommendations identifying which options are best suited to address personal wellness goals or health condition. It also allows users to shop by goal, such as heart health or immune support, and get the latest health tips.

    In addition, the company says, "Customers can also sign up for Ship & Save, an automatic replenishment program that offers a 20% savings on every vitamin or supplement purchased and free shipping."
    KC's View:
    What I like about this is the idea that you can use the site as a resource from a variety of directions, customized to the shopper's specific needs … and then the auto-replenishment is the component that actually will generate revenue. It is a great feature, especially in this segment, where consumption usually is steady and ongoing need is regular.

    It is just like Amazon's Subscribe & Save program. More retailers ought to move in this direction, as a way of driving sales and cementing customer relationships.

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the war on trans fats has produced an unexpected victor.

    Butter.

    The story says that the "shift toward natural ingredients and the backlash against trans fats pushed butter consumption in the U.S. to a 40-year high in 2012, according to the latest statistics. Americans now eat 5.6 pounds of butter per capita, up from a low of 4.1 pounds in 1997. In the last decade alone, butter consumption has grown 25%." This despite the fact that until recently butter "was thought to be cloying, fattening, dangerous for your arteries, and it took a creaming from oil-based substitutes like margarine."
    KC's View:
    This is exactly what has happened in our house … and one of the things we've found is that because we're conscious of the fact that butter is a fat, we're using a lot less of it. We don't kid ourselves that it is healthy, but we tend to be much more conscious of how we use it and when.

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    The Seattle Times reports that Starbucks loaded "an unprecedented $1.3 billion on its prepaid cards in the United States and Canada" during the last three months of 2013. According to the story, "The cards amount to a big advance payment to the company, and generally account for about a quarter of Starbucks sales in U.S. stores."

    Without getting specific, Starbucks said the number is a "significant increase" from the same period of 2012, and $610 million of the total - or almost half - represented new card activations.
    KC's View:
    I think I may be most impressed by the number of new cards. At some level, you'd think that Starbucks is a maturing business … but then you see the degree to which new prepaid card activations is driving sales.

    BTW … don't minimize the degree to which the Starbucks app, which allows people to use the prepaid card from their smart phones, is part of the equation. I'm amazed how many people I see at Starbucks whipping out their phones to pay for their coffee. Me included.

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that Roundy's-owned Rainbow Foods "is quietly closing two more stores in the north metro citing increased competition and changing consumer habits, bringing to five the number that have been shuttered in the Twin Cities over the past year."

    “The economic downturn over the last few years, coupled with an increased competitive footprint from the likes of Wal-Mart and others, has made it hard to control costs and remain competitive in the geographies where we have closed stores,” said James Hyland, Roundy’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, in a statement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    ForeSee, which analyzes customer experiences, is out with a report on satisfaction levels during the just-completed 2013 holiday shopping season, concluding that Amazon and LL Bean got the highest grades for company-level satisfaction, while Publix supplanted the Apple Store for having the strongest store experience.

    While Amazon was rated as having the strongest mobile experience, Walmart is described as being the company with the greatest improvement in this area.

    Indeed, these customer satisfaction levels are seen by the study as being predictive of future behavior:

    "When comparing the future behaviors of highly satisfied customers (with satisfaction scores of 80 or higher) to less satisfied customers (with satisfaction scores of 69 or less), ForeSee found that highly satisfied customers this holiday shopping season report being: 71 percent more likely to prefer the company to others, 57 percent more likely to retain loyalty to the company, 72 percent more likely to purchase additional products or services from the company, 64 percent more likely to purchase next time they are in the market to buy similar products or services, 63 percent more likely to give a positive recommendation, (and) 60 percent more likely to trust the company."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    USA Today reports that Smithfield Foods "is asking its hog suppliers to phase out the use of controversial stalls to raise pregnant sows." The move, the company said, "is in response to customers who are looking for the company's suppliers to move toward roomier group housing systems seen as more humane for the animals."

    While the move is not mandatory, Smithfield has said that it is "less likely" that it will renew contracts with suppliers who do not make the change.

    Animal rights groups hailed the decision, but David Warner, director of communications for the National Pork Producers Council, said that "contrary to what animal-rights groups claim, consumers are not asking for this and aren't willing to pay for it in the form of higher meat prices. And that means packers and retailers aren't willing to pay farmers to convert from stalls."


    • The Associated Press reports that Kraft Foods is warning of a Velveeta cheese shortage that could affect availability during the NFL playoffs, a time that traditionally sees a spike in usage.

    No reason has been given for the shortage other than "the nature of manufacturing." The company says that it has not heard from customers who are having trouble finding Velveeta on store shelves.


    • The Seattle Times reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) "appears inclined to approve the so-called Arctic apple, designed by a small Canadian company. First, though, officials must confront some enduring public distaste for genetically modified foods."

    The GM apple has been designed not to turn brown.

    According to the story, "Organic growers … fear that honeybees will spread genetically engineered apple pollen and contaminate organic orchards. Some consumer advocates maintain a more general antipathy toward engineered foods, while industry groups that include the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima also object to what would be the first genetically engineered apple in commercial production."


    • Jim Sinegal, the founder and former CEO of Costco Wholesale, will receive the National Retail Federation (NRF) Gold Medal Award, its highest honor, when the organization holds its annual convention in New York City next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    I've had a couple of goofs lately that I need to own up to…

    In my piece about the landmark Surgeon General report on the dangers of smoking, I mistakenly referred to "US Attorney General Luther Terry."

    He was, of course, the Surgeon General.

    And yesterday, I wrote that "House of Cards" was produced by Amazon.

    It is, of course, produced by Netflix.

    In both cases, it was a matter of my fingers moving faster than my brain. No excuses.

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    We had a story the other day about how it was the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General's landmark report on the dangers of smoking, which led one MNB user to write:
    I am an ex-40 year smoker who knew better but kept at it. I now, at the age of 65, have severe COPD. I have 22% of the lung function of a normal person my age. I use supplemental oxygen about 12 hours per day and there are many things that most people find routine that I simply can’t do anymore. It is most likely that it will be the cause of my death and that such death will be untimely whenever it might take place. On the other hand, because I quit cold turkey when I was diagnosed 4 years ago and because I work out aerobically every day and do all my doctors suggest I do, I am getting along pretty well and continue to do many things I did before all be it a little slower.

    What I find fascinating at the moment is the broad intolerance of smoking, smokers and the idiots they obviously are, at the same time as we are beginning to legalize marijuana, most of which is smoked and inhaled. I have no problem really with marijuana’s use per se, I just find the two things to be a bit of a disconnect. Am curious what that says about our society, if anything.


    Along the same lines, another MNB reader wrote:

    I’m curious, what are your thoughts about your last sentence of  commentary as it relates to the new marijuana laws in Colorado.  Are Colorado law and government approach to the risks of smoking appear contradictory?

    To be perfectly honest, I'm conflicted on the changes in marijuana laws in Colorado, and the suggestion that this could be a nationwide trend. I do think that it seems clear that marijuana has medicinal purposes, and I have no problem with it being made available to people who need it. But recreational use? I'm not sure. I'm willing to believe that it is not all that different from alcohol, but I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of smoking in general. So yes, I think there are some contradictions here.

    In some ways, I wish I had a more personal perspective on this. But I don't. The simple truth is I've never smoked pot. That's a somewhat embarrassing admission for someone who grew up in the late sixties/early seventies to make, especially someone who went to college in Southern California. But I always figured that I could handle either booze or pot, but not both … and so I stuck to booze. It seemed like a good decision at the time, and I haven't had a lot of reason to second-guess myself.

    And while I'm being confessional here … I must admit that over the Christmas holidays, I smoked my first cigar. Ever. My sons were home for Christmas, they indulge in the occasional cigar, and they thought it would be fun to go out in the backyard with the old man to enjoy one, accompanied by a glass of bourbon.

    I enjoyed the bourbon. I'm glad I tried the cigar. Once.

    But they were right. It was a fun evening. (Though it is amazing to realize that as we drank our bourbon and smoked the cigars, we were standing just feet from where the old backyard jungle gym used to stand.)




    We had a piece yesterday about iBeacon, which allows companies to track consumers and send them relevant messages on their smart phones about the specific products they are looking at in specific aisles.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    I actually downloaded checkpoints (the iOS app used for this stuff) and found it interesting. My understanding is that initial tests will target customers in parking lots and as they are entering a store. That's all fine, but I cant wait to see them try to test this stuff in-store.

    Grocery stores - like highways - are busy, crowded places with constant traffic to navigate. The act of staring at your smartphone as you walk through a grocery store is the equivalent of texting while driving. I could see some of these technologies making sense in less crowded, less hectic settings, but by no means in a grocery store. It has always struck me as odd that these folks have been cramming all kinds of stuff into grocery stores for the better part of 30 years with the goal to "drive increased revenue". They've turned floors into billboards, they've put up sticky ads at-shelf, they've deployed robots, they've used intercoms, radios, TVs and, of course, those QR codes that were going to revolutionize how we gather information.

    One wonders if this isn't the same scenario as those "prepare your own meals" franchises that were popular for about 12 days in the late 90s. The success had nothing to do with consumers and everything to do with selling franchise opportunities to people who were to ignorant to understand that nobody wants to drive somewhere to make food. I've always sensed the same thing with grocery retail. Never mind whether or not these tools and technologies will actually ever work, we've got a huge number of retailers to peddle our wares to, etc.


    Skepticism noted.




    Had a story yesterday about a study looking at how and when people use their iPads, which prompted one MNB user to write:

    Just a comment – I related to your view…

    The 9-10 pm iPad time is when I use it, and I skew to ‘older’.

    I am on my iPad at night before bed – larger screen, easy to wander around site to site and relax at the end of the day. Best part - the iPad does not feel like you are still on the computer at work.


    And another reader had a reaction to the subject that seems to be on a lot of iPads:

    “Men’s lifestyle content” -   Is that what I think it is?

    Well, it could be about how to tie a tie or choose a pair of jeans or what is the most flattering haircut.

    But I think at least some of time, it is exactly what you think it is.





    I had a short obit yesterday for Jerry Coleman, the former Yankee second baseman who became a terrific broadcaster for the Yankees (I grew up listening to him) and the Padres.

    MNB reader Michael Core responded:

    I believe you and I are pretty close in age. I also grew up with a transistor radio on my ear laying in bed listening to Dodger games and the great Vin Scully. The one memory that I can still remember vividly is the sound of kids popping paper soda cups (placed upside down on the ground and them stomped on by foot) in the background of the post game show.

    From another reader:

    One of my favorite pastimes as a kid sitting in the stands at San Diego Stadium (before it was San Diego Jack Murphy stadium and then Qualcomm Stadium) was looking back up at the announcers’ booth to watch Jerry “Hang a Star” on a play (he dangled a star from a pole and swung it back and forth outside the booth to the delight of the Padres’ fans).

    He will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.


    And another:

    While the passing of Jerry Coleman was noticed as a great man and broadcaster, I am surprised you missed the passing of another great voice and that was Larry D. Mann the voice of Yukon Cornelius from the show Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer….His voice and character will be in our hearts forever….

    Frankly, I didn't see the news of his passing until after MNB had been posted.

    But you're certainly right about one thing … that there are generations of Americans who know exactly what I'm referring to and can almost hear the voice in their minds when I write the following two words:

    Bumbles bounce!
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 8, 2014

    What percentage of the U.S. is mobile only, and how many apps does MWG offer? Do you know how many digital trips we had in 2013, and how many individual offers we provided to our retailers via our digital circulars? (Hint both of those answers are in the hundreds of millions!)  And you wouldn't believe the number of impressions we served on our ad platform last year…

    Download MyWebGrocer's 2013 Year in Review Infographic to discover the answers to these questions and learn more about what makes our services best-in-class.  We're looking forward to a successful 2014 as we continue to enhance our existing tools and launch even more cutting-edge products to our retailers and CPG clients. We hope you'll join us!
     
    Contact us today at sales@mywebgrocer.com, or call 888-662-2284.

    KC's View: