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    Published on: January 28, 2014

    by Michael Sansolo

    It shouldn’t happen, but there are times that we all forget what we are really doing. It can happen because we are so busy concentrating on the details on daily work or because we are looking (as I do) for metaphors and lessons in everything around us.

    Sometimes we simply have to remember the business we are in. As Rob Bell, one of my favorite consultant/speakers on personnel issues, likes to say, the food industry is easy to explain: "We’re feeding the world here."

    It’s the truth because that’s exactly what this industry does.

    Yet we are more. Supermarkets, drug stores, c-stores - in fact, all shopping areas are now the center of town. We get this reminder all the time and manage to ignore it. We see it in the panic that grips a small farm belt town that has lost its last supermarket and we see it in urban food deserts, where basic needs aren’t met without a labored series of bus rides.

    We are the community or certainly the center of these communities.

    In recent weeks we got some stark reminders of just how central we are. We got it when millions of Americans, me included, got e-mails telling us our names and vital information may have been compromised in a data spill that is properly called the “biggest to date.” Sadly, we know more is coming.

    Worse yet, we got reminders in Indiana and Maryland about how fragile our way of life can be when a crazed gunman decides to invade that space we all take for granted. In Indiana, the victims were a supermarket worker pulling the late shift and a shopper who no doubt only found time to visit the store well after usual hours.

    And this weekend, a shopping mall in a Maryland suburb not far from where I live, was the latest location of craziness. This time two young people working at a shop for skate- and snow-boarders lost their lives and no one knows why.

    I’m not writing this today to discuss gun control or the lack thereof because like too many issues in our society these days, those discussions go nowhere. Certainly our elected officials seem fixed in place on their positions and there is no expectation on this or countless other issues that they would actually have a reasonable debate.

    Today I’m writing about the new challenge we face with shoppers; to find a way to create a feeling of safety and security, the only thing they need more than the food that keeps them alive.

    I have some personal connection to this issue. It was just a decade ago that the area where I live was constantly on edge due to the Washington sniper attacks. We saw endless coverage of senseless, random killings at supermarkets, gas stations, home repair stores and even school bus stops.

    Everyday I sent my children to school in fear. I feared for my wife every time she went shopping and feared for myself every time I simply parked my car. It simply changed the way we live.

    As an industry we need to keep these difficult times in mind. We need to understand that shoppers are scared of what could happen, whether it’s from an unhinged armed attacker or a well-planned hacker. They need to know we care and are trying to do all we can even though there is so much we simply cannot do.

    It might be time for a lot of people in the industry to reflect back to the early 1980s, when another derange lunatic managed to lace Tylenol bottles with poison and kill seven people in the process. Remember how Johnson and Johnson pulled the top selling product off the shelves, not returning it until launching the tamper evident and resistant bottles we know all too well today.

    As Kevin is fond of writing, trust, once lost, is near impossible to restore. Yet Tylenol did just that and consumers rallied around the company.

    It might be time to reflect on how we can all do the same to keep our shoppers and their identities as safe as possible, knowing that we cannot guarantee anything. After all, our stores, products and shopping centers are where they come and where we need them to keep coming back.

    After all, we feed the world.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . 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 28, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Eric Lawson, for three years in the late seventies and early eighties, portrayed the Marlboro Man, an iconic American cowboy figure who could ride horses while still smoking cigarettes. Lawson himself was a three-pack-a-day smoker.

    The Associated Press reports that "Lawson was still smoking in 2006 when he was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He died of the disease at his home in San Luis Obispo on Jan. 10. He was 72 … Lawson had spoken out fiercely about the hazards of smoking, doing a public service announcement for the American Cancer Society in the 1990s, years before he was able to bring himself to quit."

    The AP story goes on to point out that Lawson was one of several men who played the Marlboro Man who have died of diseases related to their smoking.

    It is an Eye-Opening irony that a character that was designed to be an icon of American ruggedness and individuality has turned out to be an icon of something else - the complicity of marketers in a specific segment to sell a product that addicts and kills people, and lie to the public about it. And this irony ought to stand as a warning to any company that may be marketing products of questionable value to the public. The truth will catch up with you. And it rarely is pretty.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    Reuters reports that a subcommittee of the US Senate Banking Committee has scheduled hearings to begin next week into the financial data breaches that have affected millions of customers at Target and Neiman Marcus.

    According to the story, "Witnesses at the subcommittee on national security and international trade and finance hearing next Monday will include officials from the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, the American Bankers Association and National Retail Federation … The incidents have raised the stakes for data security discussions in Congress and have caused banks and retailers to argue about whose job it is to protect consumers from cyber attacks."

    In a related story, the Dallas Morning News reports that the major credit card companies are requiring the nation's retailers to upgrade their hardware to include EMV chip-reading capability by October 2015; the chips make it harder for hackers to access card information. However, some retailers, including Walmart and Kroger, are not waiting until that deadline and already "have checkout systems that work with the smart cards that are widely used internationally," the story says.

    The Morning News notes that "last year, Troy Leach, chief information officer for the PCI Security Standards Council, the credit card industry compliance group, warned that as the window of opportunity closes for hackers in the U.S., the frequency of attacks would accelerate."
    KC's View:
    A broad-scale change in the nation's credit/debit card systems seems to be called for, and cannot happen fast enough. I've gotten several emails from folks that strike me as being prescient … that all the hacking cases we're finding out about now seem as if they are prelude to something much bigger and potentially far more devastating.

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    Advertising Age has an interesting story about a study done by McCann Truth Central that looks at organizations perceived as privacy threats, concluding that companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter often "top the corporate charts of perceived privacy threats."

    But, the story says, "as scrutiny of Silicon Valley intensifies, there's a data giant that seems remarkably resilient in the privacy shakedown. Amazon, which has buckets of powerful purchasing information, is not only the most admired company in the privacy research, but the level of admiration leapt to 47% in 2013 from 34% in 2011. Indeed, only 7% of American consumers regard Amazon as a threat in privacy terms.

    "The truth is, consumers trust Amazon and this trust translates into consumer affection. It's this love and affection that insulates the brand in privacy and security conversations."

    The difference, the story says, seems to be that consumers largely perceive the likes of Google and Facebook as "owning" data about the consumer, while Amazon just "uses" consumer data for shoppers' own good.

    The story goes on to say that "as powerful data partnerships become de rigueur, all companies need to get ahead of the game in terms of how they compensate consumers for the data they are sharing. It's well known that people are more willing to give up personal information if they receive benefits in return, most commonly expressed as discounts or deals. But as companies increasingly compete to access consumer data, companies need to recognize that not all compensation is created equal."
    KC's View:
    I think this is a great observation - that many/most people are willing to give up some privacy if they can see specific advantages for themselves.

    BTW…this reminds me of Amazon's basic consumer-centric mantra - that it is not in the business of selling stuff, but rather in the business of making it easier for people to buy stuff. Which ain't just semantics.

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    The New York Times reports that Chipotle Mexican Grill is about to launch an unorthodox new advertising campaign - a four-part comedy series called "Farmed & Dangerous" that can be seen on Hulu, the TV streaming service, and that lampoons the business of industrialized farming and promotes the chain's core corporate values supporting sustainable farming and humane treatment of animals. The show reportedly "tells the story of an idealistic boy who falls for a girl whose father … works for farmers planning to raise cows on petroleum pellets, a move meant to increase the food supply by lowering costs."

    According to the story, the series - which will launch next month - has "no scenes at Chipotle restaurants or impromptu testimonials to its tacos or quesadillas," though it does have a young hero named Chip. The series is said to be about "values integration," not "product integration."

    The Times writes that "the company hopes that preaching the gospel of sustainable agriculture will translate into consumers buying their fast food at Chipotle, whose slogan is 'Food With Integrity.' It promises, wherever possible, to use produce grown organically, dairy products from cows that were not treated with synthetic hormones and meats from animals raised humanely and free of antibiotics … Chipotle’s efforts to promote its anti-industrial-farming message and change the debate on agricultural production are vital to its growth, given its pledges to its customers and its sometimes-public struggle to obtain, for example, enough antibiotic-free beef. Ensuring steady supplies of its key ingredients is a must for the company."

    Not incidentally, the efforts are also aimed at further distancing Chipotle from McDonald's, which owned a majority of the company's shares until divesting in 2006.

    The cost of the effort: $250,000 an episode. If it works, there could be more episodes of "Farmed & Dangerous."
    KC's View:
    Can't wait to see it. I'm not saying that all industrialized farming is bad, and it probably is fair to say that if we shut down all industrialized farms tomorrow, we'd have trouble meeting the food needs of the nation's populace. But I do admire companies that do not bring a lowest-common-denominator attitude to the table, and instead try to reinvent themselves with better foods and better attitudes.

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that a fashion trend toward men's facial hair, exacerbated by "Movember" - a charity event in which men across the country grow mustaches as a way of drawing attention to prostate cancer - has created "a slight decline in wet shaving incidence in the U.S." that has hit sales at Procter & Gamble-owned Gillette.

    According to the Times, "Each of the five contenders for the best actor Academy Award has rocked the hirsute look in his nominated film role or on recent red carpets. Sightings of scruffy-cheeked men in Silver Lake are as common as Starbucks cafes in a city center — it seems there's at least one on every corner."

    The other thing affecting sales at Gillette has been "competition from a raft of razor upstarts. Dollar Shave Club in Venice offers razors through an inexpensive subscription service and has marketed the program with goofy, viral YouTube videos. This week, online men's grooming retailer Harry's plunked down $100 million to buy a nearly 100-year-old German razor factory."

    The Times notes that Gillette is working to counteract the trend by stressing "shaving below the neck," or "manscaping," with the release of its new Gillette Body razor this year, saying it is the first razor "built for the terrain of a man's body."
    KC's View:
    Since I've had facial hair for most of the past 30 years, I can only wonder what's taken everybody else so long to catch up. As for manscaping … I have no comment.

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that US Postal Service inspector general "issued a report Monday recommending that the agency expand its financial services to meet the needs of underserved communities. Researchers estimate that the agency could earn $8.9 billion in annual revenue if it captured 10 percent of the interest and fees generated by the 68 million Americans on the fringes of the banking system.Those dollars could reverse years of losses at the Postal Service, which has struggled in the face of waning demand and a congressional mandate to pre-fund retiree health benefits."
    KC's View:
    However, it won't be as easy as just introducing new financial services. Any such move would have to be approved by the US Congress, which is the same organization that has put such onerous financial burdens on the USPS in the form of pension payments that it is almost impossible for the USPS to catch up. And, as we all know, the Congress can't agree on anything.

    Still, at least the USPS is doing what I've felt all along it should be doing - trying to fix its competitive deficits in part by developing new and expanded services and products, as opposed to trying to get profitable by cuts, cuts and more cuts.

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • IGA announced that Joe Caputo & Sons Fruit Market IGA, owner of three IGA grocery stores in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, has acquired four former Dominick’s locations also in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The stores, located in Northbrook, Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, and Elk Grove Village, were taken over by Joe Caputo & Sons Fruit Market IGA on January 25. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Conversions of the units will take place on a staggered basis, with Northbrook and Arlington heights to begin immediately.

    • The Boston Globe reports that Friendly's Ice Cream is upgrading its menu, offering "new additions include creative takes on classic dishes as well as an array of healthy meal options," including such breakfast items as Bananas Foster Pancakes, Brioche French Toast, or Red Velvet Waffles. Later in the day, new items include a Turkey Tip Avocado Salad and a Burger Salad.

    In other words, Friendly's is making the big plunge, essentially expanding its menu so it reflects the 1960s, instead of the 1950s. Let me just say this about Friendly's which we used to go to occasionally when the kids were little: I'd rather go to McDonald's. (And you know how I feel about McDonald's.) It is a great place to go if you want mediocre food, lousy service and crappy ambience … in other words, a perfect reflection of the lowest-common denominator approach to food that infects so many food companies.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Campbell Soup Co. CFO Craig Owens plans to retire on May 1, and will be succeeded by Anthony P. DiSilvestro, who has been serving at the company as senior vice president of finance.

    • The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced that it has hired Maggie Lyons, formerly deputy chief of staff and press secretary for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), to be its new director of government relations, responsible for managing "legislative and regulatory efforts related to federal policies that impact the independent supermarket channel." She is a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    • Pete Seeger, the singer/songwriter who personified US folk music, influenced a raft of American musical artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen, sang out in support of a wide range of social causes and once was convicted of contempt of Congress after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, passed away yesterday of natural causes. He was 94.

    In its excellent obit, the New York Times writes that "in his hearty tenor, Mr. Seeger, a beanpole of a man who most often played 12-string guitar or five-string banjo, sang topical songs and children’s songs, humorous tunes and earnest anthems, always encouraging listeners to join in. His agenda paralleled the concerns of the American left: He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond. 'We Shall Overcome,' which Mr. Seeger adapted from old spirituals, became a civil rights anthem … At a Madison Square Garden concert celebrating Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday, Mr. Springsteen introduced him as 'a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along'."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 28, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: