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    Published on: March 14, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Fascinating story in the New York Times about a three-and-a-half minute video directed by Tatia Pilieva, that premiered on YouTube on Monday morning. By today, the video had been viewed some 45 million times. (That's not a typo. 45 million times.)

    Entitled "First Kiss," the black-and-white video portrays 10 pairs of strangers kissing for the first time. The video was underwritten by Wren, a small clothing company, and some of the people in the video wore its clothes. "The video’s outrageous popularity had the web abuzz all week, with some industry experts suggesting that it could force major designers to think more expansively about how to advertise future collections," the New York Times writes, while noting that some people felt it was somehow duplicitous because it did not make it clear that a sponsor was involved. (It seems to me that the detractors are just looking for something to complain about, and that the designers who spend big bucks promoting collections indeed should think about whether a digital world offers challenges and opportunities.)

    I have to say that I found the video to be utterly charming … and remarkably tender and candid as the strangers face each other for the first time, shyly interact, and then kiss, sometimes passionately and sometimes clumsily … and then have to face each other after the kiss. It didn't both me that the video was sponsored (somebody had to pay for the production, which apparently cost a whopping $1,300).

    It also was totally original … and it says something about the power of originality that a video shown in social media can be seen 45 million times in less than a week.

    "First Kiss" is worth a look, if you're interested, here. And see if it somehow doesn't remind you of a first kiss you shared with someone you ended up loving. (Or even just liking a lot.)

    It's an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    ABC News reports that even as Amazon announced that it was increasing its Prime membership annual fee from $79 to $99, it was facing two lawsuits charging that it was "encouraging third-party vendors to increase their prices to Prime members by the amount they charged others for shipping, without revealing that a portion of those alleged 'inflated' prices was for shipping fees."

    At least one of the plaintiffs is seeking class action status for the suit, and seeking "a refund of all annual Prime membership fees for customers in the 2007-2011 period and treble damages under the Washington Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits 'unfair or deceptive' acts in trade and commerce."

    Amazon has not yet responded to the suit.
    KC's View:
    I have no idea if the actions described are illegal, much less if they actually were encouraged by Amazon. But I do think that every retailer - Amazon included - has to be careful never to engage in practices that even look deceptive or exploitive. Because customers remember, and there will be consequences.

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    BusinessWeek reports that Google "has been prowling Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood in search of a location for its first stand-alone retail outlet, according to a local real estate broker."

    The story notes that Google "which has seen rivals Apple and Microsoft Corp. push into shopping malls across the country, is stepping up efforts to reach more consumers with its hardware and services. Late last year the Mountain View, California-based company opened showrooms in six U.S. cities to promote its latest products during the busy holiday season."

    It is expected that a lease signing may be imminent.
    KC's View:
    SoHo makes sense for a first store; it is exactly the kind of hip location with a cool vibe that will add to Google's luster.

    To me, the biggest challenge that Google will have in opening a bricks-and-mortar store will be making sure that it doesn't seem too much like an Apple Store wannabe, which is what every Microsoft store I've ever seen looks like. (Except, of course, for the customer count. Go to any mall with both an Apple Store and a Microsoft Store, and inevitably the Apple Store will be a lot busier.)

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that in analysts meetings this week, Kroger CFO Mike Schlotman said that the company plans to enter one new market as part of a broader expansion plan that could cost as much as $3 billion this year.

    “We are going down the path of picking one new market to enter organically,” he said. "We’ve been doing that process since October. We’re essentially there (about) where we’re going to go. It will be a while before where we’re going is public, both from a competitive standpoint and cost of land always seems to go up if they know we’re looking for land. Funny how that works.”

    In addition, Schlotman said, it is too early to gauge whether Kroger can take advantage of the Cerberus/Albertsons acquisition of Safeway by buying stores that antitrust regulators say must be divested.

    "I would expect, as they go through their process, they will have conversations with the FTC before they decide what assets would become available and if there are attractive assets in markets where we operate," he said. "We’ve long said that if a competitor is going to have stores available in markets where we are and they fit nicely with our footprint, those kinds of deals have been great for us, but we’ll wait to see what that chapter says when it gets written.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    The New York Times reports that Target is conceding that "its computer security system had alerted it to suspicious activity after hackers infiltrated its network last year, but the company ultimately decided to ignore it, allowing what would become one of the largest data breaches ever recorded to proceed without a hitch."

    “With the benefit of hindsight, we are investigating whether, if different judgments had been made, the outcome may have been different,” Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman said.
    KC's View:

    Target has said that its sales and profits dropped because of the hacking incidents, assumedly because people were concerned about doing business at a place where their financial security was at issue.

    Imagine the impact of learning that the retailer knew there was a problem but ignored it.

    Certainly doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    The Chicago Tribune reports that "McDonald’s employees filed seven lawsuits alleging the world’s largest restaurant chain is systematically stealing wages through practices including failure to pay overtime and forced work off the clock, attorneys representing the workers said Thursday.

    "The lawsuits, filed in California, Michigan and New York, also accuse McDonald’s of denying workers timely meal periods and rest breaks, and requiring employees to buy their own uniforms or pay to clean those uniforms. Five of the seven lawsuits also name some of the company’s franchisees as defendants … The workers are demanding that the company pay back what they call 'stolen wages' and stop such practices in the future, their attorneys said on a conference call."

    According to the story, McDonald's says that it is "reviewing the allegations," and that it is committed "to the well-being and fair treatment of their workers."
    KC's View:
    Could have been worse. They could have failed to pay overtime, forced off-the-clock work, and mandated that the employees had to eat their meals at McDonald's.

    Don't get mad. I'm just kidding. Having a little fun.


    Published on: March 14, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Dannon is expected to announce today that "it will scale back fat and sugar in its yogurt products, becoming the latest business to team up with first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to fight childhood obesity."

    According to the story, the new commitment "sets specific goals for reducing fat and sugar in its product line and calls for increasing nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D … Dannon is setting the goal of changing its product line by 2016 so that 70% of its products contain 23 grams or less of sugar per 6-ounce serving, up from the current 62%, and so that all products marketed to children meet that standard.

    "Currently, 30% of Dannon's products for children contain 23 grams or less of sugar, company officials said. The company will also offer more low-fat or fat-free products, they said."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    • The Houston Chronicle reports that Whole Foods "is planning to make and sell its own beer" at a new store it is building in Houston, and is "looking for someone with a minimum three years’ brewing experience to run a 7-barrel brewhouse and manage all brewing operations at the Uptown location.

    Bloomberg reports that Nestle's Lean Cuisine brand continues to face sales troubles that seem to have been brought on by both a sense that frozen dinners are essentially unhealthy and too expensive, describing it as "a lethal one-two punch for a product targeted at budget-conscious dieters."

    "As consumers turn away from the supermarket freezer -- two-fifths of U.S. adults say frozen dinners have little nutritional value, according to researcher Mintel -- sales of Lean Cuisine have dropped by more than a quarter in the past five years," Bloomberg writes. "Nestle has responded by offering discounts, creating new products and backing research that promotes frozen food as nutritious. Those moves have done little to stem the sales slide: Lean Cuisine revenue declined 11 percent last year, to $987 million, according to market researcher IRI."

    • The Center for Food Safety (CFS) said yesterday that it is suing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), hoping to force the government "to release documents in court that could explain why the federal agency approved genetically engineered alfalfa despite its misgivings about environmental safety," the Los Angeles Times reports. The suit charges that "the USDA may have come under pressure by seed giant Monsanto Co. to grant approval of its Roundup Ready alfalfa, which is designed to withstand multiple applications of herbicide."

    Monsanto dismissed the allegations, saying that thorough scientific review proved that the GM alfalfa does not present the risks described by CFS. USDA has not responded to the charges.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    …will return. I promise.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 14, 2014

    I finally caught up with Frozen, the hit movie that has the distinction of being the Walt Disney Company's first-ever win in the Academy Awards "best animated film" category. And I'm willing to admit right here, right now, that I made a mistake in waiting so long to see it. Frozen will warm your heart and send you out of the theater … or family room, if you see it at home … singing, humming and smiling.

    Frozen is based on the fairy tale "The Snow Queen," and is the story of a princess who sets out on a challenging journey to find her sister, a queen with mystical powers who has inadvertently cast her kingdom into a prolonged deep freeze. Never getting too caught up in its message, Frozen nevertheless has a powerful and empowering message for girls and women, about the importance of being themselves, embracing their own powers (even those less than mystical), and not depending on anyone else for approbation, while emphasizing that women have to be there for each other even when storms rage on all around them. (This is an important lesson, especially coming from an industry where women often are portrayed on screen as being back-biting and conniving toward each other. Think Working Girl and All About Eve.)

    It is filled with great songs - "Let it Go," sung by Idina Menzel, is the big hit, but there are a bunch of others, like "For the First Time in Forever" and "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" The voice work, by Kristen Bell, Josh Gad and Menzel, among others, is peerless.

    Frozen, deservedly, is an instant classic. See it. (And not only if you have little kids.)

    I have a wine to recommend to you this week … the 2013 Pazo San Mauro Albarino, which is bright and wonderful.

    And, I'd also recommend to you the Drakes 1500 Pale Ale … a very good beer especially, I think, for when the days start getting warmed. (I was lucky enough to be in Manhattan beach, California, this week when I had one … and it was like getting a preview of summer.)

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: