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    Published on: April 2, 2014

    by Kate McMahon

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

    Imagine waking up to the sound and smell of sizzling bacon, only to realize it is just your iPhone alarm. Brilliant marketing ploy, or cruel hoax?

    Bacon lovers are engaged in a spirited social media debate over the Oscar Mayer Wake Up and Smell the Bacon app and device -- which do just that. Smartphone apps that jolt you from slumber with innovative (or down-right annoying) sounds are not new. But the scent-emitting device paired with the app is.

    Alas, the only way to sample this new technology is by entering the Wake Up and Smell the Bacon online contest, which runs through Friday. It is the latest feature on the witty, creative Oscar Mayer Institute for the Advancement of Bacon site. Contestants must answer two bacon-related questions and then proclaim their love for the cured pork slices in just three words.

    We’re not kidding.

    Here’s how it will work if you get the device: : You download the free iOS alarm app, plug the detachable dongle into the headphone jack of your iPhone, and set the alarm. At the appointed time, the alarm sounds the sizzle and the dongle emits puffs of bacon scent. There is even a small vial of bacon scent liquid to refill the device.

    In a test at MNB headquarters (Oscar Mayer was kind enough to send us a sample device), we found the scent to be appropriately subtle, and not a blast of sodium nitrite as we feared. The sizzle was just that, along with a mellifluous male voice opining about bacon in “baconisms.”

    More than 148,000 entries have been received since the contest began March 6, and Oscar Mayer plans to distribute 4,700 devices to the lucky winners. The contest has prompted more than 50,000 likes on Facebook, and thousands more shares and comments on Facebook and Twitter. The YouTube video, featuring a sultry woman in a bacon fantasy dream, has almost 600,000 views.

    A la the Obamacare website, there are complaints on the Wake Up site about difficulty entering the contest, and more still from disgruntled consumers who did not win or did not have a compatible Apple/IOS smartphone.

    But most compelling is the ultimate question from those who take their bacon seriously. Wrote one: “Ground breaking technology but what's the point in waking to bacon smell if there’s no bacon to eat?”

    This post summed up many comments: “Seems like the greatest idea of all time until you wake up to the smell of delicious bacon only to find there is no bacon to eat. Inspiring and heartbreaking all in one.”

    One enthusiast wrote that the app should “give me enough drive to get the real bacon cooking” but others feared “nothing but disappointment at 6 a.m.”

    Luckily, anyone can get the sizzle sound and profound “baconisms,” and more than 57,000 fans have already downloaded the free app from the iTunes store.

    There has been no word of the devices being sold to the public anytime soon. But Oscar Mayer has proved what can happen when a 133-year-old company embraces cutting edge technology to connect with its consumer base – great engagement and brand awareness. Not to mention collecting the names and email addresses of 200,000-plus passionate devotees – now that’s bringing home the bacon.

    Comments? Send me an email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Fortune has a good story about how the American mall - despite problems created by age and a too-great dependence on retailers that are flirting with obsolescence (RadioShack, Sbarro, Brookstone) - isn't dead bust just changing.

    "What's happening is that the shopping mall is transforming from the junky teenage hangouts of yesteryear to luxury shopping and entertainment destinations," the story says. "Nielsen reported that the biggest decline in shopping centers came from its more traditional, product-focused regional and super-regional centers. Regional centers decreased as a proportion of all shopping centers by 7% between 2009 and 2013, and super-regional centers decreased by 4% in the same time period. Those kinds of malls are closing and will continue to close -- 15% of all malls are projected to fail in the next 10 years, according to Green Street Advisors."

    But actual mall sales are growing: "Total shopping center sales for 2012 topped $2.4 trillion, up 2.8% from 2011, and shopping centers account for more than half of all retail sales in the United States, according to a report by Nielsen."

    The piece says that "what Nielsen calls 'lifestyle centers' -- locations with mixtures of traditional retail stores and upscale "leisure uses" such as movie theaters, spas, and high-end restaurants and coffee shops -- made up 15% of the mall landscape in 2013, up from 9% in 2008 … It's further evidence of the bifurcation of consumer spending and of Americans' livelihood in general. After all, since 2009, spending by the top 5% of earners has risen 17%; it's risen just 1% among the bottom 95% of earners."

    Robin Sparkles, one imagines, will be at least a little bit relieved.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Aldi, which plans to open 130 new stores a year for the next five years in the US, up from an average of 80 stores a year in the recent past, has acquired a site in the Moreno Valley where it will build a Southern California regional headquarters and distribution center.

    Aldi has not provided a timeline for construction of the new facility, nor has it said how many of the 650 stores planned for the next five years will be in Southern California. However, the story says that the new warehouse will be able to serve approximately 200 stores.
    KC's View:
    This speaks to how serious Aldi is about its US expansion … and will almost certainly complicate a lot of companies' lives over the next few years. Many folks ought to be thinking about laying the groundwork for competing with Aldi now, and not waiting until they open a store down the street.

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    Is Southwest Airlines going south?

    There is a worth-reading piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about how Southwest Airlines, long an outlier in the aviation business because of its low-costs, high efficiency, and the enthusiastic loyalty of its customers, is facing the exigencies of middle age. "Once the industry's brassy upstart," the story goes, "the airline, which took wing 43 years ago, has begun to resemble the mainstream rivals it rebelled against in its youth: carriers that were slow-growing, complex and costly to run."

    The airline is facing a number of challenges - ranging from labor to meteorological to competitive - but perhaps none so daunting as the difficulty of remaining a disruptive force at a time when it has more and more legacy systems that can be a drag on innovation.

    This is a challenge that faces many business leaders … and so, I think, the story is worth reading here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    Bloomberg reports that Starbucks is having to back off some of the changes it made in its food offerings after it acquired the gourmet baking company La Boulange in 2012.

    The goal at the time was to improve the quality and taste of its food products, as well as to be more transparent about the nutrition levels and ingredients in each item. However, the story says, "some customers liked the food better before."

    And so, "Starting this week, the company will begin reverting to selling slices of banana, pumpkin and iced-lemon loaf cake - old favorites - in its U.S. stores. Starbucks will be using new La Boulange recipes and existing suppliers to create food that more closely resembles its previous fare."
    KC's View:
    There have been plenty of criticisms of the new Starbucks food offerings - the servings are too small, they're not as tasty as advertised, and they're too expensive. There's no question that the breakfast segment is getting a lot more competitive, and I'm not entirely sure that Starbucks has cracked the code yet.

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    • The Dallas News reports that the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing Stephanie Odle, described as "one of the original members of the class of women who sued Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club in 2001" for employment and gender discrimination, to proceed with her own case against Wal-Mart.

    The original suit was decertified as a class action in 2011 by the US Supreme Court, which said that it did not meet the standards for a class action.

    According to the story, "Odle filed another lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Dallas on October 2011 on behalf of herself and other 'present and former female Wal-Mart retail store employees who have been subjected to gender discrimination as a result of specific policies and practices in Wal-Mart’s regions located in whole or in part in Texas' … Wal-Mart moved to dismiss both Odle’s and the class claims saying time had lapsed beyond limits in the law."

    While a Dallas court ruled in favor of Walmart, Odle appealed and won.

    • Walmart is being sued by a New York City church accusing the retailer of selling "sexually charged music and high-capacity weapons" that hurts the company's image and therefore harms its shareholder value.

    Trinity Church Wall Street filed the suit, it said, as a way of forcing Walmart to permit a shareholder vote on whether the board should exert tighter controls over marketing and merchandising decisions that are contrary to "reasonable societal standards." The lawsuit was filed after Walmart did not allow Trinity, which owns $2,000 worth of Walmart stock, to distribute proxy materials supporting such a position at its annual meeting.

    Walmart said it was disappointed in the suit, and that a Securities and exchange Commission (SEC) ruling permit Walmart not to allow a vote on the subject.
    KC's View:
    There is just something strange about a New York City church suing Walmart for essentially being too permissive … somehow, it seems to challenge conventional wisdom. Besides, the nature of the criticisms speak to how "reasonable societal standards" can mean different things to different people. Some people wouldn't find Walmart's music and video selection to be the least bit objectionable, but find its gun sales to be totally offensive. Others would see the complete opposite.

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has found a new use for the locker installations that it has been installing in public places like convenience stores and public garages over the past few years, which gave people the option of having items delivered to a location other than their homes or workplaces. It now is allowing customers to make returns to the lockers, the story says, which is actually providing Amazon with some cost savings.

    According to the story, "For returns Amazon sends a code to open a specific cabinet in a locker where customers can leave their merchandise for UPS or other carriers to retrieve. The service presumably will save Amazon some costs because the carriers will already be visiting locker sites for drop-offs.

    "Nonetheless, Amazon appears to be charging the same rate for returns through lockers as for drop-offs at UPS sites. Consumers have one business day to drop off their packages, which must be no larger than one cubic foot to fit in a locker, according to Amazon’s website."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that "a nearly decade-long decline in U.S. carbonated soft drink sales accelerated last year as more Americans turned their backs on artificially sweetened diet sodas, according to data published Monday … Overall soda volumes fell an estimated 3% in 2013, the ninth straight yearly contraction and more than double the 1.2% decline in 2012, according to Beverage Digest.

    "The trade publication and data service also estimated U.S. retail sales of carbonated soft drinks shrank 1% to $76.3 billion, the first downturn in dollar terms in at least 15 years, indicating that the companies were unable last year to offset volume declines by raising prices."

    And, the story says, there is no evidence that 2014 will show any improvement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    • Kroger said yesterday that senior vice president Robert "Pete" Williams plans to retire in May after 37 years with the company.  No successor has yet been named.

    • Weis Markets said yesterday that Brian Bosworth, the company's center store sales manager, has been promoted to the role of director of center store sales.

    At the same time, Maria Panko, manager of private brands, has been promoted to senior manager, private brands and specialty, organic, natural and ethnic foods.

    And John Evans, a center store category manager, has been promoted to center store sales manager.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 2, 2014

    Here is everything you need to know about what Kevin Coupe - MNB's "Content Guy" - can bring your meeting or conference:

    "The response from our staff to your presentation has been overwhelming. There has been an excitement and enthusiasm that I have not witnessed since taking over this position. The thanks in the hallways, the emails, the comments … have all been extraordinary. Thank you for capping off the perfect company event yesterday."
    Steven L.  Goddard, President/CEO, WinCo Foods

    "He brought a unique perspective, and  helped us think about our industry and the changing consumer in new ways ... He left us with a lot of rich conversation and actionable information ... He was terrific."
    - Lynn Marmer, Group VP Corporate Affairs, The Kroger Co.

    "Kevin Coupe was an injection of high energy. Both his presentation and the session he facilitated were huge hits with our team.  Unanimously, people told me how right on, topical and extremely well presented his speech was!"
    - Peter T. Wolf, Chief P Global Sales Operation, ParTech Inc.

    "Kevin Coupe is authentic, witty, informed and speaks from the heart.   His pace and style of walking the room kept our members engaged and attentive and his remarks were punctuated by a mix of thought provoking and entertaining pictures and videos.  Kevin is direct and challenged our members to think and take risks by tapping into both sides of the brain.   The positive energy that Kevin generated lasted throughout the day; expect to be surprised.” - Shelley F. Doak, Executive Director, Maine Grocers Association

    With a uniquely fast-paced, provocative and entertaining approach, Kevin Coupe identifies the ways in which consumers are changing, the reasons behind these changes (technology, the economy, culture, demographics), how new and unorthodox competitors are altering the marketing landscape, and what companies need to do to find and exploit differential advantages.

    "My team was mesmerized by Kevin’s presentation. Thanks to Kevin, they left the meeting newly energized with a strong sense of purpose.”
    - Donna Giordano, President, Ralphs

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    - Norman Mayne, CEO, Dorothy Lane Market

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    Contact Kevin Coupe at 203-662-0100, or email him at: .
    KC's View: