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    Published on: April 30, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    When my twenty-something daughter returned from The Big Cheesy grilled cheese competition in New York City raving about the mouth-watering creations, I thought about how manufacturers and retailers could capitalize on this latest culinary craze. Fast-casual franchises, Panini emporiums and high-end eateries certainly have. This is surely not your mother’s grilled cheese -- not a slice of plastic-wrapped American or store-bought white bread in the mix.

    The next day I stopped by a Kings Food Market in a neighboring town and there was the eye-catching poster for the national 2014 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown contest, with a $10,000 grand prize. Bingo. The answer and an MNB column.

    For those of you (us) new to the sophisticated sandwich circuit, April is Grilled Cheese Month. In addition to the sold-out competition in New York, featuring wildly creative combos from top restaurant chefs, there were similar events in Chicago, Los Angeles and Wisconsin.

    And Wisconsin, no surprise, is home to the Grilled Cheese Academy, sponsor of the 2014 recipe contest. The “Institute Dedicated to Wisconsin Cheese and Its Deliciousness” is the cheese promoting arm of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

    It is also a great example of a staid dairy staple making a splash on social media. The website, and Facebook page, are creative, entertaining and educational. The photos clearly qualify as food porn. And the folks at the WMMB are excited about partnering for the first time with 1,200 retailers across the country such as Kings to promote the contest, which runs through May 12th.

    Contestants are encouraged to think creativity, flavor and image (and Wisconsin cheese) when compiling the perfect melted sandwich. Last year’s winner – the Kennebunkport – was “reminiscent of buttery Maine lobster rolls” with Wisconsin provolone and mascarpone grilled in chili-infused butter. A confession: I didn’t even realize there was Wisconsin mascarpone.

    But therein lies the opportunity for retailers capitalize on the craze through cross merchandising. A single deli promotion could educate customers about all of the cheeses in the case, showcase breads, and suggest pairings ranging from prosciutto to pear compote.

    My daughter’s favorite and eventual winner from The Big Cheesy in New York was the 5 Oz. Factory’s dish called “The Meltdown” – featuring smoked provolone, brie and a horseradish and chive havarti with fresh basil, mushrooms and asparagus in truffle oil and pesto. Whew.

    I’m tempted to try several recipes from the Grilled Cheese Academy site, though the Badger Poutine with cheese curds, French fries and gravy on buttered beer bread is a bit much for me.

    That said, we’d like to invite MNB readers to submit a favorite grilled cheese recipe. Send it to me at kate@morningnewsbeat.com . Our informal panel of judges will award the winner a Panini maker. So choose your cheese wisely and get your grilling game on.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Harris Poll is out with its annual Reputation Quotient study, which measures the reputation of the nation's 60 "most visible" companies - revealing that Amazon ranks best when it comes to "product and services" "workplace environment" and "emotional appeal," that Whole Foods is the company with a greatest "social responsibility," and that Coca-Cola has the highest numbers for "financial performance" and "vision & leadership."

    "Gaining high marks for attributes including trust, admiration and respect, high quality products and services, innovation and being a good place to work, this is Amazon's 6th consecutive year with an excellent rating," the study says.

    Harris reports that "while the overall perception of U.S. companies indicates room for improvement, the American public is slowly but steadily gaining confidence in corporate America. According to the RQ study, people now view corporate America more positively than they did prior to the start of the economic decline in 2008.

    "Another positive signal that the public's faith in corporate America is being restored is an overall increase in RQ scores across the board. This year, scores ranged from 83.87 (Amazon.com) to 55.34 (Bank of America), with no companies falling in the 'very poor' or 'critical' stage. This marks the first time since 2007 that no companies in the study received a 'critical' stage RQ score of less than 50."

    Some of this may be a measure of the economy improving - people don't feel as good about companies during recessionary times. But I also think there also is something else going on here - that companies, increasingly aware of the power of tech-enabled consumers to communicate with and persuade each other about the companies they like and don't like, are tending to their reputations a lot more carefully than in the past.

    This is a good thing. Perceptions matter. And an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    The New York Times this morning reports that Target has pledged that it will "switch its debit and credit cards over to a more secure technology by early next year, most likely making it the first major retailer in the country to do so … The new debit and credit card technology, called chip and PIN, is widely used in Europe and considered to be far more secure than most cards used in the United States, which rely on magnetic strips. While it does not address all fraud, the chip makes a card hard to duplicate, and the pin, or personal identification number, more difficult for a thief to use."

    The cost of the shift - which includes issuing new cards to customers as well as buying new card terminals for every one of its checkouts - is expected to be north of $100 million.

    As part of its announcement, Target said yesterday that it has hired Bob DeRodes, described as a former senior information technology adviser for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Secretary of Defense, and the Justice Department, to be its new Chief Information Officer (CIO). he succeeds Beth Jacobs, who resigned after the breach was revealed.

    DeRodes has also held top technology positions at a number of companies including Citibank, USAA Federal Savings Bank, First Data, Home Depot and Delta Air Lines.

    The Times writes that Target also has "outlined some of the security measures it had been adapting. In some instances, it has deployed advanced technology like white-listing, which allows only web traffic that the company knows is innocuous to enter its systems. In other cases, the company is adding more sophisticated security around its network, including for its payment systems and customer data, which security experts say the company should have done long ago."

    All these moves come in the wake of a security breach during the 2013 holiday shopping season that exposed the credit and debit card information of more than 50 million Target shoppers to what some experts said were organized criminals in Eastern Europe. This breach also create a crisis of confidence for Target in general, which had a negative impact on its sales and profits.
    KC's View:
    In other words, Target had to do something. But these moves cannot happen in a vacuum if they are going to be effective. Banks have to jump on board, other retailers (especially Neiman Marcus and Michaels, which had their own breach issues) have to jump on board, and consumers have to accept the fact that they need to upgrade their cards. Doing this piecemeal, over a long period of time, likely will leave too many windows open through which the bad guys can exploit weaknesses.

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    Amazon yesterday announced "the launch of its Wearable Technology store - a one-stop shop where customers can … discover the latest in wearable technology and research wearable devices including activity trackers, smart watches, wearable cameras and more. In addition to the largest selection of items from top brands including Samsung, Jawbone and GoPro, the store features products from emerging brands like Basis and Misfit as well as devices coming soon from brands like Narrative and Bionym."

    The announcement goes on to say that "customers can shop the Wearable Technology store by category, compare products and discover the devices that are right for them. Customers will find the same shopping tools they've come to know and love from Amazon, including fast and free shipping, Free Two-Day shipping with Amazon Prime, editorial reviews, personalized product recommendations, customer reviews and best sellers."
    KC's View:
    I suspect that this reflects the reality of how Amazon is going to deal with questions about its investment strategies and stock price. It is just going to maintain momentum and keep doing new things … because to take a pause just to bolster profits would be to give competitors a chance to catch up. Which would have a far greater negative impact than a temporary drop in share price.

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    Portland,Oregon-based New Seasons Market yesterday said that it is expanding its Local Finds initiative, described as program designed "to make it even easier for small local crafters, food artisans, and growers to partner with the company to bring their products to market. Through the Local Finds program, vendors get tailored help with everything from packaging to FDA approvals and product marketing. The program builds on New Seasons Market’s fourteen years of experience helping local producers while offering a more streamlined product submission process."

    According to the announcement, "Nearly 100 products were submitted to New Seasons Market during a six-month Local Finds pilot that wrapped up this spring. Most of the products submitted during the pilot phase are still on the shelves today. Local Finds products have ran the gamut from gluten free muffins to kimchee to cycling hats, adding to the thousands of local products already available at New Seasons Market."
    KC's View:
    This is what smart, savvy retailers do - they create an environment in which they help local companies while at the same time, they offer unique and differentiated products that the competition does not have.

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    CNN reports that Walmart plans to partner with AutoInsurance.com to offer customers the option of buying their automobile insurance via its website.

    According to CNN, "Wal-Mart will not sell insurance, but its customers can click through a link on walmart.com, or go to autoinsurance.com directly to get competing quotes from several car insurance providers such as Progressive (PGR, Fortune 500), Esurance and Safeco to choose the policy and price that best fit their needs. Wal-Mart will also promote the service via displays in its stores.

    "The service is already available in eight states -- Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. Wal-Mart plans a nationwide rollout in the coming months."

    Walmart says that a test in Pennsylvania saved customers who used the service an average of more than a thousand dollars a year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    Reuters reports that Lidl, the Germany-based discounter, has decided to delay its entry into the US market until 2018. The company previously had planned to open 100 stores on the east coast next year.

    Lidl currently has some 9,000 stores in 26 countries.

    It was just a month ago that Lidl's chairman, Karl-Heinz Holland, and a senior marketing and buying executive, Dawid Jaschok, left the company over what were called "unbridgeable" strategic differences.
    KC's View:
    There are some retailers around the US that will breathe a sigh of relief at this news. But they should take the momentary pause by Lidl as a rare opportunity to get their own ducks in a row … they should start behaving now like Lidl already has opened down the street, because that's the only way to compete these days. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue.

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    • The Detroit Free Press reports that Meijer, which last year opened its first store in downtown Detroit, now plans to build a second store there, in the northwestern part of the city.

    The story says that the new store will be about 190,000 square feet in size, and is expected to open sometime next year. Because of Detroit's continuing economic problems and efforts to recover from bankruptcy, Meijer's investment in the city has taken on what the paper calls "additional significance."


    • The California Grocers Association (CGA) has merged with the the California Independent Grocers Association (CIGA), the two organizations announced yesterday.

    The two groups, each of which has existed for more than a century, noted that CGA represents more than 80 percent of California’s grocery industry including retail grocery chains, independents, wholesalers, brokers and suppliers. CIGA is comprised of independent grocery store owners operating throughout Northern and Central California.

    “As an independent grocer myself, I know that when local, family-owned grocery store owners speak, elected officials are more apt to listen,” says Kevin Davis, CEO of Bristol Farms and a past CGA chairman. “CGA has a very strong advocacy program. Merging the two associations will only serve to strengthen its efforts.”


    • The National Retail Federation (NRF) said yesterday that a new survey suggests that Americans will spend an average of $162.94 on Mother's Day presents this year, down from a survey high of $168.94 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $19.9 billion.


    • General Mills chairman/CEO Ken Powell said yesterday that his company is joining with Walmart "to accelerate innovation in sustainable agriculture and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions." The two companies aid they will work together to "bolster the work of Field to Market, a nonprofit organization dedicated to working across the agriculture supply chain to address the food demands of the rapidly growing population, while conserving natural resources."

    The announcement was made at Walmart's Sustainability Product Expo, currently being held in Bentonville, Arkansas.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2014

    National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver yesterday banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, as he tried to resolve a sports and cultural controversy ignited when Sterling made racist comments about African-Americans in a conversation with his mistress that she surreptitiously recorded.

    In addition, Sterling was hit with a $2.5 million fine - a nominal amount since Sterling reportedly is worth close to two billion dollars. And, Silver said, he will seek a vote of the owners (three quarters is required) to force Sterling to sell the team.

    Sterling has not yet commented on the punishment.

    "The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful," Silver said at a press conference. "We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA."

    The Clippers' website yesterday featured an all-black background with three words inscribed next to the team logo: "We Are One."

    The NBA ruling headed off what could have been a potential disaster for the NBA, as players were at least considering a boycott of last night's scheduled playoff games if they were not satisfied with the league's response.
    KC's View: