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    Published on: May 28, 2014

    by Kate McMahon

    Sorry, pal. Your saucy significant other is stepping out on you, and announced the end of your long-term exclusive relationship on Facebook. And immediately started flirting with the competition.

    Yes, after almost 50 years, A.1. Steak Sauce is dropping Steak from its label and “friending” all sorts of foods – from chicken to lobster to corn on the cob, and even healthier fare such as quinoa and tofu.

    The new name is A.1. Original Sauce, and the recently launched rebranding campaign touts it as good “For Almost Everything. Almost.”

    The change is reflective of the nation’s evolving tastes – less red meat, more chicken, fish and vegetables – and the American consumer’s saucing habits.

    A.1. Sauce was created in the 1820s by the chef of King George IV. Ironically, when commercially produced in 1831, A.1. was marketed as a versatile “saucy sauce different from any other, appreciated on Welsh rarebits, broiled lobster and English mutton chops.” (Sounds like a "Downton Abbey" dinner to me.) But in the 1960s, when a big slab of steak was viewed as the ultimate main course, it was renamed A.1. Steak Sauce.

    With red meat consumption on the decline, and sales stagnant, the Kraft-owned brand surveyed its heaviest users and found they were dousing A.1. on chicken, pork, shrimp, French fries and vegetables.

    Beyond the name change, A.1. has done a masterful job utilizing Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest to engage its fan base, prompting the site to run this headline: “A.1. Steak Sauce’s Social Life Is More Interesting Than Yours.”

    A very witty clip entitled “A.1. Sauce: New Friend Requests” shows the emotional steak breakup and evolving relationships played out on Facebook, and has snagged almost 95,000 views on YouTube and positive buzz in new and mainstream media.

    When Facebook fans were asked to share their fave (and even weird) combos, the A.1. social media team had fun with the responses.

    One enthusiast said she used A.1. in “Bloody Marys, salad, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, mix with sour cream or Greek yogurt over beef and noodles, on ramen, on stewed tomatoes and spaghetti squash. Just to name a few.” The A.1. team replied: “Casandra, you’ve always been ahead of the saucing curve.”

    To the fan who wrote “I put it on peas” the A.1. team responded “We applaud your uncompromised pursuit of what you love.”

    Will the rebranding move boost A.1. sales? To be determined, but it has certainly sparked interest. Two members of my family go for A.1. on grilled swordfish as well as steak and lamb, so I am considering sampling several of the online suggestions. A.1. on mashed potatoes and tacos, yes.

    But I have to draw the line at tofu.

    We Have A Winner…

    Congratulations to MNB reader John LeTourneux of Kroger Co., winner of our Grilled Cheese Sandwich recipe contest. His recipe for Ambrosia Grilled Cheese is swoon-worthy, and won first prize – a Panini maker., which we will be sending to him shortly.

    Here’s his recipe, followed by our honorable mentions.

    Ambrosia Grilled Cheese Sandwich (see a picture of this delicious concoction above):

    It starts with homemade basil infused and pepper jack spiked fresh baked bread.

    Butter the outsides and place a generous slice of smoked Gouda inside one slice and a generous slice of sharp cheddar on the other.

    Cut a healthy slice of home-cured applewood smoked bacon.  Fry the bacon to perfection and lay two half slices side-by-side on whichever cheese is your favorite.
    Now the fun begins…

    Gently crack an egg in barely simmering water.  Poach until the egg yolk is slightly runny (that makes it not as messy eating this bad boy).

    While the egg is cooking, grill the sandwich halves open-faced, butter side down, until the toastiness is to your liking.

    Gently rest the egg on the bacon side of your creation.  Close it up and travel on the highway to heaven.

    Honorable mentions to the following MNB readers, and the special ingredients that made their grilled cheese a standout…

    • Paige Grunnagle (Sourdough bread, Havarti, fresh basil leaves, tomato, prosciutto and a drizzle of honey).

    • Richard Lowe (toasted triple-decker with tuna fish salad).

    • Jim DeLuca (pickled ginger and mutard violetta).

    • Matt Gandolfo (smoked paprika, dry mustard and ground white pepper).

    • Lynn Shovan (smoked Gouda, dill havarti and provolone with pesto and tomato).

    • Jenny Heflin (crusty Italian bread from grocery deli, cheddar, havarti, bacon and tomato).

    Thanks to all the MNB readers who submitted recipes….Happy Eating!

    Comments? As always, send them to me at .

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    There is a fascinating story on Salon that, on the face of it, would seem to have very little to do with traditional business. It is about how the Walt Disney Co., a company that traditionally has been highly protective of its copyrighted material, and highly litigious when it comes to defending its property.

    Until, that is, Frozen. The story talks about how Frozen, the Oscar-winning animated film that just the other day became the fifth highest grossing motion picture ever (it already was the highest grossing animated film), created an enormous groundswell of fan-created material based on its songs and characters … stuff that in the old days, Disney would have found intolerable and in breach of its copyrights. (Just such a song can be seen in the video clip at left.)

    But this time around, Disney realized that all that fan-created material was, in fact, free marketing for the movie … and I'd suggest that it is one of the reasons the movie has remained so popular. "There’s anecdotal evidence," Salon reports, "that the company has realized that the same people who are buying soundtracks and merchandise and DVDs are the same people who are making and sharing YouTube videos. Although Disney once viewed YouTube with alarm, the company now seems to realize that fan-created content — even in cases where that content is generating revenue that is not captured by Disney — is cross-promotional marketing that money can’t buy."

    And that's the real lesson from this story: "Disney’s expertise in nurturing, co-opting and, most of all, not cracking down on the many ways fans have embraced Frozen online is a template for how to thrive in a digital, copy-promiscuous, consumer-empowered environment."

    In other words, they learned to let it go. Because consumers are more empowered than ever, and if you engage with that empowerment, not only won;t you be able to hold it back anymore, but you won't want to.

    It is an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    The New York Times has a story this morning about the importance of customer advisory boards, and that such groups - meeting regularly and formally - can create the best ideas for sustainable, growing businesses.

    The story suggests four rules for creating such boards:

    Make sure there is a curmudgeon in the group, because many boards suffer from what is called a "nice bias." A curmudgeon can help loosen tongues about what really needs to be fixed.

    Members should only speak from their own points of view, as opposed to representing the view of "others." "Unless people say they will spend their own money on an idea, it’s probably a lousy idea," the story says.

    Insure that members get a take-away for themselves … even if that is just a sense that their suggestions are being acted upon. Otherwise, they won;t see the board as worth their time.

    Rotate members. Frequently. It keeps people from getting stale, though it is critical that at least one curmudgeon stays on the board at any given time.
    KC's View:
    Consumer advisory boards ought to be a requirement for every store manager … whether the store is a single-unit independent, or part of an enormous chain. And part of the way in which store managers are assessed and evaluated ought to be linked to how effective they are at assembling and utilizing such boards.

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    In its first public comments acknowledging the company's dispute with a major publisher, Amazon posted a statement on its website yesterday saying that it does not expect a quick resolution.

    "Despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms," Amazon said. "Though we remain hopeful and are working hard to come to a resolution as soon as possible, we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon."

    The dispute between Amazon and Hachette, the publishing house, has led to the retailer delaying delivery and not carrying Hachette-published books, even deleting the pre-order button for future items. The contretemps reportedly are over money - Amazon is looking for lower costs for both physical and e-books as it looks to drive more dollars to the profit side of its ledger, and Hachette resisting what it views as a kind of extortion.

    "When we negotiate with suppliers, we are doing so on behalf of customers," Amazon said. "Negotiating for acceptable terms is an essential business practice that is critical to keeping service and value high for customers."
    KC's View:
    To be honest, I looked and looked and could not find the Amazon statement on its website. But I'll take the word of the Journal that it was there.

    To me and a lot of other Amazon shoppers, the question is what "acceptable terms" means.

    To Amazon, I suspect, this may just be a test case. If it can get Hachette to bend, will it just be the first instance in which it plays hardball with suppliers to this extent? And what will the impact of such tactics be on shoppers?

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a report calling for legislation that would restrict and regulate the data collection industry and make it more transparent. The report suggests that virtually every US consumer is being tracked by data brokers, "and the data can be used to target advertising, deny business services and more, the FTC said … The FTC also called for lawmakers to require retailers to be more transparent when data brokers' information is used to deny consumers services."

    According to the Times, "The report acknowledged that data brokers can help consumers find relevant products by grouping them in categories such as 'dog owner' and 'expectant parent.' But the agency found that other categories consumers fall into focus on ethnicity and income levels.

    "The groups 'urban scramble' and 'mobile mixers,' for example, have high concentrations of low-income Latinos and African Americans. Another set flags medical conditions, including groups such as 'diabetes interest' and 'cholesterol focus'."

    The Direct Marketing Association, not surprisingly, disputed the report's conclusions. "One interesting thing about this report is that after thousands of pages of documentation submitted over the two years of thorough inquiry by the FTC, the report finds no actual harm to consumers, and only suggests potential misuses that do not occur," Peggy Hudson, a vice president with the trade group, tells the Times.
    KC's View:
    I know this is my default position on such stories, but I have a real problem with organizations that suggest less transparency, which is sort of what the Direct Marketing folks seem to be saying. I have no doubt that these data brokers are analyzing all of us six ways from Sunday, from every possible angle. I'm not sure what can be done about that, but at the very least, the extent to which we are being analyzed and categorized ought to be transparent to any consumer who wants that information.

    Any organization that resists such transparency ought to be viewed with great suspicion.

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    There is a blog posting from The Acheson Group that is definitely worth reading, looking at the legal and financial implications of a recent settlement by Walmart in a case that looked to blame the retailer for the 2011 Jensen Farms cantaloupe Listeria outbreak.

    The posting notes, as matter of context, that "a multistate outbreak of listeriosis linked to whole cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Col., resulted in a CDC-reported total of 147 infected persons from 28 states, including 33 deaths and one miscarriage. Since then, Jensen Farms has declared bankruptcy and gone out of business; its owners pleaded guilty to and were sentenced for introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce; and the litigation has turned to the retailers and foodservice businesses who sold the cantaloupe."

    The Walmart settlement (the exact amount of which remains confidential), the posting suggests, "is a definite game changer and sets precedent that retailers are now on the hook when things go wrong in the supply chain … if you are a part of the supply chain, you hold a part of the responsibility – and the liability. So the key question is how much and what you can do to reduce that liability?"

    You can read the entire posting here.
    KC's View:
    My position here on MNB for a long time has been that it almost does not matter to shoppers how long and complicated the supply chain may be … they buy products from stores, and will ultimately hold stores responsible for what they sell. Which means that retailers need to understand the supply chain in an intimate way, if only so they can protect themselves and their shoppers.

    Remember the old Latin proverb: Trust, like the soul, never returns once it goes.

    Retailers need to do whatever is necessary to maintain and sustain that trust.

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    The New York Times reports that First Lady Michelle Obama is "pushing back" against a proposal in the US House of Representatives that would exempt some school lunch programs from meeting mandated dietary and nutrition standards, based on whether school districts are profitable or not.

    The story reports that "the standards, approved by Congress and the president in 2010, set limits on sodium, fat and calories, and require that unhealthy menu items be replaced with fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Some big food companies and Republican lawmakers have criticized the rules, calling them inflexible, ineffective and expensive."

    The First Lady told a group of school officials yesterday that "the last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health, especially when we’re finally starting to see some progress on this issue. It’s unacceptable to me not just as first lady, but as a mother."

    The Times writes that the "School Nutrition Association, which represents cafeteria administrators, issued a statement on Tuesday calling the rules 'overly prescriptive' and citing Agriculture Department data showing a drop in school-lunch participation since the standards were adopted."
    KC's View:
    There always are reasons not to do such things. But I have to say that IMHO, making school meals more nutritious ought to be a high priority. Too many of them serve slop that does nothing to nourish the kids who eat it. And nourishing kids' bodies ought to be seen as important as nourishing their minds.

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Starbucks, "which acquired San Francisco chain La Boulange Bakery in 2012, will on June 12 open a restaurant in Los Angeles called La Boulange. Unlike its bakeries (and competitor, Le Pain Quotidien), which close by about 7 p.m., the La Boulange restaurant will serve dinner until 10 p.m. The menu starts with the  bakery’s menu of sandwiches, salads, and omelets and adds such later-in-the-day options as croissant burgers, cocktails, beer, and wine."

    The story goes on: "It’s easy to see why Starbucks wants to enter the dinner market. After sundown, the cafe chain largely loses to competitors such as Panera, which racks up 22 percent of its sales at dinner. Starbucks has already announced an 'Evenings' menu at its cafes - and will no doubt try to apply any lessons to its new restaurant."
    KC's View:
    I guess the real question is whether Starbucks will attempt to apply the lessons of its new restaurant to its coffee shops. I'm on board for the notion that some Starbucks can successfully offer beer, wine and snacks at night … but if they start cooking croissant burgers in the back, I may be less enthusiastic.

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    • In California, the Mountain View Voice reports that Mi Pueblo is expected to emerge from bankruptcy shortly, having gotten the go-ahead from a federal judge on an amended reorganization plan that settled its financial differences with all but three of 29 creditors. It is unknown at this time whether the company will be able to keep open all of its 21 stores.

    • The New York Times reports that poultry producer Pilgrim's Pride has offered $6.4 billion to buy Hillshire Brands, a move that is seen as an attempt to derail Hillshire's purchase of Pinnacle Foods for $4.3 billion, which it saw as a threat to its own position as "one of the country’s top sellers of meat."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    Maya Angelou, the acclaimed author ("I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings"), poet, and civil rights activist, has passed away at age 86 in her North Carolina home. She was reported to have been in poor health, and recently canceled a public appearance.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 28, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: