retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday's story about Revolution Foods, the company that is making healthier school lunches, MNB user Alan Finta wrote:

There’s an interesting challenge here for Revolution Foods between satisfying the “purchaser” of the product (the parents), and the “end-user” (the kids).  I live in a suburb of Sacramento and had Revolution Foods lunches offered at my kids charter school a couple years ago.  As parents, we loved the healthier fare offered, and from what I remember, at a reasonable cost.  The issue, was that my kids wouldn’t eat all of the meals, and threw away a good portion because “it didn’t taste good” or “it had weird things in it” (water chestnuts comes to mind).

My kids are not the pickiest eaters (though neither one likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…go figure).  We have them eating Chinese, Indian, and even Peruvian food, as well as our good ol’ basic American fare.  We try to balance every meal with lots of fruit and vegetables and a good source of protein.  They’re not unaccustomed to variety, but for whatever reason they did not care for these lunches.  Literally throwing money in the trash can, we stopped buying the meals.  This past year the program was not offered at the school, so I’m guessing we weren’t the only family with this issue.

From another reader:

Revolution is the lunch contractor at the charter school my son attends.  When they came in as the new vendor, they held tastings for the adults and kids at various events - I was impressed by their outreach as well as the food.

That said, my son still thinks the lunches are disgusting.  But just because my kids don’t want to eat healthy food doesn’t mean I’m giving up the ghost and just feeding them junk! 

I think it’s a smart investment - I just wish my son would eat their lunches so I could stop packing them.

Regarding the paradox of choice, MNB user Craig Espelien wrote:

I was very intrigued by the discussion around the Paradox of Choice as I have done quite a bit of work in this area – understanding how a consumer chooses a product and even when they don’t.  This started when I was first in retail 35+ years ago and International Coffee and Celestial Seasonings teas were first huge – both sections were tiny (boxes were tiny) and way overcrowded as both lines had too many SKU’s.  Customers would provide feedback in the store that they could not find the flavor they were seeking as there were too many other products.

Several years later when I worked for Supervalu, there was some work done in the Cub stores where the mustard section in one of the stores was reset and the number of SKU’s were cut in half – and the consistent feedback was that Cub had added SKU’s (but in reality, the consumer could now find what they were seeking).

Recently, I have boiled this down into a consumer segmentation model that focuses on the value level consumers are seeking (Value, Mid-Price, Premium, Luxury) and how brands/products differentiate themselves (Value Equals:  Quality, Quantity, Price, Differentiation) which shows that if there are more than 16 choices, there will be duplication as there are no other squares in the matrix to occupy.  Now, 16 options is not necessary in every category (but color and flavor options may expand the number of SKU’s as well) so a strong retailer can curate their offering to eliminate the duplication and provide the consumer with the right number of choices to provide variety but eliminate the confusion.

Unfortunately, too many retailers (when I have spoken to Amazon, their goal is to offer EVERYTHING available regardless of the confusion created) carry too many duplicate SKU’s with no real differentiation – harming not only their consumers but also creating a complex supply chain that increase costs due to inefficiency (manufacturers are not innocent here either – they reward their sales teams for SKU expansion regardless of if it makes sense for the retailer or consumer – but that is an entirely different discussion).  This has allowed the limited assortment folks (first mass with only the fast moving SKU’s, then Aldi/Save A Lot with a private brand approach and finally dollar with core products only) to offer a more curated version of what is needed (and steal volume from the confusion grocery channel).

Kroger has done the most work on providing a more curated assortment (through their Dunnhumby relationship) and has been rewarded with higher sales and profits.

My point – being everything to everyone does not work anymore and retailers – regardless of channel – need to focus more on who their consumers are, what they need and/or want and get the best (not most) variety on the shelf to fit that need.  I doubt it will happen quickly (or painlessly) but those who do not do this will continue to struggle with the Paradox of Choice.

Regarding our interview yesterday with Colleen Wegman, one MNB user wrote:

What a great read!  She is so authentic!  Content was not surprising, Wegman's as a company walks their talk.

I have some concern about federal GMO legislation, because there are all indications the requirements for labeling will be watered down, and allow for crafty manipulation.  I like very much what she said about transparency.  We consumers want it, are demanding it, the purveyors of food should simply provide it.

But one reader had a problem with one of Colleen Wegman's responses:

“Stop selling cigarettes” and “That’s how the free enterprise system works” seem at distinct odds with one another.

I don;t think so. Not at all. "Free enterprise" also means being free to decide what you want to sell and what you don't want to sell.

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

In his mind-boggling 65 years in the game, Zimmer also worked with the Padres,  Rangers,  Red Sox,  Cubs (taking them to the playoffs,  no less), and the last decade as a senior advisor to the Rays, where tears were evident in the dugout last night.

I'm not a huge fan of the game, but even I can see what a huge impact he made on the game and how big a hole he leaves.

I wrote yesterday about how more people get their information and news from the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

Kevin, I have been getting my news from the nightly “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” for years .  And I am way older than their demographics.  Now, anytime there is a breaking story, that’s where I tune in to see their (usually) enlightening, broadening, and of course, entertaining, take on what has happened that day.  They are smart, see the issues clearly, and can state in a simple but understandable way, what is happening and how it affects us.  Brilliant.

And another:

I think the reason why shows like Colbert, Daily and John Oliver have such an informed audience is that you have to know what’s going on to get the jokes.  My teenage son watches the news and engages with us on current issues and debates so that he can enjoy the late night shows.  Being smart is the new cool.

That's a really, really good point.

I can only hope you're right about smart being cool. Because for too long in this country we've been in a period when intellect is seen as suspect, information is seen as irrelevant, and people think that they have a right not only to their own opinions but their own facts.
KC's View: