retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    Notes and comment from the Content Guy

    CHICAGO - She's running.

    At least, that's my best guess, after hearing former Secretary of State/New York Senator/First Lady Hillary Clinton deliver highly prepared remarks yesterday in the opening general session here of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and United Fresh shows.

    Not everybody in the audience felt that way. One could hear lots of muttering in the audience from people who presumably will not be volunteering for a Clinton-for-President campaign, with words such as "Monica," "Gennifer Flowers," "Rose Law Firm" and "Bubba" being uttered as dismissive epithets, as if they alone disqualified her from the presidency. (Interestingly, I didn't hear anyone say 'Benghazi.") Hard to say if these were deeply considered political judgements or just wishful thinking.

    But when Clinton took the stage almost a half-hour after she was supposed to, clad in a hot pink blazer and black pants, and spoke for about a half-hour before engaging in one of the more scripted question-and-answer sessions that I've ever witnessed (moderated by billionaire Stewart Resnick, whose Wonderful Brands sponsored the Clinton appearance and who, for his money, got to sit on stage with her for pose agreed-upon queries) it certainly seemed as if she were priming the pump for a presidential race. (I'd suggest that there is no other reason for her to give such a speech, but the hundreds of thousands of dollars she makes per-speech argue that there could be another reason. So maybe she's just campaigning for her book.)

    For the most part, it seemed like the speech was exactly what one would expect from any politician with a new book. She hewed closely to the theme of the book - the "Hard Choices" she had to make as Secretary of State and in her own life - with some customization thrown in (the challenges of the obesity crisis, how government can deal with it, and what the Clinton Foundation is doing in this area in its philanthropic efforts). I haven't read the book, which was just published yesterday, but I've read excerpts, and Clinton used lines taken directly from some of the chapters. That's what speakers do, but unlike Bill Clinton, who is capable of making every speech seem like it is the first time he's delivered it and every audience like it is the most important group he's ever spoken to, there just didn't seem to be a lot of spontaneity.

    To be fair, there were two subjects about which Clinton's passions became evident - immigration reform (she said she hoped Congress could pass legislation this year while conceding that this seems unlikely, though she never said what she would do as president to break the logjam), and agricultural programs launched during her tenure at the State Department that endeavored to help farmers in third world countries learn how to use modern farming techniques rather than just throwing hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency food aid at crises when they happen. Such efforts "create a more stable food base," she said, and "help people feed themselves."

    In the end, Hillary Clinton's appearance seemed entirely predictable. It may not have changed anybody's mind, but it did for her what it needed to do - launched her book tour in front of a high profile group and continued the sense of presidential inevitability. It also did for both FMI and United Fresh what it needed to do - almost certainly got their names and industry into the second paragraph of hundreds of stories filed last night.

    For me, it didn't do a lot to raise my expectations about the state of American politics. And I couldn't help but think of an irony. The event was underwritten/sponsored by Wonderful Brands, which got its chairman a high profile role onstage with a global celebrity. But Wonderful Brands, as it happens, makes a product called Pom Wonderful, which has been in engaged in a long-running argument with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over what regulators say is deceptive advertising, making health claims that are not supported by science.

    Deceptive advertising? A politician running (probably) for office? Like I said, lots of irony there, even if unintended.

    More tomorrow from FMI Connect/United Fresh.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    by Kate McMahon

    Since her death, Maya Angelou has been celebrated as an inspirational renaissance woman – an acclaimed poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.

    She was also a fabulous cook, and her recipes, musings on food preparation and belief in the importance of shared dining experiences are simultaneously lyrical and delectable.

    Dr. Angelou, who passed away two weeks ago at the age of 86, published her first cookbook “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes” in 2004. Six years later, her pursuit of weight loss and improved health led her to write “Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart.”

    We can all learn from her passion for food and its role in our culture. And as the nation’s leading food marketers meet in Chicago this week and focus on issues like supply chain, food safety, and technology, it seems appropriate to share her wisdom and suggest that they also ought to be talking about food in the same way that Dr. Angelou did.

    “Food served is always more than just food served. That is to say, it is more than just fuel for the body. Depending upon who has prepared the food and who has served it and with what spirit, it can uplift,” she said in an NPR interview after her first cookbook was published. “Around the world, in every culture, food is used to flirt, to be coy … [for] a raise in employment or to search for employment. It can bring warring factions together."

    Dr. Angelou considered herself a “very serious cook. I have knowledge and great respect for ingredients, and understand how they react.”

    She found joy in planning and preparing meals for family and friends, and set a festive table with traditional slow-cooked Southern food and international dishes. She felt cooking was a natural extension of her autobiography, and so there must be integrity in her recipes. Her reward was the moment she heard a guest stop talking to savor a dish. “When someone says, 'Mm, mm, mmm,' and I know I've mixed the groceries the right way."

    She believed the best comfort food was greens, cornbread and fried chicken, she still favored her mother’s 60-year-old iron skillet, and cooked up a mean Santa Fe Chili for her annual Christmas tree-trimming party. She also happened to love “a Hebrew National hot dog with an ice-cold Corona — no lime. If the phone rings, I won't answer until I'm done."

    In a television interview, Dr. Angelou lamented the prevalence of fast-paced, stand-up meals at a counter or on the go, particularly for young people, and believed that gathering to share food and fellowship fueled more than just the body.

    “As we lose time at table together, we lose a part of our souls,” she said.

    Certainly at this week's FMI Connect/United Fresh conference and in retailer front offices everywhere there is a necessary focus on the bottom line. The same can be said for manufacturers of small widgets or heavy machinery. But to take a page from Maya Angelou’s writings, the business of bringing food to the table is different, as it nurtures the body and soul and strengthens family and community.

    A phenomenal woman, indeed. And sentiments worth taking seriously.


    Comments? As always, send them to me at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    The New York Times reports this morning that Amazon, which is engaged in a pricing battle with Hachette over the cost of books that has led to the retailer limiting access to the publisher's books on its site, is expanding that fight to Warner Home Video.

    In a story that begins, "the Everything Store is shrinking again," the Times writes that "Amazon customers who want to order forthcoming Warner Home Video features, including 'The Lego Movie,' '300: Rise of an Empire,' 'Winter’s Tale' and 'Transcendence,' are finding it impossible to do so … Amazon started refusing preorders for the Time Warner movies in mid-May."

    The goal is to gain leverage with suppliers, and the story notes that "Amazon’s long-stated desire to sell everything to everybody might be taking a back seat."

    According to the Times, "There is no resolution in sight to the Hachette standoff. Amazon’s tactics with Warner Home Video are unlikely to provoke as much of an uproar, since DVDs do not carry the cultural weight of books. And the films are readily available from other vendors, including Target and Barnes & Noble. Neither does Amazon seem to be imposing lengthy shipping delays on the DVDs once they go on sale, one of the things that provoked particular ire with Hachette."
    KC's View:
    The notion of competing imperatives is an interesting one, with Amazon essentially saying that if it has to choose between selling everything and selling at the lowest prices, it will choose the latter. But, of course, that's not exactly what is going on here … because it seems to me that Amazon is less interested in lower prices than it is in higher margins.

    To be clear, Amazon is doing what a lot of retailers do. But a lot of consumers expect Amazon to be different.

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that the weekend accident in which an apparently exhausted Walmart truck driver caused a multi-car accident that killed one man and sent three others - including comedian Tracy Morgan - to the hospital, is "emboldening opposition to efforts in Congress to loosen U.S. limits on how many hours truckers can be on the road."

    Authorities say that the driver had not slept for 24 hours before the accident. He is now charged with one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. Walmart has said that it believes that the driver "was operating within the federal hours-of-service regulations.”

    The story says that two days before the accident, "a Senate committee voted to suspend federal hours-of-service rules for truckers that had taken effect less than a year ago.

    "At least four other accidents already under investigation by the NTSB involved similar circumstances in which truck drivers struck slower traffic ahead, Don Karol, director of the National Transportation Safety Board’s highway safety office, said in a Web post. The latest accident raised enough safety flags that the NTSB, which examines only a small fraction of highway accidents each year, sent a team to investigate."
    KC's View:
    I'm not saying that the feds ought to toughen the regulations, though I probably wouldn't argue that point. But I cannot imagine any circumstances under which current regulations ought to be relaxed … it just doesn't make any sense. Of course, for some folks all regulations are evil … but I'm willing to entertain the concept that government has some responsibility for highway and public safety.

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    Market Force Information is out with a new study saying that "more shoppers are purchasing private label (store brand) products this year compared to last year … The study revealed that 98% of shoppers purchase private label food or cleaning products at least some of the time, on the rise from 96% in 2013. Dairy, specifically milk, is still the most frequently purchased private label product of the categories studied, followed by cereal, snacks and cleaning products."

    The study goes on to say that "few shoppers are unaware of private label brands and as many are aware of them but never purchase them – both categories down 1% from 2013. The percentage of consumers who sometimes opt for private label is up 1% from 2013 as are the number of shoppers who always reach for private label."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    Target said yesterday that it has named a new chief information security officer - Brad Maiorino, formerly in charge of global information security at General Motors.

    Maiorino, who also once served as chief information security officer at General Electric, will report to Bob DeRodes, Target’s new executive vice president and chief information officer.

    The hiring is designed to help address investor concerns following last year's data breach that put the financial information of millions of Target customers at risk.
    KC's View:
    Funny. I see the words "General Motors" and "information" in the same sentence, and I get this queasy feeling inside.

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    • The Charlotte Business Journal reports that Delhaize-owned Food Lion "will donate 500 million meals to families in need by the end of 2020." Beth Newlands Campbell, president of Food Lion, notes that "since 2002, Food Lion has donated 423 million pounds of food and other grocery products to benefit 30 food banks in 10 states," and the new Food Lion Feeds campaign will endeavor to raise awareness of hunger issues in local communities.


    • The NACS monthly Consumer Fuels Survey is out, suggesting that "despite souring views on the economy, consumers still intend to keep their plans to hit the road this summer. More than one in five (22%) consumers, including 40% of 18-34 year-olds, say they will drive more over the next 30 days … Overall, 39% of consumers say that they are optimistic about the economy, a drop from 44% just two months prior, and despite falling gas prices and better weather across much of the country, consumer optimism is at its lowest level in 2014. Consumers ages 35-49 were the most optimistic, bucking a trend in which younger consumers, ages 18-34, have been the most optimistic."


    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Starbucks is adding grilled cheese sandwiches to its menu across the country, and will include "a blend of white cheddar, yellow cheddar and mozzarella on multigrain bread for $5.25. Starbucks will also launch a turkey pesto panini nationwide on the same day, with turkey, melted provolone cheese, pesto spread, red peppers on foccaccia for $5.95."


    USA Today reports this morning that Walmart and Costco "say they're taking action in response to a news investigation that found evidence of forced labor in their Thailand-area seafood supply chains."

    There was a report in the Guardian this week that "workers compelled to toil for years in Asia at no pay and under threat of violence are being used in the production of seafood sold by Wal-Mart, Costco and major British and European retailers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    • FreshDirect said yesterday that it has hired Michael A. Brizel to be its new Executive Vice President & General Counsel. Brizel most recently was Executive Vice President & General Counsel, as well as Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer, at Saks Incorporated.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    Yesterday's "Sansolo Speaks" column included a link to the final section of a four-year study of social media by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council, but the link wasn't working for part of the day. (MNB's fault, not Coke's.)

    So, if you want to download the study, click here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    We had a story on MNB a couple of months ago about Daniel Murphy, the New York Mets second baseman, who generated a lot of debate when he took paternity leave and missed the first two games of the season to be present at the birth of his first son, Noah, and spend time with his wife and new child. Some local sportscasters took issue with Murphy's priorities, suggesting that he wasn't necessary to the birthing process and should have put his teammates and the fans first.

    I thought that those sportscasters were full of it, that you can never get those first days and hours back. There's always another day to go to work. (To be fair, not everybody who reads MNB agreed with me. I think they're Neanderthals, but they have a right to their opinion.)

    Well, the New York Times writes that Murphy took part in a Working Families Summit sponsored by the Obama White House this week, and addressed the controversy.

    “When Noah asks me one day, ‘What happened, what was it like when I was born?’ I could have answered, ‘Well, Stephen Strasburg hung me a breaking ball that day, son, and I slammed it into the right-field corner,’ ” Murphy said, adding, "But I think it’s going to go so much further in that I’m the one who cut his umbilical cord. And long after they tell me that I’m not good enough to play professional baseball anymore, I’ll be a father. And I’ll be a husband. So that was a reason, on the front end, that I wanted to be there for my wife and for my son.”
    KC's View:
    I'm totally on Murphy's side on this one, even if the suggestion that he might have hit a Stephen Strasburg pitch into the right field corner makes me a little wistful. Actually, I think there's a pretty good metaphor at work here - that the Mets are the Obama White House of baseball, and that the Obama White House is the Mets team of politics.

    Published on: June 11, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: