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    Published on: August 6, 2014

    by Kate McMahon

    After 14 million entries, the Lay’s Do Us A Flavor create a potato chip contest has narrowed the field to four finalists, and the early favorite in online commentary is…

    Sour Grapes.

    Actually, the four flavors vying for the $1 million prize are Cappuccino, Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Wavy Mango Salsa and Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger. The 9.5 ounce packages, complete with the name and photo of each flavor’s creator, hit store shelves last week.

    But thousands of disgruntled also-rans are flooding Lay’s Facebook page with irate complaints about the flavors and the selection process, illustrating just how unpredictable, volatile and noisy social media can be.

    Lay’s launched its first U.S. Do Us A Flavor contest last year, and chose three finalists from 4 million entries. A Wisconsin librarian took home $1 million for her Cheesy Garlic Bread creation, still on the market.

    The Pepsi-owned brand said the tripled number of entries this year “blew us away.” A panel of chefs, foodies and flavor experts chose final four based on flavor name, three potential ingredients, chip style, and a 140-character description or inspiration for the flavor. Lay’s culinary team created the chip.

    Consumers are asked to vote for their favorite via Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, YouTube or text message now through Oct. 18th, with hashtags such as #savewasabi and hometown promotions.

    The Facebook rants began the minute the finalists were announced. The following are typical posts:

    “I studied flavor for years and submitted over 500 flavors. And they came up with the most disgusting ones??? Literally they’ve been tested and proved to be spit on the ground disgusting. It had to be rigged.”

    “I agree. How does Wasabi Ginger beat out my Buffalo Chicken pizza and Buffalo Wings & Beer? It just doesn’t make sense.”

    “They lined it up so that the fire fighter that has a new born baby can win just so they look good. The only logical flavor is Bacon Mac, the others are just there for show.”

    “Cappuccino?????????? Gross.”

    Lay’s did not respond on Facebook, but my response to the bellyachers is this: Taste the chip, then rate it. Frito-Lay would not sink millions, months and shelf space into an inedible snack. I located the finalists in four of five area supermarkets, mixed in with other Lay’s and chip products, but none were in the stand-alone contest display I saw in an online photo. For Lay’s and the retailer, that’s a missed opportunity.

    This clearly called for an MNB taste test, so we assembled a target audience panel: six judges, ages 13 to 28, gathered at the local swim club where my 19-year-old daughter Emily is a lifeguard.

    For comparison sake, the panelists treated their palates to the 2013 winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread, and then moved on the finalists. The clear winner: Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese – “it combines the world’s favorite comfort foods into one chip,” said 13-year-old Luke, summing up the judges’ findings.

    Wasabi Ginger came in second, praised for its “kick.” Wavy Mango Salsa placed third, tasting too much like a fruity gum for our panel. Not surprisingly, the much-maligned Cappuccino placed last with five of the six tasters – “too sweet, too much cinnamon for a salted snack.”

    Not my personal preference either, but certainly not deserving of a “disgusting” diatribe on Facebook. The negativity illustrates the perils in crowdsourcing and social media, as we see a shift in the balance of power over to consumers.

    In the past a company could run a contest, collect ballots/votes, and authoritatively announce the winner. Now the dissent threatens to undermine the entire campaign and sink Lay’s goal of engaging with its consumers. It’s as if social media serves as a megaphone for the cranky losers in the corner, with the cacophony drowning out any meaningful content.

    Could Lay’s quiet the critics by responding on Facebook or acknowledging their entries? That’s a tall order. Meanwhile, the finalists are actively promoting their flavors on Twitter and the chips are reaching consumers, which could help turn this around.

    I hope so. It would be too bad if sour grapes ended up the winner.

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

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Got an email this week from an MNB reader who referred us to a Mother Jones piece about a controversy created when Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist and host of the "Cosmos" reboot, talked about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

    According to the piece, there was a viral video in which Tyson told "GMO critics to 'chill out' because, as he explains, humans have been changing the genetics of the organisms that we consume for food (through artificial selection) for millennia."

    In a Facebook posting responding to the controversy over his original comments - some applauded his views, others lambasted him - Tyson wrote:

    "Had I given a full talk on this subject, or if GMOs were the subject of a sit-down interview, then I would have raised many nuanced points, regarding labeling, patenting, agribusiness, monopolies, etc. I've noticed that almost all objections to my comments center on these other issues … If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling nonprerennial [sic] seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing - and will continue to do - to nature so that it best serves our survival. That's what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn't, have gone extinct…"

    Which, in my opinion, pretty much gets it right. That's sort of the argument that I've tried to advance here on MNB, though he puts it far more eloquently than I have - that while there is much that can legitimately be questioned about GMOs and how certain companies approach them, it is hard for me to be so anti-science that it is hard to accept the notion that all GMOs are bad, in every circumstance.

    Nuance, I think, is required. GMOs are not a simple issue, and the debate is multi-layered.

    Tyson, it should be noted, has had a tough summer. He's getting blasted on the subject of GMOs right now, but he started the summer being attacked in some quarters for the 'Cosmos" remake's approach to science. (Unfairly, in my view.)

    For a respected scientist who seems to have spent much of his career trying to make science accessible to those of us not nearly as smart as he is, I'm sure it has all been an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    The New York Times reports this morning that "a Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion user name and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses … The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, including household names, and small Internet sites. Hold Security has a history of uncovering significant hacks, including the theft last year of tens of millions of records from Adobe Systems."

    So far, the Times writes, "the criminals have not sold many of the records online. Instead, they appear to be using the stolen information to send spam on social networks like Twitter at the behest of other groups, collecting fees for their work. But selling more of the records on the black market would be lucrative … While a credit card can be easily canceled, personal credentials like an email address, Social Security number or password can be used for identity theft. Because people tend to use the same passwords for different sites, criminals test stolen credentials on websites where valuable information can be gleaned, like those of banks and brokerage firms."

    The story notes that "there is worry among some in the security community that keeping personal information out of the hands of thieves is increasingly a losing battle. In December, 40 million credit card numbers and 70 million addresses, phone numbers and additional pieces of personal information were stolen from the retail giant Target by hackers in Eastern Europe."
    KC's View:
    In a lot of ways, this story will - and should - scare the crap out of people, and you can read the entire thing here.

    BTW … Target said this week that its second quarter financial results "are expected to include gross expenses of $148 million, partially offset by a $38 million insurance receivable, related to the December 2013 data breach."


    It is extraordinary, I think, how much authorities seem to know about this Russian crime ring … and how little we seem to be able to about it. Where is Elliot Ness when we need him?

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    The New York Times reports this morning that Walgreen, as expected, will acquire the 55 percent of stock in British retailer Alliance Boots that it doe snot own, but that it will not move its headquarters abroad, a shift that would have lowered its corporate tax exposure.

    The act of moving headquarters abroad, which has been gaining in popularity, is called inversion, and has been the focus of political debate in recent weeks, which Republicans saying it illustrates the need for a lower corporate tax rate and Democrats saying that legislation is needed to prevent inversions or at least penalize companies that use the strategy.

    Forbes reports that Walgreen CEO Greg Wasson received letters from roughly 200,000 Americans who objected to the company moving its headquarters outside the US.
    KC's View:
    It seems typical of our political discourse that some people call inversion a form of treason. While I'm willing to say that inversion is not exactly the most patriotic thing that a company can do, "treason" strikes me as a pretty tough word, and not one that I would throw around so cavalierly.

    I would refer you back to our story from last Friday, which included a link to a piece on "The Daily Show" in which it was effectively argued that just looking at "corporate tax rates" is too simplistic … that there are a lot of other advantages companies get from being based in the US. (You can see it here.)

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    The Boston Globe reports that Market Basket employees held a rally outside the company's Tewksbury., Massachusetts, store, attracting 10,000 people to what was the fourth event designed to support deposed CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

    The event took place as Market Basket held the second of what apparently were sparsely-attended job fairs that were intended to recruit potential candidates to replace employees who have been participating in the rallies and a slowdown of shipments to Market Basket units that have resulted in stores with near-empty shelves.

    The Globe writes that some Market Basket warehouse employees have begun receiving $200 checks from a "GoFundMe" campaign that has collected some $100,000 to help tide over employees who have left their jobs to support Arthur T. Demoulas and are not receiving unemployment benefits.

    (At the risk of being repetitive … The longtime family feud boiled over with the move by Arthur S. Demoulas, to oust CEO Arthur T. Demoulas due to a conflict over the company’s finances. The fight is characterized differently by the two sides. The Arthur S. Demoulas faction argues that Arthur T. Demoulas spends money irresponsibly and refuses to take direction from the board. The Arthur T. Demoulas side maintains that his cousin is fueled by greed, only interested in raising prices, cutting employee compensation, and threatening the formula that has built the company to a New England success story.)

    Meanwhile, John Rand, senior vice president of Market Insights at Kantar Retail, had a great column yesterday in which he argued that there is a fundamental lack of understanding at the top of the company's current infrastructure about the power of Market Basket's longtime culture - the employees get it, the customers get it, but Arthur S. Demoulas and the current management simply do not.

    "When you kill the culture you can sometimes kill the enterprise," Rand writes. "That’s how Safeway killed Genuardi’s and Dominick’s . The folks at Albertson’s are trying to re-animate a culture, to recreate a company spirit and collective purpose that was dissipated in the Supervalu merger.

    "When you support the culture, align with the culture, you can make great things happen. This is just as true for suppliers who call on such a company culture as it is for those who work inside it.

    "Culture matters. And the distance between two men, one with an S and one with a T as their middle initial, is the measure of that culture and its power."
    KC's View:

    Which one is Arthur T. Demoulas? And which one is Arthur S. Demoulas?

    Just askin'…

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports on the results of a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll revealing that "despite the steady pace of hiring in recent months, 76% of adults lack confidence that their children's generation will have a better life than they do—an all-time high. Some 71% of adults think the country is on the wrong track, a leap of 8 points from a June survey, and 60% believe the U.S. is in a state of decline."

    According to the poll, "Sixty-four percent … said they are still feeling some impact from the recession, down from the 71% who said they initially felt effects from the downturn when it began more than six years ago. Forty percent said someone in their household had lost a job over the last five years, and one of three said someone they live with was forced to take a job with a significantly lower income."

    The results are remarkably bipartisan, or non-partisan. The Journal writes that President Barack Obama's "approval rating dropped to 40% in this latest poll from 41% in a June survey, and he notched a disapproval rating of 54%, matching a previous high. Meanwhile, 36% approve of Mr. Obama's handling of foreign policy, compared with the 60% who disapprove—his worst-ever marks.

    "Congressional Republicans fared even worse, with 54% of adults viewing them negatively and just 19% expressing positive views, a gap of 35 percentage points. Democrats in Congress were viewed negatively by 46% and favorably by 31%, a difference of 15 points."
    KC's View:
    Perhaps the grimmest result from the poll are the statements that "seven in 10 adults blamed the malaise more on Washington leaders than on any deeper economic trends," and "79% expressed some level of dissatisfaction with the American political system."

    Which makes me wonder, who exactly is part of the 21 percent that is satisfied with the American political system?

    This poll makes it clear that the public is dissatisfied. Forgive me, but it is hard for me to believe that it matters who gets elected in the fall midterm elections. I think that Americans largely will remain dissatisfied, and that the political system will remain impotent.

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    Reuters reports that Dollar General Corp., the nation's largest dollar store chain, is considering the possibility of a competitive bid for Family Dollar, which Dollar Tree said last week it plans to acquire for $8.5 billion.

    According to the story, experts put the possibility of a rival bid at 50-50, though it is known that Dollar General has hired an advisor to consider its options.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that Target Corp. "has quietly opened a small technology hub in Sunnyvale, Calif., this week as the Minneapolis-based retailer continues to explore ways to enhance its digital offering. The hub employs 15 people and is geared toward data analytics and engineering for its online and mobile teams … The tech hub differs from Target's recently-opened technology innovation center in San Francisco that seeks out companies to help the company's tech ventures."
    KC's View:
    I think it is very smart for Target to do this … it is critical to get outside the crucible of headquarters when developing technology-based solutions, and to employ people who have not been drinking the Kool-aid.

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    FreshDirect, the pure-play New York-based e-grocer, said this week that it has launched a new technology called Popcart that allows consumers to browse recipes from more than 150 million food websites and then instantly turn the ingredients into an online shopping list that can be ordered from … you guessed it … FreshDirect.

    The technology was created in partnership with Foodily, a social recipe network. It is available in all FreshDirect service areas, which include greater New York; New Jersey; Connecticut metro areas; the greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area; and Delaware.

    "The Web is the number one resource for home cooks, but when you go from online to browsing to in-store shopping, buying the ingredients can take hours and be a deterrent to getting dinner on the table," said Andrea Cutright, CEO of Foodily, in a prepared statement, "Popcart removes the friction from shopping for recipes, making meal planning more efficient than ever before." 
    KC's View:
    I'm a big believer in technology solutions that are relevant … and this strikes me as a prime example of what is possible. Though I find the "150 million food websites" number to be a little daunting…

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    The Gannett Co. said yesterday that it plans to spin off its print businesses, including USA Today, separating them from its broadcast, cable and digital operations.

    According to the New York Times assessment of the move, "The separation follows in the footsteps of many other media companies – from Rupert Murdoch‘s empire to Time Warner Inc. to E.W. Scripps – that have spun off their print arms in recent years.

    "Such transactions are intended to free faster-growing television and other media operations from less profitable newspaper and magazine businesses. Executives hope that these deals increase stock prices and allow each division to focus on its own needs. But investors have shown far more appetite for broadcast assets than newspapers, which continue to struggle as print advertising revenue keeps falling and digital advertising fails to make up for the decline."
    KC's View:
    This one is personal for me … I started out my career as a newspaper reporter for Gannett, in Rockland County. In fact, Michael Sansolo did the same thing … at the same time, and just a few miles away, in Westchester County.

    For better or for worse, print newspapers are dying. Not all of them, but many … as people turn to alternative news sources and technologies for information. Sad, but true, and it does not matter how many people write in to say that they still love the feel of wet newsprint on their fingers in the morning.

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that McDonald's "is conducting a limited test of a 1-minute service guarantee in drive-thru lanes in South Florida. The restaurants promise to have orders ready within 60 seconds after a customer pays. If not, a customer gets a free menu item on their next visit."

    There's two things hurting Mickey D's, IMHO. One is how long you have to wait for the food. The other is the food they put in the bag. This addresses one of the two issues…

    BevNet reports that Red Bull has agreed "to pay more than $13 million to settle a proposed class action lawsuit that alleges false advertising of its energy drinks … If the proposed settlement is passed by the court, Red Bull would be required to pay $6.5 million into a settlement fund within seven days."

    Red Bull says that it settled the suit "to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation," but continues to deny "any and all wrongdoing or liability.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 6, 2014

    Regarding yesterday's story about DNA testing, one MNB user wrote:

    OK great...let's give the government more information on us so they can further dictate our lives. I can see the potential but can also see the downfall and in today's political environment it's hard not to be a skeptic !!!!

    I'm a lot less worried about the government than I am about the Russian mob. But if giving the government info allows it to find ways to cure Parkinson's disease, that strikes me as a pretty fair trade-off, and a pretty good reason to get over paranoia.

    On the subject of Whole Foods getting more price sensitive, one reader wrote:

    Whole Foods has been overcharging the consumer for years, which is why companies like HEB and others, (who do a much better job for the consumer), are able to flourish. We live in Austin and Whole Foods pricing was 50% more in some cases for certain items back in the day....which is why some of us still will not shop there!

    MNB user Ken Pentheny had some thoughts about laws that ban bake sales and even birthday cupcakes in the nation's public schools as a response to rising obesity rates:

    The real issue here is a combination of good eating and exercise (let’s get moving!).  While we may be trying to correct the evils of school lunches, we need better focus on school exercise programs (we used to have gym every week, once or twice).  Kids are tied to tv/computers/schoolwork to much these days or involved in very structured competitive sports (which work to exclude those that don’t have the ability to excel) and we need to allow them some unstructured/semi-unstructured play or exercise time.  Unfortunately, the world has changed and parents have become overly protective of their kids, both in school and at home, to protect them from child predators.  Focus on just one issue isn’t going to solve the problem.  We need to address a lot of the wrongs in today’s society.
    KC's View: