retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

"Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron: Proven Technology.  Innovative Thinking.  Intelligent Solutions for Fresh.

Content Guy's Note: "Fresh Talk" is a new MNB feature, scheduled to alternate on Wednesdays with "Kate's Take."  It will examine all aspects of "fresh," in both the broadest and most focused meaning of that term (depending on the whims of the columnist). "Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron...which you can learn more about here…but which has no input into the subjects covered or responsibility for the attitudes taken.

Two stories this week that strike me as emblematic of fresh food-related consumer trends….

Or, to put it another way, I've got good news and bad news.

Of course, the bad news probably isn't bad news at all, unless of course you happen to be a McDonald's shareholder.

The fast feeder said yesterday that its third quarter net income was down a whopping 30 percent to $1.07 billion, and Reuters reported that this reflected "traffic declines in every major region." CEO Don Thompson, who has only been in that job for two years and who may find that he is in the wrong place and the wrong time, conceded that his company is facing a kind of existential question: "McDonald's is in the business of satisfying customers and that will never fall out of favor. The question is what do you do to do that?," he told Reuters.

Thompson said that in order to re-establish some level of consumer relevance, "McDonald's is simplifying menus, tailoring food to local tastes, offering custom burger and sandwich options, rolling out mobile services such as payments and ordering, and opening a social media 'dialogue' with customers." But it remains to be seen whether this will be enough, at least in the short-term, to arrest the business decline.

The good news?

Well, I think it is the other side of the coin - that, according to the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), more than 40 retailers representing more than 19,000 stores across the U.S. and Canada supporting the ‘eat brighter!’ movement, which is using the Sesame Street Muppet characters as way of marketing fresh fruits and vegetables to kids.

Indeed Walmart reportedly has joined the list of companies joining in the program; it has already accepted Sesame Street-branded products from suppliers, according to published reports, and plans to sign a licensing agreement that will allow it to use the characters in approved ways to market fresh fruits and vegetables.

I can't help but think this is a good thing. There is no way that fresh fruits and vegetables will ever get the kind of marketing support and ad dollars that McDonald's is willing and able to throw behind its burgers, shakes and fries (and yes, salads, too). But from the time that MNB broke the news about the Sesame Street-themed program, which allows the use of the Muppets for no fee as a way of influencing in a positive way the eating behavior of young people, I've been convinced that this has the potential to be a game changer.

Are the decline at McDonald's and the industry enthusiasm for the initiative connected? probably not in any substantive way.

But maybe there's something happening here, even if what it is ain't exactly clear…