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    Published on: January 14, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    It is a mark of how retailers and brands have to expand their traditional parameters that Tiffany, the luxury jewelry brand, has released its first print ad featuring a same-sex couple and focusing on engagement rings. It is one of a series of ads being run by Tiffany that is going beyond traditional definitions of marriage and relationships.

    Linda Buckley, a spokesman for the chain, told one newspaper that "nowadays, the road to marriage is no longer linear and true love can happen more than once with love stories coming in a variety of forms. The Tiffany engagement ring is the first sentence of the story that a couple will write together as they create a life that is deeply intimate and exceptional, which is the message we hope to convey through this campaign."

    Tiffany is hardly the only company to adapt its marketing efforts to new cultural norms. But it is important to note that the company has been experiencing stagnant sales of late, and so reaching out to a community that it ignored in the last simply makes economic sense; it is a bonus if the company gets noticed for adapting to new political and/or cultural realities at the same time.

    Here's a basic reality: there are 36 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that allow same-sex marriage, and more than two-thirds of Americans live in places that do so. There also are some 17 nations that allow same-sex marriage. The number is only going to grow.

    This is a good and Eye-Opening lesson for all marketers. As the world changes - and does so faster and faster - this creates some challenges but greater opportunities. Because however one might define people in terms of gender, sexuality, or other distinguishing characteristics, they all have one thing in common.

    They are existing or potential customers.

    So sell them stuff.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    The Associated Press reports on the results of a new survey that it conducted, revealing that "66 percent of Americans favor requiring food manufacturers to put labels on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs. Only 7 percent are opposed to the idea, and 24 percent are neutral.

    The story goes on:

    "Fewer Americans say genetically modified ingredients are important to them when judging whether a food is healthy. About 4 in 10 said the presence of such ingredients was very or extremely important to them.

    "That's higher than the share who say it's important to know whether a food is organic, and about on par with the share saying they consider the amount of protein in a food an important factor."

    And, the story says, "According to the AP-GfK poll, public support for labeling GMOs was bipartisan, with 71 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favoring labeling. Even among conservative Republicans, more than 6 in 10 favor a labeling requirement."
    KC's View:
    I continue to believe that GMO labeling is inevitable, and it almost doesn't matter whether you care about eating GMOs or not. It is about being transparent, it is about being open, it is about being willing to treat consumers like adults - tell them what's in products, explain why it is good or bad, and live with the results.

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    The Wall Street Journal reports that fast feeder Chipotle has suspended the sale of pork in one third of its more than 1,700 units "after a recent, routine audit found that the supplier, whose name the company didn’t disclose, was raising pigs without access to the outdoors or to deeply bedded barns that are more comfortable for the animals—conditions that Chipotle requires. The supplier hadn’t failed previous audits, the spokesman said."

    "“The differences in animal welfare between pigs raised this way and pigs that are conventionally raised [are] stark, and we simply won’t compromise our standards this way,” a spokesman said.
    KC's View:
    Chipotle's focus on sustainable sourcing has been one of the things that has helped to differentiate it and drive its growth, and so doing things like this makes absolute sense. "You gotta stand for something or you'll fall for anything," John Mellencamp once sang.

    Tell you something else. I actually think that in a perverse sort of way it is good for Chipotle if this kind of thing happens every once in a while. It says that they're paying attention, and that they're willing to act on their principles. This improves their image ... and long term, their sales.

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    Amazon, having won Golden Globe awards last weekend for its "Transparent" series that is available for streaming by its Prime customers, yesterday released seven new drama and comedy pilots that can be seen and judged by its shoppers. The idea is that viewers actually can weigh in on whether the pilots should be turned into series, as they did with projects like Garry Trudeau's "Alpha House" and Michael Connelly's "Bosch."

    Among the new shows are pilots produced by Carlton Cuse, who is best known for "Lost," and Shawn Ryan, who made "The Shield," signifying the degree to which content providers are turning to what we would define as non-traditional outlets to sell their wares. This places ever-greater pressure on traditional outlets - like broadcast and cable networks - to produce edgier and differentiated content that can draw in viewers.

    Amazon's big hire yesterday was someone who admitted that he had no idea what he was going to do with it - Woody Allen, who made a deal to write and direct his first TV series.

    "I don't know how I got into this," Allen said in a statement. "I have no ideas and I'm not sure where to begin. My guess is that (Amazon Studios chief) Roy Price will regret this." Unlike the other producers, Allen has received a series commitment - he will not have to do a pilot and have it judged by Prime members.
    KC's View:
    At some level, I think it is interesting that Amazon was willing to make a deal with Allen, who is a controversial figure because of allegations and questions about his sexual conduct. Like Bill Cosby, he's never been charged with any crimes, but like Bill Cosby, he's also been judged to some degree in the court of public opinion. (Also like Cosby, I would point out, it is fair to suggest that he's lost a couple of miles off his fastball and his curve doesn't break like it used to.)

    I do think that one of the things that people like me will eventually have to do is stop drawing distinctions between traditional and non-traditional programming outlets. Just like in food retailing, where customers don't necessarily think about format when they make shopping choices but rather focus on who has what they want when they want it, these boundaries are breaking down when it comes to what we watch on our large flatscreen TVs or our laptop screens or whatever piece of equipment we happen to be using. It simply doesn't matter ... we just want content that is relevant and interesting and entertaining.

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about how "made in the USA" is gaining new momentum. An excerpt:

    "For years, the U.S. has ceded more and more of its manufacturing to lower-cost corners of the global economy. No one expects the U.S. to again make most of the electronic gadgets, tools, toys, furniture, lighting and other household products that tally more than $500 billion a year in imports.

    "But some companies contend the U.S. has renewed its attraction. Wages are stable, for example, while China’s have soared. The U.S. energy boom has reduced natural gas prices and kept a lid on electricity costs. Plus, more companies want to protect designs from overseas copycats, keep closer tabs on quality control and avoid potential disruption in supply chains that span oceans."

    The story doesn't paint "made in the USA" as a panacea, but rather does a good job of presenting various angle on the issue, and you can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    Instacart, the e-grocery delivery service, announced this week that "it has closed a $220M round of Series C financing led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Other participants in the round include Comcast Ventures, Dragoneer Investment Group, Thrive Capital, Valiant Capital and previous investors Andreessen Horowitz, Khosla Ventures and Sequoia. This brings Instacart’s total funding to date to approximately $275M."

    Instacart Founder and CEO Apoorva Mehta said that the company "plans to apply the funds primarily toward category expansion, continued geographic growth and technology enhancements."
    KC's View:
    And then, they'll sell Instacart to Google or eBay or Yahoo or Amazon and make a fortune. Count on it.

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    The New York Times reports that in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks in Paris, UK Prime Minister David Cameron "said he would pursue banning encrypted messaging services if Britain’s intelligence services were not given access to the communications." Cameron is running for re-election, said that if he gets another term in office he "would ban encrypted online communication tools that could potentially be used by terrorists if the country’s intelligence agencies were not given increased access. The reforms are part of new legislation that would force telecom operators and Internet services providers to store more data on people’s online activities, including social network messages."

    Cameron's statement, the story says, "comes as many European politicians are demanding that Internet companies like Google and Facebook provide greater information about people’s online activities after several recent terrorist threats, including the attacks in Paris ... Mr. Cameron’s comments are part of a growing debate in Europe and the United States over whether Internet companies and telecom providers must cooperate fully with intelligence agencies, who have seen an increased use of social media by groups like the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL."
    KC's View:
    This is going to be an important and ongoing debate in the civilized world, about the rights and privileges - and, yes, the responsibilities - inherent in free speech.

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    Internet Retailer reports that a survey of prices on both Amazon and Walmart's web site shows that Amazon is "lower on the most popular products" but Walmart is "beating Amazon on price in its core product categories."

    An excerpt from the story:

    "Amazon’s prices were 4% lower on average on the most popular products, and it was particularly aggressive in certain categories, including home audio, video games, phones and electronics. Amazon had a strong 3.5% edge in electronics in Boomerang’s newly released Price Perception Index, which compares product prices but gives extra weight to popular products that will particularly affect how consumers view a retailer’s prices.

    "Walmart.com undercut Amazon in such categories as automotive, pet, beauty, household essentials and home products. For example, Walmart.com’s Price Perception Index was 3.3% lower than Amazon’s on automotive products and 1.9% lower on home goods."

    The story says that "Boomerang’s study also gave an example of how Amazon tests and optimizes its own prices. In the six months leading to last year’s Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), Amazon frequently changed the price of a 32-inch Samsung LED TV, seeking to determine the best price for the holiday season, Boomerang says. However, on related products, such as HDMI cables needed to connect TV sets to set-top boxes, Amazon kept the price steady before the holiday season, then raised the price in November, taking advantage of the opportunity to raise profit margins on a product a consumer is likely to buy when he buys a new TV."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    • The Associated Press reports that "with people drinking less soda amid health concerns, Coke and Pepsi are pushing smaller cans and bottles that contain fewer calories and, they say, induce less guilt. That all comes at a price: Those cute little cans can cost more than twice as much per ounce.

    "The shift means 7.5-ounce "mini-cans" and 8-ounce and 8.5-ounce glass and aluminum bottles are taking up more space on supermarket shelves. The cans and bottles have been around for a few years, but Coke and Pepsi are making them more widely available and marketing them more aggressively."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 14, 2015

    Regarding inefficiencies in the US Postal Service (USPS), got the following email from MNB reader Kerley LeBoeuf:

    There are 11,500 people residing in Lancaster County, Virginia. We are served by 11 post office buildings and regulated by 8 traffic lights. While those data are a great indicator of a wonderfully casual life style, they are also a signal for an inefficient USPS. My favorite facility is Nuttsville, VA 22528, which has a handful of farms, a stop sign and not one residential street. Nuttsville indeed!



    Within the context of a story the other day about a soft drink marketing executive taking a leave of absence to go work for a politician, I lamented the fact that political ideas are being sold like soda, and that politicians increasingly seem to be all hat, no cattle.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    I get what you are trying to say…that citizen’s get little from politics…but…in politics there are big hats & plenty of cattle, unfortunately they all belong to those contributing $$$…Just ask Hillary how much money the Financial Industry has given her so far…don’t be surprised when she says roughly 350 million to date with more than $400 million in promises…but…not to worry…her first responsibility will be to citizens…not business…or at least until after the vote.

    One of the great tragedies in US politics - and perhaps the country's eventual downfall - is the fact that we don't have total disclosure about who contributes to political campaigns, political action committees, and any organization that takes a position in any election. For me, it is very simple - the source of every donation of $100 or more ought to be identified.



    I expressed a certain inner conflict about pot legalization the other day, which prompted the following email from a Boulder Colorado, reader:

    One of the undiscussed stories about legalization in Colorado is the increase in the homeless population in communities that have opened recreational marijuana shops.  It has doubled in my community in the past two years.  Homeless are actively selling meth and marijuana to high school students close to the high school grounds.  There are restrictions on where a retail outlet can be located so they are not near schools, but the homeless are free to go anywhere.  I have no problem with medical marijuana’s legalization, but recreational represents the continued decline in our society.  The fact that there is new tax revenue from it is not a legitimate argument for me.

    As citizens and taxpayers, we all have a responsibility to contribute to services that support all of us.  Legalizing marijuana isn’t the best way to do that.  I am also dismayed by the marketing of food products with marijuana.  The fact that a person can now buy marijuana disguised as GummiBears or cookies in all kinds of flavors that both children and dogs have had bad experiences with here in Colorado should be enough of a warning to everyone that this is not a business that is good for us.


    If they ever make pot-laced Twizzlers, I'm in big trouble.




    I suggested yesterday that as The Fresh Market looks for a new CEO, they ought to consider Beth Newlands Campbell, who recently left Food Lion.

    One MNB user responded:

    I've got to think that BILO is also pursuing Beth; she turned around the Titanic at Food Lion, and BILO needs a life preserver for sure.  The problems BILO are much deeper than the course correction that Fresh Market might need. What we all don't will know is what her non-compete, if there is one, may look like …. and whether it might require her to displace to a market territory that doesn't overlap with any of the current Delhaize operations.  She's an unbelievable talent.  She attacked price ferociously and unrelentingly at Hannaford, and that made it a much more competitive chain – well positioned for the long-haul. Then she took her talents to Food Lion, and the results of the turnaround at Food Lion speak for themselves.  She's not afraid to make the tough decisions, nor do what's best for the organization long-term.
     
    Something seems a little suspect in that BILO stated that they have selected a new CEO, but that person won't be on board for a few months. Could that be the timeline that has to run under a non-compete, whether for her or for some other recently-departed supermarket chief?


    Another MNB user wrote to suggest that Cathy Burns, who preceded Beth at Food Lion, also would be a good choice for The Fresh Market ... though Cathy currently is COO at the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), and I'm not aware of any desire on her part to go back to retail.

    And I have two more names to throw into the discussion - Larree Renda and Diane Dietz, both of whom are leaving Safeway as it is acquired by Albertsons, and who are highly skilled leaders who could bring innovative thinking to either The Fresh Market or Bi-Lo.




    Responding to Michael Sansolo's column yesterday about how the food industry needs to respond to terrorist threats, one MNB user wrote:

    Earlier today, before I read this column, a cross section of managers from our stores were in a training on how to handle workplace violence and shooters.

    I was in a meeting with my team in an adjoining room and we could overhear some of the training. Very basic things to do and what to watch for - snippets of words leaking under the door until all of us stopped talking and found ourselves listening, feeling anxious. We'll go through that same training.  Every manager will.

    It's a sad statement about our world that we have to use our resources teaching our staffs how to handle this instead spending that time figuring out how to offer things like better service and lower prices.

    I guess I just wanted to say that some businesses are thinking about this. More that we'd like to.





    On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

    I don’t understand the big ruckus over free community college.  When I graduated in the early 70’s there was no tuition.  This was in California so I don’t know what it was like for the rest of the country.

    Most of the people who went were still try to find out what they wanted to do with their life and some of them were just delaying growing up.


    The bigger issue is that the nation needs a better educated workforce ... and this may be one way to accomplish it.



    Finally, I responded to a reader from Portland, Oregon, who lamented the fact that there are no Dunkin' Donuts there by suggesting that he should go to the vastly superior - and local - Voodoo Doughnuts and Stumptown Coffee.

    Which led to an email from another reader:

    I think the thing you fail to understand about the success of a place like McDonalds or Dunkin' Donuts is that most people aren't as pretentious as you.  Pretentiousness turns off most people.  That's why these places do well despite your preferences.

    Can I be pretentious sometimes? Probably.

    I wanted to make sure I had the definition right, so I checked. Webster's defines the word as "attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed." I wish I weren't pretentious, but I have to concede that I'm not all that important and probably don't have that much talent.

    But when it comes to doughnuts or coffee or hamburgers, I think better is better. I think that Stumptown coffee is better than Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and that In-n-Out and Shake Shack burgers are better than McDonald's. Good wine and beer is better than cheap wine and beer. Does that make me pretentious? I don't think so ... because preferences often are a matter of taste, not better. I also think that when it comes to issues like this, it isn't pretentious if I'm right.

    Though just saying that probably makes me pretentious.

    C'est la vie. (In the interest of full disclosure, that's most of the French I know.)
    KC's View: