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    Published on: February 25, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    This could be yet another example of the nanny state. Or it could end up having unforeseen implications for Major League Baseball.

    Either way, it is fodder for an Eye-Opening conversation.

    The Sacramento Bee reports that a bill has been introduced in the California State Legislature that would ban the use of all tobacco products at every baseball venue in the state. Now, there already are laws prohibiting smoking in all public places, but this would go farther by banning the use of smokeless tobacco ... including by baseball players on the field.

    According to the story, the bill seems to have been prompted by the death last year at age 54 of Tony Gwynn, the iconic San Diego Padres player who suffered from salivary gland cancer, presumably caused by his use of chewing tobacco, commonly referred to as "dip." The Bee writes that "public health experts note that smokeless tobacco use has not declined as sharply as plummeting smoking rates," and supporters of the bill say that major league ballplayers ought to be setting a better example for young fans.

    The Major League Baseball Players Association, the union representing major leaguers, has not yet commented on the proposed legislation.

    The impact would, in some ways, be limited. The use of chewing tobacco is already banned in the minor leagues. So the bill would really only affect the players and coaches for five teams - the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants, the San Diego Padres, the Oakland Athletics and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

    Except that the impact could be a lot broader ... because it also would affect the visiting players who come to California to play any of its teams. If California players were able to get off the "dip," it could give them a home field advantage against visiting players who would be forced to play without the use of a product that they likely are addicted to. At the same time, it seems at least possible that it could put California teams at a disadvantage when negotiating with some free agents, who would prefer to play someplace where they can use "dip."

    While I am assiduously anti-tobacco in any form, I have to admit that I am conflicted about this proposal. After all, chewing tobacco is a legal product ... and unlike the use of cigarettes, where second hand smoke can have a major health impact even on non-users, its use can't hurt anyone else. (Except for having to watch the whole chewing-and-spitting thing, which is just gross.)

    I'll concede that the use of "dip" by major leaguers probably influences some young people to emulate them, and that a ban could save some lives. But I also think that parents have the primary responsibility for instilling some common sense in their kids, and I'm not sure that the government should be getting involved.

    (A friend of mine yesterday suggested that this is one of those issues that might be better decided federally rather than on a state-by-state basis, but I'm not sure I agree with that, either. I think the last thing we need is the US Senate and House of Representatives debating issues like this; there must be more important things for them to do...)

    On the other hand, this stuff is designed to addict people. Once they're addicted, it can kill them. And I have a problem with any product like that.

    To me, this is an interesting case. A fascinating debate. It has both cultural and economic implications. And it is the very definition, in my mind, of an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    The Associated Press reports that three weeks after the New York Attorney General ordered four major retailers in the state - Walmart, Walgreen, Target and GNC - to remove from their shelves certain herbal supplements that the AG said were mislabeled, four supplement manufacturers have received letters demanding "detailed ingredient and quality control information on every herbal supplement they sell in New York state."

    "The scientific community, public health officials, and others have raised serious doubt about the steps taken to ensure the safety and efficacy of the herbal dietary supplements taken daily by millions of Americans," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in his letter. "As part of a broader investigation, NYAG is reviewing the sufficiency of the measures manufacturers and retailers are taking to independently assess the validity of their representations and advertising in connection with the sale of herbal supplements."

    The AP says that none of the companies have yet responded to the AG's letter.

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the supplement industry, and only is able to step in when products have been demonstrated to have caused some level of harm at a statistically meaningful level. The AP writes that "there is no regulation that requires a firm to disclose to FDA or consumers the information they have about the safety or purported benefits of their dietary supplement products. The manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the ingredient list is accurate. The FDA can take action against supplements only after they are proven to be unsafe."

    Supporters of the herbal supplement industry have questioned the methodology used in the testing of the supplements by the AG's office and the credentials of the testing facility used by the AG. At some level, the criticisms have suggested that current testing procedures are simply unable to make a scientifically accurate assessment of what is actually in herbal supplement products.
    KC's View:
    As I've said here before, my instinct is that the criticisms of the herbal supplements is probably on target, and I'm skeptical of the defenses, especially because they are offered mostly by folks who have an economic reason for believing or hoping that the industry can get through this unscathed. I could be wrong, but that's the way I'm leaning ... and if the AG is proven to be wrong, I'll cheerfully concede my mistake in judgement.

    One thing seems clear. The AG is not being intimidated by criticisms of the testing, and has decided to keep moving forward.

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    The Associated Press reports that Walmart is launching a section of its online store that will feature "products that are good for the environment from manufacturers that have been leaders in sustainability."

    According to the story, "The portal, which features more than 12,000 products in 80 different product categories like toys and printers, comes six years after the world's largest retailer launched its own index that rates suppliers' impact on the environment. That index was developed in collaboration with The Sustainability Consortium, an independent third-party organization of academic-based scientists."

    Products on the site marked with a green badge "show that their supplier ranks as best among other suppliers in that product category, based on self-reported responses to surveys developed by The Sustainability Coalition," the AP writes.
    KC's View:
    One of the great advantages that online stores offer is the ability to segment product categories to a greater degree, slicing and dicing into categories of narrow or wide appeal without worrying about cases or shelves. This Walmart initiative is a great example of that.

    BTW...I'd bet the next big online slice-and-dice initiative that Walmart will engage in will be a Made in the USA Store. They do some of that already, but I think it is going to be a much bigger deal in fairly short order.

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that Target has selected 31 brands "to be part of the second year of its Made to Matter program, which showcases new sustainable, organic and natural products. To be part of the collection, companies have to agree to sell the new product exclusively to Target for six months. After a successful introductory year, Target is doubling the program this year to more than 200 products ... The program is one of the ways the Minneapolis-based retailer is trying to bolster its reputation as a go-to place to find healthier and less toxic options, especially as consumers are increasingly seeking such products out. And, of course, executives hope it will help set Target apart from its competitors."

    The story notes that "the Made to Matter program began last spring before Target CEO Brian Cornell came on board over the summer. But he has taken an interest in it, especially since it aligns with his strategy to help revive the retailer’s sales by elevating its signature categories such as health and wellness."
    KC's View:
    It is impressive the degree to which Target is making fast moves these days ... Brian Cornell seems to realize that he has to move fast, throw lots of ideas against the wall to see what sticks, and risk failure in the interest of finding some big wins. Which is really the definition of doing business these days.

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    The Chicago Tribune reports that "food and drink companies are gearing up to tackle a variety of challenges in 2015, as economic pressure continues in markets around the world and some consumers push for less-processed products.

    "U.S. manufacturers are responding in a variety of ways. At the recent Consumer Analyst Group of New York's annual gathering, officials discussed cost-cutting efforts that included plant closings and canceling business-class travel. Others acknowledged that they're pushing to make some of their goods a little less processed."

    You can read the entire brand-by-brand analysis here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    The New Yorker has an interesting and considered analysis of why Walmart decided to increase the wages of some 500,000 employees, putting it in the context of what the competitors are doing, how national economic factors come into play, and what the ripple effect might be.

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    Business Insider reports that a new study from PriceWaterhouse Coopers indicates that "37% of all grocery e-commerce sales in October came from purchases on a mobile device like a phone or tablet. Other retail industries, like furniture and health, are not too far behind, but BI Intelligence predicts sales of online groceries will grow at a much faster rate than sales at traditional supermarkets."

    The story goes on: "Considering how the US grocery industry accounts for roughly $600 billion a year in sales, BI Intelligence forecasts the online grocery market will grow about 21% each year for the next three years. After all, the food and beverage industry is the largest retail industry by far, and online services that can get food into your home — whether it's fresh from the store or already prepared by a restaurant — are in high demand: Companies from GrubHub to Amazon and Uber are already launching campaigns to get in on the action."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    • The Sacramento Bee reports that "California voters will get their say next year on the state’s first-in-the-nation ban on plastic carryout bags, after the law’s opponents in the plastic bag manufacturing industry gathered enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot." Opponents of the ban that share the distinction of being invested in the plastic bag manufacturing business reportedly contributed more than $3 million to get the issue on the ballot.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    • In the UK, the Independent reports that William Morrison Supermarkets has named its new CEO - David Potts, the former Tesco executive who used to run its Asia operations but departed after Philip Clarke was chosen to succeed Sir Terry Leahy as the company's CEO.

    According to the story, "The new appointment will see Potts working with former Tesco senior executive Andrew Higginson, who is now chairman of the Bradford-based grocer."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    • Donald R. Keough, who served as president/COO of the Coca-Cola Co. from 1981-1993, becoming best known for the decision to abandon Coke's traditional formula for what was dubbed "New Coke," and then bring it back just 10 weeks later as "Coke Classic" after a unexpected consumer backlash, has passed away. He was 88.

    Famously, Keough once responded to accusations that Coke had deliberately engineered the whole controversy for publicity by saying, "We're not that dumb. And we're not that smart."
    KC's View:
    Two interesting things that I did not know about Keough...

    Michael Sansolo tells me that Keough's book, "The 10 Commandments for Business Failure," is one of the best business books he's ever read.

    And early in his career, he hosted a local TV show in Omaha called "The Coffee Counter." It was followed on the schedule by a show hosted by a fellow who ended up having a fairly lengthy career in television - Johnny Carson. Keough eventually decided to get out of the TV business and went to work for the coffee company that sponsored the show, which was eventually acquired by Coca-Cola.

    Published on: February 25, 2015

    We had a story yesterday about how Trader Joe's uses its people to really stand apart from the competition, which led one MNB reader to write:

    I spent 33 years in sales in the CPG's business. Been in more retail stores then I want to remember. None other then Trader Joe's have the genuine friendly helpful people representing them. They are truly unique!  I don't know how they find their employees, but, I love shopping in Trader Joe's. Their cashiers are the nicest peopleI have ever had the pleasure of interacting with!  Their private label products are excellent, and prices are very fair!  I actually enjoy shopping when I shop at Trader Joe's!  Can't say that for any other stores!! The retail industry can learn much from Trader Joe's.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    The cashiers at the chain I do most of my grocery shopping with, also ask me if I found everything I was looking for.  Unfortunately in this case, it’s a shallow gesture.  When I tell them "NO", they struggle with how to respond.  TJ's actually backs this simple statement up but taking it to the next level and exceeding your expectations.  Wish there was a TJ's closer to me so I could shop there regularly.

    From another reader:

    Actually, Wegmans staff ask if you found everything at their checkouts.  My only disappointment has been, when there was something I couldn't  find, there doesn't  seem to be any action - they don't  write it down, or tell anyone, at least while I am there.  Strikes me as kind of un-genuine, but thanks for asking.  I think this needs some work on management's part.

    On the subject of Apple deciding that it needs to change/improve the Genius Bar experience in its Apple Stores, MNB user Katy Gorman wrote:

    I think this idea is, pun intended, GENIUS. Other retailers with this type of service model should take notice – especially wireless companies such as Verizon, who does “concierge”, but poorly. This is coming from a customer of both Apple and Verizon who had a very, VERY poor experience obtaining my iPhone 6 this past fall from Verizon.

    The phone was “DOA” (broken before I even opened the box), and when I took it to a  Verizon store, not only did I have to wait for upwards of 90 minutes for a solution (or lack thereof) AND they tried to sell me other products WHILE I waited for them to figure out how they could get out of taking any responsibility for the issue, in the end all they would tell me was to take it to the Apple store and have THEM help me. Leaving the store in a white hot rage, the very next day I did as the Verizon rep suggested, and not only did the Apple team member fix my issue immediately with no questions asked, the service experience was a dream come true –  he was kind, understanding, KNOWLEDGABLE. I will NEVER buy another new phone through Verizon, ever ever ever. I cannot emphasize this emphatically enough. I will only go to the Apple store from now on to purchase my iPhone.

    I was so enthralled with my experience at Apple I almost walked out with a new laptop, as well. (Almost.) Furthermore, when/if Apple decides they are going into the cellular service business, I will be the first to pay my early termination fee at Verizon and jump on board. Service excellence is key, and Apple knows how to do it; Verizon most certainly does NOT.
    Just my $0.02!

    I wrote yesterday that it is important for retailers to differentiate between best customers and everybody else ... that best and most profitable customers deserve better service than others.

    Which prompted one MNB user to write:

    But that's so politically-incorrect.  Is "differentiate" just a euphemism for "discriminate"?  I thought there were no "best ones."  Everybody is exactly the same.

    There's a big difference, in my view, between differentiating and discriminating. And it has nothing to do with political correctness.

    In fact, I think that retailers that do not track sales, identify best customers and then cater to them, are making an enormous mistake and giving away a potentially huge advantage. So much so that retailers ought to be figuring out how to create express lanes for gold customers - just like the airlines - rather than offering express lanes to people who buy the least amount of product.
    KC's View: