retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB took note of a story saying that in Oregon, an organization called Clean Water Services, described on its website as a "water resources management utility committed to protecting water resources in the Tualatin River Watershed," has come up with a new way to save water. It wants to turn purified sewage water into beer.

MNB reader Mike Franklin responded:

First I heard of this. And I get my water from the Tualatin River Watershed…
Ultra-filtration, reverse osmosis and enhanced oxidation makes water without terroir…water terroir is what makes our beer so good.


From another reader:

While there's plenty of squick factor in that article about purifying sewage to make beer, let's not forget that we are not discovering new water sources.  There's the same amount of water now that there's always been, although we're moving it around and not paying much attention to using less than we have at any given time -- plus there are more of us around to need it, so it seems like we're running out, even if we really aren't.  (how much of it is readily potable is another issue...)

But way back in the dark ages, my elementary class went to a sewage treatment plant, and I vividly remember the guide telling us that water is recycled every day, so the water you drink today could have been peed by a dinosaur.

So go ahead -- filter it, put it through reverse osmosis, and test it to make sure it's clean -- but the idea of drinking water that's been through someone's body is not a novel concept.

On another water-related subject, one MNB user wrote:

I am glad you mentioned the mega-drought predictions, because if they come true our country is on the edge of some severe changes in food supply.  Our water supplies come from only two places, surface sources or underground sources.  It is reported that both California and Texas are rapidly depleting their underground sources because drought has already drastically depleted their surface sources. If those droughts continue and the plains states are added to the mix, how much of the vital agricultural land that the U.S. currently uses for raising meat, produce and animal feed are going to become unusable due to lack of water?  I would bet that it is a fairly large percentage of the land that is currently being used.

Who is currently taking this possibility seriously and are they developing contingency plans?  I think there has to be a role for the government and private enterprise in developing strategies for dealing with these water shortage issues, but I am afraid they are not being addressed with the sort of recognition that the potential consequences should demand.  From your understanding of the food business, do you think either of those groups should be doing more to prepare for these potential drought related issues?


Of course, the problem is that somehow, this issue got political ... and actually acknowledging the issue, and cooperating while dealing with it, has become a lot more difficult because it has become about ideology.

On the subject of the continuing email controversy, one reader wrote:

One of our young salespeople relied on an e-mail she sent to our administrator asking him to follow up on an urgent matter.

The administrator didn't follow up and when things turned ugly the salesman challenged, saying "Bill! I sent you an email ". Bill's response---" Mail is mail--- if it's important call me".

Lesson learned.

I'm afraid that the lesson I take from this may be different from the one you intended.

Because I think Bill has a lot of blame here. He should read his emails and texts. That's how people communicate these days. Sure, maybe the salesperson should have made a call ... but unless it was explicitly explained in advance that Bill doesn't pay attention to email and texts, then how would the salesperson know?

And if Bill doesn't pay attention to email and texts, then Bill is soon going to find himself to be irrelevant. Fifty years ago, would he have said, if it is important, don't phone me ... come to my office"?

On the same general subject, MNB reader Mark Raddant had a thought:

To answer Senator Graham's question about what not ever sending an email makes him: too out of touch to be President.

Which puts him in the same position of most of the career politicians: people who have had teams of people running their lives for them for so long they don't know what the rest of the population's lives are like.

What I find really scary is that people who don't send email and don't personally use the internet may actually be casting votes on things like net neutrality and digital infrastructure spending. Which means they're responding to lobbyists' dollars, not any actual knowledge.

It always has made me crazy when going to Reagan National Airport in DC, and seeing reserved spaces for members of Congress. I always think that they'd vote differently about things like airport infrastructure if they had to deal with the same crap everybody else does.

On new federal mandates for seafood tracking, one MNB reader wrote:

So we are going to be able to track wild fish but we still don’t track cows, and we still struggle with cantaloupes, which would seem somewhat easier to track.

As usual we CAN do things but it all depends on the lobbying power to decide if we actually WILL. For a while.

From time to time I like to remind people that legislation and regulation rarely lead – they follow. Mandatory seat belt laws came after it became obvious we needed to buckle up for everyone’s safety. Same with child seats, smoking restrictions, efficiency standards, and clean water and air regulation.

Public opinion (aka “customers”) want food transparency. Anyone notice the growth of organics? Manufacturers are all over themselves now cleaning up their ingredient labels.

Lead, follow, or be prepared to be pushed out of the way. Not in a day or a month or a year – but soon.

Yesterday's Eye-Opener looked at two CEO statements that I found to be wanting.

One was in a Crain's Chicago Business story about Aldi's broadening assortment and appeal. At the very end of the piece,Ken Diehl, CEO of the Strack & Van Til Food Market chain, is quoted as saying that indeed, Aldi is a tough competitor. And here's the comment that grabbed my attention:

“Aldi's low prices do seem to be resonating with certain customers.”

My feeling was that this vastly understated Aldi's appeal and focus ... and this could be a competitive mistake if he actually believes it.

One MNB user responded:

Amen, on the Aldi's story and their current marketing plan. They have found a perfect niche for now.

Aldi Stores are a much different and very much improved than in past years, in my opinion. There customer counts show it too.

From another reader:

First, your reporting about Ken Diehl’s comments made me think about Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.  For folks who may not be familiar with Strack & Van Til, they are the Winco of the Midwest – they were the disrupters years ago (and to a certain degree are today as they are not open on Sundays – or at least did not used to be – due to their religious beliefs) in the grocery space and, his comments reflect on what Aldi used to be (although to be fair, even in the late 1980’s Aldi still had BMW’s in their parking lots) in terms of just being a price operator.

If retailers today are still treating Aldi as “just a low price, limited assortment, own brand only” operator, they are going to lose – as Aldi has taken a page from Trader Joe’s playbook about innovating – but while TJ’s innovates to the mid- and higher end consumer, Aldi is innovating for the lower to mid consumer.  All consumers aspire to something more than what they can currently afford – and Aldi has tapped into that by creating products that exceed expectations – five years ago the expectations were more modest but today I can say with confidence that Aldi is focused on creating products (still private branded) that look more like things Safeway, HEB and even Wegman’s might create.
If Mr. Diehl does not yet see them this way – then indeed Strack is in for a bit of a fight as they are no longer the Innovator – and may want to sharpen their approach.

The other quote I opined about came from John Clougher, CEO for Haggen in the Pacific Northwest, who said that the grocer studied the prices at the Safeway and Albertsons stores it is converting and hopes not to "disrupt the apple cart.”

While I noted that he was just talking about pricing, I wrote:

For Haggen to succeed, I think, it will have to present a really, really good reason for people to give them a shot. And I'd worry, if I were them, that any governing philosophy that looks to keep the apple cart rolling - to do business as usual - simply won't be the kind of game-changing strategy they need it to be.

Prompting one MNB reader to write:

I think you should remember that Haggen is not entering its new markets from ground-zero.  Multitudes of Vons and Albertsons shoppers will suddenly be introduced to the chain when the name-on-the-door changes at their regular supermarket.  Job #1 is to assimilate as many of those customers as possible by "keeping the apple cart rolling" before they even think about wooing shoppers away from other chains.

A fair point. But I'll stick to my guns on this one - I'm in an apple cart-flipping mood these days, and I think that if Haggen is going to be anything more than a me, too option (and I think it needs to be, for this thing to work), it has to be something different, and communicate that every hour of every day.

KC's View: