retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    by Michael Sansolo

    It’s hard to believe there is anything to learn from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The government agency is widely despised, customer service is a nightmare and the rules of the road are impossible to understand.

    Oh yes, and they are the people who take our money. So we hate them even more.

    Only there is something happening in the IRS that merits our attention because it’s a reflection of a significantly larger workforce issue. And it happens with numbers that should alarm you.

    John Koskinen, the current IRS commissioner, recently released some startling numbers about the IRS staff. Of the department’s more than 87,000 total employees, only 650 of them are under the age of 25 and only 1,900 are under age 30.

    Admittedly, Koskinen reported these numbers in a discussion of morale and recruiting problems for the IRS thanks to budget cuts, but politics aside, those numbers are stunning. The reality is the IRS has many more people quickly moving toward retirement than are coming in the door to start careers. Imagine what customer service is going to resemble in 10 years!

    (By the way, John Oliver delivered a unique view of the IRS in a recent segment of his "Last Week Tonight" show, which you can see here. As usual, Oliver's language can be a little dicey, so be warned that you may want to be careful about the sound if you are in an open cubicle or at home with kids running around.)

    But forget your dislike of the IRS for a second and ask yourself how closely your company resembles the IRS in demographics. The odds are that you may see something disturbing.

    Nearly 10 years ago, while working at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), I helped create the Future Connect educational program with this exact topic in mind. In countless interviews with companies of all sizes we found the same situation: large numbers of Baby Boomers filled the ranks of management slots, slowing the orderly advance of younger generations up the ranks to replace them.

    In fact, we found the issue in countless other places, from the military to airlines and now, of course, to the IRS. It’s the simple result of two massive generations and Gen X all colliding in the workplace at the same time. At some point there is going to be a dearth of experienced management talent throughout the entire economy.

    And that should worry you.

    Yet the situation isn’t hopeless. First, as we’ve written before, the food industry has some natural advantages by being located in every type of neighborhood and therefore being accessible to all types of potential workers. In other words, we have access to all the diversity in society, provided we find ways to recruit and retain people of various backgrounds.

    What’s more we have the rare attraction of jobs that require relatively simple skill sets that can lead to executive positions. Sure, everyone might want to work for Google, but not everyone can.

    But to fully take advantage of those opportunities we need position ourselves correctly: as a place for careers for younger people and a place for flexible, part-time work for people of all age groups. That might appeal to younger workers struggling to find careers in a post-manufacturing economy and to aging boomers who might be looking both for things to do and ways to fund lengthy retirement.

    It starts with how you position jobs, how you welcome and train people and how you create an atmosphere that leads to retention rather than turnover.

    The trick is to begin now. Aging is a certainty. Just like death and taxes.


    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    by Michael Sansolo

    More than 2,000 years ago, troops of the Roman Empire frequently filled their diet with farro. And if scientists have it right, amaranth has been cultivated and, no doubt, consumed, for more than 8,000 years.

    Go figure: Roman centurions and Mesoamericans would actually find something familiar to eat in today’s supermarkets, where one can find both farro and amaranth.

    There is probably no element of our society where those ancients would find any familiarity today except in their foods.

    Richard Morgan, an admitted lover of Star Trek, took this issue in a new direction recently in the Washington Post. Morgan asked why science fiction writers have no trouble dreaming up warp drives, aliens and death stars, yet seem so pedestrian when it comes to culinary items.

    On the original "Star Trek" TV series, for example, in the episode "The Trouble With Tribbles," Captain Kirk only decides to take action when he finds that the pesky tribbles have infested the Enterprise's food system, ruining his lunch - a chicken sandwich and coffee. (The implication in this, by the way, is that PETA failed in its attempts to turn the entire earth vegetarian.)

    On "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," they did come up with a new drink - Raktajino - but it ends up that this was just Klingon coffee (no doubt created by some distant, non-Terran descendant of Howard Schultz).

    And on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," Captain Jean-Luc Picard frequently orders up some relatively ordinary “Tea, Earl Grey, hot,” when he wants a beverage. As Morgan writes, “No disrespect to the earl, but none of those ‘strange new worlds’ with ‘new life and new civilizations’ made a better drink?”

    These may all be better options than eating Soylent Green, but either way, it’s all about mere extensions of what we eat and drink today.

    In part, this is a function of creating a recognizable fictional narrative. Starships can venture to strange new worlds, but if the people on those ships are eating foods that we recognize, the audience is able to empathize with and connect to them to a greater extent. It is all about relating to a story's protagonists.

    But it also goes beyond narrative, and speaks to something far more powerful and fundamental.

    Think about this notion: Our society holds its collective breath awaiting the newest technological marvel. Yet when it comes to our foods, our top minds tell us to eat like everyone from our grandmothers to cavemen. We farm and eat very differently today than we did 8,000 years ago, but our food choices remains relatively constant largely due to the biological realities of our bodies and our planet, but maybe also because of emotional needs that connect us to certain kinds of foods.

    Makes you wonder if Terence Mann had it wrong in Field of Dreams. Perhaps the one constant in society isn’t baseball, because baseball really isn’t that old. (And in "Star Trek," by the way, it is said several times that major league baseball shut down because of lack of interest in 2042. Just FYI.)

    It isn’t the game, it’s the food.

    If you think about it, this emotional and cognitive connectivity that bridges thousand and thousands of years can be an extraordinarily powerful tool when talking to today's consumers about the food they eat, they food they love, and the various food journeys on which they find themselves.

    It sort of redefines what we think of as "comfort food." It can be, in fact, an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    The San Antonio Express-News reports that HEB has "launched a new app for customers to manage their grocery lists, redeem digital coupons and perform other shopping tasks. The free app is now available at the Apple App Store and Google Play ... The app’s home screen features a hanging sign much like the ones that list items in an H-E-B store aisle. Only this virtual signage gives users all kinds of shopping and sharing options with just a swipe."

    According to the story, "The new app coincides with a new look for the grocery chain’s website, heb.com, with features that should work between the site and app so customers can maximize their grocery shopping experience via computer desktop and hand-held touch screen."

    The Express-News goes on to report that "the new H-E-B app can scour stores for merchandise before users grab a shopping cart. Not only does it let users build a shopping list, it also checks to see if a product is carried in store. If so, the app can pinpoint the item’s location down to the store aisle. App users can zip through those aisles even faster by arranging their shopping lists according to the layout of their favorite H-E-B store."

    One thing that the new app does not do, however, is allow users to actually buy product.

    Dya Campos, HEB's director of public affairs, tells the paper that a purchase function is not available "at this time," though it does "let shoppers place floral and deli orders and arrange for pickup at the store."
    KC's View:
    My opinion on this matter - having nothing to specifically to do with HEB - has been stated early and often ... that all retailers are going to have to embrace online and mobile shopping, or find themselves irrelevant to the next generation of consumers, who very shortly will be the center of the marketing target for food stores.

    Some have come to this faster than others, and I would not say that HEB is ahead of the game on this. But I also know that it is a company that thrive son relevance, and I have no doubt that it'll get there. One big motivator, I have to believe, will be Amazon's expansion of its Prime Now service to Austin, which I have to believe presages an expansion of its Amazon Fresh to that and other Texas cities.

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    Get ready for the MIND Diet.

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "researchers successfully tested a special diet they designed that appears to reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease," with the added benefit of also appearing to reduce the risk of strokes and heart disease. Called the MIND Diet, the acronym stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, and it essentially combines elements of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet.

    "The MIND diet borrows significantly from the other two, and all are largely plant-based and low in high-fat foods," the Journal writes. "But the MIND diet places particular emphasis on eating “brain-healthy” foods such as green leafy vegetables and berries, among other recommendations."

    According to the story, "The MIND diet includes at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day - along with a glass of wine. It also involves snacking most days on nuts and eating beans every other day or so, poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week. Dieters must limit eating the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s, according to a study by Rush University Medical Center researchers." Also off the menu if you want to avoid Alzheimer's, the researchers suggest, are red meats, pastries and sweets.

    The story says that "experts say there is growing awareness that lifestyle factors - not just genetics - play a prominent role in the development of Alzheimer’s, and researchers hope to come up with an optimal diet that will lessen the chances of developing the disease. An estimated 5.1 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s, a number expected to grow to 7.1 million by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Association."

    However, there are caveats in the story: "The research was observational, not randomized or controlled, and therefore isn’t evidence the MIND diet caused a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s. Instead, the research shows there is an association between the two."
    KC's View:
    I have no idea of this diet will work or not, though it certainly does seem doable. But if you want to talk about marketing ... creating a way of eating that seems to address concerns about Alzheimer's and dementia strikes me as a powerful go-to-market tool, because there are few people out there who have not been touched by one of these. And if you know someone in your family who has had either, you tend to worry about whether you will somehow fall victim to these horrible diseases, and that could propel you to changing certain habits.

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    Blue Bell Ice Cream, the second largest ice cream manufacturer in the country, has issued a voluntary recall of all its products because of new evidence that Listeria monocytogenes has been found in a number of products made in different plants.

    According to the Texas-based company, its ice cream and frozen yogurt products "have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women."
    KC's View:
    There has been a lot of criticism - including some here on MNB - that Blue Bell has been slow off the mark in dealing with the crisis, exhibiting poor communications skills in terms of how it dealt with both retailers and consumers. The news isn't getting any better for the company, as its reputation for trustworthiness is getting battered around.

    In some ways, the company may be too big to fail ... but if the news gets worse, and it is found that Blue Bell is more perpetrator than victim and is guilty of some sort of negligence, it may be almost impossible to get its reputation back.

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    National Public Radio's The Salt has a piece, produced by the Center for Public Integrity, that looks at the "system that ushers new food products to market," suggesting that it "is rife with conflicts of interest."

    An excerpt:

    "The food industry regularly turns to a small group of scientists — including several with ties to Big Tobacco — to determine whether additives it is adding to food products are safe. And these relationships often allow food companies to avoid a rigorous pre-market government safety review, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of publicly available data."

    The argument is that federal law allows companies to avoid rigorous government oversight if they can demonstrate a consensus that their products and additives are safe ... but that this consensus often emerges from scientists of questionable integrity. It is, says one attorney for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), "funding bias on steroids."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:
    If it were up to me, I'd compile a list of every scientist who suggested that tobacco does not addict and kill its users, and make sure that every time any of those names came up in any context, their research and conclusions would be dismissed out of hand. End of story.

    Then again, maybe that's just me.

    Published on: April 21, 2015

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

    • The Associated Press reports that Hormel "says it will sell less turkey this year because of a spreading bird flu outbreak" that has been found in six states and on 19 farms that are either owned by the company or supply it with turkey.

    The story notes that "the virus has been found at farms housing 2.3 million turkeys, all of which have died of the disease, or have been killed or soon will be in order to stem the spread of avian flu. Most of the birds were in Minnesota, which is the largest turkey-producing state in the U.S. Big commercial farms have been hit hard, and Hormel said Monday it is experiencing significant turkey supply-chain problems."

    That Coupe tradition of filet mignon or salmon for Thanksgiving is looking better and better...


    • Haggen has announced that as it converts acquired Albertsons and Safeway stores in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and Arizona to its banner, "its pharmacy business is growing from 17 pharmacies to 106 pharmacies. To support this growth, Haggen is expanding its pharmacy management staff from six to 28 to manage the 470 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who will make up the Haggen Pharmacy team."

    According to the announcement, "the pharmacies are committed to minimizing any downtime during the intense 40+-hour store conversions. The pharmacy conversion team at each store works diligently from the 6 p.m. store closing time to 11 a.m. the next morning to ensure the current pharmacy guests and future Haggen guests have access to their prescription medications while the rest of the store is closed for the conversion."


    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has announced the 15 finalists in its annual Supermarket Chef Showdown, which will take place at the FMI Connect Show in Chicago this June.

    The finalists are: Dayton Carroll from Hy-Vee in Keokuk, Iowa ... Keoni Chang from Foodland Super Markets, Ltd. in Kaneohe, Hawaii ... Yolanda Chatman from Kroger Co. in Sugar Hill, Georgia ... Elizabeth Davis from Hy-Vee in Davenport, Iowa ... Timothy Donnelly from Publix Super Markets, Inc. in Lakeland, Florida ... Brian Dunn from Roche Bros Supermarkets in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts ... Amy Gleason from Hy-Vee in Omaha, Nebraska ... Alois Maierhofer from Giant Eagle Supermarket in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ... Jason Miller from Balducci’s Food Markets in Rockville, Maryland ... Greg Retz from BiLo in Jacksonville, Florida ... Greg Roach from Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, Massachusetts ... Kirsten Shabaz from Valley Natural Foods in Burnsville, Minnesota ... Glenn Terrell from Brookshire Grocery Company in Tyler, Texas ... Bryan Williams from Rockbridge Hy-Vee in Columbia, Missouri ... and Arthur Wise from ShopRite Supermarkets Inc. in Florida, New York.

    The chef with the best recipe in each of five categories will receive a prize of $1,000.  One grand champion – the best in the entire competition – will win an expense-paid trip for two to the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria, Italy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    • Rite Aid Corp. announced the hiring of Steve Rempel as its new chief information officer. Rempel is the former CEO, president and CIO of retail software company Balance Innovations, as well as a former Safeway IT executive.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 21, 2015

    It was Patriots Day in Massachusetts yesterday, which means it was time for the 119th Boston Marathon ... and Lelisa Desisa, a s25-year-old Ethiopian, won the men's race for the second time. (The first was in 2013, when he won the race ... and two hours later, two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and wounding more than 250 others.)

    Winning the women's race was Caroline Rotich of Kenya. It was her first Boston Marathon win.
    KC's View: