retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding the ice cream recalls by Blue Bell and Jeni's because of listeria concerns, MNB reader Sabrina Wooten wrote:

I recently attended a Dried Fruit Association Safe California Conference in Monterey, CA. One of many excellent breakout sessions dealt with recalls, the bumbling Blue Bell recall amongst them.

Question: how do they destroy 250 tons of ice cream (or other potentially contaminated foods).... how is the bacteria contained?

I have no idea .. but perhaps an MNB user can educate us.

Another MNB user wrote:

I'd like to share with you and your readers the response from consumers here in Nashville about their voluntary recall. We live in walking distance to the Jeni's in East Nashville and they are an integral part of our neighborhood and community.  Jeni's has such strong equity in their brand that customers are voicing some amazing comments and support for them on social media. Most common is praise for taking the recall initiative as well as resounding endorsements to return when the store(s) re-open. Check out the Jeni's East Nashville Facebook comments for the past week and you will see how a company who takes a leadership approach in a situation like this can prevail. Following is one of my favorite comments from one of their customers on Facebook:

"Honestly, you could probably send me all of the recalled Brambleberry Crisp and I would eat it anyway, listeria or not."

How many brands can get their customers make that type of comment???

Not many. Though, to be honest, that customer may not be the best example of intelligent and informed consumption.

The other day, MNB took note of a New York Times report that Anheuser-Busch InBev is facing a public relations eruption this week over a beer bottle label that some perceive as being pro-rape. The label is part of its "Up for Whatever" campaign, and describes Bud Light as being "the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”

The criticism is that the label seems clueless at a time when date rape and campus sexual assaults have emerged as major problem in the US. (A-B has stopped printing the labels, though the bottles carrying the label have not been recalled.)

I commented:

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it is a near 100 percent certainty that there were no women in the room when the folks at A-B decided on this particular language. Because this message - especially in the context of a national conversation that has been taking place for months - is at the very least in questionable taste.

Two lessons here. The obvious one is about being sensitive to issues like rape. (You wouldn't think this would be a tough one.) The equally important one is about having a diverse workforce so you're not just counting on one slice of the population to be paying attention.

MNB user Karl Mabey responded:

What the heck were they thinking?  It not only includes rape but also getting drunk, say no to drugs. Were they after the teenage customers now or what?

From another reader:

Understand your comment about there being no women in the room when the decision was named…no diversity???? What about a dad with a daughter????
I not saying I am perfect or always see things the right way…..but I can tell you with a high degree of certainty I would have raised a concern if I was in the room. I have had enough recent conversations with my daughter on the recent issues in the news, that I know this would have made the hair on the back of my neck raise up.

And another:

This is my first time ever replying to a blog post, which should go to show that I am a huge fan of your blog which is shocking to me bc I hate News (must of it sucks) and I hate reading! Love your style, keep up the good work!

Short and sweet: The Bud Light Marketing was purposely positioned in a way to be semi-controversial so that they can get more press. As they say, no press is bad press and I guarantee that the largest purchasers of beer (college males?) could care less about the situation, and probably think is it cool/funny so it probably translates into more sales for Bud Light.  Very sad that companies get away with advertising.

Here's a thought. We ought to get rid of that old saw that "all publicity is good publicity." In the modern world, with social media and viral communications, that simply isn't true anymore.

We had a story yesterday about how Whole Foods is facing social media criticisms after one of its Baltimore stores provided National Guard troops with free food during the civil unrest there, with people suggesting that the chain should not have been feeding law enforcement officials and ignoring the children in Baltimore public schools going without free lunch while schools were closed. (More than eight out of 10 Baltimore school students receive free or reduced-price lunches.)

I commented:

I am not going to pretend to have any sort of insights into the horrible events that are unfolding in Baltimore. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a member of a community that find sit hard to conceive of a future with any hope, and I am struggling to appreciate the difference between destructive rioting and what I've heard described as non non-violent civil disobedience.

But I think that Whole Foods feeding people who are trying to keep the peace - who have been thrust into a seemingly unsolvable situation that is decades in the making - is worth admiring, not criticizing. And I expect that Whole Foods and other retailers, if history is any indicator, are doing a lot to help Baltimore's children. They almost always do.

One MNB user wrote:

Kevin: thanks for standing up for Whole Foods. As a small business here in Kansas City, we try and “do good” in the community in which we live, and make a living. All of our actions to support the community are well-intended, but occasionally not so fully thought out that we could avoid being labeled as anything other than what we hope to be; good citizens, good neighbors, and a company in which our team members can take pride.

Let’s hope that political correctness doesn’t force people wanting to “do good” to find themselves doing nothing in order to remain out of the PC crosshairs.

And another:

With respect to the social media criticism of Whole Foods for feeding National Guard members I would simply say enough already. Focus that attention on more constructive ways to address what is a crisis – and kudos to Whole Foods and any other retailer or community member who is doing something similar. I don’t pretend to know how to solve the broader issue but as often happens the people who are hurt in crisis’s like these are the same ones that the unruly protesters claim to be fighting for (and certainly they don’t represent all of the protesters – most are simply frustrated) How many stores, restaurants and street vendors are impacted by the baseball games that have been moved out of town – or played in front of an empty stadium? Or are losing business every day because of the unrest in the city? These are busboys, checkout clerks, wait staff etc. who can’t afford to miss a paycheck. Those are folks we should focus some attention on...

But another MNB reader wrote:

What a sad commentary on how feelings of entitlement rule all.  A company giving away food is condemned for giving it to the wrong people . . . and presumably condemned by mothers faced with being forced to feed their own children one meal on one day!  Is this the end of civilization as we knew it?

And from yet another:

It is a sad state of affairs when the biggest impact of closing schools is disruption of the free meals program.  Rely on the government to feed you and you will reap what you sew.

We don't know that it was Baltimore mothers posting those tweets. The only Baltimore mother I know about was chasing down her teenaged son and getting him off the streets because she knew that one bad decision could affect his life forever.

As for the criticism of the school lunch program ... the reason these kids are getting free meals is because their families are severely disadvantaged, not because they are taking advantage of some government giveaway program. The situation in Baltimore is complicated, has to do with both economy and race, and it is misguided, in my view, to even suggest that somehow free lunch programs represent some sort of governmental failure. There have been a lot of failures in Baltimore and a lot of other American cities, but I don't think this is one of them.

Regarding the call yesterday from food industry associations and companies for Congress to fully fund the Food safety Modernization Act (FSMA), MNB reader Dr. Jim Gorny, who happens to be VP of Food Safety & Technology at the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), wanted to elaborate:

FDA and industry stakeholders have put a great deal of time, effort and thought into development of the new FSMA regulations that are aimed at protecting public health and assuring consumer confidence in our nation’s food supply. Those regulations – and consumer safety – are critically dependent on a properly funded FSMA implementation plan.


But that doesn't mean that it won't be a political football in Congress.

Finally, lots of email about yesterday's FaceTime video, in which I bemoaned being target-marketed to as a "senior."

One MNB user wrote:

I’m with you.  I want to hang around a group of people focused on living.  Diversity of ages, not just race and creed.  As soon as I turned 50 AARP started contacting me.  When I turned 60 I started getting retirement investment ideas, invitation to “senior communities” and most recently cremation society and burial information as well as long term care facilities.  Good God, I’m not dead yet!
I’m 63 years young.  Senior is my dad.  Not me.

From another reader:

Yes, Kevin it is annoying at first but you will get used to the senior prices on Movie Tickets, early bird meals, senior pricing on Southwest and other airlines. You will know that you have really arrived when young ladies start holding the door open for that kindly looking old man.

I have a response to that. It is not, however, suitable for a family website.

I said yesterday that generally I hate un-targeted marketing and cited FSIs as a classic example: I almost never open them, never read them, because they simply are irrelevant.

One MNB user wrote:

That is pathetic!  Most people go through them to identify the ones that ARE relevant.  Are you really so far gone that you'll only accept coupons that are spoon-fed to your unique specifications?

Yup. Apparently.

From another reader:

The most surprising part of this story is the fact that you have a home phone...

A vestige of earlier times (and pat of the cable package that provides phone, internet and cable). When we move out of this house and get that apartment in Portland, Oregon, it'll be iPhones only ... and I suspect we'll cut the cord in other ways, as well.

And finally, from MNB user Michael Truss:

You may not be a “senior” but you’re sounding like a grumpy old man.

I'd respond to that, but I have to go outside. I think there's somebody on my lawn.
KC's View: