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    Published on: November 20, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    Nothing like a built-in audience.

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that the seventh installment in the Star Wars series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, scheduled to be released on December 17, already has sold more than $50 million in tickets.

    It is widely expected, the story says, that the new Star Wars film will easily break the opening weekend sales record ($209 million) set just last summer by Jurassic World. And the only question about whether it will pass Avatar to be the top-grossing film of all time seems to be whether it takes off in China and Russia, where moviegoers don't have the same emotional connection to the series as others.

    And this doesn't even factor in all the money that'll be made in merchandising tie-ins.

    There is, however, a potential downside to the movie's probable success - which is that other movies scheduled for Christmas releases won't get the kind of attention and ticket sales that they need to be successful. Which doesn't worry Disney, which is producing and releasing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and now must be looking at its $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm - which owns not just the Star Wars franchise, but also Indiana Jones - as the bargain of the century.

    It is, indeed, an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday approved genetically modified salmon, designed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies so it grows faster than conventional fish, for human consumption. In doing so, the FDA reinforced another message sent yesterday when it denied a petition that would have called for mandatory labeling of GMOs in food products sold in the US.

    The FDA said that the GM salmon does not require labeling because it is nutritionally equivalent to conventional farm-raised salmon. However, the door remains open to the producers of conventional salmon to label their fish as non-GMO.

    Reuters reports that "activists who argue that the farm-raised salmon poses risks to the environment and public health say its clearance ... will galvanize opponents to press for the fish to be labeled as genetically engineered. Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups plan to send letters to the FDA and members of Congress calling for a law that requires labels. The groups have already successfully lobbied major companies like and Kroger Co and Safeway Ltd to say they will ban GMO salmon from their stores."

    The first GM salmon is expected to reach US supermarkets in about two years.
    KC's View:
    I'm sure that from this point, there will be lawsuits and lobbying and all sorts of public and private fighting over the government's continuing pro-GMO stance.

    But I'm beginning to think that this is counter-productive ... that pro-labeling forces (which are distinct from anti-GMO forces) instead ought to focus on the promotion of products that do not contain GMOs and labeling them as such, with a public information campaign that reinforces why and how they are different. Maybe it makes more sense to do the one thing that the biotech companies seem opposed to doing - make the case to and educate the American people.

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    A new survey commissioned by BloomReach reveals that 44 percent of US consumers go to Amazon first when searching for a product, "compared to 34 percent who use top search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo!."

    This is, the company says, "a significant gain for Amazon since Forrester found in 2012 that 30 percent of consumers research products on Amazon first. Retailers fared worse with only 21 percent who say they’d start at a specific retailer.

    "In addition, consumers are overwhelmingly being influenced by Web personalization technology; 87 percent said they’d specifically buy from the company that best predicts their intent and suggests products intuitively over all others."

    One of the points that the survey makes is that Amazon has invested massive amounts of money in developing and implementing what is called "advanced algorithmic recommendation technology," which allows for a high degree of personalization and customization. However, as Amazon "advances the battlefield on one front, the traditional allies of retailers – the search engines – have inadvertently squeezed retailers from the other front. The BloomReach consumer survey found that consumers– by a 2:1 margin – are wondering why their favorite retailers aren’t delivering the same personalized discovery experience on site or on mobile that search engines provide on the wider Web."
    KC's View:
    The lesson here is that mainstream, traditional marketing efforts - whether in-store or online - simply aren't enough for a consumer population that does not just buy stuff via Amazon, but is having it expectations set by the e-commerce pioneer. If you are a traditional marketer, you need to be looking at things like Amazon Prime, Subscribe & Save, and even the Echo, and asking yourself, how do we compete with these initiatives?

    You can't ignore them. Not now. Not ever. Not anymore.

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    CVS Health said yesterday that it is rolling out what it calls a "suite of new digital tools aimed at helping customers manage their health with more ease and efficiency." The tools are designed to address a belief, supported by its own research, that "pharmacy customers enrolled in digital and online programs demonstrate better medication adherence and reduced health care costs overall."

    Among the offerings are integration of Apple Watch technology, the ability to scan in both insurance cards and prescriptions as a way of streamlining this process, and the use of beacon technology to communicate more effectively with customers in the store.
    KC's View:
    I think all these things make sense ... that technology obviously can be a powerful tool in creating loyalty among shoppers who can use it in their own best interests. But ... I also think that CVS could help itself out a lot if it actually maintained a better in-stock position in some of its stores. I've had occasion recently to spend some time in my local CVS, and I've been amazed the degree to which, in some departments, there are a lot of gaps on the shelves. (I tried to point this out to one of the managers, who decided to argue with me about it. This sent me across the street to the much smaller independent drugstore, where they had what I needed.)

    I have no idea if this is true, but purely from a consumer perspective, it certainly feels like CVS has reached a tipping point ... and that it is so big that it is not taking care of the basics. I've done some anecdotal research on this, and I'm not the only customer who feels this way.

    It is great to have all sorts of fancy tools in your toolbox. But it sees to me that you've also got to have a hammer, screwdriver and a wrench. And this is a lesson worth learning by every retailer.

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    CNN reports that Swedish retailer IKEA - which specializes in giant stores selling all manner of furniture and furnishings - is "testing a variety of smaller stores in the United Kingdom, Spain and Norway to find out if customers will happily order home furnishings and inexpensive art online, and then collect their shopping from a smaller store."

    The test stores are just one-tenth the size of a regular IKEA store.
    KC's View:
    Klok. Göra ont.

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    Jared Fogle, the man who came to prominence when he lost an enormous amount of weight eating mostly Subway sandwiches, a feat that earned him a longtime and lucrative gig as a spokesman for the sandwich chain, yesterday was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to charges of trafficking in child pornography and having sex with underage prostitutes.

    Prosecutors had recommended that Fog;e be sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison but the judge, citing Fogle's "extreme ... perversion and lawlessness" ignored that recommendation.

    Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, in fact, could have given him 50 years in jail.

    Fogle also will have to pay a $175,000 fine and submit to a lifetime of post-prison supervision as a sex offender. The judge said she would recommend that he serve his term at a federal prison in Littleton, Colorado, that specializes in treatment of sex offenders.
    KC's View:
    There have been an enormous number of bad jokes about what Fogle can expect when he goes to jail ... but there's nothing funny about this guy, nothing funny about the victims of his actions. Lock him up. Forget him. let's move on.

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    Mark Bittman, the influential bestselling cookbook author and food columnist for the New York Times who resigned a few weeks ago to become chief innovation officer for startup Purple Carrot, described as "a meal kit delivery service for vegans," is back.

    Bittman, it has been announced, will begin a twice-monthly column for , in which he will write about the process "of going through the startup process, an as-it-happens story."

    In his first effort, entitled "This Is Gonna Be Harder Than I Thought," Bittman writes, in part:

    "It turns out sourcing for a new company is tricky; you don’t just call the 'best' farmers around and tell them you need all their zucchinis: Those farmers may be hard to find, they may not have enough zucchinis, or they may have sold them to someone else. Figuring out how to transform great recipes into meal kits turns out to be not so straightforward either: There are many steps from sourcing to packing, and the possible pitfalls are many. And if Amazon can’t figure out how to avoid alienating customers with their recycled corrugated containers and box-sizing software, how could a startup with a claimed valuation of only $15 million solve its packaging problems?"

    It promises to be a great series ... and you can read the first installment here.
    KC's View:
    I'm particularly interested to read this because Bittman admits to finding himself a little out of his depth ... the skills he's developed as a writer and analyst don't necessarily translate to actually doing the stuff he writes about. I'm nowhere near being in Bittman's league, but I often wonder if I could actually do the things I write about and recommend.

    I'm sure his series is going to make me think about it even more.

    Published on: November 20, 2015

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

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning, in a story about the winding down of operations at the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) - of its 279 stores, the sales of 108 have been approved, the sales of 92 others are pending, and 79 units remain unsold - carries the following headline: "A&P’s Imprint on New York Region Fades as Stores Close."

    What this story misses is that A&P's imprint on the region started fading a long time ago ... the stores may have been open for business, but only barely, as many of them seemed like antiquated throwbacks to an earlier era without charm or relevance.

    • The New York Times has a story about how marketers are spending 500 percent more to reach the nation's 75 million millennials than they are on any other demographic group.

    According to the story, an analysis by advertising technology firm Turn says that "advertisers spend four times as much on display, four times as much on social, four and a half times as much on mobile and six times as much on video advertising aimed at millennials as they spend on all other age groups combined."

    • The School of Business at SUNY New Paltz has announced the formation of the New Paltz Food Industry Council (NPFIC), a new partnership comprised of local business leaders that will assist in the development of a food retail management program within the School of Business’s existing marketing curriculum, highlighted by the debut of two new food classes in fall ’16.

    Among the companies that are involved with the NPFIC are C&S Wholesale Grocers, Constellation Brands, Bozzuto’s, Shop Rite, Acosta Brokerage,and MorningNewsBeat.

    Yup. And I'm looking forward to offering whatever assistance I can as they get this new food retail management program launched.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    I want to thank the many readers who wrote in yesterday to congratulate me on 14 years of writing MNB ... I'm glad you've all been with me to this point, and am thrilled that you're prepared to stay with me for at least the next 11 years.

    One of the things I love about MNB is that the only negative emails I got yesterday were criticizing my position on the designated hitter ... with one reader writing that he never "went to a ballgame to watch a pitcher hit."

    To which I would argue that you obviously never watched a Mets game this season in which Bartolo Colon pitched.

    But we'll obviously just agree to disagree...and the debate about this, and other issues, will continue.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Tennessee Titans 19-13.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 20, 2015

    Lily Tomlin, while never an enormous star, has always been one of the culture's distinctive comic treasures. Her persona has been an odd combination of flighty and grounded; it is like she sees things the rest of us can't, but at the end of the day remains a little cynical about it all. She's managed to infuse even the smallest of characters she's played - like the secretary to Martin Sheen's President Bartlet in "The West Wing" - with what seems to be a full emotional life, and when she's had big roles - like in Robert Benton's excellent film noir, The Late Show (1977), in which she starred with the greatArt Carney - she's been fantastic.

    Now, at age 76, Tomlin has a wonderful showcase for her unique talents. Grandma, written and directed by Paul Weitz, is an independent comedy about Elle Reid, a marginally successful poet and college professor with a less-than-thriving personal life. A lesbian, her longtime partner has died, and she's just broken up with the younger woman with whom she's had a romantic fling. Her relationship with her daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) is in tatters, and her pregnant teenaged granddaughter (Julia Garner) has just come to her looking for money so she can terminate the pregnancy.

    Just 79 minutes long, Grandma is smart enough not to overplay any of its hands. The movie doesn't hammer home political or cultural points, but rather focuses on the characters and their personal responses to the situation ... Grandma is about acknowledging mistakes and taking responsibility, and also about how the yearnings of the young and the old are not all that different. The performances are uniformly excellent - watch for Sam Elliot in a small but enormously touching role as Tomlin's former lover - and is very much in the vein of About A Boy, which Weitz co-directed.

    Grandma is worth watching. It may get lost in the rush of big, expensive films, and it deserves better than that.

    Amazon is in "pilot season" right now, which means that it has posted numerous programs on its site for free streaming and viewing; the ones that get the best response from viewers will go to series. One of the best of these is "Good Girls Revolt," which sort of picks up where "Mad Men" left off, and is so good that I really want to see where it goes from here.

    "Good Girls Revolt" is based on documentary of the same name, and takes place in the newsroom of a weekly magazine called News of the Week. (It's Newsweek, just slightly fictionalized.) It is the early seventies, and a longtime cultural structure still is in place - men write and edit the articles and get the bylines, and women do all the research, occasionally write first and second drafts, and never get any sort of acknowledgement.

    But, as the show begins, cracks are beginning to form. Women are less likely to accept so-called traditional roles, and most men don't know how to deal with the shifting landscape. "Good Girls Revolt" is very smart and very savvy, and it'll be very interesting to watch how the writers navigate the politically and personally turbulent period.

    Most of the actors are not well-known, but there are two exceptions. Jim Belushi plays an old-time editor who simply does not "get" what the seventies are all about, and he's excellent; and Mamie Gummer plays the only "real" person in the piece, a lightly fictionalized Nora Ephron, who, in fact, refused to accept her role as "researcher" back in the seventies because she was a much better writer than most of the men, and knew it.

    I'm not sure "Good Girls Revolt" would find a home on the traditional networks ... which makes me glad for streaming services like Amazon. Give it a look.

    Which reminds me ... the series adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle becomes available for viewing on Amazon today. The pilot - about an alternative reality in which Japan and Germany won World War II - was terrific, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

    My wine of the week - the 2013 Vicchia Cantina Chianti, which is cheap (under $10) and terrific with pasta and a nice, spicy sauce.

    Finally ... Happy Birthday to the girl of my dreams.

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: