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    Published on: December 18, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    Here's an Eye-Opening piece of advertising ... and it was done on spec.

    An MNB user passed it along to me with a note that it was done by a couple of film students who had an idea for an ad for Johnnie Walker scotch in line with its "Keep Walking" campaign.

    It is an extraordinary piece of work, I think ... and it doesn't even matter that before the commercial was done, Johnnie Walker adopted a campaign with a new theme.

    I'm not going to tell you anything more about it, except to say that it illustrates the importance sometimes of moving beyond the usual suspects when looking for insights, illumination and a little enlightenment. New people and fresh eyes can bring something new to the party ... and this Eye-Opening commercial is a great example.


    KC's View:

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    Two stories about Chipotle this morning indicate the severity of its brand issues.

    The first is a big-picture piece in the Wall Street Journal, pointing out that "perception by consumers following an E. coli outbreak at some of its restaurants has dropped to a new low, according to data from YouGov BrandIndex," dropping 48 points in just the past few months.

    The other story ran in several Fairfield County, Connecticut, papers, pointing out that two Darien-area Chipotles - one on the Boston Post Road, and one in a rest stop on I-95 - got "poor" ratings from the local health department.

    The Post Road location was evaluated as follows: "Could not provide documentation of training — grill employee, kitchen manager training plan not completed; brown rice in the walk-in at 50 degrees from the previous day at 7 p.m. (per manager in charge) (rice was disposed of); thermometer missing in the low boy under the grill; keep Band Aid covered with a glove when working in the kitchen/cleaning/taking temperatures, etc.; observed spraying protein [meat] cutting boards but not sanitizing — how often are these completely sanitized?; only dipping items in the sanitizer — no contact time at four-bay sink; several bowls/utensils stored unclean on shelf; label bulk food items in bins; scoops handle stored in the food product; dry sweeping floors with open food at the line and meat cooking on the grill.”

    The rest stop location got the following comments: "Three employees without complete documentation of training — one with partial [documentation] (grill employee) and two without any documented training on five modules (new employees); chicken coming off the line not temping [not at temperature of] 165 or higher (put back on grill and reheated to 174); unclean floors in walk-in [cooler] — under shelving.”
    KC's View:
    I point out the two Darien locations because they are each with two miles of my house, and because neither are in geographic areas that have been mentioned in all the coverage of Chipotle's food safety issues. The one on the Post Road is one that my kids have patronized frequently ... and that I've asked them to avoid since the E. coli outbreak occurred.

    My point is not that these issues matter more once they might actually affect me. (Though, to be fair, we all pay more attention when issues like these hit close to home.) Rather, my larger point is that virtually every Chipotle in the country is going to be facing visits from skeptical health inspectors who can smell blood in the water.

    I have no doubt that Chipotle is going to do everything it can to improve its food safety processes, but I am a little skeptical about its ability to rebuild its brand to its previous heights. Maybe it can happen, but it is going to take a long time.

    It is a lesson that every food company needs to take to heart. Brand equity is something that needs to be nurtured at every turn ... and in the food business, especially, that means understanding that even the smallest misstep can damage the brand.

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    Reuters this morning has a story about the continuing competitive issues facing Fairway, framing it as both specific and as reflective of a broader trend:

    "Two years after going public as a fund managers' favorite, New York City-area specialty grocer Fairway Group Holdings Corp now sees its shares selling for less than a pack of organic gum," Reuters writes. "At around 70 cents per share, the company is down 94 percent from its April 2013 initial public offering price and is in danger of being delisted from the Nasdaq for trading below $1 for 30 consecutive days.

    "Yet Fairway, even with its deep wounds, is just the extreme illustration of a trend that is hurting competitors such as Whole Foods Market Inc, Sprouts Farmer's Market Inc and Natural Grocers By Vitamin Cottage Inc as well.

    "As middle-income outlets like Costco Wholesale Corp , Wal Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp expand their organic offerings, the companies that pioneered the trend are being left behind."

    The story goes on:

    "Fairway is in perhaps the toughest position of any specialty grocer, said Andrew Wolf, an analyst at BB&T Capital Markets. Among its problems: double-digit declines in its key stores in Brooklyn and the Upper East Side after Whole Foods opened locations nearby; a debt burden of more than $250 million that has forced the company to curtail its plans to open 300 new stores and triggered a $3.5 million fine for pulling out of a lease to open a store in the Hudson Yards project rising in Midtown West; and higher levels of discounting that have kept the company from turning a profit."
    KC's View:
    It seems to me that Fairway's problems are organic in more ways that one ... and its biggest problem, I think, may be that its brand image has become increasingly muddled even as the company has expanded both its fleet and its debt. I can remember that when Fairway was a much smaller company, there were times when I'd be in New York City and would stop at one of its stores there because it had such a specific and differentiated specialty offering. But now, with a Fairway just a few miles from my house in Connecticut, I almost never go there ... they've rarely given me a compelling reason to do so, or to change entrenched shopping habits.

    I have no idea how they fix this problem ... because the momentum is going in all the wrong direction, and reversing it would take a lot of time and money and patience. And I'm not sure that Fairway has any of these.

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    The Washington Post reports that the federal spending bill that seems certain to be signed into law by President Obama includes instructions to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "to forbid the sale of genetically engineered salmon until the agency puts in place labeling guidelines and 'a program to disclose to consumers' whether a fish has been genetically altered. The language comes just a month after FDA made salmon the first genetically modified animal approved for human consumption and represents a victory for advocates who have long opposed such foods from reaching Americans' dinner plates. At the very least, they say, consumers ought to know what they are buying."
    KC's View:
    Not being a scientist, I have no idea why GM technology makes a difference with fish but not with crops. I'm sure there is a good reason, but if the government were consistent, wouldn't it require that non-GM< salmon carry the labels?

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    The Seattle Times this morning reports that Amazon "is negotiating to lease 20 Boeing 767 jets for its own air delivery service ... The online retail giant is building out its own cargo operations to avoid delays from carriers such as United Parcel Service, which have struggled to keep up with the rapid growth of e-commerce."

    Leasing 20 jets, the story says, "would be a significant expansion of an Amazon trial operation out of Wilmington, Ohio, according to sources. A cargo industry source said Amazon expects to make a decision to go beyond the trial run and pull the trigger on a larger air cargo operation by the end of January."

    The story goes on to point out that this wouldn’t be cheap: "Leasing newly built Boeing 767F jets runs to $600,000 to $650,000 a month, according to cargo industry experts. With so few of those jets available, Amazon would likely turn to lease partners to pick up used converted freighter jets. Those cost about $300,000 to $325,000 per month to lease."
    KC's View:
    Based on recent reports and personal experiences with some of the delivery companies, I can certainly understand why Amazon is trying to bring as many of these services in-house as possible. I'd love to see the financial studies that indicated this was a good move ... I'm sure I wouldn't understand them, but I'd still love to see them.

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    The Boston Globe reports that Procter & Gamble has filed a lawsuit against Dollar Shave Club, alleging that the disruptive startup has stolen intellectual property from P&G's Gillette brand, violating its technology trademarks.

    Dollar Shave Club has not yet commented on the suit.

    The Globe notes that "Dollar Shave Club sends its two million members periodic shipments of razors and shaving cream. The company pioneered the rapidly growing market of an online subscription service for razors and its accoutrements in recent years.

    "Gillette controls about 60 percent of the shaving retail market, but just a fifth of the shaving online market. Gillette ramped up promotions for its online subscription service called the Gillette Shave Club earlier this year."
    KC's View:
    Not saying that this lawsuit isn't legitimate, and I do think that patent infringement is a serious issue. But ... in these cases, my first impulse is to be sympathetic to the disruptor. I'm sure that when Dollar Savings Club started, the folks at Gillette figured it wouldn't be a threat. Then they figured it wouldn't be much of a threat. Then they figured they could dominate the online market just because they are Gillette. Then they called the lawyers.

    Sort of like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of death, except that there are just four of them ... and unlike death, maintaining market share isn't inevitable.

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    We now continue our coverage of Mark Bittman's transition from influential bestselling cookbook author and food columnist for the New York Times to chief innovation officer for startup Purple Carrot, described as "a meal kit delivery service for vegans."

    Bittman is chronicling the transition with a twice-monthly column for Fast Company, writing about the process "of going through the startup process, an as-it-happens story."

    The third column in the series is out, entitled "Why My Startup Shouldn't Choose Between Money And Mission."

    An excerpt:

    "As any startup person will tell you (and many have told me), the whole enterprise is about constant re-invention, and so we find ourselves struggling with a slew of high-impact questions. Whom do we hire first? Where do we physically settle? How do we move the mission forward while solidifying the business? How fast can we grow? How fast should we grow? And so on.

    "Those of us running the company have different roles, experiences, and priorities and—even more confounding—we get conflicting advice from our various gurus. It’s one thing to spout platitudes like 'We’re not a business with a mission, we’re a mission with a business' —as if we were Trappist monks—but it’s another to start to assemble a broader team of people who understand both that there is a mission here and, within that context, that our top priority is to build a profitable company."

    It is an interesting perspective on an issue that many companies face, and you read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    • Walmart has announced a free shipping offer for all its online customers who go on its website starting today. This goes beyond the previous offer of free shipping on orders over $50.

    According to the announcement, "Customers can order online for delivery as late as Dec. 22 for rush deliveries and as late as Dec. 23 at 6 p.m. local time for store pickup. Customers can also order until Dec. 20 with standard delivery, and some customers can get free value shipping as late Dec. 20, depending on the item and customer's location."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    The New York Times reports this morning that "as they prepare to host tens of millions of holiday visitors, three of America’s biggest theme park operators — Disney, Universal and SeaWorld — on Thursday reacted to heightened security concerns by installing metal detectors outside their gates."

    The companies will take differing approaches to customer screening, but "after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., the theme park companies felt they had no choice but to make security much more visible. The metal detectors were not installed because of any specific threat, but rather as an added deterrent that would help make families feel safer in crowds, according to a Disney executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the company bans the public discussion of its security practices."
    KC's View:
    I hate to say it, but I have to wonder when and what it will take for major retailers to begin installing security equipment designed to screen people as they enter their stores, as opposed to just when they leave to prevent shoplifting.

    Hate to be cynical, but it strikes me more as a matter of "when," not "if."

    Published on: December 18, 2015

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

    Reuters reports that the National Cancer Institute has conducted a 10-year study concluding that "people who drank coffee regularly were less likely to die of many causes ... than those who didn't drink coffee at all. The more coffee study participants consumed, the lower their risk of dying, and decaf drinkers showed a similar pattern ... Coffee drinkers had a reduced risk of death from heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, pneumonia and influenza and suicide, but not cancer, the researchers found."

    Yippee. Based on how much coffee I consume each morning, this is very, very good news.

    • Canada food retailer Sobeys has unveiled what it calls a "new convenience and fuel store format" in Atlantic Canada, describing it as a "fresh take on the traditional convenience offer."

    The announcement says that "the Sobeys express store, inspired by Sobeys Inc.'s IGA express banner in Quebec, offers customers fresh, healthy alternatives to traditional convenience store snacks and meal ideas. With a selection of 14 signature and all-butter croissant sandwiches, Sensations by Compliments hot soups in three different sizes, and cookies and baguettes baked fresh daily in-store, customers will taste the same quality and freshness they experience at their local Sobeys and Foodland stores."

    "As we continue on our journey to help Canadians eat better, feel better and do better, we understand how important it is to offer a better-for-you option for our convenience customers," Peter Doucette, general manager, Sobeys Atlantic, said in a prepared statement. "They want better food choices when they are on the go and Sobeys express will provide them with exactly that."

    • In the UK, the Guardian reports that "Morrisons has returned to the convenience store market just three months after selling its struggling chain of M Local shops.

    "The grocer has opened a new convenience store called Morrisons Daily at a petrol station in Crewe, and will open four more shops as part of a trial. The Morrisons Daily stores will sell fresh and chilled food, including sandwiches, fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, ready meals and other groceries.

    The company's CEO had previously described the c-store business as a "distraction."

    Eater reports that Career Education Corporation has announced that it is closing all of its 16 Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools in the US. The story says that the last day for enrollment is January 4; students will be allowed to finish their courses of study, but no new ones will be accepted after that date.

    According to the story, the US schools are run separately from the London and Paris locations, which will not be affected.

    Eater writes that "the company cited 'the impact of the federal government's new regulations on career colleges' for its decision, referring to 'the Obama administration's gainful employment rule, which cuts off federal financial aid to schools where graduates borrow money at high rates to pay for school but earn little after graduation' ... Le Cordon Bleu and other culinary institutes in the U.S. have come under increasing scrutiny for their outrageous tuition costs, high drop-out rates, and dismal job prospects."

    Eater also notes that "when reached by phone for further information or comment, a representative for the school hung up."

    • Koninklijke Ahold N.V. and Delhaize Group this morning announced their intention to combine their businesses through a merger of equals, assuming they get all the regulatory approvals. Subsequently, they said, the combined entity will be named Ahold Delhaize, and "upon completion of the merger, Delhaize Group will be dissolved without going into liquidation and shall cease to exist."

    • The New York Times reports this morning that "Hampton Creek, a food company that makes plant-based egg substitutes, said on Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration had reversed course and would allow it to continue using the name Just Mayo for an eggless spread that has come under attack from large food companies and the trade association for egg producers ... The company will use bigger type on the front of the label for the list of product attributes like 'egg-free.' And, the label will define the word 'just' in the brand name to mean 'guided by reason, justice and fairness' instead of suggesting that it was an exact replica of mayonnaise."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    • The Brookshire Grocery Co. announced yesterday that company chairman Bradley W. Brookshire will now serve as the company’s chairman and CEO. he succeeds the retiring Rick Rayford in the CEO role; Rayford has retired after 44 years with the company.

    Brookshire is the grandson of the company’s founder Wood T. Brookshire and has served as chairman of the board since 2007. He is part of the third generation of the Brookshire family members to lead the company.

    • Weis Markets announced John Grimes, the company's director of meat and seafood, has been promoted to vice president of meat and seafood.

    At the same time, Dale Lubold, seafood senior category manager, has been promoted to director of seafood.

    WCPO-TV News reports that "Long-time Kroger Co. executive and former Cincinnati Public Schools school board member Lynn Marmer will oversee the effort to reduce childhood poverty in Greater Cincinnati.

    "Marmer will become executive director of the Child Poverty Collaborative on Feb. 1, she told WCPO Thursday. She is retiring from her position as Kroger's group vice president for corporate affairs at the end of January."

    "We are a thriving community in so many ways. But we'll never really be a thriving community until everyone's included," Marmer tells the station. "I've done a lot of work in hunger relief. I've done a lot of work in education. And it's just kind of a coming together."

    KC's View: Kudos to Lynn for looking for ways to continue to contribute in a post-Kroger life. I admire this tremendously.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    ...will return next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    In Thursday Night Football, the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 18, 2015

    If all things were equal, I'd be posting a review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this morning.

    But I haven't seen it. Not yet. And while it opened last night - and Variety says it already has sold more tickets than any other movie in history - I didn't see it because I promised to see it first with Mrs. Content Guy and two of my kids, and they can't find a time when they're available and all in the same place until early next week.

    And I thought it was important to do what I said I'd do.

    I must admit to having a mixed history with Star Wars openings. Back in 1977, when I was the film critic for the campus newspaper at Loyola Marymount university in Los Angeles, I used to get invited to previews and screenings all the time; it was one of the coolest things about the job.

    I vividly remember getting a press kit and invitation for a movie that just looked cheesy and awful, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out what the hell Alec Guinness was doing making a sci-fi movie. So I didn't go to the advance screening ... and weeks later found myself waiting on line with everyone else to see the original Star Wars.

    No accounting for taste.

    At any rate, this isn't the first time that I've missed an early Star Wars screening. Probably won't be the last.

    I did, however, enjoy the musical pastiche put together by Jimmy Fallon and the "Tonight Show," which you can see above. I've been humming the music for days, and now, so will you.

    The most entertaining thing about the Republican debates the other night, in my not-so-humble opinion, was a commercial that was an utter surprise - a faux campaign ad for President Frank Underwood ... which ended with the announcement that Kevin Spacey will be back in the role as "House of Cards" comes back to Netflix for a new season of episodes on March 4, 2016.

    As in the past, the entire season will be available for binge watching on that day ... so I have a feeling I know what I'll be doing that weekend.

    My wine of the week ... the 2011 Pomum Cellars Red Cellars that is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, merlot, malbec and cabernet franc ... and is very smooth and tasty. I wish I could tell you that I had it with some sort of exotic meal, but in fact I had it with a pepper and egg sub sandwich ... and it was delicious and seemed to work just great.

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


    KC's View: