business news in context, analysis with attitude

Reactions to yesterday’s piece on yet another recurrence of mad cow disease in Canada. Noting that our piece said that the human variant of mad cow can be fatal, one MNB user wrote:

Not sure where that article originated but the comment that this disease "can be" fatal should read "is fatal." Our confidence level should be at an all time low in both governments. They are in the "haystack" together for the political benefit that comes from protecting the cattlemen in both countries, very large political influences and contributors.

How many ten gallon hats will be dancing the night away at the Inaugural Ball while the CDC works late to put the wraps on another case of CJD?

But MNB user Lars E. Munson wrote:

As far as I'm concerned, each additional case discovered before entering the food supply is incremental evidence of the system working.

We also got several emails about the annual CIES “Top of Mind” survey. We had registered some surprise yesterday that “consumer health and nutrition” was ranked higher by manufacturers than by retailers, to which MNB user Lachlan Mullen responded:

Correct me if I am wrong, but is it really that surprising…? The retailers depend on the manufacturer to put out good healthy safe product, and really take it for granted. More on the forefront of their minds should be selling the healthy safe product manufacturers put out.

I wish the Manufacturers would more highly value The Retailer as a Brand, instead of trying to make all our stores look the same and shoving too much DSD items into our stores. On the flip side, I don't understand why this is not more important to retailers. In the world of Wal-Marts and Targets trying to steal our sales and remove all personality from the shopping trip, I am shocked that more retailers are not seeing the need to brand themselves and differentiate.

MNB user Bryant Wynes wrote:

Regardless of how wide the gap between retailer and manufacturer rankings for “Consumer Health & Nutrition”, the fact that it shows up as #6 on the retailers’ list is great! It’s an indication that the industry is taking this issue seriously. Speaking from personal experience in my role at Produce for Better Health Foundation, I’d be the first to tell you that the number of retailers – large and small – interested in nutrition marketing continues to grow. They are hungry for information and very open to ideas on how to tap into this – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes good business sense.
Another MNB user wrote:

I found your comments about consumer health and nutrition interesting. I believe health and nutrition is a far cry from 'needs and desires' and somehow I think consumers think differently too. Most major supermarkets offer many choices to consumers to meet their health and nutrition needs; provided mostly by the manufacturers, hence their need to rank that as a priority. While I think supermarkets need to continue to educate consumers about healthy choices, some of this burden needs to be shouldered by other outlets as well, schools, gov't etc. We have generations of children growing up (and grown up) not understanding what healthy nutrition is. I believe the execs answering the survey gave very candid responses, if they all were to read your column, next year’s responses most certainly will rank health and nutrition at the top. Why? So they are perceived as consumer centered. Lip service. Let them tell us what really concerns them.

Well, we’re not sure we have that kind of influence…but we appreciate the endorsement.

And MNB user Bob Richardson raised a very good point:

Apparently I have misread or misinterpreted beliefs .......... employee importance at or near the bottom and no comments???

You’re right…we were just focusing on other things.

Though, when you think about it, that ranking actually explains a lot…

We had a piece the other day about GMO regulation, to which MNB user Ron Rash replied:

Your final comment on this story, “Regulation doesn’t breed fear, in our view. Lack of disclosure does.” is right on. Disclosure is a form of education as surely as high-gloss magazine ads or labels.

Over $10 billion of organic products are sold annually, mostly to people who want a choice. Most markets and consumers that I know of buy non-GMO and organic out of education and avoidance, not out of fear. And, no, I don’t think avoidance is synonymous with fear, but it is mostly synonymous with prevention.

Assuming marketers of GMO foods really believe their products are safe they should make the disclosure and explain (educate) their stance on the subject. I agree that there is much more hype around this issue than is necessary and the issue seems to have taken on an “all or nothing” argument by the various factions.

Non-GMO is a valid product attribute, even if only as a choice for the consumer.

Responding to our story about the Fortune list of top places to work, one MNB user wrote:

Kudos to Wegmans and Stew Leonard’s. Their fortune is their people. To reach this plateau in the supermarket retail environment which has grown into a 24/7 and maybe 2 day short of a 365 day operation comes from a dedicated management staff that empowers associates and engenders the spirit and team concept that it takes all to make us successful and all shall share in the rewards.

It is well known that in Wegmans operation most aspire to be store managers-that is a rarity-yet when you can create that type of enthusiasm it is contagious and it catches on with employees and in turn to the customer. Other chains should take note, I am sure there are many chains that can equal their mentoring attitude and culture that don't make the list. Unfortunately it is rare to find that type of executive talent and to often associate contribution is discharged.

And another MNB user wrote:

Many of those companies like Wegmans that are considered great places to work are privately held. They get to put their customers and employees first along with being lead by experienced CEOs Most publicly held retailers are slaves to Wall Street and are in business only to serve the stockholders and overpaid, ineffective executives, most of which have no real experience.

On the subject of the decision by Bi-Lo/Bruno’s to outsource its warehouse operations to C&S, one MNB user wrote:

Interesting change in going with C&S. I hope that the procurement synergy holds true for Bi-Lo with C&S, since there are also other elements of service and supply chain activity that benefit retail operations. In this business, it's not enough anymore to just focus on running supermarkets. We need to be great at the whole supply side business. Placing all the eggs with C&S, on that scale, is foolish from a strategic standpoint, in my opinion.

MNB user Ben Ball had a comment about the apparent desire of the city of Atlanta to lure Trader Joe’s to town…

Wouldn’t it be nice to have consumers asking you to come to town? Our neighborhood in the north suburbs of Chicago actually tried to lobby a strip mall owner with vacant space to try to attract Trader Joe’s. We wound up with Dominic’s....

There’s an easy joke there, but we’ll resist it.

On the subject of Kraft’s decision to cut back on advertising to kids, MNB user James F. Curley wrote:

Now, class….here’s your quiz. Compare and contrast the following: General Mills Company makes an investment to re-engineer its products to offer all of their cereals in whole grain ingredients, citing the overwhelming evidence that switching from highly processed simple carbohydrates to more complex ‘whole carbohydrates’ can help with weight management and obesity. Kraft Foods Company decides to save cash and spend less money advertising the same old high-sugar, highly processed products in media targeted at children under the age of 12. Define the terms ‘pro-active’ and ‘meaningful’, and use them in your essay. Which company’s actions might better demonstrate the meaning of these terms? Also explain the modern media term ‘spin’, and discuss how it applies to this situation. Begin.

Responding to yesterday’s essay about whining, one MNB user wrote:

I totally agree with your article on Whining. I am also teaching my kids that whining is OUT and winning is IN! Simple but true and if you take a look at failed companies, it stems from losing the perspective of giving the consumer/customer what they are asking for, not simply what they can produce at a greater profit margin. Love your columns!


On the subject of the decreased consumption of beer, MNB user
Simon Mark Haddad wrote:

On the health front, studies have shown that within moderation beer is actually quite good for one. In England, this thinking has been adopted for some time. In fact, a small glass of stout is often given to patients in hospitals after certain forms of surgery.

As far as market share goes and your comment pertaining to cyclical trends — you could be right. But people getting bored of beer! I don't think so. If you were to look at the craft beer segment, you will notice a healthy,
maturing segment that has been appealing to the coveted 24 - 34, male dominant audience. The brewers are enjoying regional success and in many instances their business is beginning to flourish beyond their immediate locale.

Furthermore, certain import segments continue to grow quite nicely; the Belgians, for example, are one such category that is currently thriving. With a wide range of beer styles and quality ingredients consumers are taking notice.

Education is the key. Restaurateurs, tavern owners and the like need to introduce their customers to the art of beer. Their staff needs to be in the know and the pour needs to fulfill the whole experience, both in technique and also with respect to appropriate glassware. Drawing parallels, the martini ritual is part of customers' overall allure.

Moreover, as with wines, food parings are another way of promoting a good beer experience and growing consumer interest in the segment.

Okay, you convinced us. Pour us a pint of Belgian ale…

Maybe we should have an official beer of MNB World Headquarters…?

Have to ponder that. Over a tall and frosty.
KC's View: