business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story the other day about contaminated food products coming into the United States from other countries, and yesterday we posted an email from an MNB user suggesting that this is the best reason for country-of-origin labeling (COOL). We agreed.

But one MNB user took issue:

I wonder if Jo Anne Sharlach is willing to pay extra just to know the country of origin? The cost associated with implementing and maintaining the "proposed" COOL legislation is astronomical to retailers. Anyone that thinks country of origin labeling will solve food safety issues is not thinking through what this means. Stricter growing and handling practices are what is needed....not a stinking label that says where it is grown.

My grandfather had a saying....."You can put your boots in the oven...but that don't make 'em biscuits." It seems as if that applies to COOL....A label won't make it safe.....

Good point. We’re not suggesting that labeling solves all issues. Just the informational issue.

Another MNB user chimed in:

About a month ago, I attended a seminar hosted by Wal-Mart for some of the suppliers and the keynote speaker was Bruce Peterson - (I believe that he is the
Grocery - EVP - Food and Consumables.)

He basically said - IT WILL HAPPEN - Get Ready!!! I would look for COOL to be reality sooner than later.

And we won’t be surprised if Wal-Mart figures out 1) how to do it economically, 2) how to do it first.

We had a couple of stories yesterday about generational shifts in shopping habits, which led one MNB user to write:

I'm not your typical consumer, but can you really look at averages anymore? I am a young 30s, single professional with "upscale" shopping behavior.

Until supermarkets understand that it's the "experience" consumers are looking for, I don't think any real shift is going to take place. If you look like your competitors, feel like your competitors, service like your competitors, and offer little to no
shopping experience, we're still going to eat out...all the time.

Consumers today look for the event in everything, and have endless options. It's how we entertain and reward ourselves. I'm waiting for the day when there is actually a reason to go to the supermarket other than routine. Perhaps a little music, mood lighting, and personal attention? How about a beverage, an appetizer, and a couple ideas for dinner? That's what we expect.

I think my point is clear. Certainly, customers are as diverse as the products on the shelves, but to truly compete, stop worrying about the yellow tag of your competitor across the street, and start to think about how you can make your establishment a true
destination. Epicurean or otherwise. With over 10,000 square feet, and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, I certainly think you could get a bit more creative.

What if you could make a reservation for unique, personal experience? Think What if I could plug my iPod into a dock on my cart? Think
Bose. How about a drive through to load my groceries in the car? Think Byerly's. How about complimentary fresh cut flowers? Call it a marketing expense,
improve velocity of that department, and actually make floral a future destination item.

That’s a customer talking, folks. Are you listening?

MNB user Glen Terbeek had some additional thoughts:

Many years ago when the housewife had lots of time to shop and prepare food, the "service based" shopping experience was very "logical". She thought about what she wanted to prepare for dinner, and the store employee gathered all of the items for her. He often suggested other ideas, or substitutes, and even recipes and other hints for preparation.

Today, when the shopper is very time-pressed and often inexperienced in food preparation, the stores are just the opposite. They are very "illogical" in design compounded by being service void. To buy a simple pasta meal, requires a shopper to travel to several "like item" product categories all over the store to gather the items to make that simple meal. That is, of course, if they even know what they want for dinner when they come into the store, or how to prepare it. No wonder people are eating out more and more.

It seems to me that the current supermarket offering is 180 degrees out of phase with current shopper trends. If restaurants can make money taking the stress out of evening dinner, then there is an opportunity for the supermarkets to as well. It is time for supermarket chains to go back and study what made their first "local" store so successful. It appears that Tesco has done just that. It’s a matter of making the evening meal both "effective" and "efficient" for the shopper. It is not just about food distribution any more.

Another MNB user wrote:

I'm 29 and as I was reading this article I was brought back to the day of Home Ec. Class , where we learned to cook and sew in 6,7, or 8th grade. It was required that we take the class. Now that same school that I went to cut out Home Ec. Class sighting that is was not important, well that is where I learned the basics of cooking. At that age I didn't appreciate it but now I love to cook and enjoy grocery shopping, it's an
adventure to what I will make for dinner (when I have time of course). I think aside from time being less and less for us b/c of work and social activity, there are many people who don't cook b/c they don't have a clue how. My roommate cannot even make a simple omelet in the morning for breakfast, she never had a Home Ec. Class…

And MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

Am I the only one in this county that shops like the Europeans? Shopping requires too much planning? My only plan is, I plan to buy something when I get to the store. I do all the cooking and 90% of the shopping. I usually have no idea what I will make for the next meal until I get to the store. That is the beauty of Whole Foods and other “high end” grocers. The display cases provide the motivation and the menu ideas and your imagination provides the meal. Once you get used to it, it is the only way to shop. There is one added benefit, the express checkout!

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

Your reader yesterday that characterized the Felpausch purchase as "another case of a retailer who has had to succumb to the pressures of competition" really got my goat. Since when does ANY business ever have to "Succumb to Competition"! Isn't that the MNB mantra... Differentiate and Compete, or Succumb? Where is the spirit that built the 20-store chain into what it is today? And more importantly, WHAT IS IT today.

Is this company truly the thriving business that this reader claims, or is it just an outdated good idea whose time for change has long since passed it by & now the original family has neither the ambition or the means to "catch up". Since I don't know these answers, I try (usually) to refrain from voicing an opinion, but I suspect that this reader doesn't know either, & just wants to engage in the same "Big Business Bashing" that we see all the time in this merger/acquisition scenario.

If memory serves me, & your previous article on Alzheimer’s percentages puts that issue squarely in question, but I believe that the Feldpausch family was quite instrumental in creating and / or building this same Spartan Stores Corporation that now is willing to take on the Today's Challenges that this chain needs to address in order to be viable for the NEXT 70+ years. Perhaps they should be looked upon as a savior of these small town stores, rather than the Behemoth that gobbles up the little guy.

Also, I'd suggest that this "wholesaler who is still trying to figure out how to be an effective retailer" has had their stock go from $2 to over $22. It certainly sounds like they've learned fast & well, the lessons of retailing. Perhaps this reader should take a lesson.

And as far as "everything that Felpausch has worked to build for the last 70+ years" goes, I think most of those (50-60 years) were as a member, and with the help of, the Spartan Stores Independent Retail family. So, perhaps the naysayers & "cookie cutter" pundits should stick to what they evidently do best....silence".

Not for you though, Kev. Keep up the good work. Silence is never the proper path in a VALID issue.

Thanks for the soapbox. I just thought I'd offer the "Other Side's" opinion.

That you did. And we’re glad. You reminded us all of basic realities that can be forgotten in the blur of romantic recollections…

On the subject of the new paint job at Publix, one MNB user wrote:

I don’t really care what they wear or what color they paint the store or if they push my cart out to my car. I just want them to be in stock. You paint Publix as some kind of superstar in the industry and put them up with Harris Teeter, Wegmans, and Stew Leonard’s, but I think if you had to shop them multiple times a week every year, you would see beyond the veneer and realize that what lies beneath is flawed. The Publix I shop is continually out of stock. They try to hide this by facing the products so the shelf tags never match up. They never have a hot rotisserie chicken at dinnertime. They have terrible variety in their Delis, and they care more about margins than they do about what people want. They are consistently overpriced. What makes them so successful in south Florida is that they are on every corner and every other operator is worse. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. I wish they would spend more time ordering and stocking correctly than trying to hit me up for a donation at the checkout or trying to be the community leader. I just want a good grocery store that has the products I desire and checks me out fast.

Watch out for Winn Dixie, they really are getting better every day.

Once again, that’s a customer talking.

On the subject of Metamucil’s new “inner beauty” campaign, MNB user David Zahn wrote:

I saw that in the Journal as well and I thought to myself, "so clever to link the product to a beauty campaign - never would have occurred to me and now that I see it, I view the product and the marketing behind it so differently." I am not a consumer of Metamucil, and I am not their target audience of this campaign, but it almost (ALMOST, but not quite) makes me want to sample the product myself.

And MNB user Don Skiver wrote:

I thought you would have put in a comment or two here. That struck me as really clever advertising, we all "know" what Metamucil is for, but the ad touts it is so much more, towards that overall trend of health and always popular beauty (vanity) aspects.

What we meant to write yesterday, but didn’t, is that Metamucil is an unusual brand…because it is one of those rare brands that doesn’t depend on regular customers.
KC's View: