business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Like so many other Baby Boomers, I’m burdened with the memories of years of pop culture that I couldn’t shake if I tried. For instance, I still remember the words to the theme songs for The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island and Secret Agent, among many others.

Likewise I remember key commercials, such as the 12 ways Wonder Bread built stronger bodies. But every now and again my memory shocks me.

For instance, though I have never been a coffee drinker do I remember to “fill it to the rim, with Brim,” a brand that disappeared years ago. Yet, I’m not alone. An article this past weekend in The New York Times Magazine studied companies that resurrect supposedly defunct brands like Brim, Eagle Snacks or Underalls (the last of which, by the way, was also the name of a character in "Caddyshack," but I digress.)

Resurrecting the brands though isn’t the only story. What companies are finding is that the memories we have of these brands and commercials aren't always correct, which creates incredible marking opportunities. For instance, when asked why they would “fill it to the rim” with Brim, most people thought it was a reference to the taste of the coffee product. In truth, it was to sell the de-caffeinated attributes of the coffee.

The need to resurrect a dead brand came across loudly during the recent Food Marketing Institute (FMI) convention and had nothing to do with the struggles of the meeting itself. Rather it was in a session on “new ways of working together,” which featured suppliers and retailers talking about ways to gain significant improvements by addressing issues jointly. The paths discussed included better alignment of staff on both sides, better sharing of data and better joint understanding of goals, problems and strategies.

As one MNB reader astutely pointed out, it sounds suspiciously like ECR rising from the grave. Well, maybe that’s a good thing.

ECR - Efficient Consumer Response - was an incredible industry wide project aimed at driving waste and inefficiency out of the system. It resulted in nearly 40 reports, meetings galore and whole new energy behind industry initiatives from just-in-time deliveries to category management. What’s more, the project didn’t contain itself to a single channel of retail. It spread easily to other channels and even other continents (and in fact, continues quite well in other parts of the world.)

And somehow it also became a dirty word, which was a mistake. While ECR didn’t fully achieve its mission (just ask yourself if there are any inefficiencies left in your company or supply chain) it did make a difference in many ways. Industry dialog changed for a brief period as the emphasis moved to cooperation and mutual problem solving.

Only the project ran out of steam well before the issues stopped coming.

Think of how valuable a joint industry forum would be today for dealing with sustainability and efforts to reduce packaging, water, fuel and truck use; or food safety and the many problems that move throughout the supply chain; or the coming labor shortage and how companies can work together to eliminate jobs that cannot be filled; or health and wellness and how to better communicate with and serve the shopper; or battling organized retail crime across companies and channels. And that’s just for starters.

The bottom line is that ECR was never about technology or supply chain alone. It was about finding a way to work on continuous improvement, an issue that all of retail has a stake in supporting today, tomorrow and deep into the future.

As James Bond once taught us, you only live twice. Maybe the brand of widespread industry cooperation could stand another shot.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
KC's View: