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MNB had a story yesterday about a Harris Interactive poll naming “best brands,” topped by Sony, Dell, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Ford, Toyota, Honda, General Electric, General Motors, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and Procter & Gamble.

Respondents were asked, "We would like you to think about brands or names of products and services you know. Considering everything, which three brands do you consider the best?" Of the CPG companies on the list, Kraft actually loved up a position on the list from number four in 2004 to number three in 2005, while Coke dropped from number two last year to number four this year. P&G dropped from eight to 10 during the past year.

Our comment: ”We think it is remarkable – though not surprising – that no retail brand names make the list…even though people probably use those brands far more frequently than some of the names that do make the list. It speaks to retailers’ inability to really, really brand themselves, we think…which is a fundamental weakness for many of them.”

MNB user Marv Imus responded:

I kinda take exception to your statement about retailers not doing a good job “branding” themselves. First of all those brands that made the list are national brands, so in their survey someone from the East Coast may have voted for a local retailer but it would not make the list because of no votes from the West. Also the top brands are all thought by consumers as something they MAKE and USE, outside of small presentations in bakery/deli/meat, we, for the most, don’t make anything. Even private label is thought of by the consumer as knock-offs of “real” brands and not as brands of the stores. What is the top Dog food in the nation ? Purina ? Nope. Top liquid detergent ? Tide ? Nope. Yet the Wal-Mart brand is not consider in the same league as these top brands are.

Explain a definition of a brand to the survey taker and maybe they might suggest a few retailers, I could think of quite a few from all over the country that I would consider a brand in their market but probably never been heard of in other areas of the country. Maybe we should take greater pains to “brand” ourselves with our consumers, but even then I doubt we would ever show up in any national survey. Ask the consumers if the brand of Stew Leonard is as strong as P&G to them, or H.E.B., or Mollie Stone, and I think they would think of their store brand as STRONGER than national one because of the closeness, familiarity, and relationship. Of course I do believe that “branding” ourselves in our consumers mind is a top concern and high priority.

MNB user Richard Lowe wrote:

It looks to me like it is more a matter of how the question was phrased? These are all product companies. Wal-Mart or Whole foods does not go home with the customer and that may be why retail companies did not make a presence. We also do not use a retail company in our home.

MNB user Mary Fendrich wrote:

It struck me that Procter is the only "brand" in the list that doesn't really market anything branded as "Procter"....

Their billion-dollar brands such as Tide, Crest and Olay are the real "brands". No one buys "P&G Toothpaste".

It speaks, we think, to the strength of P&G’s image, communicated to consumers over the decades in a wide range of ways.

MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

While I understand your questioning why consumers don't cite Retailers as brands I think it is a by-product of the research process. A Brand is the equity held by consumers, but it generally can be touched or held in some way. It manifests as a physical property. Note the absence of other service providers. I'd imagine if the question were phrased a bit differently then Citibank, Wal-Mart, or American Airlines (my joke), would also be featured.

To be clear, we understand why retailers aren’t mentioned. We’re just suggesting that retailers ought to aiming for having the same sort of brand mentality and brand image of some of the names mentioned most prominently.

We got a number of emails yesterday about our piece on antibiotics in food, and our suggestion that it is “critical that industry not allow outside influences to define the issue. The food industry – especially retailers – need to take advantage of this opportunity to be at the cutting edge of the information provision business, explaining the antibiotic issue to shoppers in easy-to-understand language. It is an opportunity not just to do the right thing, but also create the foundation for a trusting relationship between the store and the shopper.”

One MNB user responded:

I know labels can be misleading and I agree there needs to be some consistency in definition of terms. But I think there are a couple of points missing.

There's difficulty in getting the antibiotic overuse message out? What about all the effort that's been going into educating doctors and consumers about NOT using antibiotics unless absolutely necessary because it creates resistance and possible super bugs? The message is already out there.

Consumers are going to trust the organization that brought them the popular and respected expanded voluntary mad-cow surveillance program?

And who needs to be educated here, the consumer or the farmer plugging animals full of antibiotics? Why not do something about the problem instead of just "trying" to educate the consumer about it?

MNB user David Coia wrote:

Kevin, there is nothing new about this issue, and there is less gray area than one might think. The problem of routine antibiotic use in animals is a serious one, and I have spent a good deal of time trying to educate the industry and media about it. See my column in Advantage magazine from April 2003, for one example.

The only people for whom this is a new issue are journalists and folks who refuse to take the time to read. Good places to start: "The Coming Plague" by Laurie Garrett (her chapter on the subject is one of the earliest summaries in print); "The Killers Within" by Mark Plotkin and Michael Shnayerson; and there are scores of subsequent medical and science articles, but check Medscape for up-to-date material. I have notebooks filled with papers from science journals. It's impossible to overhype the problem. In this case ignorance is bliss and, ultimately, deadly, too.

McDonalds' early response (2003) to the issue was to call for its vendors to supply antibiotic free meat (i.e., beef produced from animals not routinely fed antibiotics) and is one that leaves me defending that company in the face of so much mundane other criticism. Don't know how the policy panned out for that company, since I'm now working with a commodity rather than for retailers. One might argue that if McDonalds understood the issue early, surely other companies can as well. And those that appear to be doing so, should be commended.

The issue for meat and poultry producers is this: keep the animals clean, or spare the expense and effort by routinely use antibiotics to do the job. The results of the latter option become more apparent every day. Consumers pay less for food than most of the world's other consumers as a percentage of disposable income: 10 percent versus, for examples, 18 percent in France, 22 percent in the UK, 26 percent in Japan and 51 percent in India. We can afford to pay a few more cents per pound for mostly antibiotic-free meat, however it's labeled, and fortunately for all consumers, more of it is appearing in food markets.

(BTW, and this is a related question, next time you visit a hospital, ask a doc what its nosocomial infection rate is for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. More than likely, the doc will dodge the question, but you'll clearly see the discomfort.)

I hope you won’t let your coverage of this important subject become a mere flash in the pan.

First, we’ll have to figure out how to pronounce “nosocomial.” And then, try like hell to avoid any circumstance during which we’d be able to use it.

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

If American's really knew how much antibiotics, steroids, hormones and addictive chemicals are in our food sources, as well as the long term health implications of such, they would probably stop eating all together. As we continue to mess with Mother Nature, we will only become sicker. We are becoming immune to the overuse of antibiotics, we are growing taller and much larger people who are entering puberty earlier and earlier, and we are becoming fatter and fatter and sicker and sicker and I can assure you this is not some magical progression of our species. Today, most of the food we are eating has little nutritional value left by the time it gets to us.

I see nothing but good things for the Organic industry as we become more educated and as more open discussion on these topics continues. I hope that as time progresses, people will begin to take more responsibility for their health and start paying attention to what we have been doing to ourselves over the past 50 years or so, in the name of fast paced progress and technology. Scary.

Another MNB user wrote:

You said: "The food industry ought to be in the business of clearing up confusion, not inadvertently creating it."

"Inadvertently?" Marketers COUNT on confusion and misunderstanding. They cater to it. They are constantly throwing out phrases and claims that are ultimately quite meaningless when you look into the details and specifics (look at Kellogg's 1/3 less "sugar" situation). Obfuscation is the order of the day for modern marketing, and not just in foods.

MNB user Tom Kroupa wrote yesterday about a Paul Krugman/New York Times column on why Toyota decided to build a new factory in Canada rather than the US because of labor concerns:

A significant point that Paul Krugman made in his column about why Toyota chose to place its plant in Canada rather than our country is the cost of health care. Since Canada already has a health care system. Toyota would not have to pay for employee health care. Now that our health care system is more expensive than ever and continues to escalate in costs, what are the chances that any foreign company would want to locate here? The fact that our government is focusing on Social Security where there is no crisis and not focusing on healthcare costs where there really is a crisis is unbelievable!

To which another member of the MNB community responded:

Obviously Tom has not lived in Canada. The healthcare system there is nowhere near the level of care we get in the U.S. and you pay more for it in taxes! Yes, there are no “premiums” but there are taxes. Perhaps, the real reason for going there was the availability of laid off auto workers and some government incentives?

In yesterday’s “Your Views,” one MNB user noted that in our discussion of a new game-oriented restaurant format being created by Nolan Bushnell, we had exposed the fact that as “an almost AARP member, you are not the target audience.” And we conceded that while we took exception to the “almost AARP” crack, she was right.

Well, the repartee seems to have upset at least member of this demographic group, MNB user B. MacDonald, who wrote:

You are indicating that to be considered 55+ years old is an insult.

Let me clue you in, bub---most of the wealth in this country is held by AARP members or those of that AGE. Guess what? Many of us are more successful and quite a bit more intelligent than you.

You are just a Internet drone, pal.

Keep your personal age discrimination problems to yourself…

Let us clue you in.

We happen to be closer to 51 than 50. And as for practicing age discrimination, we would point out that 100 percent of MNB’s employees are older than 50.

You probably are right. Many of our elders are both smarter and more successful than we are. And we may well be an Internet drone.

But at the risk of irritating you further, we’d like to suggest that maybe you have to work a bit on your sense of humor.

Because we were just joking.

And we continue to get email about baseball…

MNB user Rick Rector wrote:

Well, I couldn't resist weighing in on this one. I'm going to the ball game tonight to watch the Portland Sea Dogs (Red Sox AA affiliate) play the New Britain Rock Cats (Twins). I have box seats in the first row behind the visitor's dugout, for which I paid $8/ticket. A sandwich and a beer will cost me another $10 (total). And I'll see a great game with a bunch of players who are working hard to be noticed by scouts and their owners to step up to AAA or the majors.

The Sea Dogs began as the Marlin's affiliate in '94. Alumni include AJ Burnett, Luis Castillo, Charles Johnson, Matt Mantei, Kevin Millar, Brad Penny, Mike Redmond, Edgar Renteria, and Kevin Youkilis among others. And Jared Sandberg (Ryne's nephew) is playing currently! These games are a great chance to see the up and comers, before the tickets become unaffordable.

My neighbor, the local police chief, and I line up at 6 AM the day tickets go on sale in the fall, to get the best seats to the games we want to see. It's real baseball, the way I remember it as a kid and played for love of the game. The stadium (Hadlock Field) seats about 6,500 and it's very kid and family friendly. A great experience. Come and visit!

We may take you up on that. (We have the same experiences watching the Bridgeport Bluefish, just up the road from our house.)

We mentioned yesterday that we’ll be spending this afternoon at the Mets-Brewers game, which led one MNB user to write (he gave us his name, but we’re not repeating it just in case he wasn’t honest with his boss):

I, too, believe in the sanctity and purity of baseball enough to forsake my occupational duties and attend tomorrow's contest at Shea. It would seem that the unequivocal potency of our love for the game is second only to that of Palmiero's stanozolol-ridden blood. Let's go Mets.

We’ll see you there. Look for us – we’ll be wearing shorts, t-shirt and drinking a beer.

Can’t miss us.
KC's View: