business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a piece last week reporting that while technology and biotechnology will help companies create foods that taste good, are convenient and nutritious, there is a sense that corporate managements may not always be receptive to such innovations because development tends to be expensive – and it is harder to sell higher priced items to consumers.

We suggested that maybe the industry just hasn’t sold these concerns right. Maybe the industry hasn’t communicated about them in an effective fashion. Maybe…just maybe…the food industry has been so busy serving as a conduit for products that it has forgotten its responsibility to be the agent for the consumer, and be not just a source of product, but a resource for information.

Didn’t get a lot of agreement with that position.

MNB user Dean Lustig wrote:

The simple point here is the market will tell you when it is ready and when you are wrong. You cannot force change or new products into the market, even if you have unlimited financial resources. However the marketplace is large enough that some innovator will find a way if it is ready, and punish the innovators when they are wrong.

Another MNB user wrote:

It is not the responsibility of food manufacturers to educate the public about nutrition and health. Their role is to be responsive to the demands of consumers, and for that they get the highest grades.

And another member of the MNB community wrote:

Maybe, just maybe, if the industry focused on creating ingredients out of real (read: fresh) food instead of processing food, and maybe just maybe, if the industry focused on making those ingredients convenient to use, and maybe just maybe, if the industry taught shoppers how to use these ingredients in a family setting, then maybe just maybe, we'd be able to get Americans to eat what they know we should eat.

It's pretty simple: take the knives and the resultant cleanup out of the shopper’s hands, they'll use more fresh foods. Given the advances made in fresh-cut technology with the pittance of R&D money compared to, say, Kraft Foods' or General Mills' budgets, one must wonder at the potential advances if their levels of R&D were invested in making fresh foods more convenient. Think about it: go to the store, buy a couple of disposable aluminum pans with freshly cut vegetables and meats cut and measured to order for your family size, take them home and throw the used pans into the recycle bin when dinners over. If we can automate/robotize factories, we can automate/robotize grocery stores: enter you needs on a touch-screen on one end, walk to the other end and get your ready to cook, freshly cut and chopped food. It ain't Willy Wonka or Rube Goldberg, folks; it's 2006, the 21st century.

What's the problem with this concept? It moves the processing to store level and away from the factories that the processors have invested in. It would mean that the processors become machinery and process suppliers to the stores instead of suppliers of finished products.

Oh, and it would mean that the stores have to hire more people. We can't have that.

On a related subject, another MNB user wrote:

I don't know if you get the HartBeat newsletter from The Hartman Group, social market researchers. Their last issued covered a topic you frequently promote, which is that retailers have the opportunity to offer a unique and authentic experience to the shopper. To quote the newsletter:

"I would caution that there is something more fundamental at play here: Namely, the implicit assumption that packaged foods add value by offering consumers convenience, predictability, familiarity or quality assurances is increasingly suspect - in large part because it appears increasingly irrelevant. Put most simply, the idea that you have given the consumer something of value simply because your product comes inside a container is woefully outdated.

"In fact, in most cases consumers currently suggest it is the retailer more than the manufacturer who appears to be adding value."

They see a consumer attitude of prepared and packaged foods becoming commodities, bought only as needed and at the lowest price. Savvy retailers are building loyalty and gaining premium prices by combining perceived authenticity and retail experience.

We wrote last Friday about a piece in the Washington Post about marketing electronics to women in which Mary Lou Quinlan, author of "Just Ask A Woman -- Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy,” was quoted as saying: "Guys walk around tech stores like they're in a porno shop looking for the fastest, newest, coolest, first-on-the-block thing, while women would rather shop in a calmer, information-based environment for products that will simplify their lives.”

We commented that we found that characterization to be mildly offensive: We happen to be male, and not only have we never cruised an electronics store like it is a porn shop, but we always look for easy-to-use products that have clear applicability. There’s no time for anything else. Not only that, but we know plenty of women who are far more into gadgets for gadgets’ sake than we are.

Targeted marketing is eminently sensible. But human targets, unlike the kind that hang on walls or trees, are rarely like neatly drawn concentric circles that are easy to define and aim at. They are far more complicated, require far greater insight, and are much more complicated to hit. Though the rewards, when successful, can be significant.

Got a lot of email about this one.

MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

I couldn't help but be floored by the comment that "Guys walk around tech stores like they're in a porno shop.." I also wonder if the author has been visiting porno shops to create a cross-comparison analysis of male shopping behaviors.

This is just symptomatic of the nature of contemporary discourse. Anyone who writes anything has to have an "attitude" and invariably cynicism wins out as the cheapest attitude to adopt.

One MNB user wrote:

Porno shop – what!? Blatant stereotyping (about boys, not men) guaranteed to perpetuate the gender divide men too easily get blamed for! Frankly most serious men have little time for porno, complicated electronics – or loud-mouthed women. Ladies, be careful who you emulate in your conversations – and definitely not Mary Lou Quinlan. Set your sites higher, and have better.

MNB user Jerry Quandt wrote:

James Damian (VP of Marketing at Best Buy) knows this about women and how they shop for electronics. He and his proactive crew over at Best Buy have been studying this environment in their “lab”store” in Naperville, IL called "studio d”.

This retail outlet was built for the sole purpose creating a store environment that meets her needs of the female shopper, while providing Damian’s staff with key insights on how best to identify and then provide solutions that service those needs. Damien hasn’t stopped at this lab store...he has also applied his learning from this “lab store” into his Big Blue Box formats as well.

Having visited the store it amazing how different the shopping experience is along with the products and more importantly the services it offers (digital photo lab teaches consumers how to easily mange digital photographs and computer software).

I’m not one for trumpeting any particular retailer unless they rise completely above the rest...Best Buy is one that has put understanding the consumer shopping experience at the forefront of their marketing and business strategy and deserves to be commended.

Another MNB user observed:

You said "and not only have we never cruised an electronics store like it is a porn shop" implies that you know what it is like to cruise a porn shop!

Hey, we try to cover retail in all its many facets.

We had a piece recently about a report detailing the increase in private label distribution, which led MNB user Tim O’Connor to write:

What’s absurd about the report is the implication that it’s a battle for some specific group called “private label shoppers”

Hellooooo…with 98% of households buying private label, and something like two thirds buying it regularly as their trade up trade down buying behavior intersects retailers premium and multi-tiered private label strategies, this is not about a targeted consumer but more a holistic differentiation strategy learning from the success of many leading retailers like Wegmans, Costco, HEB, Trader Joes, Aldi and a few more.

We also had a piece on Friday about a new study saying that two cups of coffee can improve short-term memory function, improving the ability to prioritize, plan new tasks, and deal with stored information.

One MNB user, however, observed:

Coffee also stimulates the adrenal glands resulting in an adrenalin rush and is very acidic, aggravating the acid reflux problems experienced by a growing percentage of the US population. The human body requires foods that leave an alkaline ash upon digestion, not an acid ash.

These discussions are always interesting. They’re also, since they offer absolutely no surefire answers, sometimes a pain in the ash.

(Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
KC's View: