business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got a number of emails yesterday in response to Michel Sansolo’s column, ‘What Women Want.” MNB user Andrea Learned wrote:

I thought I'd give you my two cents with regard to Michael Sansolo's piece, since I've been studying the women's market for years.

He is dead on in many ways - the first of which being that he looked around his own life and saw how women were getting what they wanted and/or influencing his purchases. If every man in business took a look around his personal life in the same way, they too would immediately realize the vast implications for whatever business they were in.

Women do make buying decisions differently, but I'd argue that they represent what is to come for all consumers. Women may have more complex buying paths in comparison to how men, traditionally, look at shopping with a more linear viewpoint. But, in this day and age of commodities.. all brands are going to have to serve a richer experience to catch the attention and loyalty of most consumers, no matter their gender. We have an abundance of choice at our fingerprints, so... what is the differentiator between them. Serving the subtleties and the details that women have long-since been requesting.

If/when brands/retailers learn to serve the higher customer standards of women, they will also be serving men better. Perhaps men didn't previously bother to ask for better service.. but they are rapidly learning from women - that they can make specific demands of products and brands.

Environmental/sustainability demands for retailers may have taken root with women, but men are glad to see it and jumping on the bandwagon, for one.

The more men recognize this whole issue, write about it and tell their friends – the better. (so, a big thanks to Sansolo) Marketing to women doesn't need to be "for women only" - just think of it as marketing to a consumer's highest standards.

And MNB user Linda Allen wrote:

The body of this article is a good cost/benefit statement of the current situation with respect to working women and the absence of talented women in effective management positions. Keeping in mind and appreciating that MNB likes to be amusing and clever in speaking to readers: what seems to be a statement urging needed change that would benefit food companies' performance is weakened by the title and attitudes expressed in the opening paragraphs.

OId biases die hard: Excluding women from consideration for decision-making roles (or anyone else with needed talents) is an "issue" of not giving women what they "want" vs. what companies need.

Old cheap shots die hard: When speaking about women's expertise or interests, use examples of silly and/or expensive personal shopping habits. This is always good for a laugh with "the boys" and reinforces the stereotype that women think primarily/exclusively about shopping for frivolous items and spend too much money.

Old viewpoints die hard: The important downside costs/losses with respect to the absence of women in decision-making positions and discussions in many food industry businesses are most accurately described as a "battle of the sexes." I don't think so: people in power can be effective or not with respect to identifying strategic imperatives for success: how best to proceed? what talent best meets the most important needs? what have been the company's weak/blind spots in the past that need improvement?

Regarding safety concerns abut Chinese-made products, I made the observation yesterday that negotiations between the US and China may be meaningless because they don't address a central issue – that American consumers are less likely to buy Chinese products today than they were six months ago.

MNB user Doug Campbell agreed:

The governments can posture until the cows come home. I read labels and if I see "Made in China" I simply put the product back on the store shelf. There is always an alternative.

And another MNB user wrote:

For Halloween, I like to buy something different to give out for trick & treat. Last year, I found the red wax lips and black/white monster teeth. The kids just grabbed them right up before anything else. So, last week, while pre-shopping for something different again, I found a bag of plastic rings w/the "stones" being skeleton skulls, black cats, etc, and these were really lollipops. I thought this was a good idea and turned the bag over to see the, ahem, "nutritional" content. All I saw was Made in China and immediately threw the bag back on the shelf like it was radioactive. I surprised myself by the immediacy of my action, just a reflex that I would not think of giving out a Halloween treat Made in China. I think this has legs, and it will be a long, long time before consumers don't react like I did when seeing this country of origin identification.

I agree.

But MNB user Grant James wanted to offer some context:

As a sales person in the GM side of the business I have the opportunity to work in China frequently and in doing so am normally an active attendee in sales presentations.

One of the things that seems lost in the whole process of the "Made in China" issue is the fact that American consumers are blind to the process that creates many of the most recent recalls. The lead paint issue is one that's most likely been going on for sometime and is simply a result of the "dumbing" down the product. Paint chips are provided for inspection that are lead free and then in the interest of meeting the profit line forced by the price US retailers must meet, the less expensive lead based paint is used. I suspect this process has repeated itself with many items, materials that require testing. Please note that as a result, I think, many of the testing agencies that have worked the much tougher California market, think Prop 65, will now have contracts for testing elsewhere in the US. I would expect pricing in the near future to reflect the additional testing.

On the other hand the recall resulting from the magnet is the result of a design flaw. I can't be 100% but with the knowledge I do have I must think that the design the Chinese factory was working with was provided by Product Development generated from designers here in the West.

The bottom line is that as consumers here in the US we have forced many of the issues that are now coming home to roost. In addition these recalls not only have a negative impact on trade policy, the Chinese are now refusing our Soy Beans, pork and some beef products on a case by case basis. But they also have an impact on the production side. The man who owned the factory that was affected by the recall in China essentially liquidated his assets to pay off his displaced employees and then committed suicide. The Hong Kong media has done an exceptional job of turning this back to what the Chinese factories have been forced by their customers to do. There's really no single entity to blame on this issue however I think it's high time for the US media to expand their knowledge of the issues involved and help to educate the everyday Americans that drive the consumerism we're famous for.


On the subject of reusable shopping bags, MNB user Elizabeth Haverkamp wrote:

This is in reply to the two people who wrote in about potentially running out of plastic shopping bags. I have run into that "problem" (I personally feel proud that I don't have a million bags in my house anymore) because I have 5 reusable bags that I take to the grocery store every time I go. When I get low on bags I ask a friend or next door neighbor who isn't as vigilant as I am about using reusable bags. They usually have a ton of bags and are happy to give me some. By taking theirs I am also spreading the word about what I am trying to little attempt to help keep our environment green. Or - a more drastic measure - just swipe some of those bags people are recycling at the store and use them!

Another MNB user wrote:

I just have a quick story that you may find interesting. It shows me that through decades of prosperity we have all become a little lazy and used to everything being too convenient and readily available for a small fee. I grew up next door to an older couple that lived through The Great Depression. Because of this they learned to utilize everything to its fullest. They didn’t call it recycling. Everything simply became a resource for something else. One of the things that I vividly remember is bringing used bread bags over to the neighbors so that they could crochet them into area rugs. They were very durable and she did a great job of collating the bags so that the rugs were different colors. My mom still has some of the rugs that the neighbors made. Sadly, since the older couple passed away many years ago, I am now reminded that these bread bags that my mother used to save now go to the landfill as do mine.

I was obviously raised poorly. I don't even know what a bread bag is…

Another MNB user chimed in:

Of course we like plastic sacks as we use them for so many things, but trading at Aldi's, which does not furnish free sacks, has the best of all worlds. Most of their merchandise is brought from the display that is of the boxes the item comes in. We (and all the other customers) just search for a near empty box, use it to carry our groceries home and we customers do the box removal for Aldi. This reduces their trash pickup cost, we have boxes for our use and all the world is a little greener!

Finally, MNB had a story yesterday about Supervalu’s high ratings on diversity issues…but it prompted an unexpected email:

How about companies becoming friendly to those of us that are 55 years old or older. I work for Kelloggs and I have had more than one person ask me when ask me hen I'm going to retire and the possibility of making room for a younger person. Let me assure you that I "my carry my weight."
KC's View: