business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB took note yesterday of an Advertising Age report that Walmart is being attacked for its introduction of a new private label thin-mint cookie – which a blogger says is a direct attack on the Girl Scouts of America and their annual cookie drive.

Got a lot of response to this one…

One MNB user wrote:

Is this Mom serious?

I suppose she doesn't go after the knock off purses or jeans? Has she ever heard of consumer demand? Walmart saw a niche and filled it.

Where does she shop for in-expensive school and craft supplies for her girl scouts. Is she going to boycott Walmart? Let's see..........

Another MNB user wrote:

Oh c’mon!

There are dozens of thin mint cookies on the market, and those haven’t hurt Girl Scout sales! We buy from the Girl Scouts mostly to support them, not just for the cookies… frankly, I give them away to friends or co-workers, I don’t actually eat them…(they aren’t organic!)

I am not a fan or supporter of Walmart per se, but this story is just silly. Everyone wants to see the big guy on top fall. They are doing some things right and we all can learn from them, and your coverage here helps all of us who are in the industry in one form or another…

Yet another MNB user wrote:

That's what any educated person would refer to as competition and if I am not mistaken, is legal here in the U.S. I seriously doubt anyone at Wal-Mart sat down and said "Ooh, let's go after the Girl Scouts." People need to give Wal-Mart a break. They have done a lot more good than people give them credit for. It's funny how people always fixate on the perceived bad.

Still another MNB user wrote:

Wait a minute. Let's for a moment assume that it was anybody BUT Walmart.

They see a need in the marketplace (jonesing Samoas and Thin Mints long after the last boxes are gone).

They set out to produce a cookie that fulfills that need (cookies that taste like Samoas and Thin Mints).

Automatic success and admiration for thinking, right?

I thought the whole idea of capitalism was finding a need and fulfilling it in the WM gets backhanded for it? Really?

(The blogger) needs to get a grip -- people buy Girl Scout cookies because they're good, sure -- but they also buy them because it's the Girl Scouts...just like they buy microwave popcorn from the Boy Scouts. It's not because it's the only place to buy popcorn or cookies, it's because it's one of the few places where you feel like your money is actually going to help the kids who are hawking it (don't get me started on the kids selling magazine subscriptions just to get them off the street.)

I didn't buy 25 boxes of cookies last year because I needed 25 boxes of cookies...I bought 25 boxes of cookies because I have enough nieces and neighbors that buying a couple of boxes from everyone means I DON'T buy cookies at Walmart for a long, long time.

And another MNB user chimed in:

I can't recall the last time I bought a box of Girl Scout cookies. I was a Girl Scout for years, but one year when I went to buy a box of cookies I was shocked at how much more it cost, just for a cookie. Haven't bought one since. I'll bet there will be tons of people that will have no problem buying a cheaper version of the Girl Scout cookies. I understand this woman's plight and anger, but I don't think I would hesitate to buy a box of Great Value Tag Alongs if the craving hit me.

Maybe it's time for the Girl Scouts to differentiate and come up with something new and innovative in addition to the cookies.

Maybe. It probably is more important to teach our kids (sons and daughters) the realities of economics as it is to teach them about door-to-door selling techniques.

And finally, the harshest of the emails on this subject:

Good for Wal-Mart. Girl Scouts have been gouging us for years. It's about time the girls get a lesson in free enterprise.

On the subject of mandated calorie count information on restaurant menu boards, MNB user Scott J. Proch wrote:

This is bad news for several reasons. More government intervention to 'save us' from ourselves is not the answer. As a Retail Consultant, I travel constantly and eat out several times per week. I'm 48 years old and have to be very careful about what I consume with this lifestyle, so I understand the issue pretty well. However, this is the beginning of what the tobacco lobbyists have been warning us about for years. What's next, taxes on any meal over 1500 calories? Maybe the same in the grocery isles? Give consumers some credit. If I ate at fast food chains four times per week it wouldn't take long for me to know this isn't working!! I wouldn't need to know I was consuming 2500 calories each time I stopped in to figure it out.

As for the 20+ store piece of the legislation, it's a) another attack on big business by a liberal administration and b) a problem of policing a law they couldn't solve so they just limit it to something they think they can handle.

And MNB user Richard Heineman wrote:

The article about calorie counts on menus shows how effective a PR campaign can be.

The statistic the “The 20-establishment threshold captures just 25% of roughly 1 million restaurants nationally” shows how statistics can be misleading. The million restaurant number reflects the government definition of “Separate Eating Places” This includes restaurants, in-store feeding at a retailer, the local bar that just serves hamburgers, College & University, Schools, Company Cafeterias, etc. If you look at just commercial restaurants and look at dollar volume instead of location counts the proportion of sales in chains over 20 units is huge. By making local restaurant comply with this requirement many will go out of business. Of course the large chains want to put their competition out of business.

The cost of gathering the required information is out of reach for a small restaurant. If your total revenue is $250,000 and profit is about $25,000 per year you can't afford to spend perhaps $5,000 per year on this project.

The data is simply not available. There are millions of sku’s in foodservice and no common database for the required information. A large chain usually has proprietary items that they can control. What happens to the little guy that complies and then does not know that the suppler changes the product? With distributor label products there might be several suppliers with different formulas that use the same distributor item numbers. This is impossible to control, even for large chains.

The real problem comes from legal liability. If a server puts more mayo on a burger, the restaurant can get sued. Menu labeling is not an easy issue.

Finally, there was an exchange here yesterday about the future of print, and I continue to believe that there is an expiration date on many traditional print publications. I cited the following example: You cannot escape the reality of how the younger generation gathers information … We get “Sports Illustrated” at home, but my son doesn’t read it because by the time it arrives it is old news – he’s already been all over SI’s website, as well as and assorted other sites.

Which led MNB user Gary Loehr to observe:

So, let me see if I have this right. You get your son a subscription to SI, but he doesn’t read it, because it is outdated by the time it arrives. Sounds like a thinly veiled excuse for getting the swimsuit issue into the house without Mrs. Content Guy catching on.

Good plan, you just helped me figure out what to get my son for his birthday.

Alas, I’ve been discovered! Because, as you all know, the swimsuit edition of SI is the only place where you can find pictures of good looking women in bathing suits…
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