business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to a story about obesity issues, one MNB user wrote:

You seem a bit conflicted for a change.  You espouse one view “a public policy response is required”  yet believe another “no amount of public policy can replace the simple act of parents feeding their kids healthy foods.”  Unless of course you actually believe that more policy will move the needle?  Obesity as a national problem/project is a complex socio-economic puzzle.  For how can you have obesity with impoverished people?  Seems counter intuitive.  Poor used to mean hungry and I don’t think it necessarily does anymore.  I think poor today means less access to quality food i.e. food deserts and more access to low quality food, i.e. government cheese.

The bigger issue in my view is how people receive health care.  Those that can afford to pay, pay for those who can’t.  Those that don’t pay have no skin in the game and those that do likely pay a flat rate premium where a fit active healthy person pays the same as the coworker sitting next to them with a 4 pack a day Twinkie habit.

I think you were on to it with the parents and I would bet the children mirror the waistlines of their parents as well.  Similar to the sin tax on cigarettes, I smell a Twinkie tax coming.  Smokers also pay more in most health plans today but they can lie about it.  Scales don’t lie which is why I smell a fat tax looming.  At least there would be a financial incentive for losing the pounds.  And if they don’t, well they are costing the system more anyway.  Of course if the incentive is too great I could see Liposuction procedures running rampant.

Another MNB user wrote:

I agree with your last point, “But at the end of the day, no amount of public policy can replace the simple act of parents feeding their kids healthy foods (and eating such foods themselves), getting exercise, and going to fast food joints less frequently.” This seems to contradict your previous point that “there is no question that a public policy response is required” and supports my firm belief that personal accountability, not government intervention, is the answer.

We each need to act like adults and step up to our responsibilities as parents and citizens. If we can’t or don’t, some politician is going to strong arm ill perceived policies that cannot be sustained…Oh wait, it looks like that’s already happening.

I actually don’t think there is a conflict in my views.

I absolutely believe that we as parents have the greatest responsibility for educating our kids about how to eat intelligently and exercise adequately. No question about it.

But that does not mean ignoring the role of public policy. For example, I firmly believe that our schools should be educating kids about nutrition from an early age, requiring physical education classes, and serving healthy food in their cafeterias. I think that if we’re going to spend public money on public education, it ought to be spent wisely - and since there are plenty of smart people out there who believe that the US obesity crisis creates national security issues for the US, I think that there can be sophisticated and comprehensive public policy ways to address the problem.

I don’t think that requiring honest and complete labels on food products is an abuse of power - it is just requiring transparency, not trying to tell people what to eat.

On another subject...I got a lot of emails yesterday about our story suggesting that there could be legitimate environmental questions raised about the one-cup coffee maker trend, which has been popularized by Keurig and other companies. The question is, what is the impact of all those coffee and tea cartridges that are difficult to recycle?

I said that while I don’t use a one-cup machine - I drink way too much coffee for that - this issue alone would turn me off using one.

However ... I got a bunch of emails yesterday from people who pointed out that you can buy filter baskets for one-cup machines that allow you to use your own ground coffee, can be washed out and reused, and therefore are no threat to the environment.

To be honest, I didn’t know that. This option probably hasn’t been marketed much because the coffee companies make all their money on those disposable pods. But it certainly affects my thinking about Keurig and other, similar machines.

Thanks for the info.

Regarding celebrity chef Paul Deen’s announcement that she has diabetes, and her simultaneous announcement that she has a marketing deal with a pharmaceutical company that makes diabetes drugs, one MNB user wrote:

Paula Deen could have announced her condition three years ago when she was first diagnosed. She could have teamed up with the American Diabetes Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) or the Joslin Diabetes Center, which is affiliated with the Harvard Medical School. 

Instead she's partnering with a drug company.

I think that says it all.

I share your cynicism. This announcement is about branding and money, nothing else.

On another subject, MNB user Shawn Tuckett wrote:

One particular collision spot for the Boomers and the Millennials is grocers' weekly ads.  Working for a digital marketing company specifically focused on grocery, your article brought to mind my discussions with grocery executives on how to best serve up their weekly specials, be it digitally or through the long established print medium.

While I could wax eloquent on the promise of digital and tell you why retailers should run from print as fast as they can, your article helps illuminate the more nuanced environment we are contending with.  While the Millennials prefer digital hands down, the Boomers are on the fence and like you said they are the big spenders, hence they can't be forgotten.

With that said, one thing retailers can't do is ignore the issue.  They must engage with these questions now and use their unique understanding of their shoppers to make decisions that best fit their business. A question I do often ask myself though - do most retailers make decisions based on today's shopper preference or shopper preference from 20-30 years ago?

While I assume digital marketing will ultimately benefit these retailers and their shoppers, both Boomer and Millennial more, maybe that's just my immaturity and know-it-all nature as a Millennial getting in the way of my better judgement.  Somebody find a wise Boomer who can set me straight.

Another MNB user wrote:

Thanks for your comments today regarding Millennial Branding.   Early in my grocery management career I recall having attended a presentation by Ken Dychtwald from AgeWave.   From that day forward, I have had a keen interest in generational marketing and it is a cornerstone of my business today.

Having been born in late 1961, I have been told in various situations that I am a member of both the Baby Boom generation and Generation Y, depending on whose description is being used.   Because I work predominantly with Baby Boomers both as co-workers and as clients, I believe that my beliefs and behavioral traits have virtually nothing in common with that generation and everything in common with Gen-Y.   (The one glaring exception is that I have had only two employers in my post-college working career.)

I only work for a Fortune 500 company because they bought the firm I worked for previously.  Despite that, they do allow me to operate my business in an entrepreneurial fashion and for that, I am very grateful.   However, should the firm ever lose sight of that entrepreneurial spirit, I would likely find myself looking for a third employer.   Just the same, they won’t allow me to post the name of my employer on my Facebook profile!

Regarding the success Starbucks’ pre-paid card, one MNB user wrote:

One of the key benefits of using the Starbuck's Pre-Paid Card isn't just the ability to use my phone to pay, it is the additional discounts such as a free drink for every 15 that I purchase, free flavors when I want them in my drink, etc..  These "upgrades" and rewards drive the desire for both myself and many of my friends to use our Starbucks cards frequently (and in fact argue over whose card is going to be used!).

Kohl's also does this with their additional % off for using their cards (albeit this is a credit card vs. a pre-paid gift card).

Truly a lesson for other retailers.

We had a piece about Target the other day noting that company says that “what we aren’t willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices without making investments, as we do, to proudly display your brands, create a superior guest experience...”

Which led one MNB user to write:

It's seems in this statement that Target is missing the point that it is consumers who are making the decision to buy online after using Target "as a showroom".  The online retailers are apparently offering a guest experience that many consumers prefer.  That is the real challenge facing Target.


Another MNB user wrote:

I wonder how Greg Steinhafel and Kathee Tesija feel about his "most important vendor partners" sharing Target's strategy with you and then seeing it printed, verbatim, in your blog, for all its competitors to see.

That's not the kind of supplier "partner" I would want.  I'm also at a loss to understand why you would reprint a letter that clearly was not intended for the mass market.  Journalists have their sources, but also are expected exercise judgement.  I'm a fan of yours but I think you blew it here. The story, and the content, are indeed interesting and relevant, but at what price?

I don’t mean to be callous here, but when I make a judgement about a story, if I can have the words “interesting” and “relevant” attached to it, that;’s usually good enough for me.

My job is not to protect Target. My job is to tell you what I know, and tell you what I think, and clearly differentiate between the two. (I try not to be gratuitously mean or snarky - and I certainly don’t think I was in this case - but I’m certainly willing to cross that line for a good punchline.)

The emails above, and my original response to the story, are why I posted the letter. It allows for open and frank discussion of retailing issues, including how brick-and-mortar retailers can best serve customers in a digital world.

And you are assuming that it was given to me by a “vendor partner.” I never said that.

Got the following email about Michael Sansolo’s column about conductor Benjamin Zander:

Michael's article belongs in a tabloid, not in this venue. It was full of mixed messages and has nothing to do with the industry. It's personal and his reference to the Louisville Slugger was awful. WTH?

I respectfully disagree, on a number of points.

First, it was a piece about the fragility of leadership and what happens when people perceived as leaders think they are above criticism. Zander - who was fired for having hired a convicted child molester 20 years ago to be a videographer for the New England Youth Orchestra - showed arrogance in his response to his ouster. We deal in metaphor and unorthodox examples here on MNB, and I thought this was a great example of what we do ... and that nobody else in this space would even think about doing.

Was it personal? (Michael’s son, he noted, studied with Zander and loved the experience.) Sure it was. In my mind, that’s what made the piece effective. It illustrated the difference that exists sometimes between reality and perception - and again, that’s what I think people expect from MNB, and what makes us different.

Tabloid fodder? Far from it. Mixed messages? Nothing of the sort.

The reason that MNB exists, IMHO, is to do pieces like that. I feel bad that you didn’t see it that way, but I’m also sort of pleased that it provoked a reaction.

And, we have an update from MNB user Craig Espelien about his frustrations with Apple Store customer service:

Well, Apple’s service reputation is now severely tarnished with me.  As you may recall from an earlier note, I talked to two different people in their customer service (sales) area and was directed to the corporate office – where I have now left two voice mails (Tuesday January 10 and Monday, January 16) for Kimberly Weibrecht (not sure the spelling is correct).  She is apparently in charge of the Great Plains retail group – which includes the Mall of America store where my tribulations began.

I have not been to an alternative store yet (too much travel) but Apple completely dropped the ball if their goal is to make customers (both current and potential) happy.

A simple call to hear the issue and “look into it” would have been the minimum – but ignoring the problem does not seem to be the way I would want my business run.

I think I said the other day that I’d never had a problem at an Apple Store, but I subsequently realized that once I did - I felt strongly that during one visit, the employees were more interested in talking to each other than to paying customers. An hour or two after my visit, I got an email survey from Apple, and I pointed this out ... and within a couple of hours, I got a call from the store manager, apologizing for the experience and asking what she could do to make it up to me.

That clearly has not happened in Craig’s case. Not sure why. but it certainly appears that priorities may have shifted at the company...

This would be an enormous mistake for Apple. It has cool stores. (You should see the new one in NYC’s Grand Central Terminal - it is awesome.) It has cool products. But customer service is an enormous part of the equation, and a diminished reputation in this area could evolve into a brand-damaging trend.

The lesson to every retailer ought to be clear.

KC's View: