business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

As the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), United Fresh and the American Meat Institute (AMI) gather in Dallas this week for their co-located conventions, there’s one food VIP almost guaranteed to be absent. Yet in many ways Houston mom Bettina Elias Siegel is the person everyone should want to meet. Siegel personifies our era’s changing balance of power better than almost anyone - and the funny thing is, I just heard her name for the first time the other day. (And I am willing to bet that her name is unfamiliar to many if you.)

Siegel is the author of a small blog who popularized a simple phrase - “pink slime” - that no doubt will be widely discussed throughout the halls of the Dallas Convention Center.

A recent article in the Washington Post chronicled the incredible impact of this one mom and how her use of that phrase changed all perception of what had previously been referred to as “lean finely textured beef.” If anyone doubts the power of a catch phrase, consider the incredible impact of this one mom with a blog on supermarkets, restaurants, institutions and suppliers. As the Post reported, prior to the blog “This beef byproduct was nothing more than a mild-mannered staple.” It was never remotely blamed for any food-safety issues, in fact it was widely praised. Now it’s gone.

Even groups usually critical of the food industry like the Center for Science in the Public Interest could never get traction against lean finely textured beef. As the article reported, CSPI is studying what Siegel managed to accomplish.

But that’s the world we live in today, where power resides everywhere and nowhere thanks to tweets, blogs and social media posts that resonate like never before. It’s a world where social media helps topple regimes in some of the most totalitarian countries on earth and where a Houston mom can change the way tacos are made at schools across the country.

For months now I’ve been writing about the growing power of social media and the importance of the new study I’ve been a part of through the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council. The findings of that study are being presented this morning at 10 central time at the FMI show, along with feedback from three of the retail participants. Even if you aren’t in Dallas feel free to follow the discussion on Twitter @CCRRC.

There’s an element to the planned discussion that I believe strikes at the core of why social media matters so much and it really has nothing to do with the enormity of Facebook or the immediacy of Twitter. It has everything to do with what’s in your mind.

Jerry Golub, CEO of PriceChopper, one of the council members, plans to talk with the audience about mindsets - the attitude we take toward things like social media. As Jerry explained in our preparation for today’s discussion, social media forces top executives to take an entirely new approach to how information is shared, spread and controlled. In many ways that is the biggest challenge that comes from social networking—the loss of control.

Yet that is exactly what the Internet has done all along: shifted control and power. Not that long ago when you bought a car it was the dealer who had all the information. Now you walk into a dealership knowing anything you want. The same pertains to buying a house, clothing, and a restaurant meal; finding a dentist a plumber or, well, you name it.

(This is the same point , in many ways, made by Bert Jacobs and Dan O’Connor in their FMI 2012 general session presentations yesterday.)

Today the power of information resides wherever it wants, even at the kitchen table of the Houston mom who is concerned about the ingredients in a school lunch. You may not like it, but it’s the way it is.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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