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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Health-Oriented Marketing

This trend calls for a change in the health-oriented marketing of food. In the supplement category, it means people are electing to buy a supplement that offers a clear solution to a specific problem, as in a supplement to keep joints healthy as opposed to a supplement to give them a lot of vitamin D.

So a program such as “Turkey. The Perfect Protein” may be true but won’t motivate purchase because it doesn’t identify specific problems that eating turkey can help solve.

Hidden in all the literature are various claims that might need to be emphasized more if sales are really to be driven by this campaign. For example, the National Turkey Federation keeps a page on its web site suggesting that you can “Let Turkey Improve Your Mood — Naturally” and goes on to say this:

Protein-rich foods, such as turkey, contain amino acids that, in certain circumstances, bolster the brain’s neurotransmitters that can affect mental outlook.

Knowing how different foods cause the body to produce certain amino acids can be a useful way to plan a nutritious, low-fat, tasty meal. Enjoying a turkey sandwich before a meeting is much more likely to boost alertness than a plain bagel or a candy bar. Adding chopped turkey to a lunchtime salad will set the proper mind-frame for a productive afternoon at the office or in school.

They are treading carefully. The web site goes on to say: “Using food to adjust mood is a fairly new concept, but it is certainly worth exploring.”

Indeed it is. There is an FDA procedure for making qualified health claims about food. Whether pushing turkey, milk, seafood, whole grains, fruits and vegetables or something else entirely, the ability to sell specific benefits as opposed to general features is likely the key to effective health-oriented marketing.




Roadmap To Riding Culinary Trends

From Brazilian churrasco and Argentinean asado to Southeast Asian satay and American wood-plank grilling, globally-inspired open fire cooking is emerging as one of the hottest trends reshaping the palate of America.

Retailers are way behind foodservice in playing to these kinds of trends. When I wrote up the store tour I did at a couple of Wal-Mart Supercenters, I decried the lack of effective selling strategies to convince people to try foods they hadn’t intended to buy.

Being on top of these kinds of culinary trends gives a real clue as to how to promote. In other words, knowing this type of thing tells you that, instead of just leaving the bell peppers sitting out there relying on them to sell themselves, you should be promoting roasting bell peppers over an open flame.

You don’t just put the fish or the chicken or the pork or the beef out there; you tie it in with the idea. Or, put another way, you provide a solution to the consumers’ desire to ride these culinary trends.

If you’ve got a spare three grand, you can buy the report here. You know what else is useful? Take someone special to dinner and make sure you don’tselect a restaurant you are comfortable with. Try something that is new and hot and different.

A lot of marketing is aspirational. It is not about who people are but who they want to be or who they want to be like.




Food Education For Big Kids

 

One group ideal for these messages, however, is college students. Often living alone for the first time, these students are literally establishing the habits likely to guide them throughout their lives.

With back-to-school articles timely, the Associated Press recently came out with a piece stressing that universities are looking to help freshmen avoid gaining weight and falling into bad habits.

Although I believe that college students may gain weight freshman year, the reasons this is so are unclear, and explanations the article offers seem unlikely to me. The article starts with an example:

Sunny Dawson ran two miles every other day when she started her freshman year at the University of Southern California. But the lure of the cafeteria near her dorm became too much to resist.

“Everyone I know went crazy, ’Oh my God, pizza. Oh my God, ice cream’," she said. Dawson soon stopped running and “started piling up the food in the cafeteria.”

By Christmas break, the 5-foot-10 native of Haleiwa, Hawaii, had gained 10 pounds.

Hmmm, put a cafeteria nearby and college students stand helpless to resist? Does the presence of the cafeteria so overwhelm them that they feel compelled to abandon their two-mile running habit?

I doubt it.

The article mentions the fact that many school dining programs offer “all you can eat” dining as a big issue, although it seems unlikely to me that all these kids came from homes where their access to food was strictly limited and that, in the face of an all-you-can-eat cafeteria, they start binging. “Irregular schedules” are another problem, although student schedules strike me as just about as predictable and steady as anything they will ever do in life.

I give a fair number of speeches at colleges, and I always try to eat in or at least walk through the student dining halls. I find that most colleges offer a big array of healthy options including plenty of opportunities to be a vegetarian if that suits you.

I suspect issues with weight gain relate more often to increased consumption of alcohol as much as anything else. Also among the causes of weight gain is the fact that college students no longer have to attend mandatory PE class and, perhaps, no longer participate in a high school sport that was maintained in part to burnish one’s resume for college.

This article goes on to talk about other eating and self-image issues and all kinds of programs to teach people how to make good choices.

I suggest another alternative. We do too much preaching about health.

I would like to see the various food groups team together to do a pilot class on educating students on how to appreciate good food.

I’m thinking about a class on the model of the famous “wines” class at the Cornell Hotel School, which is both rigorous and enlightening, but often begins to build a lifelong appreciation of fine wine.

The problem with preaching health is, inevitably, the message that comes across is that “You really would enjoy that junk food, but don’t eat it because it will make you fat and give you diseases.” If we teach an appreciation for good food, the students won’t want the junk food because the quality is bad.

In other words, they will eat good food because there is something they will enjoy eating more. That strikes me as a direction far more likely to achieve long term success than urging a lifetime of denial or medicinal eating.




Safety Measure Opposed By Know-Nothings

It is our intent to seek approval for additional food safety products effective against E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella in the next 12 months.

Of course, the announcement is arousing all the usual suspects who oppose the use of viruses because, well, as best as I can determine because “viruses” are bad, sort of like “irradiation” is bad, so we shouldn’t use irradiation.

Obviously these things are complicated. If you read the hundreds and hundreds of posts that spread on bulletin boards and blogs across the world as soon as the decision was announced — almost all opposed to this idea — you see a basic problem in the world today: People think it is a good idea to talk about things they know absolutely nothing about.

It is not that people research these things carefully, consult with relevant authorities, etc., and come to an opinion with which I disagree. It is just that they know nothing about the subject.

Forget about how we can get good food policies enacted in this environment. Worry about how democracy can survive. There has to be some deference to people who know more than you do on individual subjects. Otherwise we are toast.




Mailbag — Wal-Mart Redux

 

The Pundit Mailbag received a tremendous amount of reaction to our store tour of two Wal-Mart Supercenters the other day — feedback from other retailers, suppliers and consultants. And we’ll deal with the mailbag as we can.

But I thought it was worth mentioning the reaction I received from Wal-Mart’s own personnel and how it explains so much about why Wal-Mart remains such a formidable competitor.

It is a myth in business that the important thing is to only launch perfect products. Anyone who ever used Version 1.0 of any Microsoft product knows that isn’t the way they made it to the top.

I’ve had the privilege of attending Wal-Mart’s famous Saturday meeting at headquarters. Half revival, half deadly earnest business, one of the things that impressed me most was the spirit of continuous improvement that permeated the organization. I wrote a column after I walked out of that Saturday meeting and this is what I said on that point:

The emphasis is on error-correction.

So many companies research to death and never act. Wal-Mart puts out imperfect stores — then treats every error as a mandate for change. Every time someone pointed out a problem, the handheld blackberries started to whirl. Whether it’s the CEO pointing out a problem or the departmental manager complaining she could have sold more of something if she wasn’t out of stock, every error is treated as a challenge.

You can read the whole column here.

And that spirit has not died in Bentonville.

I made a critique. Because of a long history in the business, close personal contact over the years with high-level Wal-Mart executives and the platforms I have to speak out on, that critique was treated seriously.

First, people wanted to be fully informed. We were fortunate that even though the Perishable Pundit is not even three-weeks-old, we had high-powered readership in places like Wal-Mart on our first day because of the credibility of our magazines and long personal relationships.

But Wal-Mart is a big place and people popped out of the woodwork to sign up for subscriptions. Knowledge is the first key.

Second, nobody I interacted with lost focus. One young Wal-Mart executive, whom I had never communicated with till yesterday but I’m fingering for big things today, put it this way to me:

I really enjoyed your article related to the 2 Grand Opening stores in Florida. It was very well articulated. I appreciate the candor. Please feel free to contact me at anytime. I look forward to your future reads.

Another executive at headquarters expressed himself this way:

I’ve filled out the subscription link and look forward to getting your thoughts in the future…. although I can’t say the article gave me warm and fuzzy feelings. Thanks for keeping us on our toes. Lots of us have something to talk about in B-ville.

This is significant. I’ve been writing things for decades that people would rather not hear, and I can tell you that the temptation to blow up, to be upset, to cancel your subscription, to curse me out — this is the common reaction.

But to keep the focus on the continuous improvement loop, which means that they need candor above all, is very difficult and emblematic of an organization in which the culture is deeply embedded.

The third shoe hasn’t dropped yet. Wal-Mart is a big company and it takes time to absorb and assess things, but I know the company well enough to know there will be follow-up and improvements will be made. And that is how Sam Walton built a big company from a small one.

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