Archive for 'Food'

There Is Nothing Simple About Food

MarksSpencerBlogIt is not possible these days to open a newspaper in the old fashioned way or reading an e-paper without seeing a supermarket story somewhere. Whether it is a Labour Leader “wannabe” here in New Zealand talking about a supermarket code of conduct, Tesco in the UK suspending more finance executives because they were a bit liberal with their bean counting techniques, Aldi and Lidl increasing their market share in the UK to the point that their full service competitors are beginning to feel the pain, or Woolworths opening its first dark store in Sydney. None of these stories deal with the heart of the matter – which is that society as a whole is going through an enhanced value adjusting change cycle that  impacts upon a whole range of our behaviours, including how we eat and how we shop. And the eating and shopping changes are not happening in isolation but are deeply connected to ethical values, environmental beliefs, demographic fluctuations and the future of work.

What has not changed is that we need to eat; although even that is increasingly being questioned. When society segmented, turning some of our forebears into town dwellers whilst others worked the land, we started an evolutionary process which is a dynamic and living organism that manifests itself into what we see today when we set out to restock fridge and freezer.

Do we go to the supermarket or should we visit butcher, baker and greengrocer separately? Does the state of the wallet point us towards the local Salvation Army Food Bank? Do we actually need to leave the house at all? Dialling up a supermarket delivery via the smart phone is increasingly becoming the cool way to “go” shopping. Or is leaving the house inevitable – how else can we succeed with dumpster diving?

When I arrived in New Zealand, supermarkets were not selling milk.  That was something the milkman brought to my front door. The cheese counter was limited to Chesdale slices, as well as Anchor blocks which came in Mild, Cheddar and Colby options. Bagged salads were a figment of imagination, as were chilled pre-cooked soups, local Camembert, Quark and store loyalty cards. Thirty odd years later, all these products have become part of my daily routine – apart from Quark but that is a different story.

Once we can accept that change is inevitable when it comes to how we acquire our food over the years, we can get down to focusing on what matters in the here and now – which is that all our food sources need to be safe and the food fit for human consumption. Food Safety will increasingly become a key focus for every business in the food value chain. There is nothing simple about food but we can make our life considerably easier by understanding and adhering to the food safety requirements of the food we grow, harvest, sell and eat.

Starting NOW.

TURDUCKEN ANYONE?

Turducken Source: wikipedia

Turducken
Source: wikipedia

December, 25th, 2013

This is a Christmas story of a different kind. As you read on, you may well think that I have lost the plot altogether, you may wonder where the Christmas connection  takes us, but rest assured there is a Christmas aspect to this story, one that reaches beyond the Christmas Day we are celebrating today in 2013. I watched the news last night and in addition to the guts and glory coverage that television news is all about these days there was a human interest story related to Christmas that that caught my attention. The central theme of the news item was a unique Christmas roast that few people had heard of, that was in increasing demand and had its origins in the Middle Ages.  The roast is called a Turducken, which is a chicken, complete with stuffing, stuffed into a duck and the duck then stuffed into a turkey. The news item featured a Farro Fresh Market and one of its founders was being interviewed about the Turducken phenomenon. A fascinating food story, told in an innovative fresh food retail environment. What a fantastic marketing opportunity.

Cut. Change of Scenery.

In 1996 I rejoined Progressive Enterprises, then owner of Foodtown, Countdown and Three Guys supermarkets and itself owned by Foodland (FAL) , then  a grocery co-operative in Perth, Western Australia. The management team was given three core objectives by the owners. Firstly, streamline the merchandise and operations departments run separately hitherto, into one effective system; secondly, develop the food retail concept of the future; thirdly, improve operating profits. By 1998, the first objective had been achieved. The category management and buying teams had been combined and the operations management structure had been merged into one. A new meal solution concept had also been established and it was being “road tested” at Foodtown Meadowbank. This concept reduced emphasis on selling ingredients and meal components and focused instead on providing shoppers with complete meal solutions depending upon the time they visited the store. An entire kitchen team inclusive of an executive chef was based at the store. The third objective, improving margins, proved a little more difficult.  Restructuring does take time and costs money.  The fact that the Foodtown and Countdown IT platforms were incompatible and needed to be reconstructed from the ground up did not help either.  Nor was margin growth assisted by the fact that the Countdown merchandise sales management & reporting process was a store by store affair which caused major difficulties in understanding category profitability across the group.

In early 1998 FAL lost patience with its New Zealand division – which they did not understand at the best of times.  To put this statement into perspective…Perth based FAL in the nineties was akin to a bunch Four Square grocers having come together and with Progressive they had a tiger by the tail.  The FAL owners understood the grocery business very well…but grocers are not necessarily known for their innovation and strategic foresight when it comes to fundamentally reinventing themselves. And having paid top dollar for Progressive when they bought the chain from the then Coles Myer a few years earlier, they wanted to see a return on investment.

Source: www.allposters.com/

Source: www.allposters.com

Graeme Kelly, the CEO they had only hired a couple of years early was sent packing and after a short intermezzo by Barry Alty, a Kiwi grocer turned Perth based Aussie, FAL recruited Ted van Arkel, a Kiwi based grocer of Dutch heritage as Alty’s deputy and eventual successor.

Ted was a grocer from way back, Woolworths trained, who knew the grocery business upside down, back to front and left to right.  The Meadowbank innovation was initially parked for review and then quietly abandoned. The stores were refocused on the core grocery business, integration of operating systems was further strengthened and the bottom line started to show the improvements the owners in far away Perth were expecting.

Cut. Change of Scenery.

I am a father of three adult children these days.  Doesn’t time fly. My daughter works for a global market research company in Frankfurt, Germany.  My older son is both a history teacher and New Zealand naval officer (don’t ask…it’s complicated). My younger son has just finished a Bachelor of Design and Visual Arts (Photography) degree at Unitec and will hopefully find his fulfillment as an artist.

Earlier this year he started talking about Unitec wanting to essentially make the entire design faculty redundant. He was concerned about that, both from his perspective as well as from that of the affected staff.  Naturally, once these plans were made known to the lecturers, they were no longer entirely focused on the learning needs of their students. Unitec’s position was that the Faculty and the courses it offered needed to be realigned with the core focus of Unitec as a technical tertiary institution.   Reading between the lines….someone clearly thought that there was too much art going on and that the place needed to concentrate on churning out craftsmen instead of artists.

Staff got their redundancy notices on the day the students opened  their end of year exhibition – where they could have benefited from the support of focused staff.  Instead, the staff involved the students in black armband protests and other forms of “passive resistance”. It was not good to observe what was going on.

I had not fully tuned in when my son started talking about the demise of his Faculty.  Partly because I was busy with other things and partly because I knew that by the time these changes were due to take place in 2014, he would have graduated and be on his way.  So it was not until a couple of weeks ago that I went to the Unitec website to check on the composition of the Unitec Council. Interesting.

Cut. Change of  Scenery

Christmas is the time for reflection. When I reflect about how my shopping behaviour has changed in the last three years, I realise that I spend quite a bit of my time, and more importantly money, at Farro Fresh Markets.  They sell the food I enjoy eating. Their stores offer a mix between grocery retailing and retail theatre that I don’t find in the traditional Countdown, New World or Pak’ n Save outlets.  They sell decent Spanish and French wines for a fraction of the price one has to pay for local Pinot Noir.  Their cheese selection is a shoppers’ magnet. A Farro Fresh Market is not necessarily exactly what the 1996 Progressive team  had envisaged…but Farro is the closest to the retail concept Progressive had in mind back then…and their opportunity came when Progressive consigned anything other than the expert grocery model to the ‘too hard’ basket.

What are the big learnings here for me?

  • Horses for courses.
  • Timing is everything.
  • There is a difference between a supermarket and a Design School.
  • The consumers’ food procurement model is changing at a rapid pace.
  • The shopping model I grew up with does not  meet the needs of today’s consumers.
  • Thank God for options, choice and innovation.

The clock will tick over soon. 2013  becomes history and the fledgling 2014 will spread its wings. Let’s hope we can learn from past mistakes and avoid repeating them.

And the practice of stuffing birds within birds and serving them fried or baked at table seems to date  back way beyond the Middle Ages, right down to the Romans and their famous banquets.

 

How Do I Get My Product On The Supermarket Shelf?

guardianMasterclasses are something I immediately associate with food and TV. We can thank Masterchef for that. And the Guardian is a British newspaper. What should I make of those two terms strung together though? The short answer is – anything is possible in a day and age when entertainment by bite size is the norm and the print media resembles a dinosaur and is desperately trying to reinvent itself. The Guardian seems to have determined that it has a role to play in business education way beyond having the latest crop of bowler hatted gentlemen study its financial pages. Which is why it runs a Masterclass dedicated to getting new products, presumably including new produce items, on the supermarket shelf. Details can be found here. If that thought does not appeal, how about waiting for the Walmart “Get On The Shelf” contest to come around again? From time to time, Walmart invites “inventors, tinkerers, thinkers, marketers and everyday Joes” to submit their ideas for scrutiny. BeatlesAnything seems to go these days, as traditional channels of getting business done are reduced to direct contact between wacky inventors and grocery giants and newspapers move into the adult education business. Not that there is much space on those supermarket shelves. Ever since supermarkets decided that their own name belongs on those shelves as well via their house brand and private label product ranges, it tends to be getting pretty crowded on those shelves, with a distinct limit to how many “me too” brands are required. Consumers should welcome that as it narrows the selection typically down to the premium FMCG brand, the retailer’s product and one of the second tier suppliers, just for good measure. Unless, of course, the retailer has a budget line as well as a premium label  he wants to make available. Three is already a crowd. Four becomes a mob – and unmanageable. Luckily, we don’t get to see those positioning exercises too often in the fresh produce area. For now at least, anyway. I seem to recall that supermarket product ranging trends tend to start in the centre grocery aisles before they spread to the perishable departments at the edge of the store. Oh well, The Guardian class starts on Saturday. If you hop on a plane tonight, you will get to the UK on time!

Alternatively – talk to us.

The Tenant’s Lunch

tennant's lunch

Healthy Tenant’s Lunch

One of our offices has been surplus to requirements for some time.  So Anne-Marie did what all enterprising Dutchies fiscally responsible managers do… rent it out!  The issue with that approach is that one often ends up with someone who does things a bit differently working alongside the core team.

I have to say it works really well for us – or at least it did until the tenant decided to revert to his British roots as far as his lunch time diet was concerned.   Baked beans are an aquired taste at the best of time but when they become the main event on the plate they take on a whole new dimension!

Needless to say that our Italian gourmet Massimo and Jack from Mainland China had a few comments on the smells wafting from the kitchen.  And yours truly, naturally, had a few thoughts on the matter as well.

For starters, I remembered back to the days when I was frequenting London transport cafes for breakfast… Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, Tomato and Baked Beans, with a couple of slices of buttered toast on the side and a steaming hot cup of tea.  Yum.  It  appealed surprisingly well to my Germanic tastebuds.

My second thought was – where do baked beans actually fit in terms of their relation to the produce category?  Fresh they ain’t, but then neither are frozen peas.  The tenant is trying to convince me that baked beans are healthy….

We will look into that and revert in due course.

West Island Shananigans – The Aussies Are At It Again

Dick Smith is an Australian icon. They don’t have many – and as we know Phar Lap and Pavlova had their origins in New Zealand.  So did Russell Crowe as a a matter of fact, but I am digressing.  Anyway, we are used to it by now that our West Island cousins are always either claiming as theirs something that is most certainly not theirs – or trying to stop quality produce from New Zealand entering the land of Oz on the basis of scientifically unsustainable assertions.newbeetrootsizedwebshadow_0

Now we have a new variation to the theme.  Caustic Australian reactions when something is taken away which they consider rightfully theirs.  The case in point – Beetroot.  In that particular case, we have Heinz on an Australasian basis shifting its beetroot production for whatever reasons from Australia to Hawkes Bay in New Zealand and all hell is breaking loose.  Superior product in Australia, claims about inferior product in New Zealand, perceived threat to the Australian way of life….you name it, Dick says it.

The only half pie relevant comment Dick Smith makes  relates to the fact that multinationals have a habit of shifting production from one country to another as it suits and that New Zealand could find itself in a similar position in the future. True – but one would need to ask the question…What lead to the change in the first place and what can be learned ?

One thing Australia needs to learn – and not just related to beet root – is that the global trade concept is not a one way street that can be manipulated at will.  Dick Smith and others would do well by picking up A Splendid Exchange – How Trade Shaped the World (by William J Bernstein.)  And anyone else trying to figure out how come towns are no longer just consuming what is grown in front of their gates could benefit from having a read as well.  The whole concept and origin of trade is very well explained in this book, starting with the Sumerian and finishing with the oil trade of the 20th Century and the impact of the WTO.