Pouch obsession can pose dangers for toddlers.

Sometimes a key insight smacks you like cold water in the face.

I had the honor of watching my 21 month old grandchild in my home last week. Believe me,  I got plenty of water in my face as she showed me her swimming kicks at every bath!

But I also realized that anything in a pouch type package goes directly in the mouth, which I witnessed in horror as she grabbed and sucked on an open sample pouch of organic baby shampoo her Mom left for us to use.

Given the surge in Mommy using pouch packed foods as convenient nutrition, even this “real-foods” based girl has had pouch foods for on-the-go nutrition. So we’d been at Harris Teeter earlier that day to grab two Plum Organic pouches of airplane-ready travel food for the trip home later in the week.  I quickly stashed it out of sight, but all day she pestered me to “hold it” or “have pouch” or “eat pouch”, all of which I successfully dodged.

Later in the bath, she saw and immediately grabbed the shampoo pouch, gleefully exclaiming “Maren do it” and into the mouth it went. You can imagine the ruckus that began when I snatched it out of her slippery little hand. This girl modeled her objection after Adele. Full-bodied, loud and long.

The insight hit me again the next day when we tried to apply sunscreen from, yes, you guessed it, a pouch-like container. I got the full blown “Maren do it” and had to act lightning fast to avoid another episode.

I bring this up not as a new “so-what” but as a “do-what” for anyone who looks after a child. An insight is only useful if applied. Realize these things:

  • the associations made in the toddler brain can’t discern the difference between good or bad things in pouch packaging
  • the toddleer sucking for nutrition and satisfaction instinct is still very strong
  • the inherent default for a toddler is “I do it” and they get great satisfaction and praise from others for just about any accomplishment
  • when “they do it”  – they get a dopamine shot in the brain and then they crave it again and again
  • no amount of  logical conversation with a toddler changes this.

Pouched nutrition is a convenient way to accomplish feeding young ones. But we must all be aware that the dangers of “pouch obsession” translating to ingesting very bad substances are very real and must be managed with great care by parents and childcare professionals alike.

Packaging Notes – Squeeze Only Once!

In every aspect of marketing, a good plan is essential but implementation is what makes all the difference.

Case in point. The upside down condiment bottle has worked pretty well for ketchup and salad dressings. So when we saw that same packaging on Heinz mustard at Harris Teeter, we assumed it would be just as functional. Wrong.

Many months later, when the bottle wasn’t full any longer, a squeeze of the package  revealed the major implementation fail. The flex of the ketchup bottle was missing! Try as we might, we could not restore the package to its original shape.

Frustrated, we threw it out, but not before @ShopperAnnie got the photo that proves the devil is always in the details.

No squeezing!
No squeezing!


A Tramp Stamp on the Tomato!

I can’t wait to see if there will be a “tramp stamp” on my store-bought tomatoes one day soon. Change is coming to the produce industry.  Tattoos may soon replace those annoying but helpful little stickers you find on most fruits and veggies. 

There’s a secret trick to deciphering number codes on produce stickers – those leading with the number 9 are organic food, and those that lead with 4 are just plain food, grown however the farmer chooses.  Remember this: nine is fine and four is a bore.

I wonder if the tattoos will be tiny and hard to see like the stickers are now or big and artistic like a full sleeve? I wonder if shoppers will find the tattoos offensive or perceive them to be dangerous to eat?

This trend is beginning in Europe. Can you guess which U. S. retailer will lead the way with tattooed produce? Flip a coin on Whole Foods or Walmart. Sustainability is key to them both, and that’s what’s behind the tattoo movement.

I like the idea of tattoos on produce. I look forward to the day that I will no longer have to stick the labels from the veggies all over my hand when I’m prepping the organic goodies for the juicer.


The Full Sleeve



Publix rethinks the ubiquitous Retail Endcap

Yes, it’s true. I took a dozen in-store pictures in a grocery store while on vacation. But, it’s rare for @ShopperAnnie to get a chance to shop in a brand spanking new major grocery store. Overall, I’d rate this newly constructed Publix store a ten!

What impressed me the most? The front of store endcaps, which were clearly designed with plenty of shopper logic. If you’re in the shopper business, you might remember that traditionally, grocers want to draw shoppers to the back endcaps, to get them down more aisles.

Shoppers, however, want easy and fast access to the items they want most often, seeking to shorten the time they spend in the store, especially as trips change to more quick-trips and less time-consuming stock-up trips.

The best example of new thinking in endcap display is shown below  in what I’ll call the breakfast bar. Note the cooler with an areas for eggs, yogurt, meats and juice. Starbucks gets a great spot on the upper right and Qia – a new gluten-free superfood cereal from Nature’s Path is featured on the left.


Near the end of our trip, a co-traveler went to the Publix store at 7am to get a newspaper,  saw the butcher stocking a rolling  refrigerated case set at the front door with fresh cut pork chops surrounded by fresh broccoli and seasonal fruit. Over breakfast at the condo, he made the suggestion that we stop by Publix later to pick up that fresh pork for dinner. When we arrived at 4:00PM, the meat was being restocked and we were told the fresh chops had been cut only minutes before we arrived.

Why is your refrigerator so empty?

I was asked this question by my 24 year old nephew yesterday.  It’s been bugging me, since just this week I made an internal promise to back off the amount of money I spend on groceries.

The easy answer is that I have a 48″ double wide built in refrigerator. It holds about as much as a small Kroger store.

But this morning I’ve been thinking about the real issue. And that is quality.

The four containers of yogurt are Fage greek, more expensive but more nutritious. The fruit and veggies are largely organic, and usually replenished at the farmer’s market. The eggs are Eggland’s Best, healthier, but pricier too. The R. W. Knudsen cranberry juice is pure, highly concentrated and mixed with water. The milk, however is Kroger’s new private label fat-free variety, which recently replaced Horizon Organic on the shelf, and by default, ended up in my cart. The meat we currently have on hand is fresh organic lamb from a local farmer friend of mine, Otto’s Chicken and some Boar’s Head ham.

You get the idea. I’m a label reader, and most of our food is fresh, healthy, low in sodium, fat and chemicals. It’s also budget busting, so we don’t really buy a lot of it.

And, really, even if I spent three hours a week (like most consumers in the country d0) looking for coupons online, I’m not likely to find coupons for the things I often buy. But in 2012 I’m going to give it a whirl.

It’s a conundrum, really. Am I a food snob living in an unreal world? Or am I faithfully watching the foods we eat to make certain they aren’t contributing to the load of disease-causing chemicals our bodies can’t process? The numbers of people I know with disease is slowly outnumbering those I know who are healthy, especially in the over 50 set.

So, while I do plan to cut food costs in 2012, I don’t plan to reduce quality. It’s likely my refrigerator is going to look even more empty the next time my nephew stops by. It will likely be minus a couple bottles of decent white wine.



You Can Eat It Raw

In August, in Michigan, the bi-colored sweet corn is so good you can eat it raw right off the cob. No boiling water, nor grill, no butter, no salt, no pepper needed. Just strip the husk, rinse it with fresh water and dig your teeth right into the sweetness.

This is not big kernel bright yellow corn. Michigan sweet corn is baby fresh, with pearly white and pale yellow kernels no bigger than a petite young pea. When raw, its milky sweetness coats the tongue like creamed corn.

You Can Eat it Raw

Pair that corn it with homegrown heirloom tomatoes and an ice cold Bell’s Oberon beer and you’ve got yourself a treat that is truly Pure Michigan.

My sister in Florida and my daughter in South Carolina are begging me to ship them corn overnight via Fed Ex Custom Critical, must get delivery the next day before 9:00 am, that’s how much they miss it.

Makes me think here’s a business model in that corny August desire felt by millions of ex-pat Michiganders.

Is a Big Mac FoodTruck the unworthy giant?

Food trucks are a fascinating trend. Or are they just a fad?

This form of retail erupted on the urban scene a few years back, and accelerated rapidly with the help of a reality TV show and social media. Now the big QSR chains want in. Is this a good thing?

Recently, RetailWire panelists, of which I am one, discussed food trucks, attempting to discern if they are just a fad, or in fact are a trend. Read that discussion here. 

My take on food trucks is that they are a trend in personalization, adventurous exploration and represent a growing culture of local chefs who really do love being close to the people on the streets. And there is nothing the people on the streets love better than the knowledge and feeling they get from being served.

By served, I mean more than just food. Patrons respond very favorably to entrepreneurs who sense and serve their real, but often unstated needs. Food truck operators understand they are serving the needs of a morphing urban culture as they “bring the marketplace in QSR to the shopper” in a very hands-on personal manner.

The talk of major QSR chains putting food trucks into the urban marketplace is indeed another sign of movement from fad to trend. That’s no boon to the foodtruck trend, however, in my humble opinion. The big operators might get some business, but the vibe of the entire scene will shift from local and personal service with the bonus of convenient, great eats to something as yet undefined but certainly not a metropolitan urban food experience to rave about.

Think about it. RotiRoll or Taco Boy vs. Big Mac.  The Big Mac machine on wheels  is the polar opposite of what food trucks represent –  affordable, convenient and fun eating that delights shoppers. Let’s not dilute the delight factor with competition from unworthy giants.

Watch this video of a food truck gathering in Baltimore. Now just imagine how a national QSR food truck would be rated in this atmosphere of options including the Souper Freak!

Growing Dinner

I’ve always been a gardener, inspired since grades school by my Dad’s backyard plot of tomatoes, squash, corn and more. He taught me how to make black gold, layering kitchen scraps, brown leaves, grass clippings in thirds, carefully watering and turning the piles  like a chef, until I learned when the “compost is done.”  Years ago, he built the compost sifter I still use today.

My love for gardening has, for years, has been expressed with flowers, where I’ve created over 24 years, nice beds of good soil instead of the clay that is so pervasive on the hill I live on in suburban Detroit. Once in a while I’d sneak some peppers into the flower beds, but veggie growing has always been a sidebar; whatever I could get going in a large pot on the driveway. My veggie source default has always been the farmer’s market.

But this year, my gardening passion has morphed, thanks to my nephew and son, who built a frame structure for me, and filled it with free compost from our local community, combined with as much black gold as I could muster from my simple composting operation. I’m growing organic vegetables, many of which I acquired from the same farmers I’ve been supporting for years at the market.

In the space of only six weeks, my garden has stunned me with its amazing progress. From salad lettuce and arugula to golden beets, from bok choy to yellow wax beans, my dinner table is now graced with an abundance of amazing flavor. Thai basil, lemon thyme, parsley, greek oregano are rosemary are snipped with glee.


I’m thankful for the abundance provided by my little garden. It’s immensely satisfying to grow your own dinner.

Are today’s parents nuts? Retailers can help.

The schools-imposed ban on bringing in peanuts and other common food allergens is, of course, controversial,  especially if you’re a parent of a whiny kid who wants PBJ’s for lunch every day. To get a sense of the current consumer sentiment on the issue, Supermarket Guru recently conducted a poll to expose the feelings of parents on the matter.

A whopping 58% say it’s not fair to restrict the top eight sever food allergens in what kids bring to school to eat. Another 31% said it depends on the ingredient, and accurately noted peanuts as the biggest culprit. Of those, 18% named tree nuts, and 14% named shellfish as ingredients worth banning. Parents, are you nuts?

When my daughter was nine months old, she blew up instantly after she ate her first scrambled egg. When she was ten, we had our first “911” food allergy visit by the paramedics, and a massive incident while at the allergist for skin tests that required too much adrenaline for comfort. Today, at almost 24, she’s out of fingers and toes to keep count of the scary incidents she’s had, most significantly well-managed by super-quick intervention with OTC drugs and the ever-present EPI Pens.  Her most significant allergies are tree nuts, peanuts and shellfish. This “triple-threat” of a young woman now wants a tattoo of a lobster riding a peanut into a pecan tree on her wrist instead of a medical alert bracelet.  A survivor badge of honor is what she deserves.

To all the parents who don’t want to bother altering their behavior when packing lunches and treats for school, I invite you to feel for seven minutes the heart-stopping fear I have had many times with my child. I want you to get a bad case of the cold sweats like I do even now as she recounts events where disaster was averted by quick, decisive action on her part. I want you to feel like I feel so you can think about what you’re voting for.

Fifty eight percent of us are voting for the chance my child could die, perhaps in front of your child, during every day she is at school. Say that out loud to feel the impact. Would you put that on your shirt? “I voted that your kid might die so my kid can eat a PBJ at the same lunch table.”

I know part of the problem is food labeling and retail merchandising. And since only 11 million Americans (three million school-kids) have truly life-threatening allergies, the “industry” is not moving quickly to make it easier for all Americans to shop with certainty that hidden ingredients aren’t lurking in the foods we purchase for in-school consumption.

It takes a lot of time to stop and examine all those labels, especially if it’s not your kid who could die. Interestingly, the poll showed that 68% of respondents would take time to read labels to comply with rules if need be. So there’s hope for change to happen.

We can perhaps think about all of our children as humans whom we need to protect and nourish well. Most of our kids are in local, community schools. Community means sharing and helping everyone flourish. Why aren’t we teaching our kids to be caring toward other kids with disabilities, allergies and other significant issue? Why aren’t we vocally asking our local food market managers to fix the shopping problem we have with allergens so we can comply with protective standards for our children? Remember, 58% of parents don’t really want to be bothered, but 68% know they can and would comply. The insight is this:

We’re willing and likely to shop to comply with food safety standards if it’s easier to accomplish and doesn’t suck hours and hours of extra time in the stores.

I’m advocating that retailers can and should take a proactive step to fix the problem. Get involved with your local school. Retailers can take some shopping trips with parents whose kids have life-threatening allergies, and learn from them how to fix the store so it’s easier to shop and buy allergen free foods. Retailers can help with the time barrier shoppers have thru better merchandising – quickly eliminating the extra hour  it takes to have to scavenger hunt the products across the aisle and scour every detail of the packaging.

58% is a very scary number. It’s our opportunity to raise bright, successful and caring kids in communities that work together to care enough about this issue so as not to put my child at risk of dying in front of your child at school, at a party, in a restaurant or anywhere else on the planet. My child has become a self-protecting adult with ever-present life-threatening food allergies. I want all three million kids in American schools to have that same opportunity.



Where is the fat, really?

Like Phil Lempert and the researchers that publish The Lempert Report, I too am surprised by the recent IFIC study results that fewer Americans are concerned about their weight, don’t consider themselves to be obese (even though they are) and don’t bother to count or balance calories. Down from 70% just last year, only 57% of Americans are concerned about their weight.

Counter these facts with the knowledge that nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle are top of mind in most food discussions for shoppers. And, by the way, with both the food industry and the White House. This is more than surprising, it’s alarming. The food industry, the government and others have spent 100s of millions of dollars in messaging to get Americans to improve their healthful eating habits, none of which seems to be making a difference. The survey also confirms taste, price and healthfulness maintain their long standing ranking as top three (in order) selection factors in food.

As the fat continues to roll around America’s waistbands, we, as insights professionals, have to ask what kind of fat is rolling around in consumers’ brains? There is a story behind this story and we must ask and listen and observe with more acuity in order to understand what to do next.

Could it be they’ve absorbed the rhetoric that’s been preached and are now just tired of spitting it back out when queried by researchers? Could it be they just don’t see enough positive life benefits in exchange for working hard on their nutrition? Could they be just fed up with all the promises of a better future? Are they calling the government’s bluff and saying “your promised to take care of me, so do it” regardless of how obese and unhealthy they become as they age?

We also have to look at the “fat” in the food production industry. What role does packaged food really play in our post-modern world? Why don’t the CPG’s slim down and stop making the bad stuff altogether?

Maybe there should be tougher food nutrition standards set, and ONLY the food that meets them can make it to the store. Can we invite more consumers to eat fresh by just flat out eliminating all but the very best packaged foods? Can we force the huge CPG companies to skinny-down just like the auto industry had to. Why not?

And what is the real role of the food scientist? To make real healthy food or to chemically combine things that taste and look, but don’t act like real natural foods? Food science is a shell game.  Consider McDonald’s oatmeal. Shame on that group of food scientists who produced it to be so high in calories and sugar.  Can food scientists be held accountable by our government to purer standards? Why not?

I don’t have the answer. But these problems are real and they are FAT companies doing very little to improve the food.  I think we need to be more honest about putting the problems on the table as an industry. We are foolish if we just put this all back on the consumer and tell them to “LISTEN AND DO AS WE SAY” when in fact we are not exempt from blame in creating and sustaining this monstrous and profitable industry of bad-for-you food in a marketing climate of “good-for-you” messaging.

It’s time for a slew of new insights. Shoppers are not the only people who need to look in the mirror.