‘Customer Complaints? Here’s How To Deal With Them’: Advice From USDA

complaints

The following is a press release from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

WASHINGTON, March 8, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued today a best practices guideline to help the meat and poultry industry respond to customer complaints that are determined to be associated with adulterated or misbranded meat and poultry products.

“FSIS has placed renewed emphasis on industry responding to customer complaints of foreign materials in meat and poultry and, as required, reporting those incidents to the agency within 24 hours once the determination has been made that the product is adulterated,” said FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg. “We will continue to work with industry and offer guidance to assist them in complying with agency regulations.”

Update of 2012 Regulation

In 2012, FSIS announced a regulation requiring all establishments to report to the agency within 24 hours when they have shipped or received an adulterated product and that product is in commerce. While this requirement has been in effect for several years, recalls associated with foreign materials in product increased in recent years. FSIS intensified efforts and made presentations in 2018 to industry explaining that product containing foreign materials is adulterated even when a physical food safety hazard is not present. Additionally, the agency hosted two industry meetings to discuss an industry-drafted document of best practices for responding to foreign material customer complaints, which was published in August 2018.

FSIS began working on the guideline announced today in mid-2018 to provide reference material on best practices and recommendations on how to receive, investigate and process customer complaints.   While FSIS specifically developed this document to address foreign material customer complaints, establishments can apply the information to other customer complaints of adulterated or misbranded products in commerce. When an establishment needs to recall adulterated product from commerce, the establishment must identify the cause of the product adulteration and take steps to prevent recurrence in its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan, which federal inspectors review.

Agency’s Current Position

The guideline reflects the agency’s current position, and FSIS encourages the industry to begin using it now.  FSIS welcomes public comments on the guideline. The agency will accept comments for 60 days and will then update the document in response to suggestions, if necessary. Comments may be submitted via the federal eRulemaking portal at: http://www.regulations.gov; by mail including CD-ROMs sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Mailstop 3758, Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700 or by hand-or courier-delivery to 1400 Independence Avenue S.W., Room 6065, Washington, D.C., 20250-3700. All items submitted by mail or electronic mail must include the agency name and docket number FSIS-2018-0034

A downloadable version of the draft guideline is available to view and print at: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulatory-compliance/compliance-guides-index/retail-guidance.

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No BS: Male Cows (Bulls), Seen As Pests, Are Being Targeted in Uttar Pradesh

cow--strolling in Uttar Predesh

Stray cattle have become a menace in Uttar Pradesh. Photo: Biosphoto/Gil Chamberland

Politicians in the US, the UK and elsewhere often encounter issues they term ‘a load of bull’, or BS. In India’s largest electoral state, Uttar Pradesh, while the leavings of bulls may be problematic enough, it’s the bulls themselves who inadvertently prodded the governing Janta Party (BJP) to take what Asia Times early in March described as “urgent measures” to control the bull population.

Following a recent massive flak over the menace of stray cattle, the party decided to control the bull (and thus the overall cow) population by allowing only female calves to be born.

The government of chief minister Ajay Sing Bisht, also known as Yogi Adityanath, has been feeling the heat over stray cattle destroying crops and becoming an economic hazard to the state’s farmers. Most of the stray cattle were abandoned by farmers owing to the collapse of local cattle markets along with the fear of vigilante groups who disrupt cattle transportation.

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There have also been cases of mob lynchings on suspicion of cow slaughter, which is banned in the state by law. Moreover, as Hindus who are vegetarians, consider the cow to be a sacred symbol of life that should be protected and revered, the rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP and cow-protecting Hindutva vigilantes, cattle slaughter has become a sensitive issue in the Hindi heartland.

With agriculture becoming increasingly mechanized, Asia Times explained, male calves are of little use to farmers, who commonly set them free as they become a financial liability. These bulls then run amok on roads in the cities and destroy farms in the countryside.

INDIA-CRIME-RIOT

Policemen gather outside a police station after reports of mob violence at Chingravati village in Bulandhahr, Uttar Pradesh, on December 3, 2018. Photo: AFP

To introduce some semblance of control, in the government budget for this year, Bisht earmarked 6.12 billion rupees ($87 million) for the protection and welfare of cows, including around 2.5 billion rupees ($35.6 million) for setting up and running cattle shelters for strays.

Female calves only

The sex-selection for bovines involves administering sex-sorted semen, with a concentration of X-sperm, through artificial insemination to produce more female calves than male. But at present, dairy farmers in the state largely depend on natural breeding methods.

“The ‘sexed semen’ method takes the likelihood of delivering a female calf up to 90-95%. With the natural method, it is a 50% chance, just like humans,” Dr. AK Singh, deputy director of Animal Husbandry Department of Uttar Pradesh told Asia Times.

“We will roll out the sex-sorted semen project under our Bovine Artificial Insemination Program in all 75 districts of the state in March,” Dr. Singh said last month. “This will not only ease out the dairy farmers from the burden of maintaining male calves but will serve as a long-term solution to the stray cattle menace caused mainly by the male bovine.”

Using this method, which has been popular in western countries in recent decades, the state government hopes to curb the surplus bullock population within the next 10 years.

The scheme will also be aimed at producing cows of Indian breeds, said a government official on the condition of anonymity. The artificial insemination costs around 1,300 rupees (US$18.40). To avail themselves of the scheme, cattle-breeders would have to pay 300 rupees per conception. However, in the drought-prone region of Bundelkhand, this levy would only be 100 rupees.

Dairy farmers benefit

The government aims to reach out to a maximum number of dairy farmers to encourage them to go for artificial insemination using sexed semen technology.

However, this would be a daunting task. The state has been offering artificial insemination for cows for almost four decades, yet still has not been able to cover the entire breeding population.

A senior bureaucrat told Asia Times, “Most farmers still opt for natural insemination over the artificial (method) due to reasons such as unawareness, inaccessibility and better success rate of conception. The artificial insemination is the most powerful genetic tool for cattle breeding as it involves genetically superior semen. Sexed semen will be a further upgraded version of artificial insemination useful for commercial cattle production.”

The conception through artificial insemination requires 2-3 attempts, which is a cumbersome and prolonged process as each attempt requires a time gap of at least a month. Natural insemination by a male bull typically achieves success in one attempt, a veterinary doctor explained.

Pilot test success

The government’s decision is based on the success of a pilot project launched in three districts (Etawah, Lakhimpur Kheri and Barabanki) two years ago during the previous Samajwadi Party regime.

“By using sexed semen under our artificial insemination program, covering around 500-600 cows in each district, we managed to get 90-95% female offsprings,” said an official.

The department imported the sex-sorted semen from the US through Genus ABS India, an American firm, to run its pilot projects. Each dose of sex-sorted semen cost 1300 rupees, though farmers were not charged. The same firm has been commissioned by the government at Babugarh in Hapur district. Production is expected to start by March, a government official said. The firm has been selected through the global e-tendering process to execute the project.

Congress legislator Deepak Singh supports the move. “It seems to be a good step to tackle the surge in stray cattle population,” he said.

Project Is A Long-Term One

olitical analyst Shivsharan Geharwar said, “The cow shelters are too few in numbers compared to the stray population. Even though the government has geared up to build more shelters, it may take a few years to be able to cater to the entire surplus population. The sex selection would be a long-term measure not only to curb the strays but also help improve the cow economy.”

The move may provide some relief to aggrieved farmers and may tip the upcoming general election in BJP’s favor. Uttar Pradesh sends the largest number of lawmakers to the parliament and will play a key role in electing the federal government, though only time will tell if the move will bear any fruit.

 

Eggciting News: Eggs Aren’t As Unhealthy As Formerly Reported

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Eggs from Lohmann Brown chickens are sorted inside a barn at Meadow Haven Farm, a certified organic family run farm, in Sheffield, Ill., in August 2015. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

Americans love their eggs — more than… well, not ever, but more than since 1973, anyway.

Egg consumption has been trending upward over the past several years, since the government reversed course and said that, contrary to earlier advice, while eggs are relatively high in cholesterol, eating them won’t necessarily put you at risk of having high cholesterol.

Yes, an explanation is in order:

Live Science cited a report by Ying Rong of Huazhong University of Science and Technology and her colleagues published in the British Journal of Medicine, which reviewed 17 different egg studies. They concluded, “Higher consumption of eggs (up to one egg per day) is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.’ They cautioned, though, that, ”The increased risk of coronary heart disease among diabetic patients and reduced risk of hemorrhagic stroke associated with higher egg consumption in subgroup analyses warrant further studies.”

The Chinese study is in line with the latest US government thinking, news of which has boosted egg-eating to almost 280 per year.

The last time consumption was this high, The Washington Post reported on February 28, was in 1973.

“This idea that eggs are healthy is really what’s driving this increase in consumption,” Jesse Laflamme, the chief executive of Pete and Gerry’s Organics, a free-range egg producer, told The Post. Laflamme pointed to other factors that have moved consumers to eat more eggs: their low cost compared with meat, the unprocessed nature of organic, free-range eggs, and the feeling of fullness that eating eggs can create.

The greater danger, US nutrition experts now contend, “lies not in products such as eggs, shrimp or lobster, which are high in cholesterol, but in too many servings of foods heavy with saturated fats, such as fatty meats, whole milk, and butter,” The Post reported.

egg_frying

Credit: Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

The Life Science report cited above, was authored by Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D.,  a registered dietitian and a frequent national commentator on nutrition topics. She’s also the author of Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations” (LifeLine Press, 2011).

Here’s her explanation for the case for eggs in one’s diet:

Yes, increased blood cholesterol levels can raise the risk of heart disease. Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol. But does eating eggs raise blood cholesterol and cause heart disease? This is where the story gets somewhat complicated, so stay with me, folks, and I’ll try to make sense of all of this.

First, the research

Most epidemiological research — the kind of research that studies large populations over time and analyzes their diets and their health — has found no connection between eating eggs and increases in heart disease. On the other hand, controlled clinical studies — where researchers feed subjects specific amounts of cholesterol and measure the effect on blood — do show a slight increase in blood cholesterol with increases in dietary cholesterol, though how much depends on genetic factors.

Cholesterol is an important component of all human and animal cells and influences hormone biology, among other functions. Since your body naturally has all it needs from producing its own cholesterol, there is no dietary requirement for more cholesterol. But the American diet contains plenty, since we eat a lot of animal products. All animal products contain some cholesterol, but they also contain saturated fat, an even more significant culprit in heart-disease risk.

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Credit: Archive — jsonline.com

The major determinant of plasma LDL level is saturated fat,said Alice Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

And while eggs are high in cholesterol (186 milligrams, 184 of them in the yolk), they’re relatively low in saturated fat (1.6 grams in the yolk).

In most people, for every 100 milligrams reduction in dietary cholesterol, one would predict a reduction in LDL levels of 2.2 points on average,said Wanda Howell, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Arizona.

In fact, during my 20 years of counseling people with high cholesterol, just reducing their saturated fat intake to a range of 4 percent to 7 percent of their calories, causes their blood cholesterol levels to plummet — a double benefit.

Interestingly, people in Japan — consumers of some of the largest quantities of eggs in the world (averaging 328 eggs consumed per person per year — have low levels of cholesterol and heart disease compared with other developed countries, especially the United States. Why? In part, its because the Japanese eat a diet low in saturated fat.

Americans do just the opposite. Research has shown that we usually have our eggs alongside foods high in saturated fat, such as bacon, sausage and buttered toast. This meal pattern raises LDL levels and makes the effect of eating eggs worse than it actually is.

So how many eggs can you eat? That depends on a number of factors. The American Heart Association no longer includes limits on the number of egg yolks you can eat, but it recommends that you limit your cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams daily, or 200 milligrams if you have heart disease or if your LDL is greater than 100. You decide where that cholesterol comes from!

Other experts go further and say an egg a day is fine.

The amount that one egg a day raises cholesterol in the blood is extremely small, so small in fact that the increase in risk in heart disease related to this change in serum cholesterol could never be detected in any kind of study,said Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health.Elevations in LDL of this small magnitude could easily be countered by other healthy aspects of eggs.

Based on the research, my recommendation is if you eat a healthful diet, go ahead and eat an egg a day. (My interview on CNN summarizes the key reasons why.) On the other hand, if your cholesterol is high and if you eat the typical American diet — high in saturated fat, devoid of fruits, vegetables and fiber — maybe you shouldn’t be eating an egg a day.

But will taking eggs out of an unhealthy diet make a positive difference? Probably not. I cant tell you how many times during my career Ive heard people say, Ive cut out eggs, but my cholesterol is still high! The impact of a healthy, balanced diet cannot be denied here.

Good for you

Assuming you’re eating a healthy diet, here are some ways you may benefit by eating eggs.

Protein. Eggs are considered the gold standard that other proteins are measured against. Because of the superior amino acid mix, an egg’s six grams of protein are absorbed easily and efficiently used by the body. The egg is also low-calorie (74 calories).

Choline. Yolks are one of the best sources of this essential nutrient. Choline is needed for brain development in a growing fetus and may also be important for brain function in adults.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin. These two, important, beneficial phytochemicals found in egg yolks (as well as kale and spinach) help prevent eye diseases, especially cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. While eggs contain less lutein and zeaxanthin than greens, these phytochemicals are more absorbable because of the presence of fat in the yolk.

Vitamin D. Eggs are one of the few natural sources of Vitamin D, important for the bones and teeth. Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium, which is important for the heart and colon, as well.

To bring this all together, here is a recipe that is a regular meal for me any time of the day — quick, easy, delicious, nutritious!

Eggs Scrambled with Onion, Garlic and Sweet Cherry Tomatoes

Servings: 1
Sauté 1/4 sweet onion and a smashed garlic clove over medium-high heat in 1 teaspoon canola or olive oil until almost soft. Add a handful of chopped tomatoes to the pan (or any other vegetables you happen to have, such as chopped spinach, kale, mushrooms or peppers) and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to very low. In a separate bowl, whisk two eggs. Pour eggs into the pan containing the onion, garlic and tomato — add 1 ounce low-fat cheese, if you wish. Stir continuously until eggs are cooked. Pour over toasted, whole rye bread.

According to the research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans reached the height of their egg consumption at the conclusion of World War II, averaging 404, or more than one a day, in 1945. It bottomed out at 229 in 1992, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

 

 

Cheesy Promo Tops The Bill(board) in Toronto

taco-bell

News of an unusual promotion by Taco Bell in Toronto has prompted comments in The Toronto Sun expressing various levels of interest and disgust as well as one pun that milks the promo for all it’s worth… or less.

The purveyor of pseudo Mexican fast food this Saturday (January 19) will have a billboard next to the company’s main Toronto location dispensing “warm, gooey nacho cheese” onto TB snack items offered up by consumers.

A press announcement declared early this month that the three-hour cheese puffery will promote the launch of the Nacho Cheese Naked Chicken Chalupa, a more cheesy rendition of Taco Bell’s Naked Chalupa – which features a crispy marinated chicken shell stuffed with nacho cheese.

“Can’t wait,” Jason Brearly enthused.

“Somehow I have visions of a billboard beside the highway dripping with cheese [with] seagulls, flies and rats all enjoying the bounty,” David Shortling commented. (He doesn’t note where flies will come from in mid-January.)

How long, wondered Mark Black, “do you reckon before the first botulism case shows up and how long before people find bugs in their nacho cheese?”

Julie Mitchell spread a different message: “What a friend we have in cheeses.”

The weather forecast anticipated light snow and temperatures in the area of -10C (14F) for Saturday.

Marketing Dive noted that the “Cheesiest Billboard” is the latest in a long line of stunts from Taco Bell, which is vying to attract Gen Z consumers, who are showing slightly more interest in fast food than older generations.

Taco Bell in November “hijacked” the Big Ben clock tower in London to celebrate new restaurant locations opening in the city. The famous tower has been under construction and silent for more than a year. Taco Bell worked with a sound engineer to compose the chimes using parametric speakers in the surrounding area to recreate the famous Taco Bell bell toll. The chain also unveiled CrunchWrapping Paper for holiday gift wrap and the Baja Blast Hair Salon offering blue dye jobs in previous marketing stunts last year.

Walmart VR Home Reinvents Advertising

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A new Walmart experiment breaks not just the fourth wall but eliminates walls altogether as it enables a virtual reality (VR) tour of a home environment where close to 70 identified items are clickable for ‘more information’ and for access to a shopping cart/checkout page. Walmart says the example is an apartment, but the principle applies to a house as well as an apartment.

‘The fourth wall’ is a theatrical device where a player steps or speaks through the invisible front wall separating players from observers. An excellent, albeit exaggerated example cropped up recently a performance of Henry IV at Los Angeles’ Shakespeare Center.

When a member of the audience became ill and needed medical attention, the show was paused. After a few minutes, Tom Hanks, in character as Falstaff, returned to the stage to recapture the audience’s attention.

Come back here,” he yelled to a few “scurvy rogues who stood up from their seats”. “God has decided this play needed a second intermission,””  he said. “Get back here or find this sword and many a dagger placed neatly in the tires of your carriage,” to laughs from the still-seated audience members.

It’s unlikely you will laugh at Walmart’s VR show, but you may gasp in surprise at how cleverly the company and its team of technologists – see FTT here – put a mix of national brands and Walmart own label items in situ (where you’d see/use them at home). This goes well beyond simply telling you, as an ordinary ad does, what things are and what they cost.

In the kitchen, for example, atop a ‘Seville Classics Easy-To-Clean Bamboo Cutting Board’, alongside a paring knife, is a halved apple, with one half quartered. On the same counter there’s a ‘Black+ Decker 2-Slice Extra Wide Slice Toaster, Red/Silver,’ a ‘Color Splash Cutlery Set with Wood Block 6-PC,’ and a ‘Keurig K-Compact Single-Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker’. A clickable yellow circle appears beside each item. When clicked, as well as showing the item, it offers a “click here to buy” link.

Each other area of the home is similarly highlighted with promoted items, and the 3-D VR presentation takes the viewer well beyond the simple product representation of a typical print or TV advertisement.

While this most likely is the first example of this technology you’ve heard, rest assured it won’t be the last. It truly represents a reinvention of advertising as we’ve known it.

The principals it employs are applicable to a number of other situations and environments. Think home remodeling, and how excitingly (and easily) different design element and surface treatments, among other things, can be presented with this technology.

For this and other reasons (see FTT), rather than viewing Walmart as just a behemoth retailer (2,700 or so US stores), the company increasingly needs to be viewed as an innovator, as a disrupter in the retail space. Hopefully you won’t be physically displaced, albeit by only inches, by upcoming Walmart robots tasked to help track out-of-stocks and more in stores.

 

 

Walmart Boosting E-Commerce Potential

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Walmart’s determination to well-serve its stores’  and customers’ needs in the e-commerce area was boosted a few days ago when the company announced it is adding 2,000 technologists to its existing staff of 6,000 in that area by year’s end.

‘Technologists’ are the Walmart employees who work on the technology powering Walmart stores and the company’s e-commerce businesses, a VentureBeat report noted on June 20.

The new-hire technologists will join Walmart Labs’ offices in San Bruno and Sunnyvale, CA; Bentonville, AR, where Walmart is headquartered; Reston, VA; and Bangalore, India. This role includes data scientists, engineers, and product managers, And NowUKnow explained.

Walmart Labs CTO Jeremy King spoke exclusively with VentureBeat about the division’s hiring plans for the coming year, citing the company’s growing online grocery effort in particular as the reason for Walmart Labs’ expansion. Walmart currently offers customers the ability to order groceries online and pick them up in-store in more than 1,500 of its stores. That count is due to expand to about 2,100 stores by the end of the year, VentureBeat noted.

“Oftentimes we have 50 to 100 items in an order, and we don’t send one picker out to the floor to pick one order and send it back — we’re really optimizing the pickup, and they’re picking somewhere between 5 and 15 orders at a time,” King told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “They’re actually [dealing with] fascinating machine learning problems.”

Walmart’s most formidable competitor in the online grocery pickup space — also known as “click and collect” — is and likely will remain Amazon. That company introduced free, two-hour delivery from Whole Foods stores to Amazon Prime members in certain cities in February. (Amazon acquired Whole Foods in mid-2017.

And while it doesn’t yet offer a click-and-collect option, job listings for pickers in certain cities indicate that it may soon do so.

Danny Silverman, the chief marketing officer at e-commerce analytics firm Clavis, told VentureBeat in a phone interview that the algorithms data scientists at Walmart and Amazon develop to make grocery pickups more efficient will be critical in determining which one gains a better foothold in the space — most click-and-collect services are “are unprofitable to neutral for the retailer, and it’s more about the long-term value of the customer than making money on the [individual] sale.”

“A lot of retailers don’t have real-time inventory management, so it’s very difficult for them to take an online order and then fulfill it successfully — so a big piece of customer satisfaction and winning is going to be on how much they manage their inventory and deliver on [the order],” Silverman added.

Attracting talent to Middle America and the coasts

King also spoke with VentureBeat about the different hiring challenges and advantages Walmart Labs faces with its different offices. Walmart created the Walmart Labs division in 2005, following its acquisition of SiliconValley-based social media analytics company Kosmix, reportedly for more than $300 million.

In Silicon Valley, King acknowledged that tech workers don’t always readily think of Walmart as a technology company. That’s part of the reason why the technology arm is branded as “Walmart Labs.” King said that Walmart Labs often pitches workers on Walmart’s scale.

“Around 140 million people [in the U.S.] walk into a [Walmart] store each week, and getting access to play with that kind of data is intriguing to most people [in the field],” King told VentureBeat.

In Bentonville — where many members of the tech team work on merchandising, supply chain, and point of sale challenges — Walmart Labs faces less challenges from other tech companies for talent. But outside talent is less familiar with what Bentonville — a city of just 48,000 people — is like. The Walmart Family Foundation in recent years has invested in a number of projects to improve cultural and outdoors offerings in Bentonville, such as spending $74 million in developing mountain biking trails around Northwest Arkansas. Walmart is also the sponsor of the Bentonville Film Festival, launched in 2015.

One Family Moved from Philadelphia to Pentonville

Linda Lomelino, currently a senior researcher with Walmart Labs, told VentureBeat that she visited Bentonville twice — once for an on-site interview, and once with her husband and two children — before accepting the job with Walmart Labs and relocating to the area from Philadelphia.

“My husband and I did a lot of research about restaurants and schools and museums and cultural events — and any sort of surrounding experiences that we could have as a family. We also did a lot of research into the demographic profile of Bentonville,” Lomelino told VentureBeat. As of 2017, the city of Bentonville was about 75 percent white, 10.2 percent Asian, 9.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 2.7 percent Black, according to Census Bureau data.

King said that Walmart has also tried to create more opportunities for the tech community in Bentonville, hosting Tech Tuesday meet-ups at its office and working with engineering groups and other tech organizations for students at the nearby University of Arkansas.

“I think you’ll see more to come — J.B. Hunt (a major trucking company) and the other [companies] around there are all trying to attract technical talent to the area,” King said.

 

 

 

A Little-Plus About Lidl

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A year ago, Germany-based grocer Lidl ‘invaded’ the United States. The company (whose name is pronounced leedl) originally set its initial US goal at 100 stores. That was scaled back, early this year, to 50. There presently are Lidl stores in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with more stores pending in New York’s Staten Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia.

The up-coming stores are likely to be closer to the company’s 15,000-20,000 sq ft (1393-1858 sqm) European model, for a few reasons:

(1) The US stores, judging from the one I’ve visited (several times), are seriously trying to do too much, as almost-full-service supermarkets, than they can deliver;

(2) they dedicate 12-25% of their floor space to nonfood items that might, might, generate high enough profits to justify the company’s investment in them… but they might not; and

(3) while in-store bakeries certainly are a potential draw, Lidl’s scratch versions – as opposed to bakeries doing bake-off of frozen or otherwise- ‘almost-finished’ products, involve serious up-front and ongoing investments. And using only Europe-inspired recipes may not be as good an idea as Lidl executives imagined, because European and American tastes differ.

A company website notes that, “At Lidl, our bread and baked goods are authentic European quality and they are always oven fresh because we bake several times a day. Take a deep breath – that smell is our croissants oven-baked on site! We melt the right amount of butter, dash the perfect amount of salt, and layer each luxurious taste to be the perfect flakey bite. The baked goods are made using the original recipes and baking processes that we perfected across Europe.”

Something Lidl may never (so far) have been recognized for is the quality of its shopping carts. Beyond the now-standard area for small, delicate items, their cars feature handles that are heavier than the types usually found at US supermarkets, and Lidl’s handles have shaped, plastic grips for the user’s hands. While the carts feel sturdy, they are easy to maneuver, and seem to be constructed so as to not face the fate of so many carts: jammed or broken wheels.

The care and attention that went into designing those carts wasn’t exercised when the entry into US market was planned.

While generally some 35% larger than their European counterparts, Lidl’s US stores’ shopping areas don’t employ space efficiently. Aisles are too wide, compared to most US supermarkets; the first-in-view produce section features multiple displays of some items and, in mid-June, had no available peaches – a serious summertime favorite across the US. (Meanwhile, a roadside stand a few miles up the road from the Danville VA Lidl was offering “South Carolina Peaches”); Non-food bins, which feature ‘specials’ on Thursdays and Sundays, were empty on Saturday – a huge waste of space and, no doubt, many missed opportunities to sell something – anything.

Americans like prepared foods. Lidl doesn’t, one must assume, like to sell prepared foods, at least not in assortments Americans are used to. Oddly, one of the widest ranges of packaged foods comprises sauces destined, as per package directions, to be used to turn plain pieces of chicken into Indian-Indian – as opposed to Native American “Indians” – dishes. It would amaze me if there’s an even middling demand for Indian food in Danville, population 42,000  or so, where there’s nothing vaguely resembling an Indian restaurant or Asian food market within 40 minutes (in Greensboro, NC, of all places!).

This Lidl offers frozen Indian entrees, as well. A generous assessment assumes they must sell, because the display is always well-stocked. (Alternatively, these long-shelf-life items, prepared in Canada, may not be selling well at all – but let’s  give the benefit of the doubt and assume stock is turning over nicely!)

 

Given the amount of space dedicated to them, Lidl clearly loves to sell cookies, packaged crackers and similar snack foods: The company’s Danville store has oodles of them.

The bring-your-own–bags – or buy Lidl’s for a few cents each – system seems to be widely accepted by shoppers. (I keep a bag full of Lidl bags in the trunk of my car so when I’m in Danville, I’m prepared. On my most recent visit, a departing customer tossed me a few Lidl bags he didn’t need, so I added them to my ‘bag stash’.)

I live an hour’s drive from that store, so I visit only when I’m in Danville for another reason. So I can’t report on day-to-day traffic there. Press reports have said the company hasn’t been converting fans of other local supermarkets – of which there are not a wide assortment in Danville – to Lidl regulars.

lidl-interior

My visit earlier this month was either the ideal time for encountering little in-store traffic… or a portend of problems to come: There were very few shoppers, at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon. But the good news is, for Lidl, many of the few were loading carts with well over $100 in merchandise. That’s four to five times what a press report a few months ago said the average Lidl ‘buy’ was.

I like Lidl. It employs some clever time- and cost-savers such as price-labeling your own bakery and produce items. (Walmart’s self-checkouts require one to try to figure out how some produce items are listed in the system – corn, peppers, and chilies can be problematic  — or enter the PLU code. The latter often are as hard to locate as the product-look-up system is to navigate. Not so at Lidl.

A few months ago, writing in Forbes, noted retail analyst Walter Loeb  wondered why, rather than spreading stores from New Jersey to Georgia, Lidl hasn’t focused on a more condensed area and positioned stores closer together. The current scatter-shop positioning, he noted, makes it hard for any store to have more than a very local impact.

Well, the company recently appointed a new head of the US operation, a 15-year veteran of Lidl, and he’ll no doubt put that experience to good use getting Lidl USA back on the track envisioned by envisioned by Klaus Gehrig, director of the Schwarz-Group, which owns Lidl.

On average, competitors have lowered prices more than 9% in markets where Lidl sets up shop. That suggests US consumers have every reason to hope Schwarz-Group becomes more profitable thanks to Lidl USA.

 

Developments concerning food — from research to farm to factory to restaurants and home.