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August 17, 2005

First Post: On "Food Solutions"

Adrian, Freddie, Johnnie, and Max have invited me to make the odd post to this interesting blog. 173 Drury Lane (named after the first and original address of Sainsbury store).

This is a blog that set out to have the smartest conversation about Sainsbury and the UK retail landscape. Give it a few months and RetailWeek may be sniffing around for stories. I know that if I worked at J Sainsbury in a marketing position I would make damned sure i was subscribing. Its not a hate site, its something far more valuable than that.

Some passionate people that understand the new marketing are putting their tuppence worth in.

There are some good ideas here.

Anyway - time for an admission. My first post is remixed from own blog, Monkchips, rather than being completely "fresh produce". But in general i will post one the odd occasion that something UK retail strikes me. Good thing probably; its not as if Monkchips readers are mostly in the UK, or interested in groceries.

So What about Food Solutions? What can a retailer learn from the mistakes of technology marketers?

I went into Tesco and it was selling "food solutions". Weird that.

When I noticed the fridge compartment labeled "organic food solutions" I had to look twice. What on earth were they thinking? Since when did the language of food become so scientific, and why organic food in particular? I mentioned this to my wife when we got home and she pointed out the store also had an aisle labeled "meat solutions". Is that really what we're looking for in the new century? Is this "progress"?

We went to a different shop than usual because we just moved to a new flat. The solutions grocer is Tesco, the darling of UK retailing, and the scourge of many a small farmer. We usually go to Sainsbury, which has warmer corporate colors and Jamie Oliver on the advertising payroll.

I prefer a store that wants to sell me food rather than "solutions". Food is processed enough already. Its like Jamie - ripping up herbs because cutting them with a knife is a little sterile….

I am an IT industry analyst and my wife is in high tech PR so perhaps we have just been overexposed to the word "solution". But as far as I am concerned a solution is what you prepare in a test tube in chemistry class, or when you do the crossword.

I suppose Tesco's point is that food is a hassle, it’s a problem that requires a solution. But what about the joy of food? In IT these days everything has to be a "solution" - just look at any IT press release. But is the word meaningful or just lazy marketing?

A magazine some pals used to work on, Network Week, had a house style that barred "solution" from news stories and features. Revolutionary stuff- respect to Maxwell Cooter!

Banning the word is a good exercise for any analyst, marketer, merchandizer or writer. Try it some time. It makes you think about what you're trying to communicate.

Call me old fashioned but I will stick to Sainsbury's for convenience, to my local Kurdish Costcutter for Mediterranean vegetables, yoghurt and sundries, and to foodie heaven, Borough Market, for fresh fish and other goodies when I can find time. Oh yeah -  A new one is the wonderful Stoke Newington Fresh and Wild cluster. Fresh and Wild is ok--I wish so much of the food wasn't imported thousands of miles. But what makes the journey to Church Street worthwhile is the Saturday organic market directly across the road from F&W that only sells food grown within 100 miles of London. Got some lovely fish there Saturday.

I am not looking for a solution. I am looking for good food. I can cook. I like to cook. The food I throw together in five minutes is often better than I have been served in expensive restaurants.

Next time someone pitches you a "solution" ask yourself what are they afraid of? Is this science or an illusion of science? And if you choose this "organic food solution" what are you missing out on? What nourishment? What experience?

Beware vendors bringing solutions. Get to know your own needs better, and the herbs and spices and ingredients you have in the pantry. what are your existing assets?

Say you're a business that needs to work on compliance problems. Do your IT developers have skills you aren't utilizing? Could you involve your procurement people in more purchases? Build your own Cookbook of skills and infrastructures. Why waste money on a solution from Accenture if you have the skills in house.

Sometimes of course you do need a short term solution--when your audit office comes down the corridor and says: "We have three months to achieve Freedom of Information compliance; we didn't bring you into planning before because we thought it was too complex for you to understand the business implications". Would the audit office have done that if they knew you had already worked with four divisions on a six sigma project with your outsourced business process modelling team in Hydrabad?

Buying a "solution" is often an abdication of responsibility.

Avoiding pre-packaged solutions can work well, especially if it leads to a horizontal focus on assets and services. "Solution" marketing can make this balance less clear.

I reckon it’s more interesting to apply the language of food to science than the other way around.

So ends my first screed. I will try and leave the IT stuff to Monkchips, and save my food and retail rants for 173.

Posted by James Governor on August 17, 2005 at 02:45 PM | Permalink


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Do you get Private Eye? They have a 'neologisms' column devoted to the overuse of 'solutions' - needless to say, Tesco's gets a few mentions.

I agree with you - only problems need solutions. Food isn't a problem. Eating isn't a problem - it's a pleasure.

The problem is a food shop who seems to think that cooking, eating and food in general is so tiresome, such a chore that it needs a solution.

Posted by: grumpy young woman | Jan 9, 2006 12:09:40 PM

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