Monthly Archives: October 2013

Our standard local grocery store, Safeway, has been under a lot of pressure from the lower end of the market (Costco, Walmart, various food discounters) and the upper end (Whole Foods, local high end groceries).  In response it looks like they have attempted to adopt a similar strategy to another grocery, Trader Joe’s.  If you haven’t been to a Trader Joe’s, they are a smaller store that has fewer options and the options they have tend to be branded under the Trader Joe name.  This means that they receive any brand premium, though likely smaller, that standard brands do by packaging and advertising. There is also what can be thought of as a separate store brand premium from the high percentage of items in the store that share the store’s brand.  You can expect to find breakfast cereal and say pickles branded under the same store brand.

Safeway has either observed this or independently arrived at it and is pushing more Safeway branded items into their stores.  It is observable as a customer in changes that pop up on shelf space where Safeway items suddenly appear and take up prime locations pushing down and out national food\grocery product brand options.  The Safeway products compete on the low end of the price range for comparable options. They should presumably yield a decent profit since they eliminate the major middleman who, because of the brand premium, is capturing an important piece of pie of the revenue received for the sale. The major failure of this so far has been that the products are terrible.

At Trader Joe’s, the products that you get under the Trader Joe brand are anywhere from pretty good to better than comparable for national brands.  For example, we like their pickles more than we like the comparable national brands.  Their soups are pretty good. Maybe not quite comparable, that would be hard to say, but certainly not different enough that we care.  Safeway brand items on the other hand have been uniformly terrible.  The worst part for them as a brand is that the price point will cause you to give them a try, particularly for things you don’t have a strong feeling about, but the product experience is so bad you are pretty much done at that point.   We’ve tried several products, though separated by a fair amount of time to allow the lingering bad perception to diminish but arrived at a point due to uniform bad experience across the products where the Safeway branded products just don’t exist for us any more as an option. I realized this the other day  when I went into one of their sections where they have taken over at least a third, maybe more, of the available shelf space for their brand and I just blanked that section out.  This was the exact same way I blank out a lot of unwanted advertising by just blipping over it.  I kind of figure that we are probably not normal in having given more than one of their products a try before banishing the entire brand to the dustbin.  I suspect that many people may be lured to try one based on price point but then fast forward to the dustbin part if their experience is anything like ours. Having achieved one of the more difficult things out there, getting people to try your product, you make sure that they won’t be back.  I had always been aware that it was possible to have a negative brand perception for a particular product but I hadn’t thought much about it extending to every product associated with your brand.

I suppose I can imagine that we are an outlier and that there are sufficient people for whom the Safeway branded products are of sufficient quality that they will go with them and continue to purchase them.  Perhaps there is so much profit in their own branded product or that the mix of variables that is impacted because of the strategy produces results that I wouldn’t expect on the face of it.  Intuitively this seems unlikely but I have to be aware that our bad experiences have biased me towards wanting to see the strategy fail.

As a fan of The Walking Dead, one thing that I find myself focusing on is why the survivors that have banded together haven’t come up with more effective means for killing zombies on a much larger scale.  One of the constants of human development has been developing new and ever better means for killing. That inventiveness needs to be put to use. Given that roaming zombies and packs of zombies represent the most significant risk to the survivors continued existence and given that new zombies continue to show up, a fair amount of energy should be devoted to developing innovations in zombie killing.  The parameters that you need to solve for are:

  • Minimize danger to survivors in the implementation, maintenance, and functioning of the solution
  • The solution should function regardless of whether there is one zombie or numerous zombies
  • The solution should function automatically; you need to be culling the pack even when survivors are resting or engaged in other tasks
  • The solution should address all the zombie bodies that will result from operation
  • Better solutions should not rely on preapocalypse engines which may suffer from unrepairable breakdown or loss of fuel
  • Better solutions should kill the zombies as opposed to various forms of incapacitation. For Walking Dead zombies, this involves a sufficient injury to the brain
  • Better solutions should be more portable; in case you have to abandon a location

So what is your design for a ZTM?


A Google search for pathologize yields the following definition:

regard or treat (someone or something) as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy.
I heard this word used recently for the first time. It occurred to me somewhat later that based on the definition, pathologizing might be the base state of people.  To one degree or another everybody else is abnormal where normal is defined by the single sample you have of yourself.  People that share a lot of our attributes seem closer to normal.  We receive external clues about normality but I wonder if we ever really think of ourselves as abnormal. It seems as though you’d retain your sense of being normal while somehow consciously or unconsciously being aware that there were varying (possibly large) numbers of people who were abnormal.  If true, that world seems like it would be a strange and arbitrary place.

It seems to me that everyone should have a tool in their mental toolkit to the effect of “but what would they say if they weren’t telling the truth or the right story?”. For example, in the sports world you have someone accused of juicing. The innocent person will say that they didn’t juice, that they are upset by the allegation, and that they intend to fight to clear their good name. This is also precisely what the guilty person will say.  I’m often surprised when people speak as though there is a lot of information that comes from someone having said something.  Realistically, if there is any incentive at all, you can pretty much count on hearing the best or innocent statement regardless of what actually happened.  Perhaps this is a minor tool that many would consider obvious. My thinking is that for something that is obvious, I sure see a lot of examples of the tool not being used.