What’s her number?

Today’s WSJ featured a story about the new nutritional numbering system that will assign a number from 1(nutritionally lowest) to100(the healthy jackpot) to let shoppers know whether those whole wheat crackers are truly healthy (90) or crunchy sabotage (12). Already brands that have long seemed to be healthy are getting scores that will make women’s’ eyes pop.  We were wondering, what will women be thinking when they confront the whole truth at the shelf? “Do I like that enough to eat a 14?”  “Do I make 50 my ‘do not pass below’ barrier or should it be 75?” (“Is there enough 75+ food to survive on?”)  “Do I close my eyes when I see an alarming number on my favorite cookie or do I trade off, like I do with WW points, one of those for two of that…or justify my choices with ‘at least it’s better than that” rationale?”

It’s interesting how something as specific as a number can raise more questi0ns than it answers. And what an opportunity for marketers to figure out those internal questions to make the most of their brand new healthy cereal introduction that just got panned with a 6!

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Could we live with less?

During a recent trip to Wendy’s I was struck by a sign at the register that stated “due to weather conditions in Florida tomato crops were affected. Tomatoes are by request only.”   What customer would request a bad tomato? This got me thinking. Could Wendy’s get away with losing the tomato altogether?  I cant see there being a big campaign, “the tomato is back!”   To be honest, I didn’t miss it on my burger (it’s not like we’re saying no pickles!). What would that save the company? How much must they spend on tomatoes? 

KFC’s new Double Down just omitted the bun (ok, they did use chicken as replacements). But what financial savings can be had by going bunless?  Are these just new techniques by the food industry to watch the bottom line? And the big question, will consumer’s demand more or will they be happy with less?

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Taco Bell IS a Whole Truth Brand!

I’ve been known to drive miles out of the way to find a T-Bell.  Their crunchy tacos are my guilty pleasure.  During the summer I was pregnant with the twins (during a heat wave) I squeezed myself behind the wheel of my car drove 8 miles to eat tacos in my car with the air conditioner rocking.   I called my husband and told him I had hit rock bottom.  Sure there was a T-Bell closer to my house but that one didn’t have a drive thru and I was too embarassed to heave my uber pregnant self through the door.

Anyway … Taco Bell has tackled the new year’s resolution of “I’m going to lose weight” with their new campaign Drive-Thru Diet.  While I think the execution online is clumsy and cheezy, I think they got this one right from a strategic point of view.  Women (and men) aren’t giving up fast food to lose weight (despite their Good Intentions) but they are open to making smarter decisions when they order.  I believe that these 7 menu items will be attractive to gen pop because they still feel indulgent and will do the job to fill a fast food fix.

Bottom line: Taco Bell will always stand for  7 layer, fried, gordito, triple cheesy and spicy food but they are doing the right thing by showing customers they don’t have to abandon the brand to lose weight.

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Not to steal any thunder from our upcoming book release “What She’s Not Telling You” on November ,  but I had to point out this glaring example of consumers only telling marketers half of the story.  Basically a bunch of really smart (and definitely suspicious) medical researchers decided to see if the calorie count listings in fast food restaurants were making any impact on people’s choices at the counter.  When they asked people 9 out of 10 said they had made healthier choices as a result of seeing the whopping calories next to the food they usually would order.  Really?  Really, really?

“But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect, in July 2008.”

Did you catch that?  People said they did one thing but really did another! Shocking, right?

 I love this research because it really points out the half truths we tell ourselves to protect our egos and images.  We want to eat healthy on some level but supersizing it seems like such a better choice.  Or maybe I will just get a McDonald’s salad (and add FRIED chicken to the top). That’s healthy, right?

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Kudos to Haagen-Dazs Five ice cream. So clever and yet so simple at the same time. I knew it was a home-run when out with my Mom and her old boss, a woman always dressed to the nines in Chanel suits and dripping in diamonds. We went to the fanciest restaurant in our town because she was with us and, after glancing at the wonderful dessert menu overflowing with cheesecake, gelato and double-stuffed chocolate cake she said, “lets pass, lets hit up the local grocery store, I have the perfect dessert.”  

At the A&P she picked up three different flavors of Five (one for each of us, of course) and exclaimed, “this is delicious and has to be good for you–it only has five ingredients and they’re listed right on the front of the package.” Genius. I never looked at the back of the label, I didn’t have to, Haagen-Dazs gave me permission to eat as much as I want because they know women today are reading packages and they took the hard work out of it. Never mind the calories on the back, I can see there’s no high-fructose corn syrup on the front. Bravo, you’re giving women everywhere the chance to eat ice cream minus the guilt!

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Can’t Put Jill in a Box

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Jack in the Box has a new commercial that features their frozen Tropical Smoothies drink as a solution for menopause. The fun spot, totally tongue in cheek, features a retro-styled woman in pink, crazily smiling her way through hot flashes thanks to the chilled treat. Supposedly, last night on FOX, Bill O’Reilly got all hot and bothered that menopause was even part of a commercial at all.

Chill out, Bill.

First of all, with more women turning 50 every minute, there’s a huge audience for this.

Second, women are open about the subject and they often laugh about it with friends.

Three, there’s money in attracting midlifer’s dollars–a rarity in youth-obsessed fast food marketing. (And interestingly, the many youtube raves on this spot are coming from men, so it’s a double whammy success.)

My advice to Jack in the Box? You didn’t go far enough. The spot is fun and cute, but come on–let her dump the smoothie on her head, let her create a bathtub full of them for a cool soak and at least once, let her flip out a little, smiling that eerie smile. Instead of just showing the weird shot of her cutting roses, let her rip into the Jack in the Box drive through, cut off a teenage driver, yell at the server to hurry up and  douse herself with it a la Paris Hilton’s spot for Carl’s Jr. If you want to appeal to older women with a brand known for its sarcasm, you’ve got to have a little more irreverence.

The brand knows young guys. Time to grow up (you too, Bill!)

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Today McDonald’s launched its new McCafé coffee line which includes a limited menu of espresso-based bevs.  The $100 million, multi-media campaign was featured in an Ad Age article yesterday, and it prompted me to check out the site.

The website boasts, “All the taste and quality of a coffeehouse with the convenience and price of McDonald’s.”  I’m not sure I buy into the convenience benefit, as I pass no less than two Starbucks’ for every city block, but a lower price…that’s something I can get behind. 

It couldn’t have picked a better time to launch—with everyone trying to trim the fat, it’s getting harder and harder to justify a $5 caffeine fix…twice a day.

But in this era where super-specialized drinks are the norm, I can’t help wondering if your average Starbucks customer will be able to find it within themselves to curb their verbose orders to  “small latte, please.”   When I asked my roommate, a 3-a-day Starbucks patron, if she would be willing to try it (as we are both constantly setting new budget goals…and subsequently ignoring them), she replied “I would feel snobby asking for non fat milk in McDonald’s…in Starbucks everyone has weird preferences.”

Will the low-priced options and the massive campaign be enough to convert the hard core caffeine addicts to the Golden Arches?  What do you think?

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ShopRite Rewards Families Beyond Cash Incentives

I am a reward card junky. I never get a manicure without pulling out my card (2 more to my 10th one free!) and  I carry my Cosi reward card with me every time I head out for lunch (I’ve been eating a lot of Cosi sandwiches this month!) And Jen recently turned me on to ParentingPrivileges which rewards you for shopping online at a large range of retailers. As I’m in my 32nd week of pregnancy, I have made good use of that one – from Target to Babies R Us to Destination Maternity. I have already made $25.00 on purchases. (I’m definitely shopping online more because of that program much to my husband’s chagrin!) 

But while I have always chosen the cash reward option from these cards I was happy to see that the new ShopRite loyalty program, “ShopRite Family”, is giving families more than just free giveaways.  They are also using their program to provide advice to parents on topics such as getting kids to eat more healthfully and their website includes kid friendly recipes, activities, tips to keep everyone healthy, and a message board is in the works.


Not to worry, they still have good rewards, from gift cards to entertainment offerings such as DVD rentals, movie tickets, song downloads and ringtones.  And brands like Kraft, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Kimberly-Clark, Pepsi and Unilever are taking part.While their former program focused more on kids, this program is broader in scope and gives Moms more of an incentive to stay loyal when shopping.  As a soon to be mom, that’s a reward card I’d be proud to carry.

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The Diet Food Diva


I like diet food. I’m no stranger to Skinny Cow ice cream instead of the real stuff.  I’m not afraid of Splenda sweetened anything. I feel a real pleasure when I can announce to my dinner guests that the cupcakes they are enjoying were made with a can of pureed pumpkin instead of eggs and oil.  I like clever tricks to get more for my calorie allowance.  So it was no surprise that when I discovered Hungry Girl, I felt like I had met my kindred spirit. 

Hungry Girl is kind of like a superhero for dieters.  She taste tests all new diet fare, gives reviews and teases us junkies with new product news.  She has a column on Yahoo Food and also does some writing for Weight Watchers.  One of the most rewarding features is when she suggests recipe swaps for guilty pleasures.  Today’s email newsletter shared a recipe for the Hungry Girl Whopper Stopper. This Boca Burger substitution beats Burger King’s Whopper by 520 calories and 44 grams of fat! Did you know that you can use Fiber One to make bread crumbs? That is on my to-do list.

Her blog can literally stir up a frenzy for Fiber One or the newest flavor of Vitamuffin.  Her reviews had me stalking the aisles of my local grocery store because she said that the new Special K Bliss Bars tasted like Swedish Fish candies (jury is out on that one). 

So I’m wondering, if rabid dieters are paying attention to Hungry Girl shouldn’t brands be tapping into her loyal following for insight?  At the very least are brand managers at companies like Kraft, Kellogg’s, Nabisco and McDonald’s reading her blog?  How do her messages to the masses about fake foods reconcile with the slow food and organic trends we keep hearing about? What do you think?

(I will have to say that HG recently suggested to a pasta-holic that she try heating up bean sprouts and covering them with sauce and Parmesan cheese to cure her cravings.  Even I can’t stand by that notion! )

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So Good it ‘Gurts

My relationship with Pinkberry began on shaky terms.  From what I had heard (and read in US Weekly, my ultimate reference for all things pop culture), the brand was bringing “trendy” back to the fro-yo category- one $6 cup at a time.  American Express Open has even recognized the company for creating a cultural phenomenon in just three years by offering it the highly exclusive plum card.

As a proud member of the Single-in-the City brigade, my modest budget really only allows for one “frivolous extravagance” (my father’s words, not mine) a day—and that spot is either filled by my $5 latte or, occasionally, an $8 tube of C.O. Bigelow lip gloss.  As a proud Southern girl, I was also skeptical of any glorified “sweet shop” passing off what was sure to be watered down Breyer’s at 3 times the cost.

That is until one opened right across the street from my apartment.  Drawn by curiosity (and that stubborn sweet tooth of mine), I wandered over one weekend night.  Upon entering I was hit by a wave of calm.  The air was fresh, the light was soft, the colors bright.  Everything was so…clean.  It almost resembled a laboratory—all shiny surfaces with not a sprinkle out of place.  In a haze, I stepped up to the smear-less glass panel and gazed in at the freshest fruit toppings imaginable. Candy-colored strawberries and kiwis and mangos—oh my.   

Hesitantly, I explained to the beaming employee that it was my first time, and instantly a sample of each flavor- original, green tea and coffee- was lined up in front of me and just as quickly gobbled down.  The texture was light, the flavor tangy, but when complimented with the fruit toppings (and let’s be honest—a healthy dose of chocolate chips), the result was an inexplicably addictive, perfectly pleasing sweet treat. 

The purpose of this ode to Pinkberry is to explain just how right they got it when targeting the female (or at least this female) consumer.  By reducing the flavor options and increasing the quality of toppings, combined with the unique lab-like atmosphere of the store itself, one is convinced each “frivolous” bite is just right… the right temperature, the right weight, the right amount of calories.  Starbucks did it with coffee, Pinkberry has done it with fro-yo.

And that’s where it all began.  I guess some people would call it love at first taste.  I won’t lie: it was hard in the beginning to justify a bi-weekly, and soon nightly indulgence. For this, I defer to a mantra I lived by at age 7: “When I’m a grown-up, there’ll be no one to tell me not to eat dessert for dinner.”

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April 13, 2024
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A look at an early production of WORK


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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Go There

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