Monday, July 30, 2018

Four Tips for a Great Trip to the Lake

One of my favorite all-time phrases is “the lake.”

I grew up in northern Minnesota, where “the lake” was often just a short walk from your back door. We had so many lakes around us, we only had to use their first names (omitting “lake”) and everyone knew what you were talking about. “Whacha doin’ this weekend?” “Goin’ to Basswood.”

When I moved to Minneapolis, where the lakes were a little farther away, the conversation changed only slightly. “Are you going out to the lake this weekend?” “Yep, as soon as I can ditch work and load up the car, we’re heading to the lake.” Here, the name a specific lake was not needed. It was enough that you were getting out of the city and driving to any lake.

Now I live in central Illinois, where we have a lot of small, muddy rivers, but very few real lakes. Sadly, any decent-sized lake within a 2-hour drive of here is generally jam-packed and accommodations are expensive. So now, when we go to the lake, it usually means a 9-hour drive north to the lake I grew up on. Translation: it takes a lot more time and planning to ensure that we have a great trip. Sure, I miss the old days when I could run down the hill and jump right into the lake. But I’m also grateful for the gorgeous days I do get to spend on those clear, rocky lakes surrounded by pines.

Having made the “trip to the lake” so many times now, I’d like to offer you a few “I wish I’d thought of that sooner” tips to help you make the most of both your journey and your destination, especially if you’re on a tight budget like we are.

Step 1: Make sure you have the right clothes and shoes. You’re going to need things you probably don’t use every day at home, like footwear that you can hike down rock trails on, wade into lakes in, and then hike back out in. Sure, you’ll wear those sequin-strapped flip-flops out to a restaurant at night, but they aren’t going to stand up to the rigors of life at the lake. Two swimsuits, lots of shorts and t-shirts (trust me, you’ll wear more than one a day), a big beach towel, and you’ll be good to go. Look for quick-drying fabrics that will be comfortable in the hot sun, like ripstop nylon khaki shorts (not black) and Under Armour or similar lightweight, quick drying tee shirts.

Step 2: Make sure the car is in good shape. The lake is generally quite a few miles from the nearest auto parts shop, so now’s the time to get new windshield wipers if you need them and make sure you’re up-to-date on basis maintenance like oil change, tire rotation, and the like.

Step 3: Prepare the cooler. Be sure to choose a cooler suitable for multiple purposes: for snacks and drinks during your long drive to the lake and back, to carry picnic supplies to the beach or out on a boat, and also to pack home any fish you catch or other goodies. On our drive to the lake, we pass a shop that makes the world’s best caramel rolls, so we always buy a dozen, freeze them at my folks’ house, and bring them home in our cooler.

Step 4: Pack plenty of bug spray and bite-relief products. Choose one of the “dry” sprays, like Deep Woods Off! Dry. If your mosquito bites turn into welts and drive you crazy with itching like mine do, also pack Benadryl tablets and Benadryl spray. Do not skimp on these two things.

You can thank me later.

Five Must-Haves for Aging Athletes (40+)

I bet you were a total jock in your teens and twenties, am I right? Lettered in high school, played multiple sports, participated in rec. league softball or volleyball for a while after college. These days, you have to pay to belong to a gym, though you may not make it there as often as you’d like. Maybe you've even taken up a new activity, such as aerial yoga or golf or (haha) home maintenance and repair. Most importantly, you have the aching joints to prove it. Sound familiar? Then you are sure to love at least one of the products I’m about to recommend.
First off, if you haven’t heard of Biofreeze cold therapy pain relief spray, you need to go get yourself a bottle. This stuff is head and shoulders above the old Icy Hot and BenGay creams that we used in the past. It comes in a 360-degree spray, so you can hit that aching spot under your left shoulder blade and your hands don’t get all smelly. If you’re having trouble falling asleep because some part of you is aching, this stuff will give you some quick pain relief. It’s not going to replace a good dose of Advil, but it can definitely help relieve muscle pain.
Second, if you’re still using ziplock bags of ice cubes on your aching knee, it’s time to switch to refreezable, flexible ice packs. Wal-Mart Equate is the brand of choice in our household, and we have at least four of them in different sizes in our freezer right now. Whether it’s lower back pain or that old broken ankle that’s feeling achy, 20 minutes of ice while you catch up on your DVR backlog should do the trick.
Item number three is probably my favorite: the foam roller. In the past few years I’ve noticed a lot more people using these for self-massage, formally known as self-myofascial release, to release muscle tightness in the back and legs. My husband’s knee pain has gone away since he learned to roll out his IT band (which runs down the outside of the thigh). I use my foam roller on my upper back to counteract the tension created by working on a laptop all day. If you get one of these to use at home, and you don’t have thick carpeting, I recommend getting an extra-thick yoga mat as well.
This next item is a little more expensive, but if you’ve given up lounging outside because you can’t get comfortable in those collapsible sling chairs that everyone uses nowadays, you need to check out this one. It’s called the Gaffer’s Portable Recliner. The back is adjustable to three positions, there’s a removable foot rest so you can recline or just sit with your feet up, plus there’s a fully adjustable umbrella to keep the sun out of your eyes. Did I mention the insulated armrest pocket that keeps up to four drinks chilled? But if you’re looking to go one better on back support, check out a zero gravity lounger (preferably in the XL size).
Finally, if you have plantar fasciitis or other types of foot or leg pain, I have found an online store that sells a great variety of specialized products for foot care, with very reasonable prices. It’s called Footsmart, and they carry products ranging from stretching devices to ice packs shaped to stay on difficult spots like shins and heels. One good thing about a specialized shop like this is the product reviews. I figure, if someone has gone to the trouble of seeing out a web retailer that specializes in a particular area like foot care, that reviewer is probably more knowledgeable about the subject than someone posting a product review on a more generalized site like Amazon.
So there you have it: my five favorite product discoveries for aging athletes. Try one today!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

10 reasons we’ve fallen for the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt

26-year-old J.J. Watt is an All-American dream: a Wisconsin native who played football for the Wisconsin Badgers and since 2011 has been a top defenseman for the Houston Texans. Here are our top 10 reasons for loving what’s Watt.

1.  His mega-Watt good looks. Just look at him in this video when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, especially when he winks at 1:17. His smile can melt you like chocolate in the sun. And if we ask our own guy to start using Axe, it might just be because J.J. promoted it.

2.  His 6’5” height and 290 pounds of brawn. Women love to wear heels and still have a man tower over them like a pillar of strength. J.J. is more than just a pillar—he’s a whole cathedral! And, standing next to him will never make your butt look big.

3. His biggest muscle may be his heart. The J.J. Watt Foundation has given over $1 million to middle school sports programs in Wisconsin and Texas. J.J. also gives his time and attention to a variety of other causes, including visiting hospitalized children, speaking to youth sports programs, and once sending pizza to the Houston fire and police departments in honor of Salute to Service day.

4.  His mental intensity. We find his intensity both motivational and sexy. When J.J. steps on the gas pedal, he floors it—and beyond, because he seems to have an extra gear that most people lack. “I’m a real nice guy off the field. But when it comes time to play the game, when I go into that tunnel, I go from man to monster … that’s when I go into beast mode.” It’s that mental intensity in combination with his explosive physicality that has earned him nicknames like “the wrecking machine” and “the human freight train.”

5. He makes good choices. Many pro athletes are stars on the field, but act like thugs, criminals, or spoiled jerks off the field. J.J., on the other hand, surrounds himself with good people and stays on the straight and narrow. He credits his parents for bringing him up right and it shows, from the way he offers a hand up to the quarterback he just sacked to the way he treats fans. When he talks to young athletes, he urges them to take the right road and make right decisions, especially when other people are trying to tell you that it’s not cool to do the right thing.

6. His relentless work ethic. In response to questions about his lack of a personal life, J.J. responded, “I have a limited amount of time to build a career out of football. When I get done with football, then I can relax and drink as many beers as I want and hang out and be a regular guy. Right now, I am a football player and I will sacrifice whatever is necessary to be the best.” When he’s done with football and ready to start a family, he’s sure to give that same dedication and devotion to his wife and kids.

7.  His humility. When J.J. talks, his words consistently ring true and humble. In interviews and award speeches, J.J. gives credit to everyone from his elementary school teachers to the team cafeteria staff. When asked how he felt about not playing in the first pre-season game in 2015, he replied sincerely, “Whatever’s best for the team, I’m always going to do … I’m completely on board.” The arrogance that might be expected from a $100 million contract holder just never got a hold on J.J.—maybe because he’s too busy working out.

8.  His athleticism on and off the field. J.J. is thrilling to watch on the field because he often does the unexpected. He’s the first NFL defensive lineman since 1944 to have at least five touchdowns in a season, and the first to do it with three offensive and two defensive scores. He’s also the first player in NFL history to make 20 or more sacks in two different seasons. His ability to bat down passes—a total of 33 in the past three seasons—earned him the nickname J.J. Swatt. Not only is he an incredibly versatile player on the field, he demonstrates amazing athleticism off the field as well. Not many near-300-pound guys can do a 6’1” standing box jump!

9. His sense of humor. As the NFL YouTube channel puts it, “J.J. Watt is as entertaining on the mic as he is intimidating on the field.” Some of his on-field quotes include, “I’m beating these guys like a drum out here!” and “It ain’t pattycake! Let’s go!” In one interview, he admitted that his choice for a karaoke song would be “Call Me Maybe” and that his favorite TV character was Tommy Pickles from Rugrats.

10. His ability to pump up everyone around him. In the huddle, we’ve heard him say, “How many times in your life do you have 80,000 people and you’re the volume knob? We need to turn it up! Let’s turn it up!” He’s constantly yelling “woo!” on the field, to the point that in one game he laughingly announced, “I have woo’ed myself out. I am tired just from woo’ing.” He’s not just doing it to draw attention to himself, he’s really focused on amping up his teammates and winning games. Need some daily motivation? Follow him on Twitter at @JJWatt.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Kitchen at Squaw Bay (circa 1975)

“Sah-hah! Va-LEER-rie!” Laurette, our French-accented morning cook, calls up from the commercial kitchen on the lower floor of the lodge, summoning me and my little sister Sarah down the back staircase to pick up our breakfast on one of the silver waitress trays. We live in an apartment above the guest dining room and lounge, but we’re still in our PJs at 8 am. We’re 11 and 7 and know better than to go downstairs until we’re dressed. It’s pancake day, and Laurette will have my stack of three looking like islands in a plate-lake of syrup, just the way I like them. I like the bacon to get all syrupy, too. One of the kitchen girls will have poured us our preferred glasses of 2% milk and Tang.

You see, from mid-May to mid-September, our lives are pretty much dictated by the schedule of the resort my parents own and operate in northeastern Minnesota. The dockboys eat first, at 6:30, then head down to the lake to load minnow buckets, fill gas tanks and launch fishing parties. Guests have their breakfast between 7 and 9. The crew has lunch at noon and dinner at 5, and the guests eat between 6 and 8. The breakfast rotation is equally fixed: pancakes, French toast, eggs, pancakes, French toast, eggs. We pretty much stay on this schedule all year-round; my mom says keeping a regular schedule is good for kids. We've lived here since I was 9 months old, so it's imprinted on my soul now.

We had a babysitter until Sarah turned six, but now we’re on our own. If we’re not up by 9 when the kitchen closes, we have to fix our own breakfast. We have a kitchen in our upstairs apartment, where mom feeds us in the winter. But in the summer the normal-sized upstairs fridge and cupboards are mostly empty. To get a glass of milk, we have to go down to the big six-doored, white porcelain-coated monster downstairs, with shiny steel latch handles that remind me of an old-fashioned icebox. All our cereal and bread and stuff is downstairs, too.

Laurette arrives at 6 every morning in the summer, beating even my mom to work. She rules the kitchen with a wood-handled steel spatula that shines like new -- the kitchen girls keep it that way by scouring it with Comet and SOS pads – or else! Her work ethic was drilled into her by the nuns at the Belgian convent where she grew up and I hear their voices behind hers when she scolds the girls for spilling, “Don’t rush! Slow down! You just make a mess!” She commands the cook's side of the kitchen which is dominated by the massive gas range with its six cast-iron burners and flat iron grill. One of her first tasks every morning is to snick a wooden match on the cast-iron to light the grill, dropping the blackened match into the match can that sits on the stainless steel shelf that runs the length of the wall above the range. That shelf never holds anything else, until Laurette puts a fresh stack of our heavy white plates up there to warm. On pancake and French toast days, the next thing Laurette does is make the syrup, boiling brown sugar, white sugar, and maple flavoring in a steel pot.

The kitchen girls are in charge of the other side of the kitchen, divided from the cook’s area by a center counter where they load trays to carry into the dining room. On the wall opposite the stove are the three stainless steel sinks, the beast of a dishwasher, and rows of open wooden shelves painted light gray for the dishes. Two or three girls come in every morning at 6:30 to pour glasses of juice and make up bowls of butter pats by muscling a set of wired steel plates through a one-pound block of butter.

On pancake days, Laurette mixes up our special resort recipe with flour, eggs, sugar, and buttermilk in the unmovable white Kitchenaid that sits on the big butcher block island. The island sits at one end of the center counter that divides the cooking and dishwashing areas, and its surface is rarely empty except when its being scrubbed. Later in the day, this is where bread dough is panned, desserts and salads are assembled, and carrots and potatoes are peeled. In the mornings, its where the kitchen girls assemble the shore lunch boxes for the fishermen each morning, making up bags of potatoes and onions chopped and ready to fry, a lump of lard, breading for the fish, Bush’s baked beans, sandwiches just in case, and our scratch-baked cookies. Laurette’s husband, Richard, is one of our fishing guides, so he’ll be in shortly to pick up his box.

Laurette is usually gone by 9 am, leaving the kitchen girls to finish the dishes and then sweep the floors clean before they head out. Her daughter Vicky – Cookie, to me--is our supper cook and she arrives around 11 to bake bread and desserts and prepare for the dinner meal. I sometimes hang around the kitchen in the afternoon, begging scraps of cookie, pie, and bread dough to make my own little creations in toy-sized pans. Cinnamon-sugar pie crust is a favorite, and nothing beats fresh bread hot from the oven. If I have nothing better to do, I can usually coax the cook into a hand of gin rummy once everything’s in the oven. We sit at the big round table in the crew eating area between the kitchen and the store room, with the same chrome chairs with chartreuse vinyl seats that are used in the guest dining room. It has a big window from which I can watch the pool and swingset, keeping an eye out for possible playmates. Around three I can hike out to the mailbox at the end of the driveway and bring back the mail, which usually includes magazines and catalogs, my lifeline to the world beyond our small town (population: 5126).

Once the kitchen crew arrives at 5:30 pm, there’s no more hanging around the kitchen. It’s back outside or up to the apartment to play veerrry quietly so as not to draw the wrath of Dad if he (and thus the guests) can hear us downstairs. We usually watch something on the new 20” color TV in the evenings: One Day at a Time, The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, The Six Million Dollar Man. Once we’re back in our PJs, there’s no more going downstairs. Thankfully, the kitchen girls can always be counted on to fetch us a dish of ice cream in one of our fancy glass sundae dishes with little silver-plated ice cream spoons, or a Coke and a Hershey bar. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Watching TV Sports with Val

Watching TV Sports with Val
I enjoy watching sports on TV with my husband, Bob. I just have a little different approach to my viewing than some people. 

I usually start by commenting on what the players are wearing. For example, have you seen the team that dresses like bumblebees? Embarassing! And some teams dress in such hideous-o colors that I feel sorry for them. And I don't always understand what they're wearing. Like, why do they let the players wear all different colored shoes?  The neon shoes are quite distracting.  I think they should all be made to wear the same plain white or black shoes. And why is that basketball player wearing Under Armour long johns under his shorts?  Wouldn’t that make him hot? Bob has no answer for this.  I’ll have to Google that, I’ll say. Even if he did have an answer, chances are  I’d probably still Google it, which often causes Bob to mutter under his breath, "Why doesn’t she just trust me?" In case you’re curious, GQ actually had a good answer for that question, you should Google it. I fecking love the Interwebs.

Once I’m done with my apparel review, I often turn to the mascots. The other night we were watching the Michigan State Spartans play.  At first, because of their logo, I thought they were the Trojans.  I mean, the helmeted warrior guy is kind of similar, no?  Bob said no, they’re from two different towns.  Where is Michigan State located, I asked?  He gave me a “look.”  Oh, you mean Troy and Sparta are different towns. Like, one’s in Italy and one’s in Greece, right? He gave me another “look.”  (You can pretty much assume there’s a “look” that follows each of my questions. This will save us all some time.)  They’re both in Greece, he informed me.  Oh, of course, Helen of Troy was Greek, riiiight.  In my head, though, I’m still thinking, "I’ll need to Google that later." BTW, while researching this, I learned that there’s a Sparta High School in Sparta, Missouri, and they are called … wait for it … the Trojans.  Apparently the school principal gets asked about this a LOT.  Anyway, if you look at the mascots for the Spartans and the USC Trojans, they’re practically identical.

Then, there’s always the question of whom to root for.  For example, when the Maryland Terrapins were playing the Michigan State Spartans, I immediately rooted against Maryland for several reasons. One, they were my alma mater Duke’s rival in the ACC and two, I think a turtle is a dumb mascot even if you try to give it a fancy name like terrapin.  A turtle’s not very scary.  Unless it’s a snapping turtle.  Is a terrapin a scary snapping turtle?  I’ll have to Google that.  Later.

I particularly enjoy asking questions about game rules and penalties.  For example, during a recent basketball game: Did that guy just flop?  (Yes, we watched some of the World Cup Soccer last summer.)  Why is the ref yelling?  Is he telling the guy to quit being such a pussy and get up and play? You know, the “no blood, no foul” rule? "That guy was tripped," Bob patiently explained. "The ref is calling a tripping penalty."  I do actually understand quite a bit about basketball, having played on the Fall Lake team in fifth grade intramurals.  Football, not so much, having grown up in the era before girls played that.  Although there was this thing called Powder Puff Football.  Is it sexist to even say that these days?  Anyway, I spent my high school years playing drums in the pep band, not paying much attention to the rules of football. My football watching runs more to comments like “whoooaa, that had to hurt” and making fun of the players’ names and hair, and wondering if the players’ wives ever joke about the guys’ panty lines in their tight uniform pants.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Squaw Bay … Do you remember … ?

Saving bones for the dogs

The employees’ lounge and the TV (that weren’t!)

Writing on the calendar when Jerry got up for the butter

Splitting a roll or a donut

Saunas after work

Too-early  mornings

Tracy getting lost in the fog while driving her boat to work

Waterskiing with Floridian Roger Smith and his awesome boat and slalom ski (and he could barefoot)

Scrubbing the black rubber floor mats and the kitchen floor on Saturday mornings, kneeling on towels with our buckets and scrub brushes and towels

Splitting tips

Baseball games after work

The tire tracks left on the front lawn late one night

The high turnover rate of dockboys like Hobs and Bill Bunney

Laurette’s pet peeve: poached eggs

The excuse list

The Harlequin romance novel we started about Tanner and Tiffany

Making relish trays – usually with one too many olives

Zapping rolls and defrosting cookies in that high-tech Amana RadarRange

Setting aside empty milk cartons (paper cartons!) so we could fill them in an emergency situation
 (like when Joe was coming and we had nothing else to do, or when we wanted to see one of the dockboys)

Mixing Kool-Aid:  how many cups of water?  Do I add sugar?

Having Bobbi predict our futures with cards

Finding Butch  (Even I don’t remember what this was about any more!)

The Quartzite Trip:  In 1962, Deeter Moss was a puke.  (Mr. Drechsler, I think, gave me this to read from the high school library.  Wasn’t this book later banned or parts removed from the library?)

Making bar runs to ogle certain guys

Si and the Boys from Chicago. Allens. Smiths. The Germans from Chicago: Heinz, Walter, the 
Winters; Norths, Bevers, and Brewers from Iowa. DeFiores (Vince, the twins).  So  many others!

Extras, reggies, lunchies, and extra-extras.

Electricity outages which required the dockboys to bring up garbage cans of water from the lake

Saving labels for Doris Hautela’s refunding and cans for Laurette

The fire rules, written after a fire started in the “match can” where the cooks put the used matches after lighting the gas range..  #1: Squeeze a wash rag over it.  #2: Go for the baking soda. #3: Drop it 
in the dish water.  #4: Panic.  #5: Call the Fire Department.

Rocky vacuuming

Crew party at Laurette’s

Cookie’s (Vicki Wagner) all-time best excuse for being late to work:  Luke got a piece of candy stuck up his nose.

Carol’s favorite (disappearing) paring knives.  Pronounced Ka-niff-ees.

Breakfast trays for lazy live-ins

RV Maki’s guiding stories

The dishwasher that fell off its stand … a lot!

Washing windows.  Wearing letter jackets in August in those cool mornings!

Wiping shelves, wiping bases, wiping up after messy babies

Emptying – and forgetting to empty! – the pan below the dishwasher and the water can in the fridge

Beating the dishwasher  … Having another tray ready to go in before the last load was finished

Those lousy, rag-stealing waitresses

Rubber gloves: Carol’s pretty pink, Clare’s forever springing holes, gross green ones, trying to keep a matched pair

The space cadet wings

Emptying coffee grounds

Practical jokes: siphoning the milk out of Val’s cereal, giving her “Tracy-made” red Kool-Aid (from 
the relish tray beets jar), and water with vinegar in it

Glasses of ice water and half-eaten cookies on the window sills

The arrival of the Squaw Bay jackets (royal blue baseball-style)

Bobbi’s boyfriend John helping out in the kitchen

Serving coffee to Joe and Deputy Dave (who was also our Avon Lady)

RV’s bleary-eyed mornings

Richard coming home drunk from a fishing trip and Laurette saying, “I thought Larry didn’t drink any more.” And Richard replying in a slight slur, “Larry doesn’t drink, but his brudder does.”

The “divorcees” with the little girl who wanted to catch a fish for her friend Susie.  The mom asked, “Who?”  “You know, I brought her home for Christmas.”

The giant jig for the stuffed fish in the dining room

Jean Pipho subbing for Bobbi and keeping the plates in the steam table – ouch!

Laurette’s pancake spatula, which had to be shined to perfection

Si the Chicago fireman coming into the kitchen to hassle Laurette, and Laurette chasing him with a butcher knife

Packing shore lunches with a zip-lock bag of lard from a barrel, plus homemade sandwiches, potatoes ready to fry up, and just-in-case sandwiches

Sweeping the garage

Laurette polishing the floor in the bar with that old floor polishing machine.

The Hoky floor sweeper 

Wishing those lingering breakfast or supper people would leave already so we could vacuum the dining room

The dockboys who were "special" enough to be trusted running Joe's riding mower or running the portage

A freezer full of fish wrapped in white freezer paper with labels in black Sharpie marker

The health inspector’s on his way … move the dog dishes out of the kitchen! 

Not old enough to serve alcohol?  That’s a rule?

Bobbi Pipho Ellenberg’s additions:
Laurette trying to teach me and others how to use the floor polishing machine.  I think the machine won most of the time as it practically swung me around the bar. 

Laurette asking, “ how do they want their heggs”.  I still often refer to eggs as heggs and have to be careful not to do that when ordering in a restaurant.  Makes me think of our dear Laurette every time. 

Another Laurette-ism that I still use often is referring to anything vanilla as wanilla.  Once again, makes me remember Laurette.

I remember you (Val) climbing into the kitchen sink cupboard (upstairs) where the laundry chute was located.

I remember you and Sarah taking the bunnies for walks on leashes and the two of you commenting on how much they liked it (I think you may have been just plain wrong on that one).

The Vicky, Val and Sarah Style Show that happened every year after your school shopping trip (with Grampa Skala, in uluth) was always a fall spectacular!  The three of you darling girls parading down the stairs to show off your new clothes for anyone who was in the kitchen at the time.

Bowsie eating chocolate bars in the bar.

Sleeping in the girls cabin when we worked late and had to be back at the crack of dawn—usually with Barb Reinhardt.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Basic Shopper Metrics Help Innovators Understand a New Product’s Place in the Retail Shopping Landscape

Anyone who has taken a new CPG product through concept testing and launch will be familiar with basic measures of new product success like Trial Rate – the percent of consumers who found the product offer appealing enough to try it and Repeat Rate – the percent of triers who were satisfied enough with the product’s performance to buy it again.

Now, with the rising importance of understanding the shopper as well as the consumer, innovators have a new set of basic shopping metrics to learn. Just as an architect needs to make a new building fit into the existing landscape of roads, buildings, and green space, innovators need to understand how their new product fits within the “landscape” of the retail shopping experience. In addition, just as the architect needs to satisfy design requirements both emotional (such as a warm and welcoming entrance) and quantitative (such as rooms with specific measurements), innovators need to understand the shopper emotions* associated with high versus low values of the new shopping metrics.

Here are three basic shopping metrics that provide valuable guidance for new product designers.

· Predetermination. This is the % of shoppers who know what category, brand, and SKU they’re going to buy before they even enter the store.

o In some categories, the purchase decision is often predetermined right down to the specific SKU and number of units bought. For example, when she buys milk, Mary always buys one gallon of Dean’s fat-free.

o In other categories, shoppers are more likely to enter the store with the general category on their list, but will select the specific brand, SKU, and quantity after examining the available assortment. For example, when visiting the cereal aisle, Sue may buy anywhere from 1 to 4 boxes, selecting from a consideration set of 10 different brands, with multiple factors impacting her choice such as sales, coupons, what varieties she bought last time, and what is still in the pantry.

The level of predetermination tells us several things about the shopper’s mindset, such as whether category shoppers are more likely to be on a finding mission or a selecting mission and also the extent to which the shopper is likely to notice and be influenced by in-store marketing.

o Mary buying milk is on a finding mission and needs only a few visual cues to navigate to the milk case, the fat-free variety, and the Dean’s brand; she is likely to block out everything else in the vicinity. Emotionally, Mary wants a sense of mastery, that she can immediately find her usual products within the complexity of the store.

Research Tip: Eye-tracking research is key to determine the specific visual cues used to find the best-selling products in the category, so that you can make sure your new product has its own unique “finding” cues.

o Sue buying cereal is on a selecting mission and is more likely to notice new products, displays, sale price signs, and at-the-shelf coupons. Emotionally, selecting can become a sport, where the shopper is looking for a win.

· Category familiarity. This is defined by the combination of two metrics: % household penetration and annual purchase frequency.

o The more widespread a product’s usage is, and the more often it is replenished (e.g., milk), the more likely shoppers are to know about all of the available options and to now shop the category on “auto-pilot,” blocking out in-store marketing. If you want to interrupt the auto-pilot, you generally need to do it outside the store.

o The less familiar the category, the more information the consumer is likely to seek, and the more assistance she needs to differentiate among options. The shopper is likely to feel insecure and seek the reassurance and safety of a well-known brand name or a trusted endorser, or, lacking that, she’s likely to choose the product with the best explanation of its features and benefits. If frustrated in determining the optimal product for her needs, she may resort to choosing on price or even delay her purchase.

· Category complexity. This is defined by four numbers, typically obtained from syndicated retail sales data: the number of unique SKUs carried in a typical store; the % of SKUs that are new each year; the absolute number of unique product attributes available, such as brands, forms, flavors, colors, scents, active ingredients, package types, sizes, and price/quality tiers; and the number of highly technical attributes which are harder to understand and compare, as in health care categories and functional foods. The more complex the category, the more time a shopper generally spends on both finding and selecting, making these categories prime targets for in-store marketing investments.

o In a category with high variety complexity -- even one with high familiarity, such as canned soup -- the shopper can easily become frustrated in even the most basic finding mission. Such categories present an opportunity to improve shop-ability (leading to higher sales) and to better satisfy the shopper’s emotional need for mastery (leading to higher brand and retailer loyalty). The Campbell’s Soup IQ Mazimizer is a success story in this regard, as is their new soup label design.

o In categories with high technical complexity and low familiarity – such as many health and personal care categories – the brand with the clearest story that most strongly taps into a shopper’s emotional needs is most likely to win. Remember that you have only seconds to tell your story at the shelf, so your package’s text and imagery are crucial.

o Categories with lower complexity are often ripe for innovation in packaging and marketing. Think about how you could tap into the shopper’s emotional needs for connection with family and friends, for playtime, for self-creation.

When you put these three metrics together, you have a good starting point for understanding the landscape of a category.



Package fronts need to address the questions a shopper needs answered in order to make her purchase decision. For example, when buying cold medicine, the symptoms treated and the number of days of relief in the package are critical facts to the shopper. When buying family meal components, the shopper really wants to know the number of servings in the package and perhaps the prep time. How do you figure out which features are driving purchase decisions? In-store shopper observation and interviewing is the place to start, because you need to see how much time the shopper spends reading package information, what parts of the package they look at, and then capture their thoughts immediately. You get the most realistic results by talking to real shoppers in real stores. Then, to test specific executions, try one of the virtual reality shopping systems offered by vendors such as Vision Critical, Red Dot Square, Fifth Dimension, and Decision Insight. For a review of the process Campbell’s Soup used to come up with their new label design, click here. (If this link doesn’t allow you to see the full article, just Google “emotional soup shopping.”)


* Credit to shopper marketing agency SaatchiX for defining mastery, security/safety, sport/competition, and connection as the most important shopper emotional needs in 2009. Less important but still in play are dreaming, self-creation, sanctuary, and playtime.