Back in 1999, R&B group TLC dedicated an album to its loyal listeners for their support. The resulting body of semi-serious work was called “Fan Mail.” I’ve long been a fan of fan mail - not just the album by TLC, but fan mail itself.

Fan Mail

Back in 1999, R&B group TLC dedicated an album to its loyal listeners for their support. The resulting body of semi-serious work was called “Fan Mail.”

I’ve long been a fan of fan mail - not just the album by TLC, but fan mail itself. I love both writing and receiving it. Although I’m usually the first to submit letters of complaint - to Potbelly for changing cookie vendors, to Red Robin for taking my favorite burger off the menu, to Starbucks for selling unfrosted pumpkin loaf - I’m also quick to commend a job well done.

In my career, I’ve been the recipient of fan mail myself. As managing editor of Confection & Snack Retailing sister publication Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, I was complimented for catchy headlines and cover stories. And my monthly column prompted one member of the American Pie Council to say she was glad we weren’t related, given the many family “secrets” I shared. I actually was flattered by Nancy’s assessment of my work, as it proved one of the most important goals of a magazine: readership. Reader feedback in any way, shape or form, positive or negative, means people are paying attention. And although they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity (just ask comeback queen Britney Spears), I’ve been lucky enough to get plenty of praise.

Since joining CSR, I've had a fair share of reader response. So when my publisher suggested I print some of the letters I’ve received, I thought, why not? Brace yourself. Turns out kids aren’t the only ones who say the darndest things …

“Getting Fresh,” the weekly column I share with Bernie Pacyniak, editor of sister publication Candy Industry, in our joint Sweet & Healthy e-newsletter, has prompted many people to reply. One respondent - a self-declared “avid reader” of S&H - is Patrick Berch of Chicago Packaging, who managed to quote Busta Rhymes in one letter and Dave Chappel in another. Apparently, Berch shares my love of Charleton Heston, Sixlets and chick flicks - just kidding, Patrick. I won’t share with you which chocolate company he called “public enemy number one,” but needless to say, Berch has a sense of humor and represents a young generation of up-and-coming industry folk like me. That said, I was surprised Patrick didn’t comment on my recent blog concerning the former Mrs. Federline and Gimme Calcium, a new product from Brightspot Brands. (Check out the Nov. 19 edition of S&H on www.cs-retailing.com for details.) Oh, well. Thanks, Patrick, “for keepin’ it real.”

As a multitasking journalist, I was impressed by the efficiency of an e-mail from Stanley Wu of Chicago-based McDonald’s Corp., who commented on three stories from CSR March/April 2008, all in one swoop. Wu first posed a question I could not answer: Just what makes up the liquid center of a Cella’s chocolate-covered cherry? (Bueller? Bueller?) Wu also said he was inspired to revisit the Walgreens in Wilmette, Ill., where he once lived, after reading my Local Market Insights article about the store’s clever, cluttered aisles. Lastly, Wu suggested that another great way to get to know a new town, as discussed in “A Tale of Four Cities.” is to ask locals where to find a good slice of pie. (I’m sure Nancy at the American Pie Council would agree.) Keep reading, Stan!

Note: Stanley Wu is not to be confused with Ronnie “Woo Woo,” a diehard Cubs fan who went from being homeless to famous. Ronnie can be seen at almost every game. He’s even sung “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

Speaking of Wrigley Field, one of my most interesting pieces of ’08 fan mail came from a man who raises alpacas. (You heard me.) Indiana-native Jerry Hale of Alpacas of Castle Rock took time away from his Arizona farm to respond to my September/October Editor’s Note about the curse of the Cubs … and to share his idea for a “Bring Your Goat to the Ballgame Day.” Just what do alpacas have to do with confections and snacks? Well, in addition to breeding the llama-like creatures, Hale produces alpaca-shaped chocolates and hard candy, among other alpaca items. This goes to show you never know who’s reading your magazine. Thanks for the kudos, Jerry.

Hale wasn’t the only CSR reader to comment on my Cubs column. Jerry Krause, owner of Friedman Tobacco and Candy Co. in Milwaukee, Wis., said he never knew how the curse started, but “being a Brewer fan, I now have a new love of goats.” Krause encouraged me to keep my hopes up - after all, “there’s always next year.”

It now being “next year,” my hopes ARE up. I hope 2009 proves successful not just for the Cubbies, but for our industry. And I hope our newly redesigned magazine garners more fan mail. Although Nancy’s comment about my use of family anecdotes in editorials still stands, “exposing one’s self to various points of reference makes for good writing material” - at least, according to my favorite reader. Thanks for the feedback, Mom.