retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    PARAMUS, NJ -- The worst thing about the fifth and newest Fairway Market that opened this week in Paramus, NJ, is that you have to park about a mile away from the store because of how crowded the parking lot is. I suspect that this will subside a bit as time goes on, but there is no reason to think that Fairway won’t be an enormous success with its Paramus store…and that it will replicate that success when it opens stores in Pelham, NY, and Stamford, CT.

    (I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that this will be the first time in the 25 years that I’ve been living in Connecticut that Stew Leonard’s will face legitimate competition. The Stamford Fairway, which should open in less than two years, will only be 10 miles from Stew’s…and it is the same kind of destination shopping experience.)

    It was hard to navigate inside the Fairway yesterday because of so many shopping carts and customers…but here are the top six things that I liked about the store:

    • Walk in the front door, and the aroma of garlic wafts through the air, and you are overwhelmed with a sense of being in a foodie’s paradise. It just envelops you and draws you into the aisles. (There also was a wonderful display where people could sample more than a dozen different kinds of olive oil…and you could feel the passion shared by the store and its shoppers.)

    • Dan Glickberg, the fourth generation of the family that owns and operates Fairway, was walking through the store when one customer asked for a particular produce item…and he asked the shopper if he could wait about ten minutes because there was an accident on the George Washington Bridge that slowed down the truck from the market, and it had just arrived. I’ve rarely seen a customer look so happy when informed that he had to wait for something…because he was assured that what he was getting was fresh.

    • Prices. They seemed sharp and, in categories that I was familiar with, lower than what I am used to paying. This is not a scientific study, just an impression. But positive impressions are what a shopping experience creates.

    • The signs, especially in the produce department. They are big and colorful…and best of all, they describe the products in loving and specific detail, and say why people should eat them. They are among the best produce signs I have ever seen in two decades of writing about this business.

    • Merchandise. I cannot believe that this is just a 30,000 square foot store…because it is so jammed to the rafters with groceries – national brands, organics, and private label – that it felt like 100,000 square feet. But while it seemed jammed with product, it is a positive attribute…like there are treasures to be found around every corner. I’d shop there.

    • Finally, there is a guy in the seafood department who was slicing smoked salmon. He did it with such deliberate care that he seemed like a cross between a surgeon and an artist. That guy seemed very much emblematic of most of the people working at Fairway – passionate, committed and highly engaged.

    Fairway Market is a great store. At a time when so many companies are hunkering down and simply trying to survive the recession, Fairway demonstrates a real sense of innovation, commitment and style.

    And, oh that garlic smell. Twenty fours later, it makes my heart sing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    The New York Times reports that a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that “most food manufacturers and distributors cannot identify the suppliers or recipients of their products despite federal rules that require them to do so,” and that “a quarter of the food facilities contacted by investigators as part of the study were not even aware that they were supposed to be able to trace their suppliers.”

    The study comes on the heels of a salmonella outbreak connected to a factory operated by Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) in Georgia, and that has been blamed for almost 700 people getting sick and the deaths of nine. There have been hundreds of product recalls because of this outbreak, with many manufacturers unaware of where their peanuts were coming from and of the apparent negligence that informed the conditions at PCA’s facilities.

    According to the story, the US Inspector General has “recommended that the F.D.A. seek greater authority from Congress to require and ensure that food facilities maintain adequate records. In an official response in the report, the agency said that it largely agreed with the recommendations.”
    KC's View:
    I understand that there will be some resistance to new requirements that companies keep exhaustive records of the products and ingredients they use, but it seems to me that companies have absolutely no choice at this point. The scenarios just keep getting worse and worse, and customers are going demand it.

    Go back to the “Mommy Bloggers” panel that took place at the IRI Summit earlier this week, and that was described in detail here on MNB. Those women wanted total transparency from the retailers and manufacturers with which they do business…and they were making that transparency a condition of putting trust in those companies.

    The technology exists for this kind of transparency and traceability to exist. All that is lacking, in certain quarters, is the will.

    For consumers, that won’t be an excuse.

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    The San Antonio Business Journal reports that HE Butt Grocery Co. is awarding discounts to shoppers who “choose to commute by either carpooling, vanpooling, biking, walking, telecommuting or taking public transportation,” part of a broader effort in Houston to cut back of that city’s traffic.

    HEB is working with NuRide, described as “an online company that rewards commuters every time they take an alternative form of transportation,” working with local sponsors “to reduce commuter miles by 15 million miles throughout Houston and reduce emissions by more than 6,000 tons.”

    HEB reportedly is providing coupons worth $5 off $50 purchases, as well as a grand prize of one year of free groceries.

    KC's View:
    I have only one problem with this. NuRide is described as an Essex, CT-based company … and I can’t quite figure why it is working on Houston’s traffic problems when it could be working on the horrible traffic that almost always clogs up the Connecticut Turnpike.

    But that’s just me being selfish.

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. announced that it is expanding its private label program, launching “brands as Green Way, Hartford Reserve, Via Roma, Market Spa, Live Better, Preferred Pet and Smart Price, among others. Throughout 2009, A&P will be rolling out full line launches for each brand, which will be available across all banner stores, including A&P, Pathmark, SuperFresh, Waldbaum’s, The Food Emporium and Food Basics.”

    America’s Choice has been a successful private label for A&P, and the new effort is seen as way of building on its experience in this area.

    “The launch of A&P’s ‘Own Brands’ private label program comes at a crucial time, as consumers battle through the recession and are in need of the highest quality products at the best values,” said Jennifer MacLeod, SVP, Marketing and Communications, in a prepared statement. “A&P has been at the forefront of private label grocery products for a very long time and through ‘Own Brands’ we reaffirm our commitment to offering a breadth of brands and products that cater to every shopper’s needs.”

    KC's View:
    I really like the Green Way line, which I saw some examples of yesterday when I was in an A&P store. The product design looks good, and the whole line is focused on appealing to people who want sustainable groceries…which is positioning that has to be part of pretty much every company’s portfolio.

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart is stepping up its competition with drug chains Walgreen and CVS Caremark, expanding on an existing program to offer companies access to inexpensive prescription drugs. According to the story, the program has been piloted with Caterpillar Inc., which “bypasses a third-party provider and gets pricing on drugs directly from the retailer. Caterpillar then passes some of those savings on to employees by waiving a $5 co-payment on generic drugs bought at Wal-Mart.”

    Walmart will “target roughly 75 million Americans whose employers fund their own health-insurance plans,” according to the Bloomberg story, believing that it will continue to drive new sales in its stores.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    • Tesco’s US division, Fresh & Easy, announced this week that it will introduce 25 new wines, including 15 that will be exclusive to the chain, and also has launched a new promotion offering 20 percent off any purchase of six bottles of wine or more.

    According to the announcement, “Fresh & Easy’s new selection of wines will be perfect for summer drinking and includes traditional favorites such as a California Cabernet from Sonoma. Unique imports will also be added to the company’s range including a Malbec from Argentina, sparkling wines from Italy and a Tempranillo-Shiraz and Ribera del Duero from Spain.”

    KC's View:
    Smart promotion…especially because of the recession, which, as Jimmy Buffett has been singing lately, has given us a lot to drink about.

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    • There are press reports in Europe that Belgium-based Delhaize would be interested in acquiring at least some Carrefour stores there if France-based Carrefour decides to pull out of the Belgian market. Carrefour, which has been reeling from declining sales and profits, has identified Belgium as a market where it needs considerable improvement, and a pullout is not considered to be out of the question.

    • Meanwhile, even if it is having problems in Belgium, Carrefour apparently sees opportunities in Russia, and it plans to open its first Moscow store this May.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    Yesterday, MNB carried an email that responded to previous criticisms of Winn-Dixie by saying that this particular shopper actually liked Winn-Dixie more than Publix, and that he had found corporate headquarters at Winn-Dixie to be more responsive.

    MNB user Karl Heink, who is a Publix employee, responded:

    You are a fair and good editor that prints many letters from many readers of the MNB. I appreciate that and know that you have even printed some of my own comments in the past. To that, I thank you.

    Unfortunately, I cannot agree with Glenn Harmon on his comments about Publix leadership. Publix's leadership is far greater than that of Winn-Dixie. I let the current state of the two companies speak for themselves. Anyone care to measure debt ratio of the two? When was WD listed as one of the top 100 companies to work for? Where was WD in the ACSI (The University of Michigan’s annual American Customer Satisfaction Index) ? Anyone want to count how many associates from WD have been laid off in the last 5 years? Measure that against Publix.

    Furthermore, when was the last time you did some competition checks of these two companies? Have you seen what "getting better all the time" really looks like? I feel pretty confident that David Livingston does and I am almost sure he has been in several of both company's stores for his own evaluation. I think that is what he bases his reputation on.

    I do not doubt that Glenn has his issues with the Publix store where he lives and may have gotten a bad experience, and he may prefer the new WD store farther from his house. But to continue to slam Publix and it's leadership because he got a email return notice from Ed Crenshaw's Secretary (Barbara Reynolds) telling him that his email was read, is uncalled for. Barbara has worked for Mr. Crenshaw for many years and is of the highest moral / ethical character. As you might understand, her job probably requires that she previews all incoming mail for her boss. I am solid in my belief that Mr. Crenshaw will respond and I would likely presume not to hear any apology from Glenn Harmon when that happens.

    I also question how long Glenn has been a subscriber of the MNB and how well he knows who the leadership of Publix is. Charles "Charlie" Jenkins has not been at the CEO position for a year. Your own column of September 7, 2007 actually talked about this. Apparently, Glenn was not reading the MNB that day nor has he bothered to check the Publix website. Just for Glenn's knowledge, Mr. Crenshaw is the CEO and Todd Jones is the President of Publix.

    I am disappointed to see these facts clearly left out of discussion and it bothers me that you would choose to print such an inflammatory letter. I am glad you "care" and printed the articles you did. I can only hope that the comments sure to come out are equally shared.

    You’re right…I should have flagged the executive changes. Sometimes these things just get by me.

    But let’s be completely fair about this issue, which has popped up before here on MNB and never fails to generate controversy.

    I have gotten more than a few emails over the years that have suggested that Publix – deservedly one of the most respected supermarket retailers in the country – may have lost a step or two over the years…possibly because this is one of the things that can happen as a company expands. (I actually got a couple more yesterday, prompted by the discussion.) I don't see such comments as attacks…just as observations that actually can be used by Publix (and other companies) as teachable moments. Hey, I get criticized all the time…I try not to take it personally. (Even when I get manifestos that get very personal.)

    I suspect – and I don't know this for sure – that the folks at Winn-Dixie would cheerfully admit that Publix is a class operation…and that competing with Publix makes them better. They likely also would concede that they have a long way to go. Most of us do.

    But many of the people I talk to say that Winn-Dixie is headed in the right direction…that it has solid and engaged leadership…and that there is reason for optimism. Not everyone says that…but enough people who I respect say so that I take it seriously.

    BTW…I love it when people leap to the defense of the organizations for which they work. It means that they are more than just employees and that they see their companies as more than just organizations. Which ought to be the cultural goal of every company.

    This goes for Dan Portnoy when he defends Winn-Dixie. And it goes for Karl Heink when he defends Publix.

    Good for them.

    One MNB user had a response to yesterday’s MNB Radio rant:

    I just heard your audio , and it's just so wrong. GREEDY PEOPLE are not the cause of the mortgage meltdown, unless you define greedy as anyone wanting to earn a great living. Everyone is greedy. What about the congressmen who encouraged the creation of toxic assets by refusing to reform Freddie and Fannie? Were they "greedy?" Or was it my Morgan Stanley stockbroker, who helped my mother live a much better life in her last's sooo easy to blame the greedy...but not at all right.

    You miss my point.

    I’m not saying that everyone in the financial services industry was greedy…certainly not the Morgan Stanley broker who helped your mom.

    And lest this discussion get too political, I concede that there was plenty of stupidity and short-sightedness on both sides of the aisle … and I’m not entirely sure that we’re seeing any great degree of enlightenment in Washington, DC, these days. Time will tell.

    But I fundamentally disagree with you in the broadest sense. I believe that greed, and the unwillingness to see all this stuff as anything more than a game in which short-term profit was how people kept score, is the fundamental problem that got us in this fix.

    MNB user David Tuchler wrote:

    I am also really incensed that the irresponsible behavior of a few can impact the lives of the many, particularly when a lot of the greed-motivated behavior didn't really create any economic value - it just kicked the can down the road, so to speak. So now we all (and our kids) get the privilege of higher taxes, trillion-dollar deficits, and contemplating being Wal-Mart greeters in our otherwise retirement years (not that there's anything wrong with that). In the long run the market can fix things, but we don't have 20 years to wait for a new equilibrium so some regulation is probably in order.

    At the same time, however, it also seems very important to not succumb to the shrillness of the moment.

    - With a few exceptions, just because someone doesn't share our own personal economic or political viewpoint doesn't make them a complete imbecile or bad person. For that matter, not everyone in the financial industry is motivated only by evil and greed.

    - There are actually some people who are exceptionally bright, creative and motivated, who create value and take risks and who deserve to be paid more than others. The entitlement mentality that helped create the mortgage mess ("I deserve a house even though I don't like to work or save") is now an outlet for a lot of people who wish they made more, to throw stones at 'the financial people'. Well, I'd like to make $10 million a year, but I don't have the 98mph fastball, so there you are. That's life.

    - As we are witnessing, hindsight and a deteriorating market makes it pretty convenient and politically expedient to assign blame now. But where was the outraged indignation 18 months ago when the market was at its peak? Aren't some of today's very visible critics the same people who pushed for more lenient lending in the past?

    Don't get me wrong, those people who took irresponsible risks (with what turned out to be our money) that led to our current economic condition need to be held accountable and certainly don't deserve bonuses (in fact, there could be a clawback provision on some future bonuses to allow them to be retracted if there are longer term negative effects).

    I just object to the vilification of an entire industry based on the actions of the few, often by people who stood idly by as long as they were personally benefiting. I also object to wholly dismissing all opinions of someone who just happens to wear a different political stripe (whatever it may be). Both of these represent a popular, but unfortunately intellectually lazy way to go.

    Did I do that?

    That certainly wasn't my intention.

    I wrote yesterday that I liked the growing health care trend in corporate America – rewarding employees who engage in healthy lifestyles and penalizing those who do not.

    Prompting one MNB user to write:

    You may take a lot of grief as would I if I stated this out loud at work. One thing I taught my children and follow in my life. “You always have a choice.” Over the years I have realized many want to blame someone else. No one forces me to eat what I do.


    But another MNB user disagrees with me:

    I do not trust insurance companies not to use the information against us. The less they know of me the better.

    We reported yesterday on a new mobile application sponsored by Procter & Gamble, SitOrSquat, which allows people to identify and review public toilet facilities. MNB user Steve Sullivan responded:

    Sit or Squat. Am I the only one that looked at the calendar to see if it was April 1 today?

    For the record, April 1 is next Wednesday.

    Be warned.

    Finally, the following email about yesterday’s MNB warmed my heart.

    A Jimmy Buffett and Bull Durham reference in a matter of a few inches....THAT is why you are so far superior to other news sites! Thanks for the laugh!

    Thanks…it is nice to be appreciated.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 27, 2009

    Sometimes, you can't win.

    There was a fascinating piece in the New York Times the other day about a new psychological condition that could reach epidemic proportions – hyperopia, which is described as being the opposite of myopia.

    Myopia, of course, is what occurs when people are so focused on the immediate moment that they cannot look into the future and make long-range plans. Hyperopia is when people are so focused on the future that they cannot enjoy the present. And it is seen as a real potential problem with the current economic recession causing people to start having a long-term view…and people being people, some are carrying this to obsessive levels.

    I guess if you had myopia and hyperopia simultaneously you’d actually have anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. (“Anhedonia,” as it happens, was the working title of one of Woody Allen’s best movies back in 1977…but studio executives convinced him to change it to something a little more accessible. Hence, “Annie Hall” was born. But I digress…)

    Hyperopia actually could be a bigger psychological problem than myopia, according to scientists quoted in the Times piece. If a person is myopic it can lead to a level of hedonism, which while it might create short-term guilt tends not to last. But if one is so focused on the long term that he or she cannot enjoy the present, it can create persistent regrets.

    At some level, of course, this strikes me as a lot of baby boomer naval gazing. If we couldn’t find something to obsess about, it would make us crazy.

    My father used to accuse me of being hedonistic, mostly because of my “if we couldn’t laugh we’d all go insane” approach to life. It was just one of many things that we argued about, and continue to.

    In this matter, I prefer the wisdom of an old Loyola Marymount writing teacher of mine, Joe Stone, a former boxer who also, as it happens, was a 1960 Academy Award nominee for best original screenplay for “Operation Petticoat,” which starred Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. (Again, I digress…)

    Joe Stone once told us that he had one operating philosophy in life: “The only things I regret are the things I haven't done.”

    He said it in a class I probably took in 1975. If he were around today (Joe died in 2001), I suspect he’d have little patience with obsessive myopia or hyperopia. And he’d be right.

    Every once in a while, there is a science story that captures my attention just because it seems so bizarre.

    This week, it was a story that said that “muscle from jumbo squid can form stable gelled-emulsion products…offering potential for a range of products like squid frankfurters.” The only problem, according to the Mexican researchers working on the product, is that consumers involved in sensory tests only ‘liked slightly” the result, being most negative about color, followed by aroma and texture.

    Yeah, that would do it for me.

    I’m not saying that there isn’t a place in the world for a squid muscle hot dog. I’m just saying that it is going to take an impressive sales job.

    Maybe the curse of growing older is that you see changes take place where you once thought that change was unlikely, if not impossible.

    The slow death of newspapers, for example.

    And now, from the Telegraph in the UK, comes the story that there are now more grocery stores than pubs in England.

    It just seems wrong.

    I heartily recommend that you go out this weekend and see “Duplicity,” the comedy starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, which is as good a movie as I’ve seen this year. Written and directed by Tony Gilroy, who also was responsible for “Michael Clayton” (which also is one of my favorite recent movies), “Duplicity” actually is a comedic and original look at some of the same territory covered by the earlier movie – corporate backstabbing and dishonesty.

    The premise is sort of like P&G vs. Unilever, with different names used, of course. They make personal care products and are struggling for dominance, run by hyper-competitive and slightly insane CEOs played by the always fabulous Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (who were just as memorable playing Ben Franklin and John Adams in the HBO mini-series, “John Adams”). Into this situation come two former spies, played with delicious vigor by Roberts and Owen, who get involved in corporate espionage that at once seems over the top and completely plausible.

    The plot takes twists and turns, none of which I will disclose here. The time frame moves back and forth, and the pleasure is in watching the layers peel away in a way that is both surprising and utterly satisfactory. The best thing about it – “Duplicity” is a movie made by adults for adults, in the best sense of the word.

    See it.

    That’s it for this week.

    Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.
    KC's View: