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: August 8, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    Another bastion of male exclusivity falls. And it is about time.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that tomorrow night's preseason football game between the Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers will have a female referee - the first time a National Football League has had a female ref in the league's almost century-long existence.

    Now, it isn't like the NFL suddenly has become enlightened. The Times notes that Shannon Eastin - who has refereed high school and college games - was hired as part of a replacement crew that was needed because of a labor dispute between regular officials and the league.
    Now, I'm not interested in having women refereeing professional football games and umpiring baseball games just for the sake of having women. I'm just interested in having smart people with good judgement and exceptional eyesight doing these jobs. And I have to believe that there are plenty of women out there who are at least as good - if not substantially better - than some of the officials who make questionable calls.

    That said, it is still a good thing when bastions of male exclusivity fall. It's better for all of us.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    The New York Times this morning reports that Starbucks is investing $25 million and creating a partnership with Square, the mobile payments company, that will result in Square "processing all credit and debit card transactions at Starbucks stores in the United States" by this fall. Eventually, the story says, "customers will be able to order a grande vanilla latte and charge it to their credit cards simply by saying their names."

    According to the story, "Though smartphone payments have a long way to go before they replace wallets altogether, Starbucks’s adoption of Square will catapult the start-up’s technology onto street corners nationwide, and is the clearest sign yet that mobile payments could become mainstream."

    Here's how the Times describes the rollout process:

    "Starbucks has offered its own mobile payment app since last year and processes more than a million mobile payments a week. Customers will continue to be able to use it, but they will also be able to use Pay With Square, Square’s cellphone app, which eliminates even having to take the phone out of your pocket or sign a receipt.

    "At first, Starbucks customers will need to show the merchant a bar code on their phones. But when Starbucks uses Square’s full GPS technology, the customer’s phone will automatically notify the store that the customer has entered, and the customer’s name and photo will pop up on the cashier’s screen. The customer will give the merchant his or her name, Starbucks will match the photo and the payment will be complete."

    The story notes that while Square began operations in 2010 and generally has been well-reviewed, it has been slow to catch on because it needs to generate a certain amount of mass appeal before it gets any real traction in the marketplace. Clearly, getting into Starbucks will give the company a kind of caffeinated jolt.
    KC's View:
    This sounds totally cool. And as a frequent Starbucks customers who is an avid user of its mobile payment app, I'm totally on board with this.

    The story doesn't say it, but ideally the system also should endeavor to make it possible for Starbucks employees to say the most magical phrase in retailing: "Would you like your usual?" In addition to providing my name and photo, the system should ideally tell the barista what I usually order ... and thus allow the worker to further cement the relationship between the retailer and me.

    This already happens in some Starbucks; when I was in Portland, it took about two days for the folks working in the Starbucks closest to my apartment to figure out what I ordered each day, and what I ordered for Mrs. Content Guy. (Alas, that rarely happens at my home Starbucks in Connecticut.) At when I migrated over to the Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland - because it was more local, and I wanted to have that experience - it took Bo, the barista there, two days to figure out my order and anticipate it as soon as I got on line.

    The Square system could have the impact of institutionalizing this ... which, I think, would be a good thing for retailers and shoppers.

    Furthermore, can you imagine how this could play out in other retail venues. Imagine owning or managing a supermarket and having the Square system notify you every time a high-volume customer entered the store? This could give you an enormous advantage, in the same way that airlines work harder (though, to be honest, seemingly not as hard as they used to ) in catering to their most loyal frequent flyers.

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    A University of Michigan Ann Arbor study shows that the availability of high-calorie sodas in the nation's schools has dropped significantly since 2006, but that other sugary beverages still remain accessible to students.

    According to a Reuters story, "Older students who could buy soda in high school fell to 25 percent in 2011 from 54 percent in 2006, while access by younger middle school students fell to 13 percent from 27 percent ... But fruit drinks, sports drinks and other beverages with added sugar and calories that could lead to obesity over time can still be bought easily in schools, the study showed."

    The sale of sugary sodas in schools has been a major flashpoint in the national discussion of the obesity crisis, as factions debate what is an appropriate response by schools, parents and governments. As Reuters notes, the study comes out before "a long-overdue rule from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over what kinds of food and drinks schools can sell outside the cafeteria. Another USDA rule on cafeteria foods earlier this year sparked controversy over its allowance of pizza - with tomato sauce - as a vegetable serving.

    "Children's access to soda is a major concern among public health experts who point to all sugar-sweetened beverages as a key source of excess calories that can cause childhood obesity. Such drinks should be banned in schools in favor of water, low- or no-fat milk and 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices with no added sugar, they say."
    KC's View:
    I absolutely believe that schools have to be better about teaching kids about good nutrition, and that means being more measured about what they serve and sell. I'm a taxpayer, and it strikes me as an entirely proper use of taxpayer money to offer kids better food, and not the slop that they often get served. Pizza as a vegetable? Give me a break.

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    There is a terrific piece by Greg David on the Crain's New York Business website that looks at why Fairway Markets has filed for what is called a "confidential IPO" now.

    According to David, "Fairway appears to be the first New York company to take advantage of a new JOBS Act and a streamlined approach for companies to go public. The new law is in response to the argument from Wall Street types and conservatives that the reforms that followed the Enron scandal are so cumbersome and costly that they discourage all but the largest companies from raising money in the equity markets.

    "Under the JOBS Act, companies with less than $1 billion in sales can, in essence, secretly file for an initial public offering. They don’t have to release financial information until a few weeks before they actually sell the stock, only have to provide two years of audited statements and are exempt from requirements about the extent of the audits they need and shareholder approval of executive compensation."

    While analysts predict that Fairway could generate $750 million in sales this year if, as expected, it opens three new stores, the story notes that there is no way to gauge whether that is a realistic number or not. "It will also be eye-opening to figure out whether it is profitable, what debt load it carries and whether the new shares will raise additional capital or cash out existing shareholders," David writes.
    KC's View:
    David points to two other things worth noting. One is that Fairway's majority owner is Sterling Investment, a private equity group, the kind of investor for which "long-term growth is not usually a priority."

    The other is that whenever Fairway goes ahead with the IPO, the JOBS Act provisions probably will give analysts, potential investors and the media about a month to sort through all the numbers and projections.

    The question is whether Fairway will be a good investment built for long-term, sustainable returns, or whether this is a short-term play designed to generate a return on investment for Sterling.

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    In the UK, The Grocer reports that Tesco plans to launch a rollout of in-store displays devoted exclusively to US products, including "Hershey’s chocolate, meat snacks brand Jack Link’s and food lines including pretzels, mustard, squeezy cheese, macaroni cheese and cereals." The initiative will start in 10 stores, and expected to roll out across the chain in fairly short order.
    The story notes that it "comes two weeks after Asda launched American confectionery bays in almost 100 stores" with "a range of 12 Hershey’s products and started stocking fizzy drink RC Cola as it looked to leverage its relationship with US parent company Walmart."
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that McDonald's has begun selling a limited selection of breakfast items immediately after midnight in some locations, saying that the move is "a response to the increasingly blurred timelines for when people consume breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    The story says that "The 'Breakfast After Midnight' test recently began in 127 restaurants in Ohio.  Markets such as Denver and Boston, have also dabbled in offering a limited late-night breakfast menu." There are no plans - yet - for a national roll-out.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Wendy's is testing something a little new - "burgers piled high with extravagant ingredients such as lobster and caviar," priced at around $16 apiece.

    However, the upscale burgers are only available in Japan.

    "Since returning to the Japanese market late last year after exiting in 2009," the Times writes, "Wendy’s has rolled out a series of indulgent menu offerings. It debuted with a $16 burger lavished with foie gras and truffle sauce, followed by a $12.50 burger featuring chili and Iberian bacon."
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    • The Wall Street Journal has a story that following up on a previously reported phenomenon - Amazon's decision to expand the use of locker installations to the San Francisco area, after apparently satisfactory testing of the concept in Seattle, New York, and Washington, DC.

    The large metal "Amazon Lockers" are installed in supermarkets, convenience stores and drug stores, allowing people to have products ordered from Amazon to be sent there rather than to their homes or offices. When placing the order, the customer is given a code number, which he or she enters into a terminal adjacent to the lockers. A door pops open, and the shopper retrieves the merchandise.

    The concept, the story notes, allows Amazon to compete with the store pick-up option offered by bricks-and-mortar retailers such as Walmart.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Harmons Grocery Stores there is celebrating its 80th anniversary, having "grown from a fruit stand in West Valley City to a few supermarkets in the Salt Lake Valley to a 16-store, statewide chain with an emphasis on fresh foods.

    One interesting thing about the company, according to the story, is its willingness to try new things, like building "different types of stores to suit various communities. In Salt Lake City, its Emigration Market is a small neighborhood store and at City Creek Center downtown there’s a teeming new urban store. In suburban Farmington, there’s an expansive supermarket at the sprawling Station Park shopping center at the intersection of Interstate 15, U.S. 89, Legacy Parkway and FrontRunner commuter rail line. All have opened within the past year."

    • Dean Foods announced yesterday that it plans to spin off its business unit that sells Horizon Organic dairy products and Silk soy milk.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, "Dallas-based Dean Foods, the largest distributor of dairy products in the U.S. by sales, seeks to raise up to $300 million through an initial public offering of up to 20% of the WhiteWave Foods Co.

    "Dean will own at least 80% of the new company's stock, and intends to distribute its remaining interest in the company to Dean shareholders after the IPO closes. The company expects the transaction to occur in the fourth quarter. Analysts have long considered the WhiteWave-Alpro division to be more valuable than other parts of Dean Foods, whose standard dairy products and vast private-label business are more vulnerable to volatility in commodity prices and a long-running slowdown in consumers' appetites for dairy products."

    • The Denver Business Journal reports that "the astronomical growth of craft beer continued in the first half of 2012, when sales rose 14 percent over the same period in 2011 and production rose by 12 percent, according to statistics released Monday by the Boulder-based Brewers Association (BA)."

    Wait until they get second half sales numbers in, which will coincide with my monthlong stay in Portland....
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    • NACS announced that it has hired Ieva Grimm as its senior director of education services. Grimm comes to the association after more than a decade with Sheetz, where most recently she was operations manager.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    Composer Marvin Hamlisch died yesterday at age 68; reports said that he collapsed after a brief illness.

    Hamlisch had a terrific career by almost any measure. He won three Oscars, four Emmys, four Grammys, one Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

    One of the Oscars was for composing the music for a little ditty called "The Way We Were." The Tony and the Pulitzer were for composing the music for a play called "A Chorus Line," which ran on Broadway for 15 years. He also composed the score for The Sting, the score and title song, "Nobody Does It Better," for The Spy Who Loved Me, the music for a Neil Simon musical called "They're Playing Our Song," and countless other plays and movies including, most recently, The Informant.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 8, 2012

    Responding to yesterday's piece by Michael Sansolo about NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin, one MNB user wrote:

    As a Jacksonville Jaguar fan, I completely understand the ability as well as the growth as a coach of Tom Coughlin. Although no one talks about the Jags, it is still the most successful franchise ever added. Tom is the reason. He was often criticized because he required his players to be of good character as well as good athletes, but I was a fan who respected that.

    We are fortunate to still have him as part of our community. His excellence of character, family values and generosity to the less fortunate make him a standout especially  in the NFL.

    You Giants fans are lucky to have him. I am very happy he found a platform for his talent that also affords recognition.

    Chiming in on the whole "customer is always right" discussion, MNB user Michael Phelan wrote:

    The customer is not always right, but smart companies never let it come down to who’s right or wrong. An incorrect (ahem) customer should be made to feel that their opinions and feelings are “right” as we work to meet their needs.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Thought you would enjoy this picture I took from inside Eataly (Mario Batali's Italian food paradise in NYC)..given that the sign is displayed prominently with 3 written rules in tablet form in the front area it seems to resonate as their own version paying homage to Stew Leonard's.

    Our Policy

    The customers is not always right.

    Eataly is not always right.

    Through our differences, we create harmony.

    I think this illustrates how a 'policy' can also serve to adapt to the retailer's attitude, and in this case I think it may work. Guess it also doesn't hurt when being delivered by a large man wearing orange clogs 🙂

    MNB user Rosemary Fifield had some thoughts about the letter written to customers by JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson:

    I grew up in the upper midwest and JC Penney was always a staple for us, so I'm a fan. But I have to admit, this sentence made me chuckle and, possibly, squirm a little:

    I've asked our team to innovate in many ways - to help you look and live better.

    I don't think shopping at my local JCP is going to be the same, now that I know they've been tasked with making me look better.

    Regarding yesterday's story about Amazon getting into the textbook rental business, MNB user Joe Vaiente wrote:

    Amazon is not new in this business of text book rental.  Ebay ( and Chegg ( have been renting college textbooks for years.  I figure this has saved thousands of dollars between our two kids in college.  Each semester our boys decide which books they can rent versus which books they should purchase for future reference.  We just ordered our sons books for next semester and rented all of them from Chegg who also has free returns.  This will give us another place to look and price shop for college text books!

    MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

    And how many of the student-gouging campus book stores will be put out of business?  Of course, I’m harking back to when I was in school (yes, the books were carved into stone tablets) and the only place we could buy course books was at those stores.  Do the campus stores still exist?

    Ah, memories!  Standing on line, for HOURS.  Buying used books, still at an exorbitant price (and you had to hope the previous owner highlighted the right passages).  The professors/departments requiring the NEW version of the book, precluding the used version, because a paragraph or two were changed.  The excitement of finding a book that the campus store ran out of.  These young whippersnappers don’t understand the fun they are missing!

    Will Amazon be offering these rentals only in ‘real’ books’ (you talk about shipping) or in time-expiring digital format?  Of course, in digital format you would not receive the aforementioned highlighting!

    We had a piece yesterday about how Congress - when it finally gets back from vacation - will debate whether canned and frozen fruits and vegetables ought to be included in farm legislation originally designed to increase the fresh fruits and veggies provided to schools. This led MNB user Mike Franklin to write:

    Where’s the Ketchup lobby in this debate?

    Not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised to find it hip-deep in it.

    As I said yesterday, this whole thing has the stench of lobbying money about it. I'm sick and tired of big money essentially being used to buy legislators on both sides of the aisle. It is disgusting.

    And finally, I said something the other day that pushed an MNB user over the edge:

    You've gone too far. Watching pitchers hit is more boring than watching paint dry.  I don’t come to games to watch managers manage.  I’d rather see hitters hit.  Long live Edgar Martinez.

    Geez. You'd think I endorsed gay marriage or something.

    Alas, it is true. I think that the designated hitter rule ought to be banned. Everybody ought to hit. Even pitchers. In my mind, that's real baseball.
    KC's View: