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: June 14, 2013

    The national debate over surveillance programs being run by the nation's security and intelligence apparatus that could be compiling massive amounts of information about citizens' phone calls, emails, and various other communications, also seems to have had a positive impact on the sales of a book that was published in 1949.

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that "sales of George Orwell’s novel '1984,' featuring a futuristic totalitarian state, jumped on Amazon.com's website following reports of a classified program that lets the U.S. government collect personal data. One edition of the book ... moved to the No. 5 spot on Amazon’s Movers & Shakers list, which tracks dramatic increases in sales volume over a 24-hour period. That makes it the 125th-best-selling book on the site, an increase from its previous rank of 7,397."

    "Animal Farm," another Orwell book, also has seen a dramatic increase in sales.

    Go figure.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    The Los Angeles Times has a piece this morning that builds on the earlier story about Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. negotiating to acquire Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets and use those small stores as a platform from which to relaunch Wild Oats, which has not operated under that name since 2007.

    The Times notes that on the Wild Oats website, it says that it is "re-introducing" its brand, "bringing beverages, snacks, cereals, pasta and other goods to store shelves."

    The story goes on: "Burkle's Los Angeles private equity company Yucaipa Cos. seems to be involved. A trademark application filed by Wild Oats Marketing last June and published for opposition in late May lists Yucaipa's Sunset Boulevard address.

    "The trademark could cover a brand offering retail and online grocery store services, with features such as home delivery, phone-in orders, convenience store items and gasoline, according to the document. The application also described catering and take-out food services."

    And at least one analyst says that it seems at least possible that if Burkle helps to engineer the resurgence of the Wild Oats brand, it could extend to A&P and Pathmark, which he helped take out of bankruptcy by pumping money into their operations, and which now could be converted from their current, "old, stale" formats to higher-end Wild Oats units of varying sizes.
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure whether the conversion of A&P and Pathmark stores to Wild Oats is either practical or sensible. But I do agree with one thing that the analyst says - that Burkle's pattern is to make one plus one equal three. So while we don't now what his endgame might be, it is a pretty good bet that he has one that could be a little unorthodox.

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    In Maine, the Morning Sentinel reports that the state House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

    According to the story, "The House voted 141–4 in favor of an amendment that would trigger the labeling requirement once five contiguous states, including Maine, pass similar labeling legislation. Supporters of L.D. 718, a bill co-sponsored by 120 lawmakers, including Democrats, independents and Republicans, relished the looming fight with Monsanto, the litigious international company widely vilified by supporters of the organic food movement."

    While no state has passed a standalone GMO labeling law, the story notes that "at least 18 states are considering them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut recently passed a GMO labeling law that is nearly identical to amended version of L.D. 718. Vermont is on the verge of doing the same. A similar bill is under consideration by the New Hampshire Legislature."

    The bill now moves to the Maine Senate, where it is seen as having growing support, but with a steeper hill to climb before passage; opponents are labeling the bill as being liberal in nature, despite the bipartisan support in the House. Governor Paul LePage has not yet taken a position on the legislation.
    KC's View:
    Y'think that there's a kind of groundswell taking place?

    What people are responding to, I think, is the monolithic approach taken by companies like Monsanto, which seem to reject the notion of transparency as being antithetical to their interests. What they may find, over time, is that transparency is very important to their business growth ... and the question is how long it will take, and how many laws will be passed and lawsuits filed, before this reality comes crashing down on them.

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    The Seattle Times reports that an pro-animal activist group called Mercy for Animals has targeted Amazon.com, hoping to bring pressure - via social media and other means - on the retailer to stop selling foie gras, which it says is the result of what essentially is duck torture.

    According to the story, Mercy for Animals "has created a website, AmazonCruelty.com, to generate public outrage" by featuring a three minute video of ducks being force-fed. The story goes on to say that "a petition on the activist site says that unlike Amazon, big-name store chains including Costco, Safeway and Target refuse to sell foie gras, and the practice of force-feeding ducks to enlarge their livers is banned in California."
    KC's View:
    The revelation to me was that, when I checked, the availability of lots of foie gras on Amazon. It wasn't something I'd ever looked for there, and I wouldn't have thought that it would be an issue.

    Also interesting - when I went to the top seller, I discovered that among the rave reviews were a number of customer comments referring people to the Mercy for Animals website. Which, if nothing else, is proof positive of the new transparency.

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Visa Inc. has filed a preemptive lawsuit against Walmart in federal court, looking to prevent the retailer from suing it for price-fixing via its merchant swipe fees.


    According to the story, "Visa, MasterCard and many of the country’s largest banks are seeking a Brooklyn federal judge’s final approval for a $7.25 billion settlement that would end an eight-year legal battle on behalf of millions of retailers over allegations that the card companies illegally fixed the fees. Retail trade associations and dozens of large retailers have objected to the settlement, claiming its terms are unfair, and thousands have dropped out ... Merchants that dropped out of the settlement have an option to pursue their own lawsuits over the fees. Visa said in its complaint that Wal-Mart 'has made plain' that it will file a new lawsuit."

    Walmart says it is still determining whether to file a new suit against MasterCard and Visa.
    KC's View:
    When they add up all the legal fees spent on this case, I'd be willing to bet that they'll amount to what could've been pretty substantial savings on swipe fees ... if only all these companies had been focused on the customer and not their own bottom lines.

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    • Albertsons LLC, which has been operating two websites and two Facebook pages since it acquired all of the Albertsons stores that were owned by Supervalu, has announced that it is combining all those assets over the next few weeks.

    In a memo, Albertsons said that "next week we will merge our websites, Facebook pages, mobile applications, and more. We’re doing our best to make this transition seamless but we know that there might be a few hiccups along the way. We truly appreciate your patience during this time."

    Among the changes:

    On Tuesday, June 18th, "AlbertsonsMarket.com will become Albertsons.com. In addition, our new Albertsons mobile app will be launching. Watch for it in iTunes and Google Play."

    On Wednesday, June 19th: "If you’ve previously signed up on Albertsons.com or AlbertsonsMarket.com you’ll begin receiving your new local Weekly Ad via email."

    On Thursday, June 20th: "Our Albertsons and Albertsons Market Facebook pages and Twitter accounts will be merged."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that while analysts are enthusiastic about the decision by Safeway to sell its Canadian operations to Sobeys for $5.7 billion, there is concern in some quarters about the company's future.

    The story says: "Cantor Fitzgerald analysts compared the sale to 'burning off the furniture to save what’s left of the house,' though the house they describe sounds rather unsteady. The analysts said that without a gift-card unit Blackhawk that was spun off into an IPO earlier this year and without Canada, Safeway is left with a U.S. operation Cantor says has a 1.3% operating margin. 'We have felt for some time that any steps by Safeway to monetize Blackhawk and the Canadian businesses would serve to expose the U.S. operations in a much more negative light,' the analysts wrote. 'We think that reality has taken shape now that Safeway has spun off its main growth vehicle (Blackhawk) and sold its largest and most stable earnings stream (Canada)'."


    • There are numerous press reports saying that Lidl, the Germany-based discount retailer that operates more than 10,000 stores across Europe, is considering a US entry, though the feasibility studies are not expected to be completed until late next year at the earliest.


    • The Associated Press reports that the lawsuit filed by Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) against the United Potato Growers of America - "accusing America's spud farmers of driving up prices while spying on farmers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on how many tubers they can grow" - has been moved to the US District Court in Idaho and may be combined with a similar federal suit that was filed there in 2010. AWG contends that "potato growers have banded together for a decade to illegally inflate prices in a scheme akin to the petroleum-producing OPEC cartel, reducing planting acreages and destroying potatoes to restrict what is available for sale."

    "And while the U.S. Department of Justice hasn't joined this case," the AP writes, "its lawyers have been examining how large, modern agricultural cooperatives like the United Potato Growers are employing nearly century-old antitrust exemptions to strengthen their hands."


    Marketing Daily reports on a new study from IRI saying that "compared to grocery and drug stores ... convenience stores were the only channel to grow in both dollar and unit sales in 2012 ... Led by such giants as 7-Eleven, Shell, and BP, IRI says there are now some 149,000 convenience stores, with roughly two-thirds owned by independents. Increasingly, these stores are stepping away from their cookie-cutter roots, adding kiosks, healthier food options, fresh foods and payment innovations."


    • Is Splenda less than splendid?

    Yahoo! News reports on how the "Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has downgraded sucralose (known by the brand name Splenda) from a 'safe' rating to 'caution' in its Chemical Cuisine guide after an Italian laboratory found the sweetener caused leukemia in mice."

    “Sucralose may prove to be safer than saccharin, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium, but the forthcoming Italian study warrants careful scrutiny before we can be confident that the sweetener is safe for use in food,” CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson said in a statement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    As noted on MNB yesterday, Joan Parker, the widow of mystery novelist Robert B. Parker, passed away Wednesday at age 80, two years after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

    I wanted to take a few moments to offer some thoughts about Joan, and maybe even some lessons from her life. Because as it happens, Joan Parker had become a friend of mine. Or, to put it more accurately, I was lucky enough to be her friend. This was an appreciation I was not looking forward to writing, because I felt that while she was alive, the friendship was personal and not to be shared.

    While I had interviewed Robert B. Parker once and met him a couple of other times, I only met Joan after he passed away in 2010. As it happens, we connected through Facebook. Robert B. Parker was not a digital kind of guy, but after his death the family created a Facebook page where it provided news about the novels and offered fans a place to talk about the novelist's various creations. When I posted a piece I'd done about Parker back in 1985 on MNB, I re-posted it on RobertBParker.net, and soon heard from Joan, who liked the piece a lot and felt that she'd learned stuff in it about his Spenser novels that she had not known. (I never quite believed that, but appreciated the sentiment.) We emailed back and forth a bit, and then, a year or so ago when I mentioned that I'd be in Boston on business, she invited me to stop by the house.

    Then, as now, I was a little startled by that. She didn't really know me. I could've been a stalker, or worse. But I'm no fool, so I accepted the invitation.

    I walked up the path to her door in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and rang the bell. She answered, with a big smile ... and because I was still a little in awe, I mentioned that she was inviting someone into her house that she didn't really know. She shot me a look suggesting that she was entirely capable of taking care of herself, and said, "You want to just stand out here?"

    No," I said. And she invited me in, and escorted me to the office where Robert B. Parker had written so many of his books.

    It was an amazing couple of hours. She was interested in what I did for a living, and full of stories about her life with "Bob." She told me about her lung cancer, and seemed mostly annoyed that chemotherapy was eating into her exercise regimen. We chatted for a long time about the challenges of, in essence, keeping the family business alive ... and she seemed intrigued by the perspectives of someone who knew something about the Parker legacy but had some objectivity. She swore like a stevedore, which somehow seemed endearing. And the coolest thing of all - I got a tour of Parker's office, as she showed me what she'd changed and kept the same, and I sat in the chair where he'd had a picture taken for the back of many of his books.

    I was in geek heaven.

    After that, we stayed in touch via email. I sent her a copy of "The Big Picture," and she was enthusiastic about it, and we went back and forth about the different authors who were taking over her husband's various series. And she was full of plans, and was especially rhapsodic about Boston University's archive of Parker's work. (I even got an introduction to the chief archivist, who gave me carte blanche to look through the files and boxes and exhibits-in-planning. Total geek heaven!)

    Once, during another trip to Boston, we went to the Legal Seafoods in Cambridge, where she insisted that I sit in the seat at the bar where Robert B. Parker often sat. There was even a small plaque on the bar memorializing that fact. We sat for an hour or so, just chatting about her business and mine. She called me "Kiddo," the only person in my memory to do so. I felt like I had a new friend.

    I last saw Joan for drinks just a week or so ago, at Rialto in Cambridge. She had vodka, straight up. I had beer. She gave me a hug and called me "Kiddo."

    When I first saw her last week, she was immaculately dressed, as always, but she also seemed frail and a little unsteady on her feet. This is a woman who in her late seventies, despite her cancer diagnosis, remained fanatical about exercise. Joan mentioned that she was continuing to do Pilates and yoga, but she seemed a bit tired. She conceded that the cancer had worsened, but that she'd elected not to do anything invasive to slow its effects. She was going to live her life until she was done.

    Still, she was, as always, a terrific conversationalist. I told her about my interview with Ace Atkins, who has taken over the writing of the Spenser novels, and she was unbridled in her enthusiasm for both him and his take on the characters. She told me that she'd still like to see a Spenser cookbook published, and told me that she'd found a list of writing rules compiled by her husband. I mentioned that novelist Elmore Leonard had published just such a list several years ago, and that she might like to do the same; as soon as I returned home from Boston, I sent her a copy. And she sent me back an email: "Thanks  so much for the book...and for our visit ...I will be in touch soon."

    In the Spenser novels, Robert B. Parker used to describe Susan Silverman, his protagonist's longtime life partner, as having a kind of intangible force of personality that took his breath away. And he never failed to note that he'd modeled Susan on Joan, and Spenser's passion for Susan on his passion for his wife.

    While Joan wasn't always thrilled with being seen as a real-life Susan Silverman, I completely get the "force of personality" description. Life hadn't always been easy - in addition to the lung cancer, she'd already survived breast cancer - but she'd spent many years as an enormously successful philanthropist in the Boston area, turning her and her husband's celebrity into a force for good, raising money for charities that helped people with H.I.V. and AIDS.

    I spent about 90 minutes with her last week. About an hour in, we were joined by three gentlemen with whom she had a meeting about one of her philanthropies. But after some more anecdotes and memories and laughter, I sensed it was my time to leave. Joan had work to do, and she wasn't going to stop until she was done. And so I leaned over, gave her a kiss on the cheek and a hug. "I'll see you next time, " she said. She may have even called me "kiddo" one last time.

    Life lessons, and business lessons, never stop coming. If you pay attention.

    I only knew Joan Parker for a year - we first met in May 2012 - but I feel like I learned much from her. If nothing else, our brief friendship speaks to the power of social media; without Facebook, it is unlikely we ever would have met. And it speaks to the importance of continuing to ask questions, to reach out to new people, to get outside your comfort zone.

    At a time when so many of the people I know in her age bracket are retired, or beaten down by disease or dementia, or somehow seem disengaged from what is going on around them, or just plain cranky, Joan was none of those things. There was nothing retired or retiring or disengaged about her. She understood the role and importance of the past, but her vision was forward.

    Robert B. Parker died while writing the next book. Joan Parker died while living her life. We should all be as lucky as both of them.

    I only knew Joan Parker for a year. But I'm going to miss her.




    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Slàinte!
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    Joan Parker, the widow of the mystery novelist Robert B. Parker, died yesterday. She was 80, and had diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in August 2011.
    KC's View:
    This piece of sad news just came across my computer. I'll have some thoughts about this tomorrow.

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    Artificial is out…organic is in! Natural sweeteners are flying off grocery shelves faster than retailers can restock. With consumers demanding natural sweeteners at an exponential rate, now is the time to incorporate Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Stevia into your set.

    According to Spins, organic and natural low calorie sweeteners are up 10% in the natural channel and responsible for all positive growth in the conventional channel. Have you refreshed your category to reflect this seismic shift in how people shop?

    Now in a NEW convenient 4.2 oz. flip-top jar, Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Stevia provides customers with a quick and easy way to sweeten just about anything-tea, coffee, oatmeal, cereal and fruit. The easy to open wide-mouth lid makes the jar perfect for everyday tabletop use.

    Say goodbye to the pink, blue and yellow. Give your customers what they want and be the first retailer in your area to carry Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Stevia in a 4.2 oz. convenient flip-top jar.

    Contact us today to be first to carry this HOT NEW product: 1-800-680-1896 or email CS@OrganicSugars.biz.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2013

    Eleven Tunisian companies will introduce their bottled olive oils at the Summer Fancy Food from June 30 to July 2, 2013 in New York City.

    Tunisia is the most important olive-growing country of the southern Mediterranean region, producing some of the finest extra virgin olive oils in the world. Tunisia is also known for its organic varieties of olive oils, a growing segment within the olive oil category.

    The Tunisian olive oil companies plan to expand their presence in the US market in the coming year. Currently, Tunisian olive oils can be found on the shelves of hundreds of US specialty food stores. Now you can promote their branded oils in supermarkets and other food outlets. Tunisian olive oils are available in glass and tin for retailers.

    Visit the Tunisian Pavilion, Booth 3772, to meet Tunisia’s olive oil producers. For more information about Tunisian olive oil, go to: www.tunisia-oliveoil.com.

    KC's View: