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    Published on: September 5, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Whole Paycheck? That's a nickname that Whole Foods probably would prefer not to have, and its recent efforts to address its high-price reputation may be bearing fruit.

    Bloomberg is out with a survey saying that "a basket of 97 items, including orange juice and frozen pizza, was $391.39 at Whole Foods, compared with $398.44 from Fresh Direct and $458.84 at Gristedes." However, "Whole Foods was still pricier than Fairway Market, whose basket of goods was $347.10."

    The story notes that Whole Foods "has been lowering its prices, especially on produce, to better compete with food sellers that are aggressively pushing into organics.? In other words, Whole Foods shoppers have Sprouts to thank for the fact that they are not spending quite as much at Whole Foods as in the past.

    It also is important to keep this study in context. Comparing Whole Foods' prices to Gristedes and FreshDirect isn't exactly setting the bar very high … and it tells you a lot about New York pricing that on that basket of groceries, Gristedes is more than a hundred dollars more expensive than Fairway.

    Still, it will be interesting to see if Whole Foods is able to shake its longtime image … and it tells you a lot that it appears to feel Sprouts and other lower-cost alternatives nipping at its heels.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    Reuters reports that Amazon is testing the use of the US Postal Service (USPS) for Sunday grocery deliveries in San Francisco.

    According to the story, "The postal service began a 60-day trial in the first week of August, shipping small grocery parcels in insulated bags right to buyers' doorsteps between 3am and 7am in the morning, where demand for delivery is generally at its lowest."

    Amazon already has used the USPS - which has been going through significant financial troubles, losing $2 billion in the last quarter alone - to make Sunday deliveries in select areas of the country, and plans to expand it in coming months.

    The USPS says that it is trying to "determine if delivering groceries to residential and business addresses would be feasible from an operations standpoint and could be financially beneficial for the organization."
    KC's View:
    I'm a little skeptical about the Post Office delivering my food, but I think this makes a lot of sense for both Amazon and the USPS. Amazon needs to find ways to extend its Amazon Fresh franchise in ways that are cost-effective, since it seems to be under its own financial pressures from investors who are looking for higher profits. And the Post Office, instead of cutting back on services, absolutely needs to find ways to make itself more relevant, as opposed to less so.

    It certainly is worth testing.

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    The New York Times reports this morning that "hundreds of fast-food workers and labor allies demanding a $15-an-hour wage were arrested in sit-ins around the country on Thursday, as the protesters used civil disobedience to call attention to their cause. Organizers said nearly 500 protesters were arrested in three dozen cities — including Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Little Rock, Ark. All told, the sit-ins took place in about 150 cities nationwide, the organizers said."

    The Times goes on to report that "Thursday’s demonstrations were the seventh in a series of one-day strikes by fast-food workers.

    "Ever since the strikes began in New York in November 2012, strategists have focused on expanding the effort to increase pressure on fast-food chains to set a wage floor of $15 an hour.

    "The Service Employees International Union, which has spent more than $10 million underwriting the fast-food movement, sought to add more protesters and decibels to the efforts on Thursday by getting home care aides to join the picket lines for the first time. The S.E.I.U., which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers and janitors, hopes that the push for $15 will help lift the wages of many home care workers and other low-wage health care workers."
    KC's View:
    I continue to believe that while these employees certainly want to make more money, this should not be seen as people wanting something for nothing. This is about people who want to be appreciated … who want to be seen as an asset, not a cost … and who want to feel something other than desperation when they go to work.

    Sure, it is about money. But it also is about something more … and employers in all venues ought to pay attention.

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    Reuters reports that Starbucks is planning to test a couple of new store formats, one targeted at its more upscale customers and one on the need for speed.

    In Seattle, in the hipster Capitol Hill neighborhood, Starbucks plans to open what is described as "a 'first of its kind' 15,000-square-foot small-batch reserve roastery … The company will consolidate roasting of its reserve offerings, including Geisha and Jamaica Blue Mountain, in the facility, which will house a store, a tasting room and a cafe devoted to its reserve coffees."

    And in New York, Starbucks plans to test "its first 'express' store in Manhattan in 2015. The company said the New York store would be small and convenient, with a limited food and beverage menu. It will use digital payment and mobile ordering to speed up service."

    Starbucks says there could be as many as 100 of the reserve-only stores around the world within the next five years. The company is not saying how many of the express stores could be opened.
    KC's View:
    And this is the same company testing coffee trucks on college campuses.

    Starbucks is smart enough to know that it has to keep innovating … has to keep finding new ways to be relevant to its shoppers … has to keep reaching out to appeal to new customers (because there must be a couple of folks out there who are not Starbucks drinkers).

    The same box doesn't work everywhere. This is a lesson that more retailers should learn.

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    The Boston Globe reports on the five elements that allowed Market Basket to hit the ground running once the side of the family represented by Arthur S. Demoulas agreed to sell the 50.5 percent of the retailer that it controlled to cousin Arthur T. Demoulas, resolving a business dispute and family feud that had roiled the company, causing employee walkouts and customer boycotts.

    Things reportedly have gotten back to some semblance of normal at Market Basket, with Arthur T. Demoulas gaining operational control of the company even before the deal has been finalized. The reasons…

    • The employees who walked out got right back to work. For the most part, these were warehouse employees, not store employees, and once the deal was announced they returned to their jobs immediately.

    • The stores and store employees were ready. There may not have been much stock and fewer customers in the stores, but they remained clean and spotless.

    • Vendors have responded quickly, making direct-to-store DSD deliveries even in categories where such shipments are unusual, all in the name of getting Market Basket back on track.

    • Loyal customers returned in droves, prepared to make major food purchases. The fact that the stores opened in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend helped.

    • Arthur T. Demoulas is once again making the decisions, and he has enormous employee and customer goodwill behind him. (Co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and James Gooch, who were hired to replace him when he was deposed by Arthur S. Demoulas, reportedly have to sign off on any decision he makes, but he's the one in charge and they can't risk being seen as creating any problems.
    KC's View:
    I still think that the end of the story has not yet been written. The company has a lot of debt to deal with, which could affect pricing. And somehow, somewhere, I can't shake the feeling that there is another lawsuit or two lurking out there. Not sure who is going to file it, but the ground on which Market Basket sits does not seem all that stable.

    Here's the question I'd raise. Is it possible that Market Basket, having taken on too much debt, ends up being sold to a bigger national retailer sometime in the next five years?

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    Dave Lewis, the former Unilever executive who this week took over as CEO of Tesco, the troubled UK-based retailer, said this week that changes in management at the company are "inevitable."

    "Will there be (management) changes? Let’s be honest, there has to be. We don’t want the trend of our business to carry on … What the nature of those changes will be, you’re just going to have to trust me for a while ... I won’t be making decisions hastily but I will, if I need to, change things. I will make those calls."

    The New York Times reports that Lewis concedes that there are no simple solutions: "I’m going to spend some time listening, I’m going to spend some time observing and learning from colleagues as to what it is they think we could be doing … But I do think it’s pretty clear: We have to get back to the core of our business ... We will go back to finding out what it is, be it price, be it service, be it availability, what it is that customers need from us so that they reward us with their loyalty."
    KC's View:
    What do you think the odds are that the use of printers at Tesco headquarters is going up these days, as a bunch of executives update their resumes?

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    Last night, in an election year debate with Neel Kashkari, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, California Gov. Jerry Brown said that he "probably" will sign the legislation, which would be the country’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

    The bill has been passed by both houses of the California state legislature, and sits on Brown's desk awaiting action. If Brown signs it, the bill would go into effect next year.

    Kashkari, for his part, said that there is "no chance" he would sign such a bill.
    KC's View:
    At least based on the polls, it seems like there is even less of a chance that Kashkari is going to get elected. So it looks like the California plastic bag ban is going to be implemented.

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    • Prosper Insight & Analytics is out with its eighth annual survey looking into consumers' online retail preferences, concluding that Amazon remains at the top of the list with 56.4 percent of online shoppers saying that it is their first choice. Walmart's website is second, at 12.7 percent, followed by eBay at 6.3 percent, Kohl's at 6.2 percent, and Best Buy at 6.1 percent.

    The survey also concludes that as shoppers become more acclimated to e-commerce, it has become easier for other companies to break into the top-50 list, including (34), (36) and (43), which made their first appearances on the list.

    • In Colorado, the Daily Camera reports that personal grocery shopping service Instacart plans to expand to Boulder.

    According to the story, "Boulder represents the first sub-tier market to be added by Instacart, and it would be the second — after Portland, Oregon — to launch with three stores. Instacart reached agreements with Costco, King Soopers and Whole Foods to serve customers in Boulder."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    • On National Public Radio (NPR), The Salt reports that "Perdue Farms says it has ditched the common practice of injecting antibiotics into eggs that are just about to hatch. And public health advocates are cheering. They've been campaigning against the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture, arguing that it's adding to the plague of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

    Jim Perdue, the company's CEO, tells The Salt that it took 12 years to get to this point: "You can't do this overnight. You really got to work hard at it. And that's why it's an exciting thing, because it's the culmination of a lot, a lot of effort."

    • Starbucks is saying that about 4,000 of its employees have applied for its new student aid program.

    The coffee retailer said last June that it will help put its US employees who work at least 20 hours a week through college, teaming up with Arizona State University to provide tuition reimbursement and financial aid to employees who study in the school's online program.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    • C&S Wholesale Grocers said yesterday that it has hired Joseph J. Schena, most recently the CFO of Bacardi Limited and the president and CEO of Bacardi International Limited, to be its new executive vice president/CFO.

    • Busch’s Fresh Food Market has appointed Mike Brooks president and CEO, succeeding John Busch, who led the company for 31 years.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    Joan Rivers, the tart-tongued comedienne who was a show business trailblazer, demonstrating for 50 years that women could be funny - even if her sometimes lacerating, take-no-prisoners humor could sometimes alienate and offend audiences - passed away yesterday. She was 81.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    In the first game of the National Football League season, the Seattle Seahawks, coming off their Super Bowl championship, convincingly defeated the Green Bay Packers 36-16.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    Got the following email from MNB reader Steve Rash, commenting on Kate McMahon's column pooh-poohing the new Hershey logo:

    I got a kick out of the last line in the story about the new Hershey's logo which references one of their biggest competitors. It’s not a catastrophe, or a massive recall of tainted product, but it certainly mars the introduction of a new logo to carry a storied American company forward for the next 100 years.

    Keep up the great work.

    We got a million of them….

    But seriously, folks…another MNB reader chimed in:

    Read your piece with great interest on Hershey’s new logo design and had two immediate thoughts: 1. I’m guessing that the average age of everyone working on this was in a fairly narrow band and higher than it should have been (e.g. no one had any familiarity at all with emojis). All major branding decisions today need to have representatives in their 20’s, 30’s and ideally, they should run them by some tweens/teens. 2. I’m guessing that the silver ink was expensive and that part of the redesign was to save money. Just guesses but perhaps educated ones?

    I'll certainly agree with the first one.

    MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

    Very simple, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Hershey logo is an iconic brand logo. Why  brand marketing and advertising wonks try to fix something that the consumer really knows and loves is quite puzzling to me.

    And from another reader:

    I appreciate Kate writing about the Hershey’s logo change.  I would never have noticed it.
    The price of chocolate is so high and the portion sizes too large so I am no longer swayed to buy ANY sweet regardless of the colorful in-aisle displays or availability at front end cash register racks.  
    Does Hershey’s really thinks their “old” logo was the #1 inhibitor to selling more chocolate?  That is the objective of packaging, right?

    Responding to Michael Sansolo's column this week about a coffee shop that's also a bank … or maybe it is a bank that also is a coffee shop … one MNB reader wrote:

    I am a regular at the 360 Cafe in Chicago.  Honestly, I thought it was just a promotional stunt like Vanguard's half-price coffee.  However, it is quite effective.

    They serve good food and coffee.  They provide free WiFi and a place where you can work on your computer.

    The staff is trained to prepare coffee and provide you with financial products if you need them.  It s a real soft-sell.

    I wish that there were more locations.

    Regarding our piece about how Staples is changing its stripes, MNB reader Jason Brasher wrote:

    Now if they have some coffee or tea with free Wi-Fi for those that may be picking up a few office supplies or simply work remotely and may need a place to plug in once in a while it could really be transformational. Office options for a mobile work force that may need big office capabilities without the big office…

    And maybe a bank…

    On another subject, MNB reader Kirk Brown wrote:

    After reading the article on CVS removal of tobacco at the cost of $2 Billion in revenue and their new name of CVS Health reflecting their mission, it now seems to be a logical step for CVS to remove candy, cookies, chips, soda, beer, wine and anything else considered unhealthy.

    Granted, tobacco was the most unhealthy of the group, and I personally don't use the product, but it seems to be a slippery slope from that point on.

    After all, how do they reconcile the sale of candy with a nearly 100% sugar content to children if their mission is health?

    How do they reconcile the sale of a 30-pack of beer to the overweight slob buying it after work each day if their mission is health, or the customer who shows up every afternoon at 3 to buy a gallon of wine?

    I know the quick response to avoid the connection between tobacco and the products mentioned above is that, if consumed in moderation, all of the products above are not a threat to ones health, but I still find their newly stated purpose as a "Health" company incongruous with the sale of those products if in-fact their true mission is health.

    Just one mans opinion.

    And MNB reader Andy Casey had thoughts about another commentary:

    I think your statement that employees have a desire “… to be appreciated, to be treated with the same respect as their employers, to be part of a team rather than just disposable cogs in the machine” is absolutely right on and represents the crux of the problem for so many companies.

    Early in my career, I left a large retailer where I was sick to death of being a “cog” and went to work for a little start up (now large and successful) with the only promise from my new boss of “long hours and low pay”.  He was absolutely right (certainly, the financial rewards came later) but the key difference was I felt like a member of a team, building something together where everyone’s role was critical to success.  Still without a doubt, the most fun I’ve ever had while working.

    This reminds me of my new favorite proverb:

    Better tired than bored.

    Which I have on a bulletin board in my office next to another favorite:

    Finished beats perfect.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

    I had last week off, so I took advantage of the time to catch up on some movies that I wanted to see….

    • "The One I Love" is a romantic comedy of sorts, but it also is wholly original, a look at relationships and love through an unexpected prism. The plot requires that I tell you nothing more than that, though I can say that the performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are wonderful, and Ted Danson has a terrific little turn as their marriage counselor. "The One I love" is in theaters, but it also is available on-demand and on iTunes, which is a good thing - it is the kind of movie that deserves to be seen, and I'm glad it is getting exposure in multiple venues. I recommend it highly.

    • "Guardians of the Galaxy" would ordinarily not be my sort of movie, but I must admit that I enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. Unlike some superhero movies, which tend to be a little reverent, there is something irrepressible about "Guardians," and even a little subversive. I knew nothing about its mythology going in, but that didn't matter ... it is a ride, well orchestrated by director James Gunn, and acted with tongues firmly in cheek. Chris Pratt? Sign him up right now to replace Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones when (inevitably) they reboot that series. Finally, let's not forget the terrific soundtrack, filled with classic rock songs that are infectious ... they'll get your feet tapping and bring you along for the ride.

    • On paper, "Magic in the Moonlight" has all the makings of a terrific screwball comedy - during the Roaring Twenties on the French Riviera, a young woman who says she can communicate with the spirit world seems to be infiltrating a rich family, and so one skeptic in the clan hires a famous debunker to come in and prove she is a fake. While trying to do so, he falls in love with her, which makes him question long-held cynicism about magic, spirituality and love. Sounds, great huh? Tailor-made for the likes of Cary Grant and Jean Arthur, written by Robert Riskin and directed by Frank Capra. Unfortunately, "Magic in the Moonlight," as written and directed by Woody Allen, is one of his most leaden efforts in recent memory. It is both plodding and heavy on plotting, with exposition in place of dialogue and talented actors - especially Colin Firth, who I normally like a lot - struggling to make it all vaguely believable. "Magic in the Moonlight" does have one ray of sunshine - Emma Stone as the medium, who is luminous. But that's about it, and I cannot recommend it to anyone. Rent "Annie Hall" instead.

    • Sometimes, a movie is what it is, and nothing more … and that's okay. in fact, it is a kind of pleasure. Such is the case with "The November Man," a late summer popcorn movie starring the former James Bond Pierce Brosnan as an aging, retired spy called back for one last mission. (Where have I heard that before? Still, when it comes to aging anything, I'm on board these days.) Most of the movie takes place in Belgrade, which I've never been to, and so it is nice to see someplace new. There are twists and turns, a number of which don't make sense; at one point, about ten minutes into the movie, there was what appeared to be a double cross, but what might really have been a triple cross or - be still my heart - an actual quadruple cross, and I had no idea what was going on, and I muttered to myself, "Okay, it is going to be one of those movies…" But I was fine with that. "The November Man" is not nearly as good as the Daniel Craig Bond movies, or the Matt Damon Jason Bourne movies; it does not have enough heft to be the aging-spy-with-regrets LeCarre story it seems to occasionally aspire to be, and it isn't as much fun as the better-than-reviewed Robert Redford-Brad Pitt "Spy Game," which it sometimes resembles. The supporting cast is perfectly supportive, Olga Kurlyenko (who was in the underrated Bond film "Quantum of Solace") is the requisite beautiful female lead, and Brosnan is just fine as he plays a part that is similar to those played by Liam Neeson and Kevin Costner in other recent movies (and, it appears, that Denzel Washington will be playing in "The Equalizer," coming soon and I can't wait.). As far as I'm concerned, you can't have too many aging protagonists on the big and small screens, and "The November Man" was exactly what it promised. Nothing more, and that's okay.

    "Locke" is a fascinating piece of moviemaking. Essentially, the entire film takes place in a single car, with one man - Ivan Locke - the wheel. It pretty much takes place in real time, as he drives at night, from his job at what appears to be a construction site, to London, less than two hours away. During the drive, he makes and takes a series of phone calls, having conversations with, among others, his wife, sons and boss. Sounds pretty boring, huh? But "Locke" is a tour de force because the main character is played by Tom Hardy, the amazing British actor who has inhabited in his career a wide variety of roles with chameleon-like intensity. Which is exactly what he does here, as his drive and conversations see his life and job slowly yet inevitably unravel, while he tries to make what he believes to be a series of moral and ethical choices. Making what could have been a static film seem totally fluid is writer/director Steven Knight, who does an extraordinary job keeping the whole thing moving, never letting up on the suspense. If I have one complaint, it is that the parts are more compelling than the whole … but I found the entire hour and 24 minutes to be an intriguing and largely successful filmmaking experiment.

    Much of "The Trip To Italy" also takes place in cars, but it is an entirely different experience. Those of us who enjoyed 2010's "The Trip" - and I very much count myself in that group - are going to be extremely happy to see Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon return. The bare-bones plot essentially is the same - two guys go on a road trip, staying in great hotels and eating in fabulous restaurants, ostensibly for a travel piece to be written for a newspaper. "The Trip" took place in the English countryside and, well, you can guess where "The Trip To Italy" takes place. Coogan and Brydon, two excellent British performers, play versions of themselves, and the movie really is about their friendship. They crack jokes, do impressions (their Michael Caine impressions from 'The Trip" return, and be glad of it), make bad puns, luxuriate in their food and surroundings, and generally talk about life. This last part is very important, because "The Trip To Italy" really is about friendship - about two guys who enjoy each other's company (most of the time), have great conversations, and even share their common sense of getting older and of time getting shorter. And they do this in a movie that is very, very funny, extraordinarily and subtly observant, and absolutely gorgeous to look at. It'll make you hungry, a little bit antsy to visit someplace exotic, but most of all, it'll make you want to call your best friend, or hang with him or her, and just shoot the breeze.

    One other entertainment note. I know that there are a lot of Robert B. Parker and "Spenser" fans in the MNB community, and I'm happy to tell you that the first season of "Spenser: For Hire" is finally available on DVD. The episodes, which ran in 1985-86, look great … just a bit dated, not exactly a faithful rendering of RBP's novels (too many car chases), but it has the late Robert Urich (winning as always, and best in the shows that actually were written by RBP)), the incomparable Avery Brooks as Hawk, all that wonderful Boston location shooting, and that great 1966 Mustang.

    It is not being sold by Amazon at this point, but is available directly from Warner Brothers, here.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 5, 2014

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    KC's View: