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    Published on: September 10, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    "Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron: Proven Technology.  Innovative Thinking.  Intelligent Solutions for Fresh.

    Content Guy's Note: "Fresh Talk" is a new MNB feature, scheduled to alternate on Wednesdays with "Kate's Take."  It will examine all aspects of "fresh," in both the broadest and most focused meaning of that term (depending on the whims of the columnist). "Fresh Talk" is sponsored by Invatron...which you can learn more about here…but which has no input into the subjects covered or responsibility for the attitudes taken.

    I'm Kevin Coupe, and this is FreshTalk.

    I'm coming to you from AT&T Park, in San Francisco, where I've just been to a Giants game and have discovered that there's something interesting going on here behind the center field wall.

    This used to be a place where they'd store batting cages and some television equipment. But here, Giants management and Bon Appétit, the stadium's foodservice provider, have worked together to create "The Garden," which is where they're growing all sorts of fresh produce that is actually being used in the two restaurants that also are out here.

    There are aeroponic towers on which they are growing lettuce, as well as places where they are growing strawberries, kumquats and dwarf artichokes - there is a real sense that this is a thriving, active 4,000 square foot garden. It also seems kind of perfect - this is a part of the country, after all, that thrive son great food, where Alice Waters of Chez Panisse has brought gardens to public schools, and where somehow a garden beyond the center field fence doesn't seem out of place.

    My point here - and you can get a better view of The Garden by watching the video at left - is that fresh food is not just something you can talk about. It offers the opportunity to make it front and center, providing not just theater but also providing concrete evidence of your commitment to being fresh and healthy.

    That's what is on my mind this morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Bloomberg has a story that the financially troubled US Postal Service (USPS) "is slashing prices for big retailers in a bid to wrest holiday shipments from FedEx and UPS. For customers shipping at least 50,000 packages a year, Uncle Sam's mailing service will charge up to 58 percent less for its accelerating Priority service, in some cases undercutting its for-profit rivals."

    One of its biggest advantages - the USPS does not have to pay parking tickets. FedEx and UPS do. The reason? Th USPS has "federal immunity from state and local regulation."

    According to the story, "Neither company breaks out how much it pays in municipal fines, but a look at New York public records show the tab must be sizable. FedEx was paying almost $2 million per quarter to the city of New York last year, according to Crain's. That's almost $8 million a year in just one city, enough to cover about two-thirds of the pay package for CEO Fred Smith and enough to pay Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe 18 times over.

    "UPS' tab was similar. In recent years, UPS has become creative in its attempts to dodge the parking police. In New York, where it gets more tickets than anywhere else, the company rents spaces in parking garages on busy routes. It also sends supervisors to scout for open spots and maps out seemingly secret nooks, like alleyways where traffic police don't wander."

    This means that the USPS can, in fact, focus on strategies and tactics without worrying about this particular item on its ledger.

    It is an advantage, Bloomberg suggests, that Amazon would like to imitate: "That's what the drones are for."

    It's an Eye-Opener…
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    The Washington Post reports that in addition to introducing new iPhones and a new smart watch yesterday, Apple yesterday "entered the daunting world of consumer finance with a new mobile payment system built to resist the relentless attacks of cybercriminals who have ravaged the nation’s retail industry."

    As soon as Apple Pay was announced, Whole Foods said it would participate in the service.

    The Post writes that Apple Pay "could be a bigger bet" than either of the other two, "given its potential to shake up two industries — retail and finance. Both are central to the U.S. economy but have struggled to adapt to technological change and especially the rising sophistication of cybercriminals, who have targeted a wide array of marquee corporate names, including Target, Neiman Marcus, JPMorgan Chase and, most recently, Home Depot."

    Apple Pay, the story says, "would allow users to buy products from many stores using credit card information loaded onto an iPhone by its owner. A consumer would merely need to hold a device close to a sensor and confirm the purchase with a fingerprint scan or other method. The merchant would get two codes: One would identify the credit card; the other would be a one-time authorization code. Even if a hacker somehow stole both, they couldn’t be used for any other transaction."

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "Apple Pay supports credit and debit cards from Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, as well as banks like Bank of America, Capital One Bank, Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo."
    KC's View:
    Analysts say that Apple may have an easier time implementing this system and making it work than its competitors because it controls so much of its eco-system; it isn't like it has to persuade a wide number of partners to collaborate.

    We're at a time when a safe, secure and convenient alternatives to longtime and, some would say antiquated, payment systems may get some traction.

    Besides, I'm a total Apple junkie. I'd try it.

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Dollar General, having been spurned twice by Family Dollar when it offered $9 billion and then $9.1 billion for the chain, now will take the "hostile takeover" route, going directly to Family Dollar shareholders with its offer.

    The goal is to persuade Family Dollar's stockholders that the Dollar General offer is better - and more likely to navigate antitrust concerns - than the $8.5 billion offer from Dollar Tree that was accepted by Family Dollar management.

    According to the Journal, "Dollar General's maneuver is not without its risks—because it is offering to take over the company without having had access to its confidential financial information. Launching the tender offer will, however, allow Dollar General to start antitrust discussions with the Federal Trade Commission, where it can determine how high a hurdle it would have to clear to get a deal through, a person familiar with the matter said.

    "Dollar General has said it would sell up to 1,500 stores following a merger, although it believes it would have to divest far fewer than that."

    Bloomberg reports that when it makes its case to antitrust regulators, Dollar General will make what is being referred to as the Walmart argument - that if the two companies merge, it won't result in less competition and higher prices because the combined chains will still have to compete with Walmart, which is dominant in many markets. In fact, the reasoning goes, the market will be more competitive because a stronger Dollar General/Family Dollar will be better positioned to do battle with Walmart and other discounters.

    Bloomberg also writes that "while Dollar General plots its next move, Dollar Tree’s deal is progressing through the FTC. Dollar Tree and Family Dollar said today that they received a second request from the agency for information on the transaction, which extends the government review beyond 30 days. Even with the longer evaluation, the chains reiterated that the deal will be completed as soon as the end of November."
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure why any Family Dollar shareholder would prefer the Dollar Tree offer … but I guess we're going to find out. If antitrust regulators seem okay with Dollar general and its conditions for an acquisition, then maybe it pulls the rug out from under the Family Dollar-Dollar Tree deal.

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    In the UK, the Telegraph reports that Walmart-owned Asda Group has announced its plans for what is described as "a new click and collect service in a bid to expand its presence in the south of the England." The company says it "will be rolling 'intelligent click and collect pods,' temperature-controlled units where customers can collect fresh food and other goods at their convenience."

    The new project builds on a pod program that Asda developed last year to service London commuters in six Underground stations.

    Andy Clarke, Asda's CEO, tells the Telegraph, "Our existing grocery Home Shopping offer is already growing at more than 20pc year-on-year and this exciting new click and collect technology will allow us to bring Asda value to even more customers – particularly in London and the South East."

    The paper writes that "Asda was the only one of the 'big four' supermarkets to have reported a rise in like-for-like sales in the last quarter, and expects its ecommerce business to grow from 10pc to 30pc in five years."
    KC's View:
    Asda seems to be the only "traditional" retailer that has not suffered at the hands of discounters like Aldi, so it strikes me as very smart to find new ways to reach out to existing and new shoppers.

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Twitter says that it is "testing a way for users to buy products on Twitter, and the move is an early step in its plans to make mobile shopping easy and accessible. A small percentage of U.S. users will see a 'Buy' button on tweets from Twitter's test partners, which will allow consumers to buy a product directly from the tweet. The number of test users will grow over time, it added … After hitting the 'Buy' button, customers will get additional product details and then can enter shipping and payment information, after which the order information is sent to the merchant for delivery. Twitter noted that users' payment and shipping information is encrypted and safely stored after the first transaction, allowing for future transactions without re-entering customer information."

    This is just Twitter's latest effort to get more engaged with e-commerce. The Journal notes that "Twitter has dabbled in commerce over the past year since it hired former Ticketmaster Chief Executive Nathan Hubbard to lead the charge. It has partnered with Starbucks Corp. and American Express Co. on some campaigns. This year it teamed up with Inc. where users can add Amazon products to their shopping cart via Twitter by responding to the product tweet with the hashtag, #AmazonCart."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    Reuters reports that Canadian retailers - including Hudson's Bay Co., Canadian Tire Corp., and Metro - are "scrambling to keep pace with the likes of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and and Inc. in an increasingly crowded market"and "are investing heavily in high-tech tools to lure shoppers."

    According to the story, "Companies have ramped up their efforts to address consumers' evolving shopping habits and to compete with rivals such as Wal-Mart, which is pouring more than C$30 million ($27.4 million US) into Canadian e-commerce projects this year … The tools, which include data analytics, mobile apps and online stores, have long been used by U.S. retailers in their home market. Now, Canadian companies are recognizing them as essential."

    The story says that "online retail sales in Canada are expected to reach C$34 billion by 2018, according to Forrester, representing about 10 percent of retail transactions, up from 7 percent in 2013."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    Salon has an interview with Ben Cohen, one of the co-founders of Ben & Jerry's (sold to Unilever in 2000), in which he talks about his latest passion - getting money out of politics, or at least making its use more transparent.

    His grass roots initiative is called "The Stampede," and he describes it this way:

    "The Stampede is essentially a petition on steroids. We call it monetary Jiu-Jitsu. We’re using money to get money out of politics, and essentially we’re turning money into media.

    "The Stampede sells rubber stamps online, essentially at cost, and people buy one of those stamps and then they stamp messages on paper currency that says one of three major statements. One is 'Not to be used for bribing politicians, amend the Constitution'; another is 'Stamp money out of politics, amend the Constitution'; and another is 'Not to be used for buying elections, amend the Constitution.'

    "The beauty of it is that, usually, if people want to make their voice heard in the political process, the most they can do is sign a petition that hopefully gets seen at some point by the petition’s target. In this situation, if  you stamp a piece of money with your statement, 900 people see each bill that you stamp, as it gets put in circulation and passed from hand-to-hand. The numbers are kind of amazing: If one person stamps three bills a day for a year, that message gets seen by about a million people. It’s actually very powerful."

    It is a fascinating initiative, demonstrating that old hippies never die, they just lose their hair, gain a few pounds and, if we're lucky, come up with a new cause. If you are interested, you can read more about it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    • Some Walmart employees are upset by a new dress code established by the company, which requires store employees to wear a collared shirt and a vest.

    The Huffington Post describes the new mandate this way: "Under the new code, workers will have to a wear a collared blue or white shirt and black or khaki pants, along with a Walmart vest the company will provide. Employees can use clothes they already own or buy new clothes anywhere they want, but they have to pay for the shirts and pants out of their own pockets."

    The story says that employees say they simply don't have the money to lay out for new clothes, and object to Walmart making demands that seem insensitive to employees' financial issues.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 10, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: