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: October 8, 2014

    "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.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FreshTalk.

    I'm coming to you this morning from the Lunds & Byerly's Kitchen in Wayzata, Minnesota, which the company opened earlier this year as an experiment in fresh food marketing. I've always thought that one of the most important rules for any retailer is to get out of town, to travel, to see what the most innovative companies are doing around the country … and this is a perfect example of why.

    This 17,000 square foot unit is almost entirely devoted to fresh food - entrees, salads, charcuterie, pizzas, sushi - all of them laid out in what really is the epitome of effective food theater … dramatic, yet entirely accessible. And, at one end of the store, is a cafe that has a full bar and a sit-down dining experience, with food and drink being ordered via the iPads that are at every table.

    It's not just fresh foods that are available here, though … because customers can order traditional groceries online, or via the in-store iPads, and have them delivered to Amazon-style lockers at the other end of the store. So you can actually do a full shop here, though it is a non-traditional full shop.

    It is all very cool, and very effective. And some of the concepts Lunds and Byerly's have been testing here have already found their way into its regular stores, like the new and fantastic Byerly's opened just a few weeks ago in Edina, Minnesota.

    Now, to be sure, this isn't a perfect store. The development in which it operates isn't fully built yet, and so the expected customer base hasn't yet materialized. But in a lot of ways, I think that stores like these are the future of the supermarket industry … or at least one future, as innovative retailers like Lunds and Byerly's look for new ways to be relevant to a changing consumer base.

    That's what's on my mind. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Sometimes, the facts just catch up with you. Especially in our modern world.

    That seems to be what has happened to Christopher Columbus, who gets a lot of credit for having discovered America even though the Vikings got here first, 500 years earlier, and who had, shall we say, a questionable human rights record.

    On John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight," this past weekend, there was a segment about Columbus that what school children "tend not to learn are the parts of Columbus’ life where where he kidnapped native Americans and sold them into slavery, had his men slash them to pieces and through disease and warfare killed roughly half the population of Haiti. But in fairness none of that rhymes with, “In fourteen hundred and ninety two.”

    The question that "Last Week Tonight" asked was, How is Columbus Day "still a thing?"

    Well, in some places, it isn't.

    Slate has a story noting that "the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday commemorating 'Indigenous People's Day,' which will be celebrated every year on the second Monday of October, aka the federal Columbus Day holiday. The city's mayor is expected to sign the resolution on Columbus Day next week."

    Now, this is seen as a purely symbolic gesture. The resolution has no legal force, and Seattle did not celebrate Columbus Day anyway.

    But symbolic gestures matter, and this one certainly does, especially if you happen to be an indigenous people.

    And, as I say, it is important to remember that in our modern world, sometimes the facts catch up with you.

    It is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    The Washington Post this morning reports that Walmart plans to "eliminate health insurance coverage for about 30,000 of its part-time workers, a move that the nation’s largest retailer says is aimed at slashing its rising health-care costs." The workers who will see their health care coverage eliminated are those who work less than 30 hours a week, or, as the Post describes it, "2 percent of the company’s 1.3 million U.S. workers and about 5 percent of its part-time workforce."

    In addition, Walmart said yesterday that in 2015 it will raise the health care premiums for its employees that retain health care coverage.

    The Associated Press reports that " The move, which would affect 30,000 employees, follows similar decisions by Target, Home Depot, and others to eliminate health insurance benefits for part-time employees."

    The Los Angeles Times writes that "in January, Target Corp. said it would stop offering health insurance to part-time workers, partly because employees could probably get cheaper — and in some cases better — coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Home Depot Inc. made a similar announcement several months earlier."

    "We had to make some tough decisions," Sally Wellborn, Walmart's senior vice president of benefits, tells the AP, saying that the company will use a third-party organization to help part-time workers find insurance alternatives: "We are trying to balance the needs of [workers] as well as the costs of [workers] as well as the cost to Walmart," she says.

    According to the Post, "Greg Foran, chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S., told investors during a conference call in August that health-care costs were up $180 million compared to the previous year, a figure he said was 'well above' the company’s initial estimates.  By the end of the fiscal year, Wal-Mart expects to see a $500 million increase in health-care expenses due to higher levels of employee enrollment in its plans and higher costs.  Almost 1.2 million employees and their family members are covered by Wal-Mart health-care plans."

    In 2012, Walmart said that new employees working less than 30 hours a week would no longer be offered health care coverage, though existing employees would remain grandfathered. In 2011, it had eliminated health insurance for employees working less than 24 hours a week.
    KC's View:
    Good thing that Walmart also recently announced that it will run a promotion in its stores that will have kiosks offering customers the ability to check out health care options, saying that it wants to be the nation's best option for one-stop health care shopping. The only problem may be that the customers may be fighting with the employees for places on line.

    I'm actually sympathetic to Walmart here - we're talking about an enormous amount of money, and I'm sure they believe that it could be better invested elsewhere … though in the long run, I'm not sure you can invest dollars anywhere better than in your own people.

    I guess I worry that policies like these lead to companies hiring more part-time people, because they cost less. Which leads to more people being under-employed, which hurts the economy in the long run, and leads to a great gap between the haves and have-nots, as the middle class continues to vanish.

    I'm not sure that these kinds of policies create a sustainable economy.

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports that Publix Super Markets has begun looking for a crisis management / public relations agency to help it prepare for dealing with the kind of data breach that has affected companies like Albertsons, Home Depot and Target.

    Even though, as the story makes clear, Public hasn't had any such problem. Yet.

    “It simply is just a proactive approach,” spokesman Dwaine Stevens said Tuesday. “There’s nothing looming, not any issues out there.”
    KC's View:
    I completely approve of the idea of being proactive about this, but I might argue a bit with the language … because if you;re reading the newspapers, you know that indeed there is something looming out there.

    One other note. I'm sure, knowing Publix, that management there isn't just focusing on the PR aspect of this problem. They've also got to be investing in systems and procedures that will make Publix's customer data as safe as possible. It isn't just appearances that matter.

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    California "has inflicted widespread economic damage on the Golden State, especially to its giant agriculture industry, an exception is the heart of its famed Wine Country—Napa and Sonoma counties north of San Francisco. Here the warm days, cool nights and dry weather have produced grapes of taste and quality that many vintners say they haven’t seen since the last drought in 2007-2009, and perhaps even better … Part of the reason: Reduced water forces the grapevines to produce smaller berries, which results in sugar and flavors being more concentrated."

    However, while the drought may result in this year's vintage being exceptional, it sounds like nobody is hoping that it will go on, because that could result in "groundwater supplies going dry and a buildup of salt in the soil that can damage grapevines."
    KC's View:
    Reserve some 2014 cabernet sauvignon for me.

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    Economic optimism held steady in October, with 46% of gas consumers saying that they were optimistic about the economy, according to the latest NACS Consumer Fuels Survey. A majority of consumers ages 18-34 (53%) say that they are optimistic about the economy.

    According to the study, "While optimism remained essentially unchanged from 47% in September, it is significantly higher than a year ago when concerns over the government shutdown sent optimism plummeting to 35%, the lowest level recorded since January 2013." 

    One of the major reasons for high optimism, the study says, is falling gas prices.
    KC's View:
    Am I the only one who thinks that falling gas prices are largely illusory, and that the oil companies are playing us all for long-term suckers?

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    • Bi-Lo Holdings said yesterday that it plans to close almost two dozen of its Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie stores that have been defined as underperforming. The stores - in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina - will all be closed before Thanksgiving.

    • The New York Times this morning reports on how "Among subcultures that pride themselves on early adoption — techies, foodies, Brooklyn baristas — Mexican Coke is the new black. MexiCoke, as it is also called, is imported from Mexico and is sweetened by pure cane sugar, rather than the corn syrup found in the American version. Devotees say it delivers a sugar-infused, caffeine-amplified buzz, which is a particular draw for stay-up-all-night coders, writers and musicians. For hard-core fans, it’s Mexican Coke or none at all.

    "More expensive than most sodas, 12- and 16.9-ounce glass bottles of the beverage can go for $3 or more apiece. But its followers splurge because of what they see as a two-pronged authenticity — a nostalgic look and natural ingredients (as natural as a soda can be, anyway)."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    Regarding the observation that consumers may be to numb to data breaches, and therefore are neither worrying about nor doing anything about them, MNB reader Peter H. Grimlund wrote:

    We aren’t numb.  We just don’t know what to do to prevent it from happening.  The solution that all of the retailers suggest is to monitor your bills to look for malicious charges or continually change your passwords.  That is not a solution – burdening the consumer to change the “locks” when they handed out the “keys” to our personal information.  Especially since we know that we will have to change the “locks” again in a month or day or weeks or whatever because some other company was broken into.  If JP Morgan Chase can be hacked, who is safe?  The whole electronic exchange needs to be completely redesigned so that we the consumer are not being forced to be both victim and cyber policeman.  Until that day comes, when a true solution is presented to me, I will remain “dazed and confused” – not numb.

    The story only ran this morning, and I've already gotten email about the Walmart decision about insurance:

    The medical costs will then shift to the taxpayers as the unpaid medical bills will be cost shifted to those with insurance or paid by Medicaid etc.   I really can't fault Walmart as I suspect their retail competitors do not offer health insurance to part time workers either.  And sadly, the retail workforce is largely part time to avoid paying for such benefits.  This is nothing new.  A friend was personnel manager at a Marshall Fields Dept. store 25 years ago and they played the same game.

    Congress and even the President are concerned that too many people are being limited to 30 hours for purposes of avoiding Obamacare and their solution is to redefine full time as 40 hours. I guess 39 hours of work without insurance is better than 30 hours of work without insurance.

    You and I have live/lived a charmed life in regard to medical insurance  - while self employed we were able to ride on our spouses' coverage.  I had to pay full boat for mine since I was the major household earner but the premium was not age dependent so it was still a bargain at $400 a month.    But spousal coverage is often not included - my daughter's husband teaches at a private school in NC.  He and the kids are covered, but she is on her own - has a limited policy that costs over $400 a month    Coverage under husband's policy would be over $600 a month.   He earns less than $50,000 even after almost 20 years of experience.

    Got the following email responding to Michael Sansolo's column about leadership and generation gaps:

    Love the lesson about the generational gap. As a 22 year old professional I see it happen all the time with older managers and the toll it takes on young professionals is usually hidden but can cause major issues. Like you said, we have been “trained” via texting, social media, and even the way school is now structured to receive immediate feedback, which often times is focused on the positive vs the negative. To capture the talent that the younger generation has I think it is extremely important for managers to understand that need for feedback. I think that really is all it can take to bring out the talent in young professionals.

    Would love to hear more around this from you!

    You will. This has been a major theme for MNB since we started, and it is one that we will return to again and again. (In fact, I'm thinking about doing tomorrow's FaceTime about it…)

    Thanks. I can't tell you how gratifying it is for Michael, Kate and me to know that 22-year-old professionals are reading our stuff.

    On another subject, MNB reader Kevin Hollenbeck wrote:

    Have been away from your newsletter for a while ( for reasons that are not important right now) but glad to say that I have come back……

    I noticed in your sport section that you referred to Washington Redskins…..I was wondering if you ever addressed your reasons for continuing to use that name in past newsletter?

    ….I can see both sides…but at the end of the day….If I was Snyder I would change the name…just not worth all the bad publicity and it my POV just the right thing to…..

    But the point of the email is not to debate the issue was just curious if you ever addressed it and if you have let me know what day and I will go back and read it……I am curious what you would do if you were the Redskin’s owner?

    I don't think I ever have.

    To be honest, I never really thought about whether to use the word "Redskins" on MNB; it only really happens when the team plays on Thursday or Monday nights. But now I'll have to think about it.

    If I owned the team, I would have changed the name a long time ago. I think a change probably is inevitable, and it would have been so much smarter to get ahead of the story and seem embracing of change, rather than be dragged into the solution kicking and screaming.

    Yesterday, I apologized for the inadvertent use of a bad word (I misspelled "shut").

    And I expressed gratitude that so many people were understanding about the mistake, saying, essentially, that shut happens. As one reader told me in an email that I cited yesterday, "Don't worry about it. If any of your competitors made that mistake, nobody would care. Or even notice."

    Which led MNB reader Mark Boyer to write:

    The only thing that struck me while reading this piece is that I didn’t know you had competitors.

    I won’t bother to ask who they might be, since I haven’t been missing them anyway.

    And from another:

    Wait a minute… You have competitors?

    Are they any good?

    Could you send a link?

    Only kidding Kevin.  Your site is unique, which says a whole lot.

    Thanks. I'm blushing.

    I've always believed that one of the things that makes MNB unique is the emotional and intellectual investment of the MNB community … it has been one of the great experiences of my professional life. I find it interesting that there are other sites out there that try to imitate it, by imposing structure, seeding it with the opinions of consultants, and hoping that they can create the illusion of community.

    In so many ways, what we have here at MNB is unique because it has evolved organically. I wish I could say that I had a game plan, and that this was all by design. But mostly, it is because of all you folks.

    And here's the other thing. I think we're all having a lot more fun doing this that the other guys. Which is another reason why they really aren't competition at all.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 8, 2014

    In Major League Baseball's National League Divisional Series, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Washington Nationals 3-2, winning the best-of-five series three games to one, and moving on to the National League Championship Series.

    In the other NL Divisional Series, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2, winning their best-of-five series three games to one … and they also move on to the NL Championship Series, where they will play the Giants.
    KC's View:
    I'm totally conflicted on this one … two of my favorite people in the retail business, Joanie Taylor and Larree Renda, are passionate fans of the Cardinals and Giants, respectively. So I'm just going to sit back and enjoy … and wait for the World Series, during which I will be rooting for the National League team (because they play real baseball in the NL…none of that annoying designated hitter stuff).