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: December 3, 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 an MNB feature that alternates 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.

    The New York Times has a story about how changing and expanding supply chain patterns are affecting the fruits that people eat: "If people are eating more of some kind of fruit," the Times writes, "it’s probably because farmers have figured out how to deliver more of it, at higher quality, throughout the year."

    And one of the chief beneficiaries of these improved capabilities are berries.

    Take blueberries, for example: "Historically, blueberries needed to be grown in regions that get cold weather for part of the year, because rising temperatures bring the plants out of dormancy. But newer “low-chill” blueberry varieties have helped make berries available all year by expanding production to formerly inappropriate areas like coastal California. That helps make more berries available in months like November."

    In addition, improved import quality - linked, at least in part, to a greater degree of traceability and trackability that improves transparency and trust - has expanded the palette of fruits available to consumers year-round.

    The Times goes on:

    "According to statistics published by the United States Department of Agriculture, per capita consumption of fresh raspberries grew 475 percent from 2000 to 2012, the most recent year for which data are available. Blueberry consumption is up 411 percent, and strawberries are up 60 percent."

    That doesn't mean that people are eating more fruit overall. In fact, the average American consumes 48 pounds of fruit a year, up just one percent since 2000. But patterns are shifting, away from things like apples and bananas (meaning, I suppose, that Raffi is going to have to rewrite one of his more popular songs) and towards things like berries, papayas, mangoes and lemons.

    Which means, in a bottom line sort of way, that smart retailers will grow this trend by taking advantage of availability and interest. Sure, "local" is important … but satisfying customers' appetites is the most important thing.

    Always.

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Bloomberg reports that Martha Stewart, dealing with the fact that her eponymous magazine has been losing money and seems to have lost, at least to some degree, its consumer buzz, is now getting into the cafe business: "Martha Stewart Cafe will open in the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, where the domestic maven's company headquarters are located. Cafe managers now are hiring baristas, according to Claudia Shaum, a spokeswoman for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc."

    There is no scheduled opening date at this point.

    The story notes that "Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which sells lifestyle magazines and brands cooking products, reported a $1.8 million loss last year amid competition from the Internet. It agreed to farm out most of its magazine operations to Better Homes and Gardens publisher Meredith Corp. in October to reduce costs."

    I found this particularly interesting because it was earlier this week that I wrote about how Meredith Corporation is bringing out a new quarterly magazine, Eat This, Not That! that is based on the longtime column in Men's Health magazine. The New York Times reported that the magazine will feature "articles on topics like recipes to maximize nutrition and weight-loss impact and a guide for making smart decisions when dining at well-known restaurants."

    While I've always found the "Eat This, Not That!" column to be interesting, I'm not sure that it calls out for a regular magazine, and I got a little grief from an MNB reader when I commented:

    Because what the world really needs is another magazine. Not to mention another diet-oriented magazine.

    The MNB reader who was offended by my comment suggested that I was underestimating the power of a great magazine … and he certainly had a point, in that my glib comment certainly pointed in that direction. It was another MNB reader, Glenn Cantor, who actually captured my intended sentiment more accurately:

    The common thread in your discussions about movies and magazines is content.  Relevant, compelling, and entertaining content is well-received.  The desired medium of delivery differs for each recipient, at different times, and for varied reasons.

    Exactly.

    Which, to circle back to the beginning of this Eye-Opener, probably is why Martha Stewart Living has lost its sheen - because its content became less differentiated, because other competitors became the flavor of the month, and because technology affected what people read, and when, and why.

    Ultimately, that's the challenge that is propelling Martha Stewart into the coffee business, and that will challenge Eat This, Not That! as it moves forward.

    Glenn Cantor made another, larger point in his email to me:

    This is the same reason why so-called omni-channel shopper marketing is expanding.  People are ultimately getting a product or service.  They can now choose to get it however they want.

    Exactly.

    Whether you are Martha Stewart, or a magazine publisher, or a retailer in any venue … that's the ongoing challenge.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    Jeff Bezos, the founder/CEO of Amazon, appeared yesterday at a conference in San Francisco sponsored by Business Insider (in which he is an investor), and addressed a number of issues…

    On persistent losses… "A few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn't work," Bezos said, according to a CNet story. "Bold bets...pay for a lot of failures. I've made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.com."

    According to the story, "Bezos' words signaled he has no interest taking his foot off the gas as Amazon pushes into new businesses -- from original television series to grocery deliveries to a 'smart' home speaker and smartphones. Some of these devices and services may prove to be busts, but Bezos said he continues to encourage his employees to experiment in the pursuit of the next big thing in tech."

    The apparent failure of Amazon's Fire Phone… Bezos said that some technologies "take iterations" to get right. "With the phone I just ask you to stay tuned," Bezos said.

    His acquisition of the Washington Post… According to a story in Advertising Age, Bezos said he is "optimistic" about the future of the paper. "The reason is changes in online readership, Mr. Bezos said. More people are reading the Post digitally, he said. And the paper -- which for decades proudly emphasized its local reporting, even more so as a swarm of national publications arose online -- is again expanding its footprint nationwide and even globally to better compete on the most important stories."

    The bottom line for Bezos: "My job is to encourage people to be bold... If you're going to take bold bets, there's going to be experiments."
    KC's View:
    No question that Bezos is doubling down on his long-term strategy, that he believes that both innovation and momentum are critical to achieving and maintaining any sort of lead in what essentially has become an arms race involving Amazon, Walmart and a whole bunch of other players.

    So I guess maybe the question is, can Amazon avoid becoming the Soviet Union in this scenario?

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    Reuters reports that a US district judge in Minnesota has ruled that Target must defend itself in a lawsuit "by banks seeking to recoup money they spent reimbursing fraudulent charges and issuing new credit and debit cards because of the retailer's late 2013 data breach."

    Target had sought to have the suit dismissed.

    The judge said that because Target played a "key role" in making its systems accessible to hackers, "this justified letting the five bank plaintiffs, which seek class-action status on behalf of lenders nationwide, pursue much of their lawsuit accusing the second-largest U.S. discount retailer of negligence and violating Minnesota consumer protection laws. The banks are seeking millions of dollars in damages."
    KC's View:
    I think in cases like this, Target at the very least must face the accusations in court, where evidence will be introduced and witnesses examined and cross-examined. I have no sympathy for banks, but the issue of culpability - both in this case, and in the larger scheme of things, considering the degree to which hacking has become a major issue - must be decided.

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that "Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Cyber Monday helped the retailer deliver its best online day ever for orders, driven by a surge in mobile traffic and sales of electronics during one of the most aggressive shopping periods of the year … Wal-Mart said customers viewed more than 1.5 billion pages on its site between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday with a higher traffic surge in the evening compared with previous years. Wal-Mart added that about 70% of its online traffic in the five-day period came from mobile."


    • Walmart Canada said yesterday that "it is adding 33 Grab and Go lockers in the Greater Toronto area to allow more holiday shoppers to take advantage of the new service."

    According to the announcement, Walmart "installed its first set of lockers at 10 locations in the Toronto area in August as part of its initiative to be the universal access point for the customer to get unbeatable prices for their full shopping needs whether through its bricks and mortar stores or through its digital platform."

    And, the company said, the move "follows a series of initiatives Walmart Canada has launched over the past year to dramatically accelerate its ecommerce program. These include doubling its online product assortment on walmart.ca last year and again doubling the assortment this year, launching an online grocery assortment providing a broad range of dry grocery items, and launching free shipping throughout most of Canada."   


    • The Associated Press reports that Walmart has denied charges by attorneys for comedian Tracy Morgan that the company is "stalling" a federal lawsuit related to a fatal highway crash in New Jersey that they say will lay bare inadequate trucking safety procedures.

    The June 2014 crash killed comedy writer James McNair. It was caused when a Walmart-owned truck, driven by a Walmart driver at a speed 20 miles over the speed limit on the NJ Turnpike, plowed into Morgan's car and five others last summer. The truck driver, Kevin Roper, has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that include vehicular homicide and assault by auto. Reports at the time said that Roper had been awake for 24 hours.

    Roper's attorneys have sought to have the Morgan lawsuit against Walmart until the driver's criminal case has been resolved, which led Morgan's lawyers to accuse the company of trying to stall their lawsuit. However, Walmart says it has taken no position on the Roper request and that "plaintiffs' accusation that Wal-Mart is somehow behind Mr. Roper's motion in an attempt to delay discovery is simply false."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Coca-Cola is getting onto the milk business with what it calls a "filtered milk" using the brandname Fairlife.

    The story describes Fairlife as a "brand of expensive, high-protein, low-fat milk," which Coke is looking at as a way of helping to compensate for a soft drink category that is not as fizzy as it used to be.

    However, the Times also reports that Coke is being slammed in social media for the online ads it has been using to promote Fairlife - the images show women dressed only in milk, mimicking things like the famous Marilyn Monroe photo from The Seven-Year Itch, and use tag lines like "Drink what she's wearing." Some accuse the ads of being sexist and offensive.

    Coke has said that the ads will not be used going forward.
    KC's View:
    I actually think the ads were sort of harmless, but I would acknowledge that my sensitivities are different from other people's.

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    WROC-TV News has a story about how Wegmans has tamed up with a company called Natural Upcycle to turn food waste into energy.

    According to the story, "Inside Wegmans' Pittsford store, there's no shortage of fruits and vegetables being sliced and diced. But it's the scraps that don't make the cut that are the main course in a new energy endeavor … Wegmans employees wheel the food scraps out of the store where they are picked up by a Natural Upcycle truck. The scraps are then taken to one of two local farms. One of those is Lawnhurst Farms in Stanley... it's ironically right down the street from a landfill. Food is emptied into an anaerobic digester where it is heated to 104 degrees and mixed with other organic waste full of bacteria like cow manure and rotten animal feed. That mixture lets off biogas."

    That biogas then is turn into electricity - enough to power 400 homes for a year.

    The story goes on to say, "Right now 12 Wegmans stores in Western New York are turning their scraps into power. Wegmans donates all edible food not sold in stores to local foodbanks; only scraps that cannot be eaten are part of this energy program.

    "It's an idea, with a lot of room to grow."
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    • Kantar Retail and TNS Express Online are out with a study suggesting that "the weekend before Thanksgiving may be the next 'Black Friday'. Twenty-eight percent of shoppers shopped in stores Nov. 22/Nov. 23 and 34 percent of shoppers chose to shop in stores the weekend after Black Friday (Nov. 29/Nov. 30), while 25 percent shopped on Black Friday. These results reflect how diluted Black Friday has become to today’s holiday shopper."

    In addition, the study says, "Many shoppers are shifting their shopping around Black Friday to avoid the hassle associated with the event. Sixty-five percent of shoppers surveyed chose not to shop because of crowds while 42% stayed out of stores to avoid traffic."


    Seeking Alpha reports that "Hershey is looking to replace high-fructose corn syrup in some of its products with sugar." The company says that the move is tied into evolving consumer preferences, but that there is no time frame for the shift.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    • The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said yesterday that it has hired Denzel E. McGuire, most recently a policy advisor to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), to be its new Executive Vice President of Government Relations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: