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    Published on: April 6, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Washington Post reports that the just-passed weekend marked a significant anniversary - it has been five years since customers lined up to buy Apple's first iPad.

    Some saw it as a "perplexing" product entry, the story says. "Some mocked it as a simply a big iPhone, or a solution looking for a problem. Others saw its potential but didn't know quite what it all meant."

    However, to date, Apple "has sold more than a quarter of a billion of them."

    Far from being a niche product, the Post writes, the iPad has become a ubiquitous piece of technology. They are "everywhere: in schools, in restaurants and on the walls of art museums." And Apple is teaming up with IBM to help target the enterprise market, as it looks to go beyond just personal usage.

    Yet, the story says, "analysts are quick to note now that tablet sales just aren't what they used to be. The category saw its first year-to-year dip ever in the last quarter of 2014, according to IDC, with 76.1 million units. Even Apple has seen its iPad sales growth dip; its latest earnings report showed iPad sales were down 18 percent from the same period last year. The slowing growth has been attributed to the rise of big-screen smartphones, such as the latest models of Apple's own iPhones. There are also lingering questions about just how many sizes of screen people really need and how often they want to replace their tablets."

    In some ways, reading this piece, I was surprised it has only been five years. I remember when the iPad was first introduced, there were a lot of people who even mocked the name, saying like it sounded more like a woman's sanitary product than a computer. And yet, I would have to say that in a bag full of Apple products - an iPhone, MacBook pro, iPod and iPad - the iPad may be my favorite, especially when it comes to content consumption (as opposed to content creation). I always say it is the piece of technology that I love the most but probably need the least ... it doesn't do anything the other items don't do, but there is something just wonderfully convenient about it. I love it.

    If sales are down, people who feel the way I do may be part of the problem. in fact, I own the original iPad - nine-and-a-half inches long, with a 64 GB flash memory. It doesn't even have a camera. And the newer versions, while they have more storage and other bells and whistles, haven't given me enough of a reason to upgrade. I suspect a lot of folks feel the same way.

    The rumor is that Apple may come out with a new iteration later this year. I hope so, and I hope it offers some kind of quantum leap that compels me to get a new one.

    I will tell you this. I cannot imagine hitting the road without an iPad in my bag. It has been a transformational piece of technology in my view ... I simply love it.

    Five years. Wow. What an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    Advertising Age reports that the introduction of the new Amazon Dash - a button with an adhesive strip that can be mounted on things like cupboards and washing machines, allowing people to press it and order with one click when they see that they are running low on specific products - could be a boon to major CPG companies.

    The story suggests that the Dash "could give big packaged-goods brands the edge they've been looking for on a playing field where the industry's traditional behemoths have been getting pushed around by smaller players ... Amazon hasn't said exactly how the model would work, but Dash could easily become a conduit for trade-promotion funds as brands bid for buttons, which would be like miniature end-caps in millions of homes."

    Participating manufacturers and brands, the story says, include "Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tide, Gillette, Bounty and Olay; L'Oreal Youth Code, Clorox Co.'s Clorox Wipes and Glad Trash Bags, Kraft's Maxwell House and Mac & Cheese, Coca-Cola Co.'s Smartwater, and Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Cottonelle and Huggies."

    The Ad Age piece says that Amazon clearly is becoming more focused "on CPG as an area of growth -- and revenue. Last year, the retailer hired P&G veteran Sunny Jain to head its CPG business. And tapping into a growing CPG appetite for its data, Amazon recently began offering category sales numbers to companies paying $5 million to $10 million a year for advertising, according to IRI Worldwide. CPG's vast multi-billion-dollar pool of trade-promotion funding has to be attractive to a fast-growing retailer under increasing investor pressure to turn a profit after showing a loss last year."
    KC's View:
    I always get a little nervous when I hear about retailers angling for more trade promotion funds, since when I hear those words I tend to think about slotting allowances, which have been an enormously corrupting influence on the supermarket industry, compelling retailers to make money on the buy instead of the sell.

    But unless I'm misjudging the situation, it seems to be less of a problem for online retailers like Amazon, which use what's referred to as "the long tail" to make everything available to everybody. It isn't like a brand that offers a high slotting fee can crowd out one that doesn't have access to those kinds of bucks.

    I also think it is interesting that as Amazon tests this version of Dash one-click technology, it is doing so only with Prime members ... which means that the e-tailer is getting information from its best and most frequent shoppers. That's an enormous advantage as it looks to create a path of least resistance to the next sale and the next sale and the next sale after that ... creating the mythical ecosystem from which shoppers can't or won't want to escape.

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    Direct Marketing reports that a new survey from Bronto Software says that "almost a third of men (30%) now shop e-tail sites weekly, compared to only 18% of women." What makes that interesting is that a year ago, men and women shopped online at approximately equal levels, according to the same study.

    The shift in behaviors came as a surprise to researchers, who speculate that one reason may be that "better use of technologies like mobile landing pages and beacons by brick-and-mortar retailers have sent more women shoppers back into stores. That could be behind the eight-point increase (from 34 to 42%) in ladies who said they shopped online less than once a month in Bronto's new survey."
    KC's View:
    I wonder to what degree the improved economy may be playing a role here, giving women a little bit more money and maybe even a little bit more time with which to visit physical stores; tighter time and a tighter economy may have played to a desire for a more focused and economical experience, which they found online. While men just love the idea of not having to walk into a store, regardless of how the economy is doing.

    That said ... I always get a little nervous about these kinds of generalizations, just because painting with such a broad brush seems to make it inevitable that one will miss the subtleties of what's really going on.

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    Consumer Reports is out with its annual ranking of the nation's supermarkets, based on a survey of more than 60,000 shoppers, concluding that Wegmans is the best food store in the US.

    The balance of the top 20 list include, in order, Publix, Trader Joe's, Fareway Stores, Market Basket, Costco, Raley's, Sprouts, Fresh Market, Stater Bros., WinCo, Hy-Vee, HEB, Aldi, Whole Foods, Fry's, Harris-Teeter, King Soopers, and Fred Meyer.

    The four chains at the bottom of the list: Pathmark (owned by A&P), A&P, Walmart Supercenters, and Waldbaums (owned by A&P).

    The story says that freshness and prepared meals usually are seen by shoppers as being the differentiating offerings that define a good store vs. a bad store.
    KC's View:
    Got an email from an MNB user taking note of how poorly A&P did in this survey, and he added:

    I bet you didn't know that when you call A&P's corp. office in Montvale NJ, the recording says that their office hours are M-F from 8:30am-4:45pm. Need anyone say any more? Go figure!

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    • The Associated Press reports that "Walmart is asking suppliers to cut back on advertising spending in its stores as it seeks lower prices on goods that it sells to its own customers ... Historically, makers of consumer products such as laundry detergent devote a portion of their budget to marketing their products at Walmart, whether through store displays or online ads in social media. Walmart executives told suppliers to please reinvest some of that money instead."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    GeekWire reports that at least in Seattle, AmazonFresh has stopped selling beer and wine online ... and did so without providing an explanation, telling inquiring customers only that it did not know if or when the categories again would be available on the site.

    Amazon did not comment to the media about the story, which says that customers contacted by GeekWire say they are frustrated by Amazon's poor communications.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    • The Triad Business Journal reports that "the real estate arm of International grocery chain Lidl has acquired significant office space in the D.C.-area to host its corporate offices as it prepares a major U.S. rollout ... Lidl had planned to enter the U.S. market with 100 stores, primarily along the East Coast, by 2015, but a year ago said it would be 2018 before it opened its first stores."

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), acknowledging that "merchants won’t be ready to meet an October deadline that will shift liability for fraudulent transactions from card-issuing banks to merchants," has asked "the payment-card industry to delay an October plan that puts merchants on the hook for fraudulent transactions if they don’t have equipment in place to accept more secure credit and debit cards."

    "Regardless of how strong the commitment or how many dollars invested, the reality is that the system will not be ready to meet the card networks’ arbitrarily-set mandate for the liability shift in October 2015,” FMI CEO Leslie Sarasin says in a letter that asks the deadline to be pushed back to 2016.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports on how a "number of organic-food purveyors (are) taking steps to tackle supply constraints that are hampering the growth of one of the hottest categories of the U.S. food industry. Companies including soup maker Pacific Foods of Oregon Inc. and publicly traded burrito chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. are digging deeper into the supply chain with such moves as financing farmers, offering technical training and hiring full-time headhunters to recruit organic growers.

    "The efforts are aimed at ramping up organic-food output that has failed to keep pace with surging consumer demand, due in part to the significant costs and risks that U.S. farmers face in converting from conventional to organic farming. Longer-term, the steps could help bring down organic-food prices that have been bolstered by tight supplies, companies say."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    • Ahold USA has announced that Mark McGowan, the company's merchandising EVP, will now take on a dual role - EVP of operations while simultaneously becoming president of Stop & Shop.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    • Published reports say that Donald S. Perkins, for 10 years the CEO of Jewel Cos. and a proponent of the chain's food-drug combo store development, has passed away of complications from cancer. He was 88.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    On the subject of the "religious freedom" laws in Indiana and Arkansas that have come under significant criticism because of allegations that they would enable and essentially legalize discrimination against gay people, one MNB user wrote:

    Interesting commentary going on regarding the Indiana legislation. I really like your quote "I would argue that at least one of the problems with America is that too many people can't distinguish between a legitimate argument and a specious one."

    I'm sure not why we need legislation to remedy this situation. It seems to me the simple solution to the problem would be to pull that smart phone out of your pocket, pull up google, type in "bakeries/Florist(etc.) near me" and go down the street and get the service or product that you desire if this establishment would prefer not too serve you(the laws of supply and demand would quickly apply and hence, no problem). I don't believe in any kind of discrimination and I don't believe in religion. But it would appear that we have a group that is going out of their way to force their beliefs on a group that doesn't support their position. This group would rather go down to the courthouse instead of down the street (unless of course, the courthouse is down the street, but I digress), which to me, makes this argument "specious".

    As an aside, I have been refused service on several occasions. In retrospect, I wish they had cut me off way before they did!! 🙂

    Funny line.

    I think one of the central criticisms of these laws from the business community is that they are unneeded and unwanted ... they looked to codify something that didn't need codifying, and that in the vast majority of cases, would have been taken care of by marketplace realities.

    And we can't ignore the political components of this. The LGBT community feels - and I think with good reason - that these laws are crafted the way they are so they serve as a legal loophole that can counter the broader cultural acceptance of same sex marriage. I'm not sure that qualifies as "going out of their way" to pick a fight.

    From another reader:

    You wrote:

    A Neo-Nazi group is never going to ask a synagogue...  The Klu Klux Klan is never going to ask an African American choir... A Quaker-owned business is not going to be asked to provide guns....Not gonna happen.

    Sorry to disagree with you, Kev, and I see where your point is, but....

    Trust me, there WILL be at least ONE of these scenarios to be played out, and maybe more than one.  I may not see it in my lifetime, but I would venture you may, and your kids for sure.  That's just the way history has taught us.  Someone, somewhere will want that 15 minutes of fame, and bingo, you got a fight on your hands.  Less that one year ago, I would have agreed with you, and would have also added No one will ever pull up to a McDonald's and fire a .357 thru the drive up window....

    The sad part is, no state or federal government should be in the religion business, or the cake business, or the gun business, or the abortion business, or the....  Just butt the hell out.  Field a military, and a court system, and regulate ONLY what is necessary, and let the rest go.  Worry more about the Iranian Nukes and the North Korean Crazies, than an LGBT person buying a cupcake, for crying out loud.  Being black, muslim and gay are NOT mutually exclusive, so should I get three times the special treatment?  No, I should be treated as a person, a human being, pure and simple.  If the bakery on the east side of the street doesn't want my business, the one on the west will, or I'll open my own.  That is life, and we all need to just deal with it, instead of passing our responsibility off to some legislator.  Time to put on the big boy/ big girl pants folks.  Life is not fair, Not everyone thinks like you do, get over it.  Not everyone likes blacks, muslims, gays, teens, veterans, seniors, whiners, lefties, geeks, widows, you name it...

    The world is that way, and no amount of legislation is going to fix it.  You can't legislate morality. The sooner we realize this , the sooner we can reverse the course we're on.... hell in a hand basket.

    Obviously I'd like my name withheld, and I won't fault you if you edit this or not print it altogether.  However, We as a country seem to have lost what's important, and that is, no entity is any more important that any other. I have rights, so do you.  I have the right to be bigoted, racist, and belligerent, and you have the right to shun me for it.  If I have the cupcakes and you have the money, I have the right to NOT enter into a sales agreement with you, and you have no right to force me, but you DO have the right to take your money down the street.  This scenario happens all over America, even today.

    People are not served because of their color, and it's overlooked by the community because they support it.  The only way to eliminate this is thru education, and we are making progress, at least I think we are.  But passing laws is just hurting that progress, and fostering the hostilities...

    MNB reader Tom Herman wrote:

    I am going to quote you on this and ask you a simple question…

    The speed with which this debate has unfolded has been instructive ... and I think it ought to serve as a lesson to those who may be finding themselves on the wrong side of history.

    Who is finding themselves on the wrong side of history?  People that have sincere deeply held religious beliefs?  I think it is clear bigotry.  The definition of bigotry is stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own.  There are going to be deeply held religious beliefs of evangelical Christians, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews that you don’t understand or agree with.  Some of them may feel silly or strange to you or me.  As a free society we should respect each other’s beliefs and make reasonable accommodations for them.  As I said before, these people are worthy of tolerance, love and respect.  It is what makes America great.  The lesson I take from your comment is that if you find yourself on the “wrong side of history” as defined by you, the condemnation will be swift and severe.  I ask that you look in your heart and really reflect on your “wrong side of history” comment.  I find it to be illiberal, condescending and intolerant.  I only say these things because I have the utmost in respect for you.

    Never been called "illiberal" before. Though I've been called lots worse.

    In re-reading my original "wrong side of history" statement, and then reading it played back in your email, I would like to clarify my statement .... because I certainly didn't mean to suggest that people deemed to be politically incorrect will be swiftly and severely condemned. That's a lot more draconian than I meant it to sound, though I certainly can see why you took it that way.

    Please understand that all I mean is that the cultural movement in this country suggests that same-sex marriage is going to be seen as acceptable both culturally and legally, and that people who oppose it, or try to find legal loopholes through which people's civil rights can be abridged, will simply find themselves on the wrong side of history. I'm talking about some sort of Inquisition that severely penalizes people who disagree ... just that as we become a more tolerant and inclusive society, it simply is going to be harder to be perceived as intolerant and exclusive.

    I also understand that this becomes difficult because we are in a space where religious liberty is seen as at odds with civil liberty. Easy answers are not likely.

    Finally, from another reader:

    Yours is a blog about the grocery business, and it has devolved into a cocktail party argument about politics and religion.

    As such, I am now quite confident that I know what political party you vote for. Not that it matters, but I come to this website for insight into the grocery business, and there is no one better than you at pulling this together.

    There are plenty of websites to bloviate on the topics of politics and religion, and while this is your website that you can do with it as you please, I have never seen anyone change their mind regarding politics or religion based on another person’s online commentary.

    It usually only serves to further polarize the participants, and possibly alienate some of your followers in the process ... I look forward to a MNB with no politics and just the content I came here to read.

    Point taken.

    If I thought this were only about politics, I probably wouldn't go there. But I think this is very much a business issue, as was illustrated by Walmart's decision to get involved in the debate, not to mention that when the issue gets discussed, it always seems to come down to what bakers and florists can or should do.

    But I also think that at least for the moment, the debate (here, at least) has run its course. So we'll probably move onto other things, though I reserve the right to re-engage in it if I think there is a good reason.

    Two other quick emails this morning.

    First, a comment from MNB reader Mary Schroder, who took note of a story about Newport Avenue Market in Bend, Oregon:

    Lauren G.R. Johnson, "Leader of the Pack & COO," has the best title ever.

    And she helps run one of my favorite stores - one definitely worth visiting if you're ever in Bend.

    And this email from Gary Loehr, who had a real problem with my FaceTime video:

    I cannot believe the blasphemy in your column today.  There are certain sins that are utterly unforgivable and you clearly will pay a heavy price for the content of your column today.  Not having a close association with the groups involved, I might be able to continue reading the column, but frankly, I will have to give it serious thought....

    A Mets fan wearing a Red Sox cap.   Have you no shame, or is it the uniform of a new religion celebrating the legacy of Bill Buckner?  Personally, I blame Bob Stanley for the 1986 World Series loss, but that's just me.

    To be honest, I grabbed the red cap as I took my daughter out for hot dogs ... and I thought it was my 2001 Brooklyn Cyclones cap. But I wasn't really worried about it. After all, the Red Sox aren't the Mets ... but they're also not the Yankees. (I won't wear a Yankee cap. Ever. That's against my religion.)

    Am I a blasphemer? Probably. But as I said above in a different context, I've been accused of being worse.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 6, 2015

    • In the NCAA men's college basketball Final Four, Wisconsin defeated Kentucky 71-64, ending Kentucky's quest for a perfect season, as Duke beat Michigan State 81-61. Wisconsin and Duke will face off tonight in the national title game.

    Meanwhile, in the NCAA women's college basketball Final Four, the University of Connecticut beat Maryland 81-58 and will face off in their national title game tomorrow night against Notre dame, which beat South Carolina 66-65.

    • In Opening Night of the Major League Baseball season, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-0.
    KC's View:
    Baseball, as the late Robert B. Parker once said, "is the most important thing that doesn't matter." With its return, after a cold and seemingly endless winter, there also is the return of hope. (More hope for some than others, of course. Some people, like my friend Joanie Taylor, seem assured of a summer with more smiles than tears. Last night was just the beginning for her.)

    There are only four major league ballparks I haven't been to, and so I'm hoping that I'll be able to knock off at least two of them ... I'm just looking for reasons to see games at Marlins Park in Miami, Tropicana Field (where the Tampa Bay Rays play), Minute Maid Park (home of the Houston Astros), and ... oddly enough, since it is just 35 miles from where I live, Yankee Stadium. (I've been to the old Yankee Stadium, of course, and the Astrodome ... but new ballparks require new visits.)

    I can hope.