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    Published on: May 1, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    Forget delivery drones. Jeff Bezos has his eye on a much higher target.

    Bloomberg reports that Blue Origin, the private space company that the Amazon CEO founded, "on Thursday launched its first test flight of its New Shepard space vehicle from Van Horn, Texas. The company's goal is to offer sub-orbital flights so passengers can experience weightlessness and see Earth from a distance of more than 50 miles (80 km)."

    According to a note posted by Bezos on the Blue origin website, "The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect ... Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return."

    Wow. Cool.

    Not everything was smooth, of course: "One of our goals is re-usability, and unfortunately we didn't get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent," Bezos wrote "Assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway – we'll be ready to fly again soon."

    Bloomberg writes that "a goal of commercial space carriers such as Blue Origin and rival billionaire space pioneer Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is to reuse components that usually burn up in space travel, which would significantly reduce the costs of each flight." That remains an elusive target.

    But I have to say that I am thrilled by the notion of people like Bezos and Musk trying to take us where no one has gone before, and that they are funding the exploration of final frontiers that we no longer have the national will to explore. I've always believed that our dropping of the ball of space exploration is a fundamental failure of epic proportions that demonstrates a philosophical narrow-mindedness and earth-centric perspective about our future and place in the universe.

    There is no question in my mind that we're not alone. And I absolutely believe that we ought to be out there, and yes, we ought to be seeking out new life and new civilizations.

    So I'm glad that Bezos and Musk are out there.

    Of course ... in all likelihood Bezos may have at the back of his mind a scheme that would allow DHL to use suborbital craft to hasten the delivery of Amazon packages, and it seems like a pretty good bet that he's looking for prime real estate on the Moon and Mars for Amazon distribution centers.

    But you gotta start somewhere.

    Besides, if we're going to go up against the Ferengi at some point, I'm perfectly happy to have someone like Bezos leading the charge. (I'll bet Bezos has at least 286 Rules of Acquisition ... )
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    Nielsen is out with a new study saying that "one-quarter of global respondents say they are already ordering grocery products online for home delivery and more than half (55%) are willing to use it in the future.

    Among the other findings:

    • "Online shopping has a number of benefits, but physical stores also have strong key advantages over e-commerce—especially for fast-moving consumer goods. In fact, the majority of global respondents (61%) reported that going to the grocery store is an enjoyable and engaging experience. A similar percentage (57%) thinks grocery shopping in a retail store is a fun day out for the family."

    • "Retailers have a lot of room to grow when it comes to in-store digital enablement options, such as mobile coupons, lists and shopping apps, and in-store Wi-Fi availability. Use of online or mobile coupons (18%) and mobile shopping lists (15%) are the most cited forms of in-store digital engagement in use today among global respondents, with about two-thirds willing to use them in the future (65% and 64%, respectively). Downloading a retailer/loyalty program app on a mobile phone to receive information or offers is used by 14% of global respondents, and 63% say they're willing to use one when it is available."

    • "Mobile coupon usage is highest in North America (26%). European respondents have the lowest claimed usage levels for in-store digital engagement, but more than half (average 55%) say they are willing to try the options in the future."

    • "30% of Millennials (ages 21-34) and 28% of Generation Z (ages 15-20) respondents say they're ordering groceries online for home delivery, compared with 22% of Generation X (ages 35-49), 17% of Baby Boomers (ages 50-64) and 9% of Silent Generation (ages 65+) respondents. Younger respondents are also the most willing to use all of the e-commerce options in the future."
    KC's View:
    I'm a big believer in the long-term potential of e-grocery, but even I have to point out that being willing to do something is not the same as actually doing something. So I tend to discount these willingness sentiments a bit ... broad movement to e-commerce in the grocery sector is only going to happen, I think, if retailers do their best to integrate the physical and virtual experiences, use both to build their broader brand message, and take ownership of it as best they can.

    One other thing. I actually shop in a store designed to be "fun" - Stew Leonard's - but I have to admit that I'm a little skeptical about people who think that grocery shopping is a fun day out for the family. Because as pleasurable as Stew's is, it is a good day when I can get in and out in a half-hour. (Which I almost never do.)

    But maybe ... just maybe ... since this is a global survey, it speaks to the power of a good retailing experience in places where people have fewer options than here. Maybe it speaks to the sense that stores, if they so desire, can provide a sense of community to people yearning for such a thing. Maybe.

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    The Associated Press has a story about how Arizona state lawmakers have voted for a law prohibiting local cities from banning free single-use plastic bags, and move that came after one city implemented such a ban and two others considered a similar prohibition.

    The story notes that "the Arizona bill to outlaw bag bans was backed by the Arizona Retailers Association and the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, which represents brands including Safeway, Kroger, Circle K and QuickTrip. Tim McCabe, president of Arizona Food Marketing Alliance, said the statewide ban makes it easier for customers who may be confused by a patchwork of city regulations."

    The Arizona state legislature has taken an increasingly vigilant interest in what cities and towns allow and don't allow, according to the story: "Arizona cities are forbidden from hiking minimum wages and enacting taxes or regulations on firearms. The same law that made it illegal for cities to ban plastic bags also applied similar restrictions on Styrofoam containers and other disposable products. And it included a requirement blocking cities from requiring business owners to report energy usage consumption, something some municipalities were considering in order to encourage energy-efficiency in buildings."

    And, the AP reports, Arizona is not alone: "Other conservative states are making similar moves to ban plastic bag bans. Florida already has made it illegal for municipalities to ban plastic bags, and lawmakers are considering similar legislation in Missouri and Texas, said Jennifer Schultz, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures."
    KC's View:
    The story also makes the entirely appropriate observation that the statewide moves in Arizona are not without irony - conservative lawmakers there protest often and vocally that the federal government legislates with a heavy hand and overreaches its authority, while essentially doing the same thing at a more granular level within the state.

    Though, as the story also makes clear, legislative hypocrisy hardly is unique to Arizona. Just obvious in the hot desert sun.

    What is interesting about this is the extent to which these lawmakers seem unwilling to allow for the possibility that other people in other places might have different priorities and approaches to governance. They seem to be demanding a kind of sweeping philosophical purity that I find discomfiting.

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    The Associated Press reports on the announcement last night by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk that the company is developing battery technology designed "to store solar electricity and reshape the way the power grid works while reducing pollution."

    The battery is called Powerwall, and will initially carry a price tag of between $3,000 and $3,500, depending on capacity; in the early stages of rollout, it will largely be used as a kind of backup system to traditional power sources.

    According to the story, "The batteries are likely to become more useful if, as expected, more utilities and regulators allow power prices to change throughout the day based on market conditions. That way, the software that controls the solar and battery system will allow customers to use their home-generated power when grid prices spike.

    "Many commercial customers already buy power this way, and Tesla is expected to announce battery systems designed for them, along with bigger battery packs that utilities can use to manage their grids. Analysts say these utility and commercial markets will probably be more promising than residential customers during the next few years."

    Walmart, in fact, already is involved in such a test, and is using Tesla-made batteries in 11 of its stores.
    KC's View:
    I just love stories like this one, because it challenges conventional thinking and suggests transformational technologies that may be right at our fingertips.

    I know a couple of people who own Teslas, and the verdict on their cards has been unanimous - they say their Teslas are easily the best cars they've ever owned, and that the act of driving is entirely different and more pleasurable for them. Can you imagine if Tesla is able to marshal that kind of relevant innovation for homes and businesses?

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    Wired reports that in the UK, Amazon is increasing the minimum transaction qualifying for free delivery from he equivalent of $15 (US) to $30 (US).

    The story suggests that the reason for the change is Amazon's desire to migrate even more of its customers to its Prime service, which costs the equivalent of $120 (US) a year for membership in the UK, and guarantees "free" one-day delivery on a variety of products. (Though, of course, it isn't actually free because you paid $120 to get it.)
    KC's View:
    Anything Amazon can do to get more people into Prime membership is smart ... because it semi-locks them into its ecosystem and statistically pretty much guarantees that they will; buy a higher percentage of products from Amazon. It also gives Amazon more data against which it can engaged in highly targeted marketing programs.

    And, speaking as someone who is a Prime member and devotee, it also works out pretty well for us, too.

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    CNBC reports that McDonald's is building on its "Create Your Taste" custom burger program that it has been testing in 30 restaurants around the country with a new program called "TasteCrafted" that is being tested in Atlanta, Portland, and Southern California.

    According to the story, "Through TasteCrafted, customers can pick a meat, bun type and one of a handful of different flavor combos, including pico guacamole and hot jalapeño. The service is a middle ground in customization, offering more options than a typical menu board," but not quite as many as offered with Create Your Taste.

    The new program seems to be a way for McDonald's to satisfy an increasing consumer demand for customized meals while at the same time addressing franchisee concerns that the Create Your Taste offering was too expensive and operationally unwieldy.
    KC's View:
    Remember the old Burger King slogan, "Have it your way"? Well, it seems to me that McDonald's is trying to have it both ways ... and generally speaking, when you do that, you end up not having anything at all. McDonald's may end up with a semi-customizable burger program that is semi-appealing and semi-edible. Which is sort of how the troubled fast feeder got into trouble in the first place.

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    Interesting piece in the Washington Post about common food misconceptions, using as its impetus Chipotle's decision to eliminate all products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

    Chipotle's decision, the story says, is "remarkable because it relies on a misconception we have about foods, and, often nutrition science more generally. We assume that there is always an established, actionable consensus understanding of whether certain foods and ingredients should or shouldn't be eaten. But when it comes to many of the most popular 'facts' spread vigorously today, the truth is actually a good deal less clear."

    Among the misconceptions that the story addresses: that genetically modified organisms are not safe to eat, and we should avoid them ... that aspartame causes cancer, or, at the very least, is definitely bad for us ... and that gluten is something we should stop eating.

    The piece is worth looking at, if only because it seems to clarify the difference between what people think, feel, and know ... which often are not the same thing.

    You can read the entire piece here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart is considering the shifting of "regional operating staff in the field back to headquarters, a bid to reduce expenses and reassert control over its sprawling operations ... The move would relocate personnel from around the U.S. to the corporate office in Bentonville, Arkansas, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t yet public. Staff for each region oversee a grouping of stores for Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer. It has about 4,500 U.S. locations in all."

    The story goes on to say that "the restructuring idea would be the latest attempt by Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon to improve efficiency and customer service at the chain. The CEO, who took the reins more than a year ago, also is eliminating a layer of management within stores and raising the wages of rank-and-file workers -- hoping that happier employees will make for happier customers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    Forbes reports that "Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group recently invested in, a soon-to-launch online retailer that hopes to challenge Amazon ... Alibaba’s previously undisclosed investment came as part of Jet’s $140 million round in February." The precise size of Alibaba's investment has not been disclosed.

    The story notes that "with promises that his company will offer cheaper prices than Amazon for products ranging from sporting goods to toilet paper, Jet’s founder Marc Lore has raised more than $225 million, a stunning amount given that his company has not yet unveiled its e-commerce website. Lore previously created Quidsi, the operator of online commerce sites like, before selling it to Amazon for $550 million in 2010."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    • The New York Daily News reports that Starbucks has opened a new express version of one of its familiar cafes on Wall Street, opposite the New York Stock Exchange, in New York City. It is, the story says, "an 'espresso shot' version of the full-store experience, with no chairs or tables, and a menu limited to drinks and food that can be made quickly, including brewed coffee, espresso beverages and food items like breakfast sandwiches."

    According to the story, "Starbucks’ familiar long lines may be history thanks to the new streamlined system. An employee greets customers as soon as they enter the café, and takes their order on a handheld device that beams it to the baristas, who begin making the drink even before the customer gets to the register. A digital menu board displayed on four low-glare monitors replaces the cafes’ traditional chalkboards."

    The Daily News writes that Starbucks plans to open four more express stores in New York City as it pilots the program and evaluates it for further expansion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    Advertising Age reports that Craig Bahner, the former Wendy's chief marketing officer and a longtime Procter & Gamble executive, has been hired by Kellogg Co. as the president of the company's U.S. morning foods division.

    At the same time, Kellogg announced that its chief growth officer, Paul Norman, will assume the role of president of Kellogg North America.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    Regarding the ice cream recalls by Blue Bell and Jeni's because of listeria concerns, MNB reader Sabrina Wooten wrote:

    I recently attended a Dried Fruit Association Safe California Conference in Monterey, CA. One of many excellent breakout sessions dealt with recalls, the bumbling Blue Bell recall amongst them.

    Question: how do they destroy 250 tons of ice cream (or other potentially contaminated foods).... how is the bacteria contained?

    I have no idea .. but perhaps an MNB user can educate us.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I'd like to share with you and your readers the response from consumers here in Nashville about their voluntary recall. We live in walking distance to the Jeni's in East Nashville and they are an integral part of our neighborhood and community.  Jeni's has such strong equity in their brand that customers are voicing some amazing comments and support for them on social media. Most common is praise for taking the recall initiative as well as resounding endorsements to return when the store(s) re-open. Check out the Jeni's East Nashville Facebook comments for the past week and you will see how a company who takes a leadership approach in a situation like this can prevail. Following is one of my favorite comments from one of their customers on Facebook:

    "Honestly, you could probably send me all of the recalled Brambleberry Crisp and I would eat it anyway, listeria or not."

    How many brands can get their customers make that type of comment???

    Not many. Though, to be honest, that customer may not be the best example of intelligent and informed consumption.

    The other day, MNB took note of a New York Times report that Anheuser-Busch InBev is facing a public relations eruption this week over a beer bottle label that some perceive as being pro-rape. The label is part of its "Up for Whatever" campaign, and describes Bud Light as being "the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”

    The criticism is that the label seems clueless at a time when date rape and campus sexual assaults have emerged as major problem in the US. (A-B has stopped printing the labels, though the bottles carrying the label have not been recalled.)

    I commented:

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it is a near 100 percent certainty that there were no women in the room when the folks at A-B decided on this particular language. Because this message - especially in the context of a national conversation that has been taking place for months - is at the very least in questionable taste.

    Two lessons here. The obvious one is about being sensitive to issues like rape. (You wouldn't think this would be a tough one.) The equally important one is about having a diverse workforce so you're not just counting on one slice of the population to be paying attention.

    MNB user Karl Mabey responded:

    What the heck were they thinking?  It not only includes rape but also getting drunk, say no to drugs. Were they after the teenage customers now or what?

    From another reader:

    Understand your comment about there being no women in the room when the decision was named…no diversity???? What about a dad with a daughter????
    I not saying I am perfect or always see things the right way…..but I can tell you with a high degree of certainty I would have raised a concern if I was in the room. I have had enough recent conversations with my daughter on the recent issues in the news, that I know this would have made the hair on the back of my neck raise up.

    And another:

    This is my first time ever replying to a blog post, which should go to show that I am a huge fan of your blog which is shocking to me bc I hate News (must of it sucks) and I hate reading! Love your style, keep up the good work!

    Short and sweet: The Bud Light Marketing was purposely positioned in a way to be semi-controversial so that they can get more press. As they say, no press is bad press and I guarantee that the largest purchasers of beer (college males?) could care less about the situation, and probably think is it cool/funny so it probably translates into more sales for Bud Light.  Very sad that companies get away with advertising.

    Here's a thought. We ought to get rid of that old saw that "all publicity is good publicity." In the modern world, with social media and viral communications, that simply isn't true anymore.

    We had a story yesterday about how Whole Foods is facing social media criticisms after one of its Baltimore stores provided National Guard troops with free food during the civil unrest there, with people suggesting that the chain should not have been feeding law enforcement officials and ignoring the children in Baltimore public schools going without free lunch while schools were closed. (More than eight out of 10 Baltimore school students receive free or reduced-price lunches.)

    I commented:

    I am not going to pretend to have any sort of insights into the horrible events that are unfolding in Baltimore. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a member of a community that find sit hard to conceive of a future with any hope, and I am struggling to appreciate the difference between destructive rioting and what I've heard described as non non-violent civil disobedience.

    But I think that Whole Foods feeding people who are trying to keep the peace - who have been thrust into a seemingly unsolvable situation that is decades in the making - is worth admiring, not criticizing. And I expect that Whole Foods and other retailers, if history is any indicator, are doing a lot to help Baltimore's children. They almost always do.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Kevin: thanks for standing up for Whole Foods. As a small business here in Kansas City, we try and “do good” in the community in which we live, and make a living. All of our actions to support the community are well-intended, but occasionally not so fully thought out that we could avoid being labeled as anything other than what we hope to be; good citizens, good neighbors, and a company in which our team members can take pride.

    Let’s hope that political correctness doesn’t force people wanting to “do good” to find themselves doing nothing in order to remain out of the PC crosshairs.

    And another:

    With respect to the social media criticism of Whole Foods for feeding National Guard members I would simply say enough already. Focus that attention on more constructive ways to address what is a crisis – and kudos to Whole Foods and any other retailer or community member who is doing something similar. I don’t pretend to know how to solve the broader issue but as often happens the people who are hurt in crisis’s like these are the same ones that the unruly protesters claim to be fighting for (and certainly they don’t represent all of the protesters – most are simply frustrated) How many stores, restaurants and street vendors are impacted by the baseball games that have been moved out of town – or played in front of an empty stadium? Or are losing business every day because of the unrest in the city? These are busboys, checkout clerks, wait staff etc. who can’t afford to miss a paycheck. Those are folks we should focus some attention on...

    But another MNB reader wrote:

    What a sad commentary on how feelings of entitlement rule all.  A company giving away food is condemned for giving it to the wrong people . . . and presumably condemned by mothers faced with being forced to feed their own children one meal on one day!  Is this the end of civilization as we knew it?

    And from yet another:

    It is a sad state of affairs when the biggest impact of closing schools is disruption of the free meals program.  Rely on the government to feed you and you will reap what you sew.

    We don't know that it was Baltimore mothers posting those tweets. The only Baltimore mother I know about was chasing down her teenaged son and getting him off the streets because she knew that one bad decision could affect his life forever.

    As for the criticism of the school lunch program ... the reason these kids are getting free meals is because their families are severely disadvantaged, not because they are taking advantage of some government giveaway program. The situation in Baltimore is complicated, has to do with both economy and race, and it is misguided, in my view, to even suggest that somehow free lunch programs represent some sort of governmental failure. There have been a lot of failures in Baltimore and a lot of other American cities, but I don't think this is one of them.

    Regarding the call yesterday from food industry associations and companies for Congress to fully fund the Food safety Modernization Act (FSMA), MNB reader Dr. Jim Gorny, who happens to be VP of Food Safety & Technology at the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), wanted to elaborate:

    FDA and industry stakeholders have put a great deal of time, effort and thought into development of the new FSMA regulations that are aimed at protecting public health and assuring consumer confidence in our nation’s food supply. Those regulations – and consumer safety – are critically dependent on a properly funded FSMA implementation plan.


    But that doesn't mean that it won't be a political football in Congress.

    Finally, lots of email about yesterday's FaceTime video, in which I bemoaned being target-marketed to as a "senior."

    One MNB user wrote:

    I’m with you.  I want to hang around a group of people focused on living.  Diversity of ages, not just race and creed.  As soon as I turned 50 AARP started contacting me.  When I turned 60 I started getting retirement investment ideas, invitation to “senior communities” and most recently cremation society and burial information as well as long term care facilities.  Good God, I’m not dead yet!
    I’m 63 years young.  Senior is my dad.  Not me.

    From another reader:

    Yes, Kevin it is annoying at first but you will get used to the senior prices on Movie Tickets, early bird meals, senior pricing on Southwest and other airlines. You will know that you have really arrived when young ladies start holding the door open for that kindly looking old man.

    I have a response to that. It is not, however, suitable for a family website.

    I said yesterday that generally I hate un-targeted marketing and cited FSIs as a classic example: I almost never open them, never read them, because they simply are irrelevant.

    One MNB user wrote:

    That is pathetic!  Most people go through them to identify the ones that ARE relevant.  Are you really so far gone that you'll only accept coupons that are spoon-fed to your unique specifications?

    Yup. Apparently.

    From another reader:

    The most surprising part of this story is the fact that you have a home phone...

    A vestige of earlier times (and pat of the cable package that provides phone, internet and cable). When we move out of this house and get that apartment in Portland, Oregon, it'll be iPhones only ... and I suspect we'll cut the cord in other ways, as well.

    And finally, from MNB user Michael Truss:

    You may not be a “senior” but you’re sounding like a grumpy old man.

    I'd respond to that, but I have to go outside. I think there's somebody on my lawn.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 1, 2015

    To be honest, my schedule the past week or two has pretty much precluded me from seeing any movies or TV shows, or reading any books about which I can report back to you.

    The good news is that Michael Sansolo did...and he asked me to pass it along...

    Foreign language art house movies are never my thing, yet I was won over by “Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed.” The Spanish-language movie tells a completely charming story of a teacher who in 1966 sets out to meet John Lennon while the Beatle is shooting a movie in southern Spain.

    Along the way the teacher picks up two unlikely traveling companions - a runaway teen and a pregnant young woman. Together they descend on the small coastal town where Lennon is filming. There they make friends and enemies, while giving us a sense of both Beatlemania and the repression of Franco’s Spain.

    At times the movie is sad, sweet, upsetting and laugh-out loud funny. In other words, it’s a pretty complete package. “Living is Easy” came out in 2014 so it should be available for rental. I completely enjoyed it and still can’t get “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the classic song that provides the movie’s title, out of my head.

    Thanks, Michael.

    I'm glad he's going to art house films. For my part, can't wait to see Avengers: Age of Ultron tomorrow night (in 3D IMAX, of course)...

    I've often raved here about the wines of Carlton cellars in Oregon, and today I'm going to do it again, because I just got in its 2011 Estate Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir from its wine club, and it is delicious ... just another example of the fabulous Pinot Noirs that come from Oregon. I recommend you track Carlton Cellars down and check them out.

    One other quick note. Today, Mrs. Content Guy and I are celebrating 32 years of marriage. I don't know where she gets the patience and fortitude to put up with me, but I can't imagine anyone else I could have spent the time with so enjoyably.

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

    KC's View: