retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story last week about a survey saying that consumers this holiday season will once again put a premium on free shipping, which led MNB reader Andy Casey to write:

I couldn't agree more. As an Amazon Prime shopper the first thing I do on any product search is set the filter to "prime only".  it isn't only a cost issue (although obviously that makes a difference) but really about removing uncertainty from the delivery. Just makes the whole process easier.

Regarding the new emphasis on private label by Kings Food Markets, MNB user Richard Layman wrote:

I now nothing about King's but like you believe that store brands are a potential differentiator for supermarket chains.

However, in my experience as a consumer, the biggest problem is that traditional supermarket chains are weak on sampling generally and promotion of own products specifically, at least in the DC market.  Only Harris-Teeter has sampling in produce and deli as a key element of marketing.  By comparison Safeway and Giant do almost zero sampling.  Although Safeway has been a bit innovative in at least producing grocery bags that promote its brands.  e.g., just last week I saw someone with a bag promoting Lucerne, and they promote the Open Nature health brand the same way.

Both companies have decent own brand products.  Some items in fact I prefer to traditional CPG items.  But I sample them (by buying them) as an effort to save money. Some products are particularly good, especially the Safeway Select line.  Some are substandard. e.g. I bought Harris Teeter frozen yogurt and it sucked.  I alerted them to this via their website, suggesting they reach out to Kroger, and they were defensive. But while I go out of my way to buy Safeway Select jams and jellies, the basic Safeway brand for jellies is not very good either, no flavor at all.

If supermarket companies are going to make store brands a fundamental element of their offer, they are going to have to market and promote the goods just as if they were Procter & Gamble.

We had a story last week that took note of an Oregonian report that Haggen has asked the bankruptcy court overseeing its business "for approval to pay an investment banking firm more than $1 million to explore selling the company and its assets, including stores." That firm is Sagent Advisors, described in the story this way: "The firm oversaw the 2011 purchase of Haggen's majority stake to private equity firm Comvest, as well as the grocer's purchase of 146 stores from Albertsons earlier this year."

Which prompted one MNB user to write:

Seems to me that the advice so far has been bad; why would they go back to the company that helped get them into this mess?

On Friday, we wrote about the comedian who lost his gig as a commercial spokesman for Buffalo Wild Wings because it came out that he'd been lying for years about being in New York City's World Trade Center on 9-11 and narrowly escaping after the terrorist attacks there.

MNB reader Tom Murphy wrote:

In general, if you wouldn’t tell your mother about it, it is best not to do it in this day and age!

From another reader:

I think this analogy is showing forth in the current debates.  I think part of the reason that some candidates  (Trump especially) are getting attention is because they are telling it like it is,  they aren’t covering up, they aren’t trying to make us believe that we have a great system, and they aren’t afraid to call out the ones that are not being transparent.
This need for transparency by America is creeping into several areas and I think it’s  GREAT!!!  It’s sad/embarrassing at times to hear the truth of how things have been done in the past but it’s needed and I hope it prompts our government to change.  I still have hope!

I do think one has to be careful here. There are candidates on both sides of the aisle who say they are telling it like it is ... but in fact are just telling it the way they think voters want it to be, and there's really no there there. There are times when transparency is actually transparency, and times when it is just another form of posturing.
KC's View: