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    Published on: June 8, 2016

    by Kate McMahon

    We refer to Alexa as the one “always cooperative voice” in our household. Yes, I’m talking about the Alexa behind the Amazon Echo, a wireless, voice-activated computer/speaker that can be used to access a variety of products and services.

    The Echo was a Christmas present from my daughters to their dad for instant access to music playlists, sports scores, breaking news and the weather. The trouble is, now everyone wants Alexa’s attention, often at the same time.

    To be honest, I at first considered the Echo to be just another speaker. But with each day we are all finding Alexa more indispensable. Rather than seeking out my phone and reading glasses, I turn to Alexa for recipe assistance or to check my calendar. My twenty-something daughters can ask Alexa to call an Uber or have a Domino’s Pizza delivered. We all count on Alexa to settle pressing debates about baseball statistics, movies and how to make a perfect Mojito.

    As one friend noted, you know you’re hooked on Alexa when you start asking a 20-year old Bose Wave radio to turn up the volume, and then are annoyed when it doesn’t.

    What I find fascinating is the increasing number of “skills” (think apps) now available through Alexa, which have skyrocketed from 135 in January to more than 1,000 today.

    The obvious is the link to Amazon ecosystem itself, and the ability to ask Alexa to order digital music and re-order Amazon Prime-eligible physical items from your history through one-click shopping, and to place new items in your cart.

    Homeowners with smart home technology can ask Alexa to dim the lights or close the garage door. Capitol One customers can check their bank balances. You can also plan a vacation or check flight status through Kayak, and monitor your physical exercise with Fitbit.

    If Alexa is near the kitchen, you can say “Alexa, ask Campbell’s Kitchen what’s for dinner?” and the soup giant will walk you through five daily recipes. Quaker Oatmeal developed a skill to help users find recipes for overnight oats, after its social media team noticed a resurgence in interest in the age old tradition of cooking oats at night and eating the dish cold in the morning.

    I think there is a huge opportunity for savvy retailers and merchandisers to develop skills that would make Alexa indispensable in the kitchen. I’m envisioning a skill that would help plan meals, create an online shopping list, place the shopping order and provide step-by-step cooking instructions. Pair Alexa with the new $6,000 Samsung Family Hub refrigerator which lets you check your fridge’s contents through your smartphone, and there’s no excuse for not having ingredients for a perfect meal.

    As the least technology-savvy member of our household, I always associated the idea of a “smart home” with “The Jetsons” (for those old enough to remember animated sitcom of a futuristic family). But with Alexa cooperating from the countertop, speaking with that cool, cooperative voice that makes one utterly at ease with the whole idea of a smart home, I’m starting to see the possibilities. And they seem more seductive with every passing day.

    Comments? As always, send them to me at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    We talk a lot here on MNB about the importance of being able to tell a story - that businesses can derive much credibility and yes, even profitability, when they can tell a compelling story about their products and services in a way that rings relevant and true to shoppers.

    That's a mouthful. But not nearly as big a mouthful as trying to explain the problem of predatory debt collection, which sounds complicated, full of arcane details and not very funny.

    However, in the hands of John Oliver and his "Last Week Tonight" writers and producers, a look at predatory debt collection in the US turned into a gloriously crazy, very funny, occasionally profane, and ultimately enormously entertaining piece of television. That's what happened on Oliver's HBO show the other night, and I'm happy to share it with you.

    As always, a warning - the language can be a little rough, so be careful if you are in a cubicle or at home with kids nearby.

    This segment doesn't have much to do with retailing and business and food ... but I'm perfectly happy coloring outside the lines from time to time.

    And Oliver's take absolutely is an Eye-Opener.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    The Willard Bishop group is out with a "Future of Food Retailing" report, projecting that "by 2020, the market share for Traditional Grocery will decrease by 1.1 percentage points to 44.7%, while share for Non-Traditional Grocery will increase slightly to 39.8%." At the same time, the report says, "Convenience Store share will increase slightly to 15.4%," while "eCommerce food and consumable sales will continue its strong growth rate of 23.1% a year," though it starts from a much smaller base.

    Drilling down on the grocery numbers, the report says that "Fresh Format stores are expected to continue their strong growth over the next five years at a rate of 8.6% annually. Limited-Assortment will also experience strong growth of 7.0% per year into 2020. Super Warehouse will continue with their steady 3.3% annual growth rate. Small Grocery will see a relatively low growth rate of 2.6%. Traditional Supermarkets’ market share is expected to continue to decline by three percentage points from 38.5% in 2015 to 35.5% by 2020."

    Furthermore, the report says, "Supercenters will continue their sales growth at a rate of 2.9% per year into 2020, increasing market share from 17.8% in 2015 to 18.9% by 2020. Both Dollar and Wholesale Club will perform well with annual growth rates of 4.8% and 3.0%, respectively."
    KC's View:
    What this report seems to make clear is that the mainstream is where you go to drown, and the middle of the road is where you'll find roadkill. The companies that survive and thrive will be the ones that define their advantages and differences specifically and compellingly, that tell their stories with clarity, and that work to establish their relevance to the shopper's needs and wants. And "Traditional" will become a negative character trait ... as will words like "conventional."

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    Fortune has a piece pulling together various surveys and studies that point to how respected Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, are in the business community.

    According to the story, "Bezos was the runaway winner in a survey Fortune conducted among Fortune 500 CEOs about which leader they admire most." No other CEO got nearly as many mentions, the story says, though it is worth noting that they were not allowed to vote for themselves.

    In addition, "Earlier this year, Fortune also put Bezos in the No. 1 spot on its World’s Greatest Leaders list ... But it’s not just other C-level executives and media types who admire Bezos and his firm: Amazon also ranked in the top five for 'most influential' among Fortune 100 companies in a survey of over 10,000 U.S. adults conducted by SurveyMonkey. It also placed No. 1 in the 'most trustworthy' and 'company you’d most like to invest in' categories."
    KC's View:
    I know this will make some folks crazy. I feel bad about that ... but it is the reality of the world in which we live, and the ecosystem that Amazon and Bezos have built with enormous efficacy.

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    Bloomberg has a story about how "decades from now, historians may look back on 2016 as the year Earthlings ate pizza from vending machines, bought burritos from a box in New York's Grand Central Terminal and devoured sushi rolled by robots."

    The reason? "Millennials, accustomed to apps and online services such as Uber, and GrubHub, increasingly don't want to interact with other humans when ordering dinner, calling a cab or stocking up on toilet paper. That's why eateries including McDonald's, Panera Bread and CKE Restaurants are investing in kiosks and tablets so customers can also feed their misanthropy."

    The story notes that even though we live in a time when "more consumers are embracing hand-made artisanal foods, 24/7 Pizza Box, Burritobox and Sushi Station are headed in the other direction. Vending-machine pizza will start popping up in Florida later this year and chipotle-chicken burritos, accompanied by guacamole and salsa, can now be ordered from an automated box. Sushi-making robots from Japan are already operating in U.S. restaurants and university cafeterias."

    The numbers suggest small but steady growth - vending machines are a $7.5 billion business, were up 3.3 percent last year and are expected to rise almost two percent a year for the next few years.
    KC's View:
    I have to admit that I reject the notion that millennials are by definition anti-social, just as I accept the idea that there can be success stories at both ends of the gastronomic scale. I'd be willing to try sushi made by a robot once ... but if it doesn't taste good, I can't imagine I'd give it a second try.

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    • The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Dunkin' Donuts "is rolling out a new mobile app that will let customers in Chicago order ahead, pay for it and just pick it up at the counter." The rollout, according to the story, follows successful tests in New York City, Boston, and Portland, Maine.

    The story notes that "competitors Starbucks, McDonald’s and Taco Bell also have mobile apps that allow customers to order and pay ahead. Other chains that have pushed into mobile ordering include Panera Bread Co. and Chick-fil-A."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    • In the UK, City AM reports that Tesco plans to sell off its Giraffe restaurant chain there, as well as its Kipa supermarket chain in Turkey.

    "The news comes," the story says, " as Tesco CEO Dave Lewis is trying to sell off the supermarket's loss-making businesses to plug gaps in the balance sheet." Lewis also is said to be looking to sell Harris + Hoole, the chain of coffee shops, and Dobbies, a garden centres business.

    Fortune reports that meal kit delivery startup Blue Apron is considering going public, with the possibility of an IPO sometime in the next year. According to the story, Blue Apron "has held preliminary talks with investment banks about raising additional capital including the possibility of raising funding through an IPO in the next year. The company would be valued around $3 billion in an offering."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    • Smart & Final announced the hiring of Edward Wong, an IBM veteran who will serve as the company's new CIO and SVP, supply chain. He replaces the recently retired Michael M. Laddon.

    • Bankrupt New York-based retailer Fairway announced that its co-president and CFO, Edward Arditte, is leaving the company, effective July 5. Arditte has been the with the troubled retailer since 2012, and took on these roles in 2014.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2016

    ...will return.
    KC's View: