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    Published on: November 3, 2016

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    I'm a big fan of technology. I couldn't do what I do without my laptop, iPad and iPhone. I'm a constant user of Amazon and Netflix. I talk to my Echo so much that people are starting to think I'm emulating the movie Her.

    But I was reading something the other day about an online service that may take things a little far.

    It is called Talkspace, and it is way for people to get online therapy - and unlike psychologists and psychiatrists, Talkspace doesn't go off to the Hamptons for a month during the summer. Some people call it "Speed Shrinking."

    The site describes it as "therapy that’s designed to fit with your lifestyle.
    Whether you’re on the go or at home, you can access your Talkspace room anytime via your web browser or our mobile app."

    Apparently you can send text messages or even videos, and you can pretty much choose a therapist who meets your definition of what your therapist should be - old or young, male or female, or whatever. And you establish a relationship with that therapist, though you never actually meet.

    The cheapest option is unlimited texting, no video, and it costs $128 a month. For close to $300 a month, you can have four online video streaming sessions a month, plus texting privileges. I've never been in therapy, thought there are some who have suggested I should be, but that strikes me as pretty cheap. (They say on the sit that insurance won't cover it, but the rates are so low you don't need to use insurance.)

    Now, I know I started out by saying that this may take things a little too far ... but even as I talk about it, Talkspace seems a little less outrageous and a little more appropriately disruptive. And maybe for the next generations of people who need therapy, the idea of accessing it conveniently online won't seem weird at all.

    After all, online dating used to have a stigma about it. But no more.

    And, who would've believed Uber or Airbnb would be such a success? And all they did was disrupt industries badly in need of it.

    Why can't the same thing happen to the therapy business?

    If I have a problem with that ... well, maybe Talkspace can provide with something to whom I could talk about it.

    Stranger things have happened.

    That's what is on my mind this morning, and as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    Whole Foods announced yesterday that co-CEO Walter Robb will step down from the job at the end of year, leaving founder John Mackey as the sole CEO of the retailer. The shift, the Austin Business Journal writes, "comes as the early pioneer in the organic and natural foods sector has battled increased competition."

    Indeed, as Whole Foods made the announcement about Robb stepping down, it also was saying that Q4 revenue was $3.5 billion, compared to $3.4 billion during the same period a year ago, on same-store sales that were down 2.6 percent, the fifth straight quarter in which Whole Foods saw same-store sales drop. Profit, however, for the quarter was up - to $88 million from $56 million a year earlier.

    Robb, who has worked for Whole Foods for a quarter-century, has been co-CEO with Mackey since 2010. He reportedly will remain on the board of directors and as a senior advisor to the company, as well as continuing to head up the Whole Kids Foundation and Whole Cities Foundation.

    In its story about the move, the Associated Press writes that "Whole Foods has been hurt by increasing competition from supermarkets, big-box retailers and grocery delivery companies that also sell organic foods and products, sometimes at cheaper prices. This year, it opened its first lower-priced 365 by Whole Foods Market store and launched a digital coupon app for its flagship stores. But the company said it will only go so far with lower prices."

    Mackey said in a call with analysts that Whole Foods is "not participating in a race to the bottom,” but rather is focused on providing better customer service and promoting its “higher-quality products.”

    Eater writes that one of the things that Whole Foods plans to do to reinvigorate its business is to roll out a loyalty program it has been testing to all its US stores. This "optimized rewards program," the company says, gives users "10 percent off their first purchase, a one-time offer of 15 percent off any department, and select free products throughout the year. The more customers shop at Whole Foods stores, the more rewards are unlocked."

    Mackey also said the company plans to invest more in fresh food delivery options, which sounded a lot like the meal kit business that it is testing in select stores with Purple Carrot, a vegan mail kit purveyor.

    In addition, Whole Foods said it remains committed to the "365" concept that is designed to offer lower prices and be more accessible to younger shoppers. There are three open at the moment - in Oregon, Washington, and California - and the company said it is still "making adjustments and tweaks to make sure we perfect '365' before we really hit the gas on new store openings."

    There are 19 more 365 stores in development in various markets.

    Whole Foods also announced that CFO Glenda Flanagan is leaving the company, with a planned retirement in September 2017.
    KC's View:
    My first thought when I heard about Robb's departure was whether the right guy was being left in charge. There's no question that it all started with Mackey, but I'm just not sure he is flexible enough to be able to steer the company through an environment in which there is a lot more competition coming from all directions. Mackey always strikes me as a purist, and I'm not entirely sure that this is the best quality to bring to the current battles.

    I was chatting yesterday with a friend of mine who knows a lot about this stuff - far more than I do - and this friend agreed with me, saying that it remains to be seen whether Mackey has the marketing savvy to pull off the kind of resurgence that Howard Schultz managed at Starbucks. I think that's correct - especially because Starbucks rebounded because a) the economy improved, and b) there wasn't a ton of competition in the space at the time. Those are not the circumstances in which Whole Foods finds itself ... and I am not persuaded that the 365 concept or a loyalty program are going to be enough to revitalize the brand.

    My friend predicts a train wreck. I agree.

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Safeway will acquire the five remaining Andronico's Community Markets in the San Francisco Bay Area. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Andronico's CEO Suzy Monford says that the sale should be completed within six weeks.

    Andronico's has faced a series of competitive and financial issues over the years. The paper writes that Andronico’s currently has two stores in Berkeley, one in Los Altos, one in San Anselmo and one in San Francisco, while it "sold a Danville location and shuttered a Walnut Creek store in 2006, and closed two stores in Berkeley and one in Palo Alto in 2011."

    According to the Chronicle, the stores are expected to be renamed Safeway Community Markets.
    KC's View:
    I can't help but feel a certain amount of sadness about this. Andronico's was an industry leader for a long time, and I can remember visiting their stores and seeing things that almost nobody else was doing.

    Alas, they lost their mojo. Some of it may have been over-expansion. Maybe there was a little hubris. And maybe some complacency. What it illustrates, I think, is how hard it is for any company to achieve continuous improvement and operational excellence. And I'm sure there are some food industry executives out there who will look at Andronico's as an object lesson in how not to lead.

    It is a shame. I feel bad about it.

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Anne Dament, Target's senior vice president of grocery, is leaving the company after just a year-and-a-half on the job and less than stellar reviews of her efforts there.

    The story notes that "CEO Brian Cornell appointed Ms. Dament, a former Safeway Inc. executive, in April 2015 to revamp the grocery business. During her tenure, the company has taken several steps to improve performance in the category, including updating its assortment and investing in store design."

    No reason was given for Dament's departure. The Journal writes that "Chief Merchandising Officer Mark Tritton is assuming her duties in the interim, and a search for her replacement will be under way."
    KC's View:
    It was just a couple of months ago that Target CFO John Mulligan described Target's grocery efforts this way: "We sit in the middle. We’re not really special and we’re not a full grocery. And so we’re sitting in the middle of no man’s land."

    And I'm pretty sure this was after the company had stated publicly that grocery was going to be an engine that would drive its return to greater relevance.

    Let's be clear. It may not have been Dament's fault. it is entirely possible that she was not able to get the kind of support she needed to make the changes that needed to be made. The better question at this moment is whether they'll be able to get someone to succeed her who will be able to move the needle sufficiently.

    Won't be easy.

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    On National Public Radio, The Salt reports that the annual Fisheries of the United States Report released last week says that "Americans increased their seafood consumption to 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish per person in 2015, up nearly a pound from the previous year, making it the biggest leap in seafood consumption in 20 years."

    This increase, the story says, "may mean that we're enjoying four additional seafood meals a year, but we're still only eating about 4.77 ounces of seafood a week. That's better than where we were just a few years ago, but nowhere close to the 8 ounces of seafood per week most of us should be eating according to the most current Dietary Guidelines." And, the increase seems to be in a fairly limited range - largely shrimp, salmon and tuna.

    But, The Salt says, "even a small uptick in seafood consumption is seen as a boon to public health and is a step in the right direction toward reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and improving the neurodevelopment of children."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    Fast Company reports that Amazon has developed a new mobile application designed for kids ages 7-12, that "takes advantage of kids' comfort with chat-based interfaces to engage them in reading. Called Rapids, the app contains hundreds of stories, all written as dialogue and embellished with custom illustrations." A subscription costs $2.99 per month.

    Each story, Fast Company says, "is original to the app, with categories ranging from adventure and animals to science fiction and sports. Humor pervades throughout; the chat format, as it turns out, is well equipped to deliver the kinds of punch lines that kids enjoy (and repeat and repeat)."
    KC's View:
    This isn't just an inexpensive way to get kids interested in reading. It is a way of getting used to the idea that Amazon is a place you can go to for pretty much anything. And that is critically important to Amazon's long-term plans for an all-enveloping ecosystem.

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    Fortune is out with its annual list of the best retail employers, and Wegmans tops the list, followed by California's Nugget Market.

    The top-10 list is rounded out by Build-A-Bear Workshop, Publix Super Markets, QuikTrip, CustomInk, CarMax, Patagonia, Sheetz, and REI.

    The list was compiled after Fortune "crunched the numbers on workplace fundamentals at U.S. retailers and parsed thousands of employee surveys."

    • Office supplies retailer Staples, in an effort to "attract and keep young workers who are fretting about how they will pay their college student loans," said yesterday that it will help them pay off those debts.

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Staples "will provide $100 a month for up to 36 months to full-time sales associates and 'high potential' and 'top performing' employees who are paying off student loans or in the process of earning a degree."

    The story notes that "Americans have about $1.2 trillion in student loan debt and about half of those with loans have monthly payments that are excessive based on their incomes, according to a study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Academic research has shown the pressure of college loans is causing some millennials to delay marriage, children and home purchases."
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    • Albertsons yesterday that it has promoted Christine Wilcox, the company's vp of corporate communications, to the role of vice president, Communications & Public Affairs. She succeeds Brian Dowling in thew role; Dowling retired earlier this year.
    KC's View:
    Big shoes to fill. Brian Dowling was a great guy to deal with and, on one occasion when I was so fortunate, a great guy with whom to watch a baseball game. I'm not sure I knew that he'd retired ... but I want to acknowledge here all his years of work for Safeway up to and through its acquisition by Albertsons.

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    On the subject of Starbucks' new holiday cups, already generating some controversy, one MNB user wrote:

    Count me among those dismayed yesterday morning at the sight of Starbuck’s green holiday cups.  Not because green somehow is not properly reverent of the Christ Child (last I checked, red AND green were the traditional colors associated with Christmas), but because IT’S TOO EARLY!!!  Which is the same message I have for Best Buy, who started running Christmas commercials (complete with Santa) before Halloween.

    You wrote: “The good news for Starbucks is that its brand is so deeply engrained into the culture that the design of its cup can create a backlash when some folks don't approve.” I think there is more good news than that.  I don’t really believe that anyone who is “boycotting” Starbucks even goes there in the first place.  I’d venture that a good many of these folks don’t even have a Starbucks within a reasonable driving distance of them, and a whole bunch probably think “McCafe” is a bit too ethnic for their liking.  So, congratulations, Starbucks, on a whole bunch of free publicity.  Again.

    From another reader:

    I agree with you 100% - evidence of how engaged many consumers are with the Starbucks brand  is clearly demonstrated by the incredible fuss being made over the design of the formerly red holiday cup.   It is also important to remember that the people who care most about this brand and are doing the fussing are HIGHLY caffeinated…

    Another perspective might be, without getting too “Psychology 101”, the Starbucks Holiday Cup has become for many people an integral part of their holiday survival…er…celebration.  For many, that warm, red-colored cup promising pumpkin-spicy goodness provides that little bit of sanity as we drive to our in-laws for Thanksgiving Dinner where invariably psyches will be damaged and a turkey will be tragically cooked to “ Christmas Vacation-level doneness."

    That red cup is what we promise ourselves we will receive if we wrap just ONE MORE present; that red cup contains the miracle elixir that will wash away the Seinfeldian envelope glue residue in our mouths from the 100 holiday cards sent to people not spoken to in a decade.   That red cup reminds us that NO, WE ARE NOT ALONE… our fellow Starbuckians too are holding onto that red cup for DEAR LIFE as they navigate their very own Rube Goldberg version of HOLIDAY HELL!

    But now, instead of that soul-affirming red cup, we are getting a green cup… featuring all the people who are having a better holiday than we are.

    From another reader:

    A tempest in a coffee cup.


    Yesterday, MNB took note of a New York Times story detailing the extent to which Chobani, by "employing more than 300 refugees in his factories, starting a foundation to help migrants, and traveling to the Greek island of Lesbos to witness the crisis firsthand," has been "targeted with racist attacks on social media and conspiratorial articles on websites including Breitbart News."

    The issue seems to be that Chobani's employment of "resettled refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey, among other countries," and efforts to help them live the American dream, are being cast in some quarters as an effort to achieve the "Islamification" of America.

    You can read the entire story here.

    I had a one word response to this story:


    Which prompted MNB reader Ken Wagar to write:

    Sorry but your comment "Sad" seems like so little to say regarding such nut cases. It is way more than sad and I was disappointed in your rather mild comment. On the other hand I understand choosing your battles and the potential responses you would have received had you been a little stronger in your reaction.

    This is a huge issue in the US and in the food business down to the many of middle eastern heritage running supermarkets in the inner city of Detroit, to the convenience stores, hotels, motels etc. Be they Indian, Pakistani, Afghani or of any other background. So much more than sad is the discrimination and hatred these people face every day. Makes me sick to my stomach.

    Me, too. I was actually making a reference to someone who I think is helping to fuel many of these anti-immigrant sentiments, and often takes to Twitter to criticize anyone who disagrees with him, and uses the word "sad."

    I was being sarcastic.

    From another reader on the same subject:

    You know what I am getting tired of and why people don’t trust media companies anymore.  I call it trolling for victimhood.  There are people out in the world that hate Catholics or Muslims or Gays or Blacks or Whites or Republicans or Democrats or Men or Women.  That is life and people have a god given right to be wrong.  A cottage industry has grown up around finding those people and using them as poster children for why people we don’t like are despicable people.  People sit in their bubble and get news that constantly reinforces why the other side is not only wrong, but down right evil.  After time, people actually believe that the other side (like 50% of their fellow citizens) not only have different political beliefs, they are the lowest form of the human race. This kind of crap is destroying the fabric of our society and needs to stop.  Please think about this when you see articles highlighting victimhood and remember that anybody can write an article and fill it with hateful things that people from the other side said or did as well.

    I respectfully disagree. I firmly believe in the old saying that the role of journalism is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Journalists aren't always successful, and there are a lot of folks out there who call themselves journalists but are not. But the goal, and the ultimate role, remain the same.

    In the case of the New York Times piece about Chobani, it was not trolling for victims. And when I read stories like that, I think that the Times is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 3, 2016

    In an amazing, heart-pounding, thrilling, and absolutely fabulous seventh game of the World Series, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings, surviving a comeback by the Indians and a rain delay to end a 108-year championship drought and become the Major League Baseball World Champions.
    KC's View:
    I don't know that I've ever been as riveted by a World Series in which I didn't really have a rooting interest. But this was such fun to watch, with riveting games, compelling teams, and it deserved to have done as well in the television ratings as it did.

    Spring training begins in mid-February. About 14 weeks. Fewer than 100 days. I can't wait.