business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    by Kate McMahon

    There’s a new player in the annual, much-debated, often flawed effort to predict food trends for the coming year - Pinterest, the free content-sharing website brimming with users’ enthusiasm, recipes and glorious food photos.

    While perusing the traditional prognosticators’ lists, including Bon Appetit, the Food Network, James Beard Foundation, National Restaurant Association (NRA), and’s all-encompassing “Official Megalisticle of All 2017 Food Trend Listicles,” Pinterest kept popping up.

    Ditto a tropical fruit called the jackfruit, with a mild-flavored, starchy flesh that is being hailed as a low-cal, high-fiber meat substitute. Why jackfruit? Because consumer searches for jackfruit jumped 420% on Pinterest last year.

    Pinterest’s elevated presence speaks to another over-arching trend - that technology and social media will continue to dramatically impact how people acquire and consume food.

    In the case of social media, it is all about the dialogue – between consumers, and if they are to be successful, the marketers and retailers who make a connection with them.

    Friend-of-MNB Phil Lempert, the SupermarketGuru, notes that trends that once took two or three years to rise or plummet are on a different trajectory. “Now, with the way everyone uses social media, we’re seeing it turn around in a matter of two to three months,” Lempert tells the New York Times.

    In addition to the jackfruit, herewith are other food trends being talked about for 2017:

    • There’s a new grain in town: Home-grown sorghum is being touted as a gluten-free, fiber and protein-rich grain that can be prepared like rice, barley, or quinoa.

    • Craft-anything: The number of new products using the word “craft” or “crafted” increased by 248% from 2011 to 2015, with alcoholic beverages, confectionary and bakery as the leading market categories.

    • Add a jolt of java: The Food Network predicts that coffee will be flavoring candy, snacks, cocktails and more, catering to the Starbucks generation.

    • Annie, get your goat: Yes, some culinary experts predict that goat will be the next hot protein in the U.S. It has less fat than chicken, and when prepared properly tastes like lamb.

    For the record, I dug into the MNB archives for my January food trend columns dating back to 2011. The predictions that proved true, and evolved from trend to mainstream, were not a surprise.

    Among them:

    • The farm-to-table/locavore movement promoting more locally sourced ingredients.

    • Once relegated to natural food stores or a back shelf, gluten-free labels moving front and center and even commanding their own stand at major league baseball parks.

    • Vegetables shedding side dish status and commanding the center of the plate.

    • Kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower becoming menu staples.

    • Siracha and other ethnic hot sauces joining salt and pepper on restaurant and kitchen tables.

    • Flavor “mashups” mixing sweet and savory flavors in products ranging from popcorn to ice cream and yogurt.

    • Greek yogurt morphing from an imported specialty to a heavyweight in the dairy case and expanded product lines.

    On the flip side, the quest for the new cupcake has failed. Contenders such as caneles, macaroons and cake pops could never compete with the cupcake craze. Other misses on the prediction front were:

    • Mideastern grains such as freekeh and teff toppling quinoa.

    • Rabbit meat and heritage chickens becoming the “white meat.”

    • Wine in a can being deemed acceptable by anyone.

    • The pie movement – sweet, savory, hot and cold pies – gaining fans beyond Thanksgiving.

    • Peruvian cuisine making the leap from food truck to restaurant and home kitchen.

    Oh, well. You can't win them all.

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

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    Longtime MNB readers know that we're big on pop culture references here. Michael Sansolo and I even co-wrote a book on the subject.

    And so the commercial at left grabbed my attention, mostly because it is chock full of them.

    The advertiser is Cigna, an insurance company, and the goal is to get people to see a doctor and take care of their health. (I hate to say nice things about an insurance company, but this is a really good commercial.)

    The hook is that the doctors making the pitch are all actors who played doctors in a variety of television shows - Alan Alda ("M*A*S*H"), Patrick Dempsey ("Grey’s Anatomy"), Lisa Edelstein ("House"), Donald Faison ("Scrubs"), and Noah Wyle ("ER"). And it is funny because they make fun of themselves, and it just really works.

    No real business lesson here, except that if you want to grab people's attention, it helps to do something creative and Eye-Opening. Plus, it is fun.


    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    The New York Times this morning has a story - one might almost call it a pre-obituary - about Sears Holdings, "which is projected to lose more than $2 billion this year" and appears to be "in the retailing dead pool."

    The Times writes that "as its prospects for a turnaround appear to grow dimmer, it may seem to be another morality tale for bricks-and-mortar retailers in the age of Amazon. Yet it is a lesson that even Sears recognizes. Like other retailers, the company is scrambling to adapt to today’s internet market. The question is whether it can do so before its cash runs out and the deal-making of its hedge fund chief executive, Edward S. Lampert is not enough to create more."

    The real problem, the Times writes, is that "it is not Amazon that is primarily to blame for Sears’s plight. Sears is being squeezed by changing economies and technology. Shoppers go to Walmart for discount items or to Target for discount items with a touch of style. The high end stays at stores like Nordstrom. The middle is smaller and increasingly shops online."
    KC's View:
    The company seems utterly uncertain of its strategy, and customers that should be in its sweet spot seem equally uncertain about what the retailer stands for; while Lampert is fond of saying that traditional retailers get held to a different standard than internet companies, the time is long past for whining. As the Times story makes clear, Lampert has led the retailer with all the marketing and merchandising acumen that one would expect from a hedge fund manager.

    The fact is that Sears largely is an analog company drowning in a rising digital ocean. For the most part, it has long seemed as if nobody at the top knows how to swim.

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    Interesting piece in the Los Angeles Times about how a marijuana shop there called MedMen is consciously emulating the Apple Store in its design and approach.

    "Sunlight streams in through the store’s floor-to-ceiling windows," the Times writes. "Inside, salespeople in bright red T-shirts greet shoppers. Merchandise is carefully arranged on sleek wooden tables lined with iPads. It’s a retail scene reminiscent of an Apple store, but the high-tech gadgets on sale are vape pens.

    "After years of bullet-proof glass and burglar bars, marijuana shops are starting to get a makeover."

    The belief seems to be that with recreational marijuana catching on - it is now legal in eight states, and estimates are that it could become a $50 billion industry by 2026, up from $6 billion in 2016 - it makes sense to invest in the retail side, offering a compelling shopping experience at odds with the industry's reputation for a "generally dingy shopping experience."

    Troy Dayton, chief executive of Arcview Group, a marijuana research and investment firm, says that there is an “upscale revolution in cannabis retailing. It now makes sense to invest in your property and make it awesome for the long haul."

    And one marijuana retailer confirms that the goal is to make customers feel right at home by offering an environment that is reminiscent of the Apple Store, Whole Foods, or Starbucks.
    KC's View:
    While I have some personal ambivalence about legal recreational pot, that doesn't really factor into my opinion that these companies may be facing some legal hurdles in the near future. It seems entirely possible that the new administration and Congress may be less accepting of the trend, and could try to enforce the federal drug laws that are different from state laws. The new President has been very vocal about his personal abstemiousness when it comes to drugs, alcohol and even coffee, and the role that addiction had in his brother's death ... and it remains to be seen how those feelings could translate into policy.

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    The Wall Street Journal this morning has a story about some coffee shops in New York City are going against the grain and are not offering free Wi-Fi, and in some cases banning laptops entirely.

    “There’s Wi-Fi in the subway. There’s Wi-Fi everywhere,” Jeremy Lyman, co-owner of Birch Coffee, a local, eight-store mini chain, tells the . “Why not use our space as an opportunity to disconnect and connect to someone sitting next to you?”

    Caroline Bell, co-owner of another small coffee shop chain called Café Grumpy (that isn't a typo), says that part of the goal was to weed out the people who would buy a cup of coffee and then "camp out" for hours. "People couldn’t chat with their friends,” she tells the Journal.

    In an effort to help people get over the conversation hump, Birch Coffee decided to create "conversation-starter cards that patrons can set on their table to invite encounters with strangers." The idea is that you buy a cup of coffee, choose a card, put it in front of you, and hope that someone will come along and talk. “Maybe you’ll meet someone who changes your life," Lyman says.
    KC's View:
    This wouldn't necessarily work for me in most cases, because I love using Wi-Fi in coffee shops, especially when traveling. But I think that for these independent shops to look for interesting ways to differentiate themselves makes a lot of sense. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, and people complain, you change your mind and offer Wi-Fi.

    Doesn't seem all that difficult to me.

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • The Dayton Business Journal reports that Iowa-based c-store chain Casey's General Store continues to expand in Ohio. The company doesn't have any open yet, but in relatively short order it is scheduled to have five units up and running in markets that include Dayton, New Lebanon and Ansonia.

    According to the story, "The gas station and convenience store chain announced in December that its goal for fiscal year 2017 — which is half over — is to build or acquire 77 to 116 stores, replace 35 existing locations and complete 100 major remodels. The company self distributes and is able to expand more aggressively, including entering Ohio for the first time, because a second distribution center opened in April in Terre Haute, Ind. The hub lets it efficiently expand beyond the reach of its original distribution center in Des Moines, which had about a 500-mile reach."

    Benzinga reports on a new study from Deutsche Bank concluding that Aldi has a clear low price advantage over Walmart, at least when it comes to the common shopping basket used in both stores. Walmart, in fact, was 13.5 percent more expensive: "Aldi led in the food and household & personal care categories, with the food basket at Wal-Mart coming in 14.3 percent more expensive, while the household & personal care basket at Wal-Mart was 12.7 percent higher."

    I'm not doubting that equivalent products may cost less at Aldi than at Walmart, but I do think it is fair to point out that they are two entirely different shopping experiences. That's not to say that Walmart is in any way immune to the Aldi/Lidl threat ... just that the number of things that one can put in your basket at Aldi is a lot smaller than at Walmart. I have to wonder if - especially now that Walmart is being challenged online by Amazon and on the price end by Aldi/Lidl - the notion of greater selection ... and being a company made in the USA ... might begin to play more of a role in Walmart's marketing efforts.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    • Ahold USA announced that its retail divisions - Stop & Shop New England, Stop & Shop New York Metro, Giant Landover, and Giant Carlisle, totally 780 stores - have embarked on a "technology overhaul in collaboration with Verizon Enterprise Solutions to create a ‘smarter store’ for today’s always-connected consumer. With consumers increasingly relying on smartphones and public Wi-Fi when shopping, retailers are recognizing the imperative to offer strong and reliable networks for delivering the digitally rich in-store experience that is now an expectation."

    By improving the Wi-Fi capabilities in its stores, the company said, just last December it managed to see an "overall 23% spike in the number of users over the previous month."

    Seeking Alpha reports that Amazon has patented what is described as an "autonomous vehicle lane assignment system," which is said to be "capable of ascertaining lane travel direction and instructing autonomous vehicles to enter roadways within specific lanes."

    It appears to be yet another move by Amazon to lay the groundwork for greater involvement in distribution and delivery of its products.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    • Kroger announced that Matt Perin - formerly deputy director of government relations for the Bayer Corporation and staff director for the US House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture's Subcommittee on Nutrition & Horticulture - has joined the retailer as Head of Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs, based in Washington.

    • Ahold USA announced that Don Sussman, president of the Stop & Shop New York Metro division, has been appointed executive vice president of merchandising at Ahold USA. 

    The company said that Andrew Iacobucci, former executive vice president of merchandising, has decided to leave the company "in order to pursue another opportunity outside of the retail grocery industry."

    At the same time, Bob Yager will be rejoining the Stop & Shop New York Metro division as senior vice president and division lead. Yager was most recently with Retail Business Services, an Ahold Delhaize company, as senior vice president of supply chain.

    And, Nick Bertram, Ahold USA’s senior vice president of merchandising strategy and support, will expand his responsibilities, including day-to-day merchandising operations, the ongoing integration work with Delhaize America and vendor collaboration.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    The Wall Street Journal reports on the passing, at age 63, of Brenda Barnes, the former CEO of Sara Lee Corp., who during her tenure "became a symbol of the hard choices women face juggling work and family life."

    The story notes that "Barnes caused a media sensation in 1997 when she gave up her job as head of North American beverage operations for PepsiCo Inc., saying she wanted to spend more time with her three children, then aged 7, 8 and 10. She was one of the highest-ranking women in corporate America, and her departure fueled the debate over the extent to which family duties kept women out of executive suites. Newspapers and magazines wrote long essays on the topic."

    After she left PepsiCo, Barnes was active on a number of boards, and then, in 2004, joined Sara Lee. In 2010, she suffered a stroke, and then resigned when it became clear that it would be a lengthy recovery.

    Barnes suffered another stroke last Sunday, and passed away on Tuesday.
    KC's View:
    There is a lovely thing that Barnes once said on the "Today Show" about why she left PepsiCo. It wasn't because her kids needed more of her, she said, but “because I need more of them."

    Published on: January 18, 2017

    Got the following email from an MNB reader:

    So Walmart creates 10,000 minimum wage jobs. So maybe not all the jobs will be minimum wage, but I would hazard to guess 90%+. I’m not advocating we pay people more than what the skill set requires, but it is hardly bragging rights to say, “We’ve just created 9000+ jobs which will pay people around the federal poverty line, Hurray for us!” We might as well brag that we created 10,000 babysitting jobs. Until the workplace environment changes, we will continue to have huge income gaps.

    Let’s review the workplace. (Your experience may vary.)

    • Stockholders – Make money, give us money, make more money, give us more money!

    • Company Loyalty – You got a paycheck. We can let you go at any time. We have to answer to Wall street and the Stockholders. We don’t need to offer pensions, we can let employees put their money in the stock market (insert here Russian roulette). In fact, if we, C- Execs make wrong/poor decisions, we can raid the funds we set aside for employees who are vested in the company.

    • Employee Loyalty – Why should we be loyal? We received your message about  your loyalty to us loud and clear.
    Cynical, maybe, but very close to the truth.

    Until we can curtail the financial damage Stockholders and Wall Street are doing, companies will always “try” to play the balancing game but let’s face it, the power currently resides on their side. To make matters more complicated, we are those stockholders, with our 401k, investments, etc. We, then, have those in charge of these giant “funds” demanding more money from the companies we actually work for. (We all want our investments to grow don’t we?)  Less free cash for the company means less to spend on upgrades, investments (including people), R&D, and keeping the lights on. When cash is pouring out to Stockholders, debt, and interest payments, there isn’t a lot left for those “normal” people who actually make the company go. (Sorry C-execs, you may get the big bucks and have golden parachutes, but without those below you, you wouldn’t have a company.)

    Then to add even more pain, investment groups purchase companies and then either kill the company and sell the assets or put some lipstick on the pig and then throw it back into the stock market so they can “make a nice return on their investment.” Our investments purchase these pigs and a new round begins. Again, who does this hurt? The average Joe’s and Jane’s.

    Our society seems to be built on debt. People who try to live financially like a company eventually go bankrupt.  Take a look at how much debt our fortune 500 companies have. (Including stocks). It’s crazy, but we believe that building debt for companies is good, yet we somehow hope that economist’s magic will somehow fix these financial death plagues. Yes, Walmart created 10,000 jobs. I would have been more excited to hear they had paid off their debt and repurchased all their stock back and became a private company. A man can’t serve two masters, much less the 3.03 Billion shares of outstanding Walmart stock.

    Regarding another story we had on MNB:

    My mom told me the news about Anderson’s closing Sunday and I couldn’t believe it.  If you haven’t been, and can make it before they close, you should – particularly the one in Maumee, Ohio.  Perhaps I’m biased.  I grew up in Toledo and going to The Anderson’s was always such a special treat.  They maintained the essence of a general store in the 21st century.  The produce was always mouth-wateringly fresh, you could get home improvement materials (and in my experience there was always a knowledgeable, friendly employee to help) and I distinctly remember going with my grandpa where he would purchase his jeans, light bulbs and screws while his minivan got an oil change.  So maybe the sadness that comes with hearing of the Anderson’s closing is a bit of nostalgia.

    In recent years, whenever my husband and I traveled to Toledo to visit, we always made a trip to The Anderson’s.  I know my parents shopped there quite a bit still.  The reader who initially wrote in about the stores closing is absolutely correct – the food is always top notch, they were one of the first retailers I saw to have a self-serve olive oil bar, the beer and wine selections were always amazing (especially the local choices), the smells in the food department would make your mouth water, they carry quality products (probably why my grandpa purchased his jeans there ;)) and to echo the other reader – they carry items you cannot find anywhere else.  The staff was always friendly and when I went they usually had every cash register open (instead of 3-4 out of 17) making the wait to check out minimal.

    I am shocked to learn that these stores were losing money.  The Maumee store we would visit was always bustling.  I live in Cincinnati now and I’ve routinely mentioned to my husband that I wish The Anderson’s had expanded down here.  He believes the Maumee store was always busy because of the emotional connection within the community there – it’s been the local general store for 65 years – and that perhaps those emotions don’t translate to the other locations.  It could be that it was people’s “grandparents store” and so they haven’t given it a shot in the recent years, believing the store to be irrelevant.  For me though, it’s a place that is forever tied to afternoons off school, spent walking the aisles with Grandma and Grandpa and more recently a place that I could get amazing food (no matter what I was in the mood for they had something to satisfy), a great bottle of wine, an uplifting experience and a friendly, helpful face upon checkout.
    KC's View: