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    Published on: July 31, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    I've long been on the record here about how I prefer corks to screw tops when it comes to wine. I understand that there are divergent opinions on this - some people think that screw tops are more reliable in terms of maintaining wine quality, and some people think of such a statement as a kind of sacrilege.

    My preference has less to do with wine quality and everything to do with romance. There are few sounds in life as pleasing as the sound of a cork being pulled from the bottle of wine. There is a sense of romance, of possibility. It seems that lately much of life has been drained of both, and so I hate to lose that sound.

    Which made me interested over the weekend when my friend Marv Imus sent me a story from Food & Wine about an experiment being conducted that "hopes to prove that there’s even more to that cork pop than meets the eye: Does the sound of a 'pop' actually make the wine taste better?"

    Now, I have a feeling I know how the experiment will turn out - it seems that "The Grand Cork Experiment," is being funded "by the Portuguese Cork Association (APCOR) – out of their promotions budget no less."

    The test "is being conducted in a converted event space in the hip London neighborhood of Soho," Food & Wine writes. "In fact, the Experiment’s whole experience is basically a tribute to the cork … which is a bit of a shame because the experiment itself is damn interesting."

    According to the story, "Participants are given four wines and a set of headphones. The wines are served in pairs, but – here’s the rub – before the tastings, drinkers either hear the sound of a cork popping or a screwcap being twisted open. They’re then asked to rate the wines on quality, intensity and how much they invoked a feeling of celebration."

    Food & Wine promises to report back on the results, and so do I. Though they do make a legitimate point - that if the screwcap wins, "we’ll probably never hear about this experiment ever again."

    I hope we do. And I hope the results are an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    Computerworld reports on a new study by digital research firm Sense360 looking at whether Amazon's Prime Day promotion affected foot traffic in rival bricks-and-mortar stores ... and concluded that there was "a 7% drop in foot traffic during the Prime Day promotion among those who didn’t have the Amazon app and a 32% drop among those who did have the app."

    The study also concluded that "some chains fared worse than others. Sears saw a 36% drop, JCPenney 34%, Kohl’s 31%, Target 28%, Home Depot and Lowe’s 24% each, and Walmart 23%. Best Buy dropped 19%, Barnes & Noble fell 11%, and Macy’s took a 9% hit."

    The Computerworld story does offer an important piece of analysis: "Sense360's results certainly suggest that the sale kept people out of physical stores, but if those people were instead on their desktops and mobile devices checking out Amazon's offers, who's to say that they didn't at the same time compare prices across sites, possibly deciding to order goods from Amazon's competition?"
    KC's View:
    The larger point is a good one - that all the attention generated by Prime Day may have generated a lot of traffic for other web sites ... and managed to steal consumers from bricks-and-mortar competition. The lesson that has to be learned is how vulnerable traditional stores are ... look at the names of the stores that took a hit, and ask yourself how many of them are really prepared for the ew retailing realities.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    The Washington Post reports that the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy rights advocacy group, "is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate a new Google advertising program that ties consumers’ online behavior to their purchases in brick-and-mortar stores."

    The program, Google has said, allows it to track people's behavior from their clicks on online ads to purchases made in bricks-and-mortar stores.

    The complaint, the Post writes, charges that Google is mining credit and debit card information "without revealing how they got the information or giving consumers meaningful ways to opt out. Moreover, the group claims that the search giant is relying on a secretive technical method to protect the data -- a method that should be audited by outsiders and is likely vulnerable to hacks or other data breaches."

    Google, the story says, "called its advertising approach 'common' and said it had 'invested in building a new, custom encryption technology that ensures users' data remains private, secure and anonymous'." And now it says that it does not have access to personal information, nor does it share what it does know with its retail partners.
    KC's View:
    To me, the bottom line on these things has to be the ability for the consumer to opt out ... or, better yet, opt in. I have no problem with being tracked if it serves my best interests, but I want to be the one who defines them. Alas, I suspect that may not be what is happening here.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    The Dayton Business Journal reports that the Buffalo Wild Wings chain, at a time when "chain casual restaurants are struggling to compete with the rise of cheaper fast-casual brands," and it is dealing with a decline in same-store sales, is experimenting with a beer delivery program.

    According to the story, Buffalo Wild Wings "is planning to pilot beer delivery in Ohio and Wisconsin and later this year expand delivery options through its mobile app."

    And, at the same time, "The company is also adding a new format that's more geared toward takeout and delivery called 'B-Dubs Express' that's a 2,800-square-foot, 50-seat store with a smaller menu." And, it is planning to expand the use of its loyalty marketing program in a way that will help it target frequent customers.
    KC's View:
    We occasionally hit a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings when we're catching a movie ... it would never be my first choice, but sometimes it is just easy. To be honest, I didn't even know they had a loyalty program ... so maybe they need to do a better job of marketing it.

    I'm also not sure that I'd order a beer delivery from Buffalo Wild Wings ... though that's not to say that this is a dumb idea. It seems to me that consumers always are looking for convenience options, and there will be places where this makes a lot of sense. The worst thing that businesses like Buffalo Wild Wings can do is stand pat.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    Business Insider reports that "Chipotle is planning to test something that customers have been seeking for years: a drive-thru window ... Up until this point, Chipotle has been one of the few national quick-service chains not to offer a drive-thru option."

    CMO Mark Crumpacker told an investor phone call last week that "in addition to attracting new customers, the chain's first-ever 'vehicular pickup window' could be key to winning back people who ditched the chain after its 2015 E. coli crisis."

    Business Insider goes on to say that "Chipotle is typically resistant to change, preferring to stick with its tried-and-true menu and business model. However, recently the chain has been forced to mix things up to win back customers after a 2015 food poisoning scandal drove customers away from the chain."
    KC's View:
    The thing is, this is a really good idea because people will be on the road and can get to the emergency room faster after eating food bought at Chipotle.

    Too harsh? Too soon?

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    Supervalu CEO Mark Gross told analysts last week in a conference call that the company will be rolling out meal kits and grab-and-go options as way of driving sales at retail, where growth has lagged behind the company's wholesale segment.

    "“We’ve long provided meal solutions, but we’re excited with the innovation and expansion that we’re rolling out in this area,” he said, adding, “Our expanded offering will be marketed as Quick’n Easy, an easily understood name that will be carried through several departments. We’ll have meal kits, heat-and-serve, grab-and-go versions, all geared to the level of preparation and precooking or not that best fit our customers’ needs.”

    In addition to these meal solutions offerings, Gross said the company also will expand its focus on organics, and will rework its approach to private brands.
    KC's View:
    A good idea, but I think the one thing that Supervalu has to do is move with great speed. They cannot afford to let the competition get too far ahead of them with such initiatives.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    The Boston Globe reports that while low fat and nonfat yogurts remain dominant in the nation's supermarket dairy cases, a new study from Mintel indicates that "there has been an 2,675 percent increase in the number of whole milk yogurts on store shelves in the past decade."

    The big advantage of such whole milk yogurts is that that taste better - richer, and super-creamy.

    But, the story says, there is medical research suggesting that "there may be health benefits to whole-fat dairy," and that "you might not need to choose between health and taste."

    The Globe quotes Mario Kratz, an associate member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as saying that "in observational studies we see clear associations between consumption of all types of yogurt and lower risk of obesity, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes."

    The story goes on: "Theories abound about why yogurt might be beneficial. One is that it’s loaded with protein, which some experts believe could help prevent weight gain by making you feel fuller, longer. But it may be more likely that other factors are responsible, Kratz says, such as the probiotics (good bacteria) or the complex mixture of micronutrients, vitamins, minerals (such as calcium), and fatty acids — of which dairy products have about 400 types."
    KC's View:
    I'm all in on this. One of my favorite things when in Portland is to pick up Ellenos full-fat Green yogurt from Zupan's. They have a service counter where they have numerous flavors - I like Marionberry - and it is so much better than the usual low-fat/no-fat stuff. Can't eat much of it, but it pretty much makes a breakfast.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    The Pasadena Star News reports that when Dunkin' Donuts opens one of its stores in that California community next month, the banner will just have a one-word name: "Dunkin'."

    According to the story, "The name change speaks to the growing popularity of the company’s various coffees, iced drinks and frozen drinks." However, it is described as a one-franchisee test, with no other stores, in California or elsewhere, scheduled to go through a name change.

    But ... the company's website does describe it as being in the middle of a "multiyear plan to transform Dunkin’ Donuts U.S. into a beverage-led, on-the-go brand."
    KC's View:
    If this works, expect this to be rolled out nationwide. I fully expect it will ... most of the people I know refer to it as "Dunkin'" already.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    A company called SalesFuel is out with its 2017 AudienceSCAN survey, which this year says that an emerging category of customers is a group that uses voice-activated assistant, such as Amazon's Alexa, Google Home, and Apple's Siri.

    "Thirteen percent of American adults have used one of these in the past 30 days," the study says, "and SalesFuel has found that users of these devices tend to eat out more frequently and have different grocery habits than the average adult."

    The study also notes that 15.4% of voice=-activated assistant users have shopped at Whole Foods in the past month, compared with just 9% of average Americans. More than 17 percent of users shopped at Trader Joe's during the same period, and 22 percent shopped at Kroger. And, "18.6% of voice-activated assistant users had groceries delivered to them in the past year."
    KC's View:
    I think that a lot of retailers are going to have to figure out how to give customers access to their offering via voice assistants. No question that this is the way the world is going.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    Yahoo Finance has a story in which it quotes Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson talking about "the massive disruption" affecting bricks-and-mortar retail, saying that its "clear that the winners coming out of this are going to be those companies who find elegant ways to bring an in-store experience together with a digital experience."

    Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz elaborated: "[What] we’ve seen over the last few months with Walmart and and PetSmart and Chewy and most recently Amazon and Whole Foods, I think ... we’re in the nascent stage of these kinds of commercial relationships that are going to elevate the experience of a brick-and-mortar retail company."

    Schultz added, naturally, that "having said that, Starbucks is probably best positioned, given our national footprint, the demography of our customers, and where we’re located to have those kinds of conversations.”
    KC's View:
    Of course, the Starbucks executives were making these comments in a week when the company's stock price dropped more than seven percent after it said it would close down its Teavana chain and reported quarterly profit that was below that expected by analysts.

    I think they're right about where things are going. But I'm not entirely sure that I buy the "best positioned" argument. It seems to me that there are a lot of moving pieces at Starbucks these days - they're trying to cut costs at the same time as they're investing a ton in things like the Roastery concept. I think they're pushing upscale, which could put the company in some difficulty if the economy goes south.

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    Columnist Steven Pearlstein had a piece the other day in the Washington Post about a 28-year-old law student named Lina Khan, who earlier this year had an article in the Yale Law Journal entitled, "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox."

    Pearlstein wrote:

    "The article laid out with remarkable clarity and sophistication why American antitrust law has evolved to the point that it is no longer equipped to deal with tech giants such as, which has made itself as essential to commerce in the 21st century as the railroads, telephone systems and computer hardware makers were in the 20th."

    However, "For Amazon, which prides itself on its relentless consumer focus, the suggestion that its spectacular growth might not be in the public interest poses a particular challenge ... Is Amazon so successful, is it getting so big, that it poses a threat to consumers or competition? By current antitrust standards, certainly not.

    "Here is a company, after all, known for disrupting and turbocharging competition in every market it enters, lowering prices and forcing rivals to match the relentless efficiency of its operations and the quality of its service. That is, after all, usually how firms come to dominate an industry, and there is nothing illegal about that. But under the antitrust law, once a firm is dominant, its actions and business practices become subject to more rigorous scrutiny, to make sure it is not abusing its dominant position. And like all dominant firms, Amazon disputes its dominance."

    But what appears clear is that if the right answers are to be found, the questions themselves must change.

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

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    Reuters reports that "the union representing workers at Lider, Wal-Mart Stores Inc's main supermarket chain in Chile, said on Friday they had voted to go on strike for higher pay ... Next week, either the union or the company may request government-mediated talks that would last five days to try to reach an agreement on a collective contract and avert the strike."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that UPS "expects most retailers to agree to higher shipping prices during the weeks leading up to Christmas, which it says are necessary because of the glut of online orders ... UPS is encouraging retailers to avoid shipping during those peak-season weeks by holding promotions earlier in November, offering incentives to shoppers to accept later deliveries or other tactics."

    The story notes that "UPS last month revealed the extra peak-season fee, which will affect packages shipped in the two weeks around Thanksgiving and in the week before Christmas." The surcharge the week before Christmas is expected to be between 27 and 97 cents per package.

    Fox Business has an interview with former Walmart US CEO Bill Simon in which he said that he won't be buying Amazon stock anytime soon, that "there’s only one direction for that stock to go ... and I think everybody knows that. I can’t tell you when it’s going to happen, but it’s inevitable."

    For the record, Amazon's stock price when the market opened the week was 1,020.04, while Walmart's was 79.81.

    According to the story, "Simon tells FBN that while Amazon’s sales are up 17%, it is losing money following its acquisition of Whole Foods. "Their ability to keep putting up these massive numbers is going to run into difficulties the bigger they get,” he says, adding, "The growth will have to slow just by the law of large numbers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 31, 2017

    ...will return.
    KC's View: