retail 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: August 2, 2017

    by Kate McMahon

    Just how hot it cauliflower rice?

    Consider the following:

    • To contain shopper frenzy and ration supplies, Trader Joe’s had to enforce a two-bag limit per customer on its frozen organic riced cauliflower at select suburban stores. Among millennials in Manhattan, it’s the grocery equivalent of “Hamilton” tickets.

    • Both the "Today Show" and Time magazine last month declared cauliflower the new “it vegetable” and Business Insider called the pulverized rice version “Silicon Valley’s new obsession.”

    • Enthusiastic foodies and home chefs are flooding Instagram and Pinterest with cauliflower rice photos and recipes. The #cauliflowerrice hashtag alone has more than 115,000 posts on Instagram.

    • A how-to-prepare cauliflower-fried-rice-four-ways video has racked up 679,000 views on YouTube.

    • And not surprisingly, and almost certainly inevitably, the USA Rice lobbying group is displeased, saying “only rice is rice” and it may ask the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into the matter of chopped vegetables co-opting the rice designation.

    From a business perspective, it’s interesting to chart how retailers and manufacturers have capitalized on the public’s demand for cauliflower rice.

    For many following a low-carb, gluten-free or paleo diet, cauliflower rice is a perfect substitute for pasta, potatoes and traditional rice.

    Cauliflower rice contains less than one-eighth the calories of white or brown rice and about one-ninth the carbs.

    Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were in the forefront of the cauliflower rice craze. Whole Foods introduced a 365-branded frozen cauliflower rice last year, and it quickly rose to the No.4 position of the store’s top-10 frozen vegetables.

    Trader Joe’s launched its frozen cauliflower rice, then a fresh offering in the produce section and most recently an in-demand cauliflower pizza crust, which Bon Appetit claimed was “causing a ruckus” in stores.

    Among manufacturers, look for Green Giant and Birds Eye to be duking it out in the freezer case. Since MNB wrote about Green Giant expanding its vegetable line last November to boost sagging sales, the company has more than doubled its line of cauliflower-based offerings to nine varieties in all. Birds Eye responded by introducing a line of Veggie Made pastas, and also seven varieties of riced and mashed cauliflower.

    Retailers are also processing fresh cauliflower, and I’ve seen offerings at my local Acme and Stop & Shop and on Wegman’s website. Taylor Farms cauliflower “pearls” are available at major chains such as Kroger’s.

    We staged a cauliflower rice taste test to compare, cooking up portions of three fresh versions - Trader Joe’s fresh cauliflower rice ($2.49 for 16 ounces); Urban Roots from Whole Foods (a pricey $5.99 for 10 ounces), and Stop & Shop ($4.49 for 12 ounces). We also tried three frozen varieties, Green Giant (12 ounces for $3.19), Trader Joe’s (12 ounces for $1.99) and Whole Foods 365 (12-ounce bag for $2.99).

    Among the fresh offerings, Urban Roots tasted a little nuttier, the Stop & Shop version had a cabbage after-taste and the Trader Joe’s kernels were more like dice, and less like rice. Of the frozen choices, there was little difference in taste or texture.

    So for price, taste and shelf-life, I’d choose the much coveted Trader Joe’s frozen version for $1.99, when available. Whether fresh or frozen, cauliflower rice can be bland and is tastiest when cooked with olive oil or a sauce.

    Green Giant, Bird’s Eye and major retailers definitely face the challenge of getting younger consumers to purchase more frozen vegetables. If marketed properly on social media, I think vegetable side dishes and pastas could be a game changer.

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

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Washington Post has a story about how Tuft & Needle, a mattress start-up that primarily has sold its products online, has decided it would rather embrace Amazon than fight it.

    The story frames the decision this way: Tuft & Needle started in 2012, selling mattresses online and offering free shipping and a 100-night trial period; it has opened two stores and has sold more than a half-million mattresses.

    While Tuft & Needle has sold its mattresses via Amazon, with as much as 25 percent of its sales going through its site, the story notes that the company was not sanguine about the relationship. Co-founder Daehee Park says, "We’ve had a lot of internal debate about this since the beginning: The approach to resist Amazon as a force and see how we can go head-to-head against it."

    But now, Tuft & Needle has decided to take a different approach.

    According to the story, Tuft & Needle's newest store, slated to open this October in Seattle, "will be equipped with a number of Amazon devices ... Inside, customers will find tablets to read product reviews from Amazon; Alexa-powered Echo devices programmed to answer customer questions; QR codes to enable one-click purchasing through the Amazon app; and, eventually, the company hopes, the perk of two-hour delivery through Amazon’s Prime Now service, too."

    "We’ve decided why not just embrace them," Park says. "We focus on what we’re good at, and plug in Amazon technology for the rest."

    The Post writes that "the news comes just weeks after Nike and Sears announced they will begin selling their products directly on Amazon, joining the ranks of other big-name brands like Bose, Samsung and Microsoft. More than half - 55 percent - of Americans now begin their online shopping trips on, according to a recent survey by marketing research firm BloomReach. And even if shoppers don’t begin their search on Amazon, they often end up there, with roughly 90 percent of consumers checking Amazon before they make a purchase, the survey found."

    It is, I think, an interesting dilemma. Fighting Amazon is tough, but jumping into bed with it (in this case, almost literally) also creates its own challenges. Using and selling Amazon technology that can be used in the bedroom in a mattress store makes a lot of sense. But...

    I don't want to overreact to the potential problems, but if I were Tuft & Needle I'd at least be on the alert that Amazon could decide to get into the mattress business. It probably won't ... unless it sees it as a worthy opportunity. But one should never assume that, nor that it can't.

    It is possible to do business through Amazon, someone very smart once told me, but one should never delude oneself that one is doing business with Amazon.

    I'm just saying that companies have to be careful, lest they get the wrong kind of Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    The Chicago Tribune reports that the Illinois Retail Merchants Association has appealed a Cook County Circuit judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a penny-per-ounce beverage tax that was supposed to go into effect on July 1, but has been delayed by litigation.

    The story says that the retailer group "sued the county, alleging the tax violates a clause in the state constitution requiring uniform taxation of similar products ... The tax applies to both sugar- and artificially sweetened drinks. Drinks in bottles, or from fountain machines, are taxable. But on-demand, custom-sweetened beverages, such as those mixed by a server or barista, aren't subject to the tax."

    A judge dismissed that suit last week, but the retailers are trying to get that decision reversed by going to the 1st District Appellate Court.
    KC's View:
    I don't particularly mind soda taxes if they can have an impact on obesity levels, but I think there is a real problem when they are not assessed fairly and equally.

    Plus, the story points out that Cook County "has been expecting the tax to bring in $67.5 million this year and $200.6 million in 2018." Sounds to me like this is more about collecting badly needed revenue, not taking a nuanced approach to public health policy.

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    The New York Times reports that documents in a new lawsuit against Monsanto "raised new questions about the company’s efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup." While glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been declared safe by the majority of regulators, "a case in federal court in San Francisco continues to raise questions about the company’s practices and the product itself."

    Here's the specific problem, as described by the Times:

    "Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015. Mr. Miller could not be reached for comment.

    "A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, 'I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication'."

    Now, the Times also points out that "a Monsanto official said the comments were the result of 'a complete misunderstanding' that had been 'worked out,' while Mr. Acquavella said in an email on Tuesday that 'there was no ghostwriting' and that his comments had been related to an early draft and a question over authorship that was resolved."

    The story also says that the documents "show that a debate outside Monsanto about the relative safety of glyphosate and Roundup, which contains other chemicals, was also taking place within the company," with ongoing discussion about whether there was enough proof to be able to say confidently that glyphosate - the ingredient in a product used by many farmers - is not carcinogenic.
    KC's View:
    It may not confirm anything so much as deeply ingrained cynicism on my part that none of these accusations surprise me. Gosh, big companies like Monsanto spending money to get its own way and even engaging in "deceptive authorship"?

    Yeah, and I'm shocked to learn that there is gambling at Rick's in Casablanca.

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    The Wall Street Journal has a couple of interesting food-related stories worth taking a look at.

    First, there is a story about the fast-moving produce business, reporting that there is "a new urgency to fruit and vegetable trends as a tight restaurant economy makes it more important than ever for a chef to stand out. Savvy customers want produce that’s intriguing, surprising, delicious and, if possible, wildly nutritious—not only at restaurants and stores but on our doorsteps, as grocery-delivery services such as FreshDirect expand the market."

    Indeed, social media accelerates the process even more. According to the story, Karen Caplan, CEO of the 55-year-old Frieda’s Specialty Produce, "has never seen anything like the current scramble for marquee produce. 'Information travels at the speed of light' in the Instagram era, she said. The next big thing gets a lot more exposure, and faces a lot more competition."

    You can read the story here.

    But, the Journal also has a story about how people don't want to cook anymore.

    An excerpt:

    "One of the biggest changes that has rippled across the food industry is a loss of cooking skills, says food historian Andrew F. Smith. This is despite the popularity of cooking shows and Instagram food photos ... The trend is true across age groups, but is strongest among millennials, the nation’s largest demographic group. About 42% of millennials’ monthly food budget is spent on food prepared outside the home, more than any other generation, according to a survey of 1,500 U.S. consumers last year by Acosta. Millennials spent an average of $202 a month on food prepared outside the home last year, up from an average of $159 in 2015."

    To find out why, click here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    Biometric Update reports that Kroger-owned Mariano's in the Chicago area "is facing multiple lawsuits that allege the company violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) by requiring employees to submit their biometrics data without consent." The story says that the suit claims that employees "were required to scan their fingerprints with a biometric time attendance device when they clocked in and out of a shift," and were never told why the information was being collected or how it would be used.

    The story notes that Mariano's and its ownership deny any legal violations. However, the story notes that if the lawsuit is successful, its classification as a class action could result in tens of millions of dollars in damages.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    • Walmart Canada announced yesterday that it has decided to suspend the imposition of a $2.97 fee it has been charging customers to use its click-and-collect service there.

    "We are thrilled to be able to cancel the pickup fee" Daryl Porter, vice president omnichannel operations and Online Grocery, Walmart Canada, said in a prepared statement. "Eliminating this fee is in keeping with our goal is to save customers money. While it only represents a fraction of a typical grocery order, we don't believe customers should have to pay even a penny more than necessary when they shop with us."
    KC's View:
    I'm trying to figure out why they assessed the $2.97 fee on click-and-collect to begin with.

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    • The Washington Post reports that wholesale chicken wing prices "have been rising for months," and for one simple reason - increased demand.

    "The increased demand," the story says, "is sweet revenge for the humble wing, an unwanted poultry byproduct back in the 1980s, when the American dining public was certain that animal fats would kill them and demanded only boneless, skinless chicken breasts. But starting around 2009, wing prices started to eclipse those for breasts, hinting that demand for wingettes and drumettes was on the rise."

    The story makes the point that the cost of chicken wings has gotten so bad that Buffalo Wild Wings has been aggressively pushing boneless chicken wings, which aren't actually wings but shaped chicken breast meat.

    • The Tampa Bay Times writes that Publix has reported second quarter sales of $8.4 billion, a 3.6 percent increase from last year's $8.1 billion. Comparable-store sales for the second quarter, which ended June 30, increased by 1.6 percent.

    According to the story, "Publix's stock price decreased from $39.15 per share to $36.05 per share, the company reported. The grocery chain's stock is not publicly traded and is made available for sale only to Publix associates and the company's board of directors. This is the sixth time in recent quarterly results that the company has decreased its stock value. Since Publix is not publicly traded, its stock price fluctuates based on what the company is valued at."
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    Jeff Brotman, who co-founded Costco with Jim Sinegal in 1983 and continued to serve as its chairman, has passed away at age 74. Reports say he died in his sleep at home in Medina, Washington; no cause of death has yet been determined.

    The Seattle Times reports that Brotman's death came as a shock, and that on Monday night, "Mr. Brotman had attended a dinner for about 2,000 Costco warehouse managers from around the world who are gathered this week at the Washington State Convention Center."

    The story notes that in addition to his work at Costco, Brotman was a philanthropist (donating to educational, medical and cultural institutions), active Democratic donor, and supporter of other entrepreneurs (he was an early investor in a little company called Starbucks).
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    USA Today reports that more than 100,000 Twitter users have reposted maps on that site that purport to show that Outback Steakhouse is a front for a Satanic cult.

    The proof: The Outback locations in a number of cities can be shown to be connected by lines that form a pentagram, which sometimes is associated with Satanism and occultism.

    The company has responded to the rumors by saying it has no plans to promulgate devil worship, though it does plan to continue "to bring bold steaks and Bloomin’ Onions to our guests!”
    KC's View:
    In some ways, this is unbelievable. But in others, the fact that people would believe and spread this crap seems utterly believable.

    Published on: August 2, 2017

    ...will return.
    KC's View: