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    Published on: October 20, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    I had the opportunity yesterday to facilitate a public conversation with Amy Robach, news anchor for “Good Morning, America,” and Shannon Huffman Polson, an adventurer and former Army helicopter pilot turned accomplished writer - two people who, I must confess, make me feel like a woeful underachiever.

    The occasion was the Women’s Fresh Perspectives Leadership Breakfast hosted by the Produce Marketing Association’s Center for Growing Talent, a remarkable affair in which I was privileged to participate. The theme of the event was “Own It!,” and Robach and Polson were there to share their highly individual stories.

    Robach’s likely was the most familiar to the audience. An accomplished news personality, several years ago she reluctantly agreed to have a mammogram on national television as part of breast cancer awareness campaign; she was later told that, in fact, she had breast cancer. Robach ended up having a double mastectomy and multiple rounds of chemo, all while raising children and holding down her job - which included covering the Sochi Olympics in between chemo treatments. (She wrote about her story in a touching memoir entitled “Better.”)

    Polson’s story was no less compelling. She was 19 years old when she became the youngest person ever to climb Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, and she served nine years in the Army (at one point telling a frightening story about having her helicopter targeted by enemy anti-aircraft guns).

    What grabbed my attention yesterday was not just that we were having our conversation at a time when sexual harassment is front and center in the national conversation (and they both made clear that while both have been the targets of harassment, they have not been victims), but that both were honest about the fact that they’ve faced different kinds of fear in their lives, and come out on the other side.

    That may have been the most important message to the audience - that character is built through multiple experiences, some exhilarating and some terrifying, that these add up to personal narratives that must be more than just owned. They must be celebrated.

    And for me, the metaphor that will stay with me the longest came from Polson, who talked about taking off in a helicopter. You turn it into the wind, she said, because that’s how you meet resistance, “and resistance will help you to rise.”

    That’s the message I brought home not just to my daughter, but to my sons.

    It was an Eye-Opener.
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    KC's View:

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    The Wall Street Journal is reporting about how “giant food brands are scrambling to keep up” in a competitive climate where online shopping is diminishing the occurrence of impulse purchasing, and therefore affecting certain kinds of sales.

    “Figuring out how to drive impulse purchases is just one of the challenges that multibillion-dollar food brands face as they gear up to win customers online,” the Journal writes. “They also have more competition from startups on e-commerce channels, where it is possible to build a consumer following without a massive marketing budget and where newer brands perceived as less processed and more healthful tend to be popular.

    “As food makers and retailers test new technologies and develop e-commerce strategies to compete in this changing landscape, the overall grocery-shopping experience for customers is likely to shift dramatically, food executives and analysts say.”

    An additional issue for these giant brands is the fact that their size doesn’t give them the same advantages online as they do in-store: “For decades, such brands controlled grocery-store aisles, commanding prime shelf space and funding expensive advertising displays. Online, however, the playing field is more level, as the internet has provided a quick, cheap and easy sales platform for newer, trendier food companies to reach consumers.”
    KC's View:
    All true. But not necessarily bad across the board.

    First of all, the level playing field should force giant brands to be more innovative in terms of product introductions, not just depending on line extensions or new flavors for growth.

    And as for impulse purchasing … this may not be good for manufacturers, but the broader picture is pretty good for retailers. While they may be selling fewer candy bars at the front end, all the data I’ve ever seen suggest that online basket sizes tend to be much larger than average in-store basket sizes. And, by the way, I’ve always found that Amazon is pretty good at prompting impulse purchasing, because their suggestions and recommendations are tied to previous behavior and preferences.

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    Nielsen is out with a report saying that seven percent of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sales have been driven by e-commerce over the past year, which represents “nearly all the growth” in the sector. According to the report, “Consumers are growing more familiar and comfortable with online outlets, as consideration of trips to non-physical stores is up 50% from 2015, with sales growth from brick-and-mortar channels flat at 0.1%.”

    For many, the report says, “the appeal of online convenience and price savings is fueling online growth—even in the grocery, frozen foods and dairy sections. Though dollar share is small (2.4% for grocery items, 0.9% for frozen foods and 1.2% for dairy), these center store edibles have seen impressive growth in online channels.”

    The report goes on: “Looking across total U.S.FMCG, e-commerce is having a much larger impact on overall sales in non-food categories. Across total shopping trips, 14% of Americans say they consider buying online, which is up from 9% in 2015. Additionally, 33% more households are influenced by digital before they visit a physical store for non-food items than in 2015.”
    KC's View:
    The thing is, FMCG are largely the products that are not differentiators - they are the items that you can get anywhere, and for which there is no built-in advantage in going to the store. So it totally makes sense for the sales of these products to move, inexorably, online.

    Which is why bricks-and-mortar stores that want to remain relevant and resonant to their shoppers need to focus on the items that make them different, and that add to a compelling in-store shopping experience. Focus on FMCG, and you may end up relying on a business model that could be FUBAR.

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    The Washington Post has a piece about how Walmart is focused on virtual reality as the next big thing.

    Here’s how the Post frames the story:

    “Imagine this, says Katie Finnegan, who heads Walmart’s tech incubator: You need a tent for your next camping trip. If all goes to plan, you could one day virtually swoop in to your campsite and see any given tent in action. ‘You could unzip it, lay down, look left and right and say, ‘Oh, this is supposed to be a two-person tent? It’s kind of tight,’ she said.

    “And then you could move on to the next tent — without leaving your couch.

    “‘There is a lot of technology we’re excited about,’ Finnegan said, ‘but virtual reality in particular offers an opportunity to actually experience products and items in an immersive way’.”

    Among the examples cited by the story:

    • “An ‘interactive virtual store’ for designer Rebecca Minkoff, whose items are sold at, would allow customers to sit in on fashion shows and shop directly from the runway. The technology, the company said, would effectively allow it to create a virtual store-within-a-store.”

    • “Tired of shopping online alone? If Walmart gets its way, you may soon be interacting with other shoppers and experts as you pick out items for your virtual cart. Need help picking a pair of jeans? A virtual fashion assistant may be able to help. Trying to figure out why your nightstand is lopsided? An employee could tell you which screws are loose.”

    The Post writes that “the technology has yet to catch on with the mainstream, so such concepts are still in the gee-whiz stage with no guarantee of boosting sales.” But Walmart clearly thinks it is just a matter of time…
    KC's View:
    Walmart inevitably will test a lot of this stuff using the non-core brands that it recently has acquired, like Moosejaw and Bonobos. But it’ll be interesting to see how quickly it’ll be integrated into the company’s core brand offering.

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    Yesterday was the day when all bids were due at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters from states and cities hoping that they will be the final choice for Amazon’s second headquarters, and the minimum 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion investment that will come with it.

    CNBC reports that Amazon is being promised as much as $7 billion in tax breaks by these various entities - the biggest breaks apparently being offered by New Jersey.

    According to the story, “Dozens of cities and states have expressed interest in HQ2. Credit ratings and research company Moody's has ranked Austin as the most likely to win based on its labor pool, costs of doing business and quality of life, among other criteria. Austin is also the headquarters of Whole Foods Market, which Amazon recently acquired.”
    KC's View:
    Amazon has said that it will announce its decision next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens faster than that.

    Interestingly, one top contender - New York City - has decided not to offer any incentives, but rather has simply has pitched itself as offering advantages that no other contender can. Which I sort of respect - I always wonder why the world’s biggest companies get offered incentives and benefits that smaller, independent companies have no chance of obtaining.

    What may annoy Amazon more about New York is how its mayor, Bill de Blasio, said this week that he’s never shopped on Amazon, and suggested that the city’s citizens should avoid the online behemoth in favor of neighborhood stores. (He also suggested they avoid Starbucks in favor of local coffee shops.)

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    • Stitch Fix Inc., a subscription-based online clothing styling service that has been written about here on MNB, and that has more than two million customers, has filed for an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

    The Los Angeles Times writes that Stitch Fix has not said how much it expects to sell shares for, though initial indications are that it wants to raise as much as $100 million.

    • The Associated Press reports that Target plans to open its first store ever in Vermont in fall 2018.

    According to the story, “Target says that once the planned 60,000-square-foot store opens in at the University Mall in South Burlington in October 2018, it will have stores in all 50 states.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    • Justin Dye, the former Chief Strategy Officer at Albertsons, has joined the Peter J. Solomon Company as a Senior Advisor to the firm, working with Scott Moses, who runs its Food Retail & Restaurants Group, “in advising clients in the grocery retail and distribution sectors, as well as in related Consumer Products verticals.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    In the fifth game of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series last night, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Chicago Cubs 11-1, winning the series 4-2 and moving onto the World Series, where they will face either the New York Yankees or the Houston Astros.

    In Thursday Night Football, the Oakland Raiders defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-30.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 20, 2017

    Our Souls At Night is a small movie in terms of intentions and scope, perfect for watching on Netflix (which also produced it) … and I mean that as a compliment. Not all movies are perfect for the big screen, or at least benefit from communal, large-scale viewing; some actually are better for being seen in the comfort of home, with a glass of wine in hand, something to nibble on, the dog wrapped around your feet, with someone you love sitting next to you.

    It happens that Our Souls At Night is actually about that kind of comfort. It reunites Robert Redford and Jane Fonda in their fourth movie together (the first three being Inside Daisy Clover, Barefoot in the Park, and The Electric Horseman, a movie western about which I have really fond memories) and if they look a little weatherbeaten and tentative of step, well, they also look like movie stars, or at least like what movie stars look like when they play regular folks.

    Redford and Fonda play the surviving spouses of long marriages who live in the same small Colorado town. They don’t know each other very well, and they live in respective solitude, eating alone and watching television. One night, Fonda stops by Redford’s house with a proposition: since they’re both alone and lonely, and the nights are particularly hard, why don’t they sleep together? Not have sex - Fonda just craves the presence of someone next to her, and some level of emotional intimacy. After all, they’re not yet dead.

    Redford agrees to try it, and the movie slowly unfolds from there, as the connections grow deeper and stronger. There are some small surprises in the film, as shadows of past behavior come back to darken their current situation. If I have any complaint about the film, it is that it doesn’t take any real risks … I sort of wished there had been more moments of comedy, and maybe a bit of mischievousness and irreverence about their situation.

    But what can i say? Our Souls At Night is what it is, and works well enough for an evening at home, spent with a loved one, a dog, a glass of wine and two of our greatest modern movie stars venturing out onto the cinema dance floor one last time together.

    I had the opportunity to spend some time in Detroit this week, and if you can evaluate a place by the quality of its restaurants, then Detroit clearly is headed in the right direction.

    Whether it was the squid ink chittara at Selden Standard … or the grilled trout at Grange (in Ann Arbor) … or the sweet corn raviolo at Grey Ghost .,.. the meals were all adventurous and first rate in a city that clearly is on an upswing because of considerable investment. Good for them.

    It wasn’t a surprise, but the food was equally amazing at Emeril’s in New Orleans (another city that has had its share of hard times recently) this week. Barbecued shrimp. Amazing andouille and boudin sausages, with braised collard greens. And Abita Amber to wash it all down. Yum.

    And then, on my way out of town, a quick stop at Mother’s, where the food isn’t fancy but the jambalaya is about as good as it gets.

    (It’s been a pretty good week. And it doesn’t end … I’m really looking forward to dinner and wine at Legal Test Kitchen in Boston tonight … I’m thinking the paella would be nice …)

    That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: