retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from an MNB reader:

The big impact that Amazon will have on Whole Foods is not with pop-up electronics in stores.  The big impact will be with the food innovation that is currently shifting from brick and mortar to eCommerce, namely Amazon.

Whole Foods’ old decentralized model was adept at finding local and start-up companies with unique and innovative products.  They would pilot them at a store or region and push them nationally if they were successful (think Lara Bar).  With their new (and not yet fully-baked) centralized model they have lost much, and will likely lose more, of this access to innovation.  Clever start-ups are already realizing that a strong social media presence and intelligent use of Amazon’s model can give them much more predictable costs and access to an even greater consumer base than a traditional brick and mortar launch.  When (if?) Whole Foods effectively taps into this near-exclusive resource of innovation visibility, it will put them back on the map as a food innovator and help them regain an important element of differentiation that is currently being eroded daily as other retailers quickly catch up.

On the subject of the Dutch supermarket that introduced a plastic-free aisle, MNB reader Robert Wheatley wrote:

You might quickly land on the idea of plastic-free food in a grocery store as a torch for eco-friendly policy. Sustainability maybe — and I’m sure it is. Your story makes the point: short shelf life fresh foods sold in containers that last forever, does that make sense? No it probably doesn’t.

That said there’s another page in the food retail screen play here: this is just terrific marketing. With very few exceptions like Wegmans and Trade Joe’s, supermarkets are perpetual victims of sameness and similarity. Competitive advantage is often found simply in the real estate choice and close proximity to households in need of food. But when a retailer does something like this, even if its just one or two stores, it creates an aura and story around distinctive, unique and maybe even “own-able” differentiation.

Ekoplaza can leverage and merchandise this move as a commitment to quality, belief and values while at the same time attracting new customers who are anxious to see how this all plays out. Not just another aisle farm!

From another reader:

I like the idea of a plastic-free aisle.  I joke about how my generation may be the first to die off from a new cause.  For a lot of us, we gain a little arthritis and tendonitis in our hands and fingers as we age, which makes opening much of today’s packaging difficult and frustrating.  I picture them finding my starved body, surrounded by cans and bottles with dents and ripped labels – a result of unsuccessful attempts at getting them open.  On the counter, clamshells of food stacked unopened and now decaying.  And clenched in my hands is a package of pretzels, with my fingers frozen in arthritic claws around the perfectly unaffected top of the plastic bag.

But another MNB reader wrote:

Just want to say, this is exactly what is wrong with our political climate today. People only have one side of the story and if you don't like their side of the story then somehow you are the bad guy. Plastic bags are 100% recyclable and if people would put as much energy into setting up recycling streams, which in most cases here in the states, already exists.... this litter problem would be solved. Unfortunately as in today's political climate, people find it easier to hate, or in this case "ban" it from the earth. Try actually works!

One quick note on this story … the headline yesterday referenced a “Mr. McGuire,” and I challenged MNB readers to connect the dots. I got dozens of emails with the right answer - Mr. McGuire is the character in The Graduate who says to Ben Braddock, “There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

Extra credit to all of you …. and a gold star to the MNB reader who sent me a link to Maguire Products’ website; it is a company described as “a global technology leader in Materials Handling systems for plastics molding, extrusion and compounding.”

Life sometimes imitates art.
KC's View: