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    Published on: June 7, 2018

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    One of the things we talk about a lot here is the importance of accumulating actionable data, and then acting on it. Part of accumulating data, it must be said, is knowing how to break it into usable pieces, creating categories and characterizations that allow marketers to make intelligent and even, when they get it right, prescient decisions.

    The problem, of course, is that we all don’t fit into neat categories. A lot of us assiduously resist being characterized as one thing or another.

    There was a story in the Boston Globe the other day that really got me thinking about this, because it focused on how the term “middle aged” has become for many people a “term is so pejorative it hits like a back spasm when you get off the couch.”

    Part of the problem is that the term is both indistinct and relatively new - it only started being used maybe 150 years ago.

    “Before that,” the Globe story said, “there were four ages — childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. Then, we added a fifth, but no one really knows when middle age starts or when it ends. The 40-64 age range is commonly accepted,” though the younger you are the more likely it is that you think that it starts early, just like old age. (When I admit to being middle-aged, my own kids point out that I only fall into that category if I’m going to live to 126. Which I plan to. Which scares the hell out of them. Good.)

    The Globe suggested that you can identify middle-aged folks because they’re the ones who “are Botoxing, popping Viagra, covering the gray, chanting mantras like “50 is the new 30,” keeping up with technology, exercising until they need new knees, and bleaching their teeth.” (I’m guilty of a few of these. I’m not telling you which ones.)

    Humorist David Sedaris, at 61, seems to be having none of it: “Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle age,” he recently wrote. (Call it middle-aged cranky.)

    The Globe argued that middle aged folks - and the people who write about them - need to consider a kind of rebranding. After all, “Dunkin’ is experimenting with shedding ‘Donuts’ from its name. Some vegans are recasting themselves as plant-based. Meditation began calling itself mindfulness and has left the ashram for the boardroom.”

    The suggestion put forth from one quarter: “mid-century modern.” The term comes from the decorating industry, which uses it to refer to a style that is self-assured and has a kind of clean simplicity. Which is how some folks think middle-aged folks ought to think and feel … though I must concede that I’m neither as self-assured as I’d like to be. I am, however, often accused of being simple.

    The thing is, these are all labels. They may be useful to marketers and demographers, but I think such folks must understand that those of us who are lumped into such groups often don’t think of themselves as fitting neatly into one category or another. And, as I said earlier, some of us are almost militant about it…

    Which explains why I’m so hostile when I get a phone call that starts off with a pre-recorded message: “Hello, seniors…!”

    My response is to such messages is less than polite.

    That’s what’s on my mind this morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    The International House of Pancakes - better known as IHOP - has teased via social media that after 60 years of existence it is "flippin' our name to IHOb.”

    However, it hasn’t yet said what the ‘b’ will stand for, though most folks seem to think that it will stand for ‘breakfast,’ and signify the broader menu offerings at the chain.

    The curtain on the mystery will be raised next Monday.

    However, NPR notes that “the Internet isn't big on waiting. Hungry for answers, people responded to the cryptic tweets: Could it be breakfast? Biscuits? Brunch? The improbable bancakes? Simply, and minimally, bacon? The on-trend bitcoin?

    “Those are a few of the more popular guesses on IHOP's Twitter feed, in a thread that's littered with the company's coy responses.”

    The story goes on:

    “Whatever the IHOPlan is for the chain's widely recognized name, it seems to have been long in the making: The Twitter handle for IHOb is already reserved and verified, having joined Twitter in July 2016.

    “According to DINE Brands, which operates both the IHOP and Applebee's restaurant chains, there are currently more than 1,671 IHOP locations in the U.S. In the most recent fiscal year, IHOP stores generated $185 million in revenue, on sales of $3.3 billion. At its annual stockholders' meeting last month, IHOP reported that nearly half of its customers come in during breakfast time. Lunch follows (with 28 percent) and then dinner (16 percent) and late-night service (7 percent).”

    While the whole teasing thing may have been seen as tantalizing by some marketing person, it strikes me as much ado about very little, and they may be disappointed when the final reveal is seen as a letdown. I think marketers have to be careful about overestimating the degree to which they can create anticipation … it might’ve been better just to announce the name change and hope for some excitement.

    Then again, my lack of intrigue may be traceable to my total disinterest in IHOP as a dining possibility … last time I ate in one, which was years ago, I felt like I’d dropped a bag of cement into my stomach. That was an Eye-Opener, and I haven’t been back.

    Life’s too short to eat mediocre food, even if there’s a lot of it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Amazon has chosen two locations in Chicago - “in Chicago’s tallest building, Willis Tower, and in an office building connected to Ogilvie Transportation Center” - for its Amazon Go checkout-free format, which is in the process of a slow expansion beyond the original Seattle location.

    According to the story, “There are about 25,000 office workers and tourists in Willis Tower each day, providing a ready market for grab-and-go meals and drinks. The number of visitors could increase after the 110-story building’s owner, New York-based Blackstone Group, completes a $500 million upgrade that will add a large base with new retail and entertainment spaces on the tower’s lower floors. Blackstone also is expected to add to the offerings in its Skydeck tourist attraction on upper floors of the 1,451-foot-tall skyscraper.

    “Amazon Go’s other leased space in Chicago is beneath a 40-story office tower at 500 W. Madison St. Lower levels of the property, owned by a fund of Newport Beach, Calif.-based KBS Realty Advisors, form a retail concourse around commuter trains at Ogilvie.”

    Amazon has not confirmed the locations to the Tribune.

    An Amazon Go store also is slated to be built in San Francisco, reportedly in Union Square, but Amazon hasn’t confirmed that location, either.

    The Tribune story says that Amazon “has been looking for spaces in other cities too, including Los Angeles.”
    KC's View:
    The expectation here is that if Amazon Go stores are properly located, they’ll be big successes.

    I still think that we’re going to see the technology applied to other retail categories - like Amazon Books - and that it won’t be too long before we see it integrated to some extent in either a Whole Foods store or a 365 by Whole Foods store. That would be a big swing for Amazon, but that’s what Bezos encourages … big swings that can make a big difference.

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    Target announced yesterday that it will begin offering its Shipt same-day delivery service today in the Chicago market.

    According to the announcement, “Shipt delivery originally launched in Illinois with select retailers in July 2017, and this expansion gives more than 3.5 million households across the metro area access to same-day delivery of products from their local Target store. This expansion is part of the company’s growth throughout six Midwest states including: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.”

    Target says that it “plans to offer convenient, same-day delivery of the in-store assortment of groceries, essentials, home, electronics, toys and other products from the majority of its stores by the 2018 holiday season. By the end of the year, the service will be available to 65 percent of U.S. households across 180 markets, reaching a total of 80 million households, and in 2019, same-day delivery will expand to include all major product categories at Target.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    USA Today reports that Walmart has launched a new product line called Winemakers Selection, described as “10 ‘distinctive labels’ of wine sourced from California, France and Italy. They sell for about $11 per bottle, yet will be high quality.

    Nichole Simpson, Walmart’s senior wine buyer, tells the paper that the wines “drink like a $30 to $40 bottle of wine” … Walmart began selling its private wine label in about 1,100 stores nationwide last month. Before the launch, Simpson spent several months visiting both domestic and international winemakers, getting to know the producers of each bottle. Simpson said the labels help enhance the wine experience: Not only can customers get it cheap, but also they can understand the story behind every bottle.”

    The USA Today story says that this is “the latest example of how Walmart, which grew into the nation's largest retailer by appealing to middle-class families, is increasing trying to appeal to more upscale tastes. Earlier this year, it unveiled new home goods options that included styles like ‘glam’ and ‘farmhouse.’ In March, it said it would offer its own line of home meal kits, which have become popular among urban professional couples and singles."
    KC's View:
    The piece of this that intrigues me is the educational element - Walmart clearly is trying to create, where it thinks it is appropriate, a more aspirational experience for its customers. It has to be a little careful, because it doesn’t want to alienate its core customers, but I think it will be interesting to see the degree to which it can push this broader initiative along.

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    CNN reports that a price war of a sort is taking place among Costco, Target, Walmart and Kroger, as all four chains have said that they’ve lowered prices.

    The story says that the four retailers are “coy about what was less expensive — and by how much — but it's clear that the price war in the grocery and retail world is intense.”

    Here’s how CNN frames the price war:

    “Their moves buck the current pricing trend. Inflation has reached 2% and companies are facing rising costs on everything from oil to pulp.

    “But these companies are grappling with several threats: competition from each other, dollar stores and, of course, Amazon.

    “Promising low prices and great value is their key message to shoppers. Misjudging the cost of eggs or milk risks losing the purchase to rivals. Walmart and Target, for example, even offer price matching guarantees against other retailers. Costco has its own low-price adjustment policy.

    “These companies keep tabs on each other and make changes to prices on store shelves and online to stay ahead, experts say.

    “Discounts and promotions have mixed effects. Although markdowns can help them grow market share, boost sales and clear out extra inventory, cutting prices eats into profit margins.”
    KC's View:
    To me, this is a strong message to almost any company not named Costco, Target, Walmart and Kroger … you simply cannot claim to have lower prices than these folks. (Unless you’re WinCo. Then you can go head-to-head with all of them, and be pretty confident about it.) That means you have to define and promote other products and services that differentiate you from the competition … it cannot just be a price hook.

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    Variety reports that “Amazon has netted a package of rights to English Premier League soccer games for its Prime Video streaming service, a major move into U.K. premium sports rights by the U.S. company. The deal runs for three seasons from 2019.

    “The agreement gives Amazon a package of 20 matches per season from the league. It said it will make the games available as part of the current Prime subscription deal.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    Bloomberg reports that as Toys R Us faced near-certain death earlier this year, private equity firm Sycamore Partners, “which had already scooped up several troubled retailers, held advanced talks with Toys R Us about acquiring the chain and keeping open half its 800 U.S. locations.”

    In addition, the story says, sources say that “Target Corp. also seriously pursued buying some of the retailer’s assets, including the parent registry and website of its Babies R Us brand … But those potential deals collapsed in February when the retailer’s senior creditors decided there would be a better return by selling off assets during a liquidation of the U.S. retail business.”

    • The Washington Post reports that “KFC in Britain is experimenting with a vegetarian version of the founder’s famous fried chicken,” a decision linked to the company’s efforts to reduce the calorie counts of various meals, as recommended by UK health authorities.

    “The menu revamp will apparently include a veggie interpretation of Col. Harland Sanders’s chicken … The faux-meat bird is expected to roll out later this year.”

    The story notes that this represents a radical move to experiment with “the top-secret Original Recipe chicken, the one with 11 herbs and spices that (reportedly) only two executives have access to at any one time.” There also is no word whether the recipe could be rolled out elsewhere in the world if it is successful in the UK.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    • Starbucks has announced that when Howard Schultz steps down from the company’s chairmanship at the end of the month, and is succeeded by former JC Penney CEO Myron "Mike" Ullman in that role, the company’s vice chair role will be filled by Mellody Hobson.

    Black Enterprise describes Hobson as president of the largest Black-owned money management firm in the U.S., Ariel Investments, LLC., and she currently serves as a director on Starbucks’ board. In the past, Hobson also has served on the boards of Estée Lauder, DreamWorks Animation and Groupon.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    • Red Schoendienst, who played for the the St. Louis Cardinals and then later served as a coach and manager for the team during a baseball career that lasted for more than seven decades, has passed away at age 95.

    Until his passing, Schoendienst was the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame.

    Stan Musial, the ballplayer perhaps most identified with the Cardinals, once described Schoendienst as having “the greatest pair of hands I’ve ever seen.” And Red Smith, one of the greatest sportswriters in history, wrote about him in the New York Times this way:

    “To Red Schoendienst, baseball was pure joy. He loved every minute of it, even those hit-and-run barnstorming tours that teams used to make on a two-week trip home from spring training.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 7, 2018

    We reported the other day about how the US Supreme Court yesterday ruled in favor of the Colorado baker, Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, citing his religious beliefs. Despite the 7-2 ruling in the baker’s favor, most analysts described it as a “narrow” victory, citing the specificity of the ruling and the likelihood that it has not really set much of a precedent.

    I commented:

    It seems to me that the world would be a better place if people did not use religion to discriminate, and if people were not hostile to other people’s religious beliefs. But that’s not the world we live in.

    When this case first made the news, I wrote that “it would've been nice for the gay couple to simply have gone to another bakery, and for the ACLU not to have been involved. It would have been nice, it would have been less confrontational, and everybody would've been happy.”

    I continue to believe that religion should not be used as an excuse for discrimination, but I’m also a “whatever gets you through the night” kind of guy when it comes to other people’s religious beliefs. This creates, to be honest, a tension that, best I can tell, also is felt by the Supreme Court - which has bought itself time to keep thinking about the issue as other, similar cases make their way up the line.

    Not surprisingly, I got a lot of email about this. Here are a few of them…

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Thinking myself about the word ‘discriminate’. We all ‘discriminate’, for a wide myriad of reasons. The reasons, along with our society in general, have become more extreme in the view of either acceptable or unacceptable. Both of course pending ones point of view and experience.

    So ‘discriminate’ is not a dirty word. Would you discriminate and refuse to give your entire personal savings to Bernie Madoff?

    If you agree that discrimination is a healthy and normal part of decision making, then it comes down to what personal values shape our decision making.

    So please replace the word ‘Religion’ in your statement with the following and see if it still holds true: intellect; experience; math; personal responsibility; common courtesy; talent; effort; etc.

    Point being that we all have different reasons for decision making (discrimination is the derogatory word used when one doesn’t agree with the decision made), but stating person A’s values which drive their decision making is less than person 1’s values, is de facto imposing a ‘religion’ of the state.

    If this was an atheist, Muslim, or Jewish baker who declined a Christian heterosexual wedding, this logic, and my opinion, would hold exactly the same.

    I have a little trouble with your logic. Discriminating against Bernie Madoff by not handing him by life savings is the same thing as denying someone products or services because of their race or sexual orientation or gender or ethnicity? I don’t think so … but I do think that people who would make such an argument probably are folks who have never had to deal with real discrimination.

    MNB reader Ron Rash wrote:

    I agree with you that it would have been better for the couple to go elsewhere. I also believe that the baker should have taken the order.

    Not the world we live in.

    However, I do believe that it is the right of everyone to practice their religious beliefs up to the point it interferes with others’ rights. But the same can be true of secular beliefs. Everyone has the absolute right to hold whatever beliefs they choose, whether that be gay marriage or any other identification that is not harmful to others.

    To me, both sides went too far, and both sides did not go far enough. “Far enough,” would have been to politely tell one another that they disagree, and each go their own way. Ha, I am a dreamer.

    In the end, it sure as hell should not have involved the Supreme Court, who I believe handled this with the correct ruling, even if it is narrowly defined.

    From another reader:

    A couple thoughts. When you suggest that gay couples should find another baker and not be confrontational, I’d point out that many of us live in areas where we don’t have that luxury. I live in an area with few grocery stores or service providers. If a business owner declined to make me a cake or sell me a book or work on my kitchen sink I’d be out of luck as in many cases I have one or two choices of vendors.

    Certainly, that situation doesn’t apply to a couple living in Denver or Seattle, but why should they be treated differently from me and why should I have to drive hours to receive/order services I could get locally?

    You’re right. When I suggested that, I was being that guy who never has suffered discrimination because of race or sexual orientation or gender or ethnicity.

    It is this tension between civil rights and religious freedom that creates situations that end up being court cases that end up in the US Supreme Court.

    From yet another reader:

    Surprised you printed the view that someone shared, which included the comment about 'every possible made-up sexual preference'. This person is the definition of a bigot and that view is completely and utterly unacceptable.

    On another subject, from MNB reader Dena Pizzutti:

    I thought I would continue to add to the meal kit discussion!

    I believe another downside to the current meal kit options are the lack of choices.  As a former member of Blue Apron, one could pick from only a handful of meals and there were no customization allowed within.  Grocery chain The Fresh Market seems to have a nice in-store solution to this.  The stores are small format (more convenient to run into quick after work), and for $20 they will sell a meal for 4.  All of the pieces are merchandised near each other (a cooler will sit next to the shelf stable products, for example).  You can choose your type of cheese, or from a couple side dishes, for example.  

    While I don't work for Fresh Market, I assume they are working well because these promotions seem to be coming out more frequently with more meals and I prefer that to the Blue Apron experience I had. 

    As you have said, grocery chains had all the components to make meal kits, they just didn't think of it.  It's nice to see one taking a crack at a form of it.

    We referenced yesterday a Financial Times piece about how companies making faux meat products seem intent on replicating the meat experience , as opposed to coming up with their own unique, differentiated experience.

    One MNB reader responded:

    After working on an organic farm as a teenager a decade ago, I decided that meat wasn't for me anymore. When White Castle debuted the Impossible Slider a few months ago, I had to give it a shot... And I'm hooked. Meat-alternative imitations are largely hit & miss on taste, texture and look, none of which come remotely close to resembling the real thing they're attempting to imitate. But the Impossible Sliders are pretty damn close to what I remember hamburgers tasting, looking, & feeling like. If you haven't yet, I challenge you to go purchase one for $1.99. I personally recommend splurging for a few cents more & throwing the ghost pepper or jalapeño cheese on there.

    But MNB reader Joy Williams dissented:

    Great call-out.  If I don’t eat meat, I don’t want to eat fake meat that is attempting to mimic that which I already do not want. Make something delicious/interesting/inspired in its own right.

    And finally, from MNB reader Jeff Gartner:

    One of your readers today commented on Howard Schultz's political leanings: Schultz is to the left of the left and when you try to message this garbage, it really pisses people off." 

    Wow, according to an analysis in the Washington Post, Mr. Schultz seems to be very much the moderate: "In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, Schultz thinks the rising federal deficit is the single greatest threat to America and must be reined in. He also does not support either a federal jobs guarantee program or a universal single-payer health-care system."

    So, the reader must be referring to Schultz's history against racial discrimination and for LGTQ inclusion to mislabel him as "left of the left," while obviously revealing his/her own prejudices and affinity for Trump's culture divisiveness.

    KC's View: