retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got this email from MNB reader Mike Sommers:

I have been an almost exclusive Whole Foods shopper for the better part of 5 years. I don’t expect companies to get it perfect every time. I do expect them to get it right most of the time. I know I can get my groceries cheaper elsewhere, but I spend my dollars at Whole Foods for a variety of reasons.

First and top of the list, in my opinion, they were the first to bring organic produce front and center in large quantities, instead of following suit like other chains who carved out a tiny section of the store to appear interested in organic. I'm lucky to be able to shop at one of the highest sales stores in the Whole Foods network. This means produce turns extremely quickly and the product freshness is consistently on point and much better than any other store in town.

Reason #2, prior to the Amazon takeover (yes it was an acquisition..but feels like a takeover), local natural/organic brands were brought in to see if the market was interested. If small brands succeeded, a national rollout to other natural/organic grocers was surely on the horizon. Whole Foods seemed to be an incubator for new product/brand development. That made them special. It was fun to be a part of supporting local companies and, in turn, supporting Whole Foods for taking risks and giving small brands a chance. Now, local/small brands seem to be fading away, all the while major CPG brands are finding a way in point Honey Nut Cheerios.

Kudos to the fine people at General Mills for getting Cheerios onto the hallowed shelves of Whole Foods, but as a "long-time customer", that end aisle display screamed the end is near for the soul of Whole Foods. Selling Cheerios no longer makes Whole Foods a special destination to see what is new. They have become what its competitors have been trying to do for years … find a way to carry products to appease both conventional and organic shoppers.

Well, it doesn't work that way. If you become both, then you become nothing, or worse, you become the same as your competitor down the street who, in the case of Whole Foods, sell the same products for cheaper. If you lose your value proposition then what are you competing

We had a story the other day about how CNN reported that Walmart sees an opportunity to apply its EDLP approach to the health care business, and is looking to make deals that will beef up its presence in the segment.

Prompting MNB reader Bob Vereen to write:

Many, if not all, Walmart stores already contain doctors providing prescription eye services, so why not other medical help?

The Los Angeles Times reported the other day that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed “the nation’s first state law barring dine-in restaurants from giving customers plastic straws unless they are requested, saying discarded plastic is ‘choking our planet’ … The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, exempts fast-food restaurants and provides full-service restaurants with a written warning on the first two violations and a fine of $25 a day for subsequent infractions.”

I commented:

I love California … the willingness there to demonstrate leadership on environmental issues strikes me as heartening.

One MNB reader responded:

Love this. I want to see restaurants start asking “We’re trying to reduce the use of single-use plastics. Do you need utensils with this take-out order?” If I’m picnicking, I may need them but most of the time I’m at home, where I have metal utensils. Seems like a reasonable way to roll out initiatives like this.

MNB reader Alan Finta wrote:

When the plastic bag “ban” started a couple years ago, I wasn’t opposed to it, but I was a slow adapter, and for several months would cart my groceries out to the car and pack them there (with the bags that I forgot to take into the store).  It’s part of the routine now, and I don’t miss the plastic bags at all…Not science based, but I don’t believe I see as many bags waving in the wind, caught on the chain link fences when I’m out and about…
It won’t be as hard to deal with “no straw”, as they will simply leave it out of the glass/cup when I order.  It won’t be an issue (for me), and if it improves our environment I’m all for it.

MNB reader Danny Fow wrote:

I think this just makes the environmentalist feel good about themselves, that they have “won the big fight” when in fact straws, while not contributing to the environment are not a major issue. Pick a better fight! When I was first “introduced” to this initiative, I was vacationing in Florida with my family this summer when the waitress stated they only gave out straws when requested due to the environment while our drinks came in a Styrofoam cup! How ironic?

I wrote an Eye-Opener the other day about how surveys suggest that Netflix customers won’t be happy if the service starts putting ads for its other programming on original movies and series.

I commented:

It is an interesting problem … because one of the things that Netflix wants to do, since it is spending all that money on programming, is keep people watching Netflix, and not shifting to Amazon Prime Video or some other service. And yet, because people are paying for Netflix, there is resistance to the idea of having to watch commercials … I do believe that this is illustrative of decisions that a lot of businesses have to make, and questions they ask themselves. How far is too far? (It depends.) Is there a difference between what customers say and do? (Often.) Is there a point when a company’s self-interests conflict with the interests of its customers? (Sure.)

The best answers to these questions, I believe, are the ones that customers ultimately perceive as being in their best interests, and that they see as being respectful of their time and attention. That doesn’t always mean not advertising … if I like one program, it may be in my best interests to know that there are others I would like as well. Just as, if there are products that I like in a store - whether it be fresh produce, a particular shirt, or a pair of running shoes - there are others that might appeal to me.

MNB reader Will Rigby wrote:

I don’t think comparing Amazon Prime Video with Netflix is a reasonable “apples to apples” as people who pay for Amazon Prime get the video, in addition to many other features across the Prime landscape. However, Hulu’s pay structure would be a better comparison, as there are different tiers to payment for their streaming services. The lowest tier being access to all shows, but with advertising. If you want to stream without advertising, the tier moves up. If Netflix were to want to add advertisements to their shows without gaining the ire of their current subscribers, they may have to consider the Hulu tier system.

Finally, from MNB reader Mark Heckman:

Enjoyed your take on the ongoing vilification of Amazon. As you suggest, while Amazon is not perfect, as is the case for Google, Apple, and Microsoft, they are essentially acting as good citizens philanthropically and socially....not to mention how they all have positively changed our lives. This is coming from a conservative who honors capitalistic acumen and those people like Jeff Bezos who are innovative and forward thinking, no matter where their politics lie. Great entrepreneurs make our country great. Amazon is an amazing example of that.
KC's View: