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    Published on: October 2, 2018

    by Michael Sansolo

    We talk a lot in this space about how there may be no larger challenge for traditional businesses these days than finding a way to enhance the consumer experience so one can overcome the incursions and advantages of Internet businesses.

    In years to come no doubt we’ll hear and see non-stop attempts by retailers to do just that - to make the shopping trip extra special in every way. And for that reason we need to pay attention to other industries that find a way to surmount similar challenges especially when those attempts break the bonds of tradition in resounding ways.

    And that is reason alone to start following the New York Times on line and beyond. The newspaper long has been derided as the Great Grey Lady for it’s seemingly dated appearance and reluctance to embrace innovations like color photos, eye-popping weather charts and, of course, comic strips.

    But there’s no way to view the Times that way if you take a look at the newspaper’s website. Today articles are frequently accompanied by video commentary from reporters and at times - such as when covering the tragic bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy - dramatic use of drone photography brings a story to life like never before. A few years back the Times gave paper subscribers (I am one of them) an easy-to-assemble virtual reality viewer that could turn my cellphone into an immersive experience to accompany articles.

    But that paled compared to what the Times did a week ago Sunday. That weekend’s magazine came with a stunningly wonderful and unexpected experience - sound. The entire magazine was a trip to varied locales around the globe and by pairing the articles with a special app, the reader was able to hear the story and not just read it.

    For instance, one of the audio stories was done at a live volcano so I could hear the sound of lava rushing down a hill. (Strangely enough, it sounds like glasses clinking on a tray.) Other destinations included a desert in Chile, an animal preserve in Africa and a busy street in New York City. Each audio story was accompanied by excellent photography in the paper itself.

    It was simply a “wow” experience that made a journalistic legend look as modern and compelling as any type of news experience I’ve ever witnessed on television or on-line website.

    Now, certainly some of you will dismiss this for purely political reasons, which I’d argue is a mistake. Instead, look at the Times as a model for the new form of business competition. The newspaper is arguably still at the top of its field, yet is fighting an uphill battle against consumers now switching to getting news from traditional electronic media or new forms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. By taking risks and trying something so incredibly out of the box the Times no doubt delighted many older readers like me who were wowed by the experience.

    And just maybe it attracted some new consumers who for the first time might be seeing a reason to turn to something seemingly as obsolete as a newspaper for a new way to see the world.

    If nothing else, it reminds us how technology will continue to alter the consumer experience and raise expectations of newspaper readers and even supermarket shoppers.

    That sounds like breaking news.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    Rabbi Gavriel Price has an interesting job … one that for generations, even centuries, people probably thought was virtually impossible.

    He is charged with figuring out whether there actually can be such a thing as kosher bacon.

    The New York Times writes that “the rabbi is in charge of figuring out how the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher certifying organization in the world, should deal with what is known as clean meat — meat that is grown in laboratories from animal cells. This brings him in touch with a possibility for Jewish cuisine that had previously seemed impossible: kosher bacon.

    “Clean meat is still not available in stores, but start-ups working on it say it could be by next year. When it is, they want a kosher stamp on their product, which indicates it adheres to quality and preparation standards and follows a set of biblical laws.”

    Rabbi Price’s investigation, the Times writes, “touches on questions that anyone might have when confronted with clean meat. What exactly is it? And should we want to eat it someday?” But, of course, it is even more profound than that … he has “dived into long conversations with people working for the food start-ups. They discussed topics as diverse as the kosher status of gelatin, the religious rulings of venerated medieval rabbis and the ingredients of the solution that encourages lab-grown meat to grow.”
    It is a fascinating and Eye-Opening story, which you can read here.

    What’s interesting about this story is not the possibility of kosher bacon. In fact, it would seem as if the odds are against it at the moment. The Times writes that Rabbi Price is “cautious. In addition to the kosher laws, there are Jewish rules that warn against doing anything that would make people look as though they were violating the rules.

    “The rabbi added that there are religious texts that discuss the possibility of kosher pigs, once the Jewish messiah arrives and ushers in an age of universal peace. But he is skeptical.”

    Largely, the Times suggests, because these days there seems to be little evidence that the messiah is anywhere around.

    But, I suppose, anything is possible.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    TechCrunch reports that new Nielsen data shows that in the second quarter of this year, “the adoption of smart speakers — like Amazon Echo and Google Home devices — grew to 24 percent in the U.S., up from 22 percent the prior quarter.”

    In addition, the story says, Nielsen found that “4 out of 10 smart speaker owners have more than one device — a sizable percentage that points to consumers finding enough value in their first device to add more throughout the home.”

    Nielsen says that “the primary use case for the devices is music streaming, with 90 percent of smart speaker owners saying they stream music at least once per week. Searching for real-time information like weather or traffic, followed by searches for historical facts, were the next most popular activities, at 81 percent and 75 percent, respectively. News was tied for fourth place, with 68 percent listening in a typical week (68 percent also said they chatted with their assistant for fun and used alarms and timers).”
    KC's View:
    People I talk to say that even more important to this trend than the adaption of smart speakers will be when we speak to all measure of devices and appliances to get things done - everything from cars to toasters.

    “Earl Grey, hot.” Yup, that’ll be nirvana.

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    The Washington Post reports that almost as soon as California enacted perhaps the toughest net neutrality regulations in the country, the Trump administration declared its intention to go to court over the policy.

    This, the story says, sets up “a high-stakes legal showdown over the future of the Internet.”

    The Trump-era Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in rolling back Obama-era net neutrality regulations, has said that those rules reflected the ”heavy hand” of government excess that only served to inhibit innovation and research at telecom and cable companies. Those who object to this move argue that it will mean that companies with deep pockets will be able to pay for faster access to consumers, which is not in the public interest.

    The lines between the two sides of the issue have been fairly specific, with content companies like Amazon and Google favoring net neutrality, and distribution companies like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner lobbying for deregulation.

    The new California law, the Post writes, “prohibits Internet providers from blocking access to sites and services, slowing down web connections or charging companies for faster delivery of their movies, music or other content. Smaller web firms, in particular, worry that they do not have the resources to pay telecom giants to make sure their content is seen. The law also bans carriers from exempting apps from counting toward consumers’ data allowances each month if doing so might harm companies, especially start-ups.”

    Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, said that he was “pleased” that the Justice department was challenging California’s “illegal” move, saying, “The internet is inherently an interstate information service. As such, only the federal government can set policy in this area.”

    The Post writes that “the move by Attorney General Jeff Sessions opens another legal battlefield between the federal government and California, which the DOJ has taken to court already for trying to bypass the Trump administration’s policies around immigration and climate change.”
    KC's View:
    I continue to be on the side of the content guys, and in this case, California. I have argued consistently and persistently that retailers ought to be siding with the internet companies, lest the distribution companies exercise way too much control over how efficiently and effectively they can communicate with online shoppers.

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    The New York Times has an interview with Wendell Berry, described as a “farmer, essayist and poet” who “has long argued that today’s agricultural practices are detrimental to ecology, community and the local economies that farms once served.”

    Berry, the story says, argues that “healthy forms of agriculture require intentional cultivation on the part of both consumers and farmers.” He disputes a common belief - that there always will be enough - and suggests that “our ravenous economic disposition goes against the very nature of our world and its finite resources.”

    If public policy focuses on “short-term economic gains over long-term ecological health ,” he says, the problem “is not so much that of the shortness of the term of planning or of shortsightedness as it is of ecological and agricultural ignorance and a sort of moral blindness.”

    This provocative piece is totally worth reading here.
    KC's View:
    I’m not nearly smart enough to be able to come to all the same conclusions as Berry has, but I must admit that I am intrigued by this piece mostly because I’ve never understood public policy that assumes that there always will be more than enough, that doesn’t conserve for the sake of conservation.

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    USA Today reports that there are 60 retailers who have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving this year, not opening their doors during the holiday to generate more sales and profits.

    Of course, while 60 sounds like a lot, it actually is the same number of stores that closed last year. The list, compiled by, includes Big 5 Sporting Goods, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, Crate & Barrel, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, Ikea, Lowe’s, Nordstrom, Patagonia, Petco, PetSmart, Publix, REI, Sam’s Club, Staples, Sur La Table, and The Container Store. says that it expects more retailers to be added to the list.

    • The Associated Press reports that “Italian coffee company Lavazza Group has acquired Mars Inc.'s beverage division in an effort to expand its North American presence.” The division “makes the Flavia single-serve machine and the Klix vending machine.”

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    • Top’s Friendly Markets announced the promotion of Doug Stoll, the company’s Nielsen in-house client manager, to the role of manager, retail pricing & analytics. At the same time, the company announced that Ken Brown has been promoted to the position of manager of food safety.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    Responding to the demise of Treasure Island in Chicago, MNB reader John Stanhaus wrote:

    We have shopped at Treasure Island since we moved into the city in the early '80. First at the Wells street store which was only a few blocks from our Old Town condo, and then later at the Clybourn Avenue store when we moved further north. Although we had two Jewels and a Dominick's less than a mile from our house, we preferred to drive the four miles because in addition to generally having a broader selection of the types of products we bought, the staff was simply better, and they at least knew how to properly bag groceries. 

    We were optimistic when the newly constructed Dominick's store in the neighborhood was taken over first by Mariano's and then by Kroger, but over four years into it, now it is only slightly better than the old Dominick's. And it's still difficult to get properly bagged groceries, except on the occasions when they literally invite you to "bag them yourself"! The best thing I could imagine for Chicago area grocery store shoppers would be for Mariano's to hire all of the Treasure Island store staff as replacements for their current crews. The difference is that dramatic. I doubt it can happen given labor agreements and the like, but one can hope.

    We took note yesterday of a Wall Street Journal report that private equity groups Bain Capital and KKR & Co., which own defunct retailer Toys R Us, “are putting together a $20 million fund to make payments to thousands of former employees left jobless by the retailer’s liquidation.”

    I commented:

    I’m a lot more interested in seeing the development of company cultures in which management focuses on stakeholders and not just themselves, and in which the first reaction to tough times isn’t to engineer retention bonuses for top executives.

    Prompting MNB reader Larry Ishii to write:

    I fully agree with your thoughts and here is something else to consider. 

    As we both know most store level hourly workers these days are part time. If such an individual was working 20 hours a week at, say, $12 per hour the before-withholding pay was $240 per week. So, $600 is about two-and-a-half weeks pay.

    I don't know how people can hope to subsist (even if they had a second such job) on that little of pay - and, $12 is probably on the higher side nationally. It is a very sad and bleak outlook.

    When I made full journeyman grocery clerk - as a part timer - in 1970, I made $3.845 an hour, and I paid less than $3,000 for a car. It is so sad that in the 48 years since a comparable car is eight or ten times more, while hourly wages have fallen so far behind the pace.

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    A week ago, in her column about FEMA’s Waffle House Index, Kate McMahon wrote that this is no joke … even though the existence of a Waffle House Index is ripe for comedians. Back in 2o11, Stephen Colbert - then hosting ‘The Colbert Report’ on Comedy Central - said that ‘it is no accident Waffle House has become FEMA's syrup-smothered canary in a coal mine,’ which, he then cracked, is ‘also available on the menu’.”

    One MNB reader took exception to this, arguing that “Stephen Colbert is a Pompous Ass.”

    I pointed out that Colbert was raised in South Carolina, in and around Charleston - so he’s a southerner. And there appears to be more than a half-dozen Waffle House locations in and around Charleston, so he’s certainly better positioned to make such jokes than, say, I am.

    Ends up that he has way more of a connection than that … and one MNB reader sent me a link to the video at left to prove the point.

    Every retailer should have such loyalty.


    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    In a pair of tie-breaker games yesterday designed to settle division championships, the Milwaukee Brewers defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-1 to secure the National League Central title, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies 5-2 to win the National League West.

    All is not lost for the Cubs and Rockies, however - they will meet at tonight at Wrigley Field in a single-game Wild Card battle to see who will move forward into the playoffs.

    And, in Monday Night Football, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Denver Broncos 27-23.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2018

    Amazon announced early this morning that beginning next month, its minimum wage for all US employees will be $15 an hour, with people already making that much getting a raise.

    The increase will affect part-time, contract, and hourly employees, as well as seasonal workers brought on for the holidays. Amazon estimates that the increase will impact 250,000 people.

    Up to now, Amazon employees have had different minimums depending on where they live and work.

    The increase also reportedly will affect Whole Foods employees nationwide.

    In a statement, founder/CEO Jeff Bezos said, “We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead. We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

    CNBC notes that “retail rival Target announced in its holiday hiring release it would raise minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2020. Walmart announced plans in January to raise its minimum wage to $11.”

    Amazon also said it would advocate for a federal minimum wage of $15/hour.

    As Amazon has grown both in influence and value - its stock price closed yesterday at $2004.36, and Bezos is often referred to as the richest person on the planet ever - it also has come in for growing criticism of its labor practices.

    Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced legislation that would require large employers - including Walmart and McDonald’s, but apparently mostly aimed at Amazon - to fully cover the cost of food stamps and other federal assistance received by their employees. If an Amazon employee received $500 worth of food stamps, for example, Amazon would be taxed $500.
    KC's View:
    This is all well and good, but one of the things that I’ve been arguing lately is that I wish Amazon and Bezos would look at issues like management-labor relations, wages, benefits and the like and start to apply some of the disruptive ingenuity to these areas that they’ve used so successfully in other parts of the business.

    Getting a raise is a good thing. But in some ways, I wonder if it just builds on an old economic construct.

    Amazon and Bezos have been forthright about their desire to not just play in the health care field, but also to disrupt traditional ways of doing things and challenging old assumptions. How great would it be - for employees, for Amazon, and for the whole country -if they could show us a new way of valuing and rewarding people, or making sure people feel like a corporate asset and not just a cost?

    There aren’t that many companies that have the wherewithal - financially and culturally - to do it. I’m betting that Amazon will find a way to amaze us yet again.