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    Published on: April 18, 2019

    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, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Last Saturday morning I was out for my usual four-mile run, and while making my way through town I noticed that there was a long line at Johnnie’s, the local record store. Now, to be honest, I’ve lived in this town for 35 years and I don’t think I’ve ever been into Johnnie’s … they sell records, and I don’t have a record player. But I’ve also never seen a line there, and so I stopped running and inquired…

    It ended up that last Saturday was global Record Store Day, a day on which “the culture of the independent record store” is celebrated around the world.

    Apparently - and I didn’t know any of this - Record Store Day has been celebrated since 2008. It has grown to the point that not only are record stores all over the world being celebrated by customers who love them, but albums and limited releases are put out in conjunction with the celebration as a way of drawing people into the stores. This year, for example, there were albums from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Elton John … and from a lot of musical acts with which I am unfamiliar.

    I couldn’t help but think as I chatted with people on the line - who were very nice to me considering that I was sweaty after a four-mile run - that this is what stores have to do. They have to find reasons to celebrate their existence, their differential advantages, and the products they have that nobody else carries.

    That’s what competition is all about - standing out in a crowd and drawing attention to what makes you different.

    Now, I left Johnny’s with no intention of returning. After all, I still don’t have a record player. But the passion of the people standing in line, not to mention some of the research I did when I got home, made me think that maybe, just maybe, it is time to invest in a turntable.


    And then next year, I could be on line, instead of just online, too.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    The first time I met Jane Golub had to be more than 20 years ago. I was at a Price Chopper store in upstate New York, scheduled to do a piece - I cannot remember whether it was for print or video - about a new sampling program that it had implemented. My guide for the day was Jane Golub, an integral and energetic member of the family that owned the company, and even today I recall her energy and enthusiasm being outsized, especially in comparison to her diminutive size.

    I had a great time that day. I don’t remember anything about the sampling program, but I sure remember Jane - from that time on, I always thought of her as a friend, not just as a retailer, not just as the wife of Price Chopper’s CEO, Neil Golub.

    Jane is on my mind because she passed away this week. She was 80, and had fallen ill on the west coast while attending an LPGA tournament there with her husband of 56 years.

    Before going to work in the family business, Jane was a longtime school teacher - we bonded over the fact that like Mrs. Content Guy, she taught third grade. She brought a fierce passion for education and a dedication to service to every facet of her life. That’s part of why she was involved in the company’s sampling programs - it wasn’t about selling so much as it was about educating.

    In her time with Price Chopper and Golub Corp., Jane earned a reputation as a peerless philanthropist - she helped to shape many of the educational and health care initiatives that define upstate New York and especially the Albany region. She was the educational coordinator for “A World of Difference,” a project led by the Anti-Defamation League of the Capital Region. She and Neil helped to raise tens of millions of dollars for Ellis Hospital, and donated millions of their own to the hospital and other area charities.

    She also was a cancer survivor who never seemed to let that define her - along with Neil, she was an indefatigable golfer.

    But for me, whenever I think of Jane, it is of the mischievous twinkle that she always seemed to have in her eyes … she always seemed to be happy to be wherever she was, determined to enjoy the moment and connect with the people around her. For a number of years, I (along with Michael Sansolo) used to host a party during the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) shows in Chicago and Las Vegas … we’d take over venues like Margaritaville in Vegas or the late, lamented Bin 36 in Chicago, and just have a party - no agenda, no sales pitches. Neil and Jane were always there, they always brought a contingent of Price Chopper folks, and they were always supportive and enthusiastic and, I think, a little amused at me trying to fight above my weight class.

    I’ll also tell you this. I’ve been around a lot of people over the years who have been married a long time, and I have never, ever seen two people who remained as much in love with each other as Jane and Neil Golub. They started going out in college, at the University of Michigan, and it was the start of a long and passionate love affair. Occasionally I’d spend time with Neil, looking at stores, and he’d always talk about “Miss Jane,” clearly the love of his life.

    I know Neil will miss her greatly, as will the entire Golub family and the family of associates at Price Chopper. I join them in that … she was important to me, and she made me believe - as I’m sure she did with many people that she touched in her 80 years - that I was important to her. That’s a rare gift.

    A funeral service is scheduled for Tuesday at Temple Gates of Heaven Synagogue in Schenectady, NY.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    Reuters reports that Amazon “plans to close its domestic marketplace business in China by mid-July … focusing efforts on its more lucrative businesses selling overseas goods and cloud services in the world’s most populous nation.”

    Tye story says that “shoppers in China will no longer be able to buy goods from third-party merchants in the country, but they still will be able to order from the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark and Japan via Amazon’s global store. Amazon expects to close fulfillment centers and wind down its support for domestic-selling merchants in China in the next 90 days … The closure underscores how fierce competition by China’s home-grown e-commerce rivals have made it difficult for Amazon’s local marketplace to gain a foothold. Consumer insights firm iResearch Global said that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Tmall marketplace and Inc held 81.9 percent of the Chinese market last year.”
    KC's View:
    A couple of things occur to me here.

    One is that it illustrates yet again how Amazon is willing to walk away from a losing hand. It never seems to be about anything other than “is this business working” and “is there a path to success.” If not, breathe inn, breathe out, move on.

    The other thing is how important transparency, trackability and traceability are going to be on a global basis going forward. I’m sure products from the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark and Japan are popular in China precisely because they are from the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark and Japan. A global system that assures retailers, suppliers, and most of all, consumers that items are what their labels say they are is critical.

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    The Dallas Morning News reports that FedEx Office is going to begin testing a new robotic delivery system in North Texas that “can deliver a hot pepperoni pizza, a bag of groceries or a prescription to a customer’s home. The bot could bring a swab for a strep test to a sick person’s door and return hours later with medication, cough drops and a cup of chicken noodle soup.”

    The robots will begin being used in July, serving Plano and Frisco, and “will join pedestrians on sidewalks and roll beside cars on the roadside … The six-wheeled bot looks like a white cargo box that's attached to the base of a high-tech wheelchair. It can carry up to 100 pounds but can fit through a standard doorway. It's powered by a rechargeable battery and uses software, sensors and a 360-degree camera to navigate. It can climb steps, wade through puddles and roll through gravel, sand or snow. When it arrives at its destination, the customer can unlock the bot's sliding door with an app or a punched-in code.”

    The story says that “with the on-demand economy, companies from startups to Fortune 500s are looking for creative and cost-effective ways to make speedy deliveries. They’ve enlisted the help of gig economy workers and experimented with tech-driven approaches such as drones and robots.

    “The bots are FedEx’s answer,” while also being a way for FedEx Office to expand its business relevance.
    KC's View:
    As the great Jimmy Durante once said, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”

    It seems to me that it is just a matter of time before these systems get so much traction that they become commonplace.

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    USA Today reports that a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that 32 percent of restaurant foods labeled as being gluten-free actually contain gluten.

    Among the items contained in the study:

    • “The worst offenders were pizza and pasta, with gluten found in 53.2% of pizza samples and 50.8% of the pasta tested.”

    • “The detection rate was higher at dinner, 34%, than at breakfast, 27.2%.”

    • “Restaurant foods labeled gluten-free, or GF, were less likely to test positive for gluten in the western part of the U.S. than in the Northeast.”

    • “Restaurants identified as fast-casual (no table service, higher quality food than traditional fast-food eateries) and casual (with table service) had lower detection rates than fast-food places.”

    USA Today writes that “eating gluten, a protein found in some grains, is dangerous for some people, while for others with gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity, doing so causes a range of painful and embarrassing consequences. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, chronic diarrhea or constipation, vomiting, fatigue and gas.”
    KC's View:
    If I needed to avoid gluten, this would be a really scary story … because it speaks to the fact that we often cannot trust the information about our food that we are given.

    My only problem with this study is that it didn’t name names - the goal seemed to be consciousness-raising rather than alarm-sounding. Maybe it is because of the business I am in, but I think a little alarm-sounding is absolutely called for.

    By the way, this study shouldn’t be viewed narrowly. While it specifically is about gluten and restaurants, it adds to the perception that a lot of people have that we cannot trust institutions that we used to be able to trust.

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    24/7 Wall Street points out that while Amazon Prime membership grew by some two million people in the most recent quarter - from 101 million in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 103 million in the first quarter of 2019 - this represents a slowing on its growth. That growth was about 11 percent compared to a year earlier; the year before that, membership growth was about 16 percent.

    The story also notes that “nearly two-thirds (64%) of trial subscribers converted to paid memberships in the first quarter while 93% of one-year subscribers renewed for another year. Nearly all (98%) of two-year subscribers renewed their subscriptions.”
    KC's View:
    Well, of course growth on a percentage basis slowed a bit - it is based on a higher base number.

    If I were Amazon, I’d be happy with those renewal rates … they speak to the Jeff Bezos comment that he wants to make Prime so valuable that it is irresponsible not to have it.

    Of course, it also seems entirely possible that Bezos has fired off an email to someone asking for the reasons why some people did not renew.

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    USA Today reports that hamburger chain Carl’s Jr. plans to celebrate National Weed Day, on Saturday, April 20, by offering a special burger served with a sauce infused with CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

    The burger will be comprised of “two beef patties paired with Carl’s Jr. signature Santa Fe Sauce infused with hemp-based CBD oil, pickled jalapeños, pepper jack cheese and Crisscut fries.”

    However, the CBD burger only will be available for that one day, and only in one Denver, Colorado, Carl’s Jr. location. It will cost $4.20, and will be sold as long as supplies last.

    “The new Rocky Mountain High: CheeseBurger Delight ties back to our core strategy of being the first to bring bold and unexpected flavors that are at the forefront of hot restaurant trends to a quick service menu,” says Patty Trevino, Carl's Jr. senior vice president of brand marketing.
    KC's View:
    Yet more evidence, I think, of the broad mainstreaming of CBD.

    The question is, which food company will be next. Starbucks? McDonald’s? (I’d bet on Starbucks, but you never know.)

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    Reuters reports that Facebook is working to develop a voice assistant/smart speaker system that would compete with Amazon’s Alexa (which has almost two thirds of the market), GoogleHome (which has about 31 percent), and Apple’s Siri (which has the little that is left).

    The story notes that “it remains unclear how exactly Facebook envisions people using the assistant, but it could potentially be used on the company’s Portal video chat smart speakers, the Oculus headsets or other future projects.”

    Better late than never? We’ll see. The problem, it seems to me, is that Amazon and Google have achieved a first-mover advantage and gotten a lot of market penetration, making it a lot harder for anyone else to make any headway with a new system. Impossible? Of course not. But the need to be superior and differentiated will be tangible.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • The Cincinnati Business Courier reports that Kroger “is one of two defendants named in a federal lawsuit stemming from a salmonella outbreak linked to precut melon … The suit is the first filed related to a multistate salmonella outbreak linked to precut melon that was distributed to 16 states and linked to 93 salmonella cases in nine states, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The recalled fruit was sold at Kroger and Trader Joe’s locations in Kentucky and Indiana along with Walmart stores in Indiana, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ohio is also included on the list of states where the products may have been available.”

    The CDC says that “16 people in Kentucky and 18 people in Indiana had been infected with the same strain of salmonella as of April 12. It also reported that 23 of the 53 people with documented information related to their cases had been hospitalized but no deaths had been reported … An investigation of the outbreak is ongoing.”

    QSR has an interesting story about Subway, which closed 1,000 locations in 2018 and 900 units in 2017, focusing “on only the most desirable locations.”

    The story points out that inside the thousands of stores that remain, Subway “has rolled out new designs and physical features to freshen the image of the 54-year-old company … behind the scenes, culinary teams have heavily invested in research and development efforts that may well transform the brand’s menu for years to come. Subway has already launched a new cheesy garlic bread product and tested a pit-smoked meat sandwich - just small samplings of an aggressive pipeline of new foods under development. Collectively, Don Fertman, Subway’s chief development officer, says efforts to reinvigorate both menu boards and real estate are helping right the ship.”

    “We absolutely want to balance those Subway classics that our guests have come to know and love,” says Len van Popering, Subway’s vice president of brand management and culinary innovation. “But we are also responding to what we’ve heard loud and clear even from our most ardent fans: they’re looking to us to provide bolder flavors, new and interesting experiences and even more options than what they’ve enjoyed from Subway in the past.”

    The lesson? A foot-long will only get you so far. Constant, relentless innovation is a requirement, especially in a food industry that sometimes seems to resemble the fashion business. Even at the fast food level.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    Variety reports that Amazon has hired Jen MacLean, the former executive director for the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) to be its new head of worldwide business development for Amazon Game Tech, focusing on small and mid-sized developers and helping them “with development for AWS, Twitch Prime, Alexa, and"

    The story notes that MacLean said she did not plan to leave IGDA, but “was approached by a company that offered me a chance to support developers in a way the IGDA couldn’t in terms of scale and opportunity.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    …will return next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 18, 2019

    Hooray for Hollywood! This podcast comes to you from GMDC’s Retail Tomorrow Immersion conference in Los Angeles, which may have more storytellers per capita than any other place on earth. With visits to Google’s new campus in Playa Vista, in the converted hangar where Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose once resided, and to some of the most interesting and experiential retail spaces in the city, this conference also featured several sessions that, now as podcasts, bring this fascinating content to you.

    First up - a discussion of disruptive storytelling - told through stores, pop-ups and, coming soon, AI and VR - that is changing the way marketers connect with and influence existing and potential customers.

    Our guests:

    • Cody Rapp, CEO of Calmist, a fascinating and growth-focused retail concept recently featured on MorningNewsBeat.

    • Lori Schwartz, founder of Tech Cat, which helps marketers shape their narratives in a fast-evolving environment.

    • Amanda Solosky, co-founder/CEO at Rival Theory, which is developing game-changing AI capabilities that definitely will impact the relationship marketers have with shoppers.

    • And Mariya Zorotovich, director of Responsive Retail Strategy and Incubation, at Intel Corporation, which helps to make all this possible.

    The host: Kevin Coupe, MorningNewsBeat’s “Content Guy.”

    You can listen to the podcast here, or on iTunes ands Google Play.

    Pictured, from left to right:

    Kevin Coupe, Mariya Zorotovich, Amanda Solosky, Cody Rapp, Lori Schwartz.

    KC's View: