Published on: June 21, 2019
We took note the other day of a Fortune
story about a new trend in Seattle - restaurateurs opening small spaces close or adjacent to their more traditional locations, “super personal concepts” that thrive “on face-to-face interaction.” The idea is for these chefs and restaurant owners to “seize upon an intersection of their own creativity and turn the traditional limitations on opening restaurants into a format giving them, if anything, a bit more freedom, while offering diners an intimate and incredible experience to boot.”
I commented:Love this … it is yet another example of what I think traditional retailers need to do. Find unorthodox locations. Come up with creative approaches. Change lanes. Push boundaries. Challenge yourself. Challenge your customers. Repeat.
MNB reader Frank J Eich responded:Interesting approach for a restaurateur! Love the low cost tactic that get closer to customers and to test & learn.
No reason that traditional brick & mortar grocers shouldn’t do the same with a focus on highlighting their prepared foods. Imagine a Kroger stand-alone restaurant featuring foods available at some of their stores…..
Anyone in the grocery industry pursuing such a test & learn tactic with a focus on their culinary expertise?
The other day we reported that he US Supreme Court has decided not to take a case that pits discrimination laws against religious freedom, but rather has urged the Oregon Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling.
I commented:Look, I’ve always been clear about my opinion in these sorts of cases. I think people’s religious beliefs should never be treated with hostility or disrespect, and that everybody at least has to acknowledge that when two core American values - religious freedom and freedom from discrimination - come into conflict, it is a hard decision to make.
I always wish in these cases that the gay couple in question could simply get a cake elsewhere, or that the bakers would think that baking a cake is not the same as being in a same-sex marriage. But life doesn’t always work that way, for lots of reasons, and I think in the end that I support the gay couple … though I do so with the utmost respect for the bakers’ religious beliefs.
First of all, MNB reader Monte Stowell corrected one part of the story:The subject case is not being referred back to the Oregon Supreme Court. It is being referred back to the Oregon Court of Appeals, the court that made in the original ruling against the bakery that refused to bake a cake for the gay couple.
Thanks for the clarification.
One MNB reader wrote:I agree with you that everyone should have the right to practice whatever religion they want as well as live the life they want, but in a case like this it’s not as easy as simply going to another bakery.
Being an out and confident gay man, its important to ensure cases like this are publicized. I’ve of course encountered discrimination but never have been refused service. It would be humiliating and demoralizing. What would happen if you walked into Shake Shack and they said no, we can’t serve you because you’re above the age of 30 or that you had white hair? You’d be infuriated and I’m sure write an article about it.
It’s discrimination, pure and simple and just because it’s “a religious” thing doesn’t excuse it. What about discrimination and segregation during the civil rights movement? Black people couldn’t even eat at a lunch counter with whites, driven by “faithful” people who didn’t like someone due to the color of their skin.
It’s not that we can’t get a cake somewhere else, it’s that these minority groups constantly go through life wondering if someone is or is going to discriminate against them and it’s just not fair in a society where the default seems to always be straight.
I think the while the fine seems extreme, they should have some repercussion for their hateful actions. If we don’t speak up for this who knows what else could happen.
I do appreciate your support and just wanted to share my opinion. I think your approach to politics is great and well spoken to.
MNB reader Skye Lininger wrote:The Supreme Court punt on this issue is concerning-and I don't think it's a hard decision to make. If we substituted "gay couple" with "white man marrying a black woman" and the bakers said they had religious views against that, how would we feel?
This, to me, is clear cut. If you are in the service business, you must serve everyone. You can't refuse to serve lunch, provide a hotel room, let ride on a bus, or anything else so long as the person can pay for the service and meets certain standards for cleanliness and apparel (no shoes no service), possibly age. Otherwise, the person's personal life, so long as it is legal, is not my concern and I can't invoke my own opinions as to why I shouldn't serve them.
If this is allowed to stand, then almost any reason could be used to refuse service and a person could invoke religion as the basis for that discrimination. There is no way to determine if that basis is sincere or just flat out prejudice. Since that can't be done, the solution is simple. If you are in the service business, you must provide service to all comers. Otherwise, make a living doing something else.
From another reader:Let’s try that phrase with some different terms:
“I always wish in these cases that the black couple in question could simply get a cake elsewhere.”
“I always wish in these cases that the Jewish couple in question could simply get a cake elsewhere.”
“I always wish in these cases that the female customer in question could simply get a cake elsewhere.”
Hmm… It sounds like discrimination no matter what adjective - black, Jewish, woman - is used.
Remember, bigots and anti-Semites have long used religion - in particular Christianity - to justify their actions.
And from MNB reader Brett Hassler:Your response to this article couldn’t be any less “clear”. The bakery is free to refuse service even though that choice could have business repercussions they should be prepared for and expect. Pretty simple, IMO.
I only agree with one part of this past email - that I was not as clear as I should have been. I was trying to be sensitive in my comments about people’s religious beliefs even while trying to say that I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that religion can be used as an excuse for discrimination. But I sort of backed into it, and should have been stronger in my comments.
Responding to Kate McMahon’s piece about ordering via voice-activated technology, one MNB reader wrote:I think voice activated grocery commerce requires more than technology and trust. I think for it to break through being on the “cusp” of voice shopping, it needs to be easier. Right now, questions like “What’s the weather today?” or “Play music” are pretty straightforward. But ordering a whole shopping list?
While it might be easy to request 2 liters of Coca Cola, you couldn’t ask for “a dozen eggs” without clarifying that you mean the cage-free pasteurized ones, size AA large (unless the organic-fed cage free ones are on sale). And you might not know the brand. It would be easier to click through a list online rather than talking to a speaker about an entire cart.
There’s an opportunity here. Imagine a local retailer that lets you build and save lists (say of weekly staples or a holiday meal), down to specific items, and making it available through your smart speaker. Telling a voice assistant, “deliver my weekly grocery list” is as easy as asking the weather. And assuming it arrives, fresh and on time, would represent a powerful incentive to remain with that retailer. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon’s already working on that.
We had a story this week about how Dorothy Lane Market continues to illustrate how an independent retailer - in this case, a three-store supermarket company in Dayton, Ohio - can continue to be a vital and growing presence. In this case, the food-centric retailer is opening a new facility, in Miamisburg, Ohio, where it can make its famed Killer Brownies.
I commented, in part:Pretty much daily, DLM Gets. It. Done.
As a three-store independent, it is a pretty fair bet that DLM has fewer resources than bigger entities. But the greatest resources an independent retailer can have are imagination, ambition, and an unwillingness to be hemmed in by tradition and expectations. A core value at DLM - one of the most accomplished retailers in the country - has been never to be complacent about its achievements. Reputation is something you had yesterday … today you have to earn it all over again.
MNB reader Beatrice Orlandini wrote:
Norman Mayne, Calvin Mayne and their team are the best!
Every group I ever brought to visit their three stores got the most outstanding and memorable welcome they could even dream of.
They deserve every single ounce of success that they have, and even more.
We noted a Cincinnati Business Courier
report this week that Kroger is testing a 30-minute delivery service called Kroger Rush that is available to online customers at two stores - one in Ohio, one in Kentucky - near its Cincinnati headquarters.
I commented:They don’t talk about it, but I suspect that the real race - Amazon, Walmart and Kroger are in it, along with a bunch of other folks like Google, Apple and Microsoft - is to develop a Star Trek-style food replicator that will make a 30-minute delivery wait seem like an eternity.
MNB reader Theresa Zaske responded:Before I die I’m bound and determined to ask Alexa for “tea, Earl-Gray, hot” and have her deliver rather than explain that replicators are not operational.
Yesterday’s FaceTime video told the story of a Whole Foods customer who long ordered via Instacart, until Whole Foods started using Amazon for its deliveries, which only made sense since Amazon had acquired Whole Foods.
But this customer then got an email from Instacart explaining that while it no longer had a relationship with Whole Foods, here is a list of all the purchases that he had made at Whole Foods via Instacart, and identified current Instacart partner retailers where those same products could be bought.
Here’s what I said, in part:That’s right. Instacart basically weaponized Whole Foods’ shopper and transaction data to use against - wait for it - Whole Foods.
Now, I have no idea who or why a contract was signed by Whole Foods that gave Instacart ownership and use of its data. I have no idea how many other retailer contracts give Instacart those same rights … though I’d be willing to bet that more of them do than don’t.
But this is nuts.
It gets even more nuts. I totally believe the rumors that Instacart plans to open dark stores in certain markets, which will give it the ability to serve shoppers who see themselves as Instacart customers without the participation of any local retailer.
Instacart, in other words, isn’t a service provider. It is a competitor … Why would any retailer essentially sign away its customers?
A couple of different reactions.
One, fromMNB reader Joe Axford:You're preaching to the choir, KC - you've been saying this for years and I thought you were right on the money since day one!
But, from another reader:How could Instacart not have rights to the data they collect on their platform? They’ve become part of the transaction chain. It seems like a bit of a reach to expect them to just ignore or delete their data. Retailers don't do that. Distributors don't do that.
I guess it comes down to if Instacart is a retail service or a retailer. I'd argue the latter. Their prices don't match in-store pricing. Usually, they have a ~20% markup, but sometimes their prices are lower than shelf. That makes me wonder if some items are bought direct or through distributors and warehoused.
I cannot imagine that Instacart ever has presented itself to retailers with which it wants to do business as anything other than a service provider … and as such, I do not believe that it should be able to use the data for its own ends.
The problem is that Instacart wants it both ways - it wants to provide the service as a way of funding and growing its eventual business as a retailer.
I don’t blame Instacart for its ambitions. I blame retailers who make decisions that undermine their brand equity and value propositions and put their businesses at risk.
And finally from another MNB reader:I love that you post general sports stuff at the bottom of MNB whenever relevant, but I’ve been scratching my head the last two weeks wondering when you’re going to start sharing the scores of the National Women’s Soccer team. We’re favored to win another world cup! Where’s the love for our strongest national team?Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
The painful reality is that I know nothing about soccer, and rarely mention it here. To be fair, I hardly mentioned the NBA finals either, and only mentioned the NHL when shamed into it by an MNB reader.
I guess I’ve been blinded by the pain associated with watching my Mets …