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    Published on: August 2, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    My friend Sterling Hawkins - one of the founders of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART) and a regular guest on the Retail Tomorrow podcast series - recently had the opportunity to deliver a talk at TEDxChula Vista on the subject of why “Discomfort is Necessary for innovation.”

    I wanted to post it here as an Eye-Opener, because I think that the points he makes are very much in line with themes that we explore and debate every day here on MNB … the importance of getting outside comfort zones and challenging conventional wisdom as a path of success.

    Plus, he opens his talk with a TV reference … and you know how we love our cultural allusions here on MNB.

    So, it is our Eye Opener for a Friday … take a look, and learn something important.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    Ahold Delhaize-owned e-grocer Peapod said this week that it is teaming up with Stephanie Izard - the Chicago restaurateur, James Beard Award winner and first woman to win “Top Chef” - for a new line of meal kits that will be available in the markets where it operates as a pure play as well as those where it is the online arm of the company’s bricks-and-mortar divisions.

    The announcement notes that Izard is also well-known “for her critically acclaimed restaurants in Chicago: Girl & the Goat, Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat and Cabra. Peapod is working with Izard on two meal kits “inspired by some of her favorite dishes, with more kits planned for fall.”

    The two kits available now are Yucatán Fish Tacos and a Grilled Belize Chicken Sandwich; this fall, they will be joined by Roasted Asian Chicken Thighs and Hong Kong Slow Cooked Short Ribs. Ahold Delhaize stores also will be carrying This Little Goat cooking sauces and spices.
    KC's View:
    I think that Peapod is doing something very smart here … aspiring and inspiring around food, which is what food retailers should do. Partnering with culinary leaders helps give them new credibility, and I hope we see them do more of this.

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    CNN reports that Amazon will disable its entire Dash button network on August 31, ending a replenishment technology that it introduced in 2015. Earlier this year it has said it would stop issuing new buttons to consumers.

    The buttons carry the brand logos of participating companies, allowing customers to place them in relevant and convenient places (like a Tide button on the washing machine) ands then simply press them when they wanted to reorder that item. The buttons cost $5 apiece, but that was reimbursed to customers by taking that amount off their first orders.

    Amazon had said that even though it was ending the Dash button program, believing that it made more sense to push consumers to replenish products via its Alexa voice assistant system, it would continue supporting the Dash buttons as long as people used them.
    KC's View:
    This means one of two things. Either Amazon got impatient about moving people into voice-driven replenishment and decided to act precipitously, or people just weren’t using the buttons and it believes that ending the program wouldn’t raise any hackles.

    I suspect it was the latter.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with stepping away from a business model that, even though you’ve pretty much created it, has grown to be pretty much obsolete. In fact, that willingness to kill its young is an Amazon hallmark - it doesn’t allow itself to become so emotionally connected to anything that it cannot walk away at the right time.

    Which is a pretty good business lesson.

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    Stater Bros., the privately held 171-unit supermarket chain that serves Southern California’s “Inland Empire,” said that Greg McNiff, president of Albertsons’ Portland, Oregon, division, will join the company as its new president.

    McNiff will succeed George Frahn, who is retiring after 47 years with Stater Bros., where he started in 1973 as a clerk’s assistant and janitor.

    Stater Bros. CEO Pete Van Helden will remain in that role.
    KC's View:
    Greg McNiff is a good guy - a couple of years ago, he was kind enough to spend an evening with my Portland State University class, and he has long been a respected and much-liked member of the Portland retailing community. I think he’ll bring a valuable perspective to Stater Bros. - he knows Southern California, but has a broader appreciation for how the overall market is changing.

    This is a smart move on Stater’s part.

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    The Dallas Morning News reports that The Container Store, which for decades has operated various iterations of one basic store format, is opening store concept in Los Angeles and Dallas - Customer Closets.

    The format is designed to drill down even deeper on a category that represents more than half of the company’s business.

    CEO Melissa Reiff says that “the point of the new store is to make it easier for both design customers and everyday shoppers to visualize the possibilities.” The story says that “the new Custom Closets store has 65 displays, free in-home design services and a new closet line … The new store also has displays for pantry, garage and office. The store can accommodate more business-to-business customers and it's making a big appeal to professionals. Work stations are available where designers can bring in their clients and use the space and the store's staff to handle the customer closet process on their own.  Stores can accommodate more customer appointments per day than its regular stores.”

    There is, to be sure, a strong economic incentive for Container Store to launch this offshoot. The News says that closet sales at its traditional store are increasing more than the stores overall, and Reiff estimates that closets are turning into a $6 billion market.
    KC's View:
    This is a very good idea - finding a core strength in a broader concept and then creating a format that drills down in an effective and efficient way. It would be as if a supermarket decided that it made sense to open a fresh food-driven store that builds on an expertise in that area.

    The thing that supermarkets can do, of course, is then use e-commerce to allow people to buy those CPG items online. I’m utterly convinced that this is where things are going in food retail … and maybe people should look at what Container Store is doing as a model to be emulated.

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    Nielsen has a new report out about flexitarianism, “the latest dietary trend in the food arena, except it’s far less restrictive than options like keto, alkaline and tapeworm diets. That’s because it’s perfect for consumers who are willing to delve heavily into both traditional meat and plant-based alternatives - and they’re ushering in a new area of protein consumption in the process.”

    The report notes that “only about 5% of U.S. households are vegan or vegetarian, leaving 95% as omnivores. Additionally, nearly 60% of U.S. consumers agree that having the right dietary balance of both animal and plant foods is important. What’s more, nearly all (98%) meat alternative buyers also purchase meat, and they do so more than the average meat buyer ($486 vs. $478 per year). Less than a third (27%) of meat alternative purchasers buy meat alternative products five or more times a year. So if we define flexitarian as medium and heavy buyers of both meat and meat alternatives, they account for 37% of all meat alternative buyers and they spend $643 on meat every year—a whopping $165 more per year than the average meat buyer.”

    Scale, the report notes, “is the real kicker. Across the store, meat accounted for $95 billion in sales over the last year, whereas meat alternatives are still shy of crossing the billion dollar mark, coming in at $893 million.”
    KC's View:
    Am I wrong, or is being a flexitarian just another way of saying that a person has a diverse and balanced diet? It isn’t Nielsen’s fault - I don’t think it coined the term - but it seems to me that sometimes we come up with terms for trends that don’t necessarily require them.

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    Fast Company has a story about a new kind of retail on display at a a giant, four-story store in SoHo called Showfields:

    “It’s an utterly new form of retail, where actors are playing characters who tell the stories of direct-to-consumer brands—the most extreme, logical conclusion of the trend toward experiential retail." While in some ways it may be an extreme iteration with limited applicability, the story says, it also suggests a direction “that just might make shopping fun again.”

    Fascinating stuff … with plenty of pictures … and you can read about it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    The Boston Globe has a story about the ice cream sandwich - not only is today National Ice Cream Day, but it is taking place during a year that is being celebrated as the ice cream sandwich’s 120th birthday.

    Apparently, the ice cream sandwich’s roots goes back to the Bowery in New York City, where they were sold by street vendors and were called “hokey pokeys.” Originally they consisted of ice cream held between two thin pieces of paper, but that was messy and so someone came up with the idea of putting them between two crackers or cookies. (There is some debate about the product’s provenance, but this seems to be accepted version.)

    In some ways, the story says, the ice cream sandwich was the Cronut of the early 20th century, with people waiting on line to get one. Restaurants could see a good thing, and they started selling them and innovating around the concept.

    The Globe even offers a bit of poetry about the ice cream sandwich:

    “The ice cream sandwich’s trajectory, from humble treat of the masses to elevated version for the elite, sounds familiar. Here we have the classic ice cream sandwich … an oblong of vanilla ice cream between two rectangular chocolate cookies neatly stippled with holes. All is as it should be. There is tradition here. There is ritual.

    Are you a biter? Or do you linger, licking around the edges so the ice cream grows smaller and smaller and the cookies’ edges finally collapse around it? However we choose to live our ice cream sandwich-consuming lives, we all meet the same end: sucking sticky cookie residue off our fingertips after everything else is gone. Thus it has been all of our lives — visiting the ice cream truck, at camp, on hot evenings at dusk when the fireflies start to come out.

    “And thus it should always be.”
    KC's View:
    Can I get an “amen?”

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    • In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports on the extent to which Amazon has embraced robotics - “worldwide, Amazon has installed more than 200,000 robots,” the story says.”

    Not everybody says this is a good thing: “Fear among workers is palpable. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that roughly half (48%) of respondents said the (robotics) advances have mostly hurt American workers; only 22% said they have generally helped.

    “A fully automated shipping warehouse is at least a decade away, Amazon officials have said, but the company already is planning for a time when it will need fewer people to run its warehouses. Earlier this month, Amazon announced that it would set aside $700 million between now and 2025 to ‘upskill’ or retrain up to a third of its U.S. workforce — as many as 100,000 workers.”

    • The New York Times reports that restaurant delivery service Door Dash is “buying Caviar, a rival service, for $410 million in a deal that escalates the already intense competition in food delivery. DoorDash is buying Caviar from Square, the payments company, which has owned the service since 2014. Caviar operates in around 15 cities and primarily offers food from upscale restaurants in urban areas.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    • The BBC reports that in the UK, Sainsbury is getting rid of the disposable plastic bags used by shoppers in produce departments, and instead telling customers that they need to either bring their own reusable bags or buy for the equivalent of about 30 cents a bag made from recycled materials.

    The story notes that Sainsbury says it is responding to customer concerns; a recent survey suggested that the retailer is seen by shoppers as being the worst in the nation when it comes to use of plastic.

    The BBC story points out that “rivals are already introducing measures to minimise plastic waste. Morrisons has started selling fresh produce in paper bags and Tesco has removed all polystyrene from its fish packaging. Last month Waitrose started a trial removing plastic from flowers and plants and offering more loose fruit and vegetables.”

    • The Wall Street Journal has a story about how the Nordstrom family, more than a year after it failed in its attempt to take the company private, now is hoping it can increase its stake in the publicly held retailer from about one-third to more than 50 percent, possibly through a stock buyback.

    The family, however, is getting some pushback from some of the company’s independent directors, who are pointing out that when the Nordstroms wanted to take the company private, it wanted to pay $50 a share for stock that then was trading for about $40 a share. Now, the company’s stock is trading for about $30 share, and some are suggesting that the family is trying to take advantage of poor performance in which it has to some extent has been complicit.

    The Journal writes that “while many department stores are shrinking by closing stores or reducing the size of existing locations, Nordstrom has been expanding. It is spending roughly $500 million to gain a toehold in Manhattan, including the planned opening of its first women’s store in the city this fall. It has snapped up e-commerce companies such as flash-sale website HauteLook and subscription service Trunk Club. It also is opening smaller stores called Nordstrom Local that don’t carry any clothes.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    • Kroger announced that it has hired Sonya Hostetler, most recently Walmart’s Dallas-based vice president and regional general manager, to be the new president of its Nashville division. She succeeds the retiring Zane Day, who is stepping down after 45 years with the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    As always, lightly edited for clarity…

    One MNB reader has some thoughts about yesterday’s FaceTime commentary:

    Kevin, I have to agree with you about the food carts here in Portland--they're part of who we are. Keeping a culture, a history, can be hard to balance with a growing, shifting city but that's okay. Change is inevitable. And food cart owners/operators, by nature of the business, have to be "break the mold/think outside the box" kind of people, the kind of people who will always find a way to keep things going and to get their delicious creations into the bellies of the people.

    Have no fear... the food carts pods aren't completely gone from Portland! In fact, a new pod, housing about half a dozen 100% plant-based trucks/carts, is going to be bringing new dining options to the Cully Neighborhood in the next several months. A little bit removed from downtown, but a yummy experience well worth the short drive!

    MNB reader Steve Rash wrote:

    Sad to hear that the food trucks in Portland are no longer in that parking lot.  I used to travel to Portland quite a bit for business and had the best chicken pad thai that I've ever had from one of the trucks.

    MNB reader Craig Espelien chimed in:

    Sad about the food trucks as we enjoyed that part of Portland when we were there.

    In Minneapolis, food trucks are pretty popular but one clearly stands out based on their approach. Chef Josh Thoma started his food truck “Smack Shack” out of a dive bar called The 1029 (tacky - but good food and great lobster roles even here in Minnesota). You could get his fare inside the bar or from the food truck as it made its way around the city. The “catch” if you will is two fold. He later opened a full service restaurant call The Smack Shack - larger menu, bar service, outdoor seating, etc. The second catch is that he is now doing the same thing with burgers - starting in a tiny cooking area in a dive bar called Tony Jaros’ River Gardens (known for their Greenie - green kool-aid with vodka - about as appealing as it sound from my perspective - used to drink them in college but only once…) - where the menu item of focus will be burgers. From what the rumor mill says, the path to success will mimic that of Smack Shack - dive bar, food truck, stand-alone restaurant.

    Thought you might find that interesting.

    You’ve made me hungry just reading about it.

    Also got as number of emails about another truck issue - the shortage of drivers.

    MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman wrote:

    There is an easy way to address the problem: take the money from the top and increase pay at the bottom, a concept that is sadly lost on today’s corporate leadership. I’ll bet if truckers made $125 K a year there would be no shortage. Might have to trim some top executive pay, and maybe the dividends drop. But the money is there. Just not a true will to solve the problem.

    From another reader:

    Legalizing marijuana has hurt the the driver shortage even more. All drivers are randomly drug tested for things like marijuana.

    Double standard … a brain surgeon isn't tested for drug use.

    Really? If that’s true, that is kind of scary.

    From MNB reader Jeff Folloder:

    At the risk of sounding obvious … Maybe Mike Rowe is onto something?  Trades are worthwhile, productive and often lucrative.  We should be promoting them in high school and maybe earlier as a reasonable career path.  Learning how to drive a commercial vehicle is rock-sold training that can get folks well beyond minimum wage in a heartbeat.  And given the competitive environment for candidates, employers are often touting great benefits and innovative work schedules in addition to great pay.

    And from another reader:

    Isn’t the truck driving shortage an opportunity?  In Chicago, we have a real violence problem in the city and people talk about the lack of hope and a path towards good solid employment… relying less on government aid, etc…

    Isn’t driving a truck a good, honest, and noble profession?  How do we “sponsor” young men and women who feel there is no path forward other than violence and shady business into deciding on learning and devoting their lives to this profession… maybe they start driving for someone and then a few years down the road, experience the entrepreneurial opportunities to start driving for themselves… and hiring a few more drivers… building a business.

    Wouldn’t this provide the hope that we need for some of these young men and women.

    It’s an opportunity…

    How does private business and all the charitable foundations partner to help make this happen… and not have the government fund and possibly water down the impact?

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    In this new Retail Tomorrow podcast, recorded at GMDC’s annual GM conference in Denver, we focus on the ways in which startups are working to disintermediate traditional retailers … how retailers can turn these innovations to their own advantage … why cultural resistance within companies can be the ultimate enemy of progress … and even brainstorm about a business model that could’ve made Toys R Us relevant again.

    You can listen to the Retail Tomorrow podcast here, or on iTunes or GooglePlay.

    The Retail Tomorrow podcast series is a production of GMDC, the Global Market Development Center.

    Our guests:

    • Patrick Fore, CEO and co-founder of Fleat.

    • Sterling Hawkins, co-founder of the Center for Advancing Retail & Technology (CART).

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

    Pictured, left to right: Patrick Fore, Kevin Coupe, Sterling Hawkins

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    I’ve gotten some emails from Portland, Oregon-area MNB readers wondering if I am going to have one of those casual get-togethers that we've done here the past few years.

    The answer is yes … let's get together Thursday night, August 8, at 5 pm, at Nel Centro, located at 1408 SW 6th Ave, in Portland. I'll plan on being there for a couple of hours, hopefully on the outside patio - and I hope that any MNB readers who'd like to stop by will do so.

    Once again, I’m thrilled that our get-together will be sponsored by Portland State University’s Center for Retail Leadership.

    Put it on your calendar.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 2, 2019

    So I went to the Oregon Brewers Festival last weekend, and I followed my usual pattern. I go through the list of beers being sampled, and choose a half-dozen I want to try. Some of it is based on name or origin, and some of it is based on the fact that I’m not big on fruity beers, or ciders, or sours. (No “Marionberry Lavender Sour” for me, I’m afraid.) After I’ve sampled six, I choose the one I like the most, and get myself a full glass of that one.

    Here are the ones I tried:

    • Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale, from Fort George Brewery, Astoria. (I love oatmeal, so why not?)

    • Malted Milkshake IPA, from the Full Sail Brewing Co. in Hood River. (I love milkshakes, and was curious.)

    • Brewer’s Breakfast Wheat, from the GoodLife Brewing Co. in Bend. (Beer for breakfast? Count me in.)

    • Red on Red Ale, from Klamath Basin Brewing Co. in Klamath Falls. (Red ales are my favorites.)

    • Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana? Orange Hefeweizen from the Rusty Truck Brewing Co. in Lincoln City. (Okay, it was a little fruity, but it reminded me of a joke my kids used to tell when they were little, and I couldn’t resist.)

    • Rock Out With Your Guac Out, from Scout Beer in Portland. (I wondered if it would taste like guacamole. It didn’t. But it’d probably taste perfect with guacamole.)

    The winner - and it sort of surprised me - was the Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale, which was delicious, especially on a warm July day. In second place was the Red on Red, followed by the Brewer’s Breakfast Wheat.

    But, as I thought about it, the more I realized that the warmth of the day mattered much to my preferences … on another day, in different circumstances, another beer might’ve been my top choice.

    It is a dirty job, but I’m happy to do my part.

    I’m not always a fan of Quentin Tarantino movies - some of them, I’m afraid, are just a little too violent for me. I’m probably in minority, but my favorite of his films is Jackie Brown, mostly because it seems to be the most relaxed of the Tarantino oeuvre; there are times that he seems to be trying too hard, and I find that distances me from the work rather than drawing me in. (That said, I do love Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds.)

    Which may be why I liked Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood so much - it largely has a relaxed vibe that I found to be enormously appealing.

    Hollywood is the story, set in 1969, of a fading actor, Rick Dalton (played as a jumble of actorly insecurities and theatrical bravado by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double, Cliff Booth (laconic in the extreme as played by Brad Pitt, who never has been better). Both men’s careers are on the decline, hurt in part by a Hollywood that itself is in the beginnings of a major transition. Dalton and Booth are loosely based on the real-life friendship of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham, and the story weaves in a number of real-life characters such as Bruce Lee, Sharon Tate and Charles Manson.

    The story’s conceit is that Dalton lives next door to the house where members of the Manson family slaughtered a pregnant Tate and a number of her friends, and the specter of that night hangs over the film, providing a strong measure of dread that serves as a counterpoint to the general mood. There is an extraordinary scene in which Cliff Booth visits the Spahn ranch - a place where westerns used to be shot, and where the Manson family members are holed up, that is about as Hitchcockian as any scene you’ll see in the moves this year, and a reminder of a great a film stylist Tarantino is.

    Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood won’t be for everyone - while it is not as violent as a typical Tarantino movie, the writer/director also makes some controversial creative choices that will put some people off. I wasn’t surprised by these moves, and thought they were provocative in terms of evaluating moments of change and choice, and the long term implications of what can happen when you make a right turn instead of a left. I’m okay with that - it is, after all, just a movie … but a thoughtful one with a point of view.

    I must admit that much of the reason I liked Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood so much was that I was relatively familiar with the time and place in which it is rooted. I got to Los Angeles to go to school just a few years later, so for me it was like stepping into a time machine. At one point, a character goes to a movie in Westwood, and I instantly recognized it as the theater where I took a girl to see All The President’s Men when it first came out; because I was a film major, I was lucky enough to spend time on the backlots at Universal and Paramount, watching movies and TV shows being shot, and so I loved it when Tarantino’s camera and characters ventured there. (When I was a senior at Loyola Marymount University, a friend of mine was shooting a western for his senior thesis, and he called up Universal cold to ask if he could the western set on the backlot for a day. Universal said yes, and so he directed us all there during a day that was kind of magical. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen today.) Hollywood, it seems to me, gets the place and time and details absolutely right.

    The supporting cast is great - especially Margot Robbie as Tate, and Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Bruce Dern and Kurt Russell in smaller roles. Damian Lewis has one quick scene as Steve McQueen - and I have to tell you that he’s scary good in the few moments he has.

    One other thing. Longtime MNB readers, if they see the movie, will know during the first half hour or so why I liked it - there is a cultural reference to something dear to my heart, and I’ll always thank Tarantino for making it.

    Late Night is a different sort of show business story about a performer on the way down - the amazing Emma Thompson plays a longtime late night talk show host who is on the verge of losing her show, and so hires a character played by Mindy Kaling for the writing staff in the hope that a tiny bit of diversity will improve the comedy. (She’s never had a woman writer before, and she makes the move grudgingly.)

    The movie was written by Kaling, and while I won’t say it is hysterically funny, it is knowing and well-observed, with good lessons about the importance of having different points of view in any business. While casting Thompson as the host gives Late Night the patina of science fiction - there’s never been a longtime woman late night host mostly because they don’ t offer women those jobs - she is smart and sharp, with irony coming from every pore. Just so you know, I think someone ought to offer Thompson an actual talk show - I bet she’d kill it.

    To be fair, Late Night, which was acquired by Amazon at the Sundance Film Festival and got generally terrific reviews, has been a popular disappointment - audiences just haven’t gone to see it. I’m not sure why, and maybe it’ll do better when it streams on Amazon Prime Video. It deserves to.

    Happy to recommend to you today the 2018 Chateau de Campuget Tradition Rosé … and the best thing I can tell you about this wine is that Morgan, the best bartender on the planet, at Etta’s in Seattle, recommended it. Enough said. It was delicious and perfect with oysters and fish and chips and crab cakes and octopus. Yup. Perfect.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend … I’ll be back on Monday.


    KC's View: