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    Published on: September 13, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    I love my job. Really. (Good thing, because I don’t know how to do anything else.)

    But … I think I’ve just identified a better one.

    Texas Monthly reports that it now has an on-staff taco editor.

    What a great job.

    Texas Monthly writes that “José R. Ralat, a Dallas-based writer, is joining us to cover all things taco, from reviews and profiles to trends and Tex-Mex traditions … Ralat’s addition reflects our continuing commitment to covering Texas’s unique and outstanding culinary landscape. In 2013, we became the first magazine to appoint a barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, who’s been energetically covering our thriving smoked-meat scene ever since. As taco editor, Ralat will be a regular presence on as well as in print.”

    The announcement adds that “Ralat has contributed to Texas Monthly’s food coverage for several years, including our December 2015 issue cover story, “The 120 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die.”

    Now, I get that I’d probably be the wrong guy to be a taco editor. I love them, but it isn’t like I know a lot about them, or could say much more than “yum!” after having a good one.

    But what really impresses me about this announcement is that Texas Monthly, looking to maintain and expand its relevance and resonance, is deep-diving in terms of staffing and expertise. A lot of print publications are dying or cutting or figuring out ways to survive.

    But Texas Monthly is investing and engaging and pushing the envelope.

    That’s what great retailers do. They find experts, they develop various forms of expertise, and they work it, work it, work it, developing for themselves differential advantages.

    Do it right, and it is an Eye-Opener.

    Don’t do it, and it could be curtains.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    Marketing Daily reports that Amazon-owned Whole Foods has done a survey concluding that “millennials are happy to pay more for groceries.”

    In fact, the “survey results say 80% of millennials value quality when food shopping and nearly 70% say they are willing to spend more for that quality.”

    In addition, “They’re also looking for greater transparency, with 65% saying food sourcing matters to them, especially for meat and seafood. And more than half are willing to pony up for products that have animal welfare standards and are responsibly sourced … The online survey finds that half say they buy more organic products than they did five years ago. Seventy percent read labels more closely, while 60% fret more about additives and growth hormones.”

    The Marketing Daily story goes on to say that “Whole Foods’ report comes at a time when all eyes in the grocery world are trained on Amazon’s designs on the $840 billion grocery market. It acquired Whole Foods for $14.3 billion back in 2017 and seems poised to pounce in multiple directions. But increasingly, Whole Foods seems less like the crown jewel of Amazon’s grocery ambitions. Growth has slowed, and earlier this year, it put the kibosh on its 365 stores, a poorly received attempt to woo millennials with lower prices.”
    KC's View:
    This does strike me as a sort of self-congratulatory survey … as in, “we can charge higher prices because people are okay with it.” Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so.

    It is interesting that this survey comes to light even as Bloomberg reports that Whole Foods “is changing medical benefit eligibility requirements next year that could leave as many as 1,900 part-time workers without coverage.

    “Employees will have to work at least 30 hours a week to qualify for a healthcare plan beginning Jan. 1, up from the current eligibility requirement of 20 hours, the company said in an emailed statement. The change will affect just under 2% of the chain’s workforce, Whole Foods said.”

    Millennials may appreciate stores that offer high quality, that are transparent, that are ethical in their sourcing, that care about additives and hormones and such. But these same consumers may care about stores treating their employees well … and they may not respond well to Whole Foods cutting back on employee benefits.

    Just saying. You can’t celebrate one side of the equation and then ignore the other. be nice if you could, but you can’t.

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    The Los Angeles Times results that Southern California members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union have “voted in favor of a new employment contract with major supermarket chains, preventing a strike that could have affected a large swath of the state.”

    Approval of the new three-year contract “follows months of negotiations between the UFCW union groups and Ralphs, which is a division of Kroger Co., and Albertsons Companies, which owns Vons and Pavilions. In June, union members had voted to authorize a strike if talks failed.

    “The last time there was a grocery strike in Southern California was in 2003 when nearly 60,000 workers walked off their jobs for four months. It was the largest and longest supermarket strike in U.S. history. In 2011, the union came close to striking after setting a deadline then as it did this time around, but after marathon negotiations, supermarkets and union leaders were able to reach a deal.”
    KC's View:
    Whew. I was worried.

    Though I also was pretty sure that there wouldn’t be a strike, since it wouldn’t have been good for anyone - not retailers, not employees and not consumers.

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    • Amazon said yesterday that next month it will open a “Regional Air Hub at the Fort Worth Alliance Airport will open in October. The Regional Air Hub is the first build-to-suit airport project of its kind in the Amazon Air network and was designed to support Amazon Air’s larger scale regional needs, including sortation capability and infrastructure to handle multiple flights daily … The new Regional Air Hub will include daily flights and allow Amazon to further serve its customer base in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.”

    MarketWatch reports that in the UK, “Wm. Morrison Supermarkets said Thursday that pretax profit rose 49% in the first half of fiscal 2020 and announced an extension of its relationship with Inc,” meaning that Prime Now will be expanded “to more cities across the U.K.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

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

    NBC News reports that Amazon plans to open one of its 4-Star stores in Oakbrook, Illinois, about 20 miles west of downtown Chicago.

    The store, in the Oakbrook Center Mall, will feature items across a broad range of categories, all of which have been reviewed well by Amazon online shoppers and received at least four stars on the site.

    Amazon 4-Star stores are currently open in New York City, Denver, Seattle and Berkeley, California.

    Fast Company has a story saying that this year’s 9-11 observances occurred without any “tone-deaf tweets and posts from popular consumer brands.” Which is a change from past years, when some brands extended promotions perceived as exploiting a solemn occasion.

    However, “the day wasn’t completely without incident … One noteworthy blip came from Ledo Pizza. The Annapolis, Maryland-based regional pizza chain with more than 100 locations tweeted #NeverForget with a photo of its square pizza topped with olives and pepperoni to look like the American flag. The tweet was met with quick derision, and, like the other brands in years past, Ledo deleted it and apologized.”

    Derision was all that they got? They should feel lucky.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    • Lunds & Byerlys announced that it has hired Jeff Meek, most recently executive vice president/CFO at Fleet Farm in Appleton, Wis., as its new CFO, overseeing finance, accounting, employee experience and information services.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    Yesterday we had a story that referenced replenishment models, such as that successfully operated by Amazon’s Subscribe & Save.

    Several readers mentioned that a link to Replenium, which offers a replenishment model to retailers and suppliers, wasn’t working, and so I wanted to provide it again:


    Again, full disclosure - MNB’s own Tom Furphy, who launched Subscribe & Save at Amazon, is part of the braintrust behind Replenium. But I’d mention Replenium even if Tom were not part of it.



    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    Responding to yesterday’s FaceTime commentary about my experience picking up an order at Walmart, MNB reader Rob L Vasseur, Jr. wrote:

    This past summer I had a similar experience with a Walmart pickup. I was there to pickup a baby gate for a new puppy. I was also 1 week out from a second surgery of my broken right arm. First, I will say that I was in the wrong by not taking a cart back to the pickup area. That meant going all the way back to the front of the store, retrieve a cart, and return to the pickup area. Now, I’ve never bought a baby gate before (and most likely never will again), but those gates are heavy! My arm in a sling, the associate drags the gate out of the back room for me and sets it by my cart. I just looked at her and blinked. Now what was I supposed to do?

    Luckily another customer waiting for her item asked if she could help and together we got the gate into the cart. Now to fight the crowded aisles to get to the front of the store and the exit. Of course, the greeter wants to check off my receipt to be sure it was my purchase! I vowed at that moment, no matter what the savings were, I would never utilize the Walmart BOPIS.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Don't know if your Norwalk Walmart had an outside Grocery Pickup area, but if it does, you can pick up dotcom orders there as well. Beats going inside every single day of the week, especially when you're doing grocery pickup at the end of a long day.

    Nope. As I said, this was not a typical Walmart. It was as mediocre a store as that retailer probably operates.

    Another MNB reader observed:

    So you were one customer of a far larger number of customers who prefer to shop in the store rather than pickup...perhaps Walmart is thinking about these customers.

    A fair point. But even so, do you really think that it makes sense to make BOPIS so inconvenient?

    From another reader:

    I had a completely different experience with my In-Store pickup.

    When  I arrived at the store, I went to the CS desk and was told that the hours for in store pick up were until 8:00 Pm and it was around 8:30pm.

    That was on me, I didn’t fully read my text notification that the order was ready for pick up. I asked the CS rep if there was any way I could pick the order up that evening rather than coming back the next day. She consulted with a manager who walked me over to a huge tower in the middle of  store where she unlocked the control panel.  I typed in my order number and ala the Jetson’s, my order was delivered through the tower.

    It couldn’t have been any easier, couldn’t have been a better experience.

    I’m not a frequent Walmart shopper and was shocked at both the level of Customer Service I received, and technology. The only question I had was why it was locked after 8pm.  It was completely self-service.

    Also got the following email from MNB reader Mark Boyer:

    Your FaceTime mentioning unsupervised kids reminded me of comedienne I heard once who said, “I was in Walmart the other day and the kids were misbehaving something awful, so I took a flyswatter and started swatting them. And then I remembered, I don’t have kids.”


    On the open carry debate, MNB reader Rich Heiland weighed in:

    I live in East Texas - deep in the heart of gun country.

    The argument that open or even concealed carry will put all kinds of potential heroes into public places is, well, garbage. There is scant evidence of anyone stepping up and stopping carnage.

    As a reporter I have been in chaos. It is not like anything you’ve ever experienced. To think that just because someone can pop targets at the range they can react in a hyper-stressful situation, use their weapon effectively is just fiction. I have talked to police officers who hate the idea. Their fear is in response - if they go in a store and see multiple people with guns, who is the bad guy?

    This whole macho idea that a well-armed Bubba is going to save the day is just gun-sales hype. Open carry is for those who never outgrew their childhood cowboy days or have a misplaced sense of manhood.

    For the record, I once taught an NRA-sanctioned rifle program, have owned guns, hunted and love to range shoot.

    “Well-armed Bubba”? That ought to get some attention.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    In Thursday Night Football, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 20-14.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    This special podcast, recorded in front of a live audience at the recent Retail Tomorrow Immersion conference in Boston, goes inside the evolving world of LL Bean, the iconic catalog business that has engineered a dramatic and highly successful shift into omnichannel retailing through transformational leadership and a willingness to disrupt from within.

    Our special guest is CEO Stephen Smith, the first outsider to ever run the company, who offered a unique perspective on how a legacy retailer - founded in 1912 - has been transformed into a model of 21st century marketing savvy.

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

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

    This edition of the Retail Tomorrow podcast is brought to you by the Global Market Development Center (GMDC), connecting people & companies to opportunities for growth.

    Pictured, left to right: Kevin Coupe, Stephen Smith

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 13, 2019

    Robert B. Parker’s Massachusetts police chief, Jesse Stone, returned this week in a new novel, “The Bitterest Pill,” written by Reed Farrel Coleman, for whom this is the seventh in the series that Parker launched with “Night Passage” back in 1997. Coleman is one of the greats of the genre - he has written several series of highly regarded crime fiction, with his Moe Prager novels possibly the best known. His specialty, I think it is fair to say, is the tormented male protagonist … and so Jesse Stone is right in his writing wheelhouse.

    I’ve always thought that the Jesse Stone series is the one with which someone like Coleman could take the most liberties, in part because unlike Parker’s Spenser and Sunny Randall novels, which are written in a first-person narrative, the Stone books are third person. Getting the voice right is, I think, a little less important than staying true to the themes and characters that Parker set in motion almost a quarter-century ago.

    (Ace Atkins has expertly executed the trick of maintaining Spenser’s voice while still giving it new energy, in his seven novels in the series, with an eighth, “Angel Eyes,” due on November 19. Mike Lupica’s single Sunny Randall novel, “Blood Feud,” seemed more imitative than I would’ve liked, but he’s a good writer and so the books are likely to get better with experience.)

    In addition, stories about Jesse Stone already have taken place in parallel universes - the books by Parker and the popular TV movies that starred Tom Selleck were similar at the beginning and then diverged, moving in different directions. For the most part, the books have stayed true to the notion that Stone is a functioning alcoholic and former big-city cop serving as police chief of small-town Paradise, Massachusetts; the books always sort of positioned Stone as a kind of western sheriff bringing law and order to an sometimes lawless community. The Selleck movies at a certain point seemed to get bored with the small town stuff, and started having Stone working freelance for the Boston Police department solving cold cases; it worked fine, Selleck was terrific, but they were different.

    Coleman’s Jesse Stone books strike me as different, too.

    What Coleman has done is interesting, especially in view of the often anguished heroes he’s written about in other series. He started his entries in the series by really sending Stone into a tailspin, with a lot of time focusing on his drinking, especially after suffering some personal tragedies that tested him. But in his last Stone book, “Colorblind,” and now with “The Bitterest Pill,” he seems more interested in writing a redemption story for Stone. There is less of the tsuris that we’d gotten used to, and that Coleman seemed to love writing. Now, there seems to be more hope for Stone, and it is refreshing.

    That’s not to say that all is well in Paradise. Far from it. Coleman writes of a place that has evolved from its small town roots as more and more people have moved there from Boston. As Boston came to Paradise, Coleman writes, so, too have “come its sins.”

    In this case, it is the drug crisis, as a teen’s overdose death sets in motion an investigation that brings Stone into battle against organized crime, a school system that often seems more interested in protecting its flank than its students, and parents who are so focused on their own upward mobility that they ignore the often deadly directions taken by their children.

    There is hypocrisy to spare in Paradise, which works for “The Bitterest Pill” because that was always Robert B. Parker’s favorite targets. Coleman comes at it a little differently than Parker would have, I think; where Parker would’ve used dialogue to cut through it, Coleman is more of a poet with language. But I’m okay with that. I have a big personal investment in these stories and characters - I started reading Parker back in the seventies, and have always been an unabashed fan - and there’s no question in my mind that Jesse Stone is in good hands.

    I finally caught up with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, last year’s critically respected film that, for some reason, never caught on with audiences. That’s a shame, because it is terrific.

    Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, an writer whose career hit the skids because of her obsessive personality and heavy drinking. (This is based on a true story.) At a certain point in her decline, months behind in her rent and unable to hold down a job, she discovers a previously unknown talent for forging letters by famous writers - Ernest Hemingway, Noel Coward) and then selling them to unsuspecting bookstore owners, who then turn around and sell them to unsuspecting clients. She is aided in this by Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant - delightful), a homeless fellow alcoholic with enormous charm and no visible scruples.

    McCarthy is a revelation in this serious role, written with great compassion by Jeff Whitty and Nicole Holofcener, and directed by Marielle Heller. While the movie has a light touch, it is an observant look at people living at the edge of society, and how society may actually put greater value on some items than they deserve. And, maybe, put less value on some things than they deserve.

    Good stuff. Go find the movie and watch it.

    I have a couple of terrific wines to recommend to you this week … both rosés, and wonderful as summer comes to its inevitable end. (They’re so good that I plan to include them in the rotation well into the fall.) I would under all circumstances open a bottle of the 2013 Berne Romance or the 2018 Whispering Angel.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend.

    Back Monday.

    KC's View: