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    Published on: September 27, 2019

    by Kevin Coupe

    Maybe we should call it vaping-gate.

    The Associated Press reports that "hundreds more Americans have been reported to have a vaping-related breathing illness, and the death toll has risen to 12, health officials said Thursday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 805 confirmed and probable cases have been reported, up 52 percent from the 530 reported a week ago. At this point, illnesses have occurred in almost every state."

    According to the story, "Most patients have said they vaped products containing THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana. The investigation has been increasingly focused on products containing THC, with some attention on ingredients added to marijuana oil. But some patients have said they vaped only nicotine. Currently, health officials are advising people not to use any vaping product until the cause is better understood."

    The Eye-Opening dominoes continue to fall. There are federal probes into the vaping business. States are banning or considering the banning of vaping. Walmart, for one, said would stop selling vaping materials. And the most prominent vaping company, Juul, said it would stop all US advertising and replaced its CEO (albeit with a tobacco industry exec).

    I wonder what else we're going to learn about these products, and the companies that make them and sell them.

    The party's over. Turn out the lights.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    Bloomberg reports that as Walmart weighs its options for concierge service Jetblack, which only serves New York City at this point, it also has received outside inquiries about the business.

    According to the story, " The offers could involve a partnership, spinoff or sale of the business, said the people, who declined to be identified because Walmart’s internal deliberations are private. The talks, which Walmart didn’t initiate, are preliminary and may not lead to any deal, one of the people said.

    Some context from Bloomberg: "The JetBlack discussions come amid a broader reorganization of Walmart’s money-losing e-commerce unit, bringing it more firmly under the control of the core U.S. stores division that makes the bulk of the company’s profits. As part of that overhaul, Walmart’s urban-focused unit has been fully integrated into the parent company, prompting many of its top employees to find new roles outside of its headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey. Walmart has also decided to sell ModCloth, the women’s online fashion site it bought in 2017."
    KC's View:
    I'm going to make a couple of guesses here. I wouldn't go so far as to call them predictions; you can decide for yourself whether they are educated or uneducated guesses.

    Walmart will end up selling Jetblack to someone, even as it sells off non-core businesses such as Modcloth and Bonobos. The fact is that they are non-core … and the pressure to stick with fundamentals may be too great to ignore.

    This doesn't mean that Walmart will cease innovating, but the bandwidth within which those innovations take place is likely to narrow. This is one of the things that differentiates Walmart from Amazon, which continually broadens its efforts. Walmart's leadership will believe that it is better off doing fewer things better, and it will follow that path.

    And, as this all unfolds, Marc Lore, Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce chief executive officer, will decide that when his contract is up, he'll leave … and will wait out whatever non-compete period he has agreed to before starting something else up.

    This all strikes me as inevitable.

    Then again, I could be wrong.

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    Ten major global food purveyors have come together for what is being called the "10x20x30" initiative, which is designed to reduce rates of food waste.

    The goal is for each of the 10 to engage with 20 of their suppliers to cut their food waste in half by 2030 - hence the name of the initiative.

    Among the founding members are Walmart, Kroger, Tesco, Ahold Delhaize and Sodexo.
    KC's View:
    Good for them. Multiplication in such cases always works better than addition … though I do think that it is important for companies to figure out how to bring consumers into the discussion and activities more effectively. Can't do it without customer-buy-in.

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    As part of a broad commitment to helping consumers reduce their consumption of sugar - it is going category-by-category to "increase transparency around added sugar" in grocery items around the store - Raley's is turning to the past sauce category.

    According to the announcement, Raley's "refreshed pasta sauce aisle includes new educational signage and enhanced product tags. These new tags highlight pasta sauces with less than 5% or more than 25% of total calories coming from added sugar. In the pasta sauce category, about two-thirds of the vast selection of 'Better for You' brands Raley’s offers have 5% or less calories coming from added sugar. In addition, more than 50 products can receive a special Shelf Guide tag for No Added Sugar."

    Raley's started the process in the cold cereal category, and plans to expand into other sections of the store in the near future.

    "For customers committed to avoiding sugar altogether, they can utilize Raley’s recently relaunched one-of-a-kind label transparency tool, Raley’s Shelf Guide," the company says. "The No Sugar Added icon, just one of 23 icons that can be found on store tags and online, allows customers to identify products completely free of any added sugar when shopping in-store and online."
    KC's View:
    The argument here always has been high levels of transparency are good for the food industry, and that means providing shoppers with as much information as possible so they can make intelligent decisions. Good for Raley's.

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    Reuters reports that Unilever CFO Graeme Pitkethly said this week that its sales on Amazon represent just a small percentage of its volume, and even less in terms of profit.

    Unilever did more than $62 billion in sales last year, the story says, and Amazon was less than $250 million of that.

    And, Pitkethly pointed out, “No one makes money on Amazon if you sell below $10 ... and a lot of our business is in products below $10."
    KC's View:
    Words that Amazon may want to highlight if and when it has to deal with government entities that want to break it up.

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) announced yesterday that as of January 2020 it will rebrand as the Consumer Brands Association (CBA), saying that it "reflects a sea change — we are a new organization, representing the totality of the consumer packaged goods industry and establishing a new presence in Washington and beyond."

    The announcement went on:

    "The transformation of our organization reflects today’s era of transparency and consumer-first thinking. We represent the best-known, trusted and iconic brands – companies that play an essential role in the lives of millions of Americans every day. Each of these brands is constantly striving to keep pace with changing consumer preferences and rising expectations. Our industry is constantly learning, improving and innovating to meet their needs. And so must the industry’s trade association.

    "As the Consumer Brands Association, we will always ask a simple question: Where can we champion the aligned interests of industry and the consumers it serves? We will highlight the good the industry does, from supporting more than 20 million American jobs to making unprecedented commitments to packaging sustainability. And we will drive an advocacy agenda that is built around shared values: promoting product affordability; enhancing consumer safety and wellness; creating a healthier planet; fostering innovation; reducing confusion in the marketplace and building trust in our industry and its products.

    "We will be a leader of the new guard among industry trade associations. We will work together with lawmakers, NGOs, consumer groups and other stakeholders to achieve common goals, remaining candid and honest, always."
    KC's View:
    The fact is that GMA was losing members because under the previous management too many companies perceived it as being out of touch with their needs and priorities. I always thought it had adopted a knee-jerk approach to fighting any and all consumer movements … instead of understanding that sometimes consumer activists make good and legitimate points about products and services.

    The fact is that consumers and companies often do have aligned interests … though sometimes they have to be seen through different prisms and with a more open mind.

    If this move is more than cosmetic, then it isn't just a move that GMA had to make. It probably is a cultural move that it should've made years ago.

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    Fast Company reports that Amazon has anointed its first celebrity voice for its Alexa-powered system.

    Samuel L. Jackson.

    According to the story, "The Samuel L. Jackson voice pack is coming later this year and will be available for an introductory price of $0.99 for a limited time."

    If you pay the freight, you can have Jackson tell you the weather, answer questions, wake you up, even sing you 'Happy Birthday.'

    The use of vulgarities - Jackson is known for his almost operatic delivery of the word "motherf—-er" - will be optional, but included.

    USA Today reports that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) "is suing Match Group for allegedly using fake love interest ads to trick consumers into paying for a subscription to dating site The site lets people create profiles for free, but you need to pay for a subscription to respond to messages."

    According to the story, "Match sent emails to non-subscribers telling them they had received a response on the site. But the FTC said Wednesday that Match sent millions of emails about notices that came from accounts already flagged as likely fake." Those fake notices prompted "hundreds of thousands of people" to buy Match subscriptions.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    CNN reports that Walmart may reopen the El Paso, Texas, store where 22 people were killed in a mass shooting by a man described as a white nationalist domestic terrorist last August 3. That reopening could come as soon as early November, as Walmart does a complete renovation of the unit - including a memorial space that will honor the victims of the slaughter.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2019

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

    Fast Company has a story about a company that tried to do the right thing, only to find that customers didn't respond.

    Here's how it frames the story:

    "Two years after launching a new line of fruit snacks designed to help kids eat healthier, the snack company Kind is pulling them from store shelves because of poor sales. It turns out, Kind’s Fruit Bites may have been a little too healthy and normal looking - especially when many Americans gravitate toward extra sweet and artificially colored foods."

    The story goes on: "Kind’s iconic snack bars come in transparent packaging to show off the whole ingredients used inside. But Kind’s Fruit Bites packs weren’t see-through, and the actual product looked a lot different from its competitors: brown and quite organic looking. People seemed to really enjoy them in promotional taste tests, but it’s easy to imagine kids conditioned to expect brightly colored, sweet fruit snacks being disappointed by the replacement.

    "Kind’s recipe also didn’t necessarily have less sugar than other brands, the sugar just came from the fruit itself. That’s different than many gelatin-based fruit snacks, which the Center for Science in the Public Interest has warned against because they’re molded entirely out of unhealthy additives."

    While Kind may be pulling the poorly performing snacks from stores, they still will be available online. And, the company is "planning a stunt warning about food dyes, with a giant installation in New York’s Herald Square. It features eight oversized test tubes filled with a total of 2,000 gallons of food coloring, the cumulative amount of synthetic dye that children in America consume each day, according to a grocery store analysis from 2014."

    The amazing thing is how we may have conditioned our children only to be satisfied by stuff that's not good for them. I'm glad that Kind is continuing to fight the good fight, even if it has to change its tactics to compensate for the vagaries of capitalism.

    • In the UK, the Guardian reports that Tesco is at the very least pulling back on its commitment to the discount Jack's format, which it launched about a year ago as a response to the Aldi and Lidl discount chains.

    While the company had predicted the opening of 10-15 stores within six months, there only 10 opened within the first year, and job cuts in the format have led some to believe that it has been a disappointing venture.

    However, "unlike Tesco’s disastrous attempt to crack the US with Fresh & Easy – a misadventure that cost the firm nearly £2bn – Lewis has not bet the farm on Jack’s, with an initial budget of £20m to £25m. He also set up a graceful exit route by billing the project as part of Tesco’s centenary celebrations (it is named after Jack Cohen, the market trader who founded the UK’s biggest supermarket in 1919)."

    CNBC reports that a new Harris survey suggests that shoppers will spend about five percent more this year during the holiday shopping season than they did a year ago, but "around 53% of all holiday shopping is expected to be done digitally, so don’t expect big crowds at the mall." And, "around 20% of purchases are expected to happen on mobile devices, driven predominantly by millennial shoppers."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    The New York Times reports on the passing, at age 108, of Anthony Mancinelli, who had been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest working barber. Mancinelli, who had only retired a few weeks ago after being diagnosed with jaw cancer, started cutting hair when President Warren Harding was in the White House, and he had cut the hair of some four generations of men.

    The Times writes that "Mancinelli retained a trim build, a steady hand and a full head of snow-white hair. Even in his final years he spent long hours on his feet, in a pair of worn, cracked black leather shoes. His good health baffled his doctor, he said. He was on no daily medication and never wore glasses … Longevity did not run in his family, and he was never big on exercise. Diet-wise, he said, 'I eat thin spaghetti, so I don’t get fat'."

    He is survived by a son, four grandchildren and several great- and great-great-grandchildren. "His wife of 70 years, Carmella, died in 2004, and Mr. Mancinelli visited her grave every morning on his drive to work," the Times writes. Right up until his death, Mancinelli remained "fiercely independent … living alone, doing his own shopping and cooking and laundry and religiously watching pro-wrestling on TV.

    At 108, he insisted on continuing to trim the hedges in his yard. He was, after all, a barber.
    KC's View:
    Remarkable story about someone who clearly was remarkable in his own way. I just thought it was a story worth sharing.

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 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 27, 2019

    In Thursday Night Football, the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers 34-27.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 27, 2019

    I've been looking forward to "Stumptown," the new ABC TV series that debuted this week, and I wasn't disappointed by the tightly written and directed premiere.

    Now, I'm a sucker for TV cop shows. Always have been, since I was a kid. "Mannix." "Spenser: For Hire." "Magnum, PI" (the original). "The Rockford Files." "Columbo." "Longmire." "Castle." "Banacek." "Harry O." "Bosch." Even lesser efforts like "BL Stryker." Just love them. (And I'm sure there are a bunch I'm not remembering to mention.)

    Which is why "Stumptown" held so much appeal. Based on a series of graphic novels (with which I am unfamiliar) by Greg Rucka, the series features Cobie Smulders ("How I Met Your Mother," Avengers) as Dex Parios, a former military officer suffering from PTSD, raising her younger brother (who has Down Syndrome), dealing with financial difficulties, a gambling problem and assorted problems in her social life - all of it in Portland, Oregon, which as you all know is one of my favorite cities. She's a mess, and she's irresistible.

    This week's pilot episode showed her getting involved in a kidnapping, events that lead to her becoming a private investigator … all of which are infused with sardonic humor and plenty of action, just like so many of those TV cops shows of the past. Smulders is terrific - funny and vulnerable and tough all at the same time, wanting to do the right thing but constantly getting in her own way.

    "Stumptown" also gets Portland right, from the first moments of the show when two thugs are shown debating the relative merits of a particular blend of coffee. My biggest problem with the show is that it isn't actually shot in Portland; with the exception of some establishing shots and the usage of green screen technology, it is shot in Los Angeles. I hate that. I like it when shows - especially those that purport to take place in specific places, and have many exterior scenes - are shot in the cities where they take place. One of the best things about "Spenser" was that it was shot in Boston, in the same way that "Magnum" used Hawaii so well, and the first season of "Harry O" was better for taking place in San Diego.

    Now, my kids say I'm nuts. "Was 'Star Trek' shot in space?" they say. Fair point. But I'd still be happier if "Stumptown" were shot in Portland so it could take advantage of the local color. Other than that, it is the very model of a made-for-10 pm broadcast television series. I mean that as a compliment.

    Not so much, as it happens, for two other TV series I had the chance to watch. "Prodigal Son," which stars Michael Sheen as a serial killer and Tom Payne as his son-turned criminal profiler for the NYPD. Sheen is terrific, as is Lou Diamond Phillips in a supporting role, but the show veers wildly in terms of tone, and there is just too much stuff that isn't funny that they try to make cute, and for me, it just falls flat. And "Bluff City Law," with Jimmy Smits and Caitlin McGee and father-and-daughter attorneys, just doesn't have enough authentic energy and conflict to make it work - it is like a pale imitation of a show I didn't want to watch 20 years ago.

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

    Back Monday.

    KC's View: