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    Published on: July 14, 2020

    This weekly series of Retail Tomorrow podcasts features Sterling Hawkins, co-CEO and co-founder of CART-The Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, and MNB "Content Guy" Kevin Coupe teaming up to speculate, prognosticate, and formulate visions of what tomorrow's retail landscape will look like post-coronavirus.

    This week's special guest is Craig Dubitsky, founder of Hello Products and now the Chief Innovation Strategist at Colgate Palmolive.  Craig talks to co-hosts Sterling Hawkins and Kevin Coupe about his life as an entrepreneur, how that - and his inclination to "question just about everything" - translates to his work for one of the world's biggest CPG companies, how he works to be accessible to customers, and how math sometimes can be measured in smiles.

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

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    Last week, the Organic Produce Summit went virtual with an online version of the keynote session that Albertsons' Jim Donald and I were originally scheduled to do live at its convention in Monterey.

    Jim and I did the "Real Talk" session via Zoom  … talking about retailing, leadership, and the role of organics in the modern supermarket mix.  I found it to be a fascinating conversation with one of retailing's most respected and accomplished CEOs … and you can access it here.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    KC talks about a new study done by an organization called Good Must Grow.  This group looks at how the disruption being felt through every level of society these days is creating greater awareness on the part of consumers about companies that are showing a social conscience.  And that's a good thing.

    To read the Fast Company article referenced in this commentary, click here.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    Amazon said yesterday that it has designed a shopping cart - dubbed the Dash Cart - with embedded "Just Walk Out" technology used in its Amazon Go checkout-free stores, allowing shoppers to avoid some of the friction of the traditional checkout line.

    CNBC writes that "shoppers must have an Amazon account and a smartphone in order to use a Dash Cart. After entering the store, users scan a QR code, located in the Amazon app, that signs them into the cart and loads Alexa shopping lists.

    "Each cart is equipped with cameras that use computer vision to identify items as they’re placed in bags inside the cart, and a built-in scale to weigh them if necessary. For items like fresh produce, shoppers type in the item’s four-digit code and quantity on the display, which registers the weight and price. The cart is also equipped with a coupon scanner that applies any rebates to the shopper’s order. The carts are designed for small- to mid-sized grocery trips, where shoppers might leave the store with one or two bags of items.

    "As shoppers add and remove items, a display on the front of the cart adjusts the total price.

    "When they’re ready to leave, shoppers exit via the store’s Dash Cart lane. The company charges the credit card linked to their Amazon account and emails a copy of the receipt."

    Amazon says that the car will first be rolled out at its new 35,000 square foot Woodland Hills, California, store - later this year.  That store was temporarily converted into a dark store a few months ago that could help Amazon meet the accelerated e-commerce demands created by the coronavirus pandemic.

    You can check out Amazon's video about the cart here.

    KC's View:

    Gotta give Amazon credit … first it had the Dash wand that allowed people to scan bar codes at home, then it had Dash buttons that allowed people to moire easily replenish frequently used items, and now it has the Dash cart.  (I'm sort of surprised that Amazon Go wasn't called Amazon Dash … but maybe it is saving that name for another format.)

    Everything that I've seen about the Dash Cart suggests to me that it is not quite as frictionless as the Amazon Go format, which is the gold standard when it comes to this concept.  There's a lot of weighing and keyboarding going on, and I have no idea the extent to which this will actually save time, or how much time and effort it will require for people to get familiar with the technology.

    On the other hand, the pure curiosity factor could be a lure, and if it works efficiently enough, customers - especially younger, tech-facile shoppers - may find it to be a game-changer.  This isn't one of those innovations that immediately strikes me as a quantum leap forward;  after all, there have been a lot of efforts to create smart and smarter shopping carts over the years.  But I'm looking forward to seeing what new factor Amazon brings to the table.

    One other note - I wonder if Amazon could license out this technology, as well as how quickly competitors will come up with their own versions.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    The Washington Post reports that "Walgreens plans to open hundreds of primary-care clinics in the coming years as the drugstore giant continues to expand into medical care.

    "The pharmacy chain said Wednesday it has reached a deal with VillageMD to staff and operate 500 to 700 clinics in 30 U.S. markets within five years. Though the company did not identify specific locations, it said most will be in underserved areas … The clinics will offer a host of services, from annual checkups to preventive care to the treatment of chronic diseases. Nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants and social workers will work out of some locations. At-home visits and telehealth options will also be made available."

    According to the story, "Walgreens will invest $1 billion in equity and debt in VillageMD over three years and at the end of that period will claim a 30 percent ownership stake."

    KC's View:

    Walgreens has largely been seen as lagging behind some of the other retailers looking to innovate and disrupt in this segment - companies like Walmart, Amazon and CVS all have been really aggressive about trying new models as a way of owning the health care experience.  Walgreens either had to step up, or face the fact that it was going to be at the rear of the line.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday announced what it is calling the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, which it says is designed to use technology to strengthen the nation's food safety infrastructure.

    In a statement yesterday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said, "The blueprint outlines a path forward that builds on the work the FDA has already done through implementation of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

    "As you know, FSMA has been a centerpiece of our work to help ensure food safety and prevent foodborne illnesses through the use of science and risk-based standards. The authority granted by FSMA enables a flexible framework that is adaptable to the changing food environment as science and technologies evolve.

    "The blueprint we release today represents the next stage in this process — a commitment we are making to the American people that we will work as fast and effectively as we can, as fast and effectively as we can, to help ensure that we have the safest food system in the world."

    Elements of the program, he said, include "tech-enabled traceability" … drawing on the "power of new data streams" … developing new ways of ensuring food safety that synch up with the new business models employed to deliver food at home, in stores and at restaurants … and "a focus on fostering the growth of and strengthening the food safety culture on farms and in food facilities all over the world."

    "Our ultimate goal is to bend the curve of foodborne illness in this country by reducing the number of illnesses," Hahn said.

    The FDA site outlining details about the blueprint can be found here.

    In a statement, Leslie Sarasin, president-CEO of FMI-The Food Industry Association, said that the blueprint "provides an innovative approach to food safety, one that recognizes and builds on the progress made in the past but looks toward the processes and tools that will be needed for the future … It’s critical that this new plan focuses on outcomes; leverages existing tools; increases communications with and among stakeholders; accounts for our variable resources and abilities; and provides uniformity that amplifies success."

    The FDA Blueprint originally was to be announced last March, but was back-burnered because of the pandemic.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    Sales and marketing agency Acosta is out with a report about "the continuing evolution of consumer behavior and outlook amid the COVID-19 pandemic," concluding that "low prices will be a priority for 45% of shoppers post-pandemic."

    Other conclusions from the report:

    •  "As the pandemic continues, shoppers are far more cautious than optimistic about the future, with 64% looking ahead with caution and only 24% looking ahead with optimism."

    •  "The recession is adding stress for many shoppers, with 37% worse off financially than they were pre-pandemic - including nine percent who are much worse off.  Millennials are the hardest hit generation, with 43% worse off."

    •  "Many shoppers have found time for more relaxation (53%) and more sleep (40%) during the pandemic."

    •  "Fitness and nutrition have posed more of a challenge, with 37% of shoppers exercising less and 33% eating less healthy than before."

    •  "Thirty-two percent of shoppers reported consuming more vitamins and supplements, while 21% are eating more natural, organic or vegetarian foods."

    •  "Shoppers reported product availability (53%), social distancing (48%), low prices (45%), customer safety (43%) and availability of promotions/deals (29%) will be their top priorities post-pandemic."

    KC's View:

    All of these numbers, it seems to me, are in flux … because we have no idea how long the pandemic will last (I'd bet the over, but I'm a cynic) and the degree to which we will slide/plummet into recession, and then how long that might last.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, there now have been 3,479,573 confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases, with 138,247 deaths and 1,549,624 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 13,259,548 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 576,028 fatalities and 7,727,203 reported recoveries.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    Because of a spike in infections, "California imposed on Monday new restrictions, including an immediate halt to indoor activities in restaurants, bars, museums, zoos and movie theaters, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said."

    At the same time. "Oregon banned most indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people, and Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said Monday that the state would require people to wear masks outside when they can’t properly social distance."

    And, "Florida, which saw daily new infections jump over the weekend, joined Arizona, Texas and Michigan in recently putting restrictions on bars."

    •  USA Today reports that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon is considering mandating the wearing of masks in all of its stores.

    Masks are required in about 3,600 of its more than 5,000 stores, McMillon said, because of some government mandate.  But, he said, "We don't currently, as we're doing this interview, mandate that in our other stores but that's obviously something that's on our minds."

    The story notes that "the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Walgreens, Home Depot and other major chains, is asking governors to mandate masks across the nation and says different local mandates have created confusion leading to conflicts between customers and store employees."

    I know it would be easier if the government would mandate mask-wearing at a federal level, or if every state governor would mandate it, but that apparently is not going to happen.  So let me repeat something I said here back in early April - stores have to do it on their own.  They have to be clear about it, explain to shoppers that it is to protect employees and other shoppers, and not be wishy-washy.  Will it annoy some people?  Sure.  Will it result in some unpleasant confrontations?  Almost certainly.

    But there's one right thing to do, and retailers should do it.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that New York State now will require people flying into any of the state's airports from states that are on its quarantine list now must "fill out detailed contact forms upon landing, with fines and a summons for noncompliance."

    The 19 states currently on the list - because of their infection rates - are Alabama, Arkansas,, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi , North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

    National Public Radio reports that "the leader of Republican lawmakers in the New York state Senate called the new requirements for air travelers put in place by the administration of the Democratic governor an 'overreach of power' that 'violates the civil liberties of New Yorkers and citizens across this country' … 'This is putting an unwelcome mat at New York's door,' New York State Sen. Rob Ortt said in a statement. 'Such severe action will keep people and their dollars away, at a time when our businesses need them most'."

    “None of this is pleasant, but we’ve gone through this before,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “We can’t be in a situation where we have people coming from other states in the country bringing the virus again. It is that simple."

    This may not be pleasant, but there is a certain irony, because it wasn't that long ago, when folks from the northeastern US - and especially New York - weren't really wanted in many of those places.  The thing is, so many people thought that this was a northeastern US problem that would never affect them.  They were wrong.  While this action may keep people and their dollars away from New York, it also hopefully will keep the virus out as well, and prevent the resurgence that is devastating California.  There are hard short-term decisions that hopefully will have a positive long-term result.

    •  The New York Times reports that even as DisneyWorld was opening Florida - which was seeing an enormous spike in coronavirus cases - Hong Kong Disneyland announced that it will shut down tomorrow because of an increase in infections.

    The re-closing comes "at a highly awkward time for Disney," the Times writes.  "Over the weekend, Disney executives in Florida cited the smooth reopening of Hong Kong Disneyland and other Disney parks in Asia as evidence that the company’s largest resort, Walt Disney World, could reopen safely, even as coronavirus cases in Florida surge to alarming levels. On Monday, Florida officials reported 12,624 new infections, one of the largest daily jumps in the state since the pandemic began.

    "Hong Kong Disneyland, 53 percent of which is owned by the local government (with Disney controlling the balance), initially closed because of the virus on Jan. 26. It reopened on June 18 with limited capacity and other safety measures, including temperature checks for visitors and employees. The 14-year-old complex includes three hotels with more than 1,700 total rooms. Attendance has been very light since it reopened."

    If I'm reading the numbers right, it looks like Hong Kong Disneyland closed because of 52 new cases of coronavirus.  In Florida, DisneyWorld opened despite more than 10,000 new daily infections.

    And you wonder why we're not being successful in fighting this pandemic?

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Shoppers no longer stare at aisles devoid of toilet paper. Pasta, in many shapes and sizes, is back in abundance. And eager home bakers can restart their mixers and ovens now that flour and yeast have finally reappeared … But while the bare shelves brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have largely been restocked across New York City and the country, times are still far from normal at supermarkets, which face less pronounced but potentially more enduring shifts.

    "Americans have become accustomed to enjoying an extraordinary variety of choices — sometimes a dozen or more brands of everything from ketchup to potato chips to, yes, toilet paper.

    "The pandemic changed all that … Companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have reduced the number of products they make, and during the pandemic some manufacturers have stopped producing some varieties of recognizable brands, like lightly salted Lay’s barbecue potato chips and reduced-fat Jif peanut butter."

    It has vexed Mrs. Content Guy that we've found it difficult to get Thomas's Whole Wheat English Muffins.  But I guess this explains it.

    I do think that this could be a positive for retailers that embrace the opportunity to examine which products actually are essential for their customers.  Ther answers will be different for every store, but I think a more curated selection would make a lot of sense in many cases.

    •  Axios reports that Los Angeles and San Diego public schools will start the school year with students learning from home.

    The story notes that "this could start a domino effect among officials who haven't made a final decision, especially with the coronavirus surging across much of the US … Los Angeles is the first big district to make this move, with plenty more at a crucial point in the decision-making process.

    "New York City will be allowed to open schools if positive test rates remain below 5%.

    "Chicago let high school athletes return to practice last week, but hasn't decided whether to have classes in person.

    "Miami-Dade is asking parents to vote on their preference of online, hybrid or in-person, but this only applies if the state goes to the next phase of re-opening.

    "Maryland's Montgomery County Public Schools released its draft plan this weekend to start September with online-only classes. In-person classes would then be phased in, and blocked off by different periods and grades … Las Vegas will have a hybrid system with the potential for alterations … Atlanta's school board is voting today on whether to start the first nine weeks online."

    •  Another one bites the dust.

    USA Today reports that RTW Retailwinds, owner of women's fashion chain New York & Co.,  has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and said in a news release that it has "launched a store closing and liquidation process." 

    "The combined effects of a challenging retail environment coupled with the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have caused significant financial distress on our business, and we expect it to continue to do so in the future," the company said in a press release.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    Interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning about how new homes, buildings and neighborhoods are integrating lockers and delivery rooms into their plans as a way of meeting the demands of e-commerce.

    "Long before the days of online shopping carts, homeowners got deliveries primarily in their mailbox," the Journal writes.  "Today, your junk mail arrives reliably and securely in the mailbox, while valuable (and perishable) packages are typically heaped on the doorstep. Our homes haven’t caught up with the Amazon Age."

    While apartment buildings for a number of years have been expanding their mail rooms to have enough space for all the e-commerce deliveries they get, it has been a bigger problem for single family homes.  There's always the option of having it delivered elsewhere - like the post office or FedEx Office - but that rarely is the most convenient option.

    Which creates an opportunity…

    "To eliminate the need to leave home to retrieve a package, a number of companies offer smart locks and boxes for use at home," the Journal writes.  "BoxLock, for example, sells a Wi-Fi connected lock that collects tracking information on coming deliveries and alerts homeowners when they arrive. Delivery drivers use the lock to scan a package’s bar code, which opens the lock on a secured storage box. The homeowner then receives an alert that a package has arrived."

    Another example:  "In Las Vegas, home builder Toll Brothers is integrating package lockers into home designs. It announced last year that it would be installing smart lockers at homes at Mesa Ridge at Summerlin. The company joined with Parcel Pending to provide the lockers, which can be customized to fit the home’s aesthetics."

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    The New Yorker has a piece by Jane Mayer about the working conditions at a poultry plant in Selby, Delaware, owned by the Mountaire Corporation.

    An excerpt:

    "The jobs at Mountaire rank as among the most dangerous and worst paid in America. Government statistics indicate that poultry and meat-processing companies report more severe injuries than other industries commonly assumed to be more hazardous, including coal mining and sawmilling. Between 2015 and 2018, on average, a slaughterhouse worker lost a body part, or went to the hospital for in-patient treatment, about every other day. Unlike meatpackers, two-thirds of whom belong to unions, only about a third of poultry workers are represented by organized labor—and those who are unionized face mounting pressure. The industry, which is dominated by large multinational corporations such as Mountaire, has grown increasingly concentrated, expanding its political influence while replacing unionized employees with contract hires, often immigrants or refugees. These vulnerable workers are technically hired by temp agencies, relieving poultry plants of accountability if documentation is lacking."

    While the pandemic actually has made things worse, this is just part of the wild story that Mayer tells, encompassing government, politics, money, religion, and families tied and untied.

    It is a long one, but if you've got the time and interest, you can read it here.

    KC's View:

    When I say "long," I mean it … this article is close to 9,000 words.

    That's par for the course at The New Yorker.  In another life, like 40 years ago, I did public relations for the the magazine, and we used to have to promote things like 5,000-word pieces about bread.

    This one is fascinating, and timely as hell.

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    •  Saying that its sales during the first half of 2020 were up 27 percent compared to a year earlier, Ocado CEO Tim Steiner told the BBC yesterday that "the world as we know it has changed … As a result of Covid-19, we have seen years of growth in the online grocery market condensed into a matter of months; and we won't be going back.

    "We are confident that accelerated growth in the online channel will continue, leading to a permanent redrawing of the landscape of the grocery industry worldwide."

    The BBC quotes Steiner as saying that "Ocado was now the fastest growing grocer in the UK, thanks to a 50/50 partnership with Marks and Spencer announced last year.  As part of the deal, which saw M&S take a half-share in Ocado's retail business, Ocado will start delivering M&S grocery products from September, when its current deal with Waitrose expires."

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    •  Walmart's annual "Open Call," in which the company invites entrepreneurs to pitch their Made-in-the-USA items to the company for possible inclusion on its store shelves, is going virtual this year and will be conducted entirely online because of the pandemic.

    According to the company, "The deadline to apply to participate in this year's Open Call for U.S.-manufactured products is Aug. 10 … The event, scheduled for October 1, kicks off Walmart’s celebration of U.S. Manufacturing Month and will include similar programming to previous years. In addition to one-on-one pitch meetings with Walmart buyers, participants will have an opportunity to hear directly from Walmart executives and learn from company leaders during smaller breakout sessions designed to inform, empower and encourage supplier-hopefuls."

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    •  CNBC reports that Chipotle Mexican Grill "will test cauliflower rice as more consumers cut grains out of their diet.

    "Consumers will be able substitute cauliflower rice in place of white or brown rice at 55 locations in Colorado and Wisconsin, starting Wednesday. The new option is made with grilled cauliflower and seasoned with cilantro, lime juice and salt and will cost an extra $2."

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    •  Raley's announced that Laura Croff, the company's vice president of people, has been promoted to the role of senior vice president of people, responsible "for all aspects of Raley’s human resources strategy, including talent management, leadership development, labor relations, compensation and benefits."

    Published on: July 14, 2020

    MNB reader John Rand had a thought about the future of salad bars:

    Ah, how soon we forget the solutions of the past. The conundrum of how to maintain a salad bar in the time of Covid is buried on the collective memory of everyone who ever dropped a quarter into a classic “Claw / Crane” game .  I am sure many remember them from their childhood or from a more recent electronic arcade version which drew from it.

    It’s so simple. You stock the salad bar in the giant box, and customers get to maneuver their crane over the various dishes, desperately trying to grab the right amount of leafy spinach, a few delicate cherry tomatoes, a few olives through the protective glass. The mess would be authentic and possibly even more startling than the old manual self-serve salad bars, but the spectator possibilities are endless. Audiences making remarks and collecting side-bets, competitive salad making tournaments, the mind reels…talk about customer engagement!

    The original timed out before anyone ever got a prize, but with a salad bar version you might be able to while away an entire lunch hour just trying to build a salad. Food, entertainment, and an exercise in dexterity all at the same time! What’s not to like?

    From MNB reader Gregory Gheen:

    I've noticed on recent store checks Whole Foods, which was the "king" of these types of "bars", still has them open but are manned by 1-2 people who shop for you. You are not allowed in the area per se but the WF employee will assist in putting together your lunch or dinner. Very smart approach

    And, on an other subject, from an MNB reader:

    I have a proposed new name for the NFL  Washington franchise: “The Swamp Dwellers."

    It could have a cool mascot and would stand the test of time.  As long as the current “swamp dwellers” don’t have a lobbyist organization it could happen.

    It’s about time Daniel Snyder is finally giving in. As you pointed out I think it is more economic pressure than it was about doing what was right.