business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB reader Tom Murphy about both Walmart's and Kroger's plans to improve in-store fulfillment capabilities:

It should be interesting to follow the efforts of Kroger and Walmart to fill more online orders from their stores.  As you probably remember, both have tried and abandoned this several times in the past, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is alienation of customers who are shopping in their aisles.

It has also been a financial/transactional challenge considering the product on the store shelf already carries most of the cost associated with a sale BEFORE employee labor is expended on the picking process.  It might be possible to be very selective in the orders picked, for instance, small ones that require minimal labor and will have little in-store customer distractions or ones whose delivery location would equate to an abnormally high delivery cost…thus offsetting the incremental store labor.

If they can pull it off, I would consider it the innovation & execution event of the decade.  Let’s hope it works!!

I asked last week:

Am I wrong to think that it is entirely possible that micro-fulfillment capabilities developed for Kroger's stores could end up having greater long-term potential for the company than the giant Ocado robotics distribution centers?

Prompting MNB reader George Denman to write:

Both solutions help Kroger fulfill on-line pick-up and delivery options more efficiently. Ocado warehouses in PNW and Florida allow Kroger to expand their reach to consumers into new markets without brick ‘n mortar investments. The in-store fulfillment is targeted more for current consumers.

But another MNB reader wrote:

You're definitely not wrong KC, especially as these Ocado fulfillment centers take a couple of years to build. Kroger should be doing exactly what Walmart announced they would be doing. Leverage your stores, or miss the boat!

Regarding the news about Amazon workers attempting to unionize in Alabama, one MNB reader wrote:

I am constantly amazed by Amazon's genius in creativity, and by their sheer blindness in regards to their workers.  Like in retail, these are vital front-line employees, without which they wouldn't be enjoying such huge profits.  It disappoints me that someone as truly brilliant as Bezos can't see the damage that he is doing to his company by pretending that these workers are not worth more, particularly during this dangerous time of Covid.  I've never been a fan of "over-unionizing", but I'm starting to feel that the tide is slowly turning on the "gig" type of employment.  Amazon needs to think about which side of this debate they should be on. 

Responding to Michael Sansolo's column last week, one MNB reader wrote:

I agree whole heartedly that food retailers need to do a better job at educating the consumers as to “how to cook”.  This art has been lost on a lot of the younger generation and now with the current situation they are being thrust into unknown territory.

Many have made lame attempts at providing “meal solutions” without truly educating the public and realizing what the lasting benefits are to their loyalty base.  In my 30+ years of calling on this industry, there is one retailer that has hit and exceeded that mark, Publix.  Their Aprons program has been providing great meal programs and education to their customers for years.  So, I find it interesting that now, this is something retailers should look at.  I have been asked many times during my meetings as to what ideas are out there to help build sales and loyalty.  Each time I mention Publix.  Not one has ever listened.

Kudos to Publix for having the foresight as to the benefits of education. Just for the record, I don’t shop Publix, I don’t work for Publix, I just recognize sound business when I see it.  I also predict a spike in the sale of antacids this season.  Get your Pepto now before the rush!

A thought about the holidays from an MNB reader:

Operation Warp Speeds intent to use Fedex and UPS to distribute the vaccines to hospitals, doctors, CVS and Walgreens.    One would think they would claim preference over delivery of things like your holiday packages. 

I'll give up Prime delivery for a faster vaccine.  Just sayin'.

Regarding a food reference I made last Wednesday, MNB reader Shaun Frank wrote:

I’m curious as to the rub you use of the filet for Thanksgiving that you mentioned on your facetime.  I’ve had a desire to experiment with some rubs but honestly, have not had the courage to do so in fear of ruining a good steak!  You’ve inspired me to try and I’d like to try the one you referenced.  Would you be so kind as to share the brand and name of the rub?

I'll do better than that … I'll give you the link so you can buy it.

This is from Dorothy Lane Market, and we love it in our house.  One of the things I like to do is, as I let our steaks get to room temperature before grilling, is brush on some olive oil and then massage the sub into both sides of the steak … Mrs. Content Guy thinks I enjoy the process a little too much!

I'll offer one other food recommendation:  Runamok Maple is a terrific Family-owned, Vermont-based syrup company that makes an extraordinary product - I've been using the syrup that is aged in rye whiskey, bourbon, and rum barrels, and it is delicious.  Cool company, great product, and it is worth ordering … and selling from your stores.  (They also private label, which is a great option.)

And finally, responding to another food comment I made, one MNB reader wrote:

Woah woah woah.  Is this Mac & Cheese w Short Rib one dish?  As in mac & Cheese with short rib INSIDE THE MAC & CHEESE??  We need the recipe, like yesterday. 

Here you go.  (You're right.  It is wonderful.)