retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    Steve Campbell, CEO-founder of strategy and culture firm Provoke, told KC about  a tactic being taken by a Portland, Maine, restaurant that is designed to sustain patron connections at a time when the pandemic has hurt so many eateries.  KC thinks it is kind of brilliant.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Excellent piece in Food & Wine about how "there are countless restaurants, across New York and the country, that continue to meet diners halfway, reinvesting in more curated grocery experiences, whether it’s a $4 pound bag of housemade breadcrumbs “of exceptional texture and flavor” from Bread & Salt in Jersey City, or specialty items at Ludo Lefebvre’s Le Petit Trois Goods, which has seen its customers cravings shift from yeast back in April to more rarefied goods like Bordier butter and Big Mec kits since its December reopening."

    Whether it is through the sale of meal kits or ingredients, these restaurants are doing something we've been talking about for some time here on MNB - while supermarkets have been talking about the grocerant trend, I've believed that we also are going to see restaurmarkets, as traditional and new restaurants create a new model less focused on indoor dining, but also offering a more robust take-out menu and a more curated grocery selection that is keyed to their ethos and value proposition.

    You can read it here.

    The point is that traditional food retailers, despite having had some of the best quarters of their lives during the pandemic, need to continue to innovate and improve and iterate … because there will be new competition that will be doing all those things, having learned some Eye-Opening and painful lessons during the pandemic.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    KC recently had the opportunity to sit down via Zoom with Peter S. Cohan - who teaches strategy and entrepreneurship to undergraduate and MBA students at Babson College, writes columns for Forbes and Inc., and is the author of a new book, "Goliath Strikes Back: How Traditional Retailers Are Winning Back Customers From E-commerce Startups."

    What struck KC as so interesting about the book's premise is Cohan's belief that successful and resilient companies are a reflection of the CEOs that lead them - the CEOs of the most successful companies have very different mindsets than the less successful companies.  In this extended conversation about the qualities of leadership, Cohan and KC look at the difference-makers and explore how those qualities can be adopted by others.

    Peter S. Cohan's new book, "Goliath Strikes Back: How Traditional Retailers Are Winning Back Customers From E-commerce Startups," is available from Amazon, iconic independent Powell's, and other bookshops nationwide.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    Reuters reports that Walmart is launching a new - and free - returns service, called Carrier Pickup by FedEx, "through which customers can schedule a return for a product bought online, in-store or from a third-party vendor."

    The service is available on both Walmart's app and website.  Customers can choose to either take the return to a FedEx location or have it picked up at their homes.

    According to the story, "Walmart said the 'incredibly convenient' option is free and will remain in place beyond the busy holiday shopping season."

    There is some context for this initiative, as CNN reports:

    "The new shipping options comes as Walmart's US online sales soared 79% in the most recent quarter, signaling that it's in the midst of another strong holiday season especially as people shift their habits online during the pandemic.

    Walmart is attempting to heed off challenges from its largest rival, Amazon. Customers who buy items on Amazon can drop off packages without a box or label at some Whole Foods markets, Kohl's and UPS stores and lockers. Some items are also eligible to be picked up at home through UPS with a fee.

    "FedEx also recently partnered with Happy Returns, an e-commerce return technology company, to return products in person without a box or label from various retailers."

    KC's View:

    The bar keeps being raised for the services that retailers have to offer … and, quite frankly, the continuing battle between Walmart and Amazon has the potential for creating an environment that will be very tough for a lot of businesses to survive.

    Which is why so many retailers, unable to compete at this level, need to firmly define and develop their own value propositions and differential advantages.  If you can't play the other guy's game, you have to create your own.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    Nielsen Connect is out with a new study saying that "U.S. omnichannel consumption increased by 50% over the course of 2020 and that nearly half of all consumer goods purchases were completed via the e-commerce landscape."

    Indeed, "The number of shoppers who consider themselves to heavily or exclusively shop online for everyday items grew by 133% between September 2019 and September 2020."

    Nikhil Sharma, Nielsen’s Vice President of North America Consumer Analytics, said in a prepared statement that "within the U.S., new behaviors have emerged that retailers and manufacturers must acknowledge, accommodate and swiftly act on--especially as online shopping habits begin to solidify. While we do expect a return of some kind to pre-pandemic habits, consumers will not be returning to a pre-pandemic retail environment. Undeniably, consumers have more choices than ever in their path to purchase, meaning, as consumer needs and preferences continue to evolve, it is crucial to have an omnichannel strategy in place to sustain and grow momentum in 2021."

    Published on: December 22, 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, we've now had 18,473,716 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 326,772 deaths and 10,802,496 reported recoveries.

    Globally, here are the numbers:  77,808,174 confirmed coronavirus cases … 1,711,294 fatalities … and 54,696,037 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  ShopRite announced yesterday that "it has joined a partnership with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure Americans have access to the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available.

    "The Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care (LTC) Program for COVID-19 Vaccination will provide COVID-19 vaccine coverage to pharmacies across the United States, including select ShopRite pharmacies. Under the federal program, HHS and CDC will work with select ShopRite Pharmacy locations to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines in the communities that ShopRite stores serve."


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the nation’s drugstores and groceries are racing to hire thousands of pharmacists and technicians to administer Covid-19 vaccines to the masses.

    "Pharmacies big and small were laying off pharmacists as recently as summer, as the profession’s outlook grew dim. Now some of those same pharmacies and supermarkets are making public pleas, reaching out to retired workers and offering signing bonuses. Several retail pharmacy chains, including CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., have agreed to work with the U.S. government to serve as Covid-19 vaccination sites."


    •  CNN reports that "the White House is considering requiring travelers from the United Kingdom to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before arriving in the United States … The discussions come amid the discovery of a new variant of coronavirus discovered in the UK and as a slew of countries have suspended travel. US public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said they do not believe the situation currently warrants suspending travel from the UK."

    The story notes that "three airlines have already agreed to enforce a similar arrangement with New York for flights arriving in that state."


    •  From CNN:

    "Pfizer and Moderna are testing their coronavirus vaccines to see if they work against the new mutated version of the virus that's recently been found in the United Kingdom and other countries, according to company statements.

    "'Based on the data to date, we expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK; we will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation,' according to the Moderna statement.

    "Pfizer said it is now 'generating data' on how well blood samples from people immunized with its vaccine 'may be able to neutralize the new strain from the UK.'

    "The novel coronavirus has mutated before, and both companies say they've found that their vaccines worked against other variations of the virus."


    •  The Seattle Times reports that in Washington State, "Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday announced new travel restrictions for people arriving from the United Kingdom, South Africa and other nations where a new variant of the novel coronavirus has been reported.

    "Early estimates indicate that the new mutation of the virus, while not more deadly or vaccine resistant, spreads faster and more easily than prior strains. There is not yet evidence of this new strain of the virus in the United States, but Inslee said it was crucial to act early, 'before the horse is out of the barn.'

    "Inslee’s new proclamation requires anyone arriving in Washington from those countries within the last 14 days to quarantine for 14 days — and the restriction applies to those who have recently arrived. It also urges those people to get tested for the virus.  The quarantine is mandatory and legally enforceable, but the state is not likely to take many enforcement measures, Inslee said."


    •  From the Washington Post:

    "BioNTech said Tuesday that its coronavirus vaccine will likely be effective against the new variant identified in Britain, but that a new version could be developed within six weeks if necessary.

    "Whether regulators would be willing to quickly approve a slightly-modified version of the vaccine that has been cleared for distribution in the United States, Britain and European Union is another story, CEO Ugur Sahin told reporters at a news conference. But from a technical perspective, tweaking the vaccine co-developed with Pfizer would simply be a matter of replacing one mutation with another while the 'messenger' molecule remains the same."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The pandemic is reshaping the way Americans care for their elderly, prompting family decisions to avoid nursing homes and keep loved ones in their own homes for rehabilitation and other care.

    "Americans have long relied on institutions to care for the frailest seniors. The U.S. has the largest number of nursing-home residents in the world. But families and some doctors have been reluctant to send patients to such facilities, fearing infection and isolation in places ravaged by Covid-19, which has caused more than 115,000 deaths linked to U.S. long-term-care institutions.

    "The drop-off has persisted since spring, including at times when the virus’s spread was subdued. In the summer, when many hospitals were performing near-normal levels of the kinds of procedures that often result in nursing-home stays, referrals to nursing homes remained down.

    "Occupancy in U.S. nursing homes is down by 15%, or more than 195,000 residents, since the end of 2019, driven both by deaths and by the fall in admissions."

    I've got a couple of years before I have to worry about getting moved to a nursing home, but I have to say that there never has anything about the experience that seemed the slightest bit desirable - and the pandemic has just made it even less so.  Which I did not think possible.

    Me, when I think about the ideal way to get old, I think of this lyric…

    "Now he lives in the islands...Fishes the pylons...And drinks his green label each day...He's writing his memoirs...And losing his hearing...But he don't care what most people say…"


    •  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Cliff House there, a landmark restaurant that has been operating for more than 150 years, has fallen victim to the pandemic (though a lease squabble with the National Park Service, which owns the land on which it is situated, didn't help).

    Cliff House will close at the end of the year, with the current operators planning to auction off memorabilia. It had closed for indoor dining in March, and was unable to make a take-out business work.

    The Chronicle says that the restaurant's location, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, makes upkeep of the facility expensive, and that the costs to maintain it while closed are high.  The costs of rehabilitating it after a long period of closure may be prohibitive, the owners say.

    I don't remember the food being all that great, but I vividly remember than in 1973, when I went to California for the first time, my Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Tom (who lived in Livermore) took me there because of its spectacular views.  Then, maybe 25 years later when I took Mrs. Content Guy and our three kids to California on a vacation, that's where Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Tom took us all, for the same reason.  

    I mention this because it is important to understand that as all these institutions close, it is not just businesses that vanish.  It also is the ability to revisit memories and traditions, which strikes me as almost incalculably sad.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    The New York Times has 11 food trends that it predicts - tenuously - will we all will see in 2021, though it concedes that while this is "a dubious exercise in any year," the fact is that "the dark art of culinary prognostication have never faced a landscape harder to read than 2021."

    The question is whether a rebound will be swift or slow … and, one supposes, how much of the food innovation infrastructure will be left when the pandemic finally begins to recede.

    Some of the predictions are, well, predictable, like meal kits from chefs and beverages that aid sleep and relaxation (important in a time of stress).

    But there's one that is attention-getting:  that the flavor of the year will be Basque Burnt Cheesecake.

    The Times writes:  "This crustless cheesecake, baked in a very hot oven so the top caramelizes but the inside remains soft and jiggly, came out of San Sebastián, Spain, in the 1990s. Some elite American chefs started making versions, and two years ago it slipped into more mainstream food culture. Chefs in New York and San Francisco have dedicated themselves to perfecting the cheesecake; it is now a soft-serve flavor in Singapore and may become the birthday-cake or cookie butter flavor of 2021."

    You can read the entire Times piece here.

    KC's View:
      I've clearly been out of the loop, because I've never even heard of Basque Burnt Cheesecake.  But count me in … it sounds fabulous.  (Anyone know where I can order one online?)

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    •  E-grocery pure play Farmstead has announced its entry into the Nashville, Tennessee, market, saying that it "will bring its online grocery service to the area in late Q1 2021. The waitlist for service opens today and is limited to the first 1,000 people … Farmstead will open multiple dark stores, which greatly ease entry into new geographies, reduce food waste by 3-4x and help eliminate food deserts by making fast, inexpensive delivery available to a wider area. Most of all, they meet customers’ desire for perfect orders with no stockouts, delivered free, with no markups."

    The announcement notes that "Farmstead got its start in the hyper-competitive San Francisco Bay Area, and is now live in North Carolina as well. It has separated itself from the pack of other delivery services by leveraging proprietary AI technology and a dark store model - delivery-centric warehouses that serve a 50-mile radius. Because of this unique approach, Farmstead offers prices comparable to or lower than most supermarkets, but with free delivery to doorstep. The company is growing quickly, with plans to expand nationwide to a primarily mid-market audience."


    •  Amazon has announced what it is calling an NFL Holiday Blitz, a week of football-centric programming that will include the Minnesota Vikings-New Orleans Saints game on Christmas Day and a "Prime Video exclusive broadcast of San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals airing globally on Dec. 26 at 4:30p.m. ET."

    Both games, and the ancillary programming, are free to Amazon Prime members.

    According to the announcement, "The Christmas Day game will also air through NFL, FOX and FOX Deportes digital properties and the Vikings, Saints and Yahoo Sports mobile properties.

    "The 49ers-Cardinals game is the first NFL game to air on an exclusive national basis on Prime Video and Twitch, and will be available to more than 150 million paid Prime members worldwide, and in more than 240 countries and territories excluding China, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Spain. The game will also be televised in both teams’ home markets on NBC affiliate KNTV in San Francisco and FOX affiliate KSAZ in Arizona, and it will be available to stream nationally on mobile through the NFL, 49ers, Cardinals, and Yahoo Sports mobile properties."

    I've believed for awhile now that it is just a matter of time before Amazon ends up bidding for exclusive rights to some sport or playoff games.  There was a time when people believed that major sports or games would remain on traditional broadcast networks instead of moving to cable networks, but that wall fell a long time ago.  No reason to think that streamers like Amazon will see rights fees as a good investment in building support and audiences - an in Amazon's case, it is just another step in, as Jeff Bezos puts it, making it almost irresponsible not to be a Prime member.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    •  From CNBC:

    "Apple is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology."

    The story notes that "the iPhone maker’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have proceeded unevenly since 2014 when it first started to design its own vehicle from scratch. At one point, Apple drew back the effort to focus on software and reassessed its goals. Doug Field, an Apple veteran who had worked at Tesla, returned to oversee the project in 2018 and laid off 190 people from the team in 2019.

    "Since then, Apple has progressed enough that it now aims to build a vehicle for consumers, two people familiar with the effort said, asking not to be named because Apple’s plans are not public … Central to Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could 'radically' reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design."

    Car and Driver once speculated about what an Apple car would look like … it looks pretty cool, but I just want to suggest now that they should make a ragtop version…

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    Yesterday my FaceTime commentary suggested that retailers with so-called loyalty programs may have missed an opportunity during the roughest days of the pandemic - they could've used their data and reached out to best customers to offer access to products that often were in short supply.  To me, this would've been the very definition of proving loyalty to shoppers, as opposed to simply using their programs as electronic coupon systems.  (I asked people to correct me if I am wrong, and that there were retailers out there who did this.)

    MNB reader Howard Schneider wrote:

    I’ve been involved in loyalty and customer engagement programs since the 1980s. For years, I have been urging clients that the way to build customer loyalty is to demonstrate loyalty to your customers … You are right when you note that many programs, especially in retail, do not use the data they have built at such cost and effort to reach out to customers customize the way they deal with them, try to anticipate and solve customer problems.

    Many companies, typically in service verticals rather than retail, do use customer data wisely, in ways that benefit both customer and marketer. But too often that is a best practice honored in the breach. Sadly, I cannot answer your challenge with examples from the supermarket industry.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Brilliant analysis!! For never having actually worked in retail (right?), you always nail how retail can do many things better. I was in retail for 35+ years (Kroger and Walmart) and am inspired by your vision.

    From another reader:

    No, I was never contacted by a retailer that would demonstrate any type loyalty back to me as a consumer. What I did experience was the opportunity to bag my own groceries after spending $300/$400 dollars!!!

    MNB reader Sarah Rivers wrote:

    That was such a great point about retailers being loyal to their customers.  Should work both ways, right?!

    And from another:

    Can't agree with you more Kevin.  Many (but not all) retailers are using their "loyalty" programs backwards and always have been.  It has always been about the consumer proving how loyal they are and getting rewarded for that, when it could be so much more valuable to the retailer to prove their loyalty to the consumer.  The pandemic has proven that out with the missed opportunities.

    And still another:

    I agree that none of the big box retailers with whom I have an account did anything different in 2020 to reward me as a loyal customer (or maybe none have categorized me as a best customer).  I did have one small company Ellessco LLC - from whom I purchased some masks and filters early in March - send a few emails with a special link to purchase more masks or supplies before they went live on the general website.  I appreciated the opportunity to purchase more especially since they limited the quantities I could buy initially.


    We took note yesterday of a New York Times story about how the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  said it was proposing the revocation of its definition and standard of identity for French dressing — effectively erasing the government-sanctioned list of ingredients at the request of an industry group, the Association for Dressings & Sauces."

    Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Just two things:  I am amazed that there is an Association for Dressings and Sauces with enough dues to pay a lobbyist.  I will no longer be buying French Dressing when it can be made at home.

    I'm a little amazed that the FDA doesn't have more important stuff to do, but that's another story.  (I cannot remember the last time I had French dressing, if at all.)

    I can't speak to the dues, but I can tell you that many years ago I had great fun giving a speech to a meeting held by the Association of Dressings and Sauces.  My memory is that it was in Vancouver, British Columbia, in a beautiful hotel overlooking the waterfront.

    They also did one of the more interesting events I've ever seen at such a meeting - they brought in a chef who did a mass lesson in how to make a great omelette, with individual cooking stations set up all around a ballroom for the people in attendance.  It was theatrical, entertaining and educational - pretty much a win-win-win.


    Finally … in apologizing yesterday for an email snafu that prevented most MNB Wake Up Call emails from going out on Friday, I wrote:

    We've done a little investigating, and it seems that after hacking the nation's nuclear laboratories as well as the Pentagon, Treasury and Commerce Department systems, Russia wanted to go after other vital online assets.  Naturally, MNB was high on their priority list … reportedly because Putin is a big investor in Instacart, and got tired of all the negative coverage.  

    MNB reader Alison Kenney Paul responded:

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud Kevin …..another ‘2020 happening’ in a long list of ‘happenings’ this year – but glad we can still have chuckle of some!

    And from another reader:

    Best way to start a Monday…Putin, Instacart and hacking all in one….classic KC.

    Thanks.  It always makes me happiest when an MNB reader tells me I made her or him laugh.

    Which reminds me … there's an excellent piece in The New Yorker by the legendary Calvin Trillin, entitled "Some Notes on Funniness: Lessons in humor, from grade school to Johnny Carson."

    You can read it here, and I heartily recommend it.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    In Monday Night Football, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.

    Published on: December 22, 2020

    Tomorrow will be the last MNB of the year - and in celebration of the end of this dumpster fire of a year, the plan is to not have any pandemic news to speak of, for the first time since March.

    Rather, this final MNB will feature an extended  conversation between KC and Michael Sansolo about retailing lessons learned in during this most extraordinary year - the highlights and missed opportunities, the changes that are ephemeral and the ones that will be long-lasting, and where the focus needs to be going forward.

    And, there will be some whimsy.

    See you tomorrow.