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    Published on: November 10, 2021

    KC understands why vinyl records are coming back.  But cassette tapes?  This, in his opinion, is an example of why nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    WNBF NewsRadio reports that when a Tops supermarket in Oswego, New York, that has just been acquired by C&S Wholesale Grocers is reopened early next year, it will be rebranded as a Grand Union - reviving a storied retail name that fell into disrepute over the years and virtually vanished two decades ago.

    The Tops store is one of a dozen that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said had to be sold when Price Chopper/Market 32 and Tops completed their merger this week.  C&S is acquiring all of them - and reportedly will revive the Grand Union banner when rebranding all of them.

    Grand Union was originally founded in 1872 as the Jones Brothers Tea Company.

    KC's View:

    The decline of Grand Union strikes me as a classic case of how various ownerships and managements - driven, it seemed, by their own economic interests and very little focus on a) what consumers needed and b) how consumers were changing - managed to achieve what can only be described as peak FUBAR.

    We had one here in my Connecticut town when we moved here 37 years ago, and I remember it being one of the crappiest supermarkets I'd ever been into.

    This is an interesting opportunity for C&S, but I do think that it cannot rely on nostalgia as it reintroduces the banner - at least in part because I cannot imagine many people remember Grand Union fondly, and those that do are likely close to death.  Not exactly a desirable target market.

    This is a moment to be grand in terms of relentless customer focus, and to use these 12 stores as a laboratory for what 21st century retailing can be.  They cannot think defensively, but they do have to be aware of the possibility that Kroger could bring its pure-play e-grocery venture to these markets (it has said it is coming to the northeastern US, though has not been specific about precisely where), and the certainty that Amazon's and Walmart's e-commerce engines also are on the playing field.

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    The Phoenix Business Journal reports on how Sprouts Farmers Market CEO Jack Sinclair said that the company fell short during Q3 - sales were down four percent from a year earlier, while same-store sales were down 5.4 percent - because it did not deliver on a changed marketing strategy.

    Sinclair took over as CEO in mid-2019, and "right away wanted to revamp how the company marketed. He quickly dropped the weekly paper flyers that were mailed to customers because they were too costly and didn’t connect with target customers."

    According to the story, "Sinclair said one of the areas Sprouts fell short in its new marketing strategy was with its produce. In most markets, Sinclair said, Sprouts’ produce section is 30% to 35% cheaper than the competition, but customers don't know that, he said … Going forward, Sinclair said Sprouts marketing campaigns need to be aimed at highlighting its producing pricing, the innovative and new products consumers can get at Sprouts and how to get new customers that look like existing customers."

    “I fundamentally believe that we've got to tell the story of what the key differentiator of Sprouts is more effectively,” Sinclair said on an investors call.

    KC's View:

    It does suggest that Sprouts has problems when the company concedes that during the height of the pandemic its transaction rate dropped by 25 percent - that being a time when people were spending more time in supermarkets and buying up almost everything they could find on shelves.

    But, Sinclair seems to have a handle on the issue if he's acknowledging that the retailer has to tell its story more effectively.  That's a key part of any marketing strategy - not just having the right products, but being able to tell a compelling story about their relevance and resonance to your customer base.

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    CNN reports that DoorDash is getting into the national shipping business, facilitating the sending of products from restaurants around the country to customers anywhere in the US.

    "Here's how it works: DoorDash and Caviar users will see a "Nationwide Shipping" carousel in their apps. Once they click through, they can select what they want from participating restaurants. They can then place an order to be delivered as soon as possible — about 1-2 days after the restaurant sends it out. DoorDash estimates that it'll take about two to four days for shipments to arrive. They can also opt to have the item delivered sometime in the next three months, in time for a holiday or other special occasion.

    "DoorDash covers the delivery fee, so customers don't have to pay for delivery."

    The story goes on:  "The move comes at a time when the delivery space is getting more crowded, with upstarts trying to edge in as big players such as Uber Eats, DoorDash and Seamless expand their offerings. But these delivery services come with some controversy. Restaurants have complained the commission fees are too high. Some cities have capped those fees — prompting companies including DoorDash to sue. With nationwide shipping, DoorDash is following a similar model and taking a cut per order, so it's not clear how many restaurants will want to opt in."

    In addition, this story from TechCrunch:

    "On-demand delivery giant DoorDash announced Tuesday it was acquiring food delivery company Wolt in an all-stock deal valued at €7 billion, or $8.1 billion … Finland-based Wolt was founded in 2014 by Miki Kuusi, who, upon the deal closing, will run DoorDash International and report to Xu. The company has over 4,000 employees across 23 countries and its technology enables users to easily discover and receive food via its platform by selecting a restaurant, placing the order and hitting send.

    Tony Xu, co-founder and CEO of DoorDash said in a statement that the move “will accelerate our product development, bring greater focus to each of our markets and improve the value we provide to consumers, merchants, as well as Dashers and couriers around the world.”

    KC's View:

    It should be pointed out that the DoorDash move into nationwide shipping would seem to send it into Goldbelly territory … and, maybe not coincidentally, Goldbelly is making its own differentiated moves this week, as detailed in a story below.

    Wonder if there is a DoorDash-Goldbelly deal in the making?

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    Fast Company reports that Goldbelly, which has developed an online platform featuring products from almost a thousand restaurants and retailers, plans to launch a TV channel on which its purveyors can show shoppable videos.

    The goal, according to the story, is to become "the QVC of artisanal food."

    Here's how Fast Company frames the development:

    "When Goldbelly CEO Joe Ariel launched his artisanal food marketplace in 2013 - shipping gumbo right from New Orleans’s famed Commander’s Palace or noodles from New York’s Ivan Ramen to foodies throughout the United States - he approached the Food Network with an idea" - to showcase the restaurants and retailers on his site and empower viewers to order their products.

    "The talks went nowhere. (As film critic Pauline Kael once noted: 'Hollywood is one place where you can die of encouragement.') In the meantime, Goldbelly has become an increasingly powerful player in the food world. Its e-commerce platform, which sells products from restaurants, delis, bakeries, and more across all 50 states, quadrupled sales in 2020. Goldbelly became a particularly important partner for restaurants during the pandemic, allowing them to ship prepared meals and meal kits to customers when their dining rooms were closed. Hundreds of restaurants began selling through the platform last year, bringing the total number to close to 1,000 and Goldbelly has made dozens of them upwards of seven figures … Today, eight years after his initial conversations with food media, Ariel is finally bringing his vision to life with the debut of Goldbelly TV, a video platform for food e-commerce that capitalizes on the relationships with culinary talent that he has cultivated since 2013."

    This new channel, Fast Company writes, "is more than just Ariel’s version of the Food Network. Instead, it combines elements of e-learning platform Master Class with commerce channel QVC by blending video tutorials from prominent chefs with a shopping experience. You can watch sisters and Mimi Cheng’s founders Hannah and Marian Cheng make zucchini dumplings, and then order them online to enjoy at home."

    KC's View:

    Repeat after me.

    It is critical, going forward, for retailers to be more than a source of product.  They need to be a resource for consumers.

    It is in providing proprietary content - delivered both in-store and online - that retailers can differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

    Which is what Goldbelly seems to be doing both for itself and its clients/purveyors.

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    From Bloomberg:

    "President Joe Biden spoke with the chief executive officers of Walmart Inc., United Parcel Service Inc., FedEx Corp. and Target Corp. on Tuesday to discuss easing supply chain bottlenecks, according to a White House official.

    "Biden and the executives - Walmart’s Doug McMillon, UPS’s Carol B. Tome, Fred Smith of FedEx and Target’s Brian Cornell - talked about potential moves to speed up deliveries and lower prices, the official said, without elaborating.

    "The executives told the president that store shelves will be well stocked for the holiday season, the official said. Biden has been under pressure to clear supply-chain logjams and ease inflationary pressures as consumers begin their holiday shopping."

    The story notes that "the US supply chain has strained under record-breaking demand due to growing e-commerce and a shift to material goods as Americans avoided travel and social outings during the pandemic. 

    "Biden’s moves have included brokering agreements to shift to round-the-clock operations at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and pledges from retailers to expand their own shipping."

    KC's View:

    The problem is that while Walmart, Target, UPS and FedEX have the wherewithal to devote resources to getting products on the shelves, I'm not sure that this will translate to an up-and-down-the-supply-chain solution that will make things better for small retailers and suppliers.  They're likely to continue to have problems getting products, and for at least some of them, this will create all-new issues that will build on the problems suffered during the pandemic.

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    Amazon is out with a new holiday commercial that ventures into unusual ground for such an effort - the impact of anxiety on young people, especially as it has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

    The musical accompaniment is by Adele, featuring a new song from her forthcoming album, "30" (which Amazon will probably sell a ton of via streaming, CDs and vinyl).

    The lyrics from the song, "Hold On," include, "I swear to God i'm such a mess, the harder I try I regret / Every day feels like the road I'm on, might just open up and swallow me whole. Let time be patient / Let pain be gracious / Just hold on, just hold on / I will survive…"

    You can watch it here:

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    Mobile, Alabama-based Greer's Markets, which operates more than 30 stores  (29 supermarkets and four hardware stores) in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, said this week that it is partnering with Deuce Drone to offer autonomous drone delivery service.

    According to the announcement, "Deuce Drone will begin flights this month between Greer’s St. Louis Street Market (in Mobile) and the Innovation Portal for the purpose of finalizing their autonomous flight and package handling systems. Deuce Drone will operate drones in the less than 55-pound category that carry a payload of up to 10 pounds."

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    Apparently that old Howard Schultz magic sin't what it used to be.

    As Starbucks has been arguing against the efforts by employees at three of its Buffalo, New York-area locations to unionize, it has sent in corporate officials to make the case - and even sent in Howard Schultz, the company's former CEO, to say that the company was big enough to admit mistakes and that employees did not need a union to serve their interests.

    But now, the New York Times writes, "One day before ballots were scheduled to go out to workers at three Buffalo-area Starbucks in a vote on unionization, workers at three other stores in the area filed petitions with federal regulators on Tuesday requesting elections as well."

    The sniping between the two sides continues, as pro-labor advocates say that Starbucks has been trying to intimidate workers, and Starbucks "filed a motion to stay the mailing of ballots while it appeals a ruling by a regional official of the National Labor Relations Board setting up separate votes at the three locations where workers initially filed for elections. The company wants all of the roughly 20 Buffalo-area stores to vote in a single election, an approach that typically favors employers."

    KC's View:

    I'm not betting on Starbucks winning this one … and if it loses, it'll be a shock to the system.  I also wouldn't bet against such a result bringing Schultz back into some sort of active role in the company, since he'll likely see this development as a result of his departure.

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    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…

    •  The US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  47,536,536 total cases … 778,316 deaths … and 37,604,540 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  251,763,170 total cases … 5,083,682 fatalities … and 227,927,854 recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78.9 percent of the US population age 12 and older, and 67.5 percent of the total US population, has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 68.4 percent of the 12-and-older population and 58.5 percent of the total US population has been fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that almost one third of the US population age 65 and older - 31.6 percent - has received a vaccine booster shot.

    •  The New York Times reports that "Pfizer and BioNTech asked federal regulators Tuesday to authorize their coronavirus booster shot for those 18 and older, a move that would likely make every adult in America eligible for an extra injection.

    "The Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant the request, perhaps before Thanksgiving and well ahead of Christmas travel and gatherings. The prospect of all 181 million fully vaccinated adults in the nation having access to extra shots is a turnaround from two months ago, when an expert advisory committee to the F.DA. overwhelmingly recommended against Pfizer-BioNTech’s request to authorize boosters for all adult recipients of that vaccine."

    •  The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) said yesterday that it has "joined with a number of state and national trade associations in suing the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration over its COVID-19 vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard for employers with 100 or more employees. The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit."

    “Our industry is facing a labor shortage and supply chain disruptions,” said Lyle Beckwith, NACS senior vice president, government relations. “The OSHA rule will make all of this worse, and everyday Americans will take the brunt of the problems it creates.”

    Or, the OSHA rule will actually keep people from getting sick and dying, will help to bring about the end of Covid-19's pandemic phase.  Just sayin'…. If NACS thinks it is OSHA that is making things worse, then we're going to have to agree to disagree.  But the numbers, in terms of vaccine effectiveness, suggest that they're wrong.  See our next story…

    •  The Texas Tribune reports that a new study from the Texas Department of State Health Services says that "the COVID-19 vaccine dramatically prevents death and is the best tool to prevent transmission of the deadly virus.

    "Out of nearly 29,000 Texans who have died from COVID-related illnesses since mid-January, only 8% of them were fully vaccinated against the virus, according to a report detailing the Texas Department of State Health Services’ findings.

    "And more than half of those deaths among vaccinated people were among Texans older than 75, the age group that is most vulnerable to the virus, the study shows."

    The story goes on:  "State health officials also found the vaccine greatly reduced the risk of virus transmission, including the highly contagious delta variant that ravaged the state over the summer.  Only 3% of 1.5 million positive COVID-19 tests examined since mid-January occurred in people who were already vaccinated."

    “We’ve known for a while that vaccines were going to have a protective effect on a large segment of our population,” Dr. Jennifer A. Shuford, state epidemiologist, tells the Tribune.  “By looking at our own population and seeing what the impact of the vaccines have been on that population, we’re hoping just to be able to reach people here in Texas and show them the difference that being fully vaccinated can make in their lives and for their communities.”

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Amazon announced yesterday that it has "plans for three new operations facilities in Alabama and celebrates the launch of a new fulfillment center that will support customers across the state."

    Amazon announced plans for new distribution facilities all the time, but this one struck me as notable because these operations are in Alabama - the same state where it fought back a controversial unionization effort, and now is dealing with a court-ordered re-vote because it was credibly accused of being heavy-handed in its resistance.  Fascinating…

    •  Amazon and Weber Inc. said yesterday that they have "jointly filed a lawsuit against 12 defendants for selling products that illegally bear the WEBER registered trademark in Amazon’s store. The defendants attempted to offer counterfeit versions of the global grill maker’s grill covers, violating Amazon’s policies, infringing on Weber’s registered trademarks, and breaking the law.

    "The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington and alleges that the defendants conspired to deceive customers about the authenticity and origin of their products and create a false affiliation with Weber. Amazon closed the defendants’ selling accounts and proactively refunded the impacted customers."

    •  From the New York Times:

    In a major ruling that bolsters the European Union’s efforts to clamp down on the world’s largest technology companies, Google lost an appeal on Wednesday to overturn a landmark antitrust ruling by European regulators against the internet giant.

    "The decision by the Luxembourg-based General Court related to a 2017 decision by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, to fine Google 2.4 billion euros (about $2.8 billion) for giving preferential treatment to its own price-comparison shopping service over rival services.

    "The penalty was the first of three issued by Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s top antitrust enforcer, against Google. And with the other cases also being appealed — and additional European investigations underway against Amazon, Apple and Facebook — the case has been closely watched as a signal of the court’s view of the European Commission’s aggressive use of antitrust law against the American tech giants.

    "Google can appeal the decision to the European Union’s highest court, the European Court of Justice."

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    •  Shake Shack, the upscale hamburger chain created by restaurateur Danny Meyer that, like so many restaurants, had. tough time during the pandemic, is reported to be planning a major comeback strategy.   Eat This, Not That writes that it has 50 different new locations planned around the country, with tab least half of them slated to be built in the suburbs - with the development of a new drive-through format that will be new to the chain.

    The Shake Shack format was launched in 2001 with a single location in New York City's Madison Square Park, offering as walk-up stand with only outdoor seating.   Demand was so strong - there was a "Shake Shack cam" so people could see how long the lines were - that the company began opening new locations around the country;  in 2015, Shake Shack went public, and now has a market capitalization of more than $1.5 billion.

    Published on: November 10, 2021

    I love it when I get emails like this one, from MNB reader Steve Ritchey, who wanted to comment on four different stories that we've run lately:

    In reading your comments about 15 minute grocery deliveries in New York, I have a bit of criticism for your comments.  I think you may have taken the comments about that being, "Our market" a bit too seriously, and maybe they didn't use the right terms.  I  understand  your feelings on the matter, but at the same time, I think what they meant was that this is "our neighborhood" and they had outsiders not from the neighborhood taking their business away from them.  Besides, I have to wonder if 15 minute delivery will really work that well.

    I do have some issues with Wal Marts use of autonomous vehicles.  Maybe I'm just an old guy, but I have to wonder what will happen if we start to see accidents caused by these driverless vehicles.  I'm not predicting that they will happen, but, how will people react to it if they do.  OR, what happens when some nerd hacks into them for fun, or profit, or maybe just pure meanness and sends goods to an entirely different location where they are sold on the black market.  If there are people smart enough to write the code for them to work, there are people smart enough to hack into them, think an ex employee who he has been or thinks they have been mistreated.

    On the ongoing vaccination debate, my company has not decided to mandate a covid vaccination for it's employees, yet, but, we do have to declare our vaccination status, and provide proof of vaccinations if we claim to be vaccinated.  Plus, if you are not vaccinated there will be a surcharge on your health insurance premiums, just as there is for smoker and those who vape.  While I tend to not side with large insurance companies, I can certainly understand this.  As a matter of fact, if you have not been vaccinated, and if you either smoke or vape, it will add $250.00 per month to your health insurance premiums.  I don't know if our insurers have added this surcharge, or if the company has done this to give us an incentive to be vaccinated and or to not smoke or vape.

    Finally, on the subject of manual transmission vehicles.  I really don't care if I drive an automatic or a manual transmission, as I have one of each.  One is a 1991 F150 that mostly is parked in front of the house, the other is my daily driver, the truck is the one with the stick.  My brother and I were taking one day about our surprise at the people who never learned to drive a manual, and they are people you would think could, valet car parkers, auto mechanics and a few others.  We decided that being able to drive one isn't really a special skill, and wasn't difficult to learn.  But, we both just like the idea that whatever someone may toss us the keys to, we can drive it. as both of us have driven pretty much everything that has a stick shift from VW Bugs, to full sized trucks, wreckers with two speed differentials up to tractor trailer rigs.  But then, we are old enough to come from a time when that was mostly what was available to drive, and both learned to drive on a 1965 ford Sedan with a three on a tree.