Today, a preview of an MNB/In Conversation segment, scheduled for tomorrow, featuring former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who will be keynoting the National Grocers Association (NGA) show in Las Vegas on February 27. Christie and KC will discuss a broad range of issues; today's advance clip focuses on lessons that can be learned from political branding techniques.
There is a story making the rounds about how an Instacart shopper for a retailer, put out by what she viewed as "ridiculous" instructions from a customer, decided to go on TikTok to ridicule the customer….and that rant went viral, gaining well over 100,000 views.
Now, let's be clear….the customer's instructions were VERY specific:
• "Please send me a photo of your insulated cooling bags in your shopping cart IMMEDIATELY before shopping otherwise I will call Instacart promptly and cancel this order to reschedule with a different shopper."
• "If you don't have the insulated cooling bags or enough of them to keep my food items temperature-controlled, or you do have the insulated cooling bags, but only plan on using them during delivery then DON'T PICK UP MY ORDER. Some shoppers leave their cooling bags in their cars and only use them during delivery. That's not acceptable. I want my foods kept safe in insulated cooling bags during shopping and delivery."
• "Also if you're doing batch orders then DON'T PICK UP MY ORDER. I've had too many groceries to spoil because it takes longer to do batch shopping."
• "After you send the insulated cooling bags photo, please respond to my messages promptly while shopping and follow my shopping/bagging/delivery instructions per item, especially if I have chicken, meats, and milk in my order … Please make sure after checkout that my items are bagged properly per my instructions since the grocery bagger won't know what they are. Too many times other items have been bagged in with the raw meat/chicken, plus I've had bagging issues with other foods."
The reaction from the Instacart shopper, as well as people responding to the rant, can be described (generously) as dismissive of the customer, suggesting that she needed to do her own shopping and stop making unreasonable requests of Instacart employees.
She wasn't the only one dismissive of the customer. I saw one online reference to the situation as the Instacart employee "getting even" with the shopper, and even suggesting that this could be good publicity for Instacart, and that the company might've put the shopper up to posting the rank on TikTok.
First of all, if someone at Instacart encouraged the shopper to post the TikTok video, that someone ought to be fired. Immediately. And at the very least, the Instacart shopper ought to be suspended, and maybe fired as well.
Let me explain my reasoning.
Were the customer's requests over the line? Sure. One might even say they were outrageous. However, let's not forget that this is the customer. Retailers are not supposed to be in the business of mocking their customers in public, and certainly not on social media.
When was the last time you read about a retailer "getting even" with a customer and thought to yourself, "Gee, that's a good thing."
By the way, one interesting thing about the stories I read was that the retailer involved never was named. Now, if I'm the retailer, I think to myself, "How great is it that our name never came up." And then I think to myself, "Wait a minute. This shopper, unreasonable as he/she may be, is supposed to be my shopper … and now the business with which I have contracted to provide certain services is out there mocking him/her? And how did I get so disintermediated from the store-shopper relationship that I seemed to be irrelevant to the experience?"
Even if the customer was unreasonable, it may be that he/she had a previous bad experience, which led to those demands. (The text of his/her messages suggests that this is precisely the case.) By going onto social media to mock the customer, at no point was any effort apparently made to address whatever those concerns happened to be.
If I am that customer, I'm pissed off. At Instacart. At the shopper. And almost certainly at the retailer with which I thought I was doing business.
If I am that customer, it seems entirely possible that I am going to tell people about it. I may even go on social media to complain about my treatment. And I'm likely never going to do business with that retailer again, nor will I want to do business with any retailer that offers Instacart.
Which may be fine with the retailer and Instacart, but everybody loses, because what could have been a teachable moment when it comes to food safety ends up just being a rant-filled cluster…well, you know.
There are ways to get rid of troublesome customers. This is not one of them.
Somehow, this weird intersection of e-commerce and technology and social media has created the worst kind of situation for a retailer, in which the business actually is so distanced from the shopper relationship that the only thing it stands to get is blame. And when people within the industry applaud what happened, it only creates greater momentum for a business construct that can become toxic, if it is not already.
And here's the irony. The same industry expert who thought that the Instacart shopper was acting appropriately just minutes later talked about how stores need to return to the days when they were neighborhood hubs, and when stores' butchers and bakers knew shoppers by name and buying habits.
Attacking customers on TikTok strikes me as a strange way to go about it.
Back in the early 1800s, the French philosopher Auguste Comte (now regarded as the father of sociology) commented that "demography is destiny."
Even now it’s hard to argue with that.
After all, demographics give us very hard clues about the future simply because there are certain unchangeable parts of our population, which translate into all kinds of behaviors going forward. Consider for example, the sudden and shocking decline in births during the covid pandemic. The hard reality is that decline will decades from now translate into a sharp decline in the number of shoppers and employees in the US and around the globe.
There’s simply no changing that fact because we cannot suddenly produce more people born in 2020 or 2021.
The importance of demographics is the reason why all of us need take a second and very deep look at a New York Times article Kevin referenced last week about the wine industry’s problems. The wine industry’s sales decline actually may portend troubling news across the consumer economy and that might necessitate a vast rethinking of much of how retail operates today.
Numerous points in the article need unpacking, consideration and discussion.
Start with the aging of my (and Kevin’s) generation, the Baby Boomers, now largely in their 60s and even 70s. As the wine industry is finding, aging and retirement are turning the massive consumption-based generation into more careful spenders, which means more economizing for the foreseeable future. After decades of wild spending, the generation that grew up singing “You can’t always get what you want,” may finally be living that way.
The second large problem is the developing habits of the millennial generation, now in their late 20s and 30s, and how they are or are not spending. For countless reasons, this generation is vastly different than their boomer parents. Not only are millennials saddled with an enormous amount of debt thanks to student loans, but in their short years they have already experienced 9-11, the 2008 Great Recession and now a pandemic.
It isn’t hard to imagine how their challenging start will impact consumer behavior for decades to come. For example, my parents, both children of the Great Depression and then World War 2, have, like many in their generation, lived a far more frugal and careful life than their boomer children. Their early experience taught them caution was wise.
The wine industry faces unique problems thanks to the growth of micro-brewed beer and other alternatives, such as hard seltzers, for competition. But retail faces its own unique challenges thanks to the growth of niche markets, increased population diversity and the explosive growth of extreme value merchants.
If demographics truly are destiny, than all companies need to consider long-term plans for building sustainable growth as the population shifts to what seems to be a more frugal mindset, supported by technologically enabled choices in more directions than anyone could have ever imagined.
It brings me back to something I have written here before. All the success that got you where you are today is simply no guarantee to get you anywhere tomorrow. In fact, it could guarantee your demise.
Sounds like we all could use a drink!
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.
And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.
The Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey for January is out, finding that "the US online grocery market generated $8.5 billion in sales and accounted for nearly 12% of total grocery spending," though these numbers were down eight percent from January 2021.
The report also finds that there were "mixed results across the three receiving methods (Pickup, Delivery, and Ship-to-Home). Only Pickup made sales gains, growing almost 2% to $4.0 billion. Delivery contracted 7% to $3.0 billion and Ship-to-Home sales plummeted 30% to $1.5 billion, driving nearly two-thirds of the total YOY sales decline."
The survey goes on:
"The number of U.S. households that bought groceries online during the month remained relatively steady at 69.0 million, dipping just 1% versus last year. Even so, the way in which households receive online grocery orders continues to evolve. For instance, the number of MAUs (monthly active users) receiving an online grocery order via Pickup grew 6% while Delivery decreased by 2%, and Ship-to-Home fell by 8% year-over-year at the national level.
"January finished with an average of 2.7 orders per month placed by MAUs, 5% fewer than January 2021 but still 33% higher than pre-COVID levels (August 2019). The year-over-year drop was entirely due to a pull-back in Ship-to-Home’s order frequency, which contracted by 36% while Pickup and Delivery expanded by 26% and 10% respectively."
The Washington Post has a story about how an ad campaign in New York City by Eat Just, a company that develops and sells plant-based foods, claims that “plant-based lovers do it better.”
Does what better? The Post explains:
"Erectile dysfunction tends to go with age. But it can also commonly occur in men with high blood pressure, a history of heart disease or diabetes. These health problems have in turn been linked to higher red meat consumption. But there is by no means universal consensus on this.
"And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has declared the campaign as having 'no basis in fact'."
But none of that really matters, as Just Eat looks to make inroads among meat eaters by being as provocative as it can be.
The Post writes:
"During the coronavirus pandemic, alternative protein products soared in sales and popularity, prompting nearly every giant food company to hustle its own versions to market. More than 70 companies are working on the 'next generation of' meat and seafood products made with cultivated cells, and dozens more are aiming to sell alternative meat and dairy products made through fermentation. Indeed, the influx of so many new choices combined with supply chain problems weighed on all plant-based protein sales, which fell in late 2021.
"In the midst of all this, traditional animal agriculture has pushed back against alt-meat, claiming common nomenclature — words like 'meat' or 'milk' — confuses consumers, prompting a flurry of legislative activity and lawsuits around labeling."
The story notes that the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is annoyed:
“This marketing campaign has no basis in fact, to the point that it’s comical,” said Danielle Beck, the association’s senior executive director of government affairs. “We respect consumers’ ability to do their own research and make choices about what they put on their plate, and it’s sad when others choose deception over fact. America’s beef producers will continue to be transparent as we share the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that supports beef’s continued role in a balanced diet.”
I think the real meat folks need to either ignore these jibes or get into the game with their own ads. If the alt-meat industry wants to play hardball, then the meat industry can't just play nice or complain.
Have some fun … take some shots … I used to love these ads:
Although, maybe they need to update their approach just a bit…
I couldn't remember having seen a recent commercial in this campaign, but found this online:
Maybe they just need to be a little cheekier in their approach…maybe score it with a Barry White song?
Bloomberg has a story about how "private investors, retailers and health insurers are pumping billions of dollars into primary care ventures in a reversal that’s turned one of American medicine’s least lucrative practice areas into a hot spot.
"U.S. companies focused on primary care raised about $16 billion from investors in 2021, according to unpublished research by Harvard scholars. That’s more than four times the amount invested in 2020 and up from just $15 million reported in 2010, they said. The researchers tallied private investment, strategic acquisitions and public market debuts of primary care companies in a recent New England Journal of Medicine article.
"Hospitals have long sought to fold in physician practices to drive referrals for specialty care. Now, they face more competition from health insurers, drugstore chains, investment firms and tech-focused upstarts.
"Those buyers say consolidation can make the notoriously fragmented U.S. health care system work better for patients at lower costs. They aim to control the gateway to more expensive specialists and influence decisions that affect patients’ later treatment."
This is reflective of the moves we're all seeing by a number of retailers - Amazon, Walmart, CVS,. Walgreen among them - to make a primary healthcare play. But I also think it may presage some mergers and acquisitions, as the players see that some level of consolidation will have the advantage of both improving competitive advantages and pooling resources in a way that makes it more likely to succeed.
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: 79,520,665 total cases … 946,180 deaths … and 50,208,417 reported recoveries.
The global numbers: 414,605,069 total cases … 5,847,763 fatalities … and 336,679,487 reported recoveries. (Source.)
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.9 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 64.4 percent is fully vaccinated … and 42.9 percent has received a vaccine booster shot.
• From VentureBeat, a story about a a new Gartner study saying that "by 2026, 25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social, or entertainment."
The story also says that "by 2026, Gartner expects 30% of the organizations in the world to have products and services ready for metaverse, so all organizations should begin developing digital business strategies that leverage the built-in infrastructure and participants of the metaverse. At the same time, the adoption of metaverse technologies is nascent and fragmented, and Gartner cautions organizations about investing heavily in a specific metaverse."
There's also some welcome context from VentureBeat:
"Gartner defines a metaverse as “a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. A metaverse is persistent, providing enhanced immersive experiences.” Gartner expects that a complete metaverse will be device-independent and will not be owned by a single vendor: it will have its own virtual economy enabled by digital currencies and nonfungible tokens (NFTs).
"The metaverse will allow people to replicate or enhance their physical activities, and as an extension impact businesses that consumers interact with every day as well as how work gets done. Enterprises will provide better engagement, collaboration, and connection to their employees through immersive workspaces in virtual offices."
• From the Wall Street Journal:
"DoorDash Inc. will raise its fees on McDonald’s Corp. restaurants that are slow to prepare orders, documents show, in an effort by the delivery company to improve efficiency and cut losses.
"The delivery service, which earns money by charging restaurants a commission on every order and separately charging consumers a service fee, agreed to lower its base commission rate for McDonald’s U.S. restaurants … DoorDash will charge higher commissions to McDonald’s restaurants starting next year for orders that keep a delivery driver waiting, the documents show.
"DoorDash also negotiated for each McDonald’s store to cover the cost of refunds caused by restaurant mistakes, one of the documents shows, such as when the kitchen packs the wrong burger or forgets the French fries—after guest complaints reach a certain threshold. Some McDonald’s franchisees have raised concerns about the penalties tied to performance as they struggle with staffing shortages that can slow things down."
With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…
• The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "American farmers are paying significantly higher prices for their weed-killing chemicals, crop seeds, fertilizer, equipment repairs and seasonal labor, eroding some of 2021’s windfall from rising crop prices. Higher farm costs could help push up grocery bills further in 2022, analysts say, following a year in which global food prices rose to decade highs."
The story goes on: "Supply-chain constraints and staffing problems are leading to higher prices for products and supplies across a variety of industries, especially food. U.S. inflation hit its fastest pace in nearly four decades last year. Food prices surged 7% in January, the sharpest rise since 1981, the Labor Department on Thursday said, as meat and egg prices continued to climb at double-digit rates.
"A rally in prices for agricultural commodities such as corn and soybeans, which kicked off in mid-2020, pushed up incomes for U.S. farmers and led them to spend more freely on farmland and machinery. In 2021, U.S. farms’ net income was estimated to be about $117 billion, up 23% from 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Even as crop prices remain high, supply costs are expected to outpace the price of agricultural goods in 2022, according to a January report from the Federal Reserve Board. Net income for farmers in Kansas is estimated to fall 65% from a year ago, according to a January study from Kansas State University."
• From the Washington Post this morning:
"As Americans assembled their ingredients for Super Bowl guacamole over the weekend, troubling news emerged from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Avocado imports from Michoacán, Mexico, had been suspended.
"The import suspension comes as avocado prices hit record highs, 100 percent more expensive than they were a year ago, according to David Magaña, a senior analyst for RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness.
"'In a few days, the current inventory will be sold out and there will be a lack of product in almost any supermarket,' said Raul Lopez, Mexico manager of Agtools, which conducts market research of agricultural commodities. 'The consumer will have very few products available, and prices will rise drastically.'
"The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working with Customs and Border Protection to allow avocados that were inspected and certified for export on or before Feb. 11 to continue to be imported. After that, there will be no more avocados until further notice."
• Eater Seattle reports that workers at the Starbucks Roastery in Seattle - a format that when it opened in 2014, a first for the company, designed to pilot an entire fleet that would focus on a high-end coffee and food experience - have filed for a union election.
The story notes that "it is the 81st store in the country, and the fifth in the Seattle area, that has plans to unionize, joining a wave of Starbucks workers across the country seeking higher wages and better benefits." However, successful unionization of this particular unit "would be a symbolically important win for Starbucks Workers United."
Somewhere in Seattle, an appalled but energized Howard Schultz may be practicing his "I have returned" speech.
• The Boston Globe has a story about a local business that has developed what is described as "the Keurig of ice cream," raising "$27 million in funding and planning "to launch commercial sales of its make-them-at-home frozen treat machine."
Here's how the Globe describes the gizmo:
"ColdSnap’s single-serve aluminum pods are each roughly the size of a Red Bull can, and deliver a variety of frozen treats, including dairy and non-dairy ice cream, frozen smoothies, frozen cocktails, and more. The recyclable pods are shelf-stable for nine to 12 months.
"Once the pod is inserted into the top of the ColdSnap machine, a camera inside reads the pod’s QR code to determine exactly how it should be frozen. Then, using what (company founder-president Matthew) Fonte calls 'a compressor-condenser-evaporator technology,' the machine pulls heat from the pod to flash-freeze the ingredients inside. All of this occurs inside the pod so there’s no cleanup necessary, he added.
"After 60 to 120 seconds, the machine dispenses the smooth frozen concoction. Fonte said he has over 30 issued patents related to ColdSnap’s proprietary freezing process, and another 65 to 70 pending … The ColdSnap system also aims to disrupt the ice cream industry’s standard cold chain. Manufacturing and shipping ice cream typically requires keeping it frozen at all times, an expensive and environmentally taxing process. But a machine that freezes pods on-demand changes the equation."
Responding to my critique yesterday of Super Bowl ads, MNB reader Marty Baum wrote:
As the saying goes, long time listener (i.e. devoted and daily reader for quite a long time), first time caller (i.e. providing any feedback or editorial even though you always ask).
Regarding your take on the Super Bowl ads, I thought the Planters spot should definitely be considered in terms of top honors. As a Marketing professional for over 25 years, the commercial totally hit the mark in multiple ways - funny, very relevant to the product as well as topical. The last is extremely impressive to pull off during this divided time we live in. Based on my experience, that is a rare trifecta when developing new creative. To me it should be included as an MBA case study and shared with an ad agency at the outset of creative development.
Of note, and in contrast to so many other spots both during the Big Game and in general, the celebrity spokespersons were secondary to the communication; it really could have worked without them. (In other words, some of those funds could have been redirected to running more ads instead).
Good point. I agree. Here it is:
(BTW…it always makes me happy when readers use sports radio lingo like "first time, long time." When I started MNB, I had this fantasy that it would sort of read like sports radio sounds…)
Different reactions to yesterday's story about how a report from the Economic Roundtable says that "about 75 percent of Kroger workers said they were food insecure, meaning they lacked consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. About 14 percent said they were homeless or had been homeless in the previous year, and 63 percent said they did not earn enough money to pay for basic expenses every month."
I used the report - which, to be clear, Kroger disputes - as fodder for a larger discussion about labor issues and wages, writing, in part:
I have no problem with Kroger's assertion about the jobs it provides in the communities it serves, and the degree to which it has raised wages over time, especially during the past two years. This is in addition to all the other increased costs that Kroger (and its brethren) have incurred as they endeavor to compete in a cutthroat environment.
And, I have no problem believing that in many of those markets, even the increased wages may not be enough for people to survive, and it is almost certainly is worse in some markets than in others.
There is a line from the New York Times that struck me: "Working at a grocery store no longer provides the stable income and middle-class lifestyle that it did 30 years ago." The line grabbed me because when we've had stories about supermarket wages in the past, inevitably we'll get email from MNB readers suggesting that the problem is that too many people have an unreasonable expectation that they should be able to support themselves working 40+ hours a week in a retail environment.
That argument always has kind of bothered me, because it seems to inherently diminish the level of work in which these folks are engaged - they work hard, they represent (directly or indirectly) the brand to consumers, and they perform the kind of front line efforts that allow the company to thrive. And yet somehow, to some people, this isn't honorable, full-time labor; the job is seen as a kind of way-station in most places to be assigned to people who either don't need to support families by doing it or ought to be aspiring to do better, or at least something else.
I'm not sure that's the message we ought to be sending to the people on the front lines. I'm not sure it is the culture of caring that employees have every right to expect from their employers, and to which employers - at least those that want to be employers of choice - ought to aspire.
One MNB reader wrote:
My view is that we need to look at what has caused wages in the grocery industry to fall to lower levels.
I believe it is very simple
Non union competition has forced wages to drop.
Why is it that the unions can’t organise Wal-Mart?
Instead they continue to beat up the union stores for more and more while the sales go to non union lower priced operators. The unions have failed the auto industry, the steel industry, the airline’s, the meat industry, mining ,trucking and construction industries. show me a successful union and I’ll show you a pending industry disaster.
When the union umbrella of wages is raised too high the non union comes in and lowers the wages.
The cycle will never end until unions put more priority on organising non union companies than raising wages on union companies.
Kansas City was the highest paid meat cutters in the US 30 years ago They were union. Today there is not one union meat cutter in Kansas City. Union failed to protect them from low paid non union operators.
The beat goes on with Wal-Mart and Amazon.
From another reader:
At least in the Los Angeles DMA, Ralphs (the local Kroger-owned banner) has been paying for radio ads to talk up the importance of their front-line workers. The local contract expires in March; negotiations are expected to be contentious, just as they were in the Colorado market; and again, UFCW seems to have set their sight on Ralphs as their main adversary. I have to commend whomever handles the PR for the UFCW because they have had tremendous success over the last 1-2 years in placing negative stories about Ralphs, at least in our market area. Every grocer has had employees die during Covid, yet they were singled out more than any other in press coverage.
Finally, after reporting the Super Bowl score yesterday, I commented:
Normally, this would be where I would point out when pitchers and catchers would report, and baseball's spring training (and life) would begin again. But alas, the owners' lockout of the players continues, negotiations have so far seemed relatively futile, and there are concerns that, if an agreement is not reached soon, Opening Day could be delayed and the season shortened.