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    Published on: September 13, 2022

    Patrick Schwerdtfeger is a futurist who focuses disruptive innovation in business, and how - and why - it usually comes from the edges, not the center of an organization.  He's also the author of "Pandemic, Inc.:  Trends Driving Business Growth and Success in the New Economy," and "Anarchy, Inc.: Profiting in a Decentralized World with Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain."  And, next week he will be the opening keynote speaker at FMI's Energy and Store Development Conference in Orlando, Florida.

    I caught up with Patrick the other day via Zoom, and you can watch our conversation here:


    If you'd rather download and listen to this conversation as an audio podcast, click below.


    For more information about the FMI Energy and Store Development Conference, click here.

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    Axios recently asked readers to relate random acts of kindness that they'd experienced, in an effort to focus on positive elements of the human condition, as opposed to the negatives that tend to dominate the headlines.

    And, it wrote:

    We were amazed by how many of these simple acts of kindness took place at grocery stores. Here are some:

    •  "When I got to the checkout, my 3-year-old ran away and my newborn started crying inconsolably. The lady behind me took over packing my shopping so I could find my son and calm my newborn. That act has always stuck with me because I had been feeling so overwhelmed and that helping hand made all the difference." —Katherine N., Oxford, U.K.

    •  "Gave me their shopping cart at Aldi instead of returning it for the quarter." —Nancy R., Michigan City, Indiana

    •  "I let a man go in front of me since he had fewer groceries than I had. He told the cashier to apply the change from his order —$21 — to my bill. I was thrilled." —Karen D., Rochester, New Hampshire

    It long has been suggested that when they're doing their job right, supermarkets serve as a kind of community center.  But what these kinds of responses reflect is something else - that when in the supermarket, people can feel a sense of community that results in tangible - and Eye-Opening - behavior.

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    Yesterday, Wegmans customers received the following email from Colleen Wegman, the company's president/CEO, announcing the end of the company's SCAN app, which allowed customers to scan their groceries as they shopped the store:

    Hello there,

    As a valued customer and user of our SCAN App, we're writing to let you know as 

    of Sunday, September 18, the SCAN App will no longer be available at Wegmans. 

    Early in the pandemic, we quickly rolled out our SCAN App to provide a contactless in-store shopping option. SCAN users have told us they love the app and the convenience it offers. We love it too and have tried many adjustments to keep it. Unfortunately, the losses we are experiencing from this program prevent us from continuing to make it available in its current state. We've learned a lot and we will continue to introduce new digital solutions to streamline your shopping experience for the future. 

    As a sign of our gratitude for being a frequent SCAN customer, we've applied a $20 coupon to your online account. We're so grateful you used SCAN, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

    We set our goal to be the very best at serving the needs of our customers and providing you caring, incredible service. We're working hard to keep our prices competitive and look forward to continuing to serve your needs. 

    KC's View:

    To be honest, I've never used the Wegmans SCAN app … but my youngest sister, Clare, has, and so I'm going to turn the commentary over to her for a moment.  She sent me a series of emails…

    WORST NEWS!!! Okay, there are worse things. But this is pretty bad. 

    And then:

    For me this has been a game changer. I can scan as I shop, and bag my own groceries. (Wegmans cashiers are the WORST baggers I have ever experienced. I do believe they bag the way they are trained, but they are terrible.)

    It is rare that I wait in line. I usually scan at the checkout, pay and leave. Waiting in line will add time to my shopping trips.

    Minimal human interaction. 🙂  In the wake of Covid, I value this.

    I will also tell you that I am doing more comparison shopping, with inflation. I have not done this in a while b/c I always felt the prices and quality at Wegmans beat everyone else. Not really feeling that way of late. I am surprising myself and shopping at Aldi's for produce, milk and some other items. 

    I guess Wegmans needs the Amazon technology. 

    And:

    I appreciate the $20 coupon, but would rather have the Scan app!

    And finally:

    One more thing - it would be great if they take away this if they could improve their self-scan area. Right now it is not conducive to checking out a weekly order - it is more for a few items.

    Here's my suggestion to Wegmans.

    First, you should've quantified and qualified the word "losses" to a greater degree.  It is a little vague.  If you had been more specific, customers using the SCAN app might have been more sympathetic.

    As for Clare's analysis … Wegmans has a choice,  They can act as if she is an outlier, just one dissatisfied customer.  (In a variety of areas, apparently.). Or, they can proceed as if she is representative of a much larger customer group, many or most of whom did not write emails.  Or hand an older brother who has a soapbox and is not afraid to use it.

    Wegmans usually is not tone-deaf.  But it is possible that in this case, it needs to listen a little harder.

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    Business Insider reports that Amazon and Walmart "are gunning to build big ad businesses — putting them in direct competition with other tech and ad companies for talent.  These retailers need people with deep experience working with advertisers, and are finding them by raiding tech as well as traditional media and advertising companies."

    According to the story, at both Walmart and Amazon "advertising headcount has grown roughly fourfold in the past two years."

    Another e-commerce company where the ad headcount has grown roughly as much, according to the story - Instacart.

    Business Insider writes that "Walmart started building an ads business, Walmart Connect, in earnest in 2019 and has turned it into a $2 billion-plus revenue stream … Amazon started ramping up its advertising arm in a big way in 2017, and the business, at $31 billion and growing, is the third biggest behind Google and Facebook … Also on a growth tear is Instacart, led by Facebook alum Fidji Simo, which has built an estimated $300 million ad business from scratch in two years."

    KC's View:

    I'm less worried about the fact that traditional media and advertising companies are being raided for their advertising personnel than I am fascinated by the idea that companies like Amazon, Walmart and Instacart are opening up significant new revenue streams that will allow them to be more competitive in other areas.  That's an important shift, and retailers need to pay attention as they go up against bigger retailers with even greater resources than ever.

    Published on: September 13, 2022

     Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) has released a new report, "August 2022 Price Check: Tracking Retail Food and Beverage Inflation," which looks at food inflation and its impact on consumer shopping behavior, concluding that "prices for food at home rose 1.6% from the end of July to the end of August, and 13.4% year-over-year through the week ending Aug. 28, 2022."

    Some key insights:

    •  "Food and beverage inflation continues to persist on a year-over-year basis, despite recent price moderation in other areas of the economy, such as gasoline. The carbonated beverage and fresh common fruit categories had the largest monthly price jump in August, each rising 5.3% compared to the end of July. Butter/margarine/spreads is the most inflated category, with prices up 30% compared to the same time last year."

    •  "While prices of certain food categories have begun to moderate in recent weeks, most remain elevated year-over-year. For example, prices in the coffee category rose less than 0.3% at the end of July 2022 compared to the end of June 2022, but remain over 18.6% higher in July 2022 versus July 2021."

    •  "In response to food inflation, shoppers’ overall sales volume and units are declining quickly. Overall, retail food and beverage unit sales declined 4.5% compared to a year ago, and volume sales declined 4.0%. The most significant drop-offs in volume are in categories where prices have risen dramatically, including frozen dinners/entrées, cookies and coffee. However, certain snack, candy and drink categories are more resilient, with more moderate sales volume declines despite significantly higher prices."

    •  "Trips to food and beverage stores are up 3.5% versus a year ago for the latest 12 weeks ending Aug. 21, 2022. Quick trips are up 6.7% during the same period compared to a year ago, while pantry stocking trips are down 0.6%, suggesting that consumers are looking for deals and 'cherry picking' stores where they can get the best value."

    •  "Low-income shoppers, who drove most of food and beverage growth in 2021, are pulling back on food purchases as inflation increases. Volume and units of several discretionary categories – including frozen seafood, candy, and snack bars/granola bars/clusters – have slowed down significantly more in low-income stores compared to the overall market, suggesting the trade-off low-income consumers are making to feed their families."

    •  In select categories, despite inflation, consumers are "driving volume share to premium brands in several categories, including snack nuts and seeds, canned and bottled fruit, frozen entrées, fresh eggs and butter."

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    The Hill reports that "the nation’s supply of food could take a hit if railroad workers go on strike, driving up prices at the grocery store and limiting U.S. grain exports to countries facing famine.  

    "As soon as next week, 115,000 freight rail workers could walk out if they cannot reach a new contract with railroads, potentially shutting down the national rail network that transports 20 percent of all grain shipments … A railroad shutdown in mid-September would quickly overwhelm grain storage facilities, leaving farmers with few options to store their crops and boosting the chance of spoilage. Many grain processors would shut down, raising the price of bread and other common items, while farmers would be saddled with huge crop quantities and lower commodity prices."

    The Hill writes that "even a short-lived interruption 'would create a devastating ripple effect' on the nation’s fragile supply chains, said Lee Sanders, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at the American Bakers Association.  'Rail-dependent facilities would be unable to receive materials and ingredients, and millions of Americans a day would be unable to receive the baked goods they rely on to feed themselves, their families, and communities,' she said."

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal has a long story about how Laxman Narasimhan, CEO of Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC, will start off his tenure as CEO of Starbucks next month by serving as "incoming CEO" until April 2023, essentially shadowing current "interim CEO" Howard Schultz until then as he learns the ropes.

    An excerpt from the story:

    "Mr. Narasimhan is inheriting the position with the road map largely set by Mr. Schultz and other Starbucks executives through a strategic plan under way, and Mr. Schultz will retain a significant role at the company as a shareholder, board member and culture keeper … Over the coming months, Messrs. Narasimhan and Schultz said, the two are expected to travel across Starbucks’s markets, visiting stores and roasting plants to learn about the company’s operations and culture. By next April, Mr. Narasimhan is slated to take the reins from Mr. Schultz, who will remain on Starbucks’s board of directors."

    This is Schultz's third go-round as CEO, as he how has returned twice to fix problems that he perceived as only being addressable by him.

    In other Starbucks news, FYI, Bloomberg reports that the coffee retailer "is introducing benefits related to financial savings and student-loan debt for its US baristas, but only in non-union stores.

    "The company says it isn’t allowed to give these new perks to staff at the roughly 300 stores where there’s been union activity."  However, "Workers United, the group attempting to organize Starbucks cafes, has argued that the union waived its right to negotiate over extending benefits being provided to other stores, so there’s no legal obstacle to doing so."

    Bloomberg  writes that "the new benefits begin Sept. 19 … The savings program lets staff contribute a part of their after-tax pay to a personal savings account, with the company contributing $25 and $50 credits at milestones up to $250 per person. Starbucks workers will also have access to a new student-loan benefit with coaching on debt about repayment options and refinancing."

    KC's View:

    To be honest, I am gobsmacked that Narasimhan essentially is going to spend six months before Starbucks and Schultz allow him to take control.  He's basically going into the business equivalent of the Tour de France, and they're not ready to take off the training wheels.

    Yikes.

    Narasimhan, best I can tell, has precious little retailing experience.  He may be really, really smart, and he may have lots of leadership/management experience in which he's excelled at innovation.  But retailing, properly done, is a unique alchemy of art and science.  It helps to be smart, but you also have to be able to emotionally connect to employees and customers.  If you can't do both, you're screwed.  

    (Question:  Despite his denials, could Schultz - who I think has an enormous messiah complex - already be engineering yet a third return to Starbucks's CEO job if Narasimhan doesn't work out?  Scoff if you will, but I was predicting his second return before anyone else was.)

    However, maybe Narasimhan's Reckitt experience can come in handy.  After all, among Reckitt's brands are Lysol and Air Wick, both of which might come in handy in some of the Starbucks bathrooms I've been in lately.  Perhaps he can get a deal.

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    •  From VentureBeat:

    "Among the fastest growing verticals in the smart home space is the smart appliance market. However, much of this growth hinges on adding voice control technology. Voice-controlled artificial intelligence assistants - where the consumer uses their voice to direct, control or engage with technology - are on trend to become the primary method for communicating with devices."

    The story goes on:

    "Consumers, who are used to having answers at the tip of their fingers, have easily (and eagerly) adjusted to using their voice. The addition of artificial intelligence (AI) has made the transition seamless. Like web and mobile, voice is now transforming from just another interface into a distinct consumer channel. It is estimated that by 2024 the number of voice assistants will reach a staggering 8.4 billion, overtaking the world’s population. Further, the Voice Consumer Index 2021 surveyed technology users and found that one-third use voice technology daily. It is clear that voice technology is increasingly becoming an essential part of our day-to-day lives. The addition of voice user interfaces (VUIs) to appliances, such as washing machines and refrigerators, will only further accelerate the trend within the home."

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    •  Albertsons Companies announced "investments in technology, vaccine inventory and patient services to increase immunization access and personalized care at more than 1,700 pharmacy locations. Pharmacy teams across Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw's, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen, Carrs and more, are now administering flu vaccines, as well as the FDA and CDC authorized Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna bivalent COVID-19 boosters."

    “Our pharmacy teams are partners in community health, and preparations for this year’s cold and flu season underscore an unwavering commitment to our customers’ well-being,” Omer Gajial, Chief Digital Officer and EVP of Health at Albertsons Cos., said in a prepared statement.  “We have administered nearly 14 million COVID-19 vaccines to patients across the country, and we are enhancing the experience this year with specialized scheduling tools and pharmacy care. We know vaccines are one of the best ways to keep families healthy this winter, and these enhancements are designed to make it easy for everyone to receive the right vaccinations in a single appointment.”



    •  H-E-B announced that it "has launched a Debit Account program that gives customers five percent cash back on the purchase of qualifying H-E-B brand products. The H-E-B Debit Card, which can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted, acts as a spending card with an optional, high-yield savings account, and provides users several benefits such as free cash withdrawals at H-E-B branded ATMs, no monthly fees to maintain an account, getting paid up to two days earlier with direct deposit and more.

    "To receive the cash back benefit, customers use the H-E-B Debit Card to purchase items in the H-E-B family of brands, which include thousands of products from H-E-B, Hill Country Fare, Meal Simple, Field & Future by H-E-B, Home by H-E-B, Kodi, Cocinaware, H-E-B Kitchen & Table, and GTC, among others. Once the transaction is complete, the cash back amount will be automatically issued to the customer’s H-E-B Debit account. The cash back program is only available for purchases of eligible items at H-E-B stores and heb.com for Curbside and Home Delivery orders."



    •  A new Gallup survey says that Americans' view of business and industry sectors has fallen to its lowest level "since the Great Recession."  And the grocery sector has fared the worst.

    According to the story, "The latest average positive reading of 36% marks a nine-percentage-point decline since 2020, including a three-point dip during the past year. These declines coincide with Americans' lower confidence in the nation's institutions and its economy amid struggles brought on by high inflation … The grocery industry is down 14 points to 40% positive."

    •The New York Times reports that "more than six months after one of the largest infant formula manufacturing plants in the United States issued a recall and was then shut down because of contamination concerns, a newborn staple remains in short supply.

    "In parts of the country, parents and their families are scrambling to find precious containers of formula for their babies, and many large retailers remain out of stock of popular brands. Some companies like Walmart and Target are limiting the number of containers that can be purchased at one time.

    "While the situation has improved since mid-July, the out-of-stock figure for powdered formula on store shelves in late August remained at 23 percent, still above the 10 percent it was before the recall and shutdown, according to the market research firm IRI."



    •  USA Today reports that Target has announced "a multi-year deal to carry exclusive toys from FAO Schwarz.

    "More than 120 toys from FAO Schwarz will be available to purchase exclusively from Target and its website starting in mid-October.

    "Products will range in price between $9.99 and $149.99, including 50 toys under $20, Target said in its statement. To celebrate the 160th anniversary of FAO Schwarz, Target will also offer several nostalgic toys under $25, including a Hot Wheels Collector Set and Funko Toy Soldier Pop … Toy departments in Target stores will have dedicated space for FAO Schwarz, including store displays for FAO toys, and toy demonstrations throughout the holiday season to provide shoppers hands-on time with FAO toys."

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    •  Ascend Grocery, which owns and operates more than 30 Save A Lot locations in Florida, announced that founding partner-owner-COO of the company, Dean Little, has been promoted to the company's presidency.

    Little is a former COO at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, former Senior Vice President-Operations at Price Chopper, and VP Retail Operations/VP Retail Marketing Execution at Vons/Safeway.

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    Yesterday's FaceTime - recorded at the annual City of Hope Harvest Celebration Ball, sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Food Industries Circle - took note of the importance of detecting cancer early, than at stage one or two, most cancers are curable.

    Which prompted one MNB reader to write:

    I have an incredible but enlightening story. I was in for my quarterly teeth cleaning session.  A bright new student being trained by my long time dentist noticed a spot, a white spot on my uvala.  She called it out to the dentist.  Who then said, go to an ENT doctor immediately. I just happened to know one who was excellent. 

    Long story short,  as best I can, I got early detection of cancer. In my throat. In a manner of days, month perhaps, I had surgery to remove it. And no chemo or radiation. 

    This is the call out early detection. I'm now over a year cancer free.

    Squamish Cell Carcinoma. Slow growing but just as dangerous.

    Share the story as best fits the repertoire.

    I am thrilled to share the story, and hope it is instructive to all MNB readers.



    Yesterday, we posted an email from MNB reader Monte Stowell, in which he commented that dollar stores are a great place to buy inexpensive greeting cards, in addition to all the other savings they offer.  (I'm paraphrasing.)

    My comment, in part:

    What the hell is a "greeting card?"

    Actually, I'm just kidding.

    But young people today have no idea what a greeting card is, or if they do, they'd probably relegate the concept to the same dusty warehouse where they store rotary dial telephones, buggy whips, and first class stamps - all things that seem irrelevant to their lives.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Oh KC, 

    While I understand  the feeling, “what is a greeting card”, you need to be more specific.

    Greeting cards are having a moment, but they are not Hallmark. Think Indie makers & small companies. Irreverent, sly, funny, arty and on trend are very much in style.  We sell a lot of greeting cards but not a single one from a big name brand.  But then again, we’re not a big box store.

    Fair enough.

    Published on: September 13, 2022

    In Monday Night Football, the Seattle Seahawks ruined Russell Wilson's debut with the Denver Broncos, beating the Broncos 17-16.