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    Published on: September 29, 2022

    I got a chance the other day to visit the new Amazon Go suburban format store in Whittier, California … and naturally, I have some thoughts … a video … and some pictures, below.

    The store is perhaps one-third larger than the average urban Go stores that Amazon has opened, and the space is allocated to what appears to be a larger frozen food section … space given over to large sizes (like two-liter soda bottles, which never would've been found in the urban units), and expanded space given over to self-serve espresso, coffee, yogurt and a Coke Freestyle machine.  Notably, there is a service sandwich counter … and maybe even more notably, the cuban sandwich wasn't bad.

    My conclusion:  Amazon Go is still a work in progress, and the suburban version doesn't really know what it wants to be.  Yet.

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    Axios reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ready to roll out new regulations governing how food marketers can use the word "healthy," proposing a new, 105-page rule that ""would align the definition of the 'healthy' claim with current nutrition science."

    In a statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said, "“Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food.  FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities and save lives.” 

    Axios goes on to say that the new rule would require that foods labeled as healthy have to contain "a certain meaningful amount of food 'from at least one of the food groups or subgroups,' such as fruits, vegetables and dairy," and "contain limited amounts of saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. For example, a 'healthy' item cannot have more than 10% of the daily recommended amount of sodium per serving."

    The story notes that "the move appears targeted at certain items, like sugary cereal, that claim to be good for you."

    Roberta Wagner, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs for Consumer Brands Association, said that the organization supports "efforts to enhance consumer choice and transparency … The definition is a first step that should be tested over time to ensure its intent of informing healthy choices is being met."

    KC's View:

    Seems to me that insuring that aligning the definition of the 'healthy' claim with current nutrition science makes a lot of sense, and is laudable.

    I hope that bested interests within the food industry don't look for loopholes and spend a lot of lobbying money in an effort to water down the proposed regulations to the point where they no longer are meaningful.  Not saying that there won't be pieces in the 105 pages that will be out of touch with reality … but there is a difference between making sure that rules are effective and realistic and trying to find ways to circumvent them and mislead the public in the search for profit.

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    The Chicago Business Journal reports that Walmart has opened a new, "next generation," one million-square-foot fulfillment center in Joliet, Illinois, that will "fill and ship orders placed on" as well as "handle Marketplace items shipped by Walmart Fulfillment Services, the company’s end-to-end fulfillment service for third-party e-commerce sellers."

    The retailer says that the facility features "a new patent-pending process that will reduce a manual 12-step process to five steps with the use of robotics and machine learning."

    Three additional fulfillment centers using this technology are scheduled to be opened across the country, Walmart said, which, when completed, "could provide 75% of the U.S. population with next- or two-day shipping."

    KC's View:

    The game is being played across a number of boards - the store, online, and in logistics … with the companies able to master all of them - sort of like playing three-dimensional chess - the ones that will have the ultimate advantage.

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    Toronto-based Longo's announced that its Liberty Village store now is hosting a Kitchen Hub ghost kitchen - the first to open inside a grocery store in the city, and the beginning of what the two companies call "a longer term partnership."

    According to the announcement, Kitchen Hub "has four new kitchens at Longo's Liberty Village. There is a full menu of items from Toronto's beloved Thai restaurant PAI, Montreal's buzz-worthy Mandy's Gourmet Salads, rapidly-growing fried chicken and burger spot Cabano's Comfort Food and authentic Mexican fare from Elia Herrera of Colibri with Tecolote. Customers can mix and match items from all four restaurants as well as add grab-and-go offerings from The Cheesecake Factory Bakery, and Elle Dee Bakery.

    "Longo's ready-to-eat items like housemade pizza, bento sushi boxes, salads, roasted chickens and all-day breakfast will also be available. All items can be ordered through Kitchen Hub's on-site kiosks as well as from or third-party delivery apps for contactless ordering, pick-up, dine-in or delivery."

    "We understand the changing demands and behaviors of our Guests and take pride in always evolving to deliver the best shopping experience possible" said Anthony Longo, president-CEO of Longo's. "Kitchen Hub's collection of curated offerings from top-tier brands will ensure that we continue to elevate, innovate, and appeal to our Guests. We are excited to deliver this new offering to our Liberty Village community."

    This is Kitchen Hub's fourth location.

    KC's View:

    I am ever-so-slightly conflicted about this.

    Over the years, I've questioned the wisdom of supermarket chains dedicating any space or energy promoting brands that essentially compete with them for share of stomach.  But I think I must be evolving, because this sounds like a really good idea.

    Some of it is about inevitability.  The fact is, the ghost kitchen business makes a lot of sense, and if retailers can get a piece of the action, becoming part of the solution, then it probably makes sense.  (Kroger is doing this, too.)

    I also like the idea that Kitchen Hub positions itself as a "virtual food hall."  I think that this is smart branding - "food hall" is a term of art that I think has a lot of appeal, that speaks to people in an aspirational way.  And so if Longo's can connect itself to that positioning, it strikes me as being both strategically and tactically advantageous.

    Go figure.  I'm evolving.

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal put it this way:

    "Amazon’s fall hardware event is often where it unveils oddball products such as the Alexa microwave and sticky note printer. This year, the e-commerce giant stuck mainly to more practical devices: a large Kindle e-reader with note-taking capabilities, a sleep-tracking bedside alarm clock and Echo speakers that can boost your Wi-Fi network … While Wednesday’s event was focused on hardware, Amazon’s underlying proposition is its software. As always, the new gadgets nudge customers toward the company’s digital offerings - e-books, health and wellness content, streaming video and more."

    When the Journal says "oddball," it means often not-ready-for-prime-time:  "A year ago, the company announced a home robot named Astro that it has yet to make widely available to all consumers. The same goes for a flying indoor security camera unveiled two years ago."

    In additional coverage of Amazon's device announcement…

    •  Engadget writes that "Amazon had a few other announcements mostly centered around the car. First, there's a new Echo Auto that's slimmer than its predecessor and features a more secure adhesive grip. BMW also joined Amazon on stage to announce that it's working with the retailer to build the next version of its in-vehicle voice assistant using Alexa as a base. The automaker didn't share too many details about the project, but promised it would 'enable an even more natural dialogue between driver and vehicle'."

    •  The New York Times' "Wirecutter" desk reports that "Amazon says that a coming software update will enable its various lines of smart devices to work with Matter, the coming smart-home platform that is intended to allow devices from a wide range of brands to be compatible with one another."

    •  CNet reports that Amazon says "it wants to measure and reduce the carbon emissions of its Echo, Fire and Ring devices. The new initiatives offer more-sustainable devices and packaging, which is important considering their historically low prices, which encourage people to frequently replace and upgrade them."

    KC's View:

    There are times when oddball device introductions might seem interesting, maybe even more so when in good times.  But at the moment, IO think, it behooves Amazon to be thinking in a more practical manner … though to be sure, Amazon's definition of practical may be a little more expansive than most companies'.

    CNBC had an interesting take, by the way, on one way in which Amazon differs from Apple, which also is known for rolling out unique devices:

    "Unlike Apple, which makes money off of sales of its flagship iPhone and other products, Amazon’s hardware business doesn’t generate much profit, and it doesn’t account for a significant portion of the company’s revenue.

    "Instead, Amazon launches devices at extremely cheap prices with the goal of promoting its other products and services. It hopes that for every $99 Fire tablet it sells, for example, users will purchase movies, audiobook subscriptions and other items, which tend to have higher margins.

    "Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has previously admitted that the retail giant doesn’t expect to make a profit on its devices.

    "Even if it’s not a lucrative business, Amazon’s growing array of Echo smart speakers, Ring doorbells and Fire TV sticks help extend the company’s reach in the smart home.

    And they help serve its other, fast-growing businesses, like advertising."

    In other words, Amazon's goal goes beyond wanting to sell us all more stuff.  It wants to be inextricably and intimately connected to every part of our lives.  (Sound familiar?)

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Heath took place this week, designed to address food insecurity in the nation, and Albertsons, FMI-The Food Industry Association, and the National Grocers Association (NGA)_ all released statements in which they made commitments going forward.

    •  Albertsons said that "it will contribute new goals and initiatives designed to help break the cycle of hunger and empower nutrition and health through technology and information."

    The company said that "Nourishing Neighbors, a program of Albertsons Companies Foundation, seeks to ensure at-risk youth, adults, seniors and families have access to the food they need to lead healthier and more enriching lives. Through Nourishing Neighbors, more than $200 million has been donated to hunger relief organizations since 2011 and the company has pledged the following commitments to reduce food insecurity:  Enable the donation of over 100 million meals in 2023 and 1 billion meals by 2030," and "help 50,000 eligible neighbors enroll in SNAP and WIC benefits in 2023."

    In addition to offering online SNAP access and educational information in stores, the company said, "Nourishing Neighbors will provide grants to local food banks, soup kitchens and community organizations so they can conduct outreach and provide SNAP and WIC enrollment support for neighbors in need."

    Albertsons also said it would "provide 50 million evidence-based nutrition recommendations to digital customers by 2024 to help them make healthier choices … Launch six health campaigns by 2025 utilizing in-store events and digital platforms to increase awareness of MyPlate Dietary Guidelines, established by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion … Provide 100 million customers access to recipe and meal planning tools by 2025, empowering them to easily select, cook and enjoy meals that match their taste, budget and dietary needs … Introduce 1,000 new nutritious and approachable recipes, and further enhance tools to help make healthier living an easy and sustainable choice … (and) Expand the availability of ReadyMeals from 600 to 1,100 stores by the end of the fiscal year. ReadyMeals offer nutritious meals designed by culinary experts and dietitians made fresh in-store every day."

    "Our purpose is to bring people together around the joys of food and to inspire well-being. A part of that promise is improving food access while providing tools that integrate nutrition and health information across our grocery stores and digital platforms,” said Vivek Sankaran, CEO of Albertsons Cos. “We are proud to announce these commitments, which complement our Recipe for Change ESG platform and reflect our deep roots serving communities across America.”

    •  Specifically, over the next two years, NGA said it "will assist with improving access to grocery stores across the country by working to increase the number of grocery retailers authorized for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) online purchases with a prioritization on rural areas and areas with low food access, and creating a toolkit with a list of resources and funding opportunities to support the expansion of full-service grocery stores in designated food deserts. 

    "Across the nation, independent grocers and wholesalers serve as the cornerstone of their communities, providing access to nutritious food, essential services, and creating jobs,” said Greg Ferrara, NGA president and CEO. “As the supermarket industry continues to evolve and innovate, NGA and our members are committed to preserving the longstanding, strong public-private partnerships with federal and state nutrition programs, and enhancing capabilities to reach and serve all Americans." 

    NGA noted that "the Biden administration released a national strategic plan to effectively end hunger in the United States and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030. Included within the proposal were several key policies supported by NGA to address underserved communities, including the enforcement of antitrust laws with a focus on economic discrimination in the food retail marketplace, and prioritization for economic development funds to expand food access."

    •  FMI also announced its "ambitious commitments:" 

    "FMI members will donate more than 2 billion meals in 2023, with the goal of increasing food donations to food banks and other organizations that support nourishing communities … will commit to robust investment in programs, initiatives, infrastructure enhancements and partnerships to improve food availability in areas of limited food access … will expand access to and leverage federal feeding programs and Food as Medicine programs in the food retail setting that include nutrient-dense foods … will share evidence-based messages and educational tools for consumers in 2023 to support healthy eating patterns that align with the Dietary Guidelines and federal nutrition guidance."

    Leslie G. Sarasin, FMI's president/CEO, said:  “The food industry has a critical role to play in addressing hunger and helping to improve the nutrition and health of all Americans. Grocery stores serve as accessible, convenient, community-based destinations for feeding assistance, preventive care, nutrition guidance, and nourishing, practical meal solutions. It will take all of us working together to achieve these goals; I have full confidence in the food industry’s spirit of innovation and collaboration to not only reach these goals, but far exceed them."

    KC's View:

    A quote worth sharing…

    “Food is national security. Food is economy. It is employment, energy, history. Food is everything.”  — Chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen

    And another one, from Aristotle, which acknowledges the connection between hunger and poverty, and the underlying threat the comes from both:

    “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    The Rochester Post- Bulletin reports that Hy-Vee is expanding a "frictionless shopping" pilot that it tested at 50 midwestern stores this summer, bringing its Scan & Go technology to its stores in Rochester, Minnesota.

    According to the story, "To use Scan & Go, customers download a Hy-Vee app to their smartphone and then use the phone's camera to scan and pay for cans of soup, ice cream or even produce. On the way out, customers scan a QR Code at the Scan & Go bagging kiosk and then they leave with their groceries."

    The Bulletin notes that "the Iowa-based grocer is the latest in a string of retailers experimenting with this type of shopping that was first introduced at Amazon's brick-and-mortar stores.  While it has gone well for Hy-Vee so far, another grocery chain, Wegmans, recently pulled the plug on a similar program due to 'losses.'  Wegmans rolled out its version of frictionless shopping in 2019."

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  CNBC reports that "Amazon is raising its hourly wages for its warehouse and delivery workers … Beginning in October, Amazon’s average starting pay for front-line employees in the U.S. will be bumped up to more than $19 per hour from $18 per hour, the company said.

    "Warehouse and delivery workers will earn between $16 and $26 per hour depending on their position, Amazon added. Amazon’s minimum wage for employees in the U.S. remains $15 an hour.

    "Amazon is spending roughly $1 billion on the pay hikes over the next year as it looks to attract and retain employees in a historically tight labor market. It’s also preparing to enter what’s known as 'peak' season, the especially busy shopping period tied to the holidays."

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon "is encouraging customer service employees at some US call centers to work from home, signaling the company’s preference for remote work in certain roles that would help save money on real estate, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "The shift is part of a plan to close multiple call centers around the country, including one that opened in 2005 in Kennewick, Washington, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak about the plans."

    •  Macy's said yesterday that it is "opening up its platform to independent sellers and brands" in an effort "to show customers a wider range of goods without having to warehouse or manage those actual goods," Axios reports.

    The move is an effort to mimic Amazon, which does more than 50 percent of its retail sales via its third-party marketplace, as well as other retailers getting into the marketplace game, such as Walmart, Target and Kroger.

    Axios suggests that this is a way for Macy's to deal with inventory management issues that long have plagued it - the retailer won't own the marketplace products, and so doesn't have to worry about that issue.  Which is true, but I think the impetus is simpler than that - Macy's needs to drive more sales and profits, Amazon has shown that this is one way to do it, and so Macy's wants to do it, too.

    There are, however, potential problems with this.  Marketplace items that end up being counterfeits, or inferior compared to their online descriptions, have ended up being a problem for Amazon, and could be for Macy's, no matter how vigilant it is about the process.  Plus, Axios suggests that this will allow Macy's to see what works and doesn't work on somebody else's dime (my phrase, not Macy's) before deciding to carry certain items itself.  But that's kind of what has gotten Amazon into trouble with legislators and regulators, who argue that this is inappropriate.

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    •  Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop said yesterday that "it is continuing its partnership with the American Cancer Society to support the organization’s work in combating breast cancer.   Throughout October, all 400+ Stop & Shop stores throughout NY, NJ, MA, RI, and CT will offer shoppers the opportunity to donate $1, $3, or $5, or round up their overall total at checkout, with 100% of donations benefiting the American Cancer Society.

    Since forming a partnership more than a decade ago, Stop & Shop has raised more than $4,6 million for the American Cancer Society, earning the title of the organization’s largest point of sale retail partner via the annual register campaign."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Lower milk production on U.S. dairy farms and labor shortages for processing plants have weighed on butter output for months, leaving the amount of butter in U.S. cold storage facilities at the end of July the lowest since 2017, according to the Agriculture Department.

    "Tight supplies have sent butter prices soaring at U.S. supermarkets, surpassing most other foods in the past year. U.S. grocery prices in August rose 13.5% during the past 12 months, the largest annual increase since 1979, according to the Labor Department. Butter outstripped those gains, rising 24.6% over the same period."

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    …will return.

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    In the spirit of New York Yankees outfielders who preceded him, Aaron Judge last night hit his 61st home run of the season, tying Roger Maris, who accomplished the feat in 1961.  He passed Babe Ruth, who hit 60 home runs in 1927, and became just the fifth player in history to hit at least 61 - in addition to Maris, Mark McGwire hit hit 70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999,  Sammy Sosa hit more than 61 home runs three times from 1998 to 2001, and Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001.  The latter three players, however, are associated with baseball's steroids era.

    KC's View:

    If nothing else, one has to admire Judge's timing.  (And even for a Mets fan, there is a lot to admire about Judge.)

    ESPN writes:

    "On the eve of the regular season, Aaron Judge was offered a seven year, $213.5 million contract from the New York Yankees. The consensus at the time was that he was worth a bit more than that, but that it was a fair offer with a hometown discount baked in. Judge, though, turned it down, opting to bet on himself -- and it has worked in a huge way."

    Remember … Judge isn't just the AL home run leader (by a huge margin).  He's also a pretty decent bet to be the first player to win the Triple Crown in several years, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and runs-batted-in.

    There is a famous story about how Joe DiMaggio - who was the first baseball player ever to make $100,00 a year (imagine!) - once was asked what he would've been paid had he played during the era of free agency.  DiMaggio said that he would've walked up to (then-New York Yankees owner) George Steinbrenner and said, "Hello partner."

    Published on: September 29, 2022

    I'm going to take Friday off and enjoy a three-day weekend with Mrs. Content Guy.  

    Hope you have a good weekend, too, and I'll see you Monday.


    (Guess where I was...)