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    Published on: January 23, 2023

    It was just a couple of weeks ago that Boxed announced that it was "considering strategic alternatives."  Which made it a good time to catch up with Chieh Huang, the company's co-founder and CEO, to talk about which alternatives might make the most sense and why, and how events since the company's launch in 2013 - when it was glibly described as "Costco online, but without the membership fees" - have shaped its value proposition and implementation of an evolving business strategy.

    One note:  I enjoyed our conversation so much that it ran longer than I expected, and so I've decided to break it up into two parts … with part two scheduled to run tomorrow.

    If you'd like to download out conversation as an audio podcast, click below.

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    by Kevin Coupe

    Because today is National Pie Day, I wanted to offer a memory of some of the best pie I've ever had.

    The place was the Bahamas.  The time was last June.  The source was a grocery store called Vernon's, on Elbow Cay in the Abacos, which is renowned for its key lime pie.  (As I wrote at the time, Vernon's was hardly the most impressive retailer you've ever seen … but with key lime pie to die for.  And, more importantly, to get up early for.)

    That's today's business lesson and Eye-Opener.

    I bought  Vernon's key lime pie.  And ate it.  For breakfast, with a hot cup of coffee, while enjoying the early morning sun coming up over the Atlantic.

    It reminds me of the slogan used by Blue Raeven Farmstand, a pie place more than 3,000 miles away, in Amity, Oregon, just southwest of Portland:

    Pie fixes everything.

    No argument here...

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    Walmart last week announced the launch of "Walmart Business as an eCommerce site and customer experience" designed to serve small and medium businesses (SMBs) and nonprofits.

    Bloomberg suggests that "Walmart is betting that the venture will help it encroach on rivals such as Staples Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp. and Inc., which stepped up efforts to woo smaller companies during the coronavirus pandemic. Wall Street analysts predict Walmart will be a slow-growing behemoth over the long term, and finding new sources of demand is a key challenge."

    Here's how Walmart describes the new offering:

    "Our focus is to remove complexity in purchasing, lower costs and give our customers more opportunities to serve their customers and communities. Walmart Business is built to leverage the very best of Walmart — our unmatched operating scale, our proximity within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population and the very best of our eCommerce, fulfillment and delivery technologies.

    "Walmart Business offers a curated assortment of more than 100,000 items, with categorization and navigation tailored to busy organizational shoppers. As we’ve spoken with customers, they have identified key product for their operations. These areas include office supplies and furniture, food and beverage, restroom, electronics, classroom and facility needs. Walmart Business simplifies restocking by grouping various items together in a way that makes sense to organizations.

    "In addition, Walmart Business offers multi-user accounts, giving organizations the ability to add up to five users to a single account. Customers can also share payment information, order history and purchasing power across teams. Qualified organizations can enroll in the Walmart Tax-Exemption Program (WTEP), allowing automatic removal of eligible taxes during checkout."

    KC's View:

    We've written a lot here in recent months about how every retailer seems to be seeking alternative revenue streams as a way of supporting their traditional business models, but there's another approach - which is to reposition existing assets in a way that serves specific, targeted buying groups.

    That's what Walmart is doing.  Much of what it likely will sell via this new service is going to be product it carried anyway, but it is creating this new entity to serve a new constituency.  Smart.  

    Many retailers can do the same thing.  Think about the items you carry, and how they might be curated in online shops for specific demographics, and then do the coding and content creation necessary to make a new offering more accessible.  There is a possibility that new sales and relationships can be unlocked through such an effort.

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    Frieda's Branded Produce, the iconic specialty brand Frieda Rapoport Caplan in 1962, announced on Friday that the company has been sold to Anaheim, California-based Legacy Farms.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    In a note on Friday, CEO Karen Caplan - who with her sister, Jackie Caplan Wiggins (Frieda's Vice President & CAO), has been running the company - wrote that "after more than a year of discussions, Legacy Farms LLC, based in Anaheim, California has acquired the assets of Frieda’s, Inc.  We will now be known as Frieda’s LLC and our new CEO is Dan Madsen.  Dan has been a friend for many years and has been leading Legacy Farms since 2019 … Legacy Farms really values Frieda’s strong culture and branding and is excited to be the new steward of the first and best-selling brand of specialty produce in the US.  We can’t help but brag that Frieda’s brand has a 30% faster velocity than the next leading brand."

    Caplan went on:  "We are so excited that his first order of business was to name my eldest daughter, Alex Jackson as Vice President, Sales & Procurement!  As you know, Alex is the third generation of our family business, founded by our mother, Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan in 1962.  Alex has been a significant part of our company’s success during the last 12 years and she is very excited about this new, expanded opportunity."

    And, she wrote:   "My sister, Jackie Caplan Wiggins and I will continue working in an advisory capacity to Dan and the Frieda’s team and are beyond thrilled at the opportunities for our company to expand. Our company color will still be purple, our branded packaging will continue to be eye-catching and our team members will continue to service you with our well known passion and attention to detail. Our current sales and purchasing team will continue to work with you as normal in the course of business."

    KC's View:

    The first word that comes to my mind is bittersweet.  I understand that sometimes companies need to do this - the economics make sense, and there is greater marketing power and potential when companies are combined.

    But I still kind of feel bad about this.  Frieda's was so special, so much the product of an individual sensibility made manifest through the labors of her family, that it is hard to imagine it as part of another company.

    If this sounds sentimental, I plead guilty.  Frieda Rapoport Caplan wasn't just an MNB reader, but a supporter - I loved the emails I'd get from her, asking questions about choices I'd made or opinions I'd expressed, concerned entirely with my being as good as I could be.  It was a friendship I treasured.

    A memory that remains vivid for me goes back to Saturday, September 16, 2019.  I was in Southern California to give a speech, and I spent several hours that afternoon with Frieda at her home, hanging with her and her daughter, Jackie.  She'd had some health issues, but was sharp as could be, asking me questions about stories I'd done, challenging me to think about things differently.  It was a great afternoon.  And several months later, after she passed away, I was privileged to be one of the speakers and emcees at the celebration of her life that was one of the last events that those of who attended went to before the pandemic closed everything down.

    At the time, I wrote:

    She had such a wonderfully indomitable spirit, infectious enthusiasm for life, and mischievous sense of humor - she was the kind of old person that I would like to be, which is to say not really old at all.  Sometimes the parts wear out, but the heart and soul continue on.  In Freida’s case, they will be sustained by the business she created and that the family shepherds and grows.  But they also will find life in those of us lucky enough to know her.

    Bottom line, for me:    I'm glad they're keeping the Frieda's name and color, and I just hope that in the end, the Frieda's legacy is the one with the dominant DNA.

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    Business Insider reports that "Dollar General just started delivering urgent and preventative care to customers in mobile clinics at three of its stores outside of Nashville.

    "The retailer has partnered with mobile clinic company DocGo to provide care for minor conditions including cold, flu, skin rashes, and urinary tract infections. The clinics, which take insurance and cash, can also give vaccines, health screenings and tests, and provide some care for chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes."

    According to the story, " Dollar General said it will test how customers respond to the clinics to determine whether it should bring them to more stores."

    KC's View:

    I'm not sure that I'm running down to the local Dollar General for urgent and preventative health care, but I live in a place with a ton of options.  There will be communities where these clinics may fill holes that nobody else is trying to fill, and so this makes sense, at least conceptually.

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    From the Wall Street Journal this morning, a story about how "big banks are teaming up to launch a digital wallet that people can use to shop online," essentially positioning themselves to compete more effectively with PayPal and Apple Pay.

    The owners include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, PNC Financial Services, US Bancorp, and Truist Financial Corp., and the new, as-yet-unnamed product "will be managed by Early Warning Services LLC, the bank-owned company that operates money-transfer service Zelle.  However, the new wallet will operate separately from Zelle.

    According to the story, "Banks are worried about losing control of their customer relationships. Apple, in particular, poses a big threat. The tech giant has moved further into financial services and is working on a savings account with Goldman Sachs Group and a buy now, pay later offering. 

    "EWS’s owner banks are also trying to cut down on fraud. Customers using their wallet wouldn’t have to type in their card numbers, which can raise the risk of fraud and rejected payments that result in lost sales.

    "The banks expect to enable 150 million debit and credit cards for use within the wallet when it rolls out. U.S. consumers who are up-to-date on payments, have used their card online in recent years and have provided an email address and phone number will be eligible."

    KC's View:

    Just one more wallet that retailers are going to have to figure how to accept.  I guess it makes sense in terms of the major player involved, but this all only gets more complicated, especially for shoppers.  Too many options, in my view.

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    Fascinating piece in Axios about Mill, a new green tech startup that "wants us to rethink what we do with our banana peels, pepper tops and other kitchen scraps."

    Mill is "part hardware startup, part subscription service.  Customers are sent a bin for their kitchen scraps. The bin — which needs to be plugged in to an outlet — dehydrates and mashes scraps into a substance not unlike ground coffee.

    "When the bin is full, subscribers can empty the contents into a prepaid mailing box to be sent back to Mill.

    "Mill is working with regulators on plans to turn the resulting material into an ingredient for chicken feed — meaning it would be kept in the food cycle, rather than ending up in a landfill … Scraps thrown away in the regular trash often wind up in landfills, where they generate methane, a greenhouse gas."

    Even with the shipping, the company says, the process makes sense - Mill believes it can save "about a half-ton of emissions per household per year."

    Mill also believes it can make an economic argument:  

    Founder and CEO Matt Rogers points out that "in a lot of cities around the country, you pay for your trash service, and you pay based on the size of the bin — the bigger the bin, the more you pay. So when you can take the food waste out of the trash, you could downsize your bin and save money."

    KC's View:

    I'd totally do this, and I think this is the kind of tech that food retailers ought to be embracing and even selling to their consumers … here's a video about how it works:

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    Rite Aid. Corp. said that it will dispense the so-called abortion pill, mifepristone, "in a limited number of its pharmacies," Bloomberg reports.

    Rite Aid said it will sell the pill "to customers either in-person or via mail delivery in compliance with federal and state laws.  'We are committed to ensuring equitable access to customers prescribed this product,' a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement."

    Bloomberg points out that "until recently abortion pills could only be distributed in health-care settings like doctor’s offices or hospitals. Regulators were under pressure for years from medical and advocacy groups to loosen restrictions, with leading medical bodies and health experts saying the rules were unnecessary.

    "Earlier this month Food and Drug Administration loosened decades-old restrictions to allow brick-and-mortar pharmacies to be able to dispense the pills for the first time, pending a certification not required for most drugs."

    Earlier this month, both CVS and Walgreen said they would make mifepristone available to its shoppers.

    KC's View:

    The story also says that "details on which of Rite Aid’s pharmacies plan to dispense the pills have yet to be determined," according to the company.  But I'm guessing that if this is true, it is only because Rite Aid hasn't yet determined which locations are likely to be picketed, and which ones won't.

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    Axios reports that "Fat Tire Ale, the iconic craft brew that inspired a generation of independent beer fans, is getting a new recipe and a new look meant to attract climate-conscious consumers … The prior easy-drinking amber is now a crisper golden ale meant to appeal to the tailgate crowd — but the brewer says longtime fans will notice original flavor threads."

    At the same time, " Fat Tire maker New Belgium Brewing Co. introduced a new tagline and packaging Tuesday, reading 'high quality, low impact' - a reference to the beer's zero-emissions production process."

    "The move is aimed at 'the current generation of new craft drinkers,' New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer tells Axios. The younger generation 'is a group that really cares about the brands they purchase'."

    KC's View:

    I'm all in favor of being carbon neutral, but I must admit to being a little concerned by Fat Tire changing the recipe for its flagship brand.  I'm a big Fat Tire fan, and worry a little bit that this could be a New Coke deal … how long before New Belgium introduced Fat Tire Classic?

    (That said, I haven't tasted the new version.  But I will.  Soon.)

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The U.S. government is looking into whether Amazon. com Inc. might have misled lenders about its workplace safety record to obtain credit, using a law stemming from the savings-and-loan crisis in a legal move a lawyer for the company called 'unprecedented.'

    "The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office is conducting an investigation into Amazon under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, a law that allows civil cases to be brought over wrongdoing that impacts banks. The office has deployed the 1989 law at the same time the Labor Department presses a workplace safety investigation of Amazon that has already led to several citations.

    'The Labor Department in December cited Amazon at six of its warehouses for not adequately reporting injuries and this week cited three company facilities, saying workers were exposed to ergonomic or equipment hazards.

    'Amazon has said it intends to appeal the citations. The company also said it never intentionally misrepresented its safety record.'

    •  The Washington Post reports that "Amazon Web Services plans to invest $35 billion in new data centers in Virginia under a deal with the state, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Friday.

    "Millions of dollars in incentives to close the deal still require legislative approval, but General Assembly leaders in both parties expressed support in a news release issued by Youngkin’s office … The governor’s office said the locations of the data centers, to be built by 2040, will be determined at a later date. But tech companies prefer northern Virginia because it is close to the historical backbone of the internet, and proximity to those connection points provides nanoseconds of advantage that are of importance to tech companies that rely on the servers to support financial transactions, gaming technology and other time-sensitive applications."

    According to the story, "Data centers have become a politically volatile topic, particularly in northern Virginia, where the structures are increasingly common and where neighbors are voicing noise and environmental concerns.

    "Data centers house the computer servers and hardware required to support modern internet use, and demand continues to increase. But the data centers require high-powered fans and extensive cooling capacity that can generate noise. They also consume huge amounts of electricity that can require construction of high-voltage transmission lines to support them."

    •  CNBC reports that a decade after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos introduced the idea of using drones to make deliveries to shoppers, "Amazon is finally starting to launch drone deliveries in two small markets through a program called Prime Air. But just as it’s finally getting off the ground, the drone program is running squarely into a sputtering economy and CEO Andy Jassy’s widespread cost-cutting efforts.

    "CNBC has learned that, as part of Amazon’s plan to slash 18,000 jobs, its biggest headcount reduction in history, Prime Air is losing a significant number of employees. Sources familiar with the matter who asked not to be named for confidentiality said they learned about the Prime Air cuts on Wednesday, when two senior Amazon executives sent emails to employees notifying them that those impacted by the layoffs would be informed shortly."

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    •  Fox News reports that discount grocer Save-A-Lot , in an effort to downsize in line with its “long-term strategic plans," is closing two distribution centers and laying off an undisclosed number of its St. Louis-area headquarters staff.

    The two distribution centers that are closing are in Coxsackie, New York, and St. Johns, Michigan.  Save-A-Lot says that area stores will be supplied by other nearby warehouses.

    In a statement, the company said, “Save A Lot continues our journey to become a world-class licensed wholesale business serving a network of independently owned and operated stores around the country. As a final step in our transformation, we identified an opportunity to remove excess warehouse capacity while supporting our long-term strategic plans … We take any decisions about our people very seriously and are treating all impacted Team Members with dignity and respect. We believe the changes we are making, coupled with the recent successful refinancing of our debt announced last week, will allow us to deliver on our continued commitment to our licensed wholesale business, further positioning Save A Lot for future growth.”

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    •  Dave Peacock, most recently the COO of Continental Grain Company, and before that the president/COO of Schnuck Markets and the president of Anheuser-Busch, has been named CEO of Advantage Solutions.

    Peacock succeeds Jill Griffin, who resigned earlier this month to “pursue other business endeavors."

    Published on: January 23, 2023

    In the National Football League Divisional Round…

    Jacksonville Jaguars 20, Kansas City Chiefs 27

    New York Giants 7, Philadelphia Eagles 38

    Cincinnati Bengals 27, Buffalo Bills 10

    Dallas Cowboys 12, San Francisco 49ers 19

    Next week, the Conference Championships, as the Chiefs play the Bengals and the Eagles face off against the 49ers.