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    Published on: January 31, 2023

    According to, four of the 10 most searched words in the English language by people trying to figure out how to pronounce them have to do with food.  Go figure - there's a business lesson there.  (Not to mention a vocabulary lesson.)

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    by Kevin Coupe

    Lovely little story in Axios DC about the Everyday Sundae ice cream shop in Washington, DC, where last year a mom was there buying ice cream for her kids.  She saw the owner, Charles Foreman, give a kid a cone on the house where the child didn't have any money.

    According to the story, "That mom returned a week later to donate $100 to "take care of kids less fortunate.

    "Since then, the ice cream fund has taken off, with customers contributing $20 and $100 at a time."

    “'You’re catching people at their best doing things they’re not necessarily [seeking] recognition for,' Foreman says."

    Axios DC writes that "the tradition calls to mind an Italian act of charity known as caffè sospeso, or 'suspended coffee,' when a patron buys two espressos — one to enjoy and one for a stranger."

    It is, I think, an Eye-Opening little story … nice to know that at a time when the culture seems challenged, businesses and customers are capable of doing the right thing just because it is the right thing.

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that Amazon-owned Whole Foods is pressing suppliers to lower prices as their own costs start to decline.

    According to the story, Whole Foods "told suppliers at a recent virtual summit that it wants to bring down retail prices in its store aisles as companies’ own costs start to decline, according to a recording of the meeting viewed by the Wall Street Journal

    "As food suppliers have raised wholesale prices, citing higher transport, labor and production costs, supermarket operators said they have passed those increases along to consumers. The higher price tags have helped grocery-store operators generate higher sales and profits. 

    "After more than a year of price increases, shoppers have been cutting back on purchases, buying cheaper versions of groceries and seeking out deals across supermarket aisles. Industry executives have said they are trying to offer promotions and provide better value. "

    That said, a Whole Foods spokeswoman tells the Journal that the retailer "has worked over the past year to absorb rising costs, offer new promotions and work with suppliers to offset the impact of inflation for customers … Whole Foods’ rate of price increases has been lower than the industry average, the spokeswoman said, adding that the chain has lowered prices on some items including cereal, bread and sparkling water. The company is committed to ensuring that prices reflect easing inflation, she said."

    KC's View:

    In the case of Whole Foods, let's face it - the idea of "low prices" is relative.  To say the least.

    That said, I would hope that every retailer is putting this kind of pressure on suppliers, and that retailers themselves are endeavoring to lower prices as costs go down.  I'm not sure that Americans are going to have a ton of patience for what they see as profit-taking - I'm sensing a certain amount of outrage among folks who are seeing stories about record profits at oil companies.  (Not that we should be surprised.)

    Food retailers and suppliers could actually differentiate themselves by working to avoid being lumped in with the oil behemoths.

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    From CNBC:

    "As Walmart’s low-priced groceries attract shoppers, the retailer is rolling out a fresh strategy aimed at wooing them into other aisles: stores with brighter lights, fashion-forward mannequins and colorful displays of makeup, pet supplies and more … Walmart’s snazzier look is part of a broader effort to sell more discretionary items - like jeans, lipstick and baby strollers - that usually carry a higher profit margin than groceries. Last summer, it tested the sleeker model at one of its big-box stores in Springdale, Arkansas, a close drive from its corporate headquarters."

    The story says that Walmart "has turned five of its SuperCenters into flagship stores with the remodeled look. They are located in Teterboro and North Bergen in New Jersey; Yaphank, New York; Quakertown, Pennsylvania.; and Hodgkins, Illinois. All of the flagships have debuted in the past three months - with North Bergen and Teterboro opening in mid-January."

    Part of the goal is to great even stronger appeal for higher income shoppers;  CNBC notes that "in the past two quarters, about 75% of its market share gains in food have come from households that make more than $100,000 a year … Those shoppers could become a fresh audience for Walmart’s exclusive brands, such as a style and value-oriented activewear brand, Love & Sports, developed with fashion designer Michelle Smith and SoulCycle instructor Stacey Griffith, and a kitchen and home decor line called Beautiful, which was developed with Drew Barrymore. It also has an assortment of clothing from national brands, such as Levi Strauss, Wrangler and Reebok."

    KC's View:

    This always has been the supercenter approach - get people in the store more often with low prices, and lure them into the other side of the store where the margins are stronger.  Sounds like Walmart sees the inflation-fueled migration of more high net worth shoppers to its stores as an opportunity to lock them in for a more sustained period.

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    From the Wall Street Journal this morning, under a headline that says, "The U.S. Consumer Is Starting to Freak Out:"

    "The engine of the U.S. economy - consumer spending - is starting to sputter.

    "Retail purchases have fallen in three of the past four months. Spending on services, including rent, haircuts and the bulk of bills, was flat in December, after adjusting for inflation, the worst monthly reading in nearly a year. Sales of existing homes in the U.S. fell last year to their lowest level since 2014 as mortgage rates rose. The auto industry posted its worst sales year in more than a decade.

    "It’s a stark turnaround from the second half of 2020, when Americans lifted the economy out of a pandemic downturn, helping the U.S. avoid what many economists worried would be a prolonged slump. Consumers snapped up exercise bikes, televisions and laptop computers for schoolchildren during lockdowns. When restrictions were lifted, they rushed back to their favorite restaurants and travel destinations.

    "And they kept spending, helped by government stimulus, flush savings accounts and cheap credit, even as inflation picked up. Faced with four-decade-high inflation last year, Americans outspent it. Through most of 2022, consumer spending growth exceeded price increases by about 2 percentage points.

    "Now the forces that helped keep spending high are unwinding, while inflation remains elevated. The share of monthly income Americans set aside for savings was 3.4% in December, down from 7.5% a year earlier and from a record high in April 2020. Credit-card interest rates have been rising, and Federal Reserve officials have signaled that they plan an additional quarter-percentage point increase to the central bank’s benchmark rate this week. That would bring the rate to between 4.5% and 4.75%, from near zero at the start of last year."

    And then, in the Washington Post, a story with this headline - "Prospects for the global economy are improving, as worst fears fade"…

    "The outlook for the global economy in recent weeks has unexpectedly brightened, with the United States, Europe and China all outperforming expectations and avoiding — at least for now — some predicted stumbles.

    "American employers continue to hire at a steady clip while the latest European manufacturing gauges signal expansion and Chinese consumers are spending again.

    "Much of the improvement in the world’s three main economic engines, however, is more the result of disasters averted rather than any new boom.

    "In the United States, the Federal Reserve’s fastest interest rate increases in 40 years have yet to push the economy into recession, as employers such as Boeing and Chipotle plan to hire thousands of new workers. Energy shortages that some feared would strangle European factories have not materialized because of relatively mild winter weather. And Chinese leaders abruptly freed their economy from harsh covid restrictions in December, months earlier than investors anticipated … In the United States, where most forecasters still anticipate a recession as soon as this spring, policymakers may be able to steer the overheated economy to a “soft landing” — bringing inflation under control without plunging into a downturn, the IMF said. By 2024, the fund expects the U.S. economy to be barely expanding, with prices cooling and the jobless rate peaking at 5.2 percent, up from today’s 3.5 percent."

    KC's View:

    It is entirely possible that both stories are accurate - consumers are freaked out, and the lagging indicators of a normalizing economy haven't reached them yet.

    Axios makes the point this way:  "The dominant narrative in 2023 looks increasingly likely to be exactly the same as we saw in 2022: No recession, despite roughly half the population being convinced we're already in one."

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    Ahold Delhaize-owned Food Lion announced that it is collaborating with Novant Health "to launch a food pharmacy pilot program at Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, NC … The pilot program provides qualified participants access to nutritious food and encourages them to make healthy lifestyle choices to achieve sustained health. Throughout the two-year pilot program, Food Lion will distribute nearly 3,000 boxes that contain shelf-stable, nutritious food. Qualified patients will be determined, in part, through assessments by Novant Health dietitians and team members."

    According to the announcement, "At New Hanover Regional Medical Center, dietitians assess patients who are at risk for malnutrition, and part of that assessment also screens for food insecurity. Patients facing food insecurity are eligible to receive a food pharmacy box upon discharge.

    "Using the proprietary Guiding Stars® system, the food pharmacy box provides shelf-stable presorted food items, including milk, oatmeal, tuna, black beans, cans of no-sodium vegetables and pasta with sauce, as well as information about Food Lion’s nutritious products and the Guiding Stars system."

    KC's View:

    It seems to me that one of the things programs like these have to do, in addition to providing people with food, is help them learn how to make good choices.  One of the ways to do this is by using platforms like Sifter, which literally allow people to sift through products, both in-store and online, to narrow their focus to items that are appropriate to their health issues (or religious/moral/ethical concerns, depending on the person).

    Full disclosure:  Sifter is a charter MNB sponsor.  But I'd make this observation even it wasn't, because it just seems to make so much sense.

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports that TravelCenters of America is working with a company called Electrify America "to build around 1,000 electric-vehicle fast chargers across the U.S. starting this year, the latest matchup that would boost the amount of equipment available to American EV drivers who need a jolt of power on road trips."

    It is, the Journal writes, "one of the largest EV fast-charging build-outs in the US today."  TravelCenters is buying the units, and Electrify America will handle installation and maintenance.

    "The partnership aims to add fast-charging stalls to around 200 of TravelCenters’ TA and Petro Stopping Centers. Fast chargers available to drivers of any kind of EV are in short supply across U.S. highways, where their presence is considered key to greater EV adoption as auto makers convert fleets to electric."

    The Journal writes that "many fuel retailers have been reluctant to invest in chargers because there aren’t enough EVs on the road yet for most locations to turn a profit, but U.S. electric-vehicle sales jumped in 2022 while the broader auto market contracted."  However, "the Biden administration has started giving states $7.5 billion to fund charging build-outs, money included in the $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress in 2021. Tax credits for installing EV chargers also were approved as part of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, and budget estimators expect around $1.7 billion in tax credits for chargers or other alternative-fuels equipment to be claimed over a 10-year period."

    KC's View:

    There seems to be a sense that the EV market is about to be jump-started.  The price reduction on Teslas is said to be related to the fact that there is a lot more competition out there (as well as Elon Musk's erratic behavior which is undermining the market value of everything he touches), and that was followed yesterday by Ford's decision to reduce the price of the Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle.

    I wonder if we're going to start seeing more retailers putting in these kinds of fast-charging stalls;  it seems likely, especially if we start seeing consumers making choices based on their availability.

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From CBS News:

    "A Trader Joe's store in Louisville, Kentucky, has become the grocery chain's third to vote to unionize.

    "Workers at the store voted 48-36 in favor of the union Thursday evening, according to the National Labor Relations Board, which conducted the election.

    "Workers from the Louisville store will now join those from two other unionized Trader Joe's stores at the bargaining table, where they are trying to hammer out a new labor agreement. In July, a Trader Joe's in Hadley, Massachusetts, was the first in the country to unionize; a store in Minneapolis unionized in August."

    •  Advantage Solutions is out with a new survey saying that "more Americans are planning to get together for Super Bowl parties this year, as 54% of U.S. adults — and nearly two-thirds of men — expect to watch the game … Whether watching alone or with others, most Super Bowl viewers (66%) plan to buy special food and drinks for the occasion. Of this group, one-fourth plan to spend $50 or less; nearly half (48%) expect to spend between $51 and $100, 16% will spend $101-$150 and 10% will spend more than $150. Among party hosts, more than half (52%) plan to spend more than $100 on food and drinks for the big day.

    "Topping the list of food and drinks to be served by party hosts: game-day favorites salty snacks, beer and pizza, with prepared sandwiches and giant subs close behind.

    "Grocery retailers will see their fair share of prepared food purchases. Nearly half (49%) of party hosts plan to buy from a supermarket some or all of the ready-made hot and cold entrees and side dishes they plan to serve."

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "Since 1962, when the Minneapolis entrepreneur Rose Totino introduced it to American shoppers, frozen pizza has been an after-school snack, the quickest route to dinner, a midnight temptation of last resort.

    "But in the last five years, frozen pizza has become something else entirely: a piece of culinary craft, an authentic taste of Italy, a connection to buzzy pizzerias like Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Pizzana in Los Angeles and Dallas.

    "Sales of frozen food surged during the pandemic, according to IRI and other market research firms, boosting premium mass-produced brands like Talia di Napoli and Table 87, and pushing even the most traditional pizzaiolos toward the freezer aisle."

    The Times notes that these frozen premium pizzas are not cheap:  "Three frozen margherita pies from Pizzeria Delfina, a favorite among four New York Times Food and Cooking staffers in a recent blind pizza tasting, cost $104.95 including Goldbelly shipping. Four pies from Pizzeria Bianco, cost $129.95, or about $32.50 per pie. (The same pizza costs $20 at the original pizzeria in Phoenix, and $24 in the Los Angeles store that opened last year.)

    "But the pizzas produced specifically for the freezer aisle of grocery stores are more competitively priced. Table 87, Roberta’s, Talia di Napoli and Genio Della Pizza all charge about $11 for a 14-inch pizza that theoretically serves three people, though two seems realistic and one entirely possible."

    I'm thinking back, and am having trouble remembering anytime in the past 30+ years that I've bought a frozen pizza at the store and brought it home.  Could it be that, at least in the past few years, I'm missing something?  (Still rather make my own…)

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  Coborn's announced that Matt Leiseth, Vice President of Operations and President of its Hornbacher’s stores, has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Operations and President of Hornbacher’s.

    At the same time, Nathan Tykwinski, Vice President of Retail Services, will transition to Vice President of Operations … George Chomiak, Senior Director of Operations, has been promoted to Vice President of Operations … Neil Fandel has been promoted to Senior Director of Supply Chain, Logistics, Trucking, Warehouse/Distribution … and Emily Coborn Wright, Vice President of Retail Support Services, has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Retail Support Services.

    And, Dennis Host has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications … Dusty Kerssen has been promoted to Vice President of H.R. and Organizational Development … and Andy Knoblauch has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Center Store Merchandising.

    And … Andrew Burggraff, Category Manager, has been promoted to Senior Category Manager … Beth Mineart, Administrative Assistant, has been promoted to Assistant Category Manager … and Troy Vosburgh has been promoted to Senior Vice President of Fresh Merchandising.

    •  Gelson's said yesterday that John Bagan, the company's president, now will serve as president/CEO, following the retirement of Rob McDougall after 15 years with the company.

    Gelson's also said that it has concurrently promoted Rich Gillmore to Vice President of Center Store and Sean Saenz to Vice President Fresh Foods, while announcing key title changes to reflect additional responsibilities.

    Clare Bogle is now Chief Financial and Administrative Officer … Ron Johnson is now Chief Information and Supply Chain Officer … Tom Frattali is now SVP of Group Synergies, leading Gelson’s efforts in group purchasing, supply chain efficiencies and private label expansion with the parent company.

    And, Paul Kneeland is now SVP of Merchandising and Sales … Tim Mahoney is now SVP of Operations, and Yvonne Manganaro is now SVP of Customer and Team Experience.

    •  Publix Super Markets announced that Charlotte Division Vice President Chuck Roskovich will retire on March 31, toi be succeeded by Joey Riddle, currently regional director in the Charlotte division.

    •  The Fresh Market announced that it has hired Nathan Baldwin, most recently the vice president of restaurant services at Chili's, to be its new vice president of merchandising food service.

    Published on: January 31, 2023

    Cindy Williams, who played Shirley Feeney in the hit sitcom "Laverne & Shirley" (an enormous hit of its time) and preceded that with a role in George Lucas' American Graffiti (playing opposite Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford), has passed away.  She was 75.

    KC's View:

    I mention this mostly because once I saw this story, I couldn't get this phrase out of my mind:

    Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!