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    Published on: February 27, 2023

    Today, some thoughts about what I learned from the technology tracks at the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show in Las Vegas.

    Also from the National Grocers Association Show…

    •  NGA presented its Thomas K. Zaucha Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence to Jeff Strack, president and CEO of Indiana-based Strack & Van Til.  The award, sponsored by Mondelēz International Inc., recognizes an independent retailer that demonstrates "persistence, vision and creative entrepreneurship."

    •  NGA presented NGA board member Rick Brindle, vice president of industry development at Mondelēz, with its Industry Service Award in recognition "of his years of service in the food industry toward better working relations and understanding between retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers."

    •  NGA said that it "sent a letter to White House officials asking for a convening of stakeholders to address the growing problem of the exclusion of independent grocers and their customers from important health benefit programs funded by health insurance plans."

    According to the letter, "Private health plans, including Medicare Advantage health plans, are increasingly issuing supplemental health benefit cards that allow policyholders to purchase healthy foods in grocery stores. Unfortunately, these restricted-spend cards are preventing these individuals from shopping where they choose and excluding the entire independent grocery segment from program delivery.”

    NGA said that "although consumer demand in health and wellness categories continues to boom, barriers such as cost and access pose significant challenges for shoppers, especially in the current inflationary environment. Supplemental health benefits are a solution to addressing costs, as well as bolstering preventive care and addressing chronic illness through nutrition incentives and healthy eating guidance. Despite the growth in these public-private programs, the benefits offered, which are typically distributed on a card, are not currently interoperable between retailers.

    "“NGA supports these types of programs as we understand the growing importance of healthy eating behaviors to prevent serious chronic diseases. But to date, independents have largely been cut out of these programs and are turning their customers away because they are denied technology needed to process these new benefits."

    •  NGA said that it has provided comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on its proposed rule on revisions to food packages in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

    In a letter sent to WIC Administration Chief Allison Post, NGA suggested improvements to the WIC food package that can help increase retailer participation as well as food access for WIC beneficiaries.

    NGA said that it "supports many of the food package expansions proposed by the USDA including expanded product offerings, pack size flexibility, product substitutions and 'up to' amounts. These changes will improve the shopping experience for customers and ensure that retailers are better able to meet their needs.

    "NGA did take issue with state-level stocking requirements the proposed package expansion. 'Over the years, NGA members have struggled and have been penalized for not meeting state-level stocking requirements. These requirements often lead to food waste and economic losses for stores,' Stephanie Johnson, NGA vice president of government relations, wrote in the comments. 'We suggest creating an essential foods package with reasonable stocking requirements and an optional foods package with foods that are encouraged and allowed to be sold but do not have stringent stocking requirements. This will allow our members to meet the needs of their communities while also reducing food waste and economic losses'."

    NGA urged the USDA "to consider emergency substitutions when finalizing the rule."

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon "is expanding ultrafast delivery options, a sign that it remains committed to pushing its logistics system for speed as it scales back plans in other areas."

    What this means is that even as it trims spending and lays off thousands of employees in some areas of the business, Amazon plans to expand a network of same-day warehouse sites - "a fraction of the size of Amazon’s large fulfillment warehouses and are designed to prepare products for immediate delivery" - from the current number of 45 to as many as 150 in the next few years.  The Journal notes that the "sites have primarily opened near large cities and deliver the most popular 100,000 items in Amazon’s catalog."

    The Journal reports that " Amazon uses contractors to make deliveries from the same-day sites. “Last mile” costs to deliver items from the locations can be around $3.30 a package, compared with $1.75 for packages at its traditional fulfillment sites, according to MWPVL. Using same-day sites can eliminate other costs that apply to the company’s standard fulfillment system."  Prime members who don't meet a $25 minimum on same-day orders are charged $2.99 for ultra fast deliveries.

    Some context from the Journal:

    "The expansions are happening at a crucial point for Amazon, which faces competition for fast-delivery options while Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy puts a renewed focus on profits … With ultrafast delivery, the tech company is seeking new ways to use its broad logistics apparatus to compete with the likes of Walmart Inc. and Instacart, which also provide quick shipping options to customers. Walmart has used its thousands of stores to help fulfill fast online orders."

    KC's View:

    The problem is that while Amazon is at a critical juncture in its history, tripling the number of same-day delivery sites will take time;  this isn't something it can do overnight.

    Which means that job one ought to be tightening up what it can do now.  The first step ought to be going through every item listed as Prime-eligible on its website, and if for some reason it can't be delivered within two days, it ought to lose that designation.  This should apply both to items that it is selling as a retailer, and those being sold in its Marketplace by third-parties.

    At the moment, Amazon is caught in a cycle where it is disappointing too many customers too frequently.  Promises made to its shoppers - especially those who are spending money to belong to Prime - are a kind of contract, and Amazon is not living up to its side of the deal.

    The most important thing Amazon can do is re-commit to its Prime promise.  From its inception, Jeff Bezos made Prime membership the foundation for almost everything else the company wanted to do.  His idea was to make Prime so compelling that it would be "irresponsible" for people not to be members.  

    Well, the foundation is cracking.  Jassy has to get in there and shore it up.  Now.  Before the cracking turns into crumbling, and what has been built upon it loses structural integrity.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    From the New York Times this morning:

    "Despite a year of aggressive interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve aimed at taming inflation, and signs that the red-hot labor market is cooling off, most companies have not taken the step of cutting jobs. Outside of some high-profile companies mostly in the tech sector, such as Google’s parent Alphabet, Meta and Microsoft, layoffs in the economy as a whole remain remarkably, even historically, rare.

    "There were fewer layoffs in December than in any month during the two decades before the pandemic, government data show. Filings for unemployment insurance have barely increased. And the unemployment rate, at 3.4 percent, is the lowest since 1969 … For Federal Reserve policymakers, the surprising strength of the job market is a source of both optimism and concern. The low rate of unemployment suggests that a recession is not imminent, but also that the Fed has not achieved its aim in slowing down the economy.

    "For workers, the picture is clearer: For now, at least, the historically strong job market remains intact."

    The Times goes on:

    "Economists say a variety of factors could be driving employers to hold on to workers.

    "Some may be scarred by how difficult and costly it has been in recent years to recruit and train employees. Some may be worried about finding themselves short-handed if they need to hire quickly after a fleeting downturn — as was the case when the economy reopened rapidly early in the pandemic. Others may still be trying to make up for staffing shortfalls after the pandemic’s upheaval. The leisure and hospitality industry, for instance, is still about half a million jobs below its prepandemic level.

    "More fundamentally, the pandemic, and the persistently tight labor market that ensued, may have profoundly reshaped how the nation’s employers think about staffing levels and hiring."

    KC's View:

    I've made this point before, but quite frankly, I don't think it can be made too often.

    The most important thing that retailers can do is remember a word that was often used during the early days of the pandemic:  essential.

    In those circumstances, retailers maintained that front line workers were essential to businesses that had been deemed essential not just by authorities, but, more importantly, by the culture.  But the thing is, those employees were essential before the pandemic, and they're essential now.  But the urgency has been lost in many workplaces, and that's a shame.

    I think that employers should be scarred by the events of the past, and so should commit to creating cultures of caring that reflect the essential roles that employees play in their organizations.

    For many employers - not all, because there are some exceptions - it will be a moment lost if their attitudes about hiring and retention are not profoundly and fundamentally reshaped.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Part-time work is exploding.

    "The number of Americans working part time rose by 1.2 million in December and January compared with the preceding months, according to the Labor Department. Most of that increase - 857,000 workers - was driven by people who worked part time by choice, not because they were unable to find full-time work or their hours were cut.

    "The total number of people working part time voluntarily—22.1 million in January—is now almost six times the 4.1 million who are working part time but would prefer full-time hours. That is the highest ratio in two decades. In the first months of the pandemic, when millions of Americans were laid off and couldn’t find full-time jobs, or saw their hours cut, those numbers were about even. In the 20 years before the Covid-19 pandemic, the ratio typically stayed between three to one and five to one.

    "In total, 16.3% of the 160 million Americans who were employed in January worked part time hours, which the Labor Department defines as anything less than 35 hours in a week."

    KC's View:

    This will be sort of old news to people in the retail food business, which has relied in part-time workers forever.

    Properly nurtured, great part-timers can be wonderful ambassadors for a business, and every bit as essential as full-timers.  But that means extending a culture of caring to them, too … they have to be treated with respect and encouraged to feel a sense of ownership in the business.  In many cases, they're not choosing part-time work because of laziness, but rather because they have other pressures and priorities in their lives.  That's fine, and in fact sensitivity to those things can help make them part of the family.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    From the Los Angeles Times:

    "Consumers are willing to pay monthly subscription fees for streaming services, pet food and even toilet paper. And now some restaurants are betting they’ll do the same for their favorite meals.

    "Large chains such as Panera and P.F. Chang’s as well as neighborhood hangouts are increasingly experimenting with the subscription model as a way to ensure steady revenue and customer visits. Some offer unlimited drinks or free delivery for a monthly fee; others will bring out your favorite appetizer each time you visit.

    "They’re following a trend: The average American juggled 6.7 subscriptions in 2022, up from 4.2 in 2019, according to Rocket Money, a personal finance app."

    According to the story, "Rick Camac, executive director of Industry Relations at the Institute of Culinary Education, said he expects many more restaurants to offer subscriptions in the coming years. Consumers are accustomed to them, he said, and the regular monthly income helps restaurants manage their cash flow."

    KC's View:

    Subscriptions can take many forms.  Free delivery.  Preferred seating.  Dining credits.  Maybe a free appetizer or drink.  I like this idea a lot.

    I've long written here (and elsewhere) about the power of being seen by any business as a regular, and that's what this is all about.  And, restaurants can get people to pay for the privilege and pleasure.

    If there were a local restaurant that I loved that offered this option, depending on the benefit I'd grab it in a minute.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    From Fast Company:

    "Hordes of Canadian wild beasts dubbed 'super pigs,' which have been running amok in the frigid north, are now about to set foot in the United States.

    "Their arrival could wreak havoc on the ecological balance by menacing our native flora and fauna, wildlife, crops, livestock, pets, cities, and water quality, animal experts warn … The super pigs are a hybrid between classic pink farm pigs and feral boars - with the latter being among the most vicious and fearsome creatures that a human can stumble upon in nature, which should be 'avoided at all costs,' according to

    "The two animals were originally crossbred by Canadian farmers to help their pigs grow fatter and survive the country’s cold winters. But when the market for pork meat dried up in the early 2000s, packs of them were set free (or escaped), and have roamed the western prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba ever since.

    "Now, those pigs are taking their genetically enhanced durability, along with their species’ sharpness of mind, across the border into American territory - apparently starting with North Dakota and Montana, which might be no different from home for them, as they can withstand freezing winds and are able to burrow for warmth in the harshest of climates, even lining their dens with harvested cattail plants for insulation."

    The pigs are said to be massive - the largest one ever detected was 660 pounds.  And pigs of that size eat a lot.  (Also, presumably, anything they want.  Ranging from goslings and ducklings to a fully grown whitetail deer.)

    Here's the money quote:

    "The only people who should be worried about this is anyone who lives in North America and eats meat, or eats vegetables, or eats any foods based on grain crops, or spends time outside for any reason," said Ryan Brook, leader of the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian Wild Pig Research Project.

    KC's View:

    This past weekend, Cocaine Bear had an impressive opening weekend box office with a $23 million haul.  I have to imagine the producers are readying Super Pig for a 2024 release.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    From Bloomberg:

    " founder Jeff Bezos received France’s highest honor at a private ceremony hosted by President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace on Feb. 16, according to people familiar with the matter. 

    "Macron, who has been promoting the country’s tech industry, personally handed the world’s third-richest person the Legion of Honor award … Representatives for Amazon declined to comment. The French presidency didn’t reply to repeated requests for comment."  Bezos "was formally awarded the Legion of Honor under then President Nicolas Sarkozy over a decade ago but had never picked it up in person."

    The story goes on:

    "The Legion of Honor, founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is a rare distinction for a foreigner and isn’t necessarily made public when given to a non-French citizen. It may be given to outsiders who have rendered 'cultural or economic services to France, or promoted causes that it defends,' according to the Legion of Honor office’s website."

    Bloomberg notes that Bezos "joins Microsoft founder Bill Gates and its former Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, who were given the award in 2017 and 2011 respectively. Gates received the honor with his now ex-wife, Melinda French Gates, for their work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Previous foreign recipients also include musicians Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney."

    KC's View:

    I wonder what Any Jassy thinks about this.  Something along the lines of…

    "Sure.  He goes to Pais and gets inducted in Napoleon's private club, and I'm here in Seattle trying to keep this behemoth moving forward, and avoiding 'Day Two' syndrome.  Connerie!"

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The University of Texas at Austin said that it is partnering with H-E-B "to offer campus grocery delivery to students, faculty members and staffers … Same-day shopping and delivery are available. Personal shoppers will handpick the items, and Favor delivery drivers will deliver the goods to the indicated campus location. Door-to-door delivery is also available to all students, including those living off campus."

    Everything H-E-B offers online – from bread, milk and vegetables to toilet paper, make-up and aspirin - will be available to the students.

    “Being able to offer this service is a great resource for students who don’t have time to shop or who don’t have transportation beyond campus, helping them easily access the groceries and supplies they need,” said Reagins-Lilly, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, in a prepared statement.

    The announcement notes that "the university and H-E-B have had a symbiotic relationship, and the delivery service is a natural extension of the long established relationship. The corporation has supported UT Austin programs and research, donating more than $6.6 million.

    One presumes that these young people are so busy studying that they can't get out for food.

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon has participated in an investment group that is putting $104 million into FreshToHome, described as "an online grocer that operates mainly in India and the United Arab Emirates."

    According to the story, "FreshToHome, now one of the largest players in India’s $50 billion fish and meat market, was started in 2015 by eight co-founders who worked together at startups such as Zynga and in Silicon Valley and India. The company is present in 160 cities, and it makes about 15% of its revenue from the UAE … The company has been growing at 50% each year and plans to expand into Saudi Arabia in the next 12 months and then across the wider Gulf Cooperation Council region."

    An initial public offering (IPO) is seen as being about three years down the road.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    •  FMI-The Food Industry Association has submitted comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "regarding the agency’s proposed rule to update the definition of the term 'healthy' when used as a nutrient content claim in labeling."

    "While we commend the agency for recognizing the need to make updates to the definition and we broadly support the framework of the proposed rule, we are concerned the proposal is too restrictive in scope and could inadvertently lead to consumers avoiding certain foods that are otherwise part of a healthy eating pattern," said FMI Chief Public Policy Officer Jennifer Hatcher.  “We urge FDA to consider more flexible criteria that takes into account the wide variety of foods that are considered healthy in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A definition that only allows an exceedingly small number of foods to bear a healthy claim would be counter-productive to the agency’s goal of improving public health.

    “To be clear, FMI supports efforts to provide consumers with information to make informed decisions about their health. As part of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, FMI members committed to reaching at least 100 million consumers through evidence-based messages and educational tools in 2023 to support healthy eating patterns that align with the Dietary Guidelines and are working to exceed that goal. We stand ready to work with FDA to ensure updates to the definition of ‘healthy’ are inclusive of the broad array of foods that both federal guidelines and nutrition professionals alike recognize as beneficial for physical well-being.”

    •  Axios reports that "McDonald's is rolling out chicken-less McNuggets — dubbed McPlant nuggets — in Germany this week.  While the fake meat revolution hasn't quite taken off in the U.S., customers in Europe have been more receptive to plant-based McDonald's products."

    McDonald's McPlant burger was pretty much a bust in the US, though it has become a permanent menu item in Ireland, the Uk, Austria and the Netherlands.

    The new nuggets are made by Beyond Meat, and consist of peas, corn and wheat with a tempura batter.

    Whether the McPlant nuggets are sold elsewhere will depend on demand, the company says.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    As noted several times in this space, MNB has initiated a new sponsorship tier that reflects what I think is a new approach to the topic - I've decided that I really want to forge sustained relationships with companies that have value propositions and missions in which I believe .. and that, in turn, believe in MNB's value proposition and mission.  My goal is to not just provide a forum for these "charter sponsors," but also commit to helping them grow their businesses in a variety of ways.  In other words, it ain't just about banner and tile ads.  It is about moving the needle forward in terms of innovation and, ultimately, service to the shopper.

    I'm pleased to announce today that Daymon has joined the MNB family as a charter sponsor - which I think is terrific, since I've always endorsed the  aggressive use of a strong private label program as being critical to retail differentiation.

    Daymon makes it very clear - the company drives Private Brand innovation, differentiation and results, and is very much an influencer when it comes to "all aspects of Private Brand development, from strategy to execution to consumer engagement."  Daymon's unique approach helps retailers and brands set themselves apart — boosting brand presence, category effectiveness and speed to shelf, based on what it calls "recent, relevant and reliable information."

    So I'm thrilled that Daymon continues to be part of the MNB family -  and I look forward to focusing on differentiation and innovation together.

    Published on: February 27, 2023

    …will return.