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    Published on: March 17, 2023

    Some learnings from the Thursday sessions at the Western Michigan University Food marketing & Supply Chain Conference, where John Phillips of PepsiCo threw a spotlight on the advantages of smart packaging, FMI's Leslie Sarasin moderated a panel of women CEOs and founders, and I facilitated a discussion of leadership tenets and desirable skill sets.

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    The Information reports on Amazon's new deal with Rite Aid as positioning the company to pose a new threat to Instacart.

    Here's how it frames the story:

    "Amazon is mounting a challenge to Instacart through a new partnership with Rite Aid offering same-day deliveries of health, cosmetics and grocery items to Prime members in two U.S. markets.

    "The company plans to test the service in Newark, NJ and Burbank, Calif., allowing Prime members to order deliveries within two-hour windows through a dedicated Rite Aid page on Amazon’s website and app. Prescription drugs are not available through the service. The partnership marks a push by Amazon onto the territory of Instacart, which has offered speedy deliveries from Rite Aid and other pharmacies for several years.

    "Amazon is charging a $6.95 fee on Rite Aid deliveries under $40; $4.95 for deliveries between $40 and $75; and $2.95 for orders between $75 and $100. Orders above $100 come with free delivery. Instacart pricing, meanwhile, starts at $3.99 for same-day orders over $35 but can vary significantly."

    KC's View:

    First of all, the folks at Instacart must chuckle a bit when they see that take on the story.  A sizeable percentage of Instacart's growth has come because retailers have seen it as a viable and facile way to compete with Amazon.

    Second, Amazon long has offered delivery services to other retailers, so that part of it isn't new.  The terms and the segment may be different, but that's been part of Amazon's portfolio of services for as long as I can remember.

    It does make me continue to think, however, that Amazon - at a time when it is looking to maximize revenue and limit expenses - may be seeing the future more in terms of the licensing of its products and services, as opposed to being an independent provider of those things.  I may be over-reacting to the moment, but current events are creating at least the vague feeling that this shift may be coming.

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    From the Dallas Morning News:

    Kroger is about to add another layer of automation to its customers’ online grocery orders filled by robots at its new $55 million fulfillment center in southern Dallas.

    "California-based Gatik is pitching its autonomous vehicle deliveries as a way for retailers to cut costs and save time in their constant effort to be in stock by using frequent deliveries from small self-driving trucks instead of big semitrailers.

    "For Kroger, Gatik will increase same-day pick-up slots, delivery frequency and allow for longer cutoff times for when customers can place online grocery orders. Completed online grocery orders will be transported to Kroger stores for customers to pick up or have delivered."

    For the moment, safety drivers will be in the more than two dozen vehicles now on the road, but the companies expect that the vehicles will be truly autonomous by the end of next year.

    "Starting this spring, four self-driving trucks will be making deliveries to three Kroger stores," the Morning News writes.  "The trucks will travel seven days a week, 12 hours a day to make multiple runs from Kroger’s new fulfillment center in southern Dallas … Kroger is also using the facility to ship orders to hubs in Oklahoma City, Austin and San Antonio, which are markets where it doesn’t have stores."

    KC's View:

    This is progress, the kind that is really important at a time when truck drivers are in short supply.  Making the trucks autonomous and adjusting the infrastructure so it doesn't depend on gigantic tractor trailers makes a lot of sense.

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    Dallas Innovates reports that "7-Eleven today announced the rollout of 7Charge, which has begun delivering 'a convenient and reliable fast-charging experience' at several 7-Eleven stores locations in Texas, Florida, Colorado, and California—including at least two locations in Dallas and Fort Worth."

    According to the story, "7-Eleven says it intends to build 'one of the largest and most compatible EV fast-charging networks of any retailer in North America' as 7Charge locations are expanded in the U.S., and coming soon to Canada."

    Dallas Innovates continues:

    "The company said that by expanding the 7Charge network—while continuing to utilize third-party fast-charging network options—it will have the ability to grow its network 'to match consumer demand and make EV charging available to neighborhoods that have, until now, lacked access.'

    "7-Eleven says its EV charging network, once complete, will serve communities and customers at charging stations across its entire family of brands, including Speedway and Stripes stores."

    KC's View:

    I've said it before, but I'll reiterate it now.  I firmly believe that the availability of fast charging stations for the expanding number of electric vehicles on the road will prove to be a competitive advantage for the retailers that offer them.

    Those retailers will have to make other changes, of course.  They'll have to adjust their offerings so that consumers have something to do while charging their cars.

    It all will require investment.  But it also offers the opportunity for greater sales and profits, and a deepening relationship with shoppers based of differential and tangible advantages.

    In other words, the kinds of things that every retailer should be seeking every day, all the time.

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    Albertsons yesterday unveiled what it said was "the redesign of its Open Nature brand as the company strives to become the brand of choice for those health-conscious shoppers seeking a more balanced lifestyle. Open Nature, which is part of Albertsons Cos. Own Brands portfolio, provides shoppers with tasty foods made with thoughtfully chosen ingredients that are free from unnecessary additives. As customers explore easier ways to make balanced food choices, Open Nature offers a range of new products, flavors and categories to choose from at an affordable price."

    According to the announcement, "The expansion includes dairy-free yogurt alternatives, non-dairy cheese alternatives and non-dairy frozen desserts to support a balanced, plant-forward diet at an accessible price. The new plant-based products complement an existing assortment of Open Nature plant-based products including non-dairy almond milk, buttery spreads and protein powders, giving shoppers a variety of options across every aisle to satisfy their dietary preferences."

    “Research has shown that more Americans are adopting better-for-you eating patterns as a means for protecting their long-term health and preventing future health conditions. As we continue to innovate and grow our portfolio, we want to ensure that our customers have diverse options, high-quality products and thoughtfully chosen ingredients at accessible prices,” Brandon Brown, SVP of Own Brands at Albertsons, said in a prepared statement. “The expansion of our Open Nature offerings demonstrates an ongoing commitment to support the health and wellbeing of our neighbors and communities.”

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    The Conference Board is out with a new report that it says "reveals the most important motivators for Gen Z workers. They place the biggest premium on five critical values in the workplace: adequate compensation, control, safety and wellness, growth, and purpose … While these objectives are important to all generations of employees, for Gen Zers, they are imperatives. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z’s comfort with evolving technology and using social media to amplify their concerns sets them apart. Also influencing their views, Gen Zers completed their education remotely and started their careers during especially turbulent times—the COVID-19 pandemic, extraordinary economic uncertainty, geopolitical turmoil, and deep societal unrest."

    The report notes that "as US job openings continue to reach historic highs, companies urgently need Gen Z workers. The businesses that win them - and keep them - will be the companies that put a laser-like focus on understanding what matters most to them."

    You can access the report here

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    •  Walmart is actively promoting its new Clean Beauty platform, with the company's vice president of beauty, Creighton Kiper, describing it in a blog posting as "an online shop that helps our customers find beauty products that are made without ingredients they may not want.

    "We have been working to make our clean beauty standards best in class. Walmart’s Clean Beauty products are made without any ingredients included on our Made Without List (MWL). To rigorously develop this list, we reviewed state and federal regulations, consulted suppliers and called on experts such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). And we listened to customers – who increasingly desire products without certain ingredients as well as better transparency around what goes into them. That’s how we ended up with over 1,200 ingredients on the MWL."

    In the same blog, Senior Vice President of Sustainability Jane Ewing says,  "It’s all about meeting customer expectations. Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company, and this means working to have a lasting, net positive impact on society through our products, services and business practices. To do so, we adopt a shared-value approach to business, believing that we can create a strong, resilient world by addressing the issues on the minds of our stakeholders through our business. Our customers want to buy products that reflect their values, and for many customers, that means providing greater transparency into product formulations and products made without certain ingredients.

    "Our Clean Beauty at Walmart program leans into our regeneration commitment and responds to customer feedback. Much like our Built for Better platform, which makes it easier for customers to identify and shop products that meet trusted standards for personal well-being, our communities and the environment, Clean Beauty at Walmart is all about making it easier for customers to find products that align with their values."

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  NBC News reports that a class action lawsuit has been filed in New York charging Amazon, in violation of local laws, did not inform customers at its Amazon Go checkout-free stores there that facial recognition technology was in use.

    The story says that "the lawsuit says that Amazon only recently put up signs informing New York customers of its use of facial recognition technology, more than a year after the disclosure law went into effect. Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment."

    This sounds to me like another one of those lawsuits where somebody prompted by lawyers saw a potential payday.  That said, there were local ordinances that Amazon may not have observed, and you are supposed to pay a price when you violate the law.

    There is a broader lesson here, though, about the importance of transparency, even when it is not mandated.  Just tell people what tech is being used, why it is being used, and how it benefits them, and the vast majority will be fine.  The ones that are not can choose to shop elsewhere.

    •  From the Puget Sound Business Journal:

    " Inc. is standing pat regarding its decision last month to bring employees back to the office at least three days per week starting May 1.

    "In an internal FAQ posted Wednesday reviewed by the Business Journal, company leaders signaled the company doesn't intend to make many exceptions to its return-to-office policy.

    "The Seattle-based tech giant got immediate pushback after CEO Andy Jassy said in a Feb. 17 internal blog post that corporate and tech employees were expected to be in the office most days starting in May, with few exceptions. A petition urging Jassy and his senior leadership team, or 'S-team' to reverse the decision has over 30,000 signatures."

    According to the story, "Among the 28 questions answered in the FAQ, one asks whether people who live far from an assigned office still need to come in three days per week.

    "Amazon's response doesn't leave much room for exceptions to the policy, and urges such employees to discuss options like 'allowing extra time until you can relocate back to your assigned area or transferring to another team near your location.'

    "Employees will know where they're assigned by April 14, according to the FAQ."

    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "Amazon may be on the hook to make changes to improve worker safety at a Kent warehouse following a new court ruling.

    "After state regulators cited Amazon for failing to create a safe work environment, Amazon sued the Department of Labor and Industries in October. Amazon argued the department had stacked the system against employers, in part because the company is expected to implement some of the proposed changes even while Amazon appeals the citation.

    "A federal judge in Seattle ruled Tuesday against Amazon, finding the department did not violate Amazon’s right to due process.  In this case, the process that requires Amazon to address safety concerns while an appeal is pending is fast, the judge found. But that speed is warranted given concerns about the safety of workers who are still clocking in every day."

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "Fewer Americans applied for jobless claims last week as the labor market continues to thrive despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to cool the economy and tamp down inflation.

    "Applications for jobless claims in the US for the week ending March 11 fell by 20,000 to 192,000 from 212,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

    "The four-week moving average of claims, which flattens out some of week-to-week volatility, fell by 750 to 196,500, remaining below the 200,000 threshold for the eighth straight week."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "HelloFresh, the German meal kit company, announced it would stop using coconut milk from Thailand this year, after allegations by the animal rights advocacy group PETA of the use of forced monkey labor in the coconut industry there.

    "Abby Dreher, a spokeswoman for HelloFresh, confirmed that 'out of an abundance of caution' the company had decided not to buy coconut milk from Thailand starting later this year. The decision was made in December and was made public last week.

    Walmart, Costco and other large American retailers have halted sales of Chaokoh coconut milk, a Thai brand, but HelloFresh has pledged to stop using coconut milk from Thailand entirely."

    The Times writes that "People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals published a report in November claiming monkeys were being abused at dozens of coconut retrieval operations that it said its investigators had visited in nine provinces in Thailand. PETA has long claimed that monkeys in Thailand are forced to climb tall trees for hours and to pick coconuts that will be used to make products such as coconut milk, flour and oil … PETA also claims that young monkeys are taken from their families to support the harvest. Abducting a wild animal is illegal in Thailand. The Thai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday."

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  CNBC reports that "Emmett Shear, the CEO of Amazon’s livestreaming service Twitch, is stepping down from his role effective immediately, the company announced Thursday.

    "Amazon acquired Twitch for almost $1 billion in 2014. The site is most known as a popular livestreaming platform for video gamers. After buying Twitch, Amazon was largely hands off with the business, though it has offered Prime subscribers perks on the livestreaming platform, such as free games and in-game loot.

    "Shear will be replaced by Twitch President Dan Clancy, who has been a 'close partner' to Shear, he wrote in a blog post. Shear said he’s stepping away to spend more time with his newborn son. Shear will continue to work at Twitch in an advisory role."

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    Yesterday we took note of a Fast Company piece arguing that it is an over-generalization to say that Gen Z is made up largely of people who are "quiet quitting" or doing the bare minimum at work, that they are devoid of a work ethic or any sort of ambition.  The larger problem, the author argues, is a "lack of interpersonal connection" and a sense of "belonging in the workplace."

    MNB reader Lisa Bosshard responded:

    KC, I couldn’t agree with you more and wanted to share a great experience I’ve had over the last 2 years.  Long story short, I took on a new employee as an analyst with zero experience in that field.  What he lacked in experience, he made up for in spades with a deep love of learning new things, being open to feedback/coaching and a strong desire to share what he learned combined with a respect for everyone he works with.  Now, I have to share, I am his mother’s age and he is younger than my grown daughter.

    However, our professional relationship works beautifully!   Our conversations range from managing personal finances to excellent documentaries and youtube learning videos.  And, I’ve learned as much from him as he learned from me.   Deep respect for all generations when one approaches work and especially learning, with the right attitude.  Great article!

    On another subject, from another MNB reader:

    In regards to the article about the 70ish woman working at the Amazon Go store in the airport.  I think this is strategically (or accidentally) brilliant!  I think this conveys the message that anyone, regardless of age or ability can use the Amazon Go technology……I am not quite 70, but even in my fifties I am finding technology starting to pass me by.

    My husband and I were just having a conversation with neighbors about our parents trying to navigate things like on-line banking and shopping, Virtual medical benefits, etc. and what it might look like when we are in our 70s and 80s!   I would be much more inspired to venture to the Amazon Go, or take up other new technology if the perception didn’t seem that it was exclusive to “green haired 25 year olds”.

    And, on yet another subject, MNB reader Dave Ahrens wrote:

    The boneless wing story reminded me of a recent visit to Outback Steakhouse. They are featuring combos with “barbecue chicken ribs” ? ? ?  – apparently an Aussie thing.

    I couldn’t imagine what part of chicken ribs would be worth eating so I asked the waitress to explain. She really couldn’t tell me what part of a chicken I would be eating but said  they are very tasty and the meat falls right off of the bone – hmmmm/clue?

    Ends up being a pretty nice surprise. Looks like they take chicken thighs and trim them a bit around the bone to about the size of a baby back rib, slow cook them like a rib and slosh bbq sauce on them. It’s maybe, like a poor man’s baby back rib? Not a very accurate name on the menu but pretty tasty.

    And one MNB reader had a thought about this week's piece about the vertical farm in the parking lot of a Roche Bros. store in Boston:

    You get to do such cool stuff!! This is an awesome find!!

    Published on: March 17, 2023

    I'm not a zombie movie guy.  I liked World War Z, but shows like "The Walking Dead" and Dawn of the Dead just aren't my thing.  Gore just makes me queasy.  And I have about the same level of enthusiasm for video games.  Again, just not my thing.

    But "The Last of Us," on HBO, has proven to be an unexpected exception, a TV series that nominally is about zombies that is based on a video game,  that I've found to be utterly addicting and thought-provoking.

    "The Last of Us" is the story of a post-apocalyptic America in which a mass fungal infection has created a pandemic that transforms people into zombie-like creatures.  Pedro Pascal plays Joel, a man with a dark past who is tasked with taking Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a hazardous country because of a belief that she may be carrying immunities that could save the human race..

    What is extraordinary about "The Last of Us" is that for the most part, it isn't very gory.  It has spasms of violence, some of it pretty rough.  But the tension levels are off the charts, because at every moment, around every corner, there is the possibility of an attack.  At the same time, Joel and Bella are such finely drawn characters, and played with such investment and intensity by Pascal and Ramsey, that we are hanging on their every move and emotion as they navigate not just the dystopian landscape, but each other.

    I loved "The Last of Us."  I'm glad that, while the first season is over, it won't be the last we'll see of Joel and Bella.  They have a conflicted, complicated and often fractured relationship, and I can't wait until season two.

    I have two recommended wines this week:

    The 2018 Cedar + Salmon Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley, a delicious wine that I had with a salmon belly carbonara.  

    The 2018 Cotes du Rhone Reserve from Chateau Mont-Redon, a full-bodied red - 80 percent Grenache and 20 percent Syrah - that I served with a seafood risotto

    That's it for this week.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.