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    Published on: April 24, 2023

    Sometimes I get things wrong.  (More than I'd like to admit.). Sometimes I'm really glad I got thing wrong.  The other evening I was at Target Field in Minneapolis to watch the Twins play the Nationals.  It was one of those times.

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    The Buffalo News reports that researchers at the University of Buffalo are teaming up with Instacart "for new research aimed at making shopping for healthy foods easier for families on a budget."  The goal is "to test nutrition intervention programs for families at higher risk for obesity."

    The university researchers want "to enroll 70 families, about half of them low-income, in the study, which will examine whether providing families with healthy recipes and 'preloading' their online Instacart shopping carts with the healthier ingredients to prepare them will impact their shopping choices."

    According to the story, "The concept of optimal defaults comes out of the field of behavioral economics, a fairly new concept in grocery shopping research … The new research will use Instacart Health technology for the online shopping and will incorporate recipes created by registered dietitians to promote health. Instacart will also help fund the study … The researchers will be looking at outcomes including the nutritional quality of grocery purchases, the home food environment and parent and child dietary intake among families receiving the 'default' program, compared to those receiving the healthy recipes, but no pre-filled grocery carts."

    KC's View:

    This certainly seems like worthwhile research to do, and it allows Instacart to expand its influence in the segment.

    Interestingly, this research is aimed at creating something that we discussed on stage more than a year ago at the 2022 National Grocers Association (NGA) convention.  I was facilitating a panel discussion in which we were talking about uncommon partnerships, and a business plan actually emerged from the conversation that would have retailers working with companies like Sifter (that offer consumers a way to sift out products they cannot/should not eat and identify products that they can- nutrition as a service) and Replenium (which provides automatic replenishment for consumers, sort of like Subscribe & Save for everyone else) to more easily get healthier products into consumers' kitchens.

    (Full disclosure:  Both Replenium and Sifter now are MNB Charter Sponsors.)

    The point is, these kinds of initiatives ought to be the center of the target for any retailer looking to serve customers with health needs.  

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    The Los Angeles Times reports that an Oakland, California, Trader Joe's store has been successfully organized, with workers voting 73-53 in favor of joining the independent union Trader Joe’s United.  The vote was tallied by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

    The Times writes that "the Oakland store is the third Trader Joe’s to unionize; workers at stores in Hadley, Mass., and Minneapolis have also voted to certify Trader Joe’s United as their representative.  In total, six locations have held union elections."

    The NLRB said that the next step is for Trader Joe's to begin "bargaining in good faith with the Oakland employees."

    According to the Times, "The win for the union in Oakland comes packaged with a loss: Also on Thursday, a bid to unionize a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan narrowly failed when the vote by workers resulted in a 76-76 tie. (A majority vote is needed for Trader Joe’s United to represent a store.)

    "Trader Joe’s has been criticized for its response to efforts by workers to organize. Workers have accused the company of following the lead of Starbucks, which has cultivated a progressive, worker-friendly image but has aggressively cracked down on union organizing and stalled in bargaining a contract with newly unionized workers.

    "On March 1, an administrative law judge with the NLRB found that Trader Joe’s had unlawfully disciplined, suspended and fired a worker at a store in Houston who raised concerns about workplace policies. The judge directed the company to reinstate the worker and award back pay."

    KC's View:

    One of the things that I think the union movements at some of these so-called progressive companies have in common is a sense of employees feeling let down.  There is a sense that workers felt that their employer was better than most, stood for more than most, and that they expected more than just a paycheck from the companies for which they worked.   When companies - at least from the perspective of these union organisers - did not live up to their expectations, they decided to do something about it.  As opposed to getting another job.

    I know it may be bittersweet, but at some level companies should be happy about being held to a higher standard, and about having employees who felt so invested in their employers that disappointment pushed them in this direction.

    I'm not saying that unionization will solve everything.  Far from it.  But I do think that these feelings can offer retailers a map that they actually can use to avoid additional unionization movements in the future.  Unless, of course, they prefer the passive-aggressive approach to union negotiations, which creates more, not fewer, problems.

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    Advertising Age reports that Alissa Heinerscheid, the Bud Light marketing VP who took a lot of heat for her attempt to broaden the brand's appeal, has taken a leave of absence.  The story says she will be replaced by Budweiser global marketing VP Todd Allen.

    The move comes weeks after Bud Light came in for significant criticism after it looked to broaden the brand's appeal by sending a swag bag to a transgender "influencer" named Dylan Mulvaney, who took to social media to promote the brand.  (Which, as it happens, is exactly what "influencers" are suppose to do.)

    Heinerscheid apparently was perceived as making things worse when she said that "Bud Light had been kind of a brand of fratty, kind of out of touch humor, and it was really important that we had another approach."  The "fratty" contingent took offense at this, and responded by calling for boycotts and posting videos with people shooting guns at Bud Light packages.

    KC's View:

    I want to get past the debate about whether Bud Light was right or wrong.  It is a fair argument that since Bud Light is a brand in decline, the company needed to reach beyond its traditional demographic base.  It also is fair to say that maybe they should've calculated possible blowback from reaching out to a demographic so different from its traditional base.  And, I think it is fair to say that some of the people who were the most vehement and virulent in their negative responses are transphobic cretins.  (Too far?  Too soon?)

    My response to Heinerscheid's "leave of absence" is that it proves one thing - that the powers that be at Bud Light are gutless invertebrates.

    Reality check:  Heinerscheid didn't make the decision to widen the customer base on her own.  There were meetings.  Lots of meetings.  The leadership at Bud Light, Anheuser Busch and their outside marketing consultants pondered this ad nauseam, trying to figure out how to reverse the brand's decline.

    Debate all you want about the wisdom of the strategic marketing initiative.  This was a company decision, and Heinerscheid's "leave of absence" is all about using her as a scapegoat.  This is utter B.S., especially after Anheuser Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth posted a letter that was so mush-mouthed and non-specific about the controversy that it was hard to know what he was talking about.  (If Heinerscheid was the actual author of that letter, I'm happy to reconsider my opinion.)

    I think ineffective leaders who turn their people into fall guys are detestable.  

    Take the heat. Or get out of the kitchen. Or, in this case, the brewery.

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    Bloomberg reports that Apple has teamed up with Goldman Sachs to introduce a high-yield savings account as it looks "to attract US financial clients with an attractive rate and the ease of its Wallet app."

    According to the story, "The new offering will let Apple Card users earn a 4.15% annual yield, more than 10 times the national average … The account has no fees, minimum deposit or balance requirements and can be set up from within the Wallet app.

    "The move thrusts the tech company’s clout into a broader fight for depositors, potentially adding to the pressure on other financial firms that are trying to protect their funding. Small and midsize banks, in particular, have been facing withdrawals this year, as savers chase higher returns elsewhere or move their money to safe havens, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., in the wake of Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse last month."

    KC's View:

    Probably a propitious time for a company often described as the world's most trusted brand to get into a business that a lot of folks are skittish about these days.

    At its core, this is about sucking people into the Apple ecosystem, in the same way that ApplePay has in many ways transformed the mobile payments business.  In many ways, this seems like an irresistible offer - paying higher interest rates, allowing customers to create savings accounts with "spare change," and connecting it all through the Apple Wallet app.

    And Apple gets to continue to build trust, expand the networks served by its devices, and create connections that will be sustained and grown over time.

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    Terrific piece in Epicurious about how the bananas that we all eat today is almost nothing like the bananas that first became popular in the US in the late 1800s.

    An excerpt:

    "As you cut sweet, creamy, and slightly airy slices of yellow banana into your morning cereal, it may be hard to imagine the familiar fruit tasting any different. Like the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave, most Americans are unaware that today’s yellow banana is like a shadow of the one that preceded it—a yellow banana with a sweeter flavor, firmer texture, and better culinary versatility was once the norm.  The long, curved, school-bus yellow banana that America first marveled at was a variety called the Gros Michel, or 'Big Mike.'

    "When the yellow banana came to the United States in the late 1800s, most Americans hadn’t tasted anything like it before. For almost three quarters of a century, large produce corporations—especially Chiquita and Dole—imported the Gros Michel banana into the United States for the mass commercial market."

    The problem is that as demand for bananas grew, cultivation practices to meet that demand changed:  "By 1960, the Gros Michel was nearly impossible to find, and a new banana had become the default: the Cavendish."  Which is, the story suggests, plainly inferior.

    And why did we make the change?  In the words of Epicurious, "It’s all rooted in a sinister plot of American corporations exploiting the people of South America for profit while keeping up with our demand for this lovely banana."

    And you can read the rest here.

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    •  The Street has a piece that starts out this way:

    "Impulsive Amazon purchases can cause even the most conscious consumer to scratch her head. But when Amazon itself makes a purchase for nearly $14 billion, one might imagine there's also a multiyear, highly detailed plan of execution that goes along with it."

    That purchase, of course, is Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods, which hasn't exactly gone like it planned.  Perhaps, The Street suggests, because Amazon didn't really have a plan.  It just wanted to make a splash, and would figure things out later.  (In 2017, that may seemed like a good strategy.  Today, not so much.)

    The story points out that while Amazon wanted to make a play in the mass-market grocery world, Whole Foods didn't fulfill that need - it was too much of a niche player, albeit a big niche player, to satisfy Amazon's needs.  And then, Amazon's various other attempts to grow a grocery presence - Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh - have only been intermittently successful. 

    Now, there are reports suggesting that "the best use of Whole Foods for Amazon might be to build a number of off-site kitchens to deliver more items for Whole Foods’ food bars, and to ultimately help it compete further in the food delivery service world against DoorDash.  Last year, Amazon bought a stake in GrubHub, and offered Prime subscribers a one-year membership to the food delivery service, indicating it may want to push further into the meal delivery space."

    And, CEO Andy Jassy keeps saying he wants the company to succeed at groceries, but he hasn't found the best/right format yet.

    Which basically brings us back to the beginning - that in 2017, when Amazon bought Whole Foods, it might've been nice if they actually had a plan.

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    •  CNBC reports that "Walmart is selling online apparel brand Eloquii to FullBeauty Brands, marking the retailer’s third divestiture of a direct-to-consumer brand this year.

    "The big-box retailer sold Bonobos to WHP Global and Express earlier this month and offloaded Moosejaw to Dick’s Sporting Goods in February. The sales are a reversal of a 2017-18 strategy led by Marc Lore, Walmart’s former head of e-commerce."

    CNBC writes that "while Lore left Walmart in 2021 after five years, his contributions significantly transformed the retailer’s e-commerce business, including fulfillment operations, shopper delivery options and speed. His efforts boosted the number of products sold online from 70 million to 'hundreds of millions' today.

    "Walmart’s online sales now make up 13% of total annual sales, as of its most recent fiscal year-end, up from 5% in 2019.

    "To be sure, there were also a number of Lore-led businesses that were not ultimately successful, including text message concierge service JetBlack and the eventual wind down of Lore-founded e-commerce company, which Walmart bought for $3.3 billion and which brought Lore to the retailer.

    "In addition to Eloquii, Bonobos and Moosejaw, Walmart has unloaded Modcloth, Bare Necessities and ShoeBuy in recent years, all Lore-led acquisitions."

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From the Des Moines Register:

    "Ending speculation about the future of Kum & Go, the Krause Group has agreed to sell its venerable Des Moines-based convenience store chain to Salt Lake City-based Maverik, the companies announced Friday.

    "The deal takes an iconic Iowa brand out of the hands of the Krauses, the founding family who started the 400-store chain with a single location in the small town of Hampton in 1959. The deal also provides the Krauses with more cash as they expand their diverse holdings, which include an Italian professional soccer team and visions of a $550 million string of developments in downtown Des Moines, including a soccer stadium they hope to build by 2025."

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    •  Bed Bath & Beyond has filed for bankruptcy protection, the result, as the New York Times put it, of "an increasingly unwieldy corporate structure and its failure to fully reckon with the ascendance of online shopping."

    According to the story, Bed Bath & Beyond "said it would start the process of closing the company’s 360 Bed Bath & Beyond stores and 120 Buy Buy Baby locations on Wednesday and seek to sell parts of its business. In its filing with the bankruptcy court, the company said that it expected all stores to close by June 30.

    "It will stop accepting its coupons on Wednesday, when its store closing sales begin. Customers will have until May 8 to use Bed Bath & Beyond gift cards."

    It is ironic that it will stop accepting coupons this week, since it is the ubiquity of those blue-and-white coupons that created a situation in which pretty much nobody would go to the store without them.  Bed Bath & Beyond lost any connection to the notion of value, and I've ben arguing here for a long time that it was a retail concept well past its expiration date.

    •  MetroUK reports that Tesco is going to open a pub for just two days - May 4 and 5 - in downtown London, just three miles from Buckingham Palace, to celebrate the May 6 coronation of King Charles III.

    According to the story, "It will be called The King in the Castle and all proceeds will go to the supermarket’s charity partner, The Prince’s Trust, which was founded by the King in his former role as the Prince of Wales to support young people across the UK.

    "Tesco has encouraged people to ‘do good by going to the pub’."

     On the one hand, I find myself on Team Meghan, since I'm absolutely convinced that the Royal Family is guilty of some level of racism.  On the other hand, I really don't give a damn because, in my heart, I am an Irisher.  I also think that John Lennon and the Beatles got it absolutely right in their assessment of the British gentry:

    Published on: April 24, 2023

    MNB has initiated a new sponsorship tier that, as I've pointed out here in the past, 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 am happy to announce this morning that FMS has joined the MNB family as a charter sponsor.

    It says it right there in the FMS Logo:  "Helping retailers succeed."

    We all know that retailers need to pay close attention to their finances, and that is the critical service that FMS provides.  FMS empowers retailers so they know where to invest and where to find savings, and permits them to be, in the words we often use here on MNB, both efficient and effective.

    I think it is a terrific fit that FMS is joining the MNB family, because, after all, for more than 21 years, we've been all about helping retailers succeed.