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    Published on: May 8, 2023

    May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in my Connecticut town, a local businessman provided a forum in which these important issues could be discussed and people could find access to critical resources.  The theme:  "You are not alone."  The event made me think about why this is a matter of critical importance to retailers and suppliers.

    Published on: May 8, 2023

    by Kevin Coupe

    Maybe it isn't an Eye-Opener anymore, because these stories seem to be reported almost daily.

    But here it is, from the Dallas Morning News:

    "At least nine people were killed and seven others wounded in a shooting at the Allen Premium Outlets mall Saturday afternoon, and a police officer killed the shooter."

    From the Associated Press:

    "Federal officials are looking into whether the gunman who killed eight people at a Dallas-area mall expressed an interest in white supremacist ideology Sunday as they work to discern a motive for the attack, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press. The official cautioned the investigation is in its early stages.

    "Federal agents have been reviewing social media accounts they believe were used by Mauricio Garcia, 33, and posts that expressed interest in white supremacist and neo-Nazi views, said the official, who could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

    "Garcia also had a patch on his chest when he was killed by police that read 'RWDS,' an acronym for the phrase 'Right Wing Death Squad,' which is popular among right-wing extremists and white supremacy groups, the official said.

    Allen, Texas, is about 40 miles north of Dallas.  It is a small city of about 104,000 people.

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told Fox News that he is going to Allen to “begin the process of providing hope and healing.”  And in a prepared statement, he called the shooting an “unspeakable tragedy.”

    Except, of course, that it is speakable.  We seem to speak of them all the time.

    As for providing "hope and healing," good luck with that.  I think a lot of people believe that the situation, as it currently exists, is hopeless.  And the people who were killed will never be healed.

    It was just a couple of weeks ago that we reported here about a Harvard Institute of Politics poll with some troubling revelations about people age 30 and younger:

    "Overall, nearly half (48%) of young Americans indicate that they have felt unsafe in the past month, including 16% in a shopping mall, 15% on public transportation, 13% in their neighborhood -- and 21% somewhere else in their city or town. Twenty-one percent (21%) of college students felt unsafe at their school.

    "Forty percent (40%) of young Americans are concerned about being a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting. One-in-three (33%) are concerned about someone close to them being a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting (31%)."

    Which creates enormous stress on young people, putting their mental health at risk.  (Not just young people, of course.  That just happened to be the focus of the Harvard poll.)

    Shooting happen at churches and concerts and schools and malls and supermarkets.

    I find myself wondering what would happen, in response to this particular case, if the CEOs of major food retailers doing business in Texas - the names include H-E-B, Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Whole Foods, and Costco - went to the governor's office and made a simple statement:  "Whatever we are doing to keep people safe from gun violence isn't working.  Our customers are at risk.  Our employees are at risk.  We have to do more, and just adding more armed guards to our store staffs isn't the answer.  And if you want us to continue investing in Texas, you have to do more than just pray, have to do more than offering healing."

    Now, that would be an Eye-Opener.

    To be clear, I don't know what the answer is.  I do understand that the culture of guns in Texas is different from how it exists in Connecticut, where I live.

    But people are dying.  They're being shot to death.  And I think maybe it is time for retailers - whose stores and people increasingly seem to be in the cross-hairs - to do something more.

    Published on: May 8, 2023

    The New York Times has a story about how a bread revival seems to be taking place, with some restaurants eliminating the free bread basket and replacing it was a "bread course," charging a premium for differentiating products.

    An excerpt replete with examples:

    "'Our Breads,' declares the menu at Marcus Samuelsson’s Hav & Mar, in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. At Le Fantastique, in San Francisco, the 'Bread & Butter' gets equal billing with the mains: $12 for a baguette with smoked-peppercorn-and-yuzu-kosho-infused butter. Hav & Mar’s basket with Ethiopian-influenced teff buttermilk biscuits and sweet blue cornbread is $19, Nura’s basket is $21 and both offerings come with an assortment of dips … At Kann in Portland, Ore., the plantain brioche ($11 for two) requires two or three weeks for the plantains to adequately ripen, which - in addition to presenting storage challenges - means that if the restaurant runs out, they can’t count on finding more for that day’s work at the perfect state of mushy ripeness."

    There are two opposing factors at work here.  Bread is easy to make because flour is cheap.  But bread is not easy to make because it requires a lot of labor, and labor ain't cheap.

    “In the beginning, I was very worried about what the perceived value would be, because it isn’t cheap, obviously,” said Sam Short, who runs the bread and pastry program at Nura. Customers would ask, “$21 for a bread basket?” But, Ms. Short said, that’s always followed by, “It was totally worth it.”

    KC's View:

    "Totally worth it."  There's a phrase that underlines the difference between price and value.

    Look, I'm not saying that everyone can or should invest in baking plantain brioches or sweet blue cornbread.  (Though they both sound delicious.  I'm all in.)  But I do think that if there is a bread revival taking place, retailers of every stripe have the ability to take advantage of renewed interest in the category.

    For starters, how about making sure there is great white, wheat or sourdough bread for sale in your stores?  A little bit more expensive than the packaged kind, but totally worth it for those who buy and eat it.  And, while you're at it, could you make sure that when customers enter the store, they actually are greeted by the aroma of freshly baked bread?  Which makes them hungry?  And remind them of why food can be transporting and transformative?

    Published on: May 8, 2023

    VegOut reports that last Friday, Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey opened Love.Life, the first of what he hopes will be a chain of vegan restaurants that will also offer a range of other health-related services, in Culver City, California.

    According to the story, the restaurant "will eventually incorporate not only the power of nourishing food but also holistic medical care and wellness therapies from around the world to make lasting health and vitality attainable. The opening of their Culver City restaurant will be the first step of this experience, offering nourishing and delicious cuisine that celebrates the freshness and flavor of whole plant-based foods."

    On the company's website, Love.Life lays out its priorities this way:

    •  "Health is a journey, and we believe in the power of food to heal, optimize, and nourish the body. Our food philosophy is simple: eat whole, minimally processed plant foods that are both nutritious and delicious."

    •  "We believe that lasting health and vitality is attainable. By addressing sleep, nutrition, movement and stress, we help prevent and reverse chronic conditions and optimize your health with cutting edge medical technology."

    •  "We promote holistic health and vitality. Here, cutting-edge recovery technology, customized movement plans, and evidence-based alternative therapies converge to jumpstart transformations."

    On its website, Love.Life currently is offering telehealth appointments with doctors who, they say, will "partner with you on a path to wellness that addresses lifestyle changes like movement, stress reduction, nutrition, and more, while working with you to manage any existing medical conditions."

    KC's View:

    Now that he's opening restaurants and offering other services in the People's Republic of Southern California, Mackey may have to a little more discreet about expressing opinions about folks who he needs to be his customers.  Seems to me that he was pretty casual about criticizing the priorities and opinions of many Whole Foods customers once he left that company;  he'll probably want to be a little less dogmatic in the immediate future.

    Published on: May 8, 2023

    The Atlantic has an excellent piece about how, while the notion of an "informed consumer" may always have been a myth, e-commerce has made it even more problematic, largely because online shoppers are even more easily manipulated than their in-store counterparts.

    An excerpt:

    "Brick-and-mortar retailers are no strangers to consumer manipulation. But shopping on the internet tricks would-be buyers into believing that if they can’t distinguish reality from sales tactics, it’s their own fault. Shoppers can now conduct their own mini research projects when deciding what to buy: They can read reviews, watch videos, consult the opinions of influencers and product-recommendation sites such as Wirecutter and The Strategist, compare products across multiple brands. But access to such information offers merely the illusion of control."

    The story goes on:

    "Because you’re shopping online, you can’t go look at most of the products in a store, and you can’t tell how - or whether - one thing is different from the very similar thing two thumbnails down. You can’t tell if a particular product will spy on you or sell your data … You buy something cheap and hope it holds up—or at least tides you over—for a while. If it doesn’t, you probably can’t get someone on the phone to solve your problem, so you toss it or squirrel it away in the back of a storage closet."

    KC's View:

    Part of the problem - and I think this is especially evident on Amazon - is that pages are so cluttered that it is almost impossible to find what you want.  This is bad for the shopper, and even if the online retailer thinks it is good for its vendors, I think in the long run it isn't good for anyone.

    I had this experience over the weekend while I was shopping for a Mother's Day present for Mrs. Content Guy.  (I won't be specific on the off chance she reads MNB today.  And I've already erased my browsing history.). I knew exactly what I was looking for, but even though I was specific in the search field, I got so much stuff to look through before I found the item that it was irritating.  Much of this was "sponsored content" in other words, ads.  I just cannot imagine that in the long run, this is good when trying to create a positive customer experience.

    Published on: May 8, 2023

    •  From The Information:

    "Instacart has long primed itself for a much-watched public debut, keeping its regulatory filings up to date and improving profits. But one new factor may delay a public debut: a slowdown in growth.

    "In the first quarter, Instacart saw its gross order volume grow between 5% and 10% compared to the same period last year, people briefed on the matter said. That compares with 16% for all of 2022, when gross order volume - the dollar value of orders flowing through a marketplace before the company takes a cut from fees from customers and grocery retailers - reached $29 billion. Order volume is an indicator of revenue. The firm’s net revenue, which includes a growing pool of advertising dollars, couldn't be learned.

    "The slowdown could illustrate that the grocery-delivery firm is still dealing with the aftershocks of Covid-19, which have made growth more uneven. Instacart saw a huge spike in orders in 2020, as the pandemic began, and then again in January last year, when the Omicron variant of Covid-19 swept the U.S. Instacart's growth also compares unfavorably with the performance of publicly traded restaurant-delivery firms DoorDash and Uber, which reported year-over-year growth in gross delivery bookings delivery growth of 29% and 12% last quarter, respectively."

    •  From The Information:

    "Amazon is building a team to work on artificial intelligence tools that will generate photos and videos for merchants to use in advertising campaigns on its platform, a company spokesperson confirmed, efforts that could help diversify its ad business.

    "Amazon's ad business has grown by double-digit percentages every quarter since Amazon started breaking out its revenue in 2021. It brought in $38 billion last year but currently centers on ads that give merchants a boost in search results. However, Amazon is trying to build a broader ad business, including through selling spots on its free video-streaming service, Freevee, as well as during Thursday Night Football broadcasts on Prime Video. The company also sells audio ads on Amazon Music and even runs digital ads on screens inside Amazon Fresh grocery stores, among other efforts."

    The story notes that "Amazon is looking to push sellers toward new ad formats with generative AI … Amazon’s hiring for AI ad roles comes despite cost cutting that’s seen the company slash 27,000 jobs, including some within the ads division."

    Published on: May 8, 2023

    •  USA Today reports that "CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent company of fast food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, is rolling out artificial intelligence at its drive-thrus.

    "The company is partnering with AI companies Presto Automation, OpenCity, and Valyant AI to automate voice ordering at participating drive-thru locations across the country, according to news releases. Carl's Jr. and Hardee's operate roughly 2,800 restaurants across 44 states.

    "The partnerships are meant to boost accuracy, speed, and revenue and help fast-food chains manage staffing shortages.

    "CKE chief technology officer Phil Crawford noted that a pilot program with Presto yielded positive results, with deployed stores recording a 'significant' uptick in revenue thanks to the technology’s ability to upsell customers."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that Christmas Tree Shops - which has offered year-round accessibility to holiday decorations - has "filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which means the business will stay open and restructure its finances under court supervision by August. But owner Handil Holdings announced in a statement that the move will likely to lead to the closure of up to 10 its 82 stores, which include 15 in Massachusetts and four in New Hampshire."

    Published on: May 8, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  Walmart announced that it has named Latriece Watkins, who has been with the company for a quarter-century and most recently was  executive vice president of the Walmart U.S. consumables division, as its new US Chief Merchandising Officer.  Watkins succeeds Charles Redfield, who announced late last month that he was stepping down "to spend more time with his family."

    CNBC notes that "Watkins’ appointment takes place at a time when consumer spending power has been reduced by high inflation, hurting Walmart’s business and leading the company to adopt a cautious stance on 2023."

    •  BJ's Wholesale Club announced that Bob Eddy, the company's president-CEO, now also will serve as the company's chairman of the board.  Eddy succeeds Chris Baldwin, who will remain on the company’s board as a director.