Who’s Better Than Trader Joe’s?

Business Insider: “A regional chain that most Americans have never visited was just named the best overall grocery-store chain in the US. Wegmans was the US’s highest-rated grocery chain out of more than 20 that appeared in Market Force Information’s annual survey of the industry … This is the second year in a row in which Wegmans has earned the top spot — though this year, it was forced to share the crown with Publix … With a score of 77% satisfaction, Wegmans and Publix beat out Trader Joe’s, which had 76% satisfaction, and the Texas-based H-E-B, which rounded out the top four with 69% satisfaction.”

“Wegmans stores are larger than the average grocery store, emphasizing variety and fresh products … Many locations have cafés, pizzerias, sushi bars, and buffets, plus seating areas for 100 to 300 people where customers can eat their food … The chain is also known for its extensive beer section, with a large selection of craft brews. Some locations even have walk-in beer lockers. Many customers love Wegmans because of its customer service.”

“Wegmans serves as a superior employer in the grocery industry. The company offers healthcare coverage for workers as well as college scholarships, paying about $4.5 million in tuition assistance to employees each year. All of these factors combine to create an army of Wegmans fans, responsible for the grocery chain’s top ranking. In 2015, the company reported that 7,300 customers contacted Wegmans to report how much they enjoyed their shopping experience or the way employees treated them.”

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Algorithmic Retail: Beyond Dynamic Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “Advances in A.I. are allowing retail and wholesale firms to move beyond ‘dynamic pricing’ software, which has for years helped set prices for fast-moving goods, like airline tickets or flat-screen televisions. Older pricing software often used simple rules, such as always keeping prices lower than a competitor.”

“These new systems crunch mountains of historical and real-time data to predict how customers and competitors will react to any price change under different scenarios, giving them an almost superhuman insight into market dynamics. Programmed to meet a certain goal—such as boosting sales—the algorithms constantly update tactics after learning from experience … The software learns when raising prices drives away customers and when it doesn’t, leading to lower prices at times when price-sensitive customers are likely.”

“Algorithms can also figure out what products are usually purchased together, allowing them to optimize the price of a whole shopping cart. If customers tend to be sensitive to milk prices, but less so to cereal prices, the software might beat a competitor’s price on milk, and make up margin on cereal.”

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Two Buck Chuck: What Makes it So Cheap?

Business Insider: “Trader Joe’s wine is remarkably cheap. A bottle of the grocery store’s most popular wine brand, Charles Shaw (aka Two Buck Chuck, made by Bronco Wine) sells for less than $3.” What makes it so inexpensive? #1: “Most of the company’s vineyards are located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where the cost of land is much cheaper than the more prestigious Sonoma or Napa Valley … Higher average temperatures in San Joaquin Valley can over-ripen grapes, which is a main contributor to the price difference between the regions.”

#2: “The company ferments wine with oak chips, which are cheaper than barrels.” #3: “The company uses … a mold of cork pieces glued together with a ‘real cork veneer at the bottom’.” #4: “Making wine in huge quantities keeps production costs low … The company uses machines to harvest the grapes, which helps keep labor costs low, but also increases the chances that bad grapes end up in the wine … Critics argue that mass production is also how animal matter can end up in your wine glass. But to be fair, there’s a chance of that happening with most agricultural products.”

#5: “Bronco cuts shipping costs by using lightweight bottles and cheap cartons … The lighter glass reduces the weight of a case of wine by several pounds, meaning Bronco can ship more wine at a time. Bronco also lowered the cost of its shipping cartons by a few pennies by replacing the white paper it was using with a light brown paper.”

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Redbro Chickens: Slow Growth, Better Taste

The New York Times: “Perdue Farms, one of the country’s largest chicken producers, has been raising what are known as slow-growth chickens side by side with the breeds that have made the company so successful. The new birds, a variety known as Redbro, take 25 percent longer, on average, to mature than their conventional cousins, and so are more expensive to raise.”

“Perdue is trying to find just the right slow-growth breed, and it has a strong incentive: A fast-growing cohort of companies that buy vast quantities of poultry, including Whole Foods Market and Panera Bread, are demanding meat from slow-growth chickens, contending that giving birds more time to grow before slaughter will give them a healthier, happier life — and produce better-tasting meat.”

“Consumers would … have to accept some trade-offs: While the new chickens have a fuller flavor, their meat tends to be distributed differently over the body, with more generous thighs and smaller breasts than the chicken most Americans are used to … In marketing slow-growth chickens, Perdue and others will have to make consumers understand why they are paying a higher price … the suggested retail price of a Sonoma Red (from Perdue’s Petaluma Poultry) that weighs four pounds is $16.”

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IKEA Asks: Do You Speak Human?

The Verge: ‘If you put an AI in charge of your house — letting it control the lights, the alarms, the temperature, and so on — how would you want it to act? Should it be ‘autonomous and challenging’ or ‘obedient and assisting’? Would you prefer if it sounded male, female, or if it was gender neutral? Should it be religious? These are just some of the questions Ikea is asking its customers in a new survey titled: Do you speak human?”

“With this new survey, Ikea is focused on computer personality, looking to find out what sort of AI people would be happiest to interact with. This is a question that preoccupies the big tech companies, too — that’s why they’re hiring novelists and comedians to finesse the personality of their digital assistants.”

“Ikea is updating the results of the survey as it goes; so far it’s saying that 41 percent of people want their AI to be ‘obedient and assisting,’ 42 percent want it to be ‘gender neutral’ (as opposed to 35 percent for male, 24 percent for female), and 87 percent say they want their AI to ‘detect and react to emotions.’ There’s bound to be some self-selecting bias at work here, as the people who answer this survey are more likely to be interested in technology in general, but it’s still a very intriguing project.”

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New HQs Capture Corporate Culture

The Economist: “Throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley, cash-rich technology firms have built or are erecting bold, futuristic headquarters that convey their brands to employees and customers … The exteriors of the new buildings will attract most attention, but it is their interiors that should be watched more closely … The big idea championed by the industry is the concept of working in various spaces around an office rather than at a fixed workstation.”

“A fluid working environment is meant to allow for more chance encounters, which could spur new ideas and spark unexpected collaborations … Young workers are thought to be more productive in these varied environments, which are reminiscent of the way people study and live at university. One drawback, however, is that finding colleagues can be difficult. Employees need to locate each other through text messages and messaging apps.”

“The data that firms can collect on their employees’ whereabouts and activities are bound to become ever more detailed … it is not hard to imagine how such data could create a culture of surveillance, where employees feel constantly monitored … A less controversial trend is for unusual office interiors. These can distinguish companies in the minds of their employees, act as a recruiting tool and also give staff a reason to come into the office rather than work from home … The effect of all this is that the typical office at a technology firm is becoming a prosperous, self-contained village. Employees have fewer reasons than ever to leave.”

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YamChops: Veggie Butchers Let it Bleed

The Wall Street Journal: Michael Abramson, “a 62-year-old vegan, is the proprietor of YamChops, a faux meat market where every patty, link, and fillet is made from edible plants. To entice “veg curious’ meat eaters as well as vegetarians, he takes great pains to make sure his substitutes look as much like the real thing as possible … So his ground beet burger—actually a medley of beets, carrots, turnips, and zucchini bonded with brown rice and mashed potatoes—doesn’t just resemble a beef burger. It oozes a reddish-pink juice, to appeal to those who like it when their burger ‘bleeds a little bit,’ he says.”

“Mr. Abramson is part of a small but growing community of ‘vegetable butchers’ opening shop from Northern California to Sydney to The Hague, hoping to wow discerning diners with substitute lox crafted from carrots and jerky fashioned from wheat gluten … Some staunch vegans and vegetarians say the word butcher should be verboten because it describes the killing of animals. Some traditional butchers and meat lovers meanwhile are rankled by the co-opting of a term they view as theirs. Many are just confused about the point of it all.”

Consultant Michael Whiteman comments: “Why do soldiers in the anti-meat brigade want food that looks like a hot dog and tastes like a hot dog and smells like a hot dog, but isn’t a hot dog? The answer is, of course, they like hot dogs!”

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Vegas Shuffle: Invasion of the Drink Bots

The Wall Street Journal: “As Las Vegas has transformed into one of the world’s most-visited tourist destinations, casino operators are re-examining the perks that historically lured gamblers. Over the past year, casinos have started charging for parking at resorts on the Strip … Now operators have started scrutinizing complimentary drinks, introducing new technology at bars that track how much someone has gambled—and rewards them accordingly with alcohol.”

“It’s a shift from decades of more-informal interplay between bartenders and gamblers … On a recent night at a bar inside the Paris Las Vegas casino, Jamie Balazs and her father were getting used to the new drink-monitoring system. They had just been instructed on how much they needed to put into the machine to allow booze to flow. A bartender told her to push the “max bet” button four times, she said. She said she understood the desire to weed out freeloaders who aren’t gambling but found the instructions off-putting.”

“Her father, Jim Fletcher, was in town with a group to celebrate his 70th birthday. As a top-tier member in Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s rewards program, he felt the new system was ‘insulting’ … Bartender James Tanner said the system has made his job easier because he can avoid awkward debates with customers who were lingering at machines but not really playing.”

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How To Kick Out Your Customers

The Wall Street Journal: “Letting guests linger as long they please could cost an extra $30,000 a year. Getting folks out is a tricky task for nearly every type of businesses. Jonathan Greenstein, owner of J. Greenstein & Co., a Cedarhurst, N.Y., auction house for antique Judaica, says some people linger past viewing hours at the pre-auction exhibition, but never appear at the auction itself … Still, it’s impossible to identify the big spenders, so he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

“The bigger the venue, the more massive the operation, of course. At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, an army of guards warn guests 45 minutes before closing, starting in the center of the 52-acre spread to ensure visitors farthest from the exits reach the gates in time. At Macy’s in Manhattan’s Herald Square, about 15 minutes before the posted closing time clerks fan through all 1.2 million square feet of retail space, offering help with final transactions and checking all 850 fitting rooms.”

“Of course, if patrons really want to stay, why not let them? The American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, which warns guests of closing time in several different languages, gave in to demand a few years ago and started offering adult sleepovers. For $350, patrons can camp overnight under the famous blue whale. Such events have sold out within a day, the museum says.”

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