Applestone ‘Butchers’ The Vending Machine

Quartz: “It’s midnight and you need a steak. What do you do? If you live near Stone Ridge or Accord, New York, you just head to the nearest Applestone Meat Co. 24-hour butcher shop. You won’t find a bleary-eyed staff of overnight shifters working though. A row of vending machines, organized by type of meat—beef, pork, lamb, sausages, and ground meat—stand ready, stocked with steaks, chops, and burgers-to-be.”

“Applestone … envisioned the system as way to reach more customers, and make the shopping process more seamless. It’s more for busy families, less about the ability to get grass-fed burgers in the middle of the night—though that would be an excellent use of them, as well … That said, anyone who wants a smile with their ribeye can purchase meat from a customer service window at the Stone Ridge store from 11am to 6pm daily. Customer service, it turns out, isn’t totally dead.”

“Vending machines are a national obsession in Japan, where they sell pretty much everything imaginable, and ramen dispensers popped up in San Francisco earlier this year. And the French have oyster vending machines.”

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Online Feels ‘Off’ to Most Shoppers

Supermarket News: “Going by the trends in retail grocery, online ordering of groceries and meal kits likely stand near the top. But by the numbers, the vast majority of Americans are doing neither, a new Gallup poll finds. Of 1,033 U.S. adults surveyed, 84% said they never order groceries online and 89% never order meal kits, according to Gallup, which released the study results this week.”

“The small percentage of consumers that do order groceries or meal kits online don’t do it very often. Just 11% reported they order groceries online for pickup or delivery twice a month or less, and 4% said they do so once a week or more. Meanwhile, 9% of respondents order meal kits for home delivery two times monthly or less, and only 1% do so once weekly or more.”

Lydia Saad of Gallup comments: “Services like PeaPod, Instacart, Shipt and Amazon Fresh that cut out the trip to the grocery store appeal mainly to those short on time: parents with children younger than age 18 and employed adults. Higher-income Americans are also bigger adopters of grocery delivery, either because higher income means they can afford more groceries or they have greater access to mobile technology like smartphones and tablets that make ordering online easier.”

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Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Supermarket

Boing Boing: “UK artist Lucy Sparrow is back with a new shopping opportunity for lovers of her fantastic felt products. Until August 31, at The Standard hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Sparrow is showing her most ambitious exhibit yet: the Sparrow Mart Supermarket. This is her fifth and largest all-felt installation (it features 31,000 handmade products) and her first West Coast one.”

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When Small Grocers Get Big Ideas

The New York Times: “DMG Foods, a bright, 7,000-square-foot, nonprofit grocery store … is one of a growing number of experimental grocery stores that have emerged as traditional supermarkets confront a crisis that industry analysts say could surpass the retail apocalypse that pounded shopping malls a decade ago … some of the most radical reinvention is happening at the local level, in both cities and small towns, where a new breed of small community stores use the grocery aisles to fill cultural niches and address social needs.”

“At Nada, everything, including toothpaste and chocolate, is sold package-free. Shoppers can buy scoops of frozen berries, a handful of crackers and just one egg, if that’s all they need. There’s no plastic wrap or paper at the deli counter. Customers bring their own containers, buy reusable ones at the store or take some from a stack that have been cleaned and sanitized, using a digital scale to weigh and tag them before they start shopping … There’s a similar store, Zero Market, in Denver, and one called the Fillery planned for Brooklyn. No-waste stores are already popular in parts of Europe, and are popping up in other Canadian cities.”

“Two thousand miles away in New Prague, Minn., population around 7,600, Kendra and Paul Rasmusson have been inundated with inquiries from people equally enamored with their grocery concept: a store that is largely unstaffed … inspired by a nearby 24-hour fitness center, they had an idea: Why not create a store that didn’t need staff, for shoppers who wanted organic ketchup, gluten-free crackers and vegetables from local farmers? Members pay $99 a year and use a key card to open the door. They can shop anytime they want. Lights are motion-activated, and checkout is done on an iPad. Members can use a space upstairs for community meetings, or hold classes on making kombucha or Spanish for children.”

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How FreshDirect Lives Up To Its Name

The Wall Street Journal: “FreshDirect launched its online-only service in 2002 in New York. Its green and orange trucks now provide next-day delivery to customers across the New York-New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas, with plans to expand into Boston next … Amazon, Target Corp. and other large companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to expand food delivery and build out their grocery e-commerce operations. Supermarket chain owner Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV’s Peapod unit, the longest-running online grocery service in the U.S., has expanded to 24 markets and is investing in technology to cut its handling and delivery costs.”

“The grocers are trying to solve one of the toughest problems in home delivery: Getting food to doorsteps in the same condition consumers would expect if they went to the store themselves … FreshDirect’s logistic hurdles start well before delivery. It must get products from its suppliers to the building, process the food, then pick, pack and ship orders before the quality degrades. That is why its new facility has 15 different temperature zones … Software determines the most efficient route for each order, and tells workers which items to pick … The site has shaved the time it takes to fulfill an order by 75%, according to FreshDirect, and doubled the number of items picked per hour, compared with the pace at its old facility in Long Island City, Queens.”

“The stakes in getting the technology right are high. FreshDirect is competing with grocery chains that often fill online orders through their stores, using a mix of staff and third-party services like Instacart Inc .. Online-only operations with centralized warehouses tend to be more efficient than logistics run out of stores, because they use fewer workers and can position goods for faster fulfillment, said Judah Frommer, a food retail analyst with Credit Suisse … FreshDirect says its relatively small scale also can be an advantage since it doesn’t have to be all things for all shoppers.” FreshDirect Chief Executive Jason Ackerman comments: “We focus on being the best local food, fresh food retailer. And a lot of the tech is to support that.”

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UK Grocer Intros ‘Quiet Hour’

Quartz: “One of Britain’s largest supermarket chains has introduced a weekly quiet hour for customers who struggle with the noise associated with grocery shopping, like those on the autism spectrum.”

“Every Saturday morning from 9 to 10, each of Morrisons’ nearly 500 stores will dim the lights and shut off music. They’ll also try and deaden the cacophony of sounds that pervade supermarkets across the world—checkout beeps and the clangs of carts and baskets will be minimized as much as possible, and public-address announcements will be eliminated.”

“Around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the UK. Grocery behemoth Tesco has conducted a six-week quiet hour trial, and many businesses across the UK had a one-off awareness-raising quiet hour in October. Morrisons is the first chain to roll out a weekly initiative in all of its stores.”

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Lucky’s: Like a Hardware Store for Groceries

The Wall Street Journal: “Lowes Foods, a chain in North and South Carolina, introduced gourmet sausage stations and “beer dens,” where customers can drink while they shop or get a half-gallon jug filled with a craft beer, in 14 locations four years ago. After they were launched, ‘there was an immediate, noticeable increase in the number of men shopping in our stores,’ says Heather George, senior vice president of brand strategy. The male-focused amenities are now featured in 61 stores.”

“Hy-Vee Inc., a Midwest chain of more than 240 supermarkets, revamped its store recipe magazines this year to include sports stars on covers and weightlifting spreads … Mega Meat sales, where customers earn gas discounts, are particularly popular, Hy-Vee says … At Alfalfa’s Market, a Boulder, Colo.-based grocery-store retailer, the percentage of men shopping has risen to 40% from 30% while the share of female customers has declined, says co-owner Tripp Wall. He is currently expanding the company to 10 stores from its current two, and working with architects to incorporate more of a male point of view into designs.”

“Based on his observations of customers, Mr. Wall says, men like when they can see the exit, even when they are deep in the middle of the store. … The meat department offers butchery classes. Stores have even had requests for more-masculine floral arrangements.” Jonathan Schoenberg, a 50-year-old dad who shops at Lucky’s in Boulder, Colorado, comments: “Most supermarkets are pastel colors and sell tons of flowers, and the language is merry-merry, happy-happy … Lucky’s feels like a hardware store with groceries.”

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Late & Great: Charles Hooley

The Wall Street Journal: “Bargain shoppers can thank Charles Hooley for the no-frills feel of more and more U.S. grocery stores … Groceries at his stores were unloaded from trucks as close as possible to the wooden shelves where they would be sold, and displayed in their shipping cases. At Cub Foods, which he and three partners founded in Minnesota in 1968, Mr. Hooley and his family dispensed with price tags on each item. (This was before bar codes.)”

“Instead, Cub gave shoppers black grease pencils to carry with them through the store. They read the price for a can of soup or box of cereal off its shipping case, then scrawled it on the item themselves. Checkout clerks tallied up a total from the prices a shoppers had written on their groceries. Fewer workers to individually price and stock Cub’s shelves meant lower prices overall.”

“In 1980, Mr. Hooley and his partners sold Cub Foods—an acronym for Consumers United for Buying—to Supervalu, which expanded Cub to more than 100 stores in 13 states. Mr. Hooley remained at Supervalu as Cub’s president until 1981.”

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Meatless Meat Stampedes Grocery Stores

The Wall Street Journal: “For thousands of years, meat came from slaughtered animals, and milk was squeezed from cows. Tech-style disruptions are now upending supermarket meat cases and turning the stomach of cattle ranchers … dismayed to find the meat replacements sold next to the real thing. High-tech startups are building burgers from plant proteins and compounds that grill and taste more like the real thing than old-fashioned veggie burgers. Other firms are using cell-culture technology to grow animal muscle tissue—otherwise known as meat—in stainless steel bioreactor tanks, similar to the fermentors used to brew beer.”

“The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has petitioned the Agriculture Department to bar plant-based products from bearing labels that say ‘beef’ or ‘meat,’ with similar restrictions on meat grown from animal cells … Stakes are high for the roughly $200 billion U.S. meat market. Sales of alternative meat products account for less than 1% of fresh meat sales in the U.S. but are growing at an annual rate of 24.5%, according to Nielsen Total Food View.”

“To get better exposure, Beyond Meat requires that retailers carry its products in the grocery meat section, rather than the frozen foods case—what Mr. Brown called the ‘penalty box.’ Alison Pham, 22, of Bokeelia, Fla., is a vegan who sees the realistic looking Beyond Meat patties as a way to get her father to try a plant-based diet. She reaches for the package in the same meat-filled cases she long avoided.”

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ConAgra: Fresh in Frozen

The Wall Street Journal: “Last year, Conagra freshened up of three of its frozen brands: Healthy Choice, Marie Callender’s and Banquet. Healthy Choice, a diet brand launched in 1989, rolled out new microwavable meal bowls with trendy ingredients like edamame, kale and quinoa, and exotic flavors like Cuban pork and Korean beef. Banquet, a value-oriented brand with frozen basics like chicken fingers and meatloaf that typically sell for around $1 each, also got an upgrade, including Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘N Cheese bowls that sell for $2 or more.”

“The results have been clear. Comparable sales for Conagra’s refrigerated and frozen-food segment went from declining sharply last fiscal year to rising for three quarters in a row, reaching 2.6% growth in the quarter ended Feb. 25. Conagra Chief Executive Sean Connolly summed up his approach at a Goldman Sachs conference in May: ‘When you take legacy, well-known brands and bring modern elements into the food and packaging, you will have a winner’.”

“Consumers are shying away from carbohydrates and processed foods, preferring fresh meat and vegetables. But these take more effort to cook and can look less than fresh by the end of the week. For busy, health-conscious families, picking up proteins and vegetables from the freezer aisle makes sense. Perceptions of the health properties of frozen vegetables have also improved after studies showed they can retain nutrients better than vegetables that have sat for days in delivery trucks or grocery shelves.”

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