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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The Costco Pizza Sauce Robot

Reader’s Digest: “Costco works hard to make sure their pizza is practically perfect every time, and it’s all thanks to a secret pizza robot. This magical machine evenly distributes their sauce on the pizza dough… The gourmet gadget is actually pretty mesmerizing to watch in action.”

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The New ‘Choice’ in Convenience Stores

The Wall Street Journal: “In 2,700 square feet, about the size of a Chipotle, Choice is open 24 hours a day and sells staples like pasta, milk and yogurt, specialty items like quinoa, and an array of fruits and vegetables. You’ll also find beer and kombucha on tap, and snacks that skew toward multigrain chips and seaweed but also include Doritos. The interior sports white subway tile, reclaimed wood and other design codes that telegraph hip sustainability. What is Choice? A restaurant? A grocery store? Neither, said founder Mike Fogarty. It’s a convenience store.”

“Choice Market, Green Zebra Grocery in Portland, Ore., Foxtrot in Chicago, the Goods Mart in Los Angeles and Amazon Go in Seattle are open long hours (if not 24) and use the same small spaces to offer a wider range of options. You could meet a friend for coffee, pick up a few reasonably wholesome items for dinner or even fill up a growler of beer … Traditional players, too, are adding hardwood floors and more attractive lighting. Wawa, the mid-Atlantic chain famous for its hoagies, is rolling out customizable salads across their 790 stores and testing delivery.”

Lisa Sedlar, the founder of Green Zebra Grocery, comments: “People will come in and say this isn’t a convenience store, And I say, ‘Of course it is.’ We are redefining what it means to be a convenience store in America.”

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Branding The Brandless Brand

Business Insider: Brandless, “which sells food and consumable essentials all for $3 and pitched itself as the “Procter & Gamble for millennials,” first launched in July … The brand is now moving into the physical world with a pop-launching in May, called ‘Popup with a Purpose.’ It will be a ‘three-dimensional experience of the values of what Brandless is really about,’ according to CEO and co-founder Tina Sharkey. The Brandless brand will be on display, but no products will be for sale. Instead, the 3,500 square foot location on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles will be offering samples, and opportunities to “live, learn, and love with intention,” according to a press release.”

“The pop-up will be interactive and there will be panels, workshops, and talks by experts in the fields associated with the areas of food and wellness that Brandless has staked out. Along with the pop-up, Brandless is also launching a lifestyle blog that will be focused on educating consumers of the claimed benefits of, for example, ‘tree-free toilet paper’.”

“Sharkey sees Brandless as filling gaps where the ease of shipping and low point of entry can allow people to try new things — like gluten-free baking mix — that would otherwise be either too expensive or just hard to find locally in some areas … The B.more membership program, which previously only lowered the free shipping order threshold to $48 dollars, now makes all orders ship free. The company has since started focusing on offering B.more to repeat Brandless customers.”

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Bingo Box: China Leads Robo-Retail Revolution

The New York Times: “A global race to automate stores is underway among several of the world’s top retailers and small tech start-ups, which are motivated to shave labor costs and minimize shoppers’ frustrations, like waiting for cashiers … Companies are testing robots that help keep shelves stocked, as well as apps that let shoppers ring up items with a smartphone … China, which has its own ambitious e-commerce companies, is emerging as an especially fertile place for these retail experiments.”

“One effort is a chain of more than 100 unmanned convenience shops from a start-up called Bingo Box, one of which sits in a business park in Shanghai. Shoppers scan a code on their phones to enter and, once inside, scan the items they want to buy. The store unlocks the exit door after they’ve paid through their phones … Not to be outdone, JD, another big internet retailer in China … put readable chips on items to automate the checkout process. At its huge campus south of Beijing, JD is testing a new store that relies on computer vision and sensors on the shelves to know when items have been taken.”

“While such technologies could improve the shopping experience, there may also be consequences that people find less desirable. Retailers like Amazon could compile reams of data about where customers spend time inside their doors, comparable to what internet companies already know about their online habits … In China, there is less public concern about data privacy issues. Many Chinese citizens have become accustomed to high levels of surveillance, including widespread security cameras and government monitoring of online communications.”

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Bravo: Homestyle Grocer to Latino Mets

The New York Times: “Cooks scurried in and out of the kitchen carrying containers of pork ribs, stewed beef, and rice and beans. Behind a display case of Latin American pastries, a worker hurried through coffee orders. The rapid-fire banter of Caribbean Spanish filled the air. It was the lunchtime rush at the cafeteria of the Bravo Supermarket here, but one loyal customer in particular — the Mets infielder Jose Reyes — caught the eye of the head chef, who hugged him as he took his place in line yet again, like so many Mets from Latin America hungry for home cooking.”

“Opened in 2005, the supermarket has done more than provide a dose of home comfort for players, essential as they find that. It has, at times, also offered free food for strapped athletes, occasional employment or even a cheap place to stay through Luis Merejo, an owner of the supermarket and a former baseball player himself.” Mets shortstop Amed Rosario comments: “It’s home. Every Dominican likes to eat their food, and this is the closest to my mother’s cooking. It makes me feel better. Sometimes you just want to eat your rice and beans, and Dominican-style meat.”

“Bravo is a supermarket chain with at least 60 stores in Florida and the Northeast, including the Bronx and New Jersey, in areas with a high concentration of Latinos. The Port St. Lucie location has perhaps fed the most professional baseball players … A large plate of Dominican-style rice and pigeon peas and fried plantains costs $4. Add meat for only a few more dollars. It’s a steal for minor leaguers who earn paychecks that pale in comparison to those that major leaguers receive.”

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Kochhaus: Grocery Store as Cookbook

Kochhaus: “Kochhaus is the first grocery store that is not sorted by product groups, but by creative recipes … As a walk-in recipe book, the Kochhaus offers a constantly changing range of 18 different recipes worldwide. At free-standing tables full of fresh ingredients you will find everything you need for a particular dish – for two, four or more people. At any time there is a selection of appetizers, salads and soups. With creative pasta, fish and meat dishes. And of course some tempting desserts.”

“The recipe tables with large colored plates show at a glance which ingredients are needed for a dish. With the step-by-step cooking instructions in pictures, the perfect dinner is guaranteed to succeed. Delicious delicacies and clever kitchen helpers complete the concept.”

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Supermarkets: A New Social Network?

The Wall Street Journal: “Supermarkets—those havens of the not-so-scintillating chore of scouring numbered aisles, pushing carts and perusing produce—are finding a new identity as a social hub in communities. Parents now bring their children here to play, retirees gather for Bingo, and singles find romance. Grocery stores are fulfilling the new role as traditional gathering spots, from shopping malls to social clubs like Lions Clubs and Rotary International, continue to shrink from decades-earlier peaks.”

“Market of Choice, an Oregon chain of 11 supermarkets, has reduced space for center-store aisles by 22% in recent years and devoted more room to couches, fireplaces with seating areas and restaurant-like services, says owner Rick Wright. Whole Foods says social space is the first thing to get worked into floor plans … Lowes Foods, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based supermarket chain, has recently redesigned its stores into an animated ‘village concept’ of shops around the perimeter with giant birthday-candle lights, moving signs and employees who perform a chicken dance … At the heart of each store is a large rectangular communal table that can seat 10 to 15 people.”

“Bo Sharon, owner of Boulder, Colo.-based Lucky’s Markets, says about 25% of his stores are devoted to nonretail space, whether that’s tables in a cafe, performance areas for local musicians, or a designated community room where neighborhood groups meet. Fostering a sense of community, he says, ultimately helps drive traffic.”

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