Walmart Imagines a ‘Shopping Cart Robot’

Geek: Walmart is collaborating with Five Elements Robotics to create a shopping cart robot … The company’s main focus is on Budgee–a personal robot that follows its owner around and has a large storage area for your shopping, or just to carry items from place-to-place. That same tech can be integrated into shopping carts, meaning rather than pushing them around they’ll instead follow you, leaving your hands free to browse the shelves.”

“It’s also thought the robotic carts will help customers shop. Simply let the cart see your shopping list and it can help locate everything listed … The robo-cart will respond by navigating to the correct aisle, saving the customer both time and the effort of finding an employee to help them.”

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The Future of Grocery: Yoga & Bike Repair

The Wall Street Journal: Shoppers looking to pick up milk and eggs may have other reasons to spend time at their local supermarket: yoga classes or a spa treatment, perhaps. Under growing pressure from discounters and online rivals, supermarkets are trying to transform themselves into places where customers might want to hang out rather than just grabbing groceries and heading home.”

“In Phoenix, a Fry’s Food Stores, part of a chain owned by Kroger Co., features a culinary school and a lounge with leather couches perched next to a wine bar. A Kroger store in Hilton Head Island, S.C., offers a cigar section to complement its wine cellar that stocks $600 bottles. Whole Foods Market Inc. has a putting green outside its Augusta, Ga., location and a spa offering peppermint foot scrubs and facial waxing in a Boston store. Elsewhere, it has bike-repair stations. A ShopRite store here in Hanover Township, near New York, runs a fitness studio with yoga, barre and Zumba classes and has a cosmetologist on weekends.”

“Most of these enhanced stores appear to be located in affluent suburbs and city neighborhoods—places where shoppers are more inclined to order groceries from e-commerce sites or meals from services such as Blue Apron … Some concepts have fizzled. The Fry’s in Phoenix made its debut in 2010 with a car wash but discontinued that after it didn’t catch on, a Kroger’s spokesman said. The cooking classes, by contrast, have doubled in size since the school opened, and the store offers at least a dozen sessions a week, he said.”

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Walmart Moves Upscale To Set Itself Apart

USA Today: “Depending on which Walmart store you choose nowadays, you might do a double take. In a growing number of stores, there’s an entire wall dedicated to organic produce, fresh sushi and a selection of about 50 gourmet cheeses … Forget just having a cold case of packaged deli meats — now there’s a charcuterie section … Roma tomatoes tumble down angled displays that make it easier to see what’s available and honeycrisp apples beckon from farmers market-style crates.”

“These Walmarts are the leading edge of what could become a grocery revolution at the giant retailer … Walmart’s produce and bakery sections are being upgraded to make them more attractive and easy to navigate … Further into the store, the bakery department now has chalkboard-style signs, lower tables that better showcase cakes and cookies, and bread baskets that invoke the charm of a local market … Walmart put department managers back in grocery after having removed many of them to improve efficiency … At the same time, Walmart is ramping up its online grocery service with store pick-up … The service doesn’t require customers to leave their car — a store employee brings out pre-bagged orders”.

“Walmart spokesman John Forrest Ales says many pick-up customers then stay and shop some more … The higher-end feel of its food offering may also attract higher-earning customers who could help increase sales in other areas too … Walmart can no longer rely on its bread and butter — low prices — to set itself apart.”

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365: Like A Playroom for Foodies

The New York Times: 365, “the much anticipated new grocery concept from Whole Foods Markets …feels like a sort of foodie playroom. Shelves, racks and refrigerated cases are splashed with bright primary colors and surrounded by exposed insulation and polished concrete floors. All the fixtures are low profile — the highest shelving rises just 72 inches. Electronic terminals are lined up, ready to accept orders.”

“Instead of a human sommelier, there’s Banquet, a wine app developed especially for 365 stores by Delectable. Want a bottle of special Frankies olive oil for $9.99? That’s a so-called green-and-gold product, the name for goods procured and sold exclusively at 365 and only temporarily available.”

The 365 stores will stock roughly 7,000 items, compared with 35,000 to 52,000 for a traditional Whole Foods. Meat is sold only in packages, lowering the cost of offering specialty cuts of meat served up by a butcher. The store will still sell a wide variety of organic produce, though its selection of conventional produce is wider … The 365-branded locations will have about 100 employees, compared with 250 to 500 in a traditional Whole Foods.”

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Fake Farms Fool Tesco Shoppers

The Wall Street Journal: UK grocery chain Tesco is launching “76 new food lines,” branded with the names of “seven fictitious farms. Critics say the British-sounding monikers obscure the fact that the products come from a variety of farms, including ones overseas. Blueberries under the Rosedene Farms brand come from Spain, for example, while apples under the same brand hail from South Africa.”

“The British efforts are part of a global trend among supermarket chains and food makers as customers increasingly seek food that appears fresh, lacks artificial ingredients and is locally sourced.” Says Tesco CEO Dave Lewis: “We’ve been very open about the fact that this is creation—we’re creating and launching these brands.”

“Not all of British retail’s farms are fictional. High-end supermarket chain Waitrose on Friday began streaming live footage in train stations across the country from a farm it owns in Hampshire. Passersby will be greeted with footage of beehives, rapeseed and more from dawn to dusk.” Waitrose “said it aimed to let customers see firsthand where their food comes from. ‘Rather than telling customers what we do, we’ve decided to show them in an open and honest way,’ said Rupert Thomas, Waitrose’s marketing director.”

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Whole Foods 365: It’s All About Efficiency

The Washington Post: We’re inching closer to the launch of 365 by Whole Foods Market, a new, lower-priced grocery store that the organics giant is betting will help pull it out of a rough patch … The first 365 store is slated to open May 25 in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles … Jeff Turnas, president of 365 … said in an interview that he and his team have ‘looked and turned over every stone to find efficiencies.’ That includes, for example, trying to lay out stores in a way that reduces the time it takes for a worker to get from the stockroom to the shelves.”

“Even the product assortment in these smaller format outposts is designed in part with an eye toward greater efficiency … with a center-aisle grocery item like olive oil, Turnas said, they tried to narrow the offerings … prepared food bars will be ‘a little more get-it-yourself, self-serve’ than those in a traditional Whole Foods … There will also be a kiosk called TeaBot built by a company of the same name that allows shoppers to create customized tea blends that are served up hot to the user in less than 30 seconds.”

“365 is also building its stores around a program called Friends of 365, in which it will turn over a small section of its square footage to like-minded retailers to make shopping more of an experience … Speculation has been running wild about what kinds of retailers might be included … Turnas said they’ve received video pitches or other inquiries from at least one tattoo parlor, more than one marijuana dispensary, and a pet grooming business. The thought process for choosing the Friends will vary from location to location.”

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MIT & Target Take Aim at Truth in Produce

The Washington Post: Imagine a scanner the size of a grain of rice, built into your phone. You go to the grocery store and point it at something you want to buy. If it’s an apple, the scanner will tell you what variety it is, how much vitamin C it has and how long it has been in cold storage. If it’s a fish, you’ll learn whether it’s really orange roughy or just tilapia being passed off as something more expensive. If it’s a muffin, the device will tell you whether there’s gluten in it.”

“Although you won’t be able to do it tomorrow, this isn’t some kind of distant Jetsonian vision of the future … TellSpec and SCiO, are working on handheld scanners designed for consumer use … Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, is collaborating with MIT and business design firm Ideo in a venture called Food + Future coLab, based in Cambridge, Mass., which has the broad mission of helping consumers better understand their food.”

Target “is putting industrial-strength scanners in its distribution centers … According to Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer, ‘We’ll deliver better freshness, quality and shelf life,’ because produce that’s old or inferior — or not what the label promises — will never make it to the floor.”

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How Walmart & Whole Foods Shoppers Are Alike

Perfect Price: “The distribution of spending at Whole Foods and Walmart —stores that are diametrically opposed in the cultural imagination —are actually quite similar in terms of the distribution of spend. Slightly more people spend less than $25 on a trip to Whole Foods, and slightly more spend between $25-$100 at Walmart, but overall, the distribution of how much people spend on trips to these stores are remarkably alike.”

“Far and away, consumers spend the most at Costco, the third largest retailer in the United States … At the very bottom of the list is 7-Eleven, the largest convenience store chain in the United States. The average spend per trip at 7-Eleven is less than 15% of that at Costco … The average spend for trips to Walmart, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s all fall in the range of $50-$55 .. Trader Joe’s shoppers are heavily concentrated in the $10-$100 range with nearly 9 out of every ten falling in the category.”

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