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.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Meal Kits: The Complexity of Simplicity

The Wall Street Journal: “Meal kits may make cooking easier, but getting a box of pre-portioned ingredients and instructions to a customer’s door is one of the most complicated logistics riddles in the food business. Companies have poured millions of dollars into solving such questions as how to stack fish and fennel in boxes. They’re also investing in systems to reroute shipments during snowstorms and algorithms to predict what customers want to eat during the summer months.”

“Meal-kit spending by consumers has grown three times as fast as spending in established food sectors such as restaurants and grocery stores since 2015, according to Nielsen … But companies that sprang up in garages or test kitchens are getting a close look at just how expensive and complicated it can be to deliver millions of boxes a month to customers’ homes or to supermarkets. Startups have had to devise workarounds for everything from heavy weather to diverting trucks around highway accidents, and company founders have lots of war stories, especially from the early days of their operations.”

“To help keep a lid on costs, Sun Basket, whose meal kits target health-conscious consumers, has gone so far as to set up a Midwestern distribution center in a converted limestone cave—a cheaper way to keep its products cold than spending millions to convert a conventional warehouse in the region for refrigeration. The temperature inside the underground facility remains stable regardless of whether it’s hot or cold outside, so the company spends less on electricity.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Store Check: Kitchen Arts and Letters

The New York Times: “Kitchen Arts and Letters doesn’t present as one of the world’s great bookshops. It has no library ladders or espresso bar, no smell of bookworm or brass polish, and nowhere to sit. It has only slightly more bookish allure than the nail salons and hardware stores that surround it on a commercial block of Manhattan’s Upper East Side … What the small storefront does house is a very deep knowledge of a very narrow subject: books about food. And that knowledge is rewarded by the kind of loyalty that induces customers to drop thousands of dollars at a clip, mostly based on the recommendations of Nach Waxman, its founder, and Matt Sartwell, the managing partner.”

“Rarely crowded, the store sees a constant stream of seasoned home cooks who know what they want … Curious culinary novices find their way in, and are tenderly guided through a series of diagnostic questions to a suitable starter book … those who have simple taste and want to cook for sustenance; those who already love to eat but never learned to cook; and those who are recipe-resistant but believe in mastering the kitchen through science.”

“But most of the store’s customers, though not present in the flesh, are the professional and aspiring chefs who routinely order whatever new volumes the owners are stocking, whether from Catalonia or the Carolinas. If they actually use the books, or even read them, is not pertinent; they act as a window into how the world’s most influential chefs are thinking, dreaming and plating … By determining which cookbooks to pull from the torrent of global publishing and send into our kitchens, they might be the most quietly influential figures in American cuisine.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Walmart Engages in Retail Politics

The Wall Street Journal: “Political divide in the country is creating a new landscape for business, in which fierce debates often lead consumers and employees to demand that corporations and chief executives take positions on big issues. That is increasingly pulling Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and largest private employer, into weighing in on issues such as immigration, the Confederate flag and gay rights—generally after other companies or politicians have done the same.”

“Under its 51-year-old chief executive, Doug McMillon, Walmart has often taken a more liberal stance on issues in recent years—a gamble for a company based in Red State Arkansas. But executives see its approach as part of its mission to let potential shoppers and employees know the company aims to be socially engaged. It’s a big change for a company that built itself as a ruthlessly efficient business focused on affordable shopping and that generally avoided taking a stand on political issues.”

“Today, around 72% of Walmart shoppers want the company to ‘take a stand on important social issues’ and 85% want the retailer to ‘make it clear what values you stand for,’ said Walmart’s chief marketing officer, Tony Rogers, in a June presentation to reporters, citing a survey by research firm Kantar. Increasingly, the perception of a company’s views and deeds are linked to its brand, he said … Yet with its political stances, Walmart, with 2.3 million workers, especially risks alienating its core customers, who often live in more conservative-leaning rural and suburban communities.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Alibaba Puts Tech in ‘FashionAI’ Boutique

Axios: “Everything is automated and powered by artificial intelligence — or soon will be — in a new fashion shop opening tomorrow in Hong Kong. From the time you enter, using an app to open an electronically locked sliding glass door, to the time you leave, you may never see another human apart from other shoppers …the objective is to merge e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail — to make shoppers see them as one organism.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Cottage Cheese: Not Just for Punishment Anymore

The New York Times: “American companies like Dean Foods, the nation’s largest dairy company, have given their cottage cheeses makeovers, packing them into smaller, sexier packages and asking retailers to move them away from the sour cream and closer to the yogurt. New lines have interesting mixes of fruit and nuts, and some producers are experimenting with millennial-friendly additions like probiotics and chia seeds. Flavors are expanding beyond dusty stalwarts like pineapple to include kalamata olive, habanero chile or cumin. The goal, according to industry analysts, is to ‘uncottage’ cottage cheese — or, as one dairy executive put it, Chobani it’.”

“That’s where cheese makers like Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, the founders of Cowgirl Creamery in Marin County, Calif., come in. The key is very fresh skim milk from a well-run local dairy … Overnight, luscious, tender curds slowly form. In the morning, cheese makers cut them into pieces no bigger than peas. They cook and stir the curds … to release some of their acidity. Then the cheese makers drain the whey and wash the curds three times. The last step is the dressing … Cowgirl Creamery uses crème fraîche, and calls its pleasantly tart product clabbered cottage cheese … ​It’s not inexpensive. A 5.3-ounce container will cost a little less than $3.”

“Rekindling the love affair may be wishful thinking. There are a lot people who just are never going to like cottage cheese … Even Ed Townley, the chief executive officer of Cabot, isn’t convinced that cottage cheese is poised for a comeback, even though his company makes about five million pounds a year … Perhaps cottage cheese could be whipped to smooth it out, or made more spreadable, like ricotta cheese, he said. And then there is the name.” Mr. Townley comments: “It conjures up this old-fashioned image where you think of a cottage. Bottom line, it’s not sexy. A very clever Turkish name or something would go along way.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Step Right Up: Hot Dog Water

Global News: Thousands of people packed Vancouver’s Main Street on Sunday to take in the annual Car Free Day festival. And among the food vendors, merchant stands and music was one stall that stood out, inviting the public to enjoy a chilled, refreshing, healthful glass of Hot Dog Water … The drink’s impressive marketing advertises it as gluten-free, Keto diet-compatible, rich in sodium and a source of electrolytes. It also promises to help the drinker lose weight, increase brain function and look younger.”

“A bottle of Hot Dog water would set the adventurous water fan back $37.99, while a Father’s Day special’ will get you the bargain price of $75 for two. Hot Dog Water lip balm, breath spray and body fragrance were also for sale.”

“Tucked into the fine print at the bottom of the Hot Dog Water sales pitch is this: Hot Dog Water in its absurdity hopes to encourage critical thinking related to product marketing and the significant role it can play in our purchasing choices.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail