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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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Sansolo Speaks: Self, And Selfie, Promotion

by Michael Sansolo

Popular opinion is by nature a sign of what’s popular, even if it may not be correct. But if you are looking for a new marketing idea, I have a thought about how popular opinion provides some excellent guidance.

At the recent IGA/National Grocers Association (NGA) combined shows in Las Vegas, there was a clear sign of how what’s popular can translate into quick action. And from that small idea there might be a clue for some great customer involvement.

During one break in the IGA conference, which I happen to moderate annually, a social media marketing company called AR Marketing offered a simple challenge: take the most creative selfie and win a nice little prize. Once in the break area the attendees found small props such as glittery sunglasses and false mustaches and the ubiquitous selfie sticks.

And people went nuts!

There were so many photos taken and some were so creative that on the fly AR Marketing had to add two additional prizes to reward people's efforts.

In the days that followed at the NGA show, AR Marketing continued the effort by featuring cut outs through which attendees could stick their faces and have a Las Vegas themed photo taken. And once again, people couldn’t stay away.

(Okay, let’s get this out of the way: it’s not a selfie if someone else takes the picture, but why quibble.)

It got me, and I’m betting many others, thinking: if selfies are so popular, why aren’t they ending up in merchandising events for shoppers. After all, with just a few rules to maintain decorum and food safety, it should be relatively easy to challenge shoppers to take the most creative selfie while shopping your store. We know they all have their smartphone cameras out already.

The contests could be focused around specific products or displays, adding an element of new fun to the usual shopping trip. It might even create some fun interaction between staff and shoppers, although again you’ll need to set some boundaries.

Better yet, what about selfie competitions involving recipes distributed by stores to show consumers making each dish and having some fun with it. As restaurants are finding out the hard way, people love posting photos of their food.

So encourage people to send in those pictures, post the entries on your own social media sites and encourage voting. As numerous contestants in NGA Creative Choice competition demonstrated, social media can generate amazing customer response with only a minimal amount of effort on the part of the store or the shopper.

As AR Marketing found out at the IGA event, the only downside to such activity might be that it generates far more entries than anyone expected, which is hardly a downside.

In one swoop you could get customers talking about your stores and products, create some interesting buzz and build a climate of fun and involvement.

Just a simple idea that started in Vegas…but it's one that certainly shouldn’t stay just there.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

Tuesday Morning Eye-Opener: Truth Be Told

by Kevin Coupe

How far will $25 million go? Is it enough to not just promote truth and transparency in the food system, not to mention "revealing and counteracting the food industry's undue influence" gained through marketing and lobbying dollars?

We may find out.

Daniel Lubetzky, founder/CEO of KIND Healthy Snacks, has committed to fund an organization called Feed The Truth to the tune of $25 million over the next decade. The goal is to "ensure science overrules special interests by revealing and counteracting the food industry's undue influence in shaping nutrition policy and ability to disseminate biased science, among other activities that are detrimental to public health. While specific programming will be decided by an Executive Director that will be appointed by the Board of Directors, activities could potentially include grants to support investigative journalism, consumer education campaigns and educational briefings to policymakers and influencers."

Lubetzky's initial contribution of $5 million will be supplemented by an additional $20 million over the next ten years.

"In establishing Feed the Truth, my intent is to elevate reputable science, bolster the voices of the nutrition community, and improve the guidance and information offered to Americans," Lubetzky said. "As a business owner, I understand the importance of prioritizing your bottom line, but it's equally as important to consider how you can succeed while also thinking about the long-term impact on the community."

The mindset behind Feed The Truth is consistent with Lubetzky's motivations when he started his snack food company - which got into an argument with the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) a couple of years ago over the use of the word "healthy" on labels, which it maintained was based on obsolete, scientifically imprecise definitions that had been unduly influenced by industry-funded research.

Lubetzky seems to take that whole aversion to industry influence seriously. Other than providing the seed money, he has removed himself entirely from the activities and governance of the organization, and has assembled what he calls "three unaffiliated public health advocates whose sole role is to nominate Feed the Truth's Board of Directors. The advisors all have offered their expertise voluntarily and are not being paid for their involvement. They include Deb Eschmeyer, former Executive Director of Let's Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy at The White House; Michael Jacobson, PhD, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest; and Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University.

"We're eager for Feed the Truth to step in and hold all of us in the food community accountable for what we say and claim," Lubetzky says.

In other words, an Eye-Opener.

BREAKING NEWS: Walmart's Q4 E-commerce Sales Up 29 Percent

CNBC this morning reports that Walmart reported fourth quarter e-commerce sales that were up 29 percent, and US same-store sales that were up 1.8 percent, for a fiscal period that analysts said were the company's best in four years.

The story notes that "in a bid to better compete against Amazon, Wal-Mart has snapped up three online retailers over the past five months for a combined $3.12 billion. The largest of those acquisitions was its $3 billion purchase of Jet.com, which brought Jet Chief Marc Lore on board and led to a reshuffling of Wal-Mart's digital business."

"We continue to invest in e-commerce to accelerate growth," CEO Doug McMillon said in prepared remarks. "We're gaining traction and moving faster."

CNBC also reports that "even as the company reported its 10th straight quarter of comparable sales growth, revenue fell short of expectations as foreign exchange rates and food deflation weighed on its top line." Q4 sales were one precent higher, to $130.94 billion from $129.67 billion a year ago."

KC's View: Walmart will rightly see these numbers as reflective of a strategy that is working, and that, I suspect, will mean that it will double down and get even more aggressive.

I think we can look for Walmart to invest in delivery depots in a lot of its US parking lots, which will allow it to address so-called "last mile" questions. And I think it'll look for ways to compete with Amazon's subscription/replenishment services.

As I say in another commentary this morning, the stakes are being raised and we're going to see tighter and more aggressive competition, not just between Walmart and Amazon, but also among anybody who wants to play in this space.

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Kroger Says E-commerce Creates Rather Than Eliminates Jobs

The Tennessean has a story about how, "since launching its ClickList service that allows grocery shoppers to order online and have their purchases bagged and loaded when they arrive at stores, Kroger has added 25 to 35 new jobs at each store offering the service."

Jeff Evans, e-commerce manager for Kroger’s Delta Division, says that "in a couple of stores, we’re as high as 40 new jobs per store, so it’s generating a lot of new jobs in every store that we’re putting ClickList in to."

Evans also says that as Kroger expands beyond click-and-collect into home delivery, even more jobs will be created within the company.

The jobs generally are part-time, though they can lead to full-time positions, the company says; the increased labor costs in the e-commerce area, along with other departments in the store, reflect an acknowledgement that the company needs to do more to satisfy customers.

KC's View: And, presumably, differentiate itself from other stores and services.

There are views out there that e-commerce will, by its very definition, result in the elimination of jobs ... but I've never been persuaded that this is necessarily true. I've always thought that it depends on the retailer, and that many will continue to find that people are their differential advantage.

However, this only be true if companies invest in their people and see them as an investment and not just a cost. I'm not sure companies can do this halfway.

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Google Adds Shopping Functionality To Voice-Activated Assistant

GeekWire reports that Google Home - the voice-activated computer assistant that competes directly against Amazon's Alexa/Echo system - is adding shopping to its functionality.

According to the story, Google has "introduced shopping to its voice-powered assistant, allowing users to order everyday basics from Google Express retailers. Users can shop from more than 50 national or local stores, including Google, Whole Foods Market, Walgreens and Target. While some stores will be available for any shopper, others are limited to certain areas.

"For now, users can only place one item per order and can only order things between $4 and $100. To order, just say 'OK Google, order paper towels' and then Home will offer a suggestion with a price, including tax. Shoppers can hear a second suggestion by saying 'no,' or confirm the order."

GeekWire notes that the "this addition could be a blow to Amazon, but, with more than 7,000 skills, Alexa does have a major head start in the world of voice-activated assistants. Google will likely be playing catch-up for a while."

KC's View: I think this is something that every retailer has to start playing with, because I suspect that it will become a lot more ubiquitous a lot faster than one might expect. The ability to just speak up and order pretty much anything on a whim is going to be enormously attractive to an awful lot of people - especially young people who will be the next generation of shoppers.

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Amazon Drops Minimum Purchase For Free Shipping

Internet Retailer reports that Amazon has dropped the minimum purchase to assure free shipping for non-Prime members to $35 - just a year after it raised the minimum to $49 from $35.

The move, the story says, "comes three weeks after Wal-Mart dropped its ShippingPass program and offered free shipping on online orders of $35 or more ... ShippingPass was a $49 annual subscription came with free two-day shipping on all online orders with no minimum."

The story goes on: "There are differences between Amazon’s $35 free shipping threshold and Wal-Mart’s. Amazon promises all orders within five to eight business days, while Wal-Mart promises to have your order delivered within two to five days.

"Another differentiator between the two retailers’ offerings: The number of products that qualify. An Amazon spokeswoman says there are more than 50 million items available on its site that are eligible for free shipping. Wal-Mart has more than 2 million products eligible for free shipping."

KC's View: Make no mistake. The battle is joined, and there is going to be a lot of collateral damage. Because everything that Amazon and Walmart do in their battle against each other also is going to have an impact on broader consumer expectations and what other retailers have to do in order to compete for their attention and dollars.

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The MNB Walmart Watch

• The Dallas Morning News reports on the convenience store that Walmart recently opened in Crowley, Texas - one of two that it has unveiled as its latest foray into the convenience space. (The other was in Rogers, Arkansas.)

According to the story, "The store’s hot food section sells pizza, whole and by the slice, and on another bank of hot rollers are the 'tornadoes,' a knockoff of 7-Eleven’s taquitos. Community coffee brand is sold from six taps, regular, decaf and flavored.  There’s a healthy selection with fruit cups, yogurt and 'Market Side' branded salads and wraps, but no calorie counts on the labels. The rectangle-shaped building sits in front of a row of 16 gasoline pumps, all under cover."

It is, the story says, "a far cry from Amazon Go, a self-service food store that Amazon recently opened on the street level of one of its corporate buildings in Seattle. Amazon hasn’t said much about another store under construction in Seattle with a drive-up canopy area in front of a building that locals speculate is for online grocery pick-ups."

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...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• The Seattle Times reports that Amazon is donating foodservice equipment and physical space on its South Lake Union campus in Seattle to a nonprofit organization called FareStart that is designed to teach "hospitality-industry skills to people who’ve faced barriers to employment — those with a criminal record, a history of drug addiction or homelessness."

According to the story, Amazon is giving FareStart 25,000 square feet for five new eateries, "which will be open to the public. One will be a full-service restaurant, three will be fast-casual outlets, and there will be a coffee shop, too. There will also be a catering space and training classrooms."

As I pointed out here recently, one of the notable things about the Amazon Go format is that there seems to be a big emphasis on in-store food prep, with cooks and chefs working right in the front window where they can be easily seen from the street. While my first thought was that this seemed to be outside Amazon's basic skill set, I'm beginning to wonder the extent of its interest in foodservice. Maybe it is greater than I thought...


Yahoo Finance has a story about FreshDirect, which began in the e-grocery business back in 1999 and continues to expand - in part because, as CEO/co-founder Jason Ackerman says, the company self-identifies as a "food-tech company," not as an online grocer.

"Tech drives innovation at FreshDirect by predicting customers’ food preferences on certain days and at different times (for example, milk on Monday mornings or wine on Saturday nights)," the story says. "The company is also building a state-of-the-art automated warehouse in the Bronx, New York.

"Yet, with all of that said, Ackerman does not see robots taking over warehouse or delivery jobs anytime soon. And FreshDirect will still have people slicing deli meat and cutting carrots."

“I do not see robots taking over for our chefs," Ackerman says.

FastNewsBeat

• The New York Times reports that Kraft Heinz has decided to walk away from its rejected $143 billion takeover bid for Unilever rather than pursue a "public and possibly costly fight against Unilever, a bulwark of British and Dutch business.

"Instead, the two consumer goods giants said on Sunday that Kraft Heinz had withdrawn its takeover bid after an agreement on friendly terms. As a joint statement from the companies put it, 'Kraft Heinz has the utmost respect for the culture, strategy and leadership of Unilever'."


• The Associated Press reports that Swedish supermarket ICA has begun experimenting with what is called "natural branding," which uses "low-energy carbon-dioxide lasers to remove the pigment from the outer skins of fruits and vegetables" - essentially branding them with, "in this case the product’s name, country of origin and code number - similar to the way hot irons brand cattle. If its test is successful, ICA, which has 1,350 stores across Sweden, hopes to cut down on the stickers and packaging it now uses to identify its organic produce."


• bfresh, a small-format, fresh food-driven urban concept created by a separate division within Ahold Delhaize, has opened its third store, an 11,000 square-foot unit in Somerville, Massachusetts.

The first of the concept opened in Allston, Massachusetts, in September 2015, and another store is operating in Brighton, Massachusetts. (There was a short-lived suburban version in Fairfield, Connecticut, that the company pulled the plug on once it was determined that it was not a good fit.)

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From The MNB Politics Desk

• There are multiple reports in various newspapers that a call by the National Organization for Women (NOW) for a boycott of Wegmans stores until they stopped carrying Trump-branded wine has not have the intended effect.

For one thing, Wegmans did not buckle - it said it only would make decisions about the products it carries based on sales and popularity, not politics.

For another thing, the wine apparently is flying off the shelves as consumers bought it out at the 10 Virginia stores targeted by the boycott.

And, the Washington Post reports that while a number of retailers decided not to carry Ivanka Trump-branded merchandise because of concerns about boycotts and becoming embroiled in political controversy, on Amazon, her brand of perfume "suddenly jumped to the top spot on the list of the online retailer’s best-selling fragrances."


• There is a piece in the New York Times worth reading about how some of the nation's CEOs would rather "duck" an invitation to the White House to meet President Donald Trump as some worry about being associated with Administration policies that are not seen in a positive light by their customers and/or shareholders.

However, "at the same time, the benefits of being part of the forum and gaining the ear of the president are obvious: Virtually every Fortune 500 corporation has vitally important interests affected by the federal government, from antitrust, labor and trade policies, to tax reform and bank regulation, including changes to the Dodd-Frank Act."

It is, to quote one observer, a double-edged sword ... and so business leaders have to be careful how they handle it. And you can read the story here.

Along the same lines, there is a story in the Washington Post worth reading about how, more and more, customers and employees expect "the companies they buy from or work for to take a stand on social issues. And increasingly, CEOs are responding. American companies have emerged as a force for social change in recent years and are among the most vocal critics of the new president’s executive order to temporarily ban migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries."

Not every CEO thinks or acts the same way. There are a number of business leaders who have aligned themselves with the Trump administration, and others who have decided to stay on the sidelines. Of course, "as the calculus on whether it pays to stay silent or speak up rapidly shifts, the risks for companies can cut both ways. Speaking out can alienate consumers who disagree with the company’s views."

The point is that these are decisions that CEOs are being forced to make in 2017 that they never had to deal with before, and you can read the entire story here.

Your Views: Conflict Management

Responding to some of the stories we've run about the intersection of politics and business, specifically some of the negative reactions that Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank got when he said positive things about the Trump administration's business agenda, one MNB reader wrote:

Did you even see the CEO of Under Armour's comment? He only said Trumps pro business polices will help his business - he didn't say a damn word about supporting Trump. Get your facts straight - and just an FYI most people that buy stuff in the USA with hard earned money voted Trump so it may help his business far more then some liberal cry babies warping what he said to try to get people to hate him and his company.

Yes, I saw his initial comments ...and in fact wrote about them here. I noted that he described Trump as "a real asset" to the country, that he got a lot of blowback from athletes with which he does business, and that the Baltimore-based company eventually had to release a statement saying, "We engage in policy, not politics. We believe in advocating for fair trade, an inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country, and tax reform that drives hiring to help create new jobs globally, across America and in Baltimore."

My broad point continues to be that you can't engage in policy these days without engaging in politics, and that this is something all business leaders have to think about to an extent they never had to in the past. I think that's fair.

Now, I suppose we can argue whether Plank originally was supporting Trump or just supporting specific pro-business policies. Either way, I think it is fair to say that executives have to think about these statements before they make them, and the impact that they will have on customers, employees, and stakeholders.

So I think I got my facts straight. Speaking of facts, by the way - most people who buy products in the US with their hard-earned money actually voted for Clinton. I'm pretty sure that's what the popular vote showed. I am not suggesting that Trump is an illegitimate president ... just that if you want to argue about facts, let's get them straight.

It is a far more subjective discussion if we are going to talk about whether people opposing Trump are "liberal cry babies" or not. My feeling generally is that if we're going to have a civilized discourse, it is important to take other people's opinions and feelings seriously, rather than minimize their legitimacy.




On Friday, MNB took note of a New York Times report that the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that "a florist who refused to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding cannot claim religious belief as a defense under the state’s anti-discrimination laws." Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the ruling made the point that “sexual orientation is a protected class — just like race, just like religion.”

The lawyer representing the florist said the case would be appealed to the US Supreme Court. Kristen Waggoner said that "because a flower arrangement is an artistic expression, the court effectively ruled that the state could regulate, with punitive government authority, what artists may sell. 'All creative professional expression is at risk,” she said.

I commented, in part:

I have to be honest here. While I agree that sexual orientation should be a protected class, like race and religion, I do sort of wish that somehow this conflict could have been avoided. The gay couple could've gone to a different, more tolerant florist, or the florist could've taken the position that providing flowers to the event did not mean endorsing it.

But we don't live in that kind of world right now. Conflict is the name of the game these days.


The level of the conflict can be seen in the following two emails.

MNB reader Tom Herman wrote:

Your depiction of the florist as intolerant is completely off the mark. The whole story is a different than you may believe.  The florist in question and the gay man that brought the lawsuit had an excellent relationship prior to this.  They both claim that she clearly knew he was gay, yet she gladly served him dozens of times and they became very friendly.  At some point he asked her to help celebrate his wedding by providing the flowers for the event.  She lovingly explained her religious beliefs and even recommended another florist that would gladly help celebrate their wedding.  These facts are not in dispute by either party.  If someone has sincere deeply held religious beliefs that are in conflict with someone else’s sexual preferences, does that make them intolerant? 
 
The gay individual in this case was not deprived of his constitutional rights, his right to have a gay marriage, his floral options, nor was he treated poorly by this individual.  In other words, where is the harm?  Did it hurt his feelings that a florist that he previously really liked has religious beliefs that are in conflict with his sexual orientation?   To use the force of the state to deprive this florist of her deeply religious beliefs, the business that she has built up over the years and now hold her financially responsible for both civil and criminal penalties is both illiberal and wrong.  I believe that tolerance goes both ways and that religion freedom holds a unique constitutional protection against the power of the state.
 
Where will this end?  It will end when truly liberal gay men and women stand up and say “that although I disagree with your deeply held religious beliefs, I defend your right to hold them.”  “I am so confident in my own sexuality that I will no longer use the power of the state to punish decent men and women to whom I disagree.”

There are real bigots and racists among us that should be marginalized in a polite society.  We don’t need the power of the state to do this.  This florist, Barronelle Stutzman is not one of them.  She is a decent and loving Evangelical Christian women with deeply held religious beliefs that you may disagree with.


For the record, my original story included the fact that the florist and gay couple were friendly before any of this stuff took place.

MNB reader Shelley des Islets wrote:

Regarding the court's judgment in the case of the Richland, Washington florist, you commented, in part:

I have to be honest here. While I agree that sexual orientation should be a protected class, like race and religion, I do sort of wish that somehow this conflict could have been avoided. The gay couple could've gone to a different, more tolerant florist, or the florist could've taken the position that providing flowers to the event did not mean endorsing it.

"Can't we all just get along?"  Let me walk this out a little bit--perhaps those SNCC protesters in the South during the Civil Rights movement could have gone to a more tolerant lunch counter?  Rosa found a more tolerant bus driver and passengers?  I think the two men in question--and their attorneys--saw it was time to challenge an act that is based, however kindly or justified by however deeply held a religious belief, on intolerance.

I do think your second option may be more tenable, though it comes with conflicts, too.  Suppose the florist says, 'I love you guys, I'll provide you flowers for your ceremony, but I cannot support a marriage between two men."  How does that translate to other protected groups?  "I love you two, but I cannot support the marriage of a white man to a colored woman."  "I love you two, but I can't support your marriage, because I believe Catholics aren't real Christians."  "I love you two, and I'll serve you a sandwich, but I cannot support black people eating with white people."

I'm just thinking there's a time when 'getting along' needs to be flushed in favor of recognizing that we are all, regardless of these features that appear to divide us, just people wanting to live happily, wholly, with the same access to the same opportunities, health care, education, and safety as everyone else (have the ball bounce equally as Nike's ad suggests). 

Sometimes our laws allow space for some folks to come to understand these otherwise self-evident truths when their environment might not promote their understanding sooner.  Does it mean we all have to provide flowers to everyone?  Only if we sell our goods publicly.  If she had refused to provide flowers to a mixed-race couple (which actually still happens now and then in some parts), no one would have even thought the lower court's opinion needed challenging.


That pretty much describes the problem. One person's religious belief is another person's intolerance. America 2017, and the debate goes on.

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