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    Published on: August 10, 2018

    by Kevin Coupe

    This seems to be a “Happy Birthday” week at MNB. A few days ago, we recognized the 70th birthday of the great Dorothy Lane Market. And today, I’d like to point out, is the 95th birthday of Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, the founder of Frieda’s Specialty Produce.

    Frieda - I don’t think she’ll mind my calling her by her first name, nor revealing that she is an avid reader of MNB, often emailing me with pithy comments about stories I’ve written or stories I’ve missed - is the first woman in the U.S. to own and operate a produce company on the all-male Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. Her company has been - and continues to be - pioneering in the introduction of more than 200 exotic fruits and vegetables to American consumers over the years, and she has a list of honors and citations too long to recount here.

    But I want to mention her birthday not because of what she’s done in the past, but because of her perpetual youthfulness of attitude and outlook. I spend a lot of time around college students, especially during the summer, and in so many ways she is as engaged and curious and full of life as any of them, and more so than a few. She’s a delightful dinner companion, I’m happy to report, having had the opportunity to share a meal with her.

    Frieda remains hooked on the business - so much so that apparently she’s going in to work today. “I already have Thursdays off, that’s enough PTO for me,” she says.

    Happy 95th Birthday, Frieda. You have been, and continue to be, an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    Business Insider reports that Aldi is moving to offer grocery delivery out of all its US stores, and also will test curbside pickup.

    The story says that “Aldi is slowly ramping up its investment in grocery delivery and pickup amid fierce competition from Walmart, Kroger, and Amazon for consumers' online grocery purchases.”

    Walmart, for example, “plans to offer grocery delivery from more than 800 stores by the end of the year, and it offers curbside pickup at more than 1,500 locations” … Kroger is “now delivering groceries from nearly 900 stores and plans to grow its curbside pickup locations by nearly 500 stores this year, from nearly 1,100 locations now” … and Amazon “is in the process off rolling out grocery delivery from Whole Foods stores across the US,” and also has begun testing curb side pickup from Whole Foods stores.

    At the same time, the Star Tribune reports, Aldi also “will start offering featured items that seem more at home at sister store Trader Joe’s or Amazon’s Whole Foods than a discount chain.”

    Jason Hart, CEO of Aldi US, is quoted as saying, “The continued success of our store expansion and remodel initiatives have given us the opportunity to carefully select and introduce new products that satisfy our customers’ increasing preferences for fresh items, including organic meats, salad bowls, sliced fruits and gourmet cheeses.”

    The Chicago Sun Times writes that Aldo also “will increase its product offering by 20 percent, expand its stores by 40 percent and remodel its existing stores.”

    Not everything is changing, though: “Shopping carts still require a returnable quarter deposit and grocery bags still cost extra,” the Star Tribune notes.
    KC's View:
    In a lot of ways it makes sense for Aldi to improve some of its offerings, especially with a stronger fresh foods program. But I guess I have to wonder if better fresh foods - in addition to providing delivery and pickup - will somehow undermine Aldi’s low price image.

    At a time when Aldi is expanding, and hoping that it can undercut the appeal of other price-driven retailers, I have to wonder if this is an approach that might turn out differently than the company hopes.

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Ahold Delhaize has decided to reduce the number of e-commerce platforms it has in the US, “and looking for partnerships in a bid to stabilize its position in the online groceries market.”

    The company’s US chains, such as Stop & Shop and Giant, traditionally have operated their own platforms, but the company “now plans to consolidate web sales under its Peapod online delivery service.”

    CFO Jeff Carr says that the company also will be integrating the Peapod platform “with the stores and our loyalty cards.”

    According to the story, “Ahold’s push to streamline its online presence comes as Inc. and its Whole Foods subsidiary challenge traditional grocers in the U.S., leading companies like Kroger Co. and Walmart Inc. to look to beef up digital assets to offset the competition.”
    KC's View:
    I’ve often felt that Ahold, and now Ahold Delhaize, undervalued Peapod as an asset. This makes a lot of sense, especially since the company seems to be spreading its wings a bit by launching a new entity, Peapod Digital Labs, which it has said “will drive digital and eCommerce innovation, technology and experience to meet the changing needs of customers of its local brands, regardless of when, where and how consumers choose to shop.”

    In many ways, bringing everything together under the Peapod banner and integrating loyalty marketing, has to be just the beginning in ramping up the business to compete with what Amazon, Walmart and kroger are doing.

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    GeekWire reports that Amazon plans “to open primary care clinics for employees at its Seattle headquarters.”

    The story notes that “the move is not altogether a surprise. Amazon has been eyeing new possible openings into the healthcare market for more than a year and it would not be the first corporation to add in-house clinics as a benefit for employees … The company reportedly met with several primary care providers before deciding to make the effort an internal project.”

    Amazon also is working with two other companies - Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to form an independent health care company to serve their employees in the United States.” Details have been sketchy, but the goal has been to create a system “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    CNBC reports that “ Walmart is trying to make it easier for its online shoppers to return products to third-party sellers as the battle with Amazon intensifies.

    “Starting this fall, customers buying items from third parties on will be able to print shipping labels directly from the website and clearly see the return policies for individual items online.” These third parties will have the ability “to set returns windows and shipping fees,” the story says.

    The story notes that the move by Walmart “comes nearly a year after Amazon's changes to its returns and refunds processes sparked outrage from third-party sellers,” because Amazon made it easier for customers to return items but set it up so it would be “at the merchant's expense,” which some sellers objected to vociferously.
    KC's View:
    If Walmart is going to catch up with Amazon in terms of its third party-centric offerings, then one of the ways to do so is to be more friendly in how it deals with those third parties. Less arrogance, and more accommodation is what is called for.

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    Eater reports that McDonald’s has opened a futuristic prototype restaurant in Chicago that has replaced the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s on North Clark Street that was a longtime attraction.

    According to the story, “The new location features a corridor of touchscreen kiosks in the middle of the restaurant. Staff hovers around to help in case of an electronic malfunction. Customers can also head to the counter and order food like at a traditional fast-food restaurant. There’s no menu additions, so forget about special perks like McRibs available every day.” The location also features “flatscreen menus, WiFi with a 100mb upload/download speed … and plenty of plugs to charge mobile devices are included. There’s also a separate coffee counter with pastries for those who just need caffeine.”

    Eater notes that “McDonald’s plans to open seven new restaurants in Chicago over the next two years. The company is in the middle of modernizing the city’s 93 locations.”
    KC's View:
    This sounds interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the restaurant that McDonald’s opened in its new headquarters that offers menu items that it sells in other countries but not in the US.

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    The New Yorker has a terrific profile of chef Dan Giusti, who went from being the head chef at Noma in Copenhagen, often called the best restaurant in the world, to a job less exalted but possibly far more influential.

    The story says that when Giusti left Noma, he “thought about opening a counter-service chain—another Sweetgreen or Shake Shack—but felt that the choices were already too abundant. What was the point? So his mind went to institutions—schools, in particular—where, despite a larger cultural shift away from industrial foods, there had been little innovation or improvement in decades. He saw both a moral purpose and a business opportunity.

    “Giusti is not the first fine-dining chef to show an interest in school-food reform; Jamie Oliver, Bill Telepan, Alice Waters, Tom Colicchio, and others have volunteered their time to try to combat the prevalence of chicken patties and chocolate milk in American cafeterias. But he is among the first to take on the challenge not as an after-hours project but as a full-time professional calling.”

    It is a fascinating story, and you can read it here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    CNBC reports that Party City has announced that “it would be rolling out a pilot program on Amazon ahead of the Halloween season this year. Party City will offer an assortment of items on Amazon to start, but with a big focus on Halloween costumes, the company said … Party City CEO James Harrison said the company's goal with the Amazon pilot is to reach customers who are increasingly gravitating toward shopping online, including millennials.”

    The story notes that “a number of brands have announced similar initiatives, partnering with the e-commerce giant that is taking a larger and larger share of retail sales online. That list of companies now includes Sears Holdings, Nike, Chico's, Calvin Klein and Carter's, to name a few.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that “a 10% duty proposed by the Trump administration last month on $200 billion worth of imports from China included dozens of varieties of fish, from tilapia to tuna. The proposed tariffs, which could increase to 25%, are set to be decided in September by trade representatives.”

    There are a lot of fish that potentially could be affected: China is “the top source of seafood for the U.S., with the 1.3 billion pounds sent to the U.S. last year double that of second-ranked India.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on the “Brand Secrets and Strategies” podcast that is produced and hosted by Daniel Lohman. For those of you who are not tired of hearing me, this may prove to be an interesting conversation about branding and relevance, and you can hear it on iTunes, or here.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 10, 2018

    There was a really good piece in the Boston Globe that challenged the paper’s readers to be nicer to each other.

    Here’s how columnist Nestor Ramos positioned his argument:

    “You know who’s the worst?

    “That guy who runs up to a crowded Red Line train, pushing past the people waiting for passengers to get off, and forces his way through the doors. That guy got me again the other day, cramming himself into the last space on a packed car instead of letting the older woman who’d been waiting far longer have the spot.
    Excepting for sociopaths and Yankee fans, nobody really wants to be that guy, right?

    “And yet, somehow, that guy is all over the place, driving around with yesterday’s parking ticket still stuck under his wiper. I’d go so far as to say we’re all that guy, at one time or another.

    “We do a lot of world-changing work around here — medical and technological breakthroughs, pioneering social science, the New England IPA. And we’ve led the way in social policies, like MassHealth and same-sex marriage, that look out for the well-being and dignity of our fellow people.

    “So why does it seem like so many of us are being our worst selves when we encounter each other in the real world? We treat every inch in traffic or on the sidewalk with the kind of territorialism associated with NASCAR tracks or international border skirmishes … Some days, living in Greater Boston feels like starring in a minor-key remake of The Hunger Games, in which everything is a zero-sum contest and every act of common courtesy is a show of weakness.”

    I have news for Ramos. It isn’t just Boston. And I’m not sure it is a new phenomenon. It ain’t just the politics of the moment.

    I’ve argued for a long time - it makes Mrs. Content Guy nuts - that in some ways the fabric of society is pulling apart, that respect for basic rules of civility is on the decline throughout the culture. I hate that I’ve been proven right, and that I seem to get righter with every passing day.

    Ramos writes that in the end, this shouldn’t be hard - “it’s about decency, dignity, and common courtesy.

    “Solutions are in short supply,” he writes, “but here’s what I’m going to do: Give people — strangers especially — the benefit of the doubt.”

    I agree. I always try to be courteous - that’s how I was raised - but I’m going to try to be more so. It is, in the end, usually easier to be friendly, kind and patient than to be what Thomas Hobbes called “nasty, brutish and short.”

    The Globe piece is worth reading here.

    The new independent movie Sorry To Bother You, as it happens, takes place in a reality in which human cruelty seems to be the prevailing currency. The reviews keep referring to it as an “alternate reality,” but I’m not sure this is true, though I will concede that Sorry To Bother You is in many ways the weirdest and most brutal episode of “The Twilight Zone” ever made.

    The movie takes place in Oakland, California, where Cassius Green takes a job as a telemarketer because, from all appearances, he’s not really good at anything and doesn’t have any options. He lies during the job interview, but that only makes him more attractive to the company - it suggests a lack of ethics that makes him perfect to try to sell things to people over the telephone, especially at dinnertime.

    What Cassius, as played Lakeith Stanfield, quickly discovers is that telemarketing isn’t easy; what one of his co-workers, played by Danny Glover, explains to him is that if he wants to be trusted and successful, he needs to adopt a “white voice” that hides his ethnicity.

    What happens then is that Cassius becomes amazingly successful, which results in his moving up the ladder of success. But there are costs, as he finds himself in a brutal corporate environment that lures him deeper and deeper into ethical quandaries with the promises of greater rewards. If all you want is power and wealth, then civility and decency matter less and less.

    And that’s when the movie gets really, really weird. I mean, really weird.

    That said, I really liked Sorry To Bother You - it is profane and macabre and vivid and unsettling and, entirely on purpose, bothersome. The movie is written and directed by Boots Riley, and the cast is terrific - especially Tessa Thomson, Terry Crews, and Armie Hammer, as well as Stanfield and Glover.

    Sorry To Bother You isn’t for everyone, but I recommend it.

    At the other end of the civility spectrum, let me suggest that you read this Washington Post piece about the coming return of Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame, in a new series that will portray his post-USS Enterprise life.

    I made mention of this new series earlier this week, but I really like this Post piece, mostly because it suggests that Picard, played by the great Patrick Stewart, represents the best set of leadership traits in all of Starfleet. (He also reflects the best of what humanity is capable, whether in fact or fiction.)

    The piece goes on:

    “Unlike some other captains, Picard never went off half-cocked in reaction to a setback. Although he did violate the Prime Directive from time to time, his instinct was always to avoid interventions if at all possible. He was a skilled negotiator when negotiation was called for, but also willing to take the initiative when encountering great power instability. He knew how to lean on allies and adversaries alike.”

    Make sure you watch the video clips embedded in the piece. They are terrific examples of the point the Post wants to make.

    That’s it for this week.

    Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: