1. Technology & Innovation

Your Views:  Even A Blind Man Knows

Got the following email regarding my conversation with ReposiTrak’s Randy Fields and Dr. Benjamin Miller, executive vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs of The Acheson Group (TAG):

Thank you for presenting the discussion about the FDA’s new traceability requirements.  People in our industry are simply not aware of the impending, major disruption in logistics that will be caused by attaching lot codes to product at all stages from production to shelf.  As it is now, we have to manually identify lot codes of product that has been identified for recall.  Our systems don’t currently have a way to record this information.


Last week we had a piece about how Target is attempting to improve the shopper experience by putting limits on self-checkout, which led me to comment:

I, frankly, continue to be amazed that after all these years, self-checkout has become a point of contention.  It seems pretty simple to me – some consumers want it, some don’t, and so it makes sense to offer it as an option.

Having more staff always makes sense, I think.

Cornell does lose me, though, when he describes Target as being anybody’s “happy place.”  Maybe he ought to visit the store in Stamford, Connecticut – a unit I avoid like the plague because it always strikes me as an unhappy place.  (I’m happy to meet him there if he’d like to prove me wrong.)

Got a number of responses to this one.  One MNB reader wrote:

Your Stamford store sounds like a cookie cutter version of literally every Target store in Northern VA. Employees seem miserable, massive out of stocks are the norm and the ONLY option to checkout seems to be SCO, as all other registers are routinely closed during even peak shopping hours. I doubt the strategy is as altruistic as they suggest. It’s likely more the reality that limiting the items to 10 will only further nosedive sales. I remain dumbfounded as to why their board has allowed failed leadership to continue to remain in place. I used to love  shopping there as a weekly routine. It is now an absolute last course of action. 

But another MNB reader chimed in:

Don’t let the Stamford CT store skew your opinion too much.  That location, with its multi-level parking garage, is just inherently a bad setup for what a Target typically is / should be.  Makes people grumpy before they even get to the sales floor, and then they get grumpy again when they have to pay to leave the garage.  I’m looking forward to their takeover of the former Walmart space over in Norwalk.

Another MNB reader wrote:

Reading the article about Target limiting self-checkout use to customers with 10 items or less, I suddenly understood why a Target employee came up to me last week at the self-checkout and asked if I had more than 10 items. I hadn’t counted, so I told her I didn’t know, and she walked away. If there was signage communicating the limit, I sure didn’t see it. The worker didn’t explain her question. So it just felt oddly intrusive.

And from another reader:

If I’d had more than 10 items and been pressed about it, I’d probably have stayed where I was and pointed out that the store only had two regular checkstands open. I think this is going to be a problem for Target or any retailer who tries to reduce self-checkout use. Forcing customers into long lines due to understaffing is not going to make any store a happy place.

And, from yet another reader:

Target has refocused on the front end experience and added more staffed check stands? This is an example of execs not visiting the store on busy weekends to see what really happens. When I worked for the chain and the execs were in town, we’d always staff up and it was usually a weekday morning. Hardly the example of what a typical customer sees.

And another:

I wish our Target got the memo about more manned lanes. I was at our local target in Asheville, NC over the weekend ~ 9AM and there wasn’t a single manned register opened. It’s aggravating to juggle a toddler and scanning/bagging all of your purchases at the same time.

And another:

Some Target observations:

On the plus side:

1.The quality and presentation of produce seems to have improved. 

2. Their store pickup process -location and short lead time has improved. 

On the negative side:

1. Their out of stocks on sale items in grocery is a disaster . Beginning of the week, midweek and end of week. I’ve sent pictures to Brian of the paper aisle where every sale item was out of stock . Didn’t hear back. Grocery replenishment is a little different than softgoods. 

2. Related to one, their inventory management system is an issue.  When you do an on line order for pickup, it allows you to select items. And 2 hours later when you do the pickup, 15-20% of the items are scratched. 

Overall the stores seem a little busier and there are more cashiers with shorter lines. 

Responding to our story about how one ghost kitchen company is getting out of the business, moving instead to just licensing its software, one MNB reader wrote:

It seems to me that the conundrum of ghost kitchens ties in with your story about the word authentic.  Branded meals and food prepared in a place that is generic does not seem, to me at least, authentic.  For example, Chipotle food should be made in a Chipotle kitchen.

Forgive me.  But this may be the first time I’ve ever seen the words “Chipotle”and “authentic” used in the same sentence.

Regarding the acquisition of former ShopRite stores in the Albany, New York, market by Price Chopper/Market 32, one MNB reader wrote:

Many years ago, Big V Shop Rite (now basically SRS Supermarkets) entered this region and did not do well to say the least, They had stores in the Albany area, Catskill NY, Hudson, NY and a few other places. They did not do well and sold the stores to Victory/Great American. It turned out to be a disaster for Victory and played no small part in their demise (there were other factors too, like building a warehouse in downtown Norwich, NY, ownership changes and LBO’s, ultimately going out of business after Aaron Malinsky somehow gained control of them and Almac’s in new England, but I digress).

Price Chopper is non-union and that will probably help them control costs and they are a known and well respected operator in the area. Most of the other big players in this area (Hannaford, Wal-Mart, club stores, Aldi, etc. are also non-union), It is difficult being the only union operator that needs big volumes in a not so densely populated trade area, certainly when compared to the Baltimore to NYC areas).

I am sure Price Chopper does not want it to be Déjà vu all over again.

Last week I did a FaceTime in which I wrote about how Sports Illustrated long was the gold standard of sports journalism.  But the mighty seem to have fallen long and hard with the report this week that it has been posting AI-generated product reviews with bylines for non-existent writers on its site.  Let’s forget for a moment about assigning blame – I suspect there is plenty to go around among the media conglomerate and “content and marketing” types now in charge.  Let’s focus on one thing – the desecration of a brand.

One MNB reader wrote:

Brilliantly stated !! Sadly, journalism as a whole has left the building, not just in sports. 

Which is why, each day, I make sure I peruse the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal – all, in their news sections, beacons of independent, thoughtful journalism.

From another reader:

The desecration of the brand happened longggg before this with their insistence on continuing their passe sexist swimwear covers/features just to sell magazines. So the fact that they’re using AI, posting fake reviews, etc. is pretty on brand for me.

Fair point.

MNB reader Howard Davidson wrote:

Thanks for your post. The writing was on the wall for SI back in 2019 when Meredith sold their “intellectual property rights” to Authentic Brand Group which is mostly in the business of licensing brands and their assets (eg – Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Nautica, Juicy Couture). If I recall at the time a number of noted (and acclaimed) staff writers were let go to be replaced by freelancers. Even through their current ownership it would seem Sports Illustrated is being milked for its reputation and still considerable audience while focusing on revenue and margin at the expense of editorial quality. “Hey ChatGPT – write me a 5,000 word story on Aaron Rogers remarkable attempt to comeback from his ruptured Achille’s to play this season for the New York Jets. Write it like a Sports Illustrated story in the style of Frank Deford, and include supportive and negative comments and perspectives from NFL players and doctors.”

Breaks my heart.  

On another subject, MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

My comments reflect what I see in Fred Meyer stores and their grocery sections.

First, their everyday food pricing is along with Safeway and Albertsons, the highest in the Oregon market.

Second, since the ads are written in Cincinnati, the item selection is stale.

Third the front page is almost always Frito Lay products, Pepsi, and Coca Cola products are in the dominant position in the ad, fourth,  Procter and Gamble products are usually in every ad. I understand the power of P&G skus to drive sales. Not enough local and NW brands are advertised.

The biggest peeve is requiring the customer to buy 3 or 4 of a product or brand to get the best advertised price. This requirement is a huge turnoff, as a lot of people do not need or want this multiple purchase requirement. The winners are Winco and Walmart because they already have low prices and no minimum purchase requirements to get the best price. Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Safeway, are you paying attention? Having been in the food industry for over 50 years it has been interesting to watch what has happened to retailers, many retailers, chains and independents have closed their doors.  Walmart, Costco, Target, etc. along with many of my retired friends in the industry, former retailers, manufacturer representatives, brokers, etc., are not using the big chains for primary shopping, and we all agree that the merger of Fred Meyer, QFC, with Safeway and Albertsons will not bring lower prices. A blind man knows that an acquisition of over $60 billion dollars will not bring overall lower prices for the consumer. 

We had a piece last week about Whole Foods’ apprenticeship programs, which prompted MNB reader Robert Wheatley to write:

This is just brilliant. The tangible, meaningful added value this training will create for staff members will also translate into better experiences and culinary outcomes for shoppers.

It’s this kind of thinking backed up by actions that helps shift the past perceptions and paradigm for Whole Foods. I’m convinced. I’m going to check this out and potentially push my food shopping allegiance their direction.

And finally, last week we reported on a ResumeBuilder survey finding that 12 percent of retired Americans are “likely” to go back to work in the coming year, at a time when 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 62 and 85 say they already are working.

The reasons for their return to work include concerns about the cost of living and a belief that they did not save enough money before retiring.  One-third of respondents say they want to return to work because they’re bored.

I commented:

This is a story to which I can relate – I’m right in the middle of that demographic, but I think I’d be bored if I stopped working.  And if the time comes when I do stop doing MNB – at least on a five-days-a-week, 10-stories-a-day basis – I think I’d want to keep at least one oar in the water.  Maybe post stories and commentary a little less frequently, continue to do some speaking engagements, and maybe figure out a way to do some mentoring.  I find myself thinking about the Jimmy Buffett lyric:

A most mysterious calling harbour

So far but yet so near

I can see the day when my hair’s full gray

And I finally disappear … But not yet.

MNB reader Doug Larsen wrote:

Thanks for the article and your insight.  I am also right in the middle of that demographic, retired in April of 2022 and was definitely bored by September.  Went back to work part time, on great terms and very little pressure.  I am enjoying the engagement and team involvement.  And, uncertainty of the economy and investments was a small portion of the decision, but not the biggest part by any stretch.  Highly recommend your idea of “keeping one oar in the water” idea. 

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