business news in context, analysis with attitude

A brief look at some of the stories that broke while I was on vacation, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

• Kroger announced that Bob Mariano, CEO of Roundy's, which it acquired last year, will retire on September 1, and then serve as a strategic advisor to the company for two years. Mariano joined Roundy's in 2002, and during his time there launched the Mariano's chain of upscale, fresh food-oriented stores in the Chicago market.

Bob Mariano has had an enormously influential career ... and in the end, it is possible that the chain of stores that bear his name may be the innovation that has the greatest long-term influence on the industry. (Even if someday they end up being called something else...)

• The Dallas Morning News reported that "Minyard, one of the oldest grocery names in Dallas, will soon be history. Houston-based Fiesta Mart is expanding in North Texas with the purchase of the nine remaining Minyard Food Stores and two Sun Fresh Market stores.  The transition of the stores to the Fiesta brand will happen over the next two months, Fiesta said."

Progress is progress. But sometimes, when an old name bites the dust, it is just a little sad ... and now Minyard's joins a list that includes Ukrop's, Larry's, and Genuardi's. Then again, maybe it isn't really sad. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Business Insider reported that "U.S. consumers are starting to shop for groceries more frequently online, and this option is even starting to replace in-store shopping for some, according to a new Harris Poll survey.

"Overall, 31% of U.S. shoppers had bought groceries online 'in the past six months.' The survey was conducted in late Jun 2016. Furthermore, 10% of those who bought groceries online said this habit had replaced some or all of their trips to traditional stores ... This process is most common in urban areas, where 38% of shoppers buy online. This compares to 30% in suburban areas and 25% in rural areas. This likely reflects the availability of these online grocery services primarily in urban areas with dense populations and sophisticated navigation technologies."

However, the story also notes that, according to a Brick Meets Click report, "almost 60% of U.S. consumers who have never shopped for groceries online refuse to do so because they like to select their own fruits and vegetables in person."

Only a fool would argue that all food shopping is going to move to the Internet. Of course some people will never shop for groceries online, just as some people will split their shopping between stores and websites. But five percent of all grocery spending moving online would be an enormous change, and a huge win for the companies that capture any part of it. And it could be a huge hit for those who ignore the trend, or think it'll never affect them.

• The New York Times reported that Amazon has stopped posting the list price in addition to the purchase price for many items on its site.

"There is just one price," the Times wrote. "Take it or leave it.

"The new approach comes as discounts both online and offline have become the subject of dozens of consumer lawsuits for being much less than they seem. It is also occurring while Amazon is in the middle of an ambitious multiyear shift from a store selling one product at a time to a full-fledged ecosystem. Amazon wants to be so deeply embedded in a customer’s life that buying happens as naturally as breathing, and nearly as often."

It'll be interesting to see if they get any blowback on this. I'm not crazy about the decision, but then again, I think that it actually is more important to compare the Amazon price to what other e-tailers are charging, if you're looking for benchmarks. But, this seems sort of anti-transparency ... and so I think it could be a mistake.

• The New York Post reported that Amazon "is planning to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore and cafe in Manhattan," in the Hudson Yards retail/commercial/residential development projected to open in late 2018 or early 2019.

Amazon did not comment on the report.

eMarketer reported that "we have passed the tipping point at which it is more normal than otherwise for US teens to have a smartphone; about three-quarters of 12- to 17-year-olds will have one this year ... eMarketer estimates that 88.3% of 12- to 17-year-olds will have mobile phones this year. And among those with mobile phones, 84.0% will have smartphones.

"Thus, for this whole age bracket, smartphone penetration will be 74.2%. That is up sharply from 2013, when just under half of this age cohort had smartphones. Still, it falls short of the figure for adult millennials, among whom upwards of nine in 10 have smartphones."

Fortune reported that Kroger "is making a big commitment to going green.
The retailer has published an outline detailing how it plans to become more sustainable by 2020. That involves increasing responsible sourcing in its supply chain as well as becoming more conscientious in its use and protection of the natural environment."

Goals include ensuring that "90% of all of its seafood comes from fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council or other programs recognized by the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative," that it meets the EPA’s “zero waste” threshold of 90% diversion from landfills," and that it reduces "water consumption by 5%, reducing refrigerant leaks by 9%, improving transportation efficiency by 20%, and ultimately reducing its cumulative energy consumption by 40%."

Consumerist reports that Bryer's recently made ingredient changes to some of their ice cream products that were significant enough that they no longer can be called ice cream. Now, they have to be called "frozen dairy dessert products."

According to the Breyer's website, "Frozen Dairy Dessert products are made with many of the same high-quality ingredients that are commonly found in Ice Cream – like fresh milk, cream and sugar – and offer a great taste and even smoother texture. These products do not fall within the current FDA definition of standardized Ice Cream, so we call them Frozen Dairy Dessert ... In a national side-by-side taste test, our fans tell us they like the new recipe just as much as the original. We’re confident these new products deliver the great taste Ice Cream fans expect but with any product change it’s always possible that you may notice a difference."

Call me crazy, but I like my ice cream to actually be ice cream. Give me Graeter's, or Salt & Straw ... but when I indulge, I actually want to indulge.

• The Washington Post reported that new research out of Italy (naturally) suggested that rather than being the vehicle by which people consume needless and harmful carbs, pasta may not be so bad after all.

"In fact," the Post wrote, "the new research published this week in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes suggests eating pasta in controlled amounts is associated with a healthy lifestyle. The Neuromed Institute of Pozzilli found that eating pasta in moderation is associated with a lower body-mass index, waist and hip circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio. The study recommended deriving 10 percent of your daily calories from pasta.

KC's View: