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I did a FaceTime piece last week in which I used Graeter’s ice cream as an example of a product that, if retailers are going to offer it, they actually should try to actively sell - informing consumers, offering tastes, and being aggressive.

One MNB reader, Holly Aglialoro, responded:

Your commentary on Graeter’s Ice Cream was interesting; I work in the Frozen Department at Wegmans where we carry a few flavors of Graeter’s Ice Cream, as well as some other regional and gourmet ice creams.

Regarding your view that it is the retailer’s responsibility to generate enthusiasm and sample the product, I disagree.  At Wegmans, companies with new products on our shelves are encouraged to demo their products, but Wegmans employees only sample and demo Wegmans products.  This weekend we will be sampling Wegmans Organic Vanilla Ice Cream, paired with Wegmans Organic Raspberry Jam.

The reality in the grocery business is that the profit margins are paper thin, and the workforce chronically understaffed.  Getting the products off the trucks and onto the shelves is the priority.  If Graeter’s or any other company want to occupy the coveted shelves of a high-volume grocery store, the onus is on the company to show that its product merits the prime “real estate” of a Wegmans shelf.

From another reader:

Thinking about your MNB commentary on Graeter’s Ice Cream – and considering  your thinking from a couple of views:

On one hand – retailers love differentiation and selling profitable brands not available elsewhere.  Those suppliers most often have some trouble scaling “demand creation” for that retailer, instead, leaving it up to the retailer to decide. The euphoria often dwindles after the initial stocking order is received (on both sides). 

Not specific to perishable (but will be soon) any retailer that thinks they can continue to keep high prices and take a 50% retail margin is in for a big surprise.  Branded, standardized, utilitarian merchandise will soon be in the domain of internet retailers. And, small niche brands (like Graeters) can follow suit.  Some would argue they should focus through online.
There’s nothing wrong with selling high margin stuff but  1) Standardized order systems; 2) shorter pipelines; 3) better warehouse/shipping processing; 4) overnight delivery, and 5) consumers shopping with smartphones and making this harder to do over the long term. 
On the other hand – it’s so easy to shop online – or, with a little more effort physically, shop but compare online and one-click ordering.  Why bother going to retailers – who charge slotting, high Ad fees, issue deduction paperwork that’s sometimes not supported. Smaller retailers are notorious for making money on the “buy” – not the “sell”.  
Specialty retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond ... luggage retailers, office supply retailers, perhaps soon liquor stores will suffer online disruption.  Soon, even some basic categories inside the big box stores will be disrupted.   How about diapers (oh, Amazon bought that shopper).  How about HBA?  Laundry supplies? Home & Garden items? Toys? (Recall that Amazon played a pretty significant role in destroying Toys R Us.)

From MNB reader Joe DiVincenzo:

In Face time with the Content Guy you state in part:
“I think that it is the manufacturer’s job to make the best product possible, to position it in the marketplace, and to promote it via advertising and marketing to the item’s target consumer. But in the store? I think that it is the retailer’s job to explain products, to sample products, to create enthusiasm for products, to generate sales for products.”
I completely agree with your first statement.  The second I believe requires a big “it depends.” 

With tens of thousands of items on the typical retailer shelves and thousands introduced every year, a retailer must be very selective of those items they feel they have a role in explaining, creating enthusiasm, and generating sales.  Furthermore, if a retailer has a well-respected and differentiated Private Label portfolio with constant innovation, I’m not sure why they would want to spend resources creating demand their competition could capitalize on and not be differentiated when those resources are better spent promoting the things that actually do set them apart.  Unless it is my Brand that is unavailable elsewhere, or I have an exclusive on a truly innovative or superior branded product not available elsewhere, I feel it’s up to the manufacturer to create the awareness and demand.  My job is to be the retailer of choice to purchase those products.

And, from another reader:

I think you are living in a dream world.  There are lots of Graeter type products (loyal local following).  But, when you want to expand you have to be able to play with the big boys.  Kroger put Graeter’s into Fred Meyer and I think it lasted about a year.  There were other popular brands (Talenti, Tillamook) vying for the same warehouse slots and customer’s wallet. I think there are other local brands deserving to be on the shelf ahead of the “out of towner” unless they are truly unique.

From another reader:

As a Cincinnati girl living in the relative wilds of New Hampshire, I was THRILLED with our local Price Chopper started carrying Graeter’s.  Having spent the better part of my life in retail, and now wholesale, I realize the tenuous hold Graeter’s has on that shelf space.  Every time I am at that store, I talk to the other shoppers looking at ice cream and tell them they will never regret giving it a try.  We are in the thick of Ben & Jerry’s land out here, so getting someone to swap a pint is hard.  But it’s in my best interest to keep some Graeter’s on the shelf, so I do my best to make more fans out here.  Now if we could only get some Skyline out this way….

A question here. If I follow some of the logic here, it seems to me that it would then make sense for companies like Graeter’s to focus more on alternative channels - like Amazon, say, or its own e-commerce site - and go as directly to the consumer as possible. Bricks-and-mortar retailers then can focus only on private label and the “big boys” who are able to pay their way.

Okay, if that’s what you want.

It doesn’t sound like a long-term and viable business model to me.

But maybe I’m wrong.

On another subject, from Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., VP Food Safety & Technology with the United Fresh Produce Association:

I wanted to follow up on your comment about Blockchain’s utility in the current outbreak.
The challenge is not that there are no records, or even the speed of going through records (although there are definitely opportunities to speed things up). The problem is that the source of contamination—the “problem”—is not known. FDA and states begin at the point of sale or service- the grocery stores and restaurants, in MANY locations, looking at products received over the course of  a few weeks, which, in all likelihood, come from several sources, all of which need to be traced back to their suppliers over a window, and you can see how things keep expanding and snowballing in terms of the records. United has been involved in blockchain discussions and will have a webinar on the topic next week. Having worked extensively in traceability I am not yet convinced that blockchain has the ability to reveal a source of contamination. Certainly, once known, it facilitates traceforward to the outlets of the product. Or if testing a finished or intermediary product with a known identifier, it facilitates getting back to potential sources. Just my thoughts.

KC's View: