business news in context, analysis with attitude

I'm back from the road, with more time to go through the emails. So let's catch up...

Responding to our various stories about the troubles at Kmart and the seeming inability of Eddie Lampert to deal with them (or even admit them), one MNB user wrote:

It appears that Fast Eddie has reduced the inventory in the stores to have the look of a fire sale.  He needs to stock the stores and improve on the appearance.  Their retail sales floor has the look of the 1960's and doesn’t fit into the 2010's.  Sure wish they would quit reinventing the banner and actually concentrate on sales.  He can generate sales by changing the atmosphere within the 4 walls by quit looking like a glorified Dollar General. (the dirty store).

We've had a bunch of stories recently about Target's strategic moves, prompting one MNB user to write:

Maybe it is time for Target to get back to what it does well - everything but food.  It's core business seems to be doing  just fine, I just think we are overstored, everyone is selling food.

Just a thought -  maybe Target's plan is to buy up all the Walgreens/Rite Aid stores they will have to divest in their merger, possibly as many as 1,000!

We had a piece about single-source beef the other day. I admitted I'd never had it, and one MNB reader responded:

Since you’re such a “foodie,” I was surprised you haven’t had a single-source burger.  I HIGHLY recommend it.  I live in Idaho which gives me more access to rural connections.  I’ve had a couple of opportunities to buy a half a beef for the freezer.  Being grass fed, the meat can be a little tougher than commercial beef.  But the flavor is divine – it’s like the burger my dad use to make way back when. 

As for the toughness, the secret is to grind your own meat.  Thinly slice the meat, put it in the freezer just long enough for the meat to stiffen just a bit, but not freeze.  Then throw it in the food processor and pulse just enough to create the perfect grind (don’t over do it, it will make the meat rubbery).   I’m allergic to milk, so I can’t do this – but, especially with a lean cut of meat, throw in a bit of butter when you grind it.  Enjoy!

Wow. Sounds amazing. But I'd never call myself a foodie. I'm just a guy who likes to eat, drink and cook.

MNB user John Baragar wrote:

I live in Phoenix and we get our meat, chicken, and eggs from a local farm.  It’s Organic, the beef is Grass Fed and the chickens are Pasture Raised.  You put in your order and every two weeks the same two guys (farm owner’s sons) go to 8 different delivery spots around the city – and you pick your order up.  It’s not really convenient and you have to drive to them, but we think it’s worth it.

At first we were only one of a few people at our stop, but over the past year the lines have grown longer and longer.  I can’t say that it tastes any better than store bought meat or eggs but you know where it comes from, you know at least two of the guys who work on the farm and that gives you a certain level of comfort that it has not gone through a mass producer’s supply chain or even a grocery store’s supply chain. I also trust them.  You read a lot of stories about how organic isn’t really organic but still meets the FDA Definition  and Grass Fed Meat can still be fed corn and grains the last month to fatten them up and still qualify as Grass Fed. For these guys, it goes from their farm to you the same day and the people who work on the farm are the ones who sell it to you.

I noticed the eggs were noticeably smaller this summer and he said “Chickens don’t like the heat so they lay smaller eggs when it’s really hot out.”  They don’t do anything to make their chickens lay “normal” eggs – the eggs are just smaller in the Summer because that’s the way chickens are.   You do get a bit of sticker shock when you compare it to what you get from a Mainstream grocery store but it is not really that much more than Grass Fed Beef or Pasture Raised Chicken or Eggs at Whole Foods.

As these items gain popularity, mainstream stores will start to carry more of it and the price will go down as producers find ways to cut costs and still be able to call them Single Source, Grass Fed or Pasture Raised within the legal FDA definition, but I will still pay more to these local guys because I trust them, know where it comes from, and Grass Fed means Grass Fed.

Another reader wrote:

I wonder if I'm the only one with a twisted sense of humor that wants to see a QR code on each burger that takes me to a pic of the cow with a name and story to go with it?

Don't know. I do know that you are the only person with a twisted sense of humor to write in and suggest it.

I am impressed.

On the subject of how competitive Aldi is and Lidl may be, one MNB user seems less than overwhelmed:

Aldi has been in USA since 1976 and now has almost 1,500 USA stores, gaining a sliver of market.

Aldi’s worldwide average sales per store is $6 million, probably similar in the USA.
Lidl’s average worldwide sales per store is slightly higher at $7 million.

Think of Lidl’s planned USA format as a Food Lion, with a lot more private label.

By the way, the average Food Lion store records around $15 million in sales
and the average Kroger $35 million. If Lidl opens 500 stores and achieves their system wide average volume…they will total 3.5 billion in sales, about the size of Price Chopper.

We had a piece about Safeway installing Amazon lockers in some of its stores, which I wondered about; it seemed akin to letting the fox into the henhouse.

One MNB user wrote:

Upside here could be a relationship between Safeway and Amazon.  Safeway could be a future partner for Amazon in their fresh grocery program, or even a future acquisition?  It could happen...

Not so sure.

Regarding our story about how Kroger is dealing with deflation by playing a market share game until things go back to normal, one MNB user wrote:

The only thing wrong with this conversation is Kroger's belief that "things will change".   With Amazon now playing aggressively in the food arena, and Lidl bearing down on the US, I don't foresee a time when margin pressure will ever decrease.  This current reality is the only reality, which Kroger so far has played really well.

MNB reader Monte Stowell wanted to take issue with my Shake Shack enthusiasm:

I was in Arlington, TX. last week for a WinCo grand opening. I had never been in a Shake Shack, so I thought I would give it a try. The milkshake was one of the best ever, but the Shake Shack double classic cheeseburger was not all that great. I will take Burgerville USA here in the NW or an In and Out anytime over Shake Shack.

Fair enough. Any of the three is terrific ... I just think you may have hit them on a bad day.

Responding to my enthusiastic review of the new Dave Barry book, MNB reader John Rand wrote:

I sincerely hope you have also read and appreciate Carl Hiaasen. A delightful madman, especially his earlier books.
If not, go read a couple. I suspect you  would like them.
They are fiction., At least I sincerely hope so. But like all the best fiction, they are more true than truth itself.

Big Carl Hiaasen fan here. We're in total agreement.

And, of course, we have more baseball-related email, this one from Craig Jones:

Couldn’t hold back on sharing this story from the Field of Dreams ballpark. I visited the ballpark on vacation with my family about 20 years ago. I can’t give you too many details on the ball park itself since I was about 5, I just remember it being surrounded by corn like everything in Iowa. Here the cool part, we watched a baseball game there and afterwards they invited the kids to try and come hit and run the bases. They must have assisted me hitting in some way because I can’t imagine I was coordinated enough to make any contact but after hitting I started running the bases backwards (no idea why but hey, I was 5). I distinctively remember all the players cheering me on regardless and giving me high fives as I went from 3rd to 2nd to 1st to home. I’m sure this must have been entertaining for all the other spectators as well. To this day that is one of my dad’s favorite stories to tell. I think it’s a great example of how to leave a positive impression on your customers, get your customers involved in a fun and entertaining way.

And, from another reader, Troy Patterson:

We just visited this location in Dyersville Iowa this past summer with our three children, ages 11, 9 and 7.  All three play baseball/softball, but it was more of a “dad’s” stop on the way home from vacation from southern Missouri.   I thought it was amazing,  to be on the same iconic field as this great movie was shot was pretty special for me.

Having the kids walk out of the cornfield into the outfield and videotaping them what pretty neat.  We all brought our baseball gloves and played a “pick up” game with other visitors for nearly an hour.  The neat thing is they don’t allow organized baseball to be played on the field so everyone who visits has an opportunity to crack a pitch into the corn, run the bases or field a ball in the infield or outfield.  To have the opportunity to play on this field with my kids was simply overwhelming, in a few years when the kids are a bit older and better follow the movie they hopefully will better understand.

The location is totally free to visit, but they do have a small donation box to drop a few dollars in to help with upkeep of the field.  They do offer a tour that runs a few times a day that has an older gentleman in an Old Style White Sox uniform that explains quite a bit of the making of the movie, why they picked this location and the future of the location.   They also offer a small gift shop. I recommend this afternoon visit to anyone that enjoys the movie Field of Dreams.

I am so doing this next summer when I drive west.
KC's View: