business news in context, analysis with attitude

Regarding our piece about Amazon needing to do a better job eliminating counterfeit products from its site, MNB reader Bob Thomas wrote:

The OECD estimated the value of counterfeit goods in 2013 to be $461 Billion.  This was an increase of more than 80% over the OECD findings in 2008.  Until online retailers such as Alibaba, Ebay and Amazon get serious about the problem it will continue to grow.  The large online retailers add value (and profits) to the counterfeiters who were once only distributing on street corners and back alleys.  The “Guaranteed Genuine” approach would be a definite differentiation for an online retailer to use.

On the same subject, from MNB reader Aimee Beaufait:

I was happy to see your article about Amazon’s Counterfeit Problem. My sister (13 weeks pregnant), regularly purchases her pre-natal vitamins from Amazon. Her most recent batch of vitamins was counterfeit. Not only did she not get the nutrition she needed, but these pills also made her sick – putting her and her baby at risk.  She was lucky to have only taken these vitamins for 5 days before realizing they were fake. I’m sure many others didn’t realize this so quickly. I sure hope Amazon steps up and takes this issue even more seriously, especially when it impacts customers’ health.

Responding to the story about more deaths related to tainted romaine lettuce, one MNB reader wrote:

The question people need answered is when will they be back in Yuma harvesting romaine. And what other crops are coming from the area that might be of concern, e.g. spinach, cilantro and other row crops that lay near the ground. He cyclical nature of row crops guarantees that will be back in Yuma, it’s just a matter of time.

And since they are still scratching their heads on the exact location of the impacted soul, what’s to insure some “smart” companies from labeling “San Luis” or some other nearby town, avoiding the Yuma name. I noticed at Costco hand labeled romaine that says “from California”, but they can’t grow there all year.

We had a story yesterday about Southeastern Grocers, parent company to Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Harvey’s and Fresco y Mas, emerging from bankruptcy protection, pledging to remodel stores and revitalize the brand. I was dubious … and so was this MNB reader:

I wish SEG well, but would probably prefer to plant a dollar in my back yard and hope it grows before investing in least the dollar would still be there a year from now. They are a composite of tired brands, on the downswing like A&P. They have yet to implement basic marketing and merchandising across brands and former executives and investors have done nothing to build brand...only tried to save their way to prosperity while taking out the cash. They are the last choice for shopping when they are the only choice in town.

And this one:

Kevin, I’m really struggling with how SE Grocers feel they can be competitive going forward.  The emergence of small box formats in FL (BUC-ee’s, Wawa, Sheetz, 7-Eleven just to name  few), widely available Publix, Walmart – not to mention Target (who’s becoming less relevant everyday to FL shoppers but not as fast as SE Grocers is / will / did) – really, SE Grocers thinks a loyalty program is all they need? 

SE Grocers stores are easy to shop (since they have fewer shoppers in them than others) but are full of out-dated merchandise on shelf.
The best role SE Grocers plays is to stock new-to-market, entrepreneurial brands that struggle to even get a Publix buyer meeting to present.  It would be nice to see SE Grocers do well – but the pathway to long term viability isn’t clear.

On another subject, from MNB reader Yvonne Manganaro:

Regarding the piece about Hello Fresh, and meal kits in general – I don’t believe that the subscription model and pricing are the only major impediments to their growth.

Younger customers in particular are overwhelmed with the packaging that comes with them, when they are sent via FedEx or other carrier. Between the outer box, inner boxes and clamshells, ice packs, etc. – there is a perception of tremendous wastefulness. Add that to the carbon footprint of driving the meal kit to your door, and I think there is a sense that it’s wasteful. Many of the surveys I have seen are for people who have never tried a meal kit, and their objections come down to price and subscription model. However, once a consumer actually tries them, they see how much packaging is involved. 16% of millennials surveyed mentioned this concern.

Grocery stores are therefore an ideal place to solve for the customer who wants an easy/quick/inspirational meal choice, but who worries about the environmental impact. As a bonus – they’re not locked into a subscription model, either.

We had an Eye-Opener yesterday about the growth of Audible, prompting one MNB reader to write:

As a self-professed reading nerd, something bothers me about Audible’s growth.  At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, isn’t there something sacred about the ability to read, directly related to our society’s ability to write, and do math?  I’m all for growth, change, (r)evolution and I recognize there’s something potentially lost in our critical thinking skills if we aren’t reading.

And, on yet another subject, from MNB reader Howard Carr:

Your comment about Stew Leonard’s and Wegmans proves what I still believe, and why most people continue to go out of their way to shop in these stores.  They are an experience and they do things that others do not, and one of them is to offer SERVICE to the customers in a manner that their competitors do not.  Not to mention that their assortment of goods is not “vanilla” like too many of the other grocery alternatives out there. I would also throw Costco into this mix, because when you consider how they merchandise (the in store sampling program) and the aggressive pricing models and different products they bring to the customer, you can understand why their models will be successful for a very long time to come.

Finally, I wrote last Friday enthusiastically about a new HBO documentary, “John McCain: For Whom The Bell Tolls,” which is very much worth your time.

I wrote, in part:

McCain currently is battling brain cancer, and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that he is nearing the end of the road, though he has faced the end before and survived. But, remarkably, while McCain seems comfortable looking back, he seems anything but mournful; he hopes that he has done some good, feels that he has lived with honor, is willing to acknowledge his mistakes, and has strong feelings about the health of the nation and our politics.

McCain’s is the central voice of the documentary, but there are generous and heartfelt testimonials to his life and career from politicians as disparate as Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As polarized as our politics may be, there seems to be a sense even among those who may disagree with him on issues that McCain’s priority has been fulfilling the American ideal and promise.

One MNB reader challenged me:

”…heartfelt testimonials to his life and career from politicians as disparate as Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama…”

Disparate?? Seriously?

I meant disparate compared to McCain’s views. I also could’ve included Sen. Lindsay Graham, President George W. Bush, and Henry Kissinger. (And John Kerry.) There also were a lot of former staffers and campaign aides who spoke about McCain … but, now that you mention it, not a lot of elected GOP public officials talking about him on camera.
KC's View: