business news in context, analysis with attitude

Weighing in on the battle taking place between Anheuser-Busch InBev and other brewers over the use of corn syrup in beer, one MNB reader - who asked only to be identified as “an employee of one of the companies” - wrote:

Corn has been used in Beer since time began, as has rice, and ABI uses Corn and Corn Syrup in many of their other products in the brewing process, just not in Bud Light. The corn / rice is feed for the yeast and it devours it in the fermentation process and these adjuncts help produce a clean, crisp tasting liquid that the American beer drinker consumes in vast quantities even in times of competition from craft beer and wines & spirits.

From another MNB reader:

I used to work at General Mills several years ago and this reminds me of the situation between Campbell’s and Progresso over MSG in canned soup.  It started back in 2008 with Campbell’s calling out MSG in Progresso soups.  That escalated into a lot of overall negative attention for the canned soup category, with each manufacturer taking shots at the other.

If I remember correctly, it had a negative impact overall on the category and both companies ended up suffering.  I feel this could be a similar situation.

And another:

I assume other readers may point this out as well but MillerCoors isn't just taking this battle to court but to the masses as well. Last night was the first time I personally observed the commercial and I had a good chuckle at the retaliatory salvo by MillerCoors … It should be interesting to see how far this battle of the beer brands will go and what consumers will respond to. Personally, I think we'll see enough mudslinging in the upcoming 2020 political ads but if MC & AB can keep it witty and fun who knows.

And still another:

Way back when I first began in marketing, we looked at Sanka as a bad competitor. The constant knocking of coffee as causing irritability was likely a contributor to the decline of “coffee in a can”. Even now in the age of Starbucks and its ilk, coffee consumption in the US is still much lower than it was in the 1970’s.

Yes, AB is being a bad competitor and sacrificing the larger category for a potential short-term boost to its own brand.

And another:

When I first saw the ad, my reaction was “Who Cares?”

I don’t personally like either of those beers, but I mostly care about how it tastes. Unless they brew it with something radioactive or poisonous, the formula is not my concern.

The Ad is cute, but the issue is lame.

Regarding how technology could be used to improve the store experience, MNB reader Glenn Cantor wrote:

Store-based retail managers need to know who are their best customers, and more importantly, when these shoppers are in their stores.  They should use this knowledge to customize each shopping experience for these shoppers.  Not only does this reward the loyalty of shoppers who receive these benefits, but it encourages others who don’t get this kind of service to improve their loyalty so as to also receive this level of attention.

If a retail store’s best customers are encouraged to activate an app when they enter the store, the managers could receive alerts.   This is actionable data.  At that point, there should be nothing more important for the managers to be doing than to greet these customers.  This would ensure that a retailer’s best, most profitable customers continue to give them exclusivity and it would give others who see this attention something to which to aspire.  It works for the airlines and hotels; why not grocery stores?

On another subject, from MNB reader Frank S. Klisanich:

KC, I agree!

Ikea has made a huge strategic shift to capture the millennial consumer living in urban areas, not driving SUV's (to pick up the stuff).

They shop online and now Ikea can get them to visit their store and fine-tune the's a 'phygital' experience.

I use this Ikea example in my Business Strategy class at Augsburg University because this news is's freshly baked.

Do you think the newer smaller stores will still have those heavenly cinnamon buns?

The new Ocado robotic warehouse being opened in Florida by Kroger prompted the following email:

Kroger's announcement that they will put an Ocado Robotics warehouse in the backyard of Publix is significant for these reasons:

-It will allow them to bring groceries to the Orlando market, without the cost of building stores, and utilize Walgreens as depots to pick up orders.

-The SGA expense line for this operation will be significantly less than Publix, which means Kroger will be able to invest in pricing to an extent that Publix can not follow.

-Expect to see Kroger Own Brands assortment show up at Walgreens locations in Florida, sooner than later, and well ahead of the Ocado warehouse being launched.  This will give Kroger the opportunity to build brand awareness, starting now.

Kroger may not be fast, but they are methodical and intentional with their customer journey.  Publix has never been a huge investor in technology, and still outsources to Instacart for home delivery.  On the other hand, Kroger is the leader in measuring and personalizing rewards to individual customers through their loyalty program and 84.51 resources.  It will be exciting to see how all this unfolds, but this impending battle almost doesn't seem fair.

Responding to our story about Instagram getting aggressive about a new e-commerce feature, one MNB reader wrote:

The story on Instagram was interesting and relevant to me because I recently bought a bathing suit after clicking through a sponsored ad on Instagram. This was the first time I had done that, and was with a company I had not previously shopped with. I received the product in the mail and didn’t love the fit so I reached out to their customer service to get a return label and they said they only accept returns for faulty products and not for sizing! I was shocked that an online retailer would have no return policy. I think this could get even more complicated if users are buying directly from Instagram because who has responsibility for informing the customer about policies etc such as returns?

Bad policy, a bad way to treat customers, and a bad reputation to get when you’re trying to grow one segment of your business.

Regarding Starbucks changing rewards program, MNB reader Andy Casey wrote: 

Simpler? It does provide some additional rewards but if anything these changes make it more complex with different redemption levels for various items. Simplicity is earn 125 stars, get a reward.

I think I agree with you on this.

MNB took note the other day of an Eater report that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed into law a ban on cashless stores and restaurants, which goes into effect immediately and imposes fines of up to $2500 on violators … in addition to requiring most retailers to take cash, the bill essentially would prevent Amazon from opening one of its Amazon Go checkout-free stores in the state.

I commented:

I can’t confirm this, but I’d be willing to bet that violators hit with a $2500 fine won’t be able to pay it in cash - official government agencies almost always want a check or credit card.

Kudos to the MNB reader who had an idea for how retailers should deal with fines:

The violating companies should pay the fine in pennies.

Finally, I loved the email I got about my “Searching for Travis McGee” FaceTime piece last week.

One MNB reader wrote:

I am a long time reader, but have never written to you. I am a retired exec from a News Corp company.  You are much more liberal than I, but I find that when it comes to books and movies we share the same taste. I look forward every Friday to your take on the latest novel or film that you have consumed. I owe it to you that I read Ace Atkins.

Anyway, I haven't seen anyone reference Travis in a long time. I read all the the books when I was a young man. I agree that we could use some of his ethics today.

And MNB reader Larry Ishii wrote:

Loved your piece. Yes, we need to think about "what ought we do?" far more than is the case.

Also, nice to know that someone else out there knows of J.D. MacDonald/Travis McGee and sees, at least, some virtue in the stories. Travis McGee is one of my faves. Have read several of his stories since last fall - been a refreshing break.

I’ve always thought there is more wisdom and good advice in most Travis McGee-Harry Bosch-Spenser-Lew Archer-Philip Marlowe novels than in most of the business books out there. And, they’re a lot more fun to read.
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