All posts by javava2012

Old Kroger Outlives Signage, Thrives

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Store facia updates may not be worth what they cost.

I stopped recently at a Kroger’s in the ‘fancy’ end of Lynchburg VA. The street-side sign is probably 1960’s era – hardly enticing to a new-to-Kroger’s shopper. But the store entrance itself is right up to date: wide automatic doors, large cart lobby… then you step inside, and you’re in a totally modern Kroger’s somewhere else.

Well, maybe not totally modern: The produce section offers the usual blow-you-away variety and presentation; the wine section right behind it is vast – thankfully so in an area where wine-buying options are slim, at best.

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Efforts have been made to update elsewhere, but let’s face it, they’re working with an older model, small footprint store. Still, this store stands head and shoulders above its nearest (physical) competitor, a Food Lion, half a mile along the same road. Next nearest is a Fresh Market, aka Whole Foods Jr. (The former is owner by the latter.)

This Kroger has an above-average range of products, in its market area, and does an outstanding job of presenting its range where aisles are, in some instances, nearly as narrow as those in big-city stores – but the trade-off, a reduced facia-count for many items, results in a wide range of offerings, including a reasoned range of well-beyond-food items.

Top-Of-Line Meat Offerings

Space limitations across the back wall mean deli foods are in a relatively confined back strip, followed by an eight-foot-wide seafood/best meat case. The choice, in the limited space, is highly impressive, and the presentative is top-of-the-line Kroger’s.

(That local shoppers don’t balk at higher-than-market-average prices for meat was obvious when the man preceding me at that seafood/best meats counter casually ordered a pair of steaks that set him back close to $50 – a sizable single-meal meat expenditure in this part of Virginia!)

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The entrance to the Lynchburg VA store on Boonsboro Road  (photo: D Harris)

Immediately after entering the store, I scanned the that meat/seafood area to ensure they had what I wanted. The patrolling ‘butcher’ (or was he a seafood specialist?) gave me a ‘can I help you look,’ and I said I’d be back in a few for a pair of lobster tails. It was a good ten minutes before I did return, and when he finished serving the steak buyer, he looked at me and said, “Two lobster tails, right?”

Got Gulf Shrimp, Too!

I agreed, pleased he’d remembered me, and I added half a pound of Texas Gulf shrimp to my order.

For someone who’s reported on supermarket matters for the better part of the last 40 years, I’m still not always a good shopper: I failed to notice I was charged $17.98 for the lobster tails when a case sign showed them to be selling at two for $12.00 – an excellent price. I caught the error when I got home, phoned the store, and was assured that, even if it was a while before I got back there, my receipt would earn me a refund. Duly noted, I saved both the receipt and the printed label from the butcher’s package.

As it happened, I happened to be back in that neighborhood about 10 days later. The customer service clerk, promptly processing my refund, asked if I wanted cash back or to have the refund applied to the gift card: Cash back, no questions, plus a bonus $5.00 Kroger gift card. Service with a ‘you’ll remember us’ touch!

My visit to this store for lobster tails was in mid-afternoon, on a Wednesday. If I were the manager, I’d say the store was “comfortably busy” for that time of day and week. (I encountered, at the end and back sections I visited, a total of some 20 customers. They clearly weren’t overrunning the place, but they were, with quickly filling carts, piling profits into Kroger’s coffers.)

Meanwhile, traffic at the Food Lion down the road, which I visited for comparison purposes, was – to put it mildly – slow… creepily slow.

Both stores are in mini-shopping centers, with an abundance and variety of stores. Plenty of shopper draws. A reasonable amount of parking. Similar street access (via two access/exit points). They effectively serve the same neighborhood, near a middling-size city’s second hospital in an area that attracts lots of medical specialists’ offices.

There are some rental housing units in this neighborhood, but the majority of residents own.

Because of the hospital, the area, this road, in particular, tends to see a lot of non-local potential shoppers. Some them may be put off by the decades-old Kroger sign. But like most supermarkets, this one relies on locals far more than passers-by. And a single visit will make a ‘regular’ of the occasion area visitor.

Kroger isn’t ordinarily a stick-with-your-signage company, keeping its principal exterior logo for decades. The company’s exterior signs have undergone several sometimes subtle changes over the past forty or so years. That makes this store an outlier, an exception to the rule. As noted, the current street-side sign advertising this store probably dates from earlier than the 1970s.

Still: The store itself sells itself on Kroger’s overall reputation and the quality of the store’s offerings.

Another ‘Cash Cow’ Store

It reminds me, in a way, of an A&P store in New Orleans. Long gone now, that store was on a corner in the French Quarter. It was prime real estate, bought by A&P when that company was in its prime – many decades earlier. It must have cost a mere fraction of what the company eventually got for it.

While offering up several alternative formats over the years, A&P maintained its traditional logo on eponymous branded stores as long as the chain survived – into the mid-1970s. The sign on this particular New Orleans store was old, and small, and almost unnecessary: For many years, this was the nearest thing to a supermarket within walking distance of most French Market-area residents and hotel stayers.

And it was a great lure for tourists: It stocked a lot of things visitors want, including small packets of this or that health & beauty aid-type product, snack foods, and liquor.

That A&P was, for many years, what’s known in the trade as a ‘cash cow’: The store was paid for, many years (and many times) over; Profit margins were high; overheads were relatively low – until the real need for upgrades outweighed the advantages of keeping it open.

But all the while, the old-fashioned, physically old logo out front did its job: It drew shoppers in in droves! The old wood floors and wood cases didn’t hurt, but it was the convenience and the product range that drew them in.

Just as is the case with the Lynchburg store with the old street-side signage. The Kroger name, like the A&P name in New Orleans, drew the shoppers in.

 

Kroger’s New Mobile Market A Joint Effort with Food Bank

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Kroger’s 44-foot long mobile market   (The Courier-Journal)

Not content to offer plenty to attract shoppers into its stores, Kroger has launched a mobile store – to take food and more to where their neighbors live. Called the Zero Hunger Mobile Market format, the single-aisle store-on-wheels was introduced by the Louisville Division to serve neighborhoods with limited or no access to fresh foods and vegetables, And Know U Know reported August 15.

“There Are Other Ways”

Quoting Erin Grant, Corporate Affairs Manaager and Media Spokesperson for the division, ANUK said Krroger believes “It does not have to be a brick-and-mortar store for us to provide access to healthy food for people. That might not always be the solution. There really are other ways.”

This way, serving up 20+ meat items and close to 60 produce selections curbside around the city, is an envelope-stretcher. In reaching out to actual or near ‘food deserts’ – areas supermarkets shy away from – is an anything-but-inexpensive way for the nation’s Number 2 (after Walmart) food retailer to grow its customer base.

And while that’s certainly an objective, Kroger officials are, in expanding their coverage in this way, acting on a long-time company objective: To serve, in the best and most effective ways possible, the communities it serves. Thus this partnership with the “Dare To Care”13.4 foodbank.

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Inside Kroger’s 44-foot long mobile market   (The Courier-Journal)

Due to visit 29 locations this month (August), the colorfully-outfitted, 44-foot long (13.4 m) trailer offers close to 200 different items. It’s been a huge hit with shoppers, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on Aug 15.

Two Fridge Cases Onboard

The paper noted that the mobile market’s product range includes two refrigerated cases holding meat, milk, eggs and cheese, among other items; A row of shelves contains baking ingredients, pasta, cereal and other pantry staples. A wall displays fruits and vegetables, from mustard greens to clementines. The market does not sell chips, soda or alcohol,” the article added.

And why should it? Those (chips, soda, alcohol, etc.) are what local ‘markets’ in food deserts specialize in.

Good job, Kroger!

Hey, That Coffee Cup’s a Has-Been Coffee Bean (and friends)

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Here’s a fact that’s hard to swallow: The world produces, and discards, no less than 16 billion plastic and Styrofoam coffee cups annually. All told, some 500 billion plastic cups are used once and discarded. Gulp!

Here’s worse news: making sufficient coffee to satisfy those cup users with regular coffee, expresso, lattes and an untold of other varieties results in an unimaginable volume of coffee grounds. (The volume truly is ‘unimaginable’ because different preparations require varying amounts of ground beans – translating to an unmeasurable volume of grounds.

For the most part, this huge waste issue largely ignored, or lost in the mind-boggling tonnage of plastic and other type items humans throw away annually.

‘Away’ Doesn’t Exist

(I saw a sign many years ago with an absolute truism more people should keep in mind: There’s no such place as ‘away’!)

In Australia, though, efforts are underway to salvage and recycle coffee grounds… into biodegradable plastic coffee cups. The concept was founded and brought to fruition by Dominik Kopp, at the time a senior at Macquarie University, Sydney. It involves turning the grounds into lactic acid, which then is used to produce disposable cups.

BeverageDaily.com reported that Kopp and other students rescued the grinds, before they were put into the trash stream, from a coffee shop on their university’s campus. Back in the lab, “We assembled a synthetic pathway to convert the most abundant sugar in the coffee grounds, mannose, into lactic acid,” he told the website. Lactic acid, he explained, “can be used in the production of biodegradable plastics, offering a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil-fuel derived plastics. Kopp had figured that 50% of coffee grounds are sugars, and anticipated – rightly – that a sizable share of that mineral compound would have the potential to be converted into a usable material: A form of plastic.

Aim Was Environment-Saving

“We were looking for new ways to convert biowaste – whether that be agricultural, garden, paper, or commercial food waste – into valuable raw materials that could be used to produce high-value compounds in more environmentally-friendly ways,” said Anwar Sunna, an associate professor of biomedical science and Kopp’s supervisor at the time,” BeverageDaily reported.

“The simple idea that we are converting waste into a valuable and sustainable product is extremely exciting,” Sunna told the trade journal.

View farm with coffee plantation in Brazil

A coffee plantation (stock photo)

BeverageDaily.com went on to report that engineers at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology have been turning used coffee grinds into building materials for roads. The publication also noted that, in 2015, two entrepreneurial health workers left their jobs in Western Australia to form a company that uses formerly-wasted coffee grounds from coffee shops to cultivate mushrooms.

It’s only a matter of time before someone devises a way to use coffee grounds as a form of fertilizer for coffee bean plants – completing the circle.

I’ll sip to that!

DNA Can Be Used To Track Products’ Origins

Ripped from the Headlines:

Watch CBSN Live

USDA Issues Listeria Warning

BY CBSNEWS.COM STAFF CBSNEWS.COM STAFF

MAY 25, 1999 / 6:23 PM / CBS

There are several practical reasons for being able to determine, precisely, food products origins: Finding the source of product responsible for a listeria outbreak, for one; Providing verification for products ‘guaranteeing’ to be from a specific area is another.

miniDART-homepage

A commercial product described and explained in a recent in-depth FoodDive report has both those issues in mind. It seems to be living up to its promises, too.

FoodDive noted that a 2011 listeria outbreak involving cantaloupe killed 33 people and sickened 137 others. Had SafeTraces’ tools been available and in place then, the results could have been quite different, because authorities would have been able to quickly pull candidate cantaloupes from stores where problem ones were purchased, and track them back to the fields they were grown in – thus finding, or at least being way closer to finding, the source of the offending bacteria.

Alas, that listeria outbreak was, ultimately the source of the solution to the ‘source identification’ issue.

Anthony Zografos, who as chief operating officer of CPAC, (company Compact Particle Acceleration Corporation), previously helped develop a cancer therapy system, saw in that listeria situation a need to understand how to pinpoint the source of product contamination – particularly the type that causes listeriosis. He wanted to solve that problem.

He told FoodDive that while most traceability applications on the market do a good job of keeping track of food packaging, he wanted to find a way to trace further back in the system, to where the product – cantaloupe, in this case – originated. With that aim (and some sound ideas how to proceed), in mind, he founded SafeTraces, a company dedicated to enabling DNA-level tracking of food products.

In short, this now-a-few-years-old company, under its mechanical engineering PhD leader (Zografos), developed a sort-of bar code – comprised of a seaweed extract – that is applied to foods as they are processed (washed and sorted, in the case of cantaloupes). The embedded code can tell anyone who needs to know anything and everything about its provenance – where it came from – and more.

Last week, the company announced a deal with safety science giant UL to enhance palm oil traceability. This partnership gives businesses dealing with palm oil — a common food ingredient that has a reputation for being farmed using substandard sustainability and human rights practices — a potentially easy solution to guarantee the ingredient’s source.

Last month, SafeTraces announced a partnership with JBT FoodTech, a leading producer of food processing and packaging equipment. This partnership has not yet been fully defined, SafeTraces Vice President of Business Development Ulrike Hodges told Food Dive, but the companies are looking for a way to pursue food processing while integrating SafeTraces technology.

Links in the article will lead you to more details, if you’re interested.

Tariffs on China Hitting US Farmers, Too

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Pigs at farm near Fuyang city in China’s Anhui province. Photo: AFP via Asia Times

A well-known saying declares there are two things you don’t want to know a lot about: sausage-making, and the process of legislating. Bordering on both those issues is this recent note in Politico,

China would not normally be able to satisfy its consumer demand for pork, even before the epidemic of African swine fever has cut the nation’s pig population in half. Farmers in the United States would, normally, step in to help fill the gap.

But in retaliation to the tariffs placed on Chinese imports by President Donald Trump, pork going to China from the U.S. now faces a 62 percent levy, essentially making American products too expensive for consumers in China. It’s also leaving exporters frustrated that they cannot take advantage of a prime opportunity to gain long-term access to a lucrative market.

American pig farmers are estimated to be losing out on $1 billion in exports as a result of the continued tensions between the two global economic powers.

Whether you agree or disagree with Trump’s tariff actions, you can’t deny that – for good or ill – he is legislating via financial penalties. In one sense, this simplifies the legislative process, in that it forces a change based on a single opinion, or point of view, as opposed to the accepted, ‘normal’ process involving debate between or among varying points of view.

As Politico notes, the use of tariffs relative to China and pig trade isn’t just hurting China – meaning, but not actually, the Chinese government: American farmers, and producers of pig-based products, are being hurt as well; More, from some perspectives.

Asia Times noted a few days ago that, “More than 1.1 million [Chinese] pigs have been killed or culled so far as authorities scramble to contain a [Swine flue] virus that emerged last year… for which there is no vaccine.”

And that’s just the official cull count, the Asia Times notes: “But the figure is widely believed to be much higher, as official data show China’s pig herd totaled 347.6 million in the first half of the year, down 60 million from the same period last year. Pork prices soared by a fifth in June alone.”

“The worst is yet to come,” Jan-Peter Van Ferneij, who monitors foreign markets at the French Pork Institute, said.

“For now it’s the numbers [of pigs] that are falling. Then it will be production … and consumption will fall,” he said.

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Reassure consumers

But swine fever does not affect humans, and butchers have been seeking to reassure consumers that their meat is safe in the country that produces and eats more pork than anywhere else in the world.

“Look at this blue stamp,” a seller at Beijing’s Sanyuanli market said, pointing to the seal from health authorities showing that the pork is safe. “Here’s the certificate that goes with it,” she added.

Standing in front of pork chops and ribs, Feng Shuyue recalled that people were “scared” of buying the meat last year when the epidemic spread across the country. “Today people are not afraid at all … because the [health] controls are very strict,” Feng said.

To meet demand, Beijing has increased pork imports, with shipments from the European Union rising 37% between January and April, according to European Commission figures.

Brazil has also become a big source of imports.

China is only importing frozen pork and the meat is going to larger cities, according to Jan-Peter Van Ferneij, who monitors foreign markets at the French Pork Institute.

Prices, meanwhile, could go up as much as 40% in the next six months, according to a note by Nomura bank.

Authorities have sought to reassure the public.

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Pork for sale at a wholesale market in Beijing. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of the meat. Photo: Bloomberg

Earlier this month, agriculture officials said production was “slowly recovering”, with 44 new incidences of fever detected over the past seven months, compared with 99 from August to December last year.

But the malady is far from over. Another outbreak was reported earlier this week in southwest Sichuan province, with 21 pigs infected in a farm of 102 pigs.

 

Supermarkets in Much Flux Some Places… But Not in Others

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Change has become so important to supermarket executives that it’s virtually a ‘product’ these days. Sadly, for some of us consumers, that’s lots more a fact elsewhere than in our neighborhoods.

I live in a small town (pop. <4,900) in Central Virginia. Two larger communities within an hour’s drive have populations of 42.8k and 76.5k.

My town has three food-shopping options: A Walmart, a Food Lion, and a locally-owned market. The larger communities have that same mix as well as an Aldi in each of them, a Lidl in one, several Kroger stores in the larger city, and a Fresh Foods-like (and also Amazon owned) Fresh Market in the latter.

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Supermarket Changes

Food Lion supermarket changes include aggressively updating many stores within the past few years – with few truly beneficial changes, from the average shopper’s perspective. (This seems to be an effort being done, understandably, in waves: Seven or so years ago, the effort was centered in Southside Virginia – in towns near or bordering the state’s border with North Carolina. Most recently, within the past two-three years, the focus has been on towns closer to the center of the state.)

Walmart supermarket changes locally most significantly have inluded, over the past decade, the ongoing addition of Pickup spots and expanded self-checkout areas. Lately, they’ve been adding security gates at entrances. The pickup spots are being welcomed by consumers as a great customer service – but not in my town: The store has an exterior labeled as the pickup area, but it is unused.

An assistant manager told me yesterday that the company is working in preparation of starting home delivery of food. But the evidence suggests they need to work first on getting existing home delivery programs, for other-than-food items, and delivery-to-store systems working as they’re supposed to: We’ve tried at least three times in recent weeks to get a specific (but hardly special) cat litter delivered — first to our door. Then, when we were told that couldn’t be done (after it had been, several times!), we tried arranging for a store pickup.

Delivery Issues? “It’s a Dot-Com Issue” At Walmart

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Yesterday, I was told the fact the reason the product isn’t available for pickup is “a dot-com problem; You need to call the headquarters number and talk to a dot-com rep.”

Walmart has also been subtly shifting its product mix – surprisingly, not always in the direction of healthier choices. But product-mix shifting is hardly a new ‘trend’ in food stores.

Too bad their local competitors don’t follow Kroger’s lead in this area: Not only have Kroger supermarkets changed to offering more healthy choices, it’s offering more variety, overall.

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And Kroger quality, particularly in fresh (prepared) foods, produce, meat, and seafood, is oceans ahead of all other stores in Central and Southern Virginia.

Another store where a fair amount of change has been – and is likely to continue – occurring is the Lynchburg Fresh Market. Like its compatriots in the Fresh Foods/Market family, this store has seen a fair amount of product shift since being taken over by Amazon. But not so much change as you might imagine: The product count has actually dropped, as in Fresh Markets elsewhere, and the prices have, while fractionally lower, remained at a level ensuring – unintentionally, one would hope! – that this is far and away the area’s most costly place to fill a shopping cart.

Food delivery services are beginning to catch on. Kroger is the first supermarket chain to join that fray, largely comprising, hereabouts, specialty restaurants, many oriented toward the sizable student community (Lynchburg is home to Liberty University, with a local student population approaching 45,000, and Lynchburg University, whose student count is less than half that.)

And, as noted, Walmart plans to offer food delivery “soon,” but shoppers hereabouts aren’t holding their breath: real, customer-friendly supermarket change at Walmart is more promise that fact.

Other traditional supermarkets more than likely won’t jump on this bandwagon, but Walmart has pledged to do so – with a clear focus, though, on other-than-food lines – over the next few years.

My town’s local supermarket – a fraction of the size, at less than 10,000 sq ft (929 sq m) – of the other two major food sellers – also has altered its product mix a fair amount in the last year, since being taken over, as an expansion, by the owner of a store in a nearby town. This company calls its stores ‘butchers’, but, truth be told, their meat offerings still fall short of their competitors’.

It’s produce offerings have been slightly upgraded, and the center-store mix no longer contains what was undoubtedly the widest, deepest offering of canned beans in (and well beyond) its trading area. (Why? “Our customers like beans,” a member of the staff before and since the takeover told us. Good enough!)

And the store’s meat offerings, customers say, have improved in… quality? quantity? Maybe a bit, in the former area, but certainly not in the latter: As is common in this area (except at Kroger), they refuse to stock lamb, stating “there’s no demand for it.” ‘Sounds like a chicken-vs-egg argument: availability-vs-demand, in this case.

An odd ‘feature’ of our local independent store is its refusal to stock beer. Stores sticking to that religion-based practice are fewer and further between these days. But this one’s customer base is skewed toward the older members of the community – the people more likely, traditionally, to be strict follow Southern Baptist traditions, alcohol-avoidance among them.

So even as change occurs to a shaking-things-up degree elsewhere, in some places, things largely remain the same.

Cricket Protein: Untapped Potential of Insect ‘Meat’

 

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Crickets inside Terreform ONE’s Cricket Shelter — FORBES

Let’s face it – Raising land animals and harvesting sea-based ones for protein is costly, and getting more so. It also involves morally questionable practices and, despite automation, is incredibly labor-intensive, involving tasks (and lifestyles) fewer people are willing to engage in.

For those and other reasons, alternate proteins are becoming increasingly popular. There’s been great growth in the plant-based protein area in the past couple of years. Similarly, insect-sourced protein – long a mainstay in the diets of millions – is being exploited in an assortment of new ways and places in recent years.

A UK based startup called SENS Foods is aiming, co-founded Radek Hŭsek told NewFood magazine for its April issue (p 38)-40), to make cricket protein cheaper than chicken. Their initial cricket farm, in Thailand – “which has a long and deep tradition of farming crickets,” New Food noted — has a production capacity of 14 (metric) tons, or tonnes, of crickets per month. (A metric ton, 1,000 kilograms, is 2,204.6 pounds.)

SENS’ farm, called Cricket Lab, is one of if not the largest cricket farms in the world. One of its greatest challenges, Hŭsek said, is having to compensate for the fact that, as he put it, “There has been exactly zero research on large scale cricket farming, while the costs are already competitive with animal protein.”

By comparision, he said, “Over 80 years of research on poultry farming has brought about a sharp decline in costs. This is where I see the potential for crickets.”

In February, 2017, I wrote a Brief for Fooddive.com noting that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded food startup Bugeater Foods with $100,000 to “find new ways to turn insects into safe, healthful staple food products that taste good,” according to Omaha World-Herald.

In November 2016, in another Fooddive.com brief, I noted that, as my headline said, “Insects can provide as many nutrients as beef, researchers say.” Here are a few highlights from that Brief:

  • Minerals are more available for absorption from eating insects like grasshoppers, mealworms and crickets than eating beef, according to a study done by a researcher at King’s College, London that was reported in Food Ingredients First.
  • “The study suggests that commonly consumed insect species could be an excellent source of bioavailable iron and could provide for an alternative strategy for increased mineral intake in the diets of humans,” researcher Yemisi Latunde-Dada told Food Ingredients First.
  • Researchers said now they want to look at which insects could help make a well-rounded meal, especially to ensure adequate iron consumption.

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The Terreform ONE Cricket Shelter — FORBES

A perfect example of good things coming in small packages, crickets are, it appears, likely to be showing up in an assortment of ways in food products. And not far into the future, either: In January of 2018, Forbes magazine billed these tiny insects as “the next big food source.”

Their article made some of the same points this one does. If you’re interested, you no doubt can find a good deal more on this topic via a google search.