Category Archives: International

Walmart Boosting E-Commerce Potential

walmart_super-cropped

 

Walmart’s determination to well-serve its stores’  and customers’ needs in the e-commerce area was boosted a few days ago when the company announced it is adding 2,000 technologists to its existing staff of 6,000 in that area by year’s end.

‘Technologists’ are the Walmart employees who work on the technology powering Walmart stores and the company’s e-commerce businesses, a VentureBeat report noted on June 20.

The new-hire technologists will join Walmart Labs’ offices in San Bruno and Sunnyvale, CA; Bentonville, AR, where Walmart is headquartered; Reston, VA; and Bangalore, India. This role includes data scientists, engineers, and product managers, And NowUKnow explained.

Walmart Labs CTO Jeremy King spoke exclusively with VentureBeat about the division’s hiring plans for the coming year, citing the company’s growing online grocery effort in particular as the reason for Walmart Labs’ expansion. Walmart currently offers customers the ability to order groceries online and pick them up in-store in more than 1,500 of its stores. That count is due to expand to about 2,100 stores by the end of the year, VentureBeat noted.

“Oftentimes we have 50 to 100 items in an order, and we don’t send one picker out to the floor to pick one order and send it back — we’re really optimizing the pickup, and they’re picking somewhere between 5 and 15 orders at a time,” King told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “They’re actually [dealing with] fascinating machine learning problems.”

Walmart’s most formidable competitor in the online grocery pickup space — also known as “click and collect” — is and likely will remain Amazon. That company introduced free, two-hour delivery from Whole Foods stores to Amazon Prime members in certain cities in February. (Amazon acquired Whole Foods in mid-2017.

And while it doesn’t yet offer a click-and-collect option, job listings for pickers in certain cities indicate that it may soon do so.

Danny Silverman, the chief marketing officer at e-commerce analytics firm Clavis, told VentureBeat in a phone interview that the algorithms data scientists at Walmart and Amazon develop to make grocery pickups more efficient will be critical in determining which one gains a better foothold in the space — most click-and-collect services are “are unprofitable to neutral for the retailer, and it’s more about the long-term value of the customer than making money on the [individual] sale.”

“A lot of retailers don’t have real-time inventory management, so it’s very difficult for them to take an online order and then fulfill it successfully — so a big piece of customer satisfaction and winning is going to be on how much they manage their inventory and deliver on [the order],” Silverman added.

Attracting talent to Middle America and the coasts

King also spoke with VentureBeat about the different hiring challenges and advantages Walmart Labs faces with its different offices. Walmart created the Walmart Labs division in 2005, following its acquisition of SiliconValley-based social media analytics company Kosmix, reportedly for more than $300 million.

In Silicon Valley, King acknowledged that tech workers don’t always readily think of Walmart as a technology company. That’s part of the reason why the technology arm is branded as “Walmart Labs.” King said that Walmart Labs often pitches workers on Walmart’s scale.

“Around 140 million people [in the U.S.] walk into a [Walmart] store each week, and getting access to play with that kind of data is intriguing to most people [in the field],” King told VentureBeat.

In Bentonville — where many members of the tech team work on merchandising, supply chain, and point of sale challenges — Walmart Labs faces less challenges from other tech companies for talent. But outside talent is less familiar with what Bentonville — a city of just 48,000 people — is like. The Walmart Family Foundation in recent years has invested in a number of projects to improve cultural and outdoors offerings in Bentonville, such as spending $74 million in developing mountain biking trails around Northwest Arkansas. Walmart is also the sponsor of the Bentonville Film Festival, launched in 2015.

One Family Moved from Philadelphia to Pentonville

Linda Lomelino, currently a senior researcher with Walmart Labs, told VentureBeat that she visited Bentonville twice — once for an on-site interview, and once with her husband and two children — before accepting the job with Walmart Labs and relocating to the area from Philadelphia.

“My husband and I did a lot of research about restaurants and schools and museums and cultural events — and any sort of surrounding experiences that we could have as a family. We also did a lot of research into the demographic profile of Bentonville,” Lomelino told VentureBeat. As of 2017, the city of Bentonville was about 75 percent white, 10.2 percent Asian, 9.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 2.7 percent Black, according to Census Bureau data.

King said that Walmart has also tried to create more opportunities for the tech community in Bentonville, hosting Tech Tuesday meet-ups at its office and working with engineering groups and other tech organizations for students at the nearby University of Arkansas.

“I think you’ll see more to come — J.B. Hunt (a major trucking company) and the other [companies] around there are all trying to attract technical talent to the area,” King said.

 

 

 

Advertisements

We’re In ‘World Meat-Free Week’

 

meat-free_01

People enjoying vegetarian/vegan entrees from around the world: Steamed sourdough dumplings filled with buckwheat groats. Fermented beetroot & wild herbs, with sweet & sour chili sauce. Carrot, savoy cabbage & chickpea coconut milk curry. Basmati rice pilav with cashew nuts. Photo: Greenpeace

Meat-eaters of the world: This isn’t your week.  It’s World Meat-Free Week!

The exclusion (or limiting) of meat from one’s diet is, in fact, a growing trend in the US, the UK, and, undoubtedly, elsewhere.

The reasons, as a recent article in The Guardian put it, “are obvious – meat-eating is cruel, environmentally ruinous (accounting for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions) and often unhealthy, too – recent studies have found raw meat samples contain increasing amounts of plasticsantibiotics, and even fecal matter.”

All this, The Guardian said, “explains why Quorn is on course to become a billion-dollar business within a decade, and why this is World Meat-Free Week. (And June 11 was World Meat Free Day. Did you know, or participate?)

‘Fake Meat’ Is a Divisive Topic

Many meat-lovers – or carnivores, as my wife calls herself – look down their noses (but not to their mouths, or their health) when the topic of ‘fake meat’ arises. As USA Today put it recently, “It’s a divisive topic, and one that frequently pits vegans against carnivores – pretty needless given it’s just a way of increasing options for the dinner table. It’s not just for vegetarians but anyone wishing to reduce their meat intake given the colossal environmental crisis we find ourselves in.”

tesco_steak

Tesco’s meatless ‘steak’.  (Photo supplied)

How does the public feel about meat alternatives? The website PlantBasedNews.org recently noted that when Britain’s Tesco supermarket chain introduced vegan steaks recently, 40,000 were sold “within days.” Demand for the plant-based product has been “extremely high,” the website noted. Tesco is the world’s first supermarket company beyond Holland to sell this product from Vivera.

And Sainsbury’s, another British supermarket chain, announced earlier this month that it is introducing a range of faux meat items to be presented alongside the real thing in meat cabinets.

The “lookalike” burgers and minced meat making their UK debut in Sainsbury’s on June 27 are made by the Danish manufacturer Naturli’ Foods – a leading developer of plant-based foods since 1988. That company says it has struggled to keep up with demand since their January launch in Denmark.

Line Has “Underlying Meatiness”

The Naturli products are not designed to taste like beef, but have an underlying “meatiness” thanks to the umami flavor of almonds, tomatoes and porcini mushrooms. The burgers contain beets, which helps recreate the color of raw, medium and well-done meat as it cooks, as well as adding a realistic meat “juice” when bitten into.

“Our goal is to contribute to restore the balance between nature and man,” CEO Henrik Lundtold The Guardian. “We’ve developed this product assuming that many people want to eat plants instead of animals, but are afraid of compromising on flavor and maybe even missing out on their favorite dishes such as lasagna or burger patties.”

The range goes on sale after a major study claimed that avoiding meat and dairy products impact on the environment is unforgivably high.

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

Cut Meat/Dairy Consumption, Reduce Farmland Use 83%

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

A 2006 report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization noted that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.
Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report, said, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”
With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes (metric tons, each amounting to 2,205 pounds, or 1,000 kg) in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
A new report, reported on in The Guardian on May 30, 2018, declares that the global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector. It provides livelihoods to about 1.3 billion people and contributes about 40 percent to global agricultural output. For many poor farmers in developing countries livestock are also a source of renewable energy and an essential source of organic fertilizer for their crops.
But such rapid growth exacts a steep environmental price, according to the FAO report, Livestock’s Long Shadow –Environmental Issues and Options. “The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns.
When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
And it accounts for respectively 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.
Livestock, this latest report says, now use 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 percent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

Given all that, the idea of plant-based ‘fake’ meat doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, does it?

US-based Beyond Meat has been incredibly successful with its line of plant-based meat alternatives. Its Beyond Burgers, Beyond  Sausage, Beyond Chicken Strips and other products are increasingly making inroads into both supermarkets and the likes of TGI Fridays. Helping their advance are such slogans as it “looks, cooks and satisfies like beef” (on the Beyond Burger) and “looks, sizzles and satisfies like pork” (on its Beyond Sausage trio of Brat Original, Hot Italian and Sweet Italian).

Watch this – meat case – space: This is, no doubt, the beginning of a revolution in that department.

 

Walmart Adding 500 Direct, 250 Indirect Jobs At New $36M Distribution Center in Mexico

walmart_distribution_yucatan

Walmart’s current distribution centers in Mexico.

Walmart plans to invest $36 M (650 million pesos) on a new distribution center in Yucatan, Mexico. The center will be operated by the company’s Mexico and Central America division and bring total Walmart investment in that area to $171.5 million (3.138 billion pesos) and generate more than 500 direct jobs and 250 indirect ones, the company has announced.

A statement published on July 4 on the website of Yucatan Times said, the new business unit will positively impact [Yucatan’s] production infrastructure, since in addition to the new jobs, it will expand the company supply network into the states of Campecha and Quintana Roo. The activity is also expected to attract more local suppliers.

The Times said that Walmart Mexico and Central America currently has 36 business units in Yucatan; 10 Bodega Aurrera stores, 11 “Mi Bodegas Aurrera”, five “Bodegas Aurrera Express”, three Sam’s Club, one Superama, and six Walmarts. The company has said that Walmart México and Central America has generated 3,457 permanent jobs in 14 municipalities of the state: Mérida, Halacho, Hunucma, Izamal, Motul, Kanasin, Oxkutzcab, Tekax, Tixkokob, Tizimín, Ticul, Uman, Valladolid and Progreso.

AndNowYouKnow, the produce industry blog, noted that the new facility will allow the company to strengthen and expand its logistics network in Mexico.

What neither The Times nor ANYK said was whether the distribution center – with new suppliers on board – might in time facilitate an increased flow of Mexican produce into the United States. This would be a logical secondary use for the center, nopt least because that would enable trucks delivering from Walmart US to Walmart Mexico to avoid making the return trip empty. One has to assume that someone in Bentonville AR, Walmart’s global headquarters, has calculated both the logistics and the practicality of employing that potential.

 

Ube – an Asian Treat Coming to a Specialty Produce Seller Near You

ube

Something you don’t see a lot of in produce departments is … the color purple. But that could be about to change, thanks at least in part to a company that has long used purple as the “family” color: Frieda’s Specialty Produce, originally, some 40 years ago, Frieda’s Specialty Produce.

Karen Caplan, daughter of Frieda and now the company’s president and CEO, recently did an interview with And Now U Know, the produce newsletter, to discuss purple yams, AKA Ube (pronounced OO-beh). Native to the Philippines, this tuber’s sweet taste and alluring purple hue is popular with cooks across Asia, Caplan told the newsletter’s Lauren Hillen.

One of Caplan’s missions was to distinguish Ube from the likes of Stokes Purple sweet potatoes and Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. They look similar, she noted, but each has a distinct taste and flavor. Ube’s skin is brown and bark-like, and its flesh ranges from white with purple specks, to lilac. Stokes Purple, a trademarked brand, has purple-tinted skin and violet-purple flesh. Okinawan purple sweet potatoes have beige skin and lavender-purple flesh.

Frieda’s produced a cute little minute-long film to illustrate those differences, and to point out the forms of Ube most likely to be encountered in the US, where the fresh variety is hard to find. The film notes it can be frozen, powered, as a jam, or as an extract – and any of those are mostly likely to show up in stores with highly refined specialty produce sections or those dedicated to Asian customers, who will seek it out.

 

“Smart” KFC in Beijing Is Not Quite Smart Enough

kfc_in_beijing

No one is paying any attention to the “smart” machine at the left of the photo. (Amy Hawkins, The Guardian)

Even in China, where lack of privacy is pretty much taken for granted, KFC is running into some resistance its efforts to employ a machine able to recognize facial characteristics to pre-select food choices for customers before they have a chance to choose for themselves.

The Guardian’s Amy Hawkins “test-drove” the machine at a KFC in Beijing’s financial district. Though the store was busy, she was the only customer interested in ordering through the machine, which was created by Baidu, the search engine company often called “China’s Google.”

Maybe the machine is too closely oriented to Oriental features to be able to make sense of Amy’s Western ones. Maybe that’s why it was a decade off on her age. Maybe that had something to do with why she was offered the same thing – a crispy chicken hamburger – as the 20-something male who demonstrated the machine to her.

If you don’t like the machine’s recommendation, you can click through an assortment of other food options until you find what you want, they pay for your order through your smart phone and pick up your food at the counter.

The device, in what’s being billed as “China’s first smart restaurant,” is going to need to get a good deal smarter if KFC follows through on its plan to install them in the company’s 5,000-plus stores across China.

A press release from Baidu said that “a male customer in his early 20s” would be offered “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and [a] coke”, while “a female customer in her 50s” would get a recommendation of “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast.” Fortunately, most Chinese would be too polite to bash the machine’s brain if it offered the “porridge and soybean milk” option to a lady in her 20’s!

‘Bad Eggs’ Caught Smuggling West Bank Hen Fruit into Israel

eggs-bulk

(photo credit: Nati Shochat/Flash 90)

A 21-year-old Palestinian was caught earlier this month trying to smuggle some 9,000 uninspected, potentially dangerous eggs into Jerusalem from the West Bank. The Times of Israel reported, quoting Hebrew news sources, that the eggs were confiscated and destroyed by Israel’s Ministry of Health.

The eggs were said to be on their way to be sold in various Israeli retail outlets.

The Times reported last July that charges were “laid against a ring of [14] bad eggs accused of selling, well, bad eggs to the public and passing them off as certified.” Thirteen Israelis and one Palestinian were said to be involved in that ring, which was charged with illegally importing more than 10 million eggs into Israel.

It’s more than likely that, at some point during their court appearance, the Israeli smugglers were told, “That wasn’t kosher.”

EU Coalition Seeking Ban on Junk Food, Alcohol Ads 18 Hours Daily – 6 AM thru 11 PM

eu_flag

A coalition of EU health organizations is seeking to ban TV advertising of junk food and alcohol between the hours of 6 A.M. and 11 P.M., describing its plan as “a key opportunity to free Europe’s young people from health-harmful marketing.” Given its way, the coalition no doubt would also like to see all billboard, bus and other outdoor advertising of those products covered up during the same hours.

The campaign was officially launched in the European Parliament on December 2.

A BeverageDaily.com report noted that the action would, if successful, effectively see foreign broadcasts censored to the same EU standards.

Led by Romanian MEP (member of the European Parliament) Daciana Octavia Sarbu, the coalition comprises 10 organizations, including the European Heart Network, the Eurocare Alcohol Policy Alliance, and the European Public Health Alliance. Their aim is to alter the existing Audio-Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), EU-wide legislation aimed at protesting children and consumers. It says, in effect, “we know what’s good for you and you need to do what we say.”

Their “What about our kids” campaign has three specific objectives – additions to the AVMSD:

  1. TV advertisements for alcohol and foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) would be banned on all broadcast platforms, including on-demand services and such video-sharing platforms as YouTube.
  2. Product placements for the same products should be banned as being “effective marketing techniques, and should be prohibited alongside those for tobacco and medicinal products.”
  3. Ensure the above rulesare applied equally to all foreign-based broadcasts.

Fiona Godfrey, Policy Director at the European Association for the Study of the Liver, told BeverageDaily that such other rules as those effecting tobacco advertising and marketing “is effective in reducing consumption.”

I’m all for encouraging kids to eat less junk food and to stay away from alcohol until they’re legally entitled to buy and use it, but this approach has too much of a ‘Big Brother’ feel to me.