Walmart, Amazon Go Head-to-Head on Delivery Services

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Walmart has been working hard, in recent months, to outpace and outdo Amazon as much as the latter has been disrupting many competitors in moving products  — including edible ones – to consumer’ doorsteps.

More and more, Walmart commercials and print ads tout its ‘no membership’ plan for no- or low-cost delivery service to consumers’ doors. The company also is growing its car-side delivery service – where a phoned- or emailed-in order is ready to be picked up at a designated store-side place. A  phone call from one’s car at that place to the store’s delivery department gets the order heading out the door.

Somewhat surprisingly, the delivery folks reportedly don’t mind performing their duties even in ‘off’ weather, according to a couple of them at a Lynchburg VA Walmart. Perhaps they are, justifiably, incentivized by tips.

Both of those services work remarkably well. The to-your-door service works better, perhaps, than Walmart imagined. But then, this is a smart company, and it may have realized a clever opportunity for customers living closest to Neighborhood Markets, the company’s scaled-down store model focused on food and little else: With the company’s entire product catalog available, much beyond what the Neighborhood Markets offer can be home-delivered, at no cost to the consumer. How? By delivering from the nearest full-service Walmart!

That is speculation on our part, but conceptually, it makes sense as a solution to a potentially serious challenge to Walmart.

This program also enables stores to cut inventory (in, say, pet supplies) and still offer a ‘full range’ of, products via the delivery option. In practice, this means that, for example, my local Walmart has been able – possibly coincidentally, possibly because of delivery issues – to leave shelves without some popular cat litters while still offering them through home delivery.

On another front – new patents – Walmart scored some seriously interesting ones recently. And Now U Know, the produce industry newsletter, reported on May 31 that recently approved patents included one for a navigation device for shopping cards, a wearable, tracking device designed to improve    employee productivity (think shelf stockers). And instore inventory trackers that can track when stock needs to be reordered – or shelves need to be restocked. A bit more esoteric is a patent that could  provide instore drone assistance for price verification and in-store navigation.

One or several of these concepts could be implemented in a store near you in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Amazon is boosting membership fees for Prime service – which most users value most for its free delivery feature. The company also recently expanded Prime to Whole Foods customers in select areas. More recently still, according to International Business Times, the company expanded Prime offerings to twelve states beyond the original test area around Ft. Lauderdale FL. A company news release said the expansion affects 121 Whole Foods stores in Colorado, Idaho, Arkansas, Louisiana, northern Nevada, northern California, Texas, Utah, and Kansas – as well as the Missouri side of Kansas City.

The company says Prime discounts also are now in place at Whole Foods’ Market 365 stores around the country. That Whole Foods sub-brand was launched in 2015, IBT noted.

 

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Lidl Alters Stock, Prices In Danville VA Store

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The Lidl store in Danville, Virginia has been open a couple of months. It’s already made some (much needed) shifts in its product offerings. And, though staff on hand on a recent Wednesday afternoon reported business has been “good,” it was pretty slow on our second visit.

That, for the company, is the bad news. The good news is how ably they work with consumers wanting to return something – often a hassle ao competitors’ stores. On our first visit, we’d bought a device to catch and kill houseflies. It didn’t work. Despite the fact it was many weeks before we could get back to the store (it’s nearly an hour’s drive away), the return process – done at the checkout, not a consumer service counter – went smoothly… once a manager was located: That took a couple of minutes.

A bit later, at the conclusion of the same visit, we realized that a bottle of wine we’d purchased was not the one we wanted – a less than one-third the price of the one we walked out with. I immediately walked it back into the store, spotted the same manager on the floor, and he OK’d a return even though, he said, Virginia law bans the return of wine. (Since we’d only bought it moments before, and had the receipt, he reckoned the law could be ‘waived’ (read ‘overlooked’.) We returned to one of the checkouts – only three were open on this slow afternoon – and were promptly issued a store ‘gift’ card.

Back in the chilled foods section along the right wall, it was clear that someone has paid attention to the fact that people on Virginia’s Southside don’t have much interest in Indian food, as the choices in the heat-and-serve section have been trimmed (to one!) and other, similar meals have been culled, as well.

The bakery’s offerings are more numerous, and samples are more in evidence – with a lighted sign rotating through the day’s offerings.

But one of the greatest changes – hardly unexpected for a new, price-oriented store – has been the push to drop prices – an effort evident in most every department. One dramatic example: whole “young” chickens were offered at $.69 (69 cents) per pound, down from $.99 – the price of comparable birds at Food Lion, along with Walmart, a chief competitor in Danville.

(The town – a small city, actually – used to have two Piggly Wigglys and a Harris Teeter. One of the former was replaced by a Walmart; The latter simply pulled out of the market. There’s one Save-A-Lot, a limited assortment discount store. It’s so NEVER busy, you wonder why it’s still in business.)

Lidl needs to do, in this and other locations, product shifts to reflect the fact locals aren’t interested in “Cheese [or anything else] from Europe”. Most of their new US stores are in small, often rural, unsophisticated communities. The natives there don’t know (or care) about brie or other ‘specialty’ cheeses, or foods from foreign lands. But they do go for Lidls’ bakery goods, many of which – such as fresh bagels, croissants and similar pastries – are all but unknown beyond the products offered in the bake-it-yourself section of the dairy aisle.

Some reports have said Lidl isn’t doing the business it expected to in its launch stores. But as someone pointed out, the privately (German-) owned company has deep pockets, and is committed to a long term success in the US. There is every reason to put faith in that – and the fact that both Lidl and Aldi, it’s German-based cousin, which also is growing its US store count, will continue to disrupt the US grocery-selling scene for years to come.

Instore Robots Are H-E-R-E!

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Marty the robot is being tested at Giant Food Stores on Union Deposit Road in Lower Paxton Township, Pennsylvania.  (Photo: PenLive.com)

An increasing number of food retailers are using, or planning to use, instore robots – not to replace existing workers, but to do some of their tasks more efficiently. In the end, the theory is, everyone benefits: The retailer can keep a better handle of out-of-stocks at the shelf level, be quickly notified of spills and other issues requiring special attention from a worker, and check prices from shelf labels, to ensure prices posted and those in the front-end system are in sync; Employees get help keeping track of where stock is needed; Customers are more likely to find shelves fully stocked (or being restocked, as they shop), enjoy a safer shopping environment as spills, etc. are dealt with quicker, and, as a bonus, get to watch a so-far-unusual piece of technology work their favorite store’s aisles.

AndNowYouKnow, the produce blog/newsletter, reported a few days ago on a pilot robot-using program in a Giant Food Store in eastern Pennsylvania. This Ahold USA store is running the pilot in association with Badger Technologies. They intend to have the robot, called Marty, up and working in 12 stores by sometime next year.

The ANUK also noted that other retailers considering or already employing robots include Walmart, Amazon, and Target. A Digital Trends story in September of last year noted that Walmart is planning to shift some workers to other roles and let some 7,000 go as robotic or newly-automated systems are introduced for ‘back room’ operations such as billing and accounting. The Wall Street Journal noted that one objective of the new hands-off processing of invoices and cash, among other things, is “to put more staff in contact with shoppers.”

CNBC, in a report primarily about Amazon’s growing home delivery services, noted that Walmart also has announced a deal with smart doorbell maker August to provide customers an in-home delivery service: It will enable Amazon delivery personnel to have one-time access to home so they can deliver and put away, where appropriate (as with frozen or refrigerated items), at least part of an order.

Services such as these, plus driver-less trucks, are going to play increasingly important roles in stores and households of the surprisingly near future.

Watch this space.

Cut the Cocoa, Add Jackfruit Flour, Result: Pretty Much the Same

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The bad news: Persistently low and volatile prices are raising fears that world demand for cocoa, the principal ingredient in the much-loved confectionery known as chocolate, could soon exceed availability. Aside from something called swollen shoot virus disease, the problem is, given the money, solvable: A shortage of warehouse storage capacity in the major cocao productions of West Africa, South America and Asia could relatively easily be overcome by, duh, building more facilities. But the funds to do so are lacking, so the risk of shortages is a real one.

The good news: Researchers in the UK and Brazil have found people identify a chocolate-like aroma in flour made from roasted jackfruit seeds, according to Food Navigator. Their studies hold promise for jackfruit’s ability to mimic the aroma of chocolate, making jackfruit, which has many of the same characteristics as cocoa, a potential stand-in for the real thing, providing consumers a taste and feel they like like in chocolate-like products.

The even better news: A study at the University of Malaysia has found that substituting a proportion of jackfruit flour for wheat flour in cake-making can result in a caloric reduction of more than 30% in the end product.

Food Dive reports that, “The International Cocoa Organization said about 4.7 million tons of cocoa are currently being produced worldwide, with total production expected to rise about 18% from 2016.

It’s still early as far as the jackfruit being used as a substitute for cocoa. Even if the fruit has many of the same characteristics as cocoa, if it does not mirror the taste or texture, it could instantly turn off consumers. It’s also uncertain how well the flour made from roasted jackfruit seeds would work with other ingredients used to make chocolate, or how much it would cost to produce the cocoa-like substitute. Figuring out these answers will go a long way toward determining whether it can displace cocoa in even a small amount of foods.

Developing additional U.S. markets for the popular jackfruit — now used in ice cream, smoothies, soups and side dishes — could stimulate new income streams, along with adding value and reducing widespread waste in places where it grows.

Jackfruit is the world’s largest tree-borne fruit, capable of reaching sizes of more than 80 pounds, growing both on branches and the trunks of trees native to South and East Asia. It’s botanically related to figs, mulberries and breadfruit.

It also has a dual identity. If it’s left to ripen, it becomes amazingly fruity and has been rumored to be the inspiration for the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum.

The fruit is increasingly popular with U.S. consumers. Pinterest named jackfruit as the top food item people will be trying in 2017 based on a 420% increase in interest among users of the social media platform. Vegetarians and vegans are driving some of this interest because of jackfruit’s evolving role as a meat substitute, despite its relative lack of protein.

Jackfruit delivers a powerful nutritional package as a significant source of vitamin A, C and the B-complex vitamins, dietary fiber and several important minerals, particularly potassium, magnesium, manganese and iron. Among its other assets, jackfruit contains no cholesterol and virtually no fat.

Please check out our other blog, YouSawWHAT.info.

(Between them, these blogs have been view in 90 countries!)

Oprah Launching Sides/Soups Range

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Well, why not? She’s done pretty close to everything else. Now Oprah Winfrey is sponsoring a food line under her name. She recently filed for a trademark for her “O, That’s Good!” line of refrigerated side dishes and soups being prepared in collaboration with Kraft Heinz. Announced recently, the line is due to hit stores in October.

As The Daily Meal put it, “It only makes sense that the queen of living well would have an “Aha!” moment and come out with perfectly portioned side dishes and soups, all under 300 calories, that feed your cravings while also feeding your health.

The four sides are recognizable favorites but with discreet healthy twists: The mashed potatoes and garlic mashed potatoes are actually partially made with cauliflower, while the three cheese pasta incorporates butternut squash and the creamy parmesan pasta includes white beans.

The soups come in comforting favorites, too, such as baked potato, tomato basil, butternut squash and broccoli cheddar. Don’t worry about indulging in a bowl — there is cauliflower in the baked potato, and carrots and celery in the tomato basil. Butternut squash features in the broccoli cheddar, and even though you would think butternut squash is the only vegetable in the butternut squash soup, it’s also packed with sweet potatoes and carrots.

Because everything Oprah touches turns to gold, these side dishes and soups are most likely going to be flying off the shelves when they hit stores in October of this year. A portion of the proceeds even go to charities fighting hunger, because duh, it’s Oprah!”

Please also check out our YouSayWHAT.info blog!

Wegmans Feeds 1,000 C’ville Protests First Responders

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Wegmans on Dick Rd. in Cheektowaga. Photo taken, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

More than 1.000 first responders dealing with the unrest in Charlottesville VA last weekend faced angry protesters – some there to oppose the city’s plan to remove from a public part a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park, others out to protesters that group – from Friday night through Sunday. Thanks to Wegman’s, the New York State-based supermarket chain presently expanding into states far further south, they didn’t do so on empty stomachs.

A car of the first responders visited a Wegman’s a couple of miles from the heart of the protest area, abutting the campus of the University of Virginia, seeking a couple of pizzas and some drinks. They got way more, when store managers and workers set aside normal tasks to go all out preparing and packing hot food, beverages and more for the first responders – and initially refused to take any money for it. (Then, the first responders said they insisted on paying, and the store reluctantly gave in.)

A Facebook posting by Metro Richmond Fire Incidents, which sent crews to Charlottesville for the event, said that “store managers halted their daily work and ‘dedicated themselves and other staff to cooking for us. They fired up all their ovens, called in extra bakers and even emptied their freezers to cook boxed pizza for us when they ran out of dough.”
The night manager stayed till 1 a.m. to oversee the effort to feed more than 1,000 police officers and National Guard members, “amid absolute chaos and with no advanced notice,” according to the Facebook post. The deed culminated Sunday morning with 500 Virginia State Police troopers “walking into their location, bereft with grief, yet so thankful to see a 20-foot long counter lined with breakfast.”

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Jo Natale, a spokesperson for Wegmans, confirmed the actions of employees confirmed the actions of employees and declined to comment further to Wegman’s hometown newspaper, the Rochester Democrat a& Chronicle, stating that the Facebook post “speaks for itself.”

Since it was initially put online, the post by the Metro Richmond Fire Incidents page was shared more than 4,000 times with more than 4,300 reactions and 300+ comments, it was reported by WHAM-TV of Rochester NY.

For Protein, Give Peas A Chance

 

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Food Dive reported last week that while alternative proteins from algae and insects continue to make headlines, until they become cheaper and more appetizing, an increasing number of manufacturers will ask us to give peas a chance.

Extracted from dried and ground yellow split peas, pea protein is showing up in everything from sports supplements, smoothies and protein bars, to meat alternatives and yogurt. General Mills uses it in its Lärabar and Cascadian Farms brands, UK bakery giant Warburton’s recently added pea protein to sliced bread, and it is even possible to buy ‘pea milk’.

Beyond Meat produces a vegetarian burger based on pea protein that looks, sizzles and even ‘bleeds’ like a beef burger, thanks to beetroot juice. Even meat firms are paying attention, as Tyson Foods — the nation’s biggest meat producer — has bought a 5% stake in the company. In meat products themselves, companies are adding pea protein to cut fat content and improve texture.

The appeal for consumers is that pea protein is a non-allergenic, non-GMO and environmentally friendly ingredient — especially when compared to other commonly used protein sources like soy and whey. While whey protein is the most popular fortification product on the market, more consumers are considering plant-based protein sources for their health and environmental benefits.

The list of health benefits for pea protein is long. It is cholesterol-free, helps with satiety and blood pressure, and lowers triglycerides and cholesterol. For elderly or ill consumers, it is more easily digested than animal-derived proteins. Major pea protein supplier Roquette has also done research that suggests it is just as effective as whey for enhancing muscle mass gain during weight training.

All of this adds up to a booming market. According to Mintel, the number of new products containing pea protein grew by 195% from 2013 to 2016.

Roquette is banking on rising demand for pea protein in a big way, and recently announced a CA$400 million ($321 million) investment to build the world’s largest pea protein factory in Manitoba, Canada, as well as an additional €40 million ($47 million) for its French pea processing site. By 2019, the company expects the two facilities to have a combined capacity of 250,000 tons a year, placing it at the heart of two of the world’s biggest regions for pea protein ingredients — North America and Europe — as well as the world’s biggest pea supply. Canada provides 30% of the global pea protein total.

Roquette has seen growing demand for protein-fortified products. Meat substitute products grow rapidly as more consumers become interested in vegetarian options.

Part of peas’ appeal is the claims food companies can make on-pack — including gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher and vegan. Unlike soy, whey or casein, pea protein is not considered to be a major allergen, meaning foods and drinks containing the ingredient can make low/no/reduced allergen claims.

Pea protein does have potential downsides, particularly when it comes to protein quality.

Soy and animal-derived proteins are considered “complete” because they contain all nine essential amino acids — those not made by the body. Protein from peas is “incomplete,” meaning it is low in certain amino acids.

While this may give some athletes pause, it is unlikely to be a problem, according to Melissa Majumdar, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As long as someone is not relying on pea protein for their only source of protein, they will likely meet their amino acid and therefore protein needs,” she told Food Dive.

If all essential amino acids are not available or are only available in limited amounts, the body must get them from another source to perform functions in the body needing protein. In other words, amino acids are the protein puzzle pieces and the puzzle is not complete with a missing piece.”

She explained that pea protein bioavailability is at 69%. Whey is 99% and soy is 95% to 98%. Apart from its limiting amino acids, bioavailability also is affected by chemicals that inhibit nutritional availability, including tannins and lectin.

On the other hand, pea protein can be a less expensive form of protein than animal protein,” Majumdar said. “Pea protein is not as common of an allergy as whey and soy and as long as the limiting acids are replaced or complemented, pea protein can be a quality protein source.”

 

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