Retail analytics: Here’s lookin’ at you, kids

I recently reunited with FoodOnline.com to write a story on Big Data analytics in the retail food supply chain. The first bylines I had for that site were in 1999, when I was Editorial Director for that related sites — before the big bursting of the Internet Bubble. Accenture’s Stages of Analytic Capabilities

When the Internet was new, there were no iPods, let alone iOS, Android or Bluetooth-powered beacons; Big Data was just a gleam in its young Business Intelligence mother’s eye. And retailers had no idea what to really do with their Business Intelligence systems. Those who finally do, today, see BI as old news as analytics — predictive and now prescriptive — come into their own, powered by Big Data and cloud computing.

Today, as an exec from SAS told me, a shopper who stands in front of a Nescafé display for more than 10 seconds might just get a virtual tap on the shoulder, or rather a bzzzz in the pocket, with a coupon to get that package of coffee off the shelf and in to the cart.

My favorite interview in this story just might have been Nick Hodson, former head of strategy at Safeway Stores and current leader of the North American consumer and retail business practice of Strategy& PwC, who reminded me that the technology isn’t at all the point of progress so much as creative minds who come-up with new things to do with it. Yes, major retail marketers from Walmart and Nestlé may well fave a backlash over privacy concerns if opt-in/out issues aren’t handled correctly, but these times sure are interesting. Read all about it in my story, ” Predictive Analytics Helping CPGs Reach Individual Consumers.”

Toward a legal, national market for cannabis

A tenuous relationship exists between Big pharma, the supplement market and dispensaries with regard to cannabis’ legality. (Photo: Cannabis Science)

The story’s out in Pharmaceutical Commerce magazine: “Medical marijuana looks for a place in conventional drug distribution.” It’s the result of some of my calls and writings on the topic of legal cannabis.

Frustrations are great as the right hand of the U.S. federal government (DEA) either doesn’t know — or care, or approve — of the actions, research and recommendations of its own left hand (NIH among others). Also, it’s interesting that some of the same Big Pharma industry players that fund crackdowns on marijuana-related crimes (according to current laws) may well be seeking ways to cash-in on the eventuality of legal cannabis commerce. Currently, money crossing state lines can lead to issues with money laundering, since the lowly weed is still an illegal Schedule 1 substance.

Changes are coming from a few corners of the medical cannabis world — as my investigations, only some of which are published, attest. Eventually at the state and federal levels, the day will come when cannabis is as broadly accepted, profitable and legal as any FDA-approved supplement, OTC drug or prescription remedy.  Ongoing research, advocacy and public support make it seem inevitable if not imminent.

The story linked here includes interviews surrounding pharmaceutical business-related developments. But the medicinal/health benefits-related aspect of this plant don’t end with conventional drug development, owing much to proponents of the whole-plant entourage effect. There’s more to the story than this relatively 101-level view written for mainstream, non-canabis-versed executives.

News from other corners of the “legal weed” industry will be posted here and/or various media outlets soon.

NOTE: Research and writing may continue; contact Bob Sperber if you have knowledge and legal experience with the legal ‘edibles’ market. This is business; no time for stoner talk. Contact via phone, message or email per this website’s About page.

A DYI ‘shroom farm. A fishtank herb garden. What next?

“That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” the Whole Foods buyer told Nikhil Arora, who opened a big & stanky bag-o-fungus in the buyer’s office. To the young innovator, that bagful was the crown jewel of a new product he’d liken to a “next iPhone” for natural products fans.

He was kinda right, as you’ll find out if you read the story — “Home mushroom farming, fish-gardening and other supply chain collaboration challenges,” — that I wrote when I saw Nikhil in my travels on the packaging beat. Over the next few years he found the right suppliers for his DIY mushroom kits and then a cool aquaponic fishtank-meets-herb-garden kit.

New product to bow end-February 2015.

New product to bow end-February 2015.

Now he Alejandro Velez, co-founders of Back to the Roots, are at it again; they’ll unveil a new product on February 26th.

What’s it gonna be? I don’t know, but I couldn’t be happier to see these folks start so small and gain national distribution so quickly with such simple, honest ideas.

Rock on, guys.

Industry compliance to FDA Food Safety Modernization Act flying high

How's the FDA's new food safety rule affecting how food gets packaged?

How’s the FDA’s new food safety rule affecting how food gets packaged?

One of the hats I’ve worn of late is that of Editor of Packaging World‘s 2014 Food Safety Playbook for 2014 (as well as the preceding, inaugural edition).

Among the updates packed into the 101-page e-book were the results of a brief survey of U.S. food and beverage product packagers done in Q1, gauging industry readiness for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) now being implemented in rolling deadlines.

The results were optimistic; a large and in some aspects overwhelming majority reported that they have already completed the law’s key requirements into their food safety plans, or will in the coming year.

Since this blog is open to all who click, I’ll say that there’s a LOT to the law, the industry’s reaction, overall compliance and issues that’d have lay-people wondering: “What does it all mean?”

In general, I think the law’s a good thing. If you want to discuss in depth, I’ll invite you to read the whole playbook, or be smart enough not to have to — in which case I’ll refer you to someone with first-hand knowledge of the law, and of food safety. I was once certified to be a food safety guy in the dairy industry, but really, was no expert. Ever.

If you’re interested in reading more, here’s a link to more on the survey.

Be forewarned; I don’t divulge all of the results in this story, but there is a link to the full playbook at that link. If you’re in the industry, I hope you won’t mind having to register to get the playbook for free.

War over water? Believe it (or A.T. Kearney)

Governments are buckling under the weight of inequality and aging populations. (Click to biggie-size in a new browser tab.)

CLICK TO BIGGIE-SIZE, and see how worsening inequality and aging populations contribute to global destablization.

War over water? If we can have wars over oil, why not water, farmland and other resources that drive economic development? It could happen, according to Nausheen Kaul, principal with A.T. Kearney, advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations.

That was just one nugget from Kaul’s presentation on global economic trends. (My straight-news version of it’s here.) His main goal was insight-shedding, not fear-mongering.

But it struck me how, based on the data they get from firms such as Kearney, how global organizations react: They’ve already begun moving to acquire or otherwise secure the world’s water supplies and prime agricultural real estate, Kaul said.

What are the implications of this war-over-water business, beyond pure monetary gain?

There are a few ways to look at it. One is that that massive land-and-water grabs by Western firms will stabilize developing economies. Another perspective is that this activity will amounts to economic colonization and will fuel the conflict as surely as the British political colonization did…and will ultimately fail. A third perspective is that conflict is inevitable, and given the regulatory climate, Big Money in the West must do what they it does because regulations allow it and shareholders demand it; if Coke doesn’t gobble-up the world’s water and land, Pepsi will.

As global financial leaders invest, governments will continue to buckle under the pressure of aging populations and worsening inequality.

Natural resource and political instability, Kaul said, is already causing a “Global Resource Nexis” in which the interplay between the supply and demand of food, energy and water are driving some troubling developments. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be “hyper-urbanized” into cities, governments will buckle under the pressure to accommodate aging populations and technology developments will make or break efforts to feed more people, sustainably and with fewer resources.

Kaul presented solutions for how companies can prepare, but they’re all about benefits to business. Is what’s good for business always good for mankind?

I’d like to know, but don’t comment. Rather, contact me directly if you have a means of partnering with me to create some actionable good I can afford to help you with.

Store brands: Threat or opportunity?

In January, a Wall Street Journal story, “P&G Needs to Convince Thrifty to Splurge” said that the “real challenge” for Procter & Gamble in combatting poor sales and disappointing new-product launches was to get consumers “to spend more again on the company’s premium-priced products.”

By Bob Sperber; original post here.

TidePod-fromTideSite

Happy consumer Antonia demos innovative, easy-to-use (and tasty-looking) Tide Pods.

In January, a Wall Street Journal story, “P&G Needs to Convince Thrifty to Splurge” said that the “real challenge” for Procter & Gamble in combatting poor sales and disappointing new-product launches was to get consumers “to spend more again on the company’s premium-priced products.” But the reporter “missed the point,” Robert Hogan of Zip-Pak told attendees at the CPA 2013 Annual Meeting in late February because there’s no difference in product quality between private-labeled store brands and traditional, national brands. The real challenge, then, is coming-up with innovations that will resonate, like the next iPod… or Tide Pod, in the case of P&G.

Nielsen research cited 21% dollar growth in private label from the onset of recession until 2011, while in the same period, national brands logged only 3% growth. Brand loyalty and consumer satisfaction varies across categories, and NPD Group research partly refutes Nielsen’s findings, but everyone agrees that innovation is key. Will consumers care if the R&D behind that innovation comes from a manufacturer-owned brand or is the result of a retailer who decided to partner with an enterprising contract manufacturer/packer?

Today, I’m hearing that traditional co-pack growth is in the middling single-digit range at best. In contrast, Hogan presented research indicating that store brands account for 22% of all U.S. retailer goods, a number greater than 50% in the UK and Switzerland. As with other market trends, North America is likely to follow Europe’s lead.

If so, traditional brands’ power may well erode in the supply chain and at the outsourcing contract negotiating table. If you believe the co-pack industry will mature and consolidate (as I do), tomorrow’s larger outsource service providers will have more leverage to invest in their own capital equipment and innovate with their own R&D efforts. This in turn could mean that traditional brands have less power to negotiate non-compete terms, and co-packers have more power to work directly for retailers.

Thoughts? My inbox is open.