Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

As Lidl Breaks All Records,
Critics Lack Historical Knowledge:
The Private Ownership Difference

Fake news is an important problem and one amplified by social media. When people see articles that reconfirm their own biases and then these people send the article out under their name to their social media connections, often nobody has done the due diligence necessary to ascertain if the story is accurate.

But truly fake stories  things that just never happened — eventually get uncovered if they gain traction. A more dangerous issue is that few publications have the resources to hire reporters who are truly expert in the fields they are assigned.

We get quoted a lot in the consumer press. And 20 years ago, we often got called by ag reporters or retail reporters who were full time dedicated to the task for decades. Nowadays, it usually is the real estate reporter, whose editor assigns this story because there is a food safety crisis. So, someone with zero experience and knowledge somehow has five hours to not only understand the story but then figure out how to make others understand it as well.

We spend countless hours helping. Indeed it was partly out of this experience that we launched programs for “consumer influencers” at the New York, London and Amsterdam Produce Shows — so we could help educate both housewife bloggers and professional reporters, all of whom really could benefit from gaining more subject knowledge about produce and the venues where consumers shop for produce.

Even the Wall Street Journal — as great a newspaper as exists in the United States — has this problem. The paper recently ran an article titled Lidl Stores Gain Little Traction So Far in the U.S., written by its grocery reporter, an obviously bright woman, but one who was as recently as last year, “on the 2016 campaign trail barnstorming the Republican field, along with covering politics and policy in New Jersey and the Northeast.”

We respect the Wall Street Journal; we have written for the Op-Ed page of the Wall Street Journal and we have been quoted many times. But the reporter covering grocery for the nation’s preeminent business publication should have 20-years of experience covering the industry, otherwise they won’t even know the questions to ask.

We saw this all over the media in their coverage of the price-cuts announced by Whole Foods after Amazon.com made the purchase. Hundreds of outlets reported these price-cuts as if they were meaningful — yet virtually nobody thought to ask the only relevant question: Had Amazon, in fact, decreed that it would accept lower margins overall or was this just a gimmick of lowering prices on some items and raising them on others? We discussed the issue in a piece titled Amazon/Whole Foods Uses Tricks Of The Trade And Easy Media Manipulation To Dampen ‘Whole Paycheck’ Reputation.

Here is what the Wall Street Journal’s article that purported to see Lidl in trouble in America actually said:

In June, Lidl was drawing 11% of consumer visits to traditional grocers in nine markets in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, according to data that inMarket shared with The Wall Street Journal. By August, Lidl’s share of that traffic fell below 8%...

Lidl’s share of grocery visits declined in that period even as it was opening more stores in those states. Lidl has opened 37 stores in five states and plans to operate as many as 100 in total, from New Jersey to Georgia, by next summer

When more-diversified food sellers such as Wal-Mart and Target Corp. are included, inMarket says Lidl’s share of shopping trips in those states peaked at nearly 3% in June before falling in July and August. Lidl recovered some traffic in September, reaching 2% of the market.

First of all, drawing 11% of consumer visits by a new entrant in a substantial space such as nine markets, with a banner name unheard of in America, is nothing short of spectacular. It is, literally, unheard of. Nobody has ever done it before. It is an extraordinary accomplishment.

A decline to 8% in this context is something extraordinary because, again, nobody has ever succeeded like this before.

Aside from the article lacking any historical perspective on this issue, there is not much evidence of the most rudimentary knowledge about supermarket openings.

In almost every case, stores open big — they get media attention, there is grand opening celebrations, charity tie-ins, special prices, coupons, merchandising help from vendors — then, in almost every case, sales decline, often substantially as the grand opening fades into memory.

If a store is successful, it stabilizes at a post-grand-opening level — often, say, 70% of the initial — sales and then, as the store matures over three to five years, sales will gradually increase.

Steve Burd at Safeway had set up a system where divisions could earn future investment dollars based on how well their new stores performed — defined not as failing to maintain their grand opening sales but as maintaining the lower, post grand-opening sales level.

In any case, the rest of the article confuses anecdote with data. One guy stood in a parking lot and in “one 15-minute period” only saw two shoppers enter one store. Another anecdote, without any information as to the actual sales of any items, criticizes Lidl’s selection for being too organic or selling items too “European,” like cycling shoes and badminton sets and emphasizing wine when, in fact, they think the community wants beer.

Of course, none of this means anything — and, in any case, the shocking thing would be if every location was a winner, and if every item selected for promotion was a home run.

What is really the great reason for thinking Lidl will succeed — aside from it being a concept that is already a success in 10,000 stores all over Europe? The real secret weapon of Lidl is owner commitment.

We wrote extensively about Fresh & Easy when Tesco tried to open in America. There were loads of mistakes and many unforced errors, but, in the end, Tesco failed in America because Tesco gave up. This is to no small extent because Tesco was a publicly held company, and the quarterly demands from the City in London and Wall Street in New York City just didn’t allow for the long-term perspective that would have been required to change Fresh & Easy so it would be successful. Or, at least, Tesco had set these expectations ridiculously high and could never reset them.

Lidl is very different… we are reminded of a piece we wrote in the Pundit in which quoted the late Frank McCarthy, who was then with Albert’s Organics. Frank’s insight is still very valuable:

This reminds me of a conversation I had with Ernest Gallo in another career about twenty years ago. He wanted to upscale the image of his wines. I explained to him that he’d spent a half-billion dollars over a 40-year period positioning Gallo as good cheap wine. (Remember Gallo Hearty Burgundy?) I told him it would take a generation and a billion dollars to accomplish this task. He said, “I better get started right away.” Family companies have options that public companies don’t.

Lidl will succeed in America because the Schwarz family, who owns the company, will not give up. They will change and transform Lidl until they get it right. Articles by reporters who don’t know to explore the implications of different ownership structures will not impact this outcome.

Michiel van Zanten On Produce Procurement:
Insights From Albert Heijn/Ahold Delhaize Prelude To Amsterdam Produce Show's Thought-Leader Panel

We recently announced the Thought-Leader Panel at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. It is an important part of the event because the goal is not served simply by people visiting a trade show.

The key is for attendees to become more valuable colleagues, more valuable business connections and more valuable people — and to do that, one has to learn and open one’s eyes and ears to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Indeed, visiting a trade show itself becomes a different experience if one first begins forging relationships at an opening reception and then opens ones’ mind as a result of robust discussion of industry issues.

In fact, here is an underappreciated secret: If people only go to events where they do a lot of business, they are usually too busy dealing with that business to become smarter and more valuable contributors to their organizations. To be successful in the future, people need to invest in learning more now.

We are fortunate to have such wonderful people (and companies that support them) who are willing to share their knowledge, experience and insight to make the whole industry better. The whole panel is extraordinary, and in advance of the event, we wanted to explore the rich intelligence being laid out at the show.

So we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to visit with some of the thought-leaders and get a deep dive into what made them what they are today and gain a bit of insight into their thought processes. We begin with Michiel van Zanten, who welcomed Mira to the Ahold Delhaize headquarters for a pre-show visit…

Michiel van Zanten
Senior Sourcing Manager
Strategic Sourcing Fresh
Albert Heijn/Ahold Delhaize
Zaandam, NL

Q: We are honored to have you serve on the prestigious Thought-Leader Panel at this year’s Amsterdam Produce Show to engage in a dynamic discussion on the pressing issues facing the industry. Attendees also will have the opportunity to tour your beautiful Albert Heijn XL store in Purmerend, which I just had the pleasure of visiting.

It’s great to meet up with you at Ahold Delhaize headquarters to garner your insights about Ahold and its role in the produce industry in the run-up to the Show to pique attendees’ interest.

A: I’m happy to welcome you. Shall I start by giving a short introduction about myself?

Q: Yes, that was going to be my first question…to describe your background and responsibilities.

A:  My background actually in the last 15 years has been in retail, but always on the sourcing side. The beginning of my career was playing a role in Aldi, which at that time was really a regional responsibility because Aldi buys European-wide, and in some cases even further than that, but the local buyer as they called it, was actually experimenting with local needs. So, after that, I moved towards Ahold because Ahold at that time had a centralized buying desk for their European operating companies.

Q: When was that?

A: I stepped in around 2006/2007 here, but there was a strong relationship with Ica, a supermarket chain in Sweden and Norway, where 60 percent of its shares belonged to Ahold, so we were asked to work together in the buying field. After that, I moved more and more to the fresh world, fruits and vegetables and flowers.

In the past five or six years, I’ve been working even deeper into the relationship that we built up in that world. So, I’m really back in the chain. I’m not the merchandiser, which Said Belhassan [Sr. Director Produce & Floral & Plants] is. Said is the guy who is responsible for the merchandising commercial side of Albert Heijn at this moment.

Q: Are you focused on Albert Heijn as well?

A: We have this structure now, where we work solely for Albert Heijn. So my responsibility is only for Albert Heijn, for the fruit and veg, and also some other groups within Albert Heijn, but mainly produce, of course. I am also responsible for the strategic sourcing.

My definition of strategic sourcing is how we can look further than the horizon of just one year. The heartbeat of this company is very fast. We have the motivation and ambition to innovate and to differentiate the assortment in produce towards our competitors, but also towards the rest of market, because we want to be a frontrunner. Albert Heijn wants to be a frontrunner, but that has a great impact on the rest of the chain. And I see the rest of the chain as my responsibility to optimize that and also to improve and make it better every day.

First stop on the Amsterdam Show retail tour: The progressive Albert Heijn XL, Purmerend store, operating Co2 neutral, and one of the most sustainable stores in Europe. 

Q: How important is the produce department at Albert Heijn in that mission?

A: Our growth is mainly driven by the innovation power that we have. I estimate in the produce department alone, we have over 500 SKUs of innovation every year, which is quite a lot.

Q: When you say innovation, could you provide some examples?

A: Sometimes it’s creating something that makes it easier for consumers, like our fresh meal boxes, which are a huge success in the Netherlands, and I’m sure you saw at the Purmerend store. But you have to do something more than just putting the box in the microwave, whether it’s cutting the items up or putting them in the mixer. We portion out every single ingredient in the right measurements, so you can’t make any mistakes. You have the feeling you created your own meal from scratch, which fits into this do-it-yourself trend, but with a lot of help from the retailer.

Q: You’ve certainly been ahead of the curve on that trend. I attended a Future of Food conference in Delft with a focus on e-commerce late last month, where a hot topic was penetration and strategic growth in the fresh meal box home delivery segment…

A: It’s a box, yet you still feel like you’re the kitchen queen (or king), in control of the cooking process, and proud of the dish you made, instead of emptying a can or a packet of powder in a pan of water to cook it. We also have soup mixes of fresh herbs and vegetables you can cook with less effort.  We tried the concept with fruit for smoothies, but that was less successful… maybe the timing was not great.  

In answering your question, there’s another definition of innovation. How can we bring new produce items to families, like we did in the past of introducing the kiwi to the Netherlands, or the yellow kiwi instead of the green, or new varieties of tomatoes and exotics to make the intake of fruit and veg higher than it is today because we believe in healthy foods for our customers, which I think every retailer wants.

Michiel van Zanten's extensive procurement responsibilities for Albert Heijn on display with unique, eye-catching varieties. 

Q: And you’re on the procurement side to make this happen…

A: Yes, and for a long time in procurement, because in the structure of Albert Heijn, we say there’s a table, where we have the category manager and the buyer, and the Albert Heijn buyer is supported by amongst others, me. I am responsible for everything that is green, but there is also a buyer for the meat and the fish and the poultry. To a question that you raised earlier, how do we see this impacting the chain, if we want to bring in a new variety of mango, for instance, which takes seven years to actually grow, of course.

In the vastness and the ambition of the front side of our company, sometimes the real world gets lost. OK, we want a new mango next year… well first, we have to find a grower for that, and maybe the grower doesn’t have the variety we need, and then there are concepts like picked-from-the-tree, ready-to-eat fruit. You can do that by techniques to breed certain characteristics, like with bananas, which we do, but there are also other ways to create that, and how can you actually optimize the value chain? That’s my focus.

Q: What is the consequence of the Ahold Delhaize merger in these efforts? Could you talk about the impacts?

A: First of all, the merger was seen as joining forces, as I believe is the ambition of every merger to build synergies. As we speak, we are working together with our Belgium colleagues on different fields. For instance, we work together, of course, in learning from each other on the biggest successes and innovations and how we can share that. Also on the backside of the company, which is more of my responsibility, is how to join buying forces and procurement in a way that we enter the market together and boost volumes if we start the discussion with our suppliers.

Of course, it has great advantages for our suppliers because they have more and larger volumes but maybe also better commitment. But it also gives us… well, sometimes the chain needs solutions in this perspective because not all our systems are tailored and built for the systems next to us.  Everyone wants to grow in quality but sometimes also in volume. The challenge that we have at this point is how can we join forces and have the benefits of going to the market together, but also to use the quality we’ve built up on both sides of the two systems.

A magnificent fresh herb garden grows myriad varieties for consumers to hand pick, while filling the store with enticing aromas.

Q: How different and how compatible are the systems of Ahold and Delhaize?

A: I can say some things Albert Heijn does pretty well, and there’s lessons to learn from it, and on the other side, Delhaize does some things differently, which Albert Heijn can learn about. That’s one step in the chain.  But we also work with partners in the chain like big service providers, such as produce processors. 

For example, we have a big partner in the north of Holland that does all our cut salads, all our cut fruit and meals and ready-fresh salads. They create something, and there is a big side of machinery that we use more efficiently to go to the market with a bundling of our volumes. We also try to see where we can choose the best partner from both sides, because we’ve built up a great history with both banners but now we are one.

We have suppliers that are either part of the chain or are an integrated space of the value chain to bring products together to the market. And how can we use each other’s pearls in the chain to be the frontrunner in the retailing market?

Q:  Could you elaborate on the logistics of how you get products to market? Do you import directly or work through importers? How does that work.

A: We work directly, mainly directly, but I don’t think there’s one answer to this question. We have our work-arounds if we don’t see the meaning of working directly. Actually, during your visit today at Ahold, as you’ve seen, our Albert Heijn Foundation is having a celebration of 10 years. That has built up in South Africa. For our Southern Hemisphere products, large volumes are coming from South Africa, of course, if you look at exotics and also citrus and grapes. We started building up our supplier base on the African continent a long time ago. And we choose to work directly with big growers there, to answer your question.

On the other side, we have a great food producer in the Netherlands. We have lots of greenhouses here, and it’s a huge exporting country, quite amazing when you see the size of the country and what we are able to produce. We also lean on that. In the Netherlands, we have the advantage of having great growers here and great quality, but that actually just covers part of our needs in a year.

The weather is getting a lot more gray at the moment and the days are getting shorter, so this is the time where we step over to the Spanish or to the Southern Italians or to our suppliers in Greece to extend the availability of our vegetables, like salads and spinach, and things like that. In that perspective, we also have direct growers we’ve worked with for a long time in Southern Europe. So, our main coverage on the total is direct.

Also, because we are a retailer that does a lot of promotions, sometimes we need to rely on the wholesale market volumes, if they are there, to meet the needs of our consumer. But that’s more about managing the exceptions, and we’re happy to have long term relationships in most sides of the assortment.

Amsterdam Produce Show's Claire Powell, a tenured retail executive running the retail tour, checks out the impressive enclosed refrigerated fresh-cut produce selection.

Q: You know how Wal-Mart and others have set up global procurement systems. Does Ahold have such an operation? Do you try to contract with major companies, such as Chiquita or Driscoll’s on a trans-Atlantic basis?

A: Yes, we try. Of course, more than half of our retail business is in the U.S., with Ahold and Delhaize together. So, we see the potential, mainly on accounts like Chiquita and Dole. We actually also started discussions to see that whole global world as one starting point in our strategies and also in cooperation with these companies.

Q: What role would you play within the structure of Ahold Delhaize to capitalize on such trans-Atlantic deals? How complex is the process? And what are the considerations going forward?

A: We’re exploring the opportunities. But I have to be honest. As I already mentioned, I work for Albert Heijn, and it’s not like we have daily contact with our fellow colleagues in America. But we do see the potential of these sorts of cooperation together. A Chiquita banana is a Chiquita banana and has a great quality hopefully all over the world. And, yes, it’s a recognized brand.

But there are other considerations. Not to jump further into the details, but I think there is more of a difference in how people want to have their banana in the shop, what stage of ripeness, etc. That’s an intermediate step in the chain. We also look into how to optimize every step, such as the ripening process. 

Q; Right, you have to evaluate the entire process from a synergistic and logistical standpoint across chains and countries…

A: It’s the process of setting the price, but then getting it to the Netherlands. Ahold and Delhaize are quite close to each other on the European continent because it’s the Netherlands and Belgium. We actually speak each other’s language, well at least in the northern part of Belgium, so it’s easy to communicate. Of course, there are still challenges because of differences in culture, even in the Netherlands, where it’s just 500 square kilometers or so…

Q: Could we talk more about how the Ahold Delhaize merger is positioned to compete in the context of the rapidly changing and increasingly cut-throat retail environment? The infiltration of deep discounters into the U.S. market, namely Aldi and Lidl, is not a new phenomenon in Europe.  Your background at Aldi could shed more light on that...

What is the way for supermarkets to compete? The produce industry has always been a low-margin business. Do you find margin pressure caused by deep discounters to impact your vendor relationships?

A: I started working with Aldi, which I still believe is the most hardcore retail discounter in Europe. There are two different Aldi’s. You have the Aldi North and the Aldi South. Aldi South is actually also in the UK, and in Australia and I also think in America. Aldi North has been experimenting in the USA with a totally different part of retailing, Trader Joe’s is.

Coming back to your question of how I see that discounting phenomenon in the Netherlands, I think of what’s occurred in the past ten years. Ten years ago, there was a huge difference between Albert Heijn and Aldi, and Lidl as well. There was the retailer and the discounter. And the retailer as a full-service concept, Albert Heijn was perceived to be as too expensive.

Q: Was that consumer perception based on reality? 

A: I say perceived, but it was also factual. The difference was maybe more than 20 percent on basic items. I’m proud that we did a good job of changing that perception over the years. It was the toughest. Because you can still say and prove you are less expensive or close to a discount price, and trust me the difference nowadays is really small. On one side, we improved and optimized our value chain, but we also did efforts to adapt to the fact that there would be less revenues from the market, to create a more efficient company for ourselves, and more able to bring more innovation to the market than we were in the past.

I believe in those years, Lidl moved towards a discount type of formula, and they also do a good job and still have the perception from consumers that they are the cheapest on the market, or at least on the cheaper side.

Sprawling produce displays intersperse a range of exotics and locally grown items signed with the farmers' stories. 

Q: With so many choices to shop, is there any consumer retail loyalty anymore?

A: I’m not sure if it’s comparable with the American population, but the Dutch are famous for their hunting for bargains. It’s crazy. I’m not sure if the statistics are still accurate, but maybe two or three years ago, the average visit of different retail formulas in the Netherlands was above two-and-a-half a week. So, the consumers are not loyal. They used to be very loyal to their formula, like Albert Heijn.

They would always go to Albert Heijn; maybe it wasn’t the closest, but they thought it was trustworthy and had great quality. Also due to the density of the retail landscape, the consumers have the time — and I’m still amazed by that — to shop at different retailers. First they are close to each other and there’s so many retailers in the Netherlands, you can go to the right corner for Albert Heijn and the left corner for Lidl. And if you walk maybe a half mile further, you can visit a Jumbo, which works well for the bargain-hunting Dutch consumer.   

Q: But that bargain-hunting must put extra pressure on you…

A: That’s also the whole thing about being in the comfort seat, as we have been through the decades many times. We went through some price wars, and three to five years ago we were not perceived that well from the consumer side, not only on price, but also on the X factor—that Albert Heijn is great.

It’s still a great store to walk into and the warmth is there. We really had to work on that. One of our strategy points was gaining back the hearts of the consumers and to get back that X factor. We managed to do a good job. We’re doing well, and we have a nice market share.

It’s great to work for Albert Heijn, let’s put it that way, but also it’s great to visit Albert Heijn. I don’t have to come with apologies anymore at parties in the neighborhood. We have the good media attention where we had some difficulties the past few years, but we’re back on track, and we’re ready to move on, together with our strong sister company now.

Q: Amazon is moving heavily into a multi-channel strategy by buying Whole Foods. What does Ahold do online or plan to do?

A: Of course, it’s in the media, and I’m aware of it, but it’s not in my circle of influence. I’m responsible for Albert Heijn and its food and veg long-term planning and that is what I focus on. It’s like, who would ever imagine that Uber is here? I do see it through those glasses, but that’s all I can actually say about that.

Q: How would you describe your online presence?

A: We have strong confidence in that part. It’s one of our drivers because it’s the growing business. We have no reason to believe we missed the train there because we stepped in early enough to use the experience from one side, the traditional retailer, and we hooked up with a real strong player on line that actually helps us build up that part of our company in a very professional and sustainable way. Who will say what the future will bring?

Q: What is the actual arrangement with the online company?

A: Bol.com was acquired by Albert Heijn a few years ago, but at that time we already had our online shopping… but then again, that’s not my part of the business. The feeling and also the results show it helps to actually absorb knowledge from that market. It boosts what we were already building. And we are still experimenting with all kinds of concepts in that online business, but I can’t tell you all the ins and outs.

Q: More in your purview, could you discuss procurement strategies in different product categories; organic, local, Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance, and philosophy on the sustainability side?

A: Yes, I can talk a bit about this. Starting from the things we get from furthest away, our philosophy is, we source as close as possible and as far away as needed, because it’s not in our DNA to just make food miles just because. That’s one of our starting points, where far away mainly also means different markets, where social compliance and the right way to walk is difficult, but we started to work on that a long, long time ago. And the celebration of our Albert Heijn Foundation is proof that we are not just there to buy products and feed our local consumers, but also to create a better world for the environment in the places we source from.

I can elaborate on that for hours because I get very enthusiastic. If you see how we contribute,  the primal things are actually more in the hands of government to put their funding in.  We try to do our little piece of cooperation together with our suppliers there. And we have a great model for that. Until now, it’s has been quite in the shadows because we just think it’s the right thing to do.

We never choose to make it big publicity, to wave our flag, but it’s also in line with what the consumer wants to know now. Where do my products come from, and how are the products grown, and are the local people in the fields treated well? I’ve been lucky to visit those places sometimes. It is great to see.  Still you feel shy, and it makes you feel very small, but the thank you’s from the people really only touch the surface.   

Q: In terms of branding, how much of your business is private label, and why?

A:  Most of our produce is private label. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but it’s the vast majority. Brands are present in the market. We choose to not have that many brands. This way we’re not locked in. We choose to carry particularly well known brands, for example a big brand like Chiquita because it sets an example, it tells the consumer something about our overall quality even on the non-branded items. We also have the ambition to have both great global brands but also to have small brands that are exclusive, which isn’t easy to negotiate, but if we can keep brands exclusive, we believe we have reason to bring them in  the shops and take that frontrunner position being that no one can come in on those brands.

Q: How does that work in creating those exclusive partnerships?

A: That’s more on the merchandising side that they work on that when a deal with Chiquita or Dole has to be made. The Chiquita brand for bananas is exclusive with Albert Heijn in the Netherlands.

Q:  I forgot to ask you when you’re dealing with your suppliers on sustainability, do you have requirements with the suppliers or some kind of grading system?

A: Do you mean the social side or the environmental side? We have the social responsibility side, where we have a department within the company that makes sure suppliers are all certified, with Global Gap and social compliance, so there is no question about it. On the environmental side, we are very severe… we are actually more severe on our own protocols than the governments of the local countries are.

For example, if the Dutch government says on a vegetable, we can only have .2 percent of a pesticide spray, we’ll put the rule on our  own side for half of that. Our own protocol is more stringent than the law. In that way, we hope to extremely reduce the risk of what’s allowed by law, and at the same time we challenge our own suppliers and growers to become creative in maybe using other sprays or organic sprays or alternative,more sustainable methods.

Q: Do you relay this kind of information to your consumers at the store level, while I know this isn’t within you responsibilities?

A: No, we don’t really do that, and I think it’s actually wise not to communicate that information to consumers. A lot of consumers think every vegetable and fruit is 100 percent clean.

Q: It’s an interesting point, because there are many consumer misperceptions regarding produce, such as the differences between organic, local and conventional. In the U.S., there is strong debate on the merits and validity of promoting organic produce as safer, healthier or more nutritious compared to conventional, because it disparages conventional produce, and creates a cloud over the industry as a whole…

A: With pesticides, I think Europeans are extremely risk-averse, compared to Americans. We have consumers who embrace organic totally, and we believe that is a part of our business that can grow. We see it growing pretty fast actually. It’s still not a great percentage of the total, but it grows faster than the rest. We want to be more present in that market. We wrote it down in our plans for 2017/2018 to be more ambitious in this side of the market.

Q: You’ve been so gracious with your time, and insights in advance of the Amsterdam Produce Show. As we conclude this thought-provoking discussion, I wanted to get your feedback on the big picture, but also on a personal note. The scope and influence of Ahold Delhaize is momentous and vast, multiple store formats and 6,500 stores worldwide, including supermarkets, convenience stores, online delivery, pickup points and specialty stores. From your vantage point, where do you see the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities going forward?

A: From my own perspective, I have a pretty young family; I have three kids and my wife works. I live 50 kilometers from here, and for me it’s still a challenge because we both love to cook ourselves. Professionally I love to walk the store, but personally we choose to have online deliveries or pickups because it’s so convenient and it saves us time. Of course, it’s nice to visit the shop on the weekends if we don’t have that much shortage of time, but I believe this is going to be part of how people shop.

You choose your moment, based on where you live, in the Netherlands as well, and there you make the perfect combination of how you can save the most time with the activity of the family. And I think that will continue for the coming decade. Maybe for the younger generations, the online shopping will be more and more embraced. But on the other side, people still want to have the emotion of the real live product and the choice in the store. You also have a choice online, but I become greedier in the store and it’s less rational, or more rational online.

Q: There are studies done through the Food  Marketing Institute in the U.S., where the consumer prepares a shopping list of produce items beforehand, but once they enter the store’s produce department, they buy based on what draws them in… [Editor’s note: FMI will present its latest research findings at the Amsterdam Produce Show. See the preview published below.]

A: As far as challenges and opportunities…I see the biggest challenges on availability, also because it’s a big part of my responsibility. We build relationships over many years. We hear from our growers. It’s not hard to be loyal, but there are so many unexpected forces in the world affecting their wealth. The challenge is to produce and have availability to meet the needs of consumers, and also climate-change, especially this year, where we have great shortage on spinach and salad because the fields were destroyed by rainfalls that we’ve never seen before.

It’s a wakeup sign, on one side to jump into technology solutions like in the America, where there are companies 10 steps further than us on things like vertical farming, but it doesn’t take away all the risks and tendencies we follow globally in climate and politics, etc.

On the opportunities, I can build a bridge from the first answer on the potential in the growing and agriculture techniques that are developing fast, such as irrigation systems that take less water to grow a great piece of fruit. The other opportunity is that people see food as an extension of themselves. You can vary and innovate many things, from the preparation to the varieties, to re-inventing the outcast, strange-looking fruit and veg to reduce food waste.  

Q: That brings to mind Albert Heijn’s collaboration with InStock, a pioneering food rescue project that I was able to highlight in an article last year when we launched the Amsterdam Produce Show.

A: It creates discussion in the consumer landscape, and you see the potential of doing something extremely different. We, as a full-service supermarket, have the opportunity to educate consumers and to share the experience of this great magical world of fruit and veg. 


There are bigger events in the world of produce… and we go to them all… but there are no smarter people than the ones we gathered here, and there is no place to so intimately gain proximity to people with ideas and significance as at our events, most presently The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. So come and engage with Michiel and the Thought-Leader Panel. Come be a part of The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference!

You can check out the website right here.

Register for the event here.

Book a hotel room -- where the action is -- at the Headquarters Hilton Amsterdam right here.

And if you would like to exhibit or sponsor, please let us know here.

And, of course, we are happy to answer questions right here.

We look forward to seeing you in Amsterdam!

Unique In Approach, FMI Research Answers Questions For Retailers And Producers With New Disclosures At Amsterdam Produce Show And Conference

We don’t look at geography when selecting speakers for our events; in our quest for the best content, we will travel to the ends of the earth for the most insightful. And the Food Marketing Institute happens to do some of the most intriguing research relevant to fresh produce on the face of the globe.

What makes this research compelling? Most research is done by surveying consumers, which tell us what answers people want to give to questions when asked – not what they actually do. Some research is drawn off shopper spending data, which tells us what consumers actually do – but not why they do it. FMI, almost uniquely, does research that combines both.

We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get a sneak preview of what revelations the FMI research provides for attendees at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference.

Rick Stein
Vice President, Fresh Foods
Food Marketing Institute
Arlington, VA

Q: We’re excited you’ll be presenting FMI’s newest research findings at our Amsterdam Produce Show & Conference in November. This “sneak preview” Q&A pivots off a parallel Q&A we did back in 2015, where you unveiled the baseline results of FMI’s unique, ongoing consumer-centric study, "The Power of Produce: An in-depth look at produce through the shopper’s eyes.

Your report provides enlightening data on shifting consumer behavior and shopping patterns before, during, and after purchase to help industry executives prosper in a vigorous retail environment. How do the latest findings compare and contrast to baseline results? Can you assess impacts of proliferating alternative shopping channels and changing demographics, as well as emerging trends and growth drivers?

A: Yes. I can certainly do that. There is much to discuss on all those fronts… I’ll be presenting the topline results, and Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of 210 Analytics Company, will delve into the numbers. We have a novel of insights to accelerate retail sales and profits and increase produce consumption. In addition, we can outline competitive strategies gleaned from the report.

Q: That should pique attendees’ interest. To refresh people’s memories on the background for this report, and for those who are learning about this research for the first time, you’ve noted two important aspects of the Power of Produce study.

• First, it merges and analyzes both scientific and empirical data to alleviate inaccuracies with what consumers say and do.

• Second, the study is designed to address retailer-directed issues, using input from FMI’s Fresh Executive Council (FEC), which is made up of leading retail executives in the fresh foods arena. Why is this distinctive, and how does this influence the direction and value of the study?

A: To put this in context, I joined FMI three years ago. We were already doing an industry benchmark standard report called, The Power of Meat. It had become one of the most useful tools amongst our retail members, every year looking into new insights.

In addition to meat, the biggest department you always want to have information on is produce. Produce is such an important determination in where consumers shop. What I loved about the research is that it was a combination of asking consumers questions about purchase behavior, but then we coupled that with data from IRI and Nielsen. We all know when you ask consumers questions on a survey they respond one way, but that may not be totally indicative of their behavior. When you take their responses and you couple those with scientific data, it really tells a robust story.

I went to my fresh foods executive committee, a group of retailers basically representing all of Fresh, covering the whole perimeter; it’s the senior vice presidents of fresh. We asked them specifically, what are you interested in finding out, as opposed to just conducting general consumer surveys. We wanted our retail executives to steer the questions and the study’s strategic focus. They were in the driver’s seat… we want to know this, we want to know that, and that’s how we came up with the inaugural 2015 Power of Produce survey.

We then did the same survey in 2016, and now again in 2017. What we like to say is that in 2015 we created a dot, in 2016 we created a line, and in 2017 we now have a trend. The first year you do a survey, you just get the information and have no point of reference; the second year you can compare results, and by the third year you can start to see trends.

Q: Did you keep all the same survey questions, did you add new questions?

A: What we try to do is the old 80/20 rule. In order to have good trend information, you want about 80 percent of the questions to be the same, but each year new topics and new discussions need to be introduced, because of the changing dynamics of the industry.

Q: What were the areas you targeted for year-over-year trending?

A: The consumer survey explores the entire produce path-to-purchase, including:

• the influence of promotions when buying produce and the kinds of media vehicles used by shoppers

• channel choice for groceries in general, and for conventional and organic produce, specifically

• trends in organic, value-added and locally-sourced produce

Q: What new questions did you add for the 2017 report?

A: Retailers wanted us to delve further into the following:

• The influence of merchandising on impulse purchases

• Reasons for produce channel switching

• Prompting shoppers to buy new/unfamiliar items to expand their comfort zone

• The interest in produce butchers, packaging innovations, non-GMO, sustainability grown and other transparency attributes

• Deep dives into areas of growth: value-added, local, brands and organic

• A greater understanding of the specific health attributes associated with fresh produce

Q: How are the dots connecting?

A: This year one of the big findings that resonated most with us we’re calling, “The eyes decide.” Consumers clearly indicate in their pre-shopping determination that price drives them to the location; looking at circular ads but more and more to digital promotions, trying to figure out where they’re going to shop. Price is the predominate reason they pick. However, when they actually arrive at the store, it’s the condition and appearance of the product that influences their purchase.

So those stores that do a good job of merchandising — culling, draping, and making sure their product is the freshest and most appealing —not only capture the pre-planned sale, but stimulate incremental sales. Actually consumers will not only buy what’s on their list, but if they’re in a robust produce department, they consistently told us how they add on to their purchase of unplanned items. Price may drive where consumers go, but once at the store, the eyes decide. That’s the ultimate decision-maker in filling the basket.

Q: Do most consumers prepare shopping lists of produce items before heading to the supermarket?

A: Our study shows produce is a well-researched purchase with three-quarters of shoppers listing out their produce needs pre-trip.

Q: But then they arrive at the store and all bets are off?

A: Yes, that’s correct. Price is the driver to get them there, but once in the store, if you don’t have quality and freshness, shoppers not only won’t buy what’s on their list, they’ll forego the produce department. Say you want to buy peaches on sale, but when you get to the store display, you see some of them are gray, and way too soft and fruit flies are hovering; not only will you avoid peaches, it creates a halo effect around the whole department, and you’re reluctant to buy any produce.

Q: Maybe that’s the last time you’ll go to that store? On the other hand, could a consistent quality department create a customer loyalty that redefines their pre-shopping, price-focused tendency?

A: Not necessarily, but on that trip, where the peaches were unappealing, the consumers will clearly decrease their produce purchase. A key takeaway: Produce has a household penetration of 99.7 percent, so how do you grow your business? The big ‘ah ha’ out of this is that in a very high penetration category, it’s not that you will sell new consumers produce. You need to get those same consumers to put more items in their shopping basket, and to consume more produce, more often.

The data showed us when we asked consumers about their shopping behavior, 50 percent of the consumers buy the same items over and over again. They don’t get out of their comfort zone. If they buy lettuce, tomatoes, apples and oranges, 50 percent of those surveyed will buy those same items on every trip. However, 83 percent of consumers said they’d welcome advice on unfamiliar items and preparation techniques on items outside of their comfort zone. So the key takeaway is if you can be knowledgeable and informative at retail and educate consumers on the products they don’t normally buy, you can increase consumption.

Among habitual buyers, 83 percent say they’ll try new, different products if they are given that information. You have these millennials who don’t understand produce, so if you can help them out they’ll consume more.

Q: How are traditional supermarkets faring as alternative channels for buying produce intensify? Do the same consumers spread out their shopping at various channels for different times and occasions? How much does channel choice vary by demographics, age, household size, income, etc.?

A: If you look at the preponderance of produce sales, supermarkets still dominate as the primary place the majority of people buy produce. When respondents were asked to choose their primary store for produce, 64 percent of shoppers said it was supermarkets (compared to 63 percent in 2016 and 61 percent in 2015); 16 percent at supercenters, 5 percent at club stores, 9 percent at organic stores and 6 percent others.

Millennials over-index in the organic specialty stores. We believe in those smaller stores, consumers are running into more knowledgeable employees who give them information on the products they can buy, whereas maybe the staff is stretched too thin in a regular supermarket. As competition for food dollars increases, retailers must find a way to draw millennials to the store by leveraging the power of produce. Produce’s role in primary shopper conversion and attraction of secondary shoppers will be increasingly important.

Q: So traditional supermarkets still maintain a stronghold as consumers’ primary choice for produce purchases? Are alternative channels just nipping away at their piece of the pie?

A: Primary store shopping percentages haven’t changed significantly from our 2015 baseline numbers. Supermarkets continue to own the produce category. They’re suffering in other parts of the store, but not the perimeter.

There’s obviously a lot of cross shopping; those numbers are for the primary stores. The supermarket may be my primary, but I’m probably also buying produce at a supercenter, an organic specialty store, and a farmer’s market… Amongst the small percentage of people who say organic specialty is their primary store, it’s over-indexed with the millennials as I mentioned.

Q: Is there over-indexing with other shopper demographics too?

A: We see a lot of cross-over shopping at farmers markets, and that’s increasing over the years. We’re now seeing that 37 percent of consumers at some point during the year also shop a farmer’s market. That’s up from the mid-20 percentile when we first did the report. Farmer’s markets continue to be an area of concern for retailers.

Q: Is that related to the locally grown trend?

A: Interest in locally grown has become even stronger, with 54 percent of the consumers saying they are looking for expanded locally grown product. When we did this report in 2015, the percentage was in the mid-40s.

The Number One reason why they say they buy local is their desire to support the local economy. That’s a shift. In the 2015 report, the Number One reason the consumers wanted to buy local was they thought it was fresher and higher quality.

We think, based on a discussion amongst our executives, it’s because we just came out of an election year, the U.S. economy was a huge discussion, and people were focused on the economy. We think the political climate influenced that shift in their reasoning for buying local.

Q: I guess that’s always the case when you’re doing these surveys, the need to take into account significant events or factors that could tilt the results. Have consumers actually changed their perceptions of locally grown? Aren’t there myriad definitions surrounding the concept from both retailers and consumers?

A: Consumers are now defining local as a certain mile radius or within a state, more so than three years ago. In the 2015 report, the definition was broader. Local was more of a region or domestic versus foreign. That circumference has gotten much narrower.

Another interesting area coming out of the report is what’s fueling produce growth. Produce overall is a growing category. Produce is approximately a $63 billion business, and we show it’s up 3.4 percent in dollars, and 4.2 percent in pounds. So it’s growing in both dollars and volume. When you compare that to the overall supermarket growth, which is only up about .8 percent, produce growth is three or four times the growth of the overall supermarket.

Q: That’s good news for the produce industry. What’s driving that growth?

A: It sure is good news, and it’s due to a few things. I’ll throw out a couple of buckets. Organic is driving growth. Organic continues to see double-growth, and is now making up about eight percent of the category and increasing its household penetration.

Our research broke out organic consumers into core and occasional. The core organic consumer is driving most of the growth because there is a larger variety, so they are starting to make all of their purchases organic.

Q: So, some consumers could be purchasing organic replacements for the conventional counterparts they bought before, signaling a realignment of category sales, rather than an increase in total produce department sales overall. At the same time, however, you’re saying the introduction of new organic varieties could spur additional purchases and impulse buys…

A: Another area driving growth is value-added produce. A subset of consumers want convenience, so fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, tray items, etc., are also experiencing double-digit growth.

Q: Is there a dichotomy of sorts, where on one hand you point to this increasing interest in local and farmer’s markets, which are merchandised in loose, unpackaged, natural, wooden-style displays, and on the other hand you have this trend towards packaged, value-added convenience?

A: What we see is the onset of produce butchers, and taking bulk produce items instore to create convenience. It could be local tomatoes but the way they are packaged and presented in the store is for convenience. Local still resonates. Don’t think of the bagged salads as much as the trend toward value-added products and services.

Q: Are there other key points you’d like to bring out in this preview?

A: Yes. Produce consumption is seen as essential to managing one’s own health and wellness. It’s on consumers’ radars, whether they’re eating more or trying to eat more of it, they know produce is healthier for them. So, that is also driving this growth.

Q: If marketers drill down on the health and wellness aspects, is there a risk consumers may think it doesn’t taste as good? Some industry executives think it’s unnecessary to hype the health side because everyone already knows produce is nutritious, so retailers and suppliers should focus on other selling points, such as taste, flavor and value-added features.

A: What we’re seeing from all the studies, the produce industry has done a really good job of educating consumers that the produce aisle is a really healthy choice. I think that’s in contrast to the transparency going on in the center of store, where you now see all the preservatives and additives that are going into shelf-stable products. Consumers are navigating away from the center of the store to the perimeter, because they want foods that have fewer ingredients, and that are more clear and pure.

It isn’t necessarily true that everyone understood the health benefits of produce, in conjunction with the national dietary guidelines. That is emerging, and continues to emerge and it’s getting more and more on people’s radar. Produce is now being associated with specific health benefits from weight loss to heart health and other holistic claims being reported in the media and promoted in-store.

Q: You’ve noted issues and shopping behaviors important to millennials. How do those compare to other groups, such as seniors, baby boomers, Gen X’s and Gen Z’s? Are there demographic indicators that could help retailers strategize their produce departments?

A: We did breakout demographic segments for further analysis in different areas of the report.

For example, we saw that local played a different role in different parts of the U.S. In year-round growing areas, local has a much tighter radius.

Q: You’ll be presenting your U.S. based research in The Netherlands to a diverse global audience. What findings will be most applicable, and will there be some areas harder to translate?

A: Anne-Marie Roerink and I will be discussing that. Anne-Marie is from The Netherlands, so she will have some interesting insights in that respect. In the report, we do a section on the pre-shop that highlights some of the generational issues. For instance, we see big differences between baby boomers and millennials on how they make up their minds on where to shop, which we think is universal. Health and wellness trends have a global reach as well.

We can explain the U.S. nuances in consumer behaviors in the context of how mature the produce category is in the U.S., and the crowd in Amsterdam can pull information that is relevant to their markets and businesses.

I believe for the most part, trends in Europe come to the U.S., but we have a pretty savvy consumer here when it comes to produce. It could be a little bit of both. The European markets could adapt to some of the trends in the U.S. when it comes to produce.

Q: When people come together in the global setting of the Amsterdam Poduce Show, everyone plays off of each other’s ideas and insights. It’s quite a stimulating environment.

A: This is the first time I’ll be at the Amsterdam Show to get a feel for that dynamic interaction.

Q: You’ll definitely bring valuable perspective to the table…

A: In that regard, one other thing I’d like to mention from the report: Produce safety is a big issue. The U.S. just introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act, new produce rules and verifications. We asked consumers, where do they trust food safety? For the most part, this has nothing to do with the actual facts. It’s consumer perception.

Supermarkets rank really high in food safety and so do farmer’s markets and produce stands. Being a veteran of the industry, some of the worst things you can find from a food safety standpoint, in terms of temperature control problems and handling, are at farmer’s markets and produce stands, but consumers think local produce fresh from the field is safer.

The channel that ranked lower in food safety was online shopping for produce.

Q: That could be broadly defined to include a range of online sites, from Amazon Fresh to home meal delivery services to brick & mortar retailers with online ordering options. I live in New York City and Fresh Direct has a loyal following…

A: We believe the consumers interpreted online as produce being sent to them via a delivery service, it wasn’t necessarily click and collect, where you select product online and go to the store and pick it up. It could be Amazon Fresh, Blue Apron and meal kits. Consumers don’t totally trust the food safety. Fresh Direct is a micro-market, and our research was looking more broadly across the U.S. landscape.

Q: Were there any trends that surprised you?

A: One thing that caught me off guard is the role of national brands in produce. We see the private and national brands are really making a statement. The data from IRI was that in 2011, 38 percent of produce sales came from national brands. In 2016 that moved up to 49 percent. So, around half of produce is now branded, and that shocked me. You have all the bagged salads, the cut fruit and vegetables, the juices, the value added items. I didn’t see that coming. Look how much of the produce department is now in self-contained packages. We know that growers are trying to resonate with consumers. With the influence of local, area farmers are trying to brand their products too, as opposed to delivering generic apples.

Q: What are the most important takeaways from this report that retailers can use to gain a competitive edge?

A: If I’m a retailer, I have to strategically think, how do I get consumers coming into my store to buy more produce in a high-penetration category? I really have to make sure my execution is top notch. How can I get expertise into the department to provide knowledge to the consumer? From the research, I’d hire a produce butcher. I really have to create a balance of local, organic, and value-added, and embedded in that mix is the health and wellness. That to me would be the big takeaway from the report for retailers.

The larger proposition is that supermarkets are fraught with competition from every angle with all these channels selling produce. The overall strategy for supermarket executives is to convince consumers, here is why you should come to my store, and a key pillar to that strategy is the produce department. In the 2017 report, consumers ranked the top drivers for where they shop: First is price, second is produce and third is meat. Ten years ago, location was the Number One driver; now it doesn’t even make the top three. It’s the old field of dreams prophecy — build it and they will come.

Q: So if you build a wonderful produce department, you’ll keep consumers in it longer to fill up their carts with additional items. Will that abate those consumers from shopping at other produce venues? What do you think of the supermarkets that are redesigning floor merchandising plans to address the proliferation of alternative channels? For instance, some stores set up a grab and go section at the front of the store for consumers to run in and pick up convenience-type items without having to trek deep into the store and meander through the aisles.

A: It’s a double-edged sword. We used to put the 12 pack of soda for the big football game in the back of the store and sell it dirt cheap. It forced people to walk through the store and pick up a lot of items along the way. But now consumers have so much information at their fingertips and so much access to other places to shop. Retailers have to think of consumer demand for convenience. The risk is if you put the milk in the front of the store, that’s all they’ll buy. On the other hand, if you don’t provide that milk, someone else will. So you have to walk that fine line between convenience and trying to sustain your business model to build your basket. Some are doing a better job than others.


We find the idea that one thing – particularly price — will drive store choice, but another thing — particularly quality — will drive the actual purchase. Over long periods of time, we wonder if it is actually price that drives store selection or, rather, the reputation for being well-priced. Then, is it possible to sustain a reputation for being well-priced if the product gains a reputation for being of poor quality?

We look forward to engaging with Rick and Ann-Marie on these and other subjects and hope you’ll be part of the discussion. We hope you’ll join us at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference!

Let us know here if you would like a booth or to sponsor an event.

And register right here.

Don’t forget to book a hotel room at the headquarters hotel for maximum engagement. You can do that here.

For general information, this is the website

Or you can email questions right here.

Come to the Netherlands, the very heart of the European produce industry, and join us at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference!



Between A Rock And A Hard Place:
Whole Foods Can’t Scale, And Amazon Can’t Upscale... The Challenge Of Being Unique And High Volume

We’ve written several pieces related to Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods including these:

Amazon/Whole Foods Uses Tricks Of The Trade And Easy Media Manipulation To Dampen ‘Whole Paycheck’ Reputation

Is Amazon.com's Deep Dive Into Grocery And The Whole Foods Brand Worth $13.7 Billion? Any Significant Investment In Bricks And MortarWould Torpedo Amazon.com's Coveted PE Ratio

Now the word is out that there are changes underway in the manner in which Whole Foods procures and merchandises product. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece titled, Amazon Puts Whole Foods on fast track to Conventional Supermarket, and subtitled it, “Specialty grocer will no longer allow ‘brand advocates’ in stores, a potential blow to local sellers.”

Here is the key point:

Whole Foods will change the way companies can sell and market their products in its stores beginning next year, one of the biggest moves yet in its push to operate more like a traditional market.

Under the changes planned for April, Whole Foods’ 470 locations will no longer allow brand representatives to promote their products or check to make sure they are stocked and displayed correctly.

Whole Foods also is centralizing much of its decision—making regarding the assortment of products across the chain. Instead of allowing brands to frequently pitch their products to individual stores or regions, Whole Foods executives in its Austin, Texas, headquarters will choose a higher percentage of the inventory….

“This is another step in the conventionalizing of Whole Foods as we know it,” said Jim Cusson, of Theory House, a brand consultancy based in Charlotte, N.C.

This is the big point that was missed in the fawning media coverage of the Whole Foods acquisition by Amazon. The chain, as we know it, is in fact stuck between a rock and a hard place.

It is, of course, possible that Amazon will decide to roll out physical stores. Omnichannel retailing is all the rage and, perhaps, Amazon will see utility in having thousands of stores. After all, Aldi says it will open an additional 900 stores in the next five years, bringing its total to over 2,500 in America.

We think it very unlikely, as we suspect the return would be inadequate but it is certainly possible. What is certain, though, is that if Amazon rolls out all these Whole Foods stores, the meaning of the brand will change.

There are just not enough neighborhoods with high education and income to sustain massive roll-out and still support the traditional Whole Foods concept..

This mismatch between what Whole Foods is and what people imagine Amazon wants is bizarre. For example, hundreds of journalists and analysts have claimed that these Whole Foods stores are crucial to Amazon’s click-and-collect strategy. There was also an assumption that Amazon needed Whole Foods because Wal-Mart will use its stores as pick-up depots for online ordering.

But Amazon’s stores are nothing like Wal-Mart supercenters. First, they are much smaller — you are talking about stores under 40,000 square feet as opposed to 200,000 square-foot supercenters! Second, many are in urban locations without parking.

Perhaps Amazon will want to use these locations for click-and-collect. if they do so, they will have to, for all practical purposes, end Whole Foods as we know it. These will be Amazon stores filled with lockers with perhaps a fresh-foods or convenience-store portion for impulse purchases or foodservice operations to sell people a coffee or drink or pizza when they come to collect their stuff.

All the things that make Whole Foods special to its customers, whether through perception or reality — unique products, unique supply chains, the imposition of unique ethical values on the supply chain — all these things limit the scalability of the concept.

You can’t observe that people really like Ferraris and then think you can buy the company and expand the brand by selling Ferraris to millions of people. You can change Ferarri, call a $30,000 car a Ferrari and, for a few years live on the brand legacy built when the name meant something. But Amazon can keep the Whole Foods concept — in which case its roughly 2% share of the US grocery market is unlikely to dramatically change — or Amazon could mainstream its offer — in which case Whole Foods as we know it will be just a memory.

A Tale Of Two Continents:
Simultaneous Representation In Both New Orleans And Madrid

For those doing the Convention Circuit, the Perishable Pundit and sister operations are exhibiting simultaneously on two continents this week.

The Pundit and the team from North and South America will personally be at the PMA’s Fresh Summit event in New Orleans, so please stop by Booth #3000 to say hello.

The European team and a representative from our Latin American operation, all in the big run-up to The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, are exhibiting at Fruit Attraction in Madrid at Hall 10, Stand A03B.

We hope to see you wherever you are going this week, and we wish everyone productive events and safe travels! To those unable to travel   stay tuned — you can catch many key insights of these events in the pages of PRODUCE BUSINESS and in English, Spanish and Chinese at ProduceBusinessUK.comFreshFruitportal.com, PortalFruticola.com, ChinaFruitPortal.com and the web pages of ProduceBusiness.com and FloralBusiness.com.


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