Walmart opens cashierless store in Florida

Walmart opened a cashierless Neighborhood Market store last week in Coral Way, Florida, featuring online grocery pickup, same-day delivery and its Check Out With Me program, according to a company blog post.

Walmart has faced some challenges with its Neighborhood Market format, shuttering a number of locations during the past few years, including eight closures in 2019. At the time Walmart cited the stores’ financial performance as one of the reasons for its closures. By reducing dependence on cashiers in its latest opening in Florida, the retail giant could cut down on labor costs and potentially boost margins.

This isn’t the first time Walmart has experimented with its smart checkout offerings. In October 2018, Check Out With Me — designed to handle smaller transactions — debuted to soften holiday shopping congestion at the checkout counters, according to Business Insider. Months earlier in May 2018, Walmart ended its Scan & Go offering that enabled customers to pay for items while they browsed the store and skip the checkout line altogether. During the four-month period it was available, however, few customers used the service. Providing an employee to assist with quick checkout via Check Out With Me could alleviate challenges with bagging items like loose produce or large, bulky items.

Walmart is just one of many retailers trying to balance consumer demand for faster checkout with shopper reluctance on different tech options aimed to boost the experience. Many of those solutions still come with headaches, from unrecognized items in the bagging area and glitches with payment to lines that pile up at self-checkout kiosks — all of which can lead to poor customer experiences. Walmart’s decision to have no cashiers could free up employees to address issues with processing transactions as they arise. Offering two methods of checking out including one system for smaller baskets could also keep traffic moving.

Harris Teeter also started testing a cashierless concept in Charlotte last year. The store typically processes smaller transactions than traditional store locations with foot traffic primarily coming from urban residents and professionals, according to Retail Wire.

In lieu of committing to a self-checkout-only store, other retailers are working on technology-backed solutions to facilitate smoother checkout transactions. Ahold Delhaize recently unveiled its “frictionless” smart checkout service that lets shoppers scan items with a store app, select products and then leave, while Tesco invested in smart checkout startup Trigo. Other startups are also popping up offering turnkey smart checkout solutions to grocery retailers like Accel Robotics, Standard Cognition, Zippin and Grabango.


Whole Foods is updating its 365 private label branding

Whole Foods Market is rolling out a new look and name for its 365 private label brand, according to findings from research firm IGD. A retail analyst for the firm identified the change at Whole Foods’ busy Columbus Circle store in New York City, and signage indicates the update will roll out to more stores and across multiple categories.

Among the changes to the 365 brand is a more modern visual appearance that replaces the multicolor label with a black background. It also drops the “Everyday Value” tagline and replaces it with “Whole Foods Market.”

Whole Foods hasn’t explicitly said it will revamp the entire 365 Everyday Value brand, and IGD analyst Stewart Samuel said he only saw the logo update on 365 brand milk at the Columbus Circle location. But a sign photographed by IGD shows the new logo on additional products including olive oil, boxed macaroni-and-cheese and peanut butter, indicating a wider rollout.

“The quality you love has a fresh new look!” the shelf tag reads.

Grocery Dive checked a local Whole Foods store in West Seattle and several locations in the Washington, D.C. area, but did not see the updated logo.

IGD notes this would be the first update for Whole Foods’ 365 brand in several years. First launched in 1997, 365 Everyday Value has been a highly successful private label for the retailer and one of the first widely available natural store lines. Whole Foods went so far as to launch a separate banner under the 365 name, though the format shuttered last year after opening just 12 locations.

Whole Foods’ private label brands also include Whole Foods Market, Whole Trade and Engine 2 plant-based products.

The 365 brand is also available on Amazon and has generated tens of millions in annual sales for the e-commerce giant since it became available. Together, Amazon and Whole Foods have expanded grocery services broadly, with Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods pickup and delivery. Amazon Prime has boosted grocery sales across both companies. Amazon is also rolling out grocery private label products and will open the first location in its own grocery chain next month, according to reports.

Whole Foods has made small changes to its store brands, such as adding Amazon meal kits to select its stores and introducing new products, but a larger brand update could signify major growth to come, IGD noted.

With the ongoing popularity of private label products among shoppers, several retailers have taken to updating and revamping their store brands. Kroger just launched its own line of plant-based meat, while Albertsons added hundreds of private label products across its own brands last year. Regional chain The Fresh Market expanded its private label last fall with new flavors, seasonal and limited-time offerings.


H-E-B opens the new format “Beauty by H-E-B”

Grocery chain H-E-B has opened the doors to its first Beauty by H-E-B store-within-a-store in San Antonio, TX. The highly-curated department features an expanded beauty and personal care selection and an experienced, dedicated team of trained beauty advisors to provide expert advice.

“Beauty by H-E-B provides that oasis within the store where the customer can pamper themselves,” said Tracy Bliss, H-E-B director of Beauty. “We’ve created a destination within the store where a talented team of beauty advisors will help customers pick out the perfect items that lend themselves to the creation of new beauty rituals.”

The first Beauty by H-E-B is located inside the H-E-B plus! store at Highway 281 and Evans Rd. and spans nearly 4,000 square feet. Designed with the customer experience in mind, it’s an interactive space that allows customers to shop as well as experiment and play with everything from foundation and facial cleanser to lip stick and lotions. Throughout the department are digital screens that provide informational videos, bright tester stations with mirrors and a voice activated screen where customers can take photos to share on social media.

Each beauty advisor, who received more than a hundred hours of expert training for the position, can provide personalized services such as establishing skin care routines and personal care rituals as well as identify products for more precise color matching. At the Beauty Connections kiosk located at the front of the space, the advisors will showcase new products and offer customers product recommendations and demonstrations daily.

Leading the group of beauty advisors is Ashley Gallegos, a 13-year H-E-B Partner and licensed esthetician. The former pharmacy technician worked her way into the beauty department after graduating from H-E-B’s School of Retail Management.

“For me it’s simple, we want to make people feel good about themselves and connect with customers in a positive way,” Gallegos said. “We have such an amazing, talented team here to educate and help our customers look and feel their best.”


Amazon confirms plans to open a new grocery brand

Amazon said it plans to open its first new brand of grocery store in California next year, as it amps up its ambitious push to become a bigger name in food.

“Amazon is opening a grocery store in Woodland Hills in 2020,” an Amazon spokesperson confirmed to CNET, soon after the company published four new jobs postings for the location. Woodland Hills is a neighborhood in Los Angeles.

The store will be different from Amazon-owned Whole Foods, the company said. It didn’t say whether it will open more of these locations, what its selection or pricing will be, or what the brand name is. But in the jobs postings, the company described the Woodland Hills location as “Amazon’s first grocery store,” suggesting that it will have the Amazon brand name and that the company could expand to multiple sites.

The store won’t use the company’s Amazon Go technology, which allows customers to check out without waiting in line. Instead, checkout will be conventional as at other grocery stores, the company said.

In addition to Whole Foods, which Amazon bought for $13.2 billion in 2017 and has over 500 stores, the company offers grocery delivery through Amazon Fresh, the main Amazon website and Prime Now, as well as food at Amazon Go.

The Wall Street Journal in March wrote about the existence of Amazon’s new grocery store format, which the company hadn’t confirmed until this week. Last month, the publication said Amazon was already working on additional stores in Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia.

The new store, though with only one confirmed location so far, points to Amazon’s growing ambition in the roughly $800 billion US grocery market, where rival Walmart is the leader and Amazon, even after its Whole Foods deal, remains a small player. Expanding in the grocery sector helps Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, in a number of ways: It reinforces customer loyalty because people tend to shop at a local store every week and it could allow the company to continue its fast revenue growth, which typically hovers around 20% every quarter despite its massive size.

Additionally, the new line could let Amazon move into the more mainstream grocery store business, while maintaining Whole Foods as a higher-end store for organic and specialty foods. This work could offer new competition to KrogerSuperValu and many other supermarket chains.

While Amazon is known for skillfully pushing into new markets, the new store comes with lots of risk. Several of Amazon’s other physical store lines, including Amazon Go and Amazon Books, aren’t yet huge moneymakers. It’s also shuttered its line of mall kiosks, which sold Amazon devices and smart-home gear. Plus, the company would have to spend years building out a new chain of stores then bank on people switching their weekly habits to go to them. Added to that, the grocery business offers razor-thin margins, so there’s little wiggle room for Amazon to lower prices while still trying to bring in a profit.

Amazon posted job openings for a store lead, grocery associates and food service associates at the Woodland Hills store. The store has been reported to be a former Toys R Us that’s about 35,000 square feet in size.

When asked if the new stores will compete against Whole Foods or signal a move away from investing in that brand, Amazon said no, offering strong support for continuing to grow that business.

“When it comes to grocery shopping, we know customers love choice, and this new store offers another grocery option that’s distinct from Whole Foods Market, which continues to grow and remain the leader in quality natural and organic food,” the Amazon spokesperson said, noting that Whole Foods opened 17 locations this year and that more are planned. The spokesperson said Amazon will continue to invest in grocery delivery with Whole Foods.

In another sign of Amazon’s growing interest in the grocery business, the company last month did away with its $14.99 monthly fee for Amazon Fresh grocery delivery. The change undercuts rival Walmart’s new Delivery Unlimited program, which costs $12.95 a month and was just introduced in September.


Whole Foods to test robot barista

Whole Foods Market will install a robotic barista to provide in-store coffee service at its new Houston-Midtown location through a partnership with Austin-based Briggo, according to a press release.

After launching in 2018, Briggo is making its grocery store debut with Whole Foods, offering a novel concept for the retailer and its customers in one of its newest stores.

Briggo’s order-ahead app promises to shave time off shoppers’ morning coffee runs, while digital kiosks address efficiency and customer experience in-store. Restaurant chains across the U.S. have added ordering kiosks in recent years, so the technology shouldn’t be a leap for shoppers to use. Customers can also purchase packaged Briggo coffee to brew at home, which will be available at the Houston-Midtown store or online.

The novelty of the robotic barista may draw curious coffee drinkers in the short-term and could drive a sales bump as the new Houston store gets going. Long-term, the retailer will need to see sustained sales and labor savings to justify expansion to other stores.

Grocers are applying this same cost-savings assessment to other automated technologies flooding the industry, from shelf-scanning bots to micro-fulfillment.

Whole Foods is widely known for its in-store coffee service. The retailer has a full-service espresso and coffee bar at many locations and a Capital Commons cafe in its flagship Atlanta store, all of which sell its house Allegro brand. Its Lincoln Harbor, New Jersey, location is slated to have an outpost of the Brooklyn-based coffee shop Cafe Grumpy.

The U.S. coffee market has increased in volume by 3.8% in 2018, according to Allegra World Coffee Portal’s 2019 Project Cafe USA report. Allegra conducted a survey and found that the U.S. coffee shop market grew to a valuation of $45.5 billion last year, but the industry faces issues with labor costs and increased competition.

The store is set to open Nov. 7.


Casino in talks to sell discount chain Leader Price to Aldi

Debt-laden French retailer Casino is in talks to sell its French discount store chain Leader Price to German low-cost rival Aldi.

The move, which confirms a report by French daily Les Echos, comes as Casino CEO and controlling shareholder Jean-Charles Naouri is hunting for ways to ease the company’s debts – and those of parent company Rallye – in part via asset sales.

Casino said in a statement that following an expression of interest from Aldi France, the two groups had “entered into discussions with a view to have Aldi France submit a binding offer,”

Les Echos said earlier that Casino was poised to sell Leader Price, which had 2018 sales of 2.5 billion euros ($2.8 billion), to Aldi in a deal estimated to be worth 400 million euros.

A sale of Leader Price was expected by analysts after Casino said last month it was targeting the sale of 2 billion euros worth of assets in addition to the 2.5 billion initially sought to reduce its debt burden.

The retailer has mandated BNP Paribas to handle a possible deal, Les Echos added.


Meijer makes checkout even easier

Midwestern retailer Meijer has completed a transformative 15-month initiative to streamline the checkout process at all of its stores.

The company has now introduced Shop & Scan technology at all of its stores across the Midwest.

“As we’ve rolled the program out in six states, the response has been incredibly enthusiastic,” said Stephanie Brackenridge, director of customer experience for Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer. “Customers have appreciated the ability to have a choice in shopping how they want, depending on how their day is going. Many are finding the opportunity to personalize their store visit with a cell phone is a great way to save time and help avoid lines.”

Shop & Scan works through an innovative mobile app that allows customers to shop and bag as they go, giving them the opportunity to avoid lines and personalize their shopping depending on their day.

Once they download the free Meijer Mobile App, customers use Shop & Scan  to scan bar codes on items and bag their own groceries. A running total of items purchased is viewable as they shop throughout the store. Once a customer has finished shopping, they simply scan their phone at a self-checkout lane and pay, making the checkout experience quick and easy.

Brackenridge said that the most popular features among Meijer customers included the integrated shopping list, running total, and the ability to clip any available mPerks loyalty program coupons for items scanned.

In addition to Shop & Scan, the retailer offers Meijer Home Delivery and a pickup option at all 246 stores in six states, providing customers multiple ways to shop the retailer’s stores depending on their needs for that day.

Since the original pilot launch last year in Grand Rapids, the Meijer Mobile app has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times, while the initiative has steadily expanded to stores throughout Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Once the app was downloaded, more than 80 percent of Meijer customers have repeatedly used Shop & Scan as part of their shopping experience.


Ahold Delhaize adds digital shelves in European stores

With Europe as its proving ground, there is potential for Ahold Delhaize to bring this technology stateside to its banners where several retailers, from Albertsons to Kroger, are already adopting a variety of digital checkout solutions.

In the U.S., Kroger is leading the charge with digital shelf technology. It installed Kroger Edge, a digital shelf system in partnership with Microsoft, in 200 stores that displays pricing, advertisements and nutritional information. As users walk down the aisles, it also communicates with their smartphones and highlights products that they’ve added to their digital shopping lists in an attempt to provide a customized shopping experience.

Electronic shelf tags offer a number of benefits to retailers, primarily when it comes to flexibility. The shelves can resolve issues with missing tags or prices that haven’t been updated and when it comes to the task of changing price tags, it can save substantial labor power. In lieu of swapping out paper tags or printing new tags, the digital shelf displays can be updated much quicker.

The technology also opens the door to dynamic pricing, which allows for price changes multiple times a day potentially. For example, the price tag could switch depending on demand or availability. Produce and other food items nearing their expiration date could quickly pivot to sell faster. This has been cited by some as a way to help cut down on the amount of food waste produced at supermarkets.

Electronic shelf tags have potential applications for self-checkout as well, allowing customers to avoid waiting in line. Users can scan the shelf tag with their mobile phone, which is also integrated with their preferred payment method. Reducing friction in a self-checkout process is key for consumer adoption, with many customers finding self-checkout services frustrating because they largely are required to take over the entire cashier role. The shelf tags alleviate some of this friction by streamlining the scanning process and preventing the shopper from having to still go through the checkout lane.

Several retailers have already adopted a variety of digital checkout solutions including Albertson’s self-checkout stations and Amazon’s cashierless Amazon Go stores. Giant is also piloting self-checkout technology with its partnership with Silicon Valley’s startup Grabango. The technology uses AI and computer vision to see what customers are picking up as they shop.


Amazon extends food tie-up with British supermarket Morrisons

Amazon and Morrisons have agreed to extend a partnership which already allows customers to order their shopping from the smallest of Britain’s big four supermarket groups and have it delivered by the U.S. online giant.

Periodically mooted as a possible bidder for Morrisons, Amazon has been slowly extending its food service in Britain, but market research firm Kantar Worldpanel estimates its market share is so far less than 1%.

The new Amazon agreement was for “a number of years rather than on a rolling basis, and will be exploring new opportunities to innovate and improve the shopping experience,” Bradford, northern England, based Morrisons said.

Morrisons, which has a 10.1% market share, trails market leader TescoSainsbury’s and Walmart’s Asda in annual sales.

It first tied up with Amazon in 2016 with a wholesale supply deal, whose scope has grown. In June the companies agreed to expand the “Morrisons store on Prime Now” service to more cities across Britain, including Glasgow and Newcastle.

Doug Gurr, Amazon’s UK country manager, said its relationship with Morrisons was an important part of its UK grocery growth plan.

Customers can already order a full Morrisons shop online, which is then picked at a local Morrisons store, and delivered by Amazon. There is also an option for one hour delivery.

Although Morrisons Chief Executive David Potts was vague on what the exploration would entail and declined to provide the agreement’s duration, he said as a wholesaler to Amazon the British company could be “part of their ambitions”.

“When you’re exploring, life can be a bit unclear … We achieve capital light growth by leveraging partners’ knowhow and assets,” he told reporters.

Analysts have also suggested Morrisons could be a candidate for a takeover by an overseas private equity firm, given the 24% fall in its share price over the last year and the weakness of the pound making deals cheaper.


Target is launching grocery brand Good & Gather

After years of rolling out private-label brands in apparel and home goods, Target is starting a new grocery brand.

Products from the new line Good & Gather will hit Target stores beginning Sept. 15. The retailer said that by the end of 2020, the brand will have more than 2,000 items — everything from organic pizza crusts, milk and eggs, hazelnut and peanut butter spreads, frozen veggies, salad mixes and pastas. Target said it expects Good & Gather will be a multibillion-dollar brand — and the largest of its private labels.

“We’ve been hard at work [on this] for the last couple years,” said Stephanie Lundquist, head of food and beverage at Target. “Food and beverage play such an important role for Target’s business … for the Target experience.”

Today, nearly 75% of Target shoppers in stores are adding at least one food item to their baskets, she said, and when they do, their basket sizes are two times larger.

“One of our biggest strengths is the fact that we are a one-stop shop for our guests,” Lundquist said.

Still, analysts have often criticized Target’s fresh food offerings as lackluster and an afterthought. Shoppers can find national snack brands there, like Frito-Lay chips, Chobani yogurt and Cheerios cereal. But people don’t often seek out Target as a destination for all of their groceries, as they might at Walmart. Instead, a loaf of bread or a box of granola bars have been add-ons to Target baskets already filled with makeup and cleaning and office supplies.

“Grocery is the one spot in their stores they haven’t fixed yet,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones. “But they are in a much better spot than they were four or five years ago.”

The potential is there. Walmart gets more than 50% of its business from grocery versus about 20% for Target, Yarbrough added. And consumers are increasingly willing to buy private-label products at grocery stores.

Target’s grocery business has had seven consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales growth, according to Lundquist, with six quarters of market share gains. A recent slew of store remodelings have been helping boost the category, while companywide same-store sales have been positive for eight-straight quarters.

The Good & Gather launch follows a period of heavy investing by Target in other parts of the store and in its own labels. The company will end the year with more than 25 new owned-and-exclusive brands, like A New Day for women’s clothes, Project 62 for furniture and Hearth & Hand with Magnolia for home goods. It started making the investments in 2017 as part of its bid to keep shoppers coming to Target for things they can’t find elsewhere except for Amazon. It also has helped pull Target out of a sales slump.

In 2018, Target’s sales grew to $75.36 billion from $71.88 billion in 2017. Sales had fallen more than 5% in 2016, to $69.45 billion from $73.79 billion in 2015. Analysts are calling for sales of $77.44 billion in fiscal 2019, according to FactSet.

Target shares have broadly outperformed the industry and are up more than 27% this year. The S&P 500 Retail ETF (XRT) is down nearly 6%.

“I think the reason they haven’t done as much in food to date … is food is much more competitive,” said Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail. “Food is also much higher risk because the margins are lower. … I think the staples are what they are, and for the everyday things you need, Target does a reasonable job.”

As part of the Good & Gather launch, Target will also be phasing out two food brands, Archer Farms and Simply Balanced. It will also scale down the number of items it sells under Market Pantry, which makes basic goods like sandwich breads, cooking oils, sauces and canned vegetables. The addition of Good & Gather to Target stores also means it will slightly increase the amount of shelf space it devotes to private-label products versus national ones.

As a result, Target’s penetration of store-owned brands in the grocery category will climb. But Lundquist said national brands will still serve an “important role” in the space.

Target’s investment in a new private-label grocery brand could be coming at just the right time.

Private brands in grocery stores are showing more momentum than manufacturer brands, across all income levels of shoppers, according to a recent report from the Food Marketing Institute in partnership with IRI.

In 2018, sales of private-label brands at grocery stores, which would include places like Kroger and Publix, were $75 billion, up 1.5% from a year earlier. For online grocers, private brand sales surged an incredible 80.2% in 2018, the report said. At convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, they were up 12.5%.

At mass merchants, like Walmart and Target, private brand sales amounted to $5 billion and were up 7.4%, the report said. Private food brands overall in the U.S. brought in sales of $153 billion in 2018, up 5.5% from a year earlier.

“I think there is a much greater acceptance of private brands across the board than historically,” said Mark Baum, a senior vice president at FMI. One reason for this is “younger people don’t grow up with the same nostalgia as their parents did.” Secondly, “there hasn’t been the kind of innovation in national brands that has been getting consumers excited,” he said.

Walmart, the largest retailer in the world by sales, has used its private labels in the grocery aisles, like Great Value, to focus on low prices.

“What Target shouldn’t do is take on Walmart directly [in grocery],” Saunders said. “What Target should be about is great products … at reasonable prices. There is room for Target to nibble away at the market.”

Good & Gather will be Target’s new flagship brand but then will be broken down into different categories: kids, organic, seasonal and signature. The seasonal brand will include pumpkin-spice flavored snacks, for example, and the signature line will have more premium goods for more people with discerning tastes.

In working on this brand for the past few years, Target has also made sure it gets “taste” just right, Lundquist said. She said that when Target was polling consumers, taste was something they thought most about when navigating the grocery store. All Good & Gather products will be made without artificial flavors and sweeteners, synthetic colors and high-fructose corn syrup.

As it hits stores next month, the brand is also going to have prime spots in stores, with displays at the end of aisles. Its presence will be hard to miss.

For those who still doubt Target’s knack for grocery, the Good & Gather launch could be just what Target needs to call attention to its recent efforts.

Analyst Yarbrough said Target’s store remodelings include revamped grocery aisles, where fresh produce is displayed in sleek wooden bins. Grab-and-go food has a bigger presence. The lighting is brighter and the tiled flooring is a neutral hue, making the space more welcoming overall.

Target also offers same-day delivery of groceries via its Shipt subsidiary and has curbside pickup at more than 1,500 stores.

But Target knows there’s still more work to be done.

“We have to be [reliable], we have to be abundant and fresh, and we have to be relevant,” Lundquist said. “We’ve taken days out of [our] supply chain. We’re getting from field to shelf way faster. … Having an end-to-end team now we can really build on the momentum we’ve gained.”

Target is set to report quarterly earnings before the market opens on Wednesday.