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Amazon and Whole Foods: 5 things to know about the blockbuster deal

BY David Orgel

The food retail industry has been flush with big mergers lately, but today’s stunner has no precedent.

The announcement that Amazon plans to buy Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion heralds the coming together of two retail icons with vastly different cultures — one a mainstay of the brick and mortar world and the other a master of online shopping. It also creates big challenges for competitors in the wider retail landscape, especially those focusing on groceries, beauty and health. The deal is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals and is expected to close during the second half of 2017. Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey will remain in his role. Here are five key points about the developments:

1. Marriage of Needs
This combination will serve important purposes for each side. Amazon desperately wants a bigger grocery presence to boost its already growing online grocery sales, and this gives the company a bigger beachhead.

Whole Foods needs the extensive financial resources of a giant like Amazon, especially at a time when it’s under pressure from investors frustrated over a lagging stock performance.

2. Heightened Competition
This deal signals a new level of competition in the retail space. That’s the message of the falling stock prices that immediately followed the announcement, impacting retailers such as Target, Walmart, Kroger, Costco, and Supervalu. The entire retail industry is now on notice that disruption is going to reach new levels, which shouldn’t be surprising any time Amazon gets into the picture. This deal will create new urgencies for competitors to get their e-commerce strategies in shape, from home delivery to click-and-collect.

3. Physical vs. Virtual
The word omnichannel was created for a situation like this. Amazon has been gradually backtracking into the physical stores business, including strategies to open grocery and convenience stores. The acquisition of more than 460 Whole Foods units would be the latest and biggest example of its embrace of physical stores. This will likely enhance Amazon’s ability to speed home deliveries to consumers by leveraging Whole Foods’ physical store base.

The merger announcement said, “Whole Foods Market will continue to operate stores under the Whole Foods Market brand and source from trusted vendors and partners around the world.” That means Whole Foods is being valued for its brand, even as the combination would enable new omnichannel synergies, including the ability to market Whole Foods’ brands through Amazon’s numerous channels.

4. Health, Wellness and Beauty Evolves
Whole Foods has been challenged because mainstream retailers have adopted many of its pioneering wellness strategies. That has pressured Whole Foods to keep moving the needle to differentiate and boost sales. Amazon isn’t uniquely qualified to solve this challenge, but it has a wide range of online distribution outlets and platforms that could help address this problem by making Whole Foods’ natural, organic and better-for-you items more accessible to consumers.

On beauty: Amazon already has a huge impact on beauty, with a wide-ranging online store that includes luxury, skin care and fragrance. Given that it already draws a large beauty audience, the merger provides a new, highly unique beauty product set from Whole Foods to showcase in front of that audience. So while most of this merger is about grocery, beauty also provides an upside. 

5. Value Equation
Whole Foods has been long plagued by its “Whole Paycheck” image of being very expensive. After years of trying to offer more in-store values, the retailer opened a new format last year called 365, which is smaller and offers lower prices. Amazon, on the other hand, is the master of value, and its involvement presumably will help bring Whole Foods more in line with consumer price expectations, while hopefully maintaining quality. If Amazon can’t do it, who can?

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Vendor View Roundtable: Engaging the New General Market

BY DSN STAFF
The New General Market is not about demographics — it is a cultural shift and a change in the consumer mindset that has been brought on by the growth of multicultural and millennial consumers and the impact they are having on ALL consumers. It is changing the rules for how brands market. For this virtual roundtable, DSN talked to leading CPG executives about how to better engage the New General Market.
Q: What is your company doing differently these days to connect and demonstrate the value of your brands with the New General Market?
Kristine Urea, VP category management and shopper insights, Nature’s Bounty: Consumer need states and solutions are the main drivers of change in the industry — from innovation to marketing. Generally, millennials are looking for ways of coping with today’s hectic lifestyle and proactively managing their health to build a longer, healthier life, while boomers are concerned with healthy aging and the treatment of emerging or chronic health conditions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. … However, there are general trends that are more universal, such as a move toward customization. Consumers are looking for products that are solutions for them and for the issues they are facing. …
The desire for clean products, ingredients and labeling transparency, and ‘free from’ living is driving substantial change to product and packaging innovation. [We] have made changes to the way we label and name our products. … We are trying to get consumers the ‘need to know’ information about our products, their ingredients and their benefits in a clear, easy-to-find and highly transparent way.
Doug Straton, VP digital, e-commerce and data, Unilever: Consumers expect personalization. They expect us to ‘know them,’ to understand what they value and then serve them relevant content and messages at the right time and in the right channel. Unlocking the power of personalization requires organizations to move from data-poor to data-intelligent — to the point of being able to predict purchase behaviors. Leveraging data-derived intelligence at Unilever, we can personalize content at scale, driving value for our consumers and back to the business.
Michael Law, senior director, customer strategy and planning, Edgewell: As we think about forming a relationship with this new consumer, I think the most valuable asset that Edgewell has is the diversity of our colleague base. We try to recruit and train folks from all different walks of life to represent the communities we sell to, which allows us to look at things through multiple lenses.
Edgewell also invests heavily in shopper insights — we try to understand each unique consumer segment because we know that America is a very diverse population. This research allows us to uncover insights that we believe the larger brands in the category — because we are a challenger brand — may have overlooked.
Bob Wiltz, chief customer officer, Paris Presents: Our most valuable asset is definitely our people. In our organization, there is a real analytical kind of leadership that we get out of the people we hire and bring into the company. So when we look at building a brand today, it’s important that brands not only deliver on performance or their promise but that you actually build an emotional connection. And the talent that we’re bringing on board — the brand marketers, those in product development, those in sales — all have that emotional connection; they’re actually users of the product. So as a result, they are able to design in and build that into the brand. That’s what our talent brings into our organization.
Kathleen Leigh, marketing director, Purell Consumer/GOJO: Building a relationship with the new consumer considers a number of different factors. But one of the things that we find really important is social media and listening.
One of the things we’ve found is [the importance of] understanding that consumer so we can have a better connection, but also to have the ability to refine some of our product offerings because of what we are hearing in a two-way conversation. We find that to be essential to our growth.
Ann Boyles, VP, Kao USA: A strong desire to understand consumer behavior is at the foundation of our company and is part of the culture of Kao. Our parent company is Japanese, and Gemba-ism is a Japanese concept that refers to getting as close to the behavior of a consumer as we possibly can. That manifests itself in the desire to have some really deep understandings across all functions of our business. Over the course of 100 years, it has created some amazing research and development that has shown up in many of the products that we have, but also in our business processes [and] in the way we go to market, as well as our relationships with our retailers.
John Rizzo, VP sales, Allegro (a division of Conair): At Allegro, we basically build custom cosmetic bags for almost every customer we have, so we are building an intimate relationship with the consumer through fashion and through design. We do it twice a year — we follow fall and we follow spring [trends].
So our biggest asset is our ability to see the trends and then turn those trends into something that is fast-fashion in the form of a cosmetic bag; it is really very interactive with the consumer.
Simon Duffy, founder, Bulldog Skincare: We had spent the previous two years dedicated to painstaking product research and development. When I look back to the founding decisions we made then — to focus on natural ingredients, to find better practices in sourcing and manufacturing, or to avoid certain ingredients we hated such as microbeads, artificial colors or ingredients derived from animal sources — I’m proud that we are still committed to the same principles.
I think what we are seeing now is more demanding consumers. It’s getting much harder for brands to maintain an artificial division between the image they seek to project and the actual behaviors of the company. It’s much easier for consumers to see through brands now. This shift towards authenticity is a very positive trend in the industry. I think we’ll continue to see momentum build in this area. Bulldog has a focus on natural ingredients, using better practices in sourcing and manufacturing, and avoids certain ingredients such as microbeads, artificial colors or ingredients derived from animal sources.
Q: What is your company doing to create a culture of innovation?
Bob Wiltz, chief customer officer, Paris Presents: It comes back to our people. It’s not enough anymore just to talk about customization or personalization when it comes to building an innovative platform. It’s more today about how you connect with that consumer. So today we know their lifestyle; we know how they think and what they think about, so now we are able to design in a much more meaningful way that kind of innovation. So, for example, we design into the innovation that authenticity, that positioning. Whether it’s a natural position — for example, with our Ecotools makeup brushes — or it’s the authenticity that comes with Real Techniques makeup brushes.
We design that in as part of our innovation platform, and then we quickly validate that and make sure that it’s really something that lives up to the expectation of the New General Market consumer. And then we get into ‘habit-forming,’ so we make sure that we’re offering products that are bigger than the brand itself. There’s something to augment that product through the packaging — maybe it’s a kit or something of that nature — in order to make it bigger and more vibrant. And then lastly we keep the message very consistent and simple.
Ann Boyles, VP, Kao USA: Two years ago we engaged in a new venture for us; it was a bit inspired by some work we had done with Mack Elevation. We created something called the Kao Insights Academy, a cross-functional team from across the globe and across all the different functions within Kao. That team is doing is some deep research and immersion into new and emerging trends in the marketplace. Then they take those learnings and influence all of the different departments within Kao and, more importantly, [they are informing how] we are go- to-market with our retailers.
Michael Law, senior director, customer strategy and planning, Edgewell: Edgewell is thinking very differently about innovation in the key categories we play in. Most categories are struggling to get growth, or [in some cases] the growth is coming from smaller pockets of the business. So, Edgewell is trying to leverage the full breadth of our assets. We’re the largest player in private-label shave in the United States, and we also have very strong brands. But having a private-label division allows us to play across brands and private label across many different customer needs and price points.
Kristine Urea, VP category management and strategy, Nature’s Bounty: [Our] innovation process is very inclusive and robust. We have regular meetings that involve most key areas of our business, including consumer and shopper insights, nutrition and scientific affairs, marketing, category management, brand leaders [and] packaging executives. This type of cross-functional collaboration allows for a wide variety of ideas, and also it allows for all of our subject matter experts to have a say in each stage of the process — so we are able to more nimbly navigate the idea-to-shelf process and get new innovation to shelf relatively quickly.
All of our innovation centers around our key benefit pillars, which are aligned with consumer demand and the types of solutions-based supplementation they’re seeking. We consult closely with our third-party scientific advisory council, who are subject matter experts in areas that align with our pillars and who advise us on the latest in science and scientific trends.
A recent example of this is our Pure Protein Superfood Plant-based protein powder. Consumer insights were showing us that people wanted access to a different source of protein. Pure Protein Super Food Protein Powder contains complete protein powders derived from such plant-based proteins as pea protein isolate and rice protein, and features super greens, vitamins, minerals and a good amount of fiber. It also is non-GMO, soy-free and dairy-free, which meets a few other consumer needs.
Another example is a truly innovative product launching this fall, Nature’s Bounty Lutein Blue, which contains premium ingredients to help filter out damaging blue light from mobile devices and digital screens that we spend so much time on. It is a product that went through our robust [development] process, is based on a clear consumer need aligned to one of our benefit pillars and will be on the shelf for consumers to enjoy this fall.
Sundown Naturals is launching a similar offering called VisionGuard iSHIELD, which also utilizes OmniActive’s trademarked ingredient, Lutemax 2020, a plant-based marigold extract. This product contains twice the amount of lutein and zeaxanthin as compared with [other leading brands]. It also has 5000IUs of beta carotene and 11 mg of zinc. As with all Sundown Naturals products, it is 100% free of dairy/lactose, gluten/wheat and artificial flavors (as of May 2015), and also it is 100% non-GMO, (as of March 2017) — other benefits that consumers are really focused on and we are innovating against.
John Rizzo, VP sales, Allegro (a division of Conair): We think about innovation every day — our shapes change almost every season. We take that innovation, we get feedback from the consumer and we turn that into what they’re looking for in [terms of] what the shape is and what the design is. The next level of innovation is driven through interaction with the consumer online, allowing them to create their own cosmetic bag — their own experience. They pick their shape, their design, their lining, their zipper, their puller — almost every facet that goes into the design of the product.
We’re getting to the point where we will have a supply chain that will allow them to be able to do just that. Then at the end, they’ll be able to personalize it with their monogram or a tassel — something that connects to them. They’re going to be able to purchase something they created themselves.
Kathleen Leigh, marketing director, Purell Consumer/GOJO: We’re thinking about innovation in a variety of ways. A lot of people defer naturally to the product — the product is part of a bigger solution. But also [we’re thinking about] innovation in our business models and understanding that direct customer journey, whether that person is using a mobile device, a tablet, their computer or they’re on their laptop — all of that has to be thought through along those customer journey touchpoints, so we can surprise and delight that customer when we provide the innovation at the product level.
Simon Duffy, founder, Bulldog Skincare: You have to make it part of the DNA of your company from the beginning. You need to foster an inclusive and diverse team which feels empowered to be creative. Good ideas can come from anywhere in a team and should not be seen as the preserve of an innovation department. In a large part this comes down to a hiring challenge. I think Bulldog has always gravitated towards quirkier creative types who by their nature see the world a bit differently.
Q: Social responsibility is increasingly important to today’s consumer. What is your company doing to demonstrate that your brand stands for something bigger than just a product? What are you doing to communicate your brand’s purpose?
Jonathan Atwood, VP sustainable business and communications, Unilever: At Unilever, we believe business growth should not be at the expense of people and the planet. We have a clear purpose — to make sustainable living commonplace — and a vision to grow our business while decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact.
By putting purpose at the heart of our brands, we can move from marketing to consumers to mattering to people. In today’s complex and interconnected world, a powerful purpose alone is not enough. Brands cannot do social good while harming the planet, or improve the lives of women who buy our products while ignoring the working conditions of the women who make them.
To name a few examples, Dove has helped more than 20 million young people build lifelong self-esteem across 138 countries, with plans to double this by 2020. Ben and Jerry’s is tackling climate and social justice. Axe is redefining outdated views of masculinity and encouraging young men to ‘Find Your Magic.’ Through The Vaseline Healing Project, Vaseline has reached more than 2.3 million people in partnership with Direct Relief to provide dermatological care, Vaseline Jelly and medical supplies to help heal the skin of people affected by poverty or emergencies around the world.
In 2016, our 18 sustainable living brands delivered nearly 60% of our growth, and grew 50% faster than the rest of the business, increasing in value from the prior year. Today’s consumer is proving with their wallets that the business case for brands with purpose is clear.
Simon Duffy, Founder, Bulldog Skincare: Since the beginning of Bulldog we have sought to make positive choices. Avoiding controversial ingredients such as microbeads is a good example of this. We have also maintained a commitment to no animal testing and were part of a group which lobbied for regulatory change in this area in Europe.
Q: Given the importance of digital to the New General Market, what are your brands doing to create a seamless omnichannel experience for today’s consumer?
Doug Straton, VP digital, e-commerce and data, Unilever: Seamlessness means providing the ultimate in convenience. Time-starved shoppers are eager to streamline routines and eliminate stress from their shopping experiences. They are redefining convenience and looking to technology to make life easier and more enjoyable. With speed underpinning expectations, five digital trends are enabling convenience — mobile, subscriptions/auto-replenishment, on-demand delivery, voice and bots and logistics. At Unilever, we are investing in partnerships that put us at the forefront of testing in each of these areas to better understand the shopper journey and ultimately simplify their experience.
Simon Duffy, Founder, Bulldog Skincare: This remains a moving target as today’s world is fast-changing. So however you end up in terms of bespoke innovation for each opportunity in different channels, I think it’s important to stay true to your brand, and also to remember that no matter what changes, people are always going to be motivated by great products, great value and high levels of convenience. No new omnichannel innovation can ever compensate for poor product performance or bad value.
Q: Today’s best brands are not just well-marketed products — they have soul and they tell a story. What is your brand’s story, and how are you telling that story?
Kristine Urea, VP category management and shopper insights, Nature’s Bounty: Creating emotional connections with consumers is critical to the success and growth of any brand. The people who use our products need to know what we stand for, and our brand stories help make that connection. The stories that our brands tell help consumers understand the connection between what we do and how we can support them. It helps them to see us as more than a manufacturer. We are a partner in their health-and-wellness journey, and we want that to come across in our brand stories.
With the Nature’s Bounty brand, for example, our tagline is ‘Better Off Healthy.’ We want consumers to know that regardless of where they are in life, or where they’re going, they’ll always be better off healthy. There’s never a time when that is not true. Our heritage as a leader in vitamins for more than 50 years builds credibility in our value as a trusted health partner. Our recent partnership with Mary Lou Retton brought that message home in a very real, very authentic way for people. She was able to very articulately communicate that as a mom of four, supplementing [her family’s] nutrition with Nature’s Bounty vitamins is a way she can help keep them healthy. It is relatable, and it’s true. People can connect with that sentiment and understand it.
MET-Rx is all about ‘preparing you for what’s next.’ This is a message that resonates with most people who are working toward something — specifically athletes. MET-Rx is a sports brand, and so our marketing and brand partnerships are focused around up-and-coming athletes who have their whole lives ahead of them, and who are preparing themselves for what’s next in their careers, using MET-Rx as their fuel. Met-Rx is focused on bringing science-based performance solutions to athletes when they return to the field each season for two-a-day training sessions to build a strong foundation for their next opportunity to elevate their game and team contribution.
The story of Sundown Naturals is ‘100% goodness, 100% of the time.’ It is about purity, authenticity, transparency and trust. Knowing that consumers are looking to avoid GMOs, Sundown Naturals is proud to say that as of March, all of our vitamins and supplements are now 100% non-GMO. We source non-GMOˆ ingredients and use materials that are inherently free from GMOs to supply consumers with a finished product they can feel good about. As of May 2015, all Sundown Naturals products also are 100%-free of gluten, dairy and artificial flavors. The 100% goodness message is an accurate picture of just what they’re getting when they buy one of these products.
Nature’s Bounty and all of our brands put consumers at the heart of every product we develop and put on shelf. We spend time really thinking about and understanding what they want, and bringing products to market that help them find solutions that work for their lives.
Simon Duffy, founder, Bulldog Skincare: “Man’s Best Friend” is a promise that we put on all our packs and this is really how we want our brand to be understood. We want to be a trusted daily companion. There is so much superficiality in the typical way our category behaves through conventional cheap formulas with paid-for celebrity ambassadors. We want Bulldog to challenge these conventions. We focus on our foundation values, make amazing products, and are relentless about being the most purpose-built for men skincare brand in the world.

To read the full report on the third annual New General Market Summit, click here. 

 

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Amazon to acquire Whole Foods

BY Marianne Wilson

SEATTLE — In a blockbuster deal, online giant Amazon is acquiring Whole Foods Market in an all-cash transaction valued at $13.7 billion, or $42 a share.

John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, will remain CEO of the grocer after the deal closes. Stores will continue to operate under the Whole Foods banner, and the company's headquarters will remain in Austin, Texas.

“This partnership presents an opportunity to maximize value for Whole Foods Market’s shareholders, while at the same time extending our mission and bringing the highest quality, experience, convenience and innovation to our customers,” said Mackey.

The transaction is subject to approval by Whole Foods Market's shareholders, regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions. The parties expect to close the transaction during the second half of 2017.

Whole Foods has been under increased pressure from investors Jana Partners hedge fund and money management firm Neuberger Berman, who have criticized the chain for its slumping sales.

“Millions of people love Whole Foods Market because they offer the best natural and organic foods, and they make it fun to eat healthy,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO. “Whole Foods Market has been satisfying, delighting and nourishing customers for nearly four decades — they’re doing an amazing job and we want that to continue.”

This is a developing story. Check back later for more details. 

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