Scott Sanders

Alexa, buy me something from Whole Foods

It has been easy to make jokes about Amazon buying Whole Foods, as announced this week.  There have been some easy targets.  But it has been my pleasure to read the creative thoughts for improving the grocery experience for millions of consumers.  No doubt Amazon can make strides.

And there’s no time I can remember where the grocery industry has received so much attention in the media.  It’s exciting.  And there’s going to be more exciting developments to come.

Amazon will remake Whole Foods’ technology and supply chain.  As a result, there will be major impacts for those who deal with Whole Foods.  And Whole Foods will teach Amazon a few things, too.  I’ll write more about the implications soon.

The secret information inside UPC barcodes

Some people believe all Universal Product Codes (UPCs) contain the number 666, representing the number of the beast or the anti-Christ.

Snopes cites the relevant Bible verse: “No one could buy or sell unless he had this mark, that is, the beast’s name or the number that stands for his name” (Revelation 13:17-18).

In a story on UPCs and this theory, The New Republic quotes from Revelation, which discusses the End Times:

“He forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark in his right hand or in his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.” What is that number? “Let he that has wisdom count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”

UPC example on a beer can

Creative border in the shape of Massachusetts around a UPC

As interesting as this sounds, it stems from a

The ugly truth behind baby carrots

The food industry boasts many little-known facts. One of my favorites concerns baby carrots.

Fact: The baby carrots most of us eat aren’t really “baby carrots.” Gasp!

They are adult carrots, cut into two-inch pieces and polished into appealing snacks.  And more accurately, the baby carrots we think of are actually baby-cut carrots.

California farmer Mike Yurosek was unhappy at having to discard ugly carrots that his customers wouldn’t accept. He started cutting them using an industrial green bean cutter after which he placed them in a potato peeler for peeling and polishing. Yurosek’s Bunny-Luv carrots first hit the market in 1986 and set off a 33 percent increase in American carrot consumption.

(Visit the World Carrot Museum website for my source material and learn way more than you ever thought you wanted to know about carrots.)

The scraps left over from baby carrot processing first led to an increased supply of carrots for juicing, but processing has become more efficient, leading to less waste. As processing grew increasingly efficient, baby carrot production actually allowed processors to enjoy a higher yield than they’d had from traditional

Bending over to reach the backache pills

A photo of backache relief medicine has been circulating on social media recently. Seeing it inspires a “duh!” moment: If you have a backache, it’s going to be hard to bend over and pick up the medicine from the bottom shelf—and never mind getting close enough to read the offer on the tag.


So…why did this happen?

Odds are that the back relief subcategory within the pain relief category doesn’t sell as well some other subcategories, such as general purpose pain relievers. The better-selling products get preferential placement, at eye level. But that rote decision ignores the fact that the users of backache relief medicine really need the product to be shelved a bit higher off the floor.

Paco Underhill, founder of Envirosell and author of excellent books about consumer psychology, tells a story in his book Why We Buy that highlights how important shelf placement is:

Another such “accident” of patient observation and analysis happened during a supermarket study we performed for a dog food manufacturer. When we staked out the pet aisle, we noticed that while adults bought the dog food, the dog treats—liver-flavored biscuits

Instacart’s secret markups accidentally disclosed

A curious post about Instacart appeared recently on Reddit’s Boston subreddit that deserves some attention in grocery retail.

Instacart delivers groceries and other products from a range of retailers. Here in Boston, they deliver from Whole Foods, Costco, CVS, Star Market/Shaw’s, Market Basket, Russo’s, and Petco, plus some liquor and specialty stores inside the more urban parts of the area. My family and I are regular users. (You can try the service yourself with my referral link, which will get you and me both $10.)

Grocery delivery truck circa 1941

An early version of Instacart. By Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, via Wikimedia Commons.

Originally, the service didn’t disclose whether the prices were the same as in-store or different, and that changed in 2015 with clearer disclosures.

Some retailers are official partners and the prices online match what’s available in-store. But many retailers available on the platform aren’t official partners, and it’s no secret that Instacart’s prices are “15%+ higher than in?store,” as disclosed when shopping. The plus symbol leaves a lot of latitude, leaving the extent of the mark ups opaque

Trends from the 2017 Winter Fancy Food Show

Before the recent Winter Fancy Food Show, I served up some trend predictions that we might see at the show.  Let’s revisit those predictions.

Giant cheese wheels at the 2017 Winter Fancy Food Show

This display of cheese wheels was impressive and very tall. Inside the wheels was a space for booth staffers to meet with food buyers.

Using food processing byproducts creatively: ReGrained upcycles spent grain from beer brewing and turns it into “Eat Beer” bars. They tasted like a cross between a cookie and a nutrition bar.

Coconut: In some form, I saw coconut as an inclusion in many products, from protein shake powder and nutrition bars to seaweed snacks and chocolates. Dang had its coconut chips (and some new non-coconut rice snacks that were delicious).

Cooking made easier: I was surprised that meal-kit companies like Blue Apron haven’t started to show up with retail-ready offerings.  But I did see some fun make-it-yourself kits.  Back to the Roots sells kits to grow your own mushrooms. And Brooklyn Brew Shop sells beer, wine, and cider brewing kits.  (And both companies have expanded beyond those core offerings to

Predictions for this week’s Winter Fancy Food Show

I’m in the air on my way to the Specialty Food Association’s Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, where I’ll be for the next 3 days.

I’m planning to post some photos and highlights from the show (as I’ve done in the past). But in the meantime, what food trends are people talking about for 2017?


Here are some trend predictions from Instacart, Whole Foods, and Consumer Reports that I will be looking for:

  • Using food processing byproducts creatively. For example: Sir Kensington’s Fabanase no-egg mayo made with chickpea cooking water, or drinks made with cascara, the outer husk of coffee cherries that are often discarded after harvesting beans.
  • Coconut as an inclusion or core ingredient in more products.
  • Cooking made easier: Items that make meal prep easier but don’t require purchasing a full meal prep kit delivered to your house.
  • Lower calorie frozen treats, like Arctic Zero and Halo Top. They can’t can’t technically be called ice cream but are hard to distinguish from the real thing.
  • A growing proliferation of dairy alternatives. This will move beyond the established soy and almond milks to

Stocking up for the holidays is important for manufacturers, too

As I was shopping for my family’s holiday meals this year, I was reflecting on full aisles in the supermarket and check-out lines snaking through the store.  It seems when the holidays come, everyone heads to the supermarket.

This is important for food and CPG manufacturers to keep in mind as you plan out your year.  Even non-food items have sales upticks as supermarket traffic generally increases.


Sales spike in most categories during the weeks around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.  (Some categories have additional weeks with extra-high demand, like cocktail mixers for summer holidays like Memorial Day, July Fourth, and so on.)

It’s great news for manufacturers. But it requires planning to work well.

Some emerging manufacturers get caught by surprise when a flood of orders arrive to meet seasonal demand.  Supermarkets are accustomed to these cycles and will place orders accordingly (and ideally with guidance from your sales team or broker). This sometimes leads to urgent production to fill orders — and sometimes even leads to unfilled orders for those who are caught off guard.  (This has happened with big companies that I’ve worked with, not just the small ones.) It’s important to build up enough inventory to meet

Half the money spent on advertising is wasted

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Many attribute this quote to John Wanamaker, the founder of the department store that bore his name. The quote is attributed to others, too, but the source isn’t important. What’s important is that it’s incredibly hard to know if advertising is working or not. Marketers perpetually struggle with this.

In 2009, I saw results of work Google did with Lipton Tea. Google ran ads for a new white tea alongside search results, on YouTube, and on its display network. If these ads had been on TV or radio, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to measure the impact on retail sales. Even with online advertising, it would typically be difficult to make that connection.

But Google and Lipton took their analysis a step further in two ways.

First, They used comScore’s online panel to measure the difference in web engagement with Lipton assets between those exposed to the advertising and those who didn’t see it. They also conducted survey research to understand how the advertising affected attitudes and opinions toward Lipton and this new

Making travel just a little more pleasant

This year, I’ve been on the road more than ever, which is one of the perils of working as a consultant.  Over time, I’ve accumulated a variety of junk that I haul around  in my bag to make life a little bit easier while away from my home base.  One colleague likened my bag to Mary Poppins’ magic bag (which I am hoping was meant as a compliment!).

This is a departure from my usual food/CPG industry writing, but I know there’s many readers who travel as much as I have, and I hope you can find a little something useful to take away, or find something to share with a frequent traveler in your life.


1. Pencil case: Carries many of the pens and other tiny things in this photo. I have the Nomadic PE-08, which appears to have been discontinued and replaced by the PE-18, but any small case will do.

2. Umbrella: It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is terrible to be caught in the rain.  I carry a Lewis N. Clark umbrella.

3. Power strip: This might be the most useful things in

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