Scott Sanders

Pricing with your heart

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby and Hostbaby, was a musician before he started those successful companies. He has been writing amazing articles on his blog for years.  Last week, he wrote about the way he set prices for one of his gigs.

One time a college far away in Ohio, about a 12-hour drive, asked what I would charge to do a two-hour show.

I said, “$1500”.

She said, “Oh, that’s a bit too much. What would you charge to do just a one-hour show?”

I said, “$2000”.

Guitarist on stage

Photo by Zachrie Friesen on Unsplash


Sivers wanted to demonstrate what he valued: “What you’re paying me for is to get there! Once I’m there, playing music is the fun part! If you tell me I have to get back in the van after only an hour, and drive home, then I’m going to charge you more than if you let me play for a couple hours first.”

I tend to advocate for fact-based

How listening to customers can inform your prices (and more)

Alex Lee, longtime president of OXO, the maker of well-designed cooking tools and housewares, told the story of how they created their iconic liquid measuring cup.

Traditional measuring cup vs. Oxo measuring cup

No one had ever seriously complained about measuring cups.  Some people thought that glass ones are too heavy and that they tend to break, but that was really it.  OXO started to study how consumers use measuring cups and noticed one striking commonality that was more impactful. It’s something you’ve probably done yourself at some point.  

Reading measuring cups

Photo source:

Do you see it?  Using a traditional liquid measuring cup, you need to lean over to read the measurement.  It’s annoying, But we thought it was normal.  Well, we did think it was normal until OXO designed a better way: a measuring cup you can read from the top, with no leaning over required.

Overhead view of Oxo measuring cup

Photo source:

I’m honored to be presenting at Natural Products Consulting’s seminar, Becoming a More Effective Sales Manager in the Natural and Specialty Channel.  My presentation, on Day 2, will cover strategic pricing and how to conduct simple research on your own (or with a little help, if you want it).  

The seminar is led by Bob Burke of Natural Products Consulting and John Maggiore of Maggiore Sales & Marketing.  Other presenters include:

  • Kirsten Hogan and Wendy Savoi, UNFI Next
  • James Curley, JFC Market Management
  • Tim Sperry, Former Director of Grocery for Whole Foods
  • John Raiche, VP Marketing and Supplier Relations, UNFI
  • Rob Mortensen, REM, Ltd.
  • Betsy McGinn, McGinn e-commerce Consulting
  • Scott Miller, Direct to Consumer expert
  • Ed Rowland, Rowland Global, LLC, Chain Drug channel expert
  • Kim Greenfeld, on Private Label opportunities

It is an amazing cast of industry experts, and I’m thrilled to be included in their ranks.

Topics include:

  • Sales Planning & Budgeting
  • Pricing & Margins
  • Working Effectively With

Will Whole Foods continue to be Whole Paycheck?

Just after Amazon closed on its Whole Foods purchase in August, a Bloomberg headline read, “Amazon cuts Whole Foods prices as much as 43% on first day.”

I saw this headline shared widely among my colleagues, and I felt it was misleading.  

It implies huge price cuts across the store (which there weren’t) and across the chain (which weren’t verified). Rotisserie chickens at my local Boston-area Whole Foods are sometimes priced at $4.99, compared to this sale price of $9.99. It also ignores the probability that more pervasive, more realistic price cuts aren’t too far from becoming reality.

When supermarket ownership changes hands, cutting prices on highly visible items in highly visible locations is a common tactic. The Bloomberg article reports on a single store: the Whole Foods in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, where my brother has seen Larry King shopping. That store is hardly representative of the entire chain or of America as a whole. But the price cuts bolster the idea

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

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