• All
  • Articles
  • Insights

How to Feel Good About Paying $600 for Shoes

Here’s a story about how to feel good about paying $600 for shoes $200. $400. $600.  I know some people are crazy for shoes. And they pay insane prices for shoes that scratch the right itch. I can’t pretend to understand this phenomenon. But a pop-up store called Palessi took […]

A Surprising Contender That Might Dominate Grocery E-comm

When Amazon acquired Whole Foods, it became a surprise new contender that just might dominate the grocery e-comm industry. A year ago, about four months after Amazon started operating Whole Foods, I surveyed consumers on how they felt about the new Whole Foods. At that time, about half of those […]

Stale Popcorn and Bad Data

What does stale popcorn have to do with bad data? People will happily eat fourteen-day old stale popcorn while watching an action movie, and they will eat more quite a bit more if it’s in a larger bucket. In a restaurant, if you sit near a window, you’re 80 percent […]

What if “Didn’t Vote” was a Candidate?

Disclaimer: This map and short article is a departure from my typical food/CPG industry topics. But it’s important and I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. In the 2014 midterm Congressional election, odds are you didn’t vote. I don’t mean to shame you. But I want you to know […]

Don’t Forget Sprouts

Don’t forget Sprouts Farmers Market. At last week’s Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, I was reminded how many emerging brands pin their hopes on making deals with Whole Foods. For many brands, meeting a buyer from Whole Foods is a big part of why they exhibit at Expo East […]

Is expensive wine worth the price?

When talking about wine, my friends often wonder out loud if expensive wines are worth the price. Are they really better than cheap wines? Steve Levitt, co-author of the Freakonomics series, has talked about this several times, and I love retelling his findings. Given that this blog has covered a […]

The Chocolate Experiment: Decrease Price by 1 Cent, Improve Preference 2.5x (And Other Tricks)

In Predictably Irrational, Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely wrote about his chocolate experiment that tested varying prices for Lindt truffles and Hershey’s Kisses.  When he dropped the Hershey Kiss’s price by a penny, its preference grew by 2.5x.  Yet when he increased the Lindt truffle’s price by a penny, its preference […]

Three Tools to Make Your Discounts Count

Though it’s tempting to use price cuts to improve volume, it can leave money behind if the market is willing to pay higher prices.

New Research: How Consumer Attitudes Have Changed Toward the Amazon-ified Whole Foods

Whole Foods is reinventing itself as a part of Amazon. It made me wonder what the average consumer thinks, so we conducted a survey to assess changing perceptions toward Whole Foods.

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, […]

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

What does a measuring cup have to do with pricing strategies? 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. No one had ever seriously complained about measuring cups.  Some people thought that […]

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 […]

What Amazon means for Whole Foods’ core values (and how it’s connected to the Washington Post)

In 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. (Granted, he bought it personally instead of via Amazon, but it’s still relevant to the Amazon/Whole Foods story.) At the time, the paper was facing a steady decline and staff layoffs, as most newspapers were, and its online presence was […]

Alexa, buy me something from Whole Foods

Bezos: “Alexa, buy me something from Whole Foods” Alexa: “Buying Whole Foods” Bezos: Shit — Jeff Lewis (@ChicagoPhotoSho) June 16, 2017 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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

The story of self-checkout

I probably consume more media via podcast these days than any other format.  (I have such a large queue of shows I listen to that I speed them up by 25% so I can fit them all in.)  One of the earlier podcasts to get a big following is NPR’s Planet […]

You get what you pay for

If you’ve been into a Walmart in the past few years, there’s a good chance you were disappointed in your experience. You weren’t the only one — Walmart’s management agreed with that sentiment. The New York Times recently reported, “Shoppers were fed up. They complained of dirty bathrooms, empty shelves, […]

Why doesn’t everyone use online grocery?

I answered this question on Quora, where I enjoy answering questions from time to time.  One came up recently wondering why people still go to the supermarket when one could just order via one of the online grocers that has popped up in recent times. The question: Why do many people […]

3 Ways to Kickstart Pricing Discussions with Visualizations

Of the four Ps of marketing, price has the most power to transform a company’s revenue and profit. The best way to kickstart a pricing discussion is to visually display price analytics. Ultimately, these visual tools support portfolio and channel strategy development.  Importantly, they help take emotion out of pricing […]

Do Holiday Shoppers Prefer Brick & Mortar Grocers?

The holiday season is upon us, and we can’t help but think of shopping — and shopping for food. The shopping stories are a combination of Black Friday craziness and the shift to buying from online retailers like Amazon. Here at Simon-Kucher, we were wondering about the intersection: Do holiday meals […]

The Numbers Behind the Mustard Wars

Ketchup wars! Mustard wars! It’s a Condiment Armageddon! And it’s also an analytical opportunity. This spring, Heinz relaunched its mustard with a new, improved formulation to compete head-to-head with French’s, the category leader. Answering this shot across the bow, French’s launched a new ketchup, challenging Heinz’s leadership.  At least two publications […]

Everything’s on sale!

For all of 2014, New England grocery chain Market Basket is discounting every item, every day by 4%. “The additional 4% off promotion is a reward for its loyal customers and an investment toward a long-term growth strategy to attract new customers, increase sales, and continue to strengthen and build […]

Why do I need data?

One of the most common questions I get from colleagues with smaller food and CPG questions is about syndicated data from Nielsen, IRI, and other providers.  Why would I want it? What many people outside the industry don’t realize is that most supermarket, drug store, and mass merchant (Walmart/Target) transactions […]

Getting started with CPG data

If you’ve been interested to learn more about the basics of consumer packaged goods data from sources like Nielsen and SymphonyIRI, you need to check out the new CPG Data Insights blog, written by Sally Martin and Robin Simon. They’re just getting started but have some great info on some […]

Do we shop in data deserts?

Mark Hurst, founder of customer experience consulting firm Creative Good and the amazing Gel Conference, wrote about his experience shopping at Williams-Sonoma recently.  Judging by this photo he posted, there’s a real shortage of information — what he called a data desert.  (And I’d say Mark has nice taste in […]

You’ve got questions, I’ve possibly got some answers

While I’ve been away from Shelf Talk for a few weeks now, I did answer some questions on Quora, a really cool community where people ask questions and others provide answers. I stumbled upon a few that are related to the consumer packaged goods industry and took a stab at […]

How to succeed in environmentalism without really trying

Organic food, LEED-certified buildings, and hybrid cars have very minimal real impacts on carbon emissions.  Even more negligible is the impact of compact fluorescent light bulbs, reusable shopping bags, and “perfect” recycling compliance. I was lucky to see Graham Hill, founder of the environmental blog Treehugger, talk about “how to […]

I spy on what you buy

People outside the grocery business are usually shocked at how much data we have available to us.  Likewise, those in the business often forget how lucky we are.  Those who transition to other industries have a hard time conducting analyses, simply because they don’t have enough information available to them. […]

Transforming a Quarter Pounder

McDonald’s Canada gives us a look at the difference between a Quarter Pounder bought in-store versus one styled for photography. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSd0keSj2W8 Found via Kottke.org, which notes, “the burger at the restaurant is optimized for eating and the photo burger is optimized for looking delicious.”

This corn looks photoshopped

Glass gem corn, via the Seeds Trust Facebook page Amazingly, it’s real.  It was brought to my attention by Edible Geography.  Apparently, this is how corn looked before it was domesticated by humans.  See more details and more photos in their post.

Wednesday Word: Private Label

Remember the generic brands stores like Pathmark used to sell?  A white label with black letters boldly announcing the product inside? Those store brand products are known as “private label” inside the industry, or sometimes a “control brand.” Years ago, private label products were a simple way to provide very […]

Lemons and grapefruit are hybrids

Really! Thanks to Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing, I now know that lemons and grapefruits are accidental hybrid fruits.  Lemons come from a mashup of the citron and orange in India, and grapefruits come from an Asian pomelo and orange that hybridized in Barbados. More on hybrid fruits in this […]

The Dented Can Store is closing

Locals know Petrik’s Discount Groceries in Bradenton, Florida as the Dented Can Store. Known in community as “the Dented Can Store,” Petrik’s specialized in slightly damaged or near expiration products ranging from tomatoes sauce and tea to baby diapers and pet food. Perhaps this is a sign of an improved […]

Wednesday Word: Code

“Sell by,” “enjoy by,” “use by,” and so on.  The dates listed after these phrases are date codes — or just codes, in shorthand. If you hear a store employee say, “That item is out of code,” the item has expired and needs to be removed from the shelf.  Perishable […]

Did you know you can patent pasta shapes?

There are well over 2,000 patents on pasta shapes, including pasta shaped like the continental United States. (The United States of Macaroni) Thanks to Dan Lewis for pointing it out to me in his excellent newsletter, Now I Know (which you absolutely must subscribe to if you want to learn […]

Wednesday Word: ACV

Around the industry, the term ACV is used frequently and is often used as a shorthand that can lead to some confusion about what it really means. Literally speaking, it stands for All Commodity Volume.  In more direct language, it’s a retailer’s total revenue. When used in conversation in the […]

Wednesday Word: Necker

At the suggestion of the wonderfully wordy Erin McKean from Wordnik, I’m going to feature an industry term or word each week on Wednesdays. Necker: A printed coupon with a hole in it that is hangs on the neck of a bottle, also known as a bottle hanger.  These coupons […]

Target knows you are going to have a baby

Targets knows within a 2-week window when you are going to have a baby.  Even if you haven’t told your parents yet. Freaked out? This sounds illegal or invasive or … just something wrong.  When people find out, they get seriously unnerved. So Target will send coupons to expecting mothers […]


Yikes? Some supermarkets do an amazing job and others… well, there are others.  You can tell when you walk in the door.  Are you excited to be there?  Is there something interesting around every corner? Or is it just… stuff?  Get what you need and get out — after waiting […]

Items on sale aren’t about to expire

Did you know that items on sale aren’t about to expire? Friends and family offer me lots of opinions on why supermarkets put a product on sale: That’s how they get rid of spoiled (or soon to spoil) products The store bought too much and needs to move the product […]

How much does it cost to get a preferred space on a shelf?

So, how much does it cost to get a preferred space on a shelf? Somewhere between $0 and $3.5 million per item.  Usually closer to $0. Surprised?  I hear it from people outside the industry all the time — they are convinced that evil manufacturers are paying supermarkets to have […]

Tried to buy a vacuum cleaner at Walmart with a $1 million bill

He tried to buy a vacuum cleaner at Walmart with a $1 million bill. Sounds like a punch line to a joke, but it really happened in Lexington, NC in November 2011.  (Thank you to BoingBoing for this and many other wonderfully amusing/amazing stories.  You should read it when you […]

Did babies named Ava cause the U.S. housing bubble?

Did babies named Ava cause the U.S. housing bubble? If you follow the trend of babies born named Ava, it matches the U.S. housing bubble perfectly.  Though that Ava in the chart is adorable, I want to curse her for the horror she has wrought on the economy! But wait: […]

What the heck are planograms?

What the heck are planograms? Surprisingly, I’ve found very minimal information on planograms.  The best explanation I’ve found is on Wikipedia: A planogram defines which product is placed in which area of a shelving unit and with which quantity. … It is primarily used in [the] Retail sector. Fast-moving consumer […]