Walmart’s Domination of the U.S. Grocery Market

Nick Routley wrote . . . . . . . . .

One wouldn’t expect the grocery department of a big box retailer to spark debate, but Walmart’s high market concentration in the grocery space is doing just that.

By now, Walmart’s rise to the top of the retail pyramid is well documented. The Supercenters that dot the American landscape have had a dramatic ripple effect on surrounding communities, often resulting in decreased competition and reduced selection for consumers. Today, in some communities, Walmart takes in a whopping $19 for every $20 spent on groceries.

Today’s map, based on a report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, looks at which places in America are most reliant on Walmart to put food on the table.

The Weight of Walmart

Walmart has an unprecedented amount of control over the food system, now capturing a quarter of every single dollar spent on groceries in the United States.

Walmart isn’t just a major player — in some cases it’s become the only game in town. In a few of the communities listed in the report, Walmart commands a 90% market share and higher.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 20 towns dominated by Walmart in America:

While it’s more likely for a small town to become dominated by a single grocer, Walmart’s clout isn’t exclusive to rural America. Even in Springfield, Missouri — with a regional population of half a million people — the big box retailer still boasts a sizable market share of 66%.

Super Market Concentration

Under guidelines established by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, markets in which one corporation captures more than 50% of revenue are defined as “highly concentrated.” Walmart’s market share meets or exceeds this measure in 43 metropolitan areas and 160 smaller markets around the United States.

In some states, this trend is even more pronounced. In Oklahoma, for example, 86% of the state’s population lives in a region where Walmart has the majority market share in the grocery sector. In Arkansas — the home state of the megaretailer — half the population lives in this “highly concentrated” grocery market situation.

This degree of market concentration means that a retailer could cut certain products or manipulate prices without fear of losing customers. Worse yet, a company could close up shop and leave thousands of people without adequate grocery access.

An Interesting Caveat

There is a flip side to this story, however.

Walmart has shown a willingness to expand their grocery business to areas that were considered “food deserts” (i.e. low-income areas without easy access to a supermarket).

In a 2011 initiative, the retailer committed to open or expand 1,500 supermarkets across America to help give more people access to fresh food.

With the ground game clearly won, America’s largest grocer is now focused on dominating the next frontier of the grocery market – delivery. Stiff competition from companies like Amazon and Instacart will keep Walmart’s online market concentration in check for the time being.

Source: Visual Capitalist

The Seedless Lemon Revolution Has Taken Root in California

David Karp wrote . . . . . . . . .

Thirty miles northwest of Los Angeles, the Lemon Hill grove — a square mile of rolling slopes covered with healthy young trees, laden with fragrant yellow fruit — evokes the Arcadian vistas of classic citrus crate labels. Everything looks familiar, but inside the lemons there’s a crucial difference: There are no seeds.

You may wonder what took so long, since most other kinds of citrus have largely lost their seeds. But standard lemon varieties such as Eureka and Lisbon are hard to crossbreed, because they closely derive from one ancestor, a natural hybrid of citron and sour orange that originated thousands of years ago in northeastern India.

The grove is part of a huge bet by America’s largest fruit grower that it can revolutionize a historically unvarying California crop. And if you’ve ever seen the face of a prep chef who’s been told to slice and seed a carton of lemons, you can imagine the potential.

Almost all true lemons contain seeds and although the number varies greatly from a few to dozens depending on season and pollination, there’s no way to tell from the outside how many pips lie within.

Lemon trees occasionally do develop natural mutations, however, and as long ago as 1939 the U.S. Department of Agriculture brought a variety named Seedless Lisbon from South Australia that was derived from such an occurrence. About 25 years ago, a few California growers planted this variety (since renamed Seedless), but it never really caught on because on average it bore a quarter less fruit than standard seeded lemons.

Moreover, the demand back then for seedless lemons was limited, and they brought little or no price premium over seeded varieties.

“For the most part we sell them as regular lemons, so the lack of production hurts a lot,” said David Roberts of Visalia, one of the earliest and largest growers of this variety.

But as seedless mandarin production boomed over the last two decades, breeders and farmers around the world, searching for the next big thing, discovered at least two dozen low-seeded or seedless lemon varieties.

South African growers planted thousands of acres of one called Eureka SL for export markets, and a diaspora of South African citrus scientists vied to introduce the most promising new seedless lemon varieties to California, keeping their moves secret to forestall competitors.

Until now, however, all the new varieties proved insufficiently productive, shapely or seedless to compete with regular lemons and never made the big time here.

Enter the Wonderful Company, which is based in Los Angeles and grows 160,000 acres of fruits and nuts, including vast orchards of citrus, almonds and pistachios. Twenty years ago it gambled on two minor fruits — pomegranates and mandarins — and turned them into superstars. (The company’s owners, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, are somewhat controversial billionaires who recently pledged $750 million to Caltech for climate research.)

Etienne Rabe, vice president of horticulture for Wonderful Citrus in Delano, Calif., snapped up exclusive United States rights to two highly productive seedless lemon varieties, Code 3X97 and 7ELS1 (yes, new varieties typically sport such gobbledygook names). Both originated with 2PH Farms (named after the acidity of lemon juice) in Queensland, Australia, from Eureka bud sticks, wood for grafting that was treated in the late 1990s with gamma irradiation to induce mutations that rendered their progeny seedless.

Starting in 2015, Wonderful Citrus and its affiliated growers planted 3,500 acres of seedless lemons — a few Eureka SL but mostly the 2PH varieties — in the San Joaquin Valley, Ventura County and the Coachella and Imperial deserts, Rabe said. These will ripen from late October to June; another 1,000 acres of trees are on order for next year and some will be planted in northeastern Mexico, where fruit ripens from July to October.

The horticultural challenges are considerable, but with the aid of new rootstocks, careful pruning and nutrition management, so far the seedless lemon plantings look good.

“I believe they’re going to be just as productive as regular seeded lemons,” Rabe, 63, said.

Wonderful Citrus’ seedless lemons are slightly earlier, larger, thinner-skinned and juicier than regular lemons, but consumers probably won’t notice any difference, he added.

Samples I tried over the last three years tasted just like regular seeded lemons in all aspects, including acidity and aroma.

“I buy 15 to 30 pounds of lemons a week, and deseed them myself,” said Jill Davie, who is chef-owner of the Mar Vista and has worked as Sunkist’s Lemon Lady. “Seedless would be amazing, although for juicing it wouldn’t make much difference.”

Others are dubious.

“I prioritize flavor and quality over convenience, so the lack of seeds doesn’t matter to me,” said Julia Hauben, a private chef who also sells seeded Lisbon lemons at her family’s Penryn Orchard Specialties stand at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.

“I like seeds because they contain pectin that I use in making lemon marmalade,” she added. “And seeds are a sign of natural fruit production, of the presence of pollination and bees.”

One- and two-pound mesh bags of Wonderful Seedless Lemons, as they are branded, will be available starting this week at local and national market chains, including Albertsons, Ralphs and Gelson’s in Southern California.

Adam Cooper, senior vice president of marketing for the Wonderful Company, estimates that the company’s seedless lemons will command a 50% premium over seeded fruit, boosted by a “robust marketing plan” including prominent displays in stores.

Rabe said that in a few years Wonderful’s seedless plantings will account for 10% of the United States lemon market, and the company’s ambition is that seedless lemons will ultimately replace seeded.

“They’re very smart, they’re market-driven and they put a lot of dollars behind any commodity that they do,” said Alex Teague, chief operating officer of Limoneira, a major lemon grower and competitor.

“They’ll drive demand,” he said. “I think they’ll succeed.”

So don’t be surprised to see Tom Brady passing a giant seedless lemon in a Super Bowl ad. Whether Wonderful’s gamble on seedless lemons results in a touchdown, only time will tell.

Source: Los Angeles Times

UPS Drone Makes First Home Prescription Deliveries for CVS

Lisa Baertlein wrote . . . . . . . . .

United Parcel Service Inc Flight Forward drones have flown prescription medications to the front lawn of a private home and to a retirement center, the UPS unit’s first revenue-generating deliveries for drugstore chain CVS Health Corp.

Flight Forward’s maiden delivery flight on Friday in Cary, North Carolina, beat rivals in one phase of the race for the nascent market. The second drone flight delivered medications to a public space at a retirement community.

The packages, roughly the size of small shoeboxes, were lowered from drones hovering at an altitude of about 20 feet.

UPS and CVS said on Tuesday the deliveries were the first of their kind under an program approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Regulators are still hammering out rules for how the unmanned winged vehicles will operate in U.S. airspace and guidelines are expected in 2021.

“We see big potential in drone delivery in rural communities where life-saving medications are needed and consumers at times cannot conveniently access one of our stores,” said Kevin Hourican, president of CVS Pharmacy.

“CVS is exploring many types of delivery options for urban, suburban and rural markets,” Hourican added.

In September, UPS became the first company to win the broadest FAA certification to operate a drone airline. That permits Flight Forward to collect payment for drone deliveries and to fly as many drones supported by as many operators as necessary to meet customer demand.

Flight Forward and drone startup Matternet have inked a variety of deals to deliver biological samples on a handful of medical campuses.

Wing, a drone operator owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc, is partnering with Walgreens and FedEx Corp for a home delivery pilot in Christiansburg, Virginia.

Source: Reuters

How a Japanese Convenience Store Snack Became America’s Hottest Sandwich

Kelly Dobkin wrote . . . . . . . . .

Breaded, deep-fried pork needs no improvement — except, perhaps, for its portability. Wrap some crustless white bread around it, and you’ve got yourself a perfect, filling snack known as a katsu sando. A popular convenience store staple in Japan, katsu sandos are rapidly becoming this year’s avocado toast at restaurants around the U.S.

You’ve likely eaten katsu before. You may know it as that dish your more unadventurous friends order whenever you “take them out for sushi.” While traditional katsu is typically a panko-breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet, you can make katsu with just about any protein, from chicken to beef to fish. Imagine that golden cutlet sandwiched between two pieces of fluffy shokupan, aka Japanese milk bread (a less processed, more tender version of Wonder Bread), with a few pieces of cabbage and the brownish-red tonkatsu sauce that kinda tastes like A1 — and you’ve got the katsu sando. It’s a grab and go snack popular for picnics, quick lunches or late night eating and available at nearly every Japanese mini-mart. It’s kind of like their gas station taquito.

There are a few types of “sandos” (cute slang for sandwich) you’ll find in Japan, including this fruit variety — a glorious take on ambrosia salad in tea sandwich form. There’s also the tamago or (egg salad) sando. They’re all part of a subsection of Japanese food known as yōshoku cuisine. Yōshoku (literally “Western” fare) came during and after the turn-of-the-century Meiji period, which marked the end of feudal society and ushered in an era of Westernization in Japan. It was during this time that katsu itself originated, around 1899. That dish also of course drew inspiration from the west — it was Japan’s take on wienerschnitzel or chicken Milanese.

Yōshoku cuisine includes beloved dishes like the omurice (a fried rice stuffed omelette topped with demi glace or ketchup), which was interpreted by restaurants like Bar Moga in NYC in 2017, achieving brief, viral status. In fact, Bar Moga’s entire concept centers around yōshoku fare. (Curry rice, and Spaghetti Napolitan/Japanese ketchup spaghetti, are other yōshoku classics as well.) You’ll also find these dishes at newcomer, Davelle in the East Village.

The humble katsu sando is the latest yōshoku dish to pop up in high-end restaurants and bars from LA to NY to London. The proliferation of a pricey wagyu katsu version on Instagram is likely the reason why.

Chefs in Japan began using expensive cuts of wagyu beef to do a tongue-in-cheek homage to the sandwich for a few years now. While its exact origin is debatable, Sumibiyakiniku Nakahara in Tokyo was certainly one of the first to introduce the ritzy sando about five years ago. High-end wagyu supplier Wagyumafia is a bit newer, but has been doing worldwide pop-ups that also feature the uber rich sandwich made with their proprietary beef.

Back in the states, chefs have caught wind of the trend and are offering up their own takes. Chef Daniel Son of LA’s Kura, launched a katsu sando pop-up inside his restaurant last year that became so popular, it’s now a standalone concept at LA’s Smorgsburg’s The Row pop-up. Son, who was raised in LA, fell in love with the katsu sando while he was working at Tokyo’s Michelin-starred Nihonrhoyi RyuGin. Hungry after work with limited options (at 4AM), he would often hit up the local mini-mart and feast on pre-packaged “conbini” fare (conbini = mini-mart). He’s currently looking for a brick-and-mortar space to house his concept, Katsu Sando, full time.

While he offers at $75 wagyu beef version, he peddles more affordable options as well like the Menchi — a take on an In-N-Out burger using Australian wagyu and caramelized onions for $13, and also serves up chicken and pork varieties in the same price range. What sets his apart, according to Son, are the house-made ingredients. He goes to the trouble to make his own milk bread, a recipe that took him months to perfect. “I realized how bad of a baker I was,” Son tells us. “It was so hard. It took me 13 tries and three months.”

You may have also noticed LA newcomer Konbi popping up in your Instagram feed recently with katsu sando porn. Two Momofuku alums are behind the Echo Park concept, where they also have their shokupan made fresh daily (by local baker Bub and Grandma’s). Their inspirations in launching the concept were similar to Son’s: “Akira grew up in Japan eating at conbini,” says co-owner Nick Montgomery. “And after several years of taking chef friends to Tokyo and ending up at the conbini stores every night and every morning, it only made us want access to those foods in the States.”

Back in NYC, one of the first katsu sandos to gain popularity launched at izakaya SakaMai on the Lower East Side about a year ago. Their $85 wagyu version features A5 wagyu beef (which has been become the go-to variety for wagyu katsu). Don Wagyu, from the team behind spendy omakase spot Uchu, opened much more recently in June, raising eyebrows for their $180 version featuring Ozaki beef, a type of wagyu that almost no one else is sourcing here in the U.S., as well as two less pricey versions at $28 and $80.

But other chefs are riffing on the less flashy OG version, mixing up the type of pork and other flavors to create a number of variations. At Ferris in NYC, chef Greg Proechel’s take leans Spanish with the use of Iberico ham, combined with a shrimp paste and hoisin-based sauce. “Since I like to cook the pork medium rare, Iberico seemed like the best option,” he says. More Italian-leaning versions have sprouted up as well at both Momofuku Nishi and recent NYC newcomer Katana Kitten, where they use mortadella, a nod to chef Nick Sorrentino’s Italian heritage.

But NYC is, for once, late to the game on this trend. It hit Sydney, Australia for example when restaurant Cafe Oratnek put one on the menu three years ago. It quickly spread around town and now sando-devoted concepts like Sando Bar and Sandoitichi are cashing in on its popularity.

They also appeared in London as early as 2013 at spots like Tsuru and Tata Eatery. Currently, you’ll find a version at Brixton’s trendy “Japanese soul food” purveyor, Nanban. Single-item restaurants with limited menus have blown up in the UK post the 2008 recession, according to local food writer, Claire Coleman. You could say that in NYC, the single-item craze began slightly before then with places like S’Mac (mac and cheese concept) as early as 2006, Luke’s Lobster in 2009 and later, The Meatball Shop in 2010. Most of the katsu sando you’ll find in NYC right now are part of larger restaurant concepts, vs a single item concept like LA’s Katsu Sando.

Elsewhere in the U.S., the trend is slowly catching on as well. You’ll find katsu sandos in places like Atlanta’s counter service Japanese spot, Momonoki. In Seattle, a faithful representation at Adana and one slightly less so at Marination (served on ciabatta). In San Francisco, you’ll find versions at casual takeout spot Volcano Curry and at Stonemill Matcha. In DC, this $100 version (which takes many creative liberties) made a small splash at Michael Mina joint, Bourbon Steak.

Besides being delicious, the real reason for their popularity is likely pretty simple: they are photogenic AF. When served inside facing up, the pretty architectural layers of pork, sauce and bread make for a highly Instagrammable dish.

Whether you’re eating one of these bougie versions for bragging rights, ‘gram likes, or just unabashed curiosity, know that somewhere across the ocean there’s a $5 version wrapped in plastic making a tired, drunk person equally as happy.

Source: Thrillist

Bagelrito – The New Hybrid of Bagel and Burrito

The new food is created by the chefs of Einstein Bros Bagels chain in the U.S.

The Bagelrito is stuffed with two cage-free eggs, thick cut bacon, turkey sausage, a three-cheese blend, hash brown, salsa, green chiles, all wrapped in a flour tortilla. The burrito is then wrapped in a freshly-baked Asiago bagel.

The bagel chain is now market testing the new hybrid at 5 locations in Colorado.