PROFILE

Warren Thayer

Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

Warren Thayer is the editor and managing partner of Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer. Before going off on his own in June 2009, he was editorial director and associate publisher of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods Retailer, published by BNP Media.

Previous to this position, Warren was for 13 years the editor-in-chief of Frozen Food Age. He has written for a variety of trade and consumer publications – including Business Week, The Christian Science Monitor and The Boston Globe – and edited a successful book on computer-assisted ordering for mass merchandisers. He has also written or consulted for Citibank, Price Waterhouse, Merrill Lynch and consumer products manufacturers.

Warren has appeared twice on CNN to discuss merchandising, and is a frequent speaker at industry events. Raised on a dairy farm, he graduated from Boston University in 1970 with a degree in journalism. With the exception of eight years in corporate advertising and sales, he has been a writer and editor.

After 20 years in metro New York City, he and his family moved to rural Norwich, Vermont, where he continues his work via the internet (when he is not kayaking or hiking). In Norwich, he is a volunteer firefighter, writer for a local newspaper and the town meeting moderator. He and his wife, Toni, have three children and one grandchild.

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  • Posted on: 10/10/2017

    Walmart seeks online edge with 35-second returns

    Of course shoppers are going to like this. For them, what's not to like? But this could turn out to be another penalty for vendors doing business with Walmart. Walmart is already tacking on many new fees and fines, and it may be that this new process will be more generous to shoppers than what has existed in the past. Someone will have to pay for that, somewhere. If vendors find it even less attractive to do business with Walmart (and based on conversations I have with vendors, they are not feeling much love for Walmart now), they will react. They could choose from many possible reactions. This will stir the pot even more, sometimes in unexpected ways. It's a challenging time for retail.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2017

    Will centralized buying make Whole Foods a more formidable competitor?

    DEAR WHOLE FOODS,It’s only because I still love you, Whole Foods, that I tell you you’re making a big mistake. I know, I know. Amazon probably called these most recent shots. But, you gotta admit, you’ve been limping a little. You needed a shot in the arm. But you got a shot in the foot.This all gets down to supporting small brands and allowing your buyers autonomy in local markets. That’s been unusual in the industry, and it has helped you with competitive differentiation. It also made us feel all warm and fuzzy about you.So imagine my dismay when I opened The Wall Street Journal on Sept. 22 and saw the headline: “Amazon Puts Whole Foods on Fast Track to Conventional Supermarket.” And below that, “Specialty grocer will no longer allow ‘brand advocates’ in stores, a potential blow to local sellers.”The Journal also said, basically, that local autonomy for your buyers is going to hell in a handbasket. Most decisions on products now will be made at your headquarters in Austin, Texas. I have rarely known such “efficiency” moves to be as successful as the Edsel Corsair.You’ve said that local suppliers are crucial to your success. That’s true. It’s the smaller, entrepreneurial companies that have been chalking up gains storewide, while the big brands have lost share. Just ask Nielsen or IRI. This isn’t fake news.But oh, that headline about Amazon putting you on a “Fast Track to Conventional Supermarket.” What are you thinking? Or, rather, what is Jeff Bezos thinking? Yes, he runs Amazon pretty well. But even if he’s worth $82 billion (last I checked) he’s not infallible. Have you tried reasoning with him?These changes are going to steer you toward becoming a somewhat higher-priced (and boring) conventional grocer. Does Jeff actually believe that small vendors are going to fly out to Austin to meet with you? Ha! No, they’ll take their products to your more enlightened competitors, like Kroger, for example. (More about that in a minute.) And this new plan to bar entrepreneurial brand advocates from stores — where they’ve been educating shoppers (and store associates!) about their products, running demos and making sure items are in stock and merchandised properly — will also help drive those smaller vendors away.Yet you say that having brand advocates around is distracting to employees and inefficient. Who’s going to take over the work that third-party, brand-support companies have been doing? “We’re still working on that plan,” you said. (Send that spokesperson to Congress!).Sorry, this plan sounds like a whim that wasn’t well thought out or measured with any, you know, “data.” Do you really believe this is going to help?You know what helped? Those cuts in shelf price back in August. Though things have leveled off, your market share across the country jumped by 16% the first few days. I’m not even saying that the depth of those cuts was the best thing for you over the long haul. But they showed you, for the 10,000th time, that price is a big problem for you. (Sorry, you’ve been in denial.)Oddly enough, the very same day as that accursed Journal story, Kroger put out a press release about its new website (Kroger.Com/WeAreLocal) to encourage local and emerging brands to sell to its stores. The site lets suppliers register online and provides screen after screen of detailed information.“Kroger’s team of buyers continuously look for opportunities to purchase regionally that allow the company to expand its product portfolio for customers, stimulate the local economy and enhance product freshness,” the release said. I’m not saying either of you is fibbing, but I’m putting my money on Kroger’s plan to get the job done a whole lot better.With love,Warren Thayer
  • Posted on: 09/18/2017

    Did this startup make a big mistake calling itself Bodega?

    It's convenience and immediate gratification and, from what I can see, it's targeted to a different consumer demographic than the bodega shopper. Having shopped bodegas when I lived in NYC, and still today when I visit, I think it'd be impossible for Bodega to put them out of business or even have a major impact. If you know anything about the amazing merchandising mix and personality of bodegas, you know what I mean. I think the concept will work. Is it a home run? No. But a stand-up double, for sure. Not bad.
  • Posted on: 09/14/2017

    Will exclusive nutrition labels set Raley’s apart from rivals?

    I love the idea, but have a couple unanswered questions. Only the "top two" icons get onto the shelf label. How are those top two chosen, if a product qualifies for, say, four icons? If I'm seeking gluten-free products, but gluten-free comes in third or fourth and is not one of the top two icons, how does that help me? There may be answers; I just don't know. And the examples shown have the icons on shelf talkers promoting a special price. I'd like to see how they look on standard labels without the promo offers. I think the hardcore foodies will like the labels once they get used to them, but others will ignore them. Not a game-changer, but likely a competitive differentiation appreciated by an increasingly key segment.
  • Posted on: 09/06/2017

    Do grocers need to reset the center store?

    As refrigeration technology continues to progress, it will become more feasible to have milk next to cereal, etc. But it's still not very practical financially because of necessary piping and equipment. When we hit that tipping point, there can be more creativity in merchandising synergistic categories together rather than apart from each other. We chase our tails when we try to find one-size-fits-all merchandising magic for the center store. Specific hands-on suggestions (rather than "you've got to update your merchandising") are needed, with an understanding that they will work in some regions/stores, but not others. You've got to do your own local market homework.
  • Posted on: 06/19/2017

    Did Amazon just patent tech that could end showrooming in its stores?

    An idea that probably seemed worth exploring five years ago when it was patented but would be a terrible idea today. I believe it would really tick off customers and that some of the scathing comments about it would go viral.
  • Posted on: 05/18/2017

    Is the $400B prescription drug business ripe for an Amazon disruption?

    I'd like to be excited, but I'm not. Big Pharm, in lock-step with the best Congress money can buy, will surely not let anything truly significant happen on drug pricing. And I have to say that in terms of efficiency and user-friendliness, my mail-order pharmacy is terrific. But of course their prices are outrageous, as is true everywhere. I once complained about the price of something I knew should cost about $7 and for which my insurance company was routinely charging more than $100. The insurance company rep calmly told me over the phone, "But it doesn't matter, because you aren't paying for it anyway." Infuriating. If Amazon can find a way around this long-standing fiasco, I'll be very surprised, and Amazon, in those circumstances, would win way more than 10% of the market.
  • Posted on: 03/13/2017

    Will ‘Fearless Girl’ lead to more women on retail company boards?

    All good points here. Sexism is still rampant; good ole boys' clubs (made up largely of the 1 percenters) still rule. But I do think that some of the large companies with such inbred boards and leadership are weakening themselves, as evidenced by the many new and successful entrepreneurial companies, many of them led by women. From what I've seen of Nielsen data, smaller companies/brands are significantly out-pacing "the big boys." So I actually think that the best/fastest way for women and (and men) to get ahead is to start their own business. It truly ain't rocket science. And it's always amazed me how once you are a male CEO somewhere, you are a CEO for life, even if you move from job to job with colossal incompetence.Anybody who thinks sexism is mostly "solved" is deluded. My daughter, and many of her friends, can convincingly tell you otherwise. As for the statue, I hope it stays there. It probably won't do much, but every little bit helps. (Full disclosure: this topic absolutely infuriates me.)
  • Posted on: 02/21/2017

    Are Boomers being ignored by retailers?

    It is wise for retailers to shower more attention on younger consumers to attract and keep future long-standing customers among Millennials. As a 69-year-old Boomer, I don't feel neglected -- I can find what I need online for clothing, hardware and such because there's a wider selection and less hassle. Food is the exception -- I still want to pick out my own stuff in the supermarket and, unlike (from what I read) 99 percent of Millennials, I don't buy my groceries using my cell phone while tweeting. I will be genuinely surprised if I'm still here in 20 years. But I expect my kids and grandkids to be around, spending happily. So spend your marketing dollars on the younger people. We Boomers are just fine.
  • Posted on: 11/28/2016

    Is Chobani smart to open cafés in grocery stores?

    Chobani benefits from a new revenue stream, more exposure and the ability to test and sample for new usage occasions. It has worked with Starbucks in so many supermarkets and other food vendors with storefronts in airports. I was a little surprised to see 1,100 square feet -- it's bigger than I expected. If this begins to take off at all, others will surely follow and then retailers will have a stronger hand when it comes to negotiating. I suspect Target is still more in an experimentation stage than many other retailers, and more likely to try this. Other categories can try, but there's a limit to how many of these you want to have in your stores. You don't want duplication or cannibalization, and that could require some unpleasant policing and interesting contracts. Net-net, nice idea. Good, creative marketing by Chobani that is bound to draw some new interest inside Target. But I don't expect a stampede, for reasons I cited.
  • Posted on: 10/17/2016

    Pharmacy charges ‘man tax’

    Call it a stunt if you like, but I just love it. It helps raise awareness and nobody was harmed. As I understand it, men paid full price and women got a 7% discount. I wish this sort of thing happened more often. "Raising awareness" takes so darn long. I remember John Lennon (how I wish he were still with us) singing "Woman is the N***** of the World" back in 1972. Just Googled the lyrics; they're just as valid today.
  • Posted on: 10/14/2016

    Will others follow Walmart’s lead on manager pay?

    I agree totally with Robert, Max and Bob. Ultimately this will hurt standards of living for the typical low-wage earner. All retailers can do the same simple math and act in lock-step. That old African expression comes to mind: When elephants fight, only the grass gets hurt.
  • Posted on: 10/12/2016

    Could a ‘breakfast aisle’ revitalize the grocery center store?

    This has been tried, under one name or another, for many years. It seems like common sense in many ways but -- as with Congress -- not much ever gets done. There are many reasons for that, including retailers' lack of trust in their trading partners, vendor lack of candor in presentations, vendor battles over who gets to be the "category captain" or "aisle colonel" or whatever, fights over who would do resets, fears of upsetting customers who might shop elsewhere, fights over proper adjacencies, expense of plumbing required for refrigeration if moved into an all-encompassing segment aisle, perceived loss of sales/profits from new traffic patterns ... well, you get the idea.For these reasons and more (sorry, I just don't have the time), I see this as a nice idea that won't gain serious traction anytime soon. And that's too bad. The center store needs a real shake-up. Maybe a pioneer will give this a serious try and see what happens. But you know what they say about pioneers ... they get the arrows, but they also (sometimes) get the gold.
  • Posted on: 09/15/2016

    Are robo-carts coming to a Walmart near you?

    Here's a link to a story about IRI's VideoCart, from when it launched in 1990. I was quite sure it would succeed, but it didn't. Nice bells and whistles, it had.Anyway, the success of Walmart's new cart will depend on the costs of production, maintenance and reliability. In answer to the poll question, I am positive these concepts will be tested, but I give this one about a 50% shot of making it, no more, no less. And I'm 100% sure that there will be improvements to shopping carts, along technological lines, in the near future.
  • Posted on: 09/08/2016

    Will dedicated teams lift Target’s grocery business?

    I agree that it's incredible that it took Target this long to figure this out. It's pretty basic. They've got a lot of catching up to do in an extremely competitive market. If comps don't respond significantly in the next year or so, I'll vote with Cathy Contrarian!

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