Amazon’s New Head of Real Estate Joined from Discount Grocery Chain Save-A-Lot

In what could be another signal that Amazon is planning to develop a new chain of physical grocery stores, we have learned that Amazon recently hired a discount supermarket veteran as its new Head of Real Estate.

Patrick Waldron joined Amazon in September according to his LinkedIn profile, though Amazon has not officially announced his hiring that we have seen. Previously, Waldron was Vice President of Real Estate and Business Development at Save-A-Lot Food Stores, a discount grocery store chain with over 1,300 locations in the United States, primarily east of the Mississippi. Prior to Save-A-Lot, Waldron was Vice President of Real Estate at discount supermarket chain Lidl (US), where he worked for several years, moving to Save-A-Lot shortly after Lidl opened its first US stores. Today, Lidl operates about 65 stores in the US, also mainly in the eastern states (and thousands more in Europe).

Save-A-Lot stores are typically smaller format than major US supermarkets. While Save-A-Lot stores carry national brands, they also carry many of the company’s own private label products across a variety of categories. Save-A-Lot has also grown through a licensing model in which it acts effectively as a wholesaler to its local licensees. In 2016, the company was sold by Supervalu to current private equity owner Onex for $1.37 billion.

In addition to competing with traditional grocery stores, discount grocery chains in the US like Save-A-Lot are also increasingly competing with general merchandise dollar stores like Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar. While these stores typically do not carry fresh food, they are increasingly allocating square footage to frozen food in addition to non-perishables — and are also often located in the same or nearby shopping centers.

“Smaller formats are driving retail success. It’s the perfect storm for retail and private label,” Waldron said in an interview with Chain Store Age last year (while still at Save-A-Lot). “The physical experience has to be convenient, which is why Lidl, Aldi, and Dollar General are doing well.”

Above: A Save-A-Lot store in Amherst, OH. Source: Save-A-Lot (undated), via Google Images.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Esther Fung and Heather Haddon reported that Amazon is planning to open “dozens of grocery stores in several major U.S. cities” that likely won’t compete with Whole Foods and may or may not incorporate the Amazon brand. Amazon’s hiring of Waldron could be seen as evidence that Amazon is interested in developing a new type of grocery store chain.

Those we spoke with in the grocery industry said they are generally expecting Amazon to proceed with a new type of chain distinct from its current physical retail grocery stores.

While Amazon has largely kept prices at Whole Foods in check since its acquisition a year and a half ago, the idea of adding a new brand of stores with more selection and lower prices would enable Amazon to eat into a larger share of the US grocery market, which has overall proven a tough nut to crack for Amazon over time. Whole Foods stores are generally located in higher-income areas, and Whole Foods’ standards prohibit it from carrying items that contain anything on its “Unacceptable Ingredients For Food” list.

Eliminating that restriction would allow a new brand of Amazon-owned grocery stores to carry a wider selection of products and brands. Of course, Amazon would still face the challenges of the traditional grocery market. Nevertheless, more grocery stores would also enable Amazon to expand its Prime Now footprint for fast delivery of fresh items, and expand its network of pickup locations. We would also expect such a chain to carry a high portion of Amazon “Our Brand” items.

Another potential angle here is pharmacy. Whole Foods stores don’t have pharmacies, but many of the larger grocery stores in America do. We believe Amazon is investing substantially in its online/mail-order pharmacy distribution infrastructure, and having a network of local pharmacies would both complement its online pharmacy and offer a network of local mini fulfillment centers for quick delivery.

Regardless, Amazon could potentially apply technology currently deployed in its Amazon Go stores to a new, larger format environment. Compared to traditional grocery stores, such a store could lead to higher customer satisfaction through automated checkout while also potentially delivering higher revenue per square foot for Amazon.

Between its Whole Foods Markets, Go, Books, 4-star, (for now) pop-ups, and more, we are tracking over 600 Amazon physical retail venues today. It is looking increasingly likely that that number will grow in the coming times.

Amazon Building New Perishable Meal Platform for “Time-Starved Customers”

Speculation has been growing about Amazon’s recent grocery efforts. On the one hand, Amazon has built out its first few Amazon Go automated food stores in urban centers and is likely to roll the concept out much more broadly. On the other hand, Amazon has been leveraging its Whole Foods Markets real estate as mini Prime Now food distribution centers, and could build out more Whole Foods stores to be able to broaden its geographic reach and shorten delivery times in more cities and suburban areas.

But what will Amazon’s product strategy be?

An important part of what Amazon is currently thinking appears to be ready-made meals. According to a recent Amazon job posting (which has been taken down), Amazon is planning to build a “new perishable food platform” to deliver “world class meal solutions for time-starved customers.” The listing reads:

Are you interested in changing how customers solve the “what’s for dinner?” dilemma? If yes, Amazon is looking for somebody with your enthusiasm and skills to build and lead the team that delivers world class meal solutions for time-starved customers. We are looking for an entrepreneurial, analytical, operationally-minded category leader to deliver a new perishable food platform. This role will require the ability to set a vision and drive the end-to-end strategy that will fuel the growth and long term profitability of this critical assortment. The right person for this role will have deep experience developing and commercializing a portfolio of perishable packaged foods, communicating effectively to stakeholders and closely with the cross-functional teams as well as owning the P&L.

Ready-made meals is an interesting strategy because it leverages two major competitive advantages Amazon has been investing in heavily: 1) its Prime Now network of last mile delivery solutions, and 2) its growing network of Amazon Go and Whole Foods food distribution centers, er, grocery stores. Ready meals are a logical application to run on top of this infrastructure.

By focusing on ready meals, Amazon is apparently choosing a different strategy than the “mail-order ingredients you prepare yourself” meal kit companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Plated, and many more. Instead, Amazon is focusing on the “time-starved” segment of the population. We think that makes sense. (Note, however, that Amazon does offer its own selection of non-perishable meal kits, but they appear to be sparsely reviewed. There is also a single perishable meal from Tyson available via AmazonFresh in our spot check.) Amazon does also offer perishable foods at Whole Foods and Amazon Go currently.

By ramping up its ready meal efforts, Amazon will also be competing more broadly with restaurants that offer takeout or delivery, and the logistics networks like Uber Eats that are virtualizing them. (Amazon is also building its own food delivery service, Amazon Restaurants, that is available in about 20 cities.) Just as Amazon has built out its own portfolio of private label brands across multiple retail categories, including non-perishable food, we could see Amazon creating its own “restaurant-like” private label brands for different types of ready meals (pizza, Thai, etc).

Given the investments Amazon has made in grocery and logistics thus far, we expect perishable meals and related new food products to be an area that Amazon is prepared to invest in and grind it out over a period of time.

The TJI Amazon Brand Report – October 2018 Edition

TJI Amazon Brand Database – The Independent Global List of Amazon Private Label and Exclusive Brands

As one of the largest internet retailers and e-commerce platforms in a growing number of markets around the world, Amazon holds a unique position in an increasing number of retail product categories. Over the last decade, Amazon has introduced a number of private label and exclusive brands, and recently it has accelerated its efforts by bringing to market both many new brands and an increasing number of products offered under them.

But, while Amazon labels these brands in different ways in different places, there’s no singular comprehensive reference for manufacturers, brand owners, or retailers to find all of Amazon’s private label and exclusive brands in one place. That’s why we have created the TJI Amazon Brand Database — the independent global list of Amazon private label and exclusive brands.


275+ Private Label and Exclusive Brands

Some brands, like AmazonBasics, are in use by Amazon globally. Others, like Vedaka (Amazon’s spice brand in India) or Kid Nation (one of Amazon’s children’s clothing brands in the US) are only in use in one of Amazon’s country stores.

All told, we’ve identified 120+ Amazon private label brands and 150+ Amazon exclusive brands from Amazon’s retail sites around the world as of today, for a total of 275+ private label and exclusive brands combined. That represents a much larger number than has previously been identified in any reports we’ve seen.

As a few examples, some Amazon private label brands that you may not have seen before include Common District, Dayana, Denim Crush, Filgate, Smitten, Sprout Star, The Casual Grey, The Portland Plaid Co, Toes In A Blanket, and OWN PWR.

And the number is growing.

From Suits to Nuts, Furniture to Dryer Sheets, and Everything in Between

While Amazon’s brand portfolio is largest in clothing — there are over 125 private label and exclusive clothing, shoes, accessories brands in the US alone — Amazon brands run the gamut of consumer product categories.

For example, we count 16 food and grocery brands, 25 healthcare and beauty brands, and 14 household goods brands in the US alone. From Austin Mill suits to Sol nuts, Rivet mid-century accent chairs to Breezeo dryer sheets, Amazon’s thousands of private label and exclusive brand items cover a greater number of retail categories than you may think.

A Global Footprint

While the greatest number of Amazon private label brands are marketed in the US, Amazon has made efforts to build its brand portfolio around the world as well.

For example, in the UK and EU, Amazon has many private label clothing brands that don’t exist in other Amazon markets. And in India, Amazon has a spectrum of private label and exclusive clothing brands ranging from the traditional to the modern.

Dive In

We continue to find new brands on an ongoing basis, and we predict the number of brands is only going to grow.

The TJI Amazon Brand Database is a starting point for researchers and analysts to navigate the breadth and depth of Amazon’s private label and exclusive brands.

For professionals serious about tracking Amazon’s private brand efforts on an ongoing basis, subscribe to TJI Briefing, which covers the latest developments across Amazon’s brand portfolio.

Amazon Launches Solimo Brand Private Label Toilet Paper

Continuing its expansion into private label household supplies, Amazon has launched a new toilet paper product under its Solimo brand.

Solimo is the fourth private label toilet paper brand in the Amazon portfolio. Previously, Amazon has launched Presto! brand toilet paper for consumers, AmazonBasics Professional toilet paper for businesses, and 365 Everyday Value brand toilet paper at Whole Foods.

Vine reviews for Solimo toilet paper are dated since early September. Amazon also recently launched Solimo brand paper towels in August.

At $0.19 per 100 sheets for this 30-roll pack, Amazon is positioning the Solimo brand at a lower price point than its Presto line. For example, this 24-pack of Presto Ultra-Soft toilet paper is priced at $0.28 per 100 sheets. By comparison, this AmazonBasics Professional toilet paper is priced at $0.12 per 100 sheets.

For reference, Amazon’s two best sellers in its toilet paper category sell for much higher prices than its new Solimo brand. Those are this 24-pack of Quilted Northern Ultra Plush Toilet Paper ($0.32 per 100 sheets) and this 36-pack of Cottonelle Ultra CleanCare Toilet Paper ($0.28 per 100 sheets).

Other top brands in Amazon US toilet paper search results include Charmin, Angel Soft, Scott, and Georgia Pacific. Top sponsors in our check were Quilted Northern and Cottonelle taking the sponsored product placements and Clorox ToiletWand taking the headline search placement, with Amazon applying the “Amazon’s Choice” ribbon to its Presto 24-count pack.

 

Is Whole Foods Driving Prime Membership Growth?

When Amazon bought Whole Foods a year ago, a common theory behind the rationale was that Prime could drive traffic to Whole Foods through membership deals. But are long-time Whole Foods shoppers who are not Prime members also more likely to join Prime because of those deals?

Per a survey from consumer research firm InfoScout, it appears that for many, the answer is yes.

InfoScout notes:

In addition to analyzing purchase data from Prime member shoppers, we fielded an InfoScout survey to understand how 1,006 long-time Whole Foods shoppers (people who had made Whole Foods purchases both pre- and post-Amazon acquisition) perceived the changes taking place in-store.

Of the surveyed shoppers, 11.2% claimed not to be Prime members, but 64.6% of those non-Prime members said they were considering Prime membership. The top reason for considering Prime? Access to in-store Whole Foods discounts (68.5%), followed by ease of shopping on Amazon (63%), and ability to get Prime shipping on Amazon (61.6%). The in-store discounts are clearly working toward Amazon’s ultimate goal – driving more Prime memberships.