Retail

Grocery Tracker: For The Chickens

Starting off this week’s Grocery Tracker, Whole Foods’ (WFM) stock hasn’t seen much net movement since last week. Prices on Friday (Jan. 20) afternoon at $30.78 compared to $30.68 a week prior. Its numbers saw some uptick during the week, followed by a near-equivalent period of decline — overall, maintaining a relative value plateau since 2017 began. With WFM shares down by more than half since their peak in 2013, some investors might be pining for the good, old days of growth — though relative stability is certainly nothing to balk at.

Big-box warehouse club Costco’s (COST) stock saw a week’s worth of decent growth. At the time of writing, Friday’s trading was up 0.05 percent to $163.78 from the previous day’s close, COST’s overall value increased by about $1.50 over the course of the third week in January.

Kroger (KR) stock saw a similar shape to Whole Foods’ in the past week, with prices rising during mid-week trading only to fall again as the week came to a close. Friday afternoon saw Kroger at $34.09, down 0.50 percent from Thursday’s open. Though down relative to the stock’s high point in late December, KR is still on the up compared to the majority of its time trading on the NYSE — when values half of what they are now would have been a good day.

Ahold Delhaize — the food retail group that owns Food Lion, Hannaford and Stop & Shop, among others in the U.S — got a late-week boost in value after a flat trek through Wednesday. Prices rose on Thursday morning to €20.40, rising to a week peak of €20.72. Friday afternoon trading was down 2.25 percent to €20.22 from the previous day’s close.

Recently, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced a new set of animal welfare rules for the organic food industry. Most notably, the AMS has clarified specific space allotment requirements for organic farmers keeping chickens.

According to the new regulations, organic farmers must, at a minimum, provide one square foot of outdoor space for every 2.25 pounds of poultry in their flock. According to NPR, Jesse Laflamme, CEO of Pete And Gerry’s Organic Eggs, said that that translates to about two square feet per egg-laying hen, or about an acre for a flock of 20,000.

Elanor Starmer, head of the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator, which runs the National Organic Program, was quoted as saying: “This rule will level the playing field and provide clarity to the industry.”

A survey cited by the USDA indicates that, as of now, somewhere around a quarter of all organic egg production comes from farms that don’t meet the new standards. These farms have five years to alter their operations. Otherwise, they’ll risk losing their organic certification.

Not everyone is feeling plucky about the new regulations. Animal welfare group The Cornucopia Institute issued a statement calling the USDA’s new provisions too little, too late, while NPR reported that the National Pork Producers Council has condemned the new rule on principle, saying the National Organic Program lacks the authority to issue regulations regarding animal welfare.

Things are also changing at the store locations where eggs end up — largely in the form of technological innovations to compete with the small but quickly growing online grocery segment, as well as direct pressure from the threat of Amazon Go and Walmart.

Kroger, for one, will soon expand testing of its technology enhancements for its shelf spaces. The new system uses sensors, data analytics, display screens and mobile connectivity to detect shoppers through their mobile devices, offering special pricing and highlighting particular products based on the particulars of a customer’s mobile shopping list.

Chris Hjelm, chief information officer at Kroger, was quoted as saying: “We want to bring technology to life in the store … We know what’s in the aisle and what the mobile shopper has told us and fuse all that data.”

As of now, 14 stores near Kroger’s Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters are running the technology; more stores are expected to try it out later this year.

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