A few thoughts about the Stop & Shop/King Kullen deal. In one sense, this is win/win situation – Stoppie gets to expand its market leadership position on Long Island and the Cullen family gets to bow out gracefully after a tremendous 89-year run with the claim of being America’s first supermarket. That said, this deal is also a microcosm of the attrition impacting the regional supermarket chains and independent grocers in the U.S. Last month, Lidl swooped in and acquired Best Markets, another Long Island-based regional with reported significant debt. Over the past year, we’ve seen the ongoing divestiture of UNFI/Supervalu’s corporate regional banners (Farm Fresh, Shop ‘n Save, Shoppers, Hornbacher’s) and the sale (one store to Giant/Martin’s) and closing (three stores) of Darrenkamp’s in Central Pennsylvania. Other independents and regionals have issued prospectuses exploring sales options. For those smaller retail organizations the ability to keep pace from a technology and overall capital perspective is more daunting than ever. Family-owned firms face perpetuation issues, too, plus there’s the intangible element of dealing with the emotional demands of a business that’s now become overstored, diversified and filled with deep-pocketed competitors. Despite the pride and fulfillment that comes from operating a legacy business, the Cullens, who faced many of those issues for more than a decade, made the right move in selling. As for Stop & Shop, it is now poised to expand its already dominant share in Nassau and Suffolk counties, especially with another $150 million being invested to improve its 51 current Long Island stores. With nearly 50 percent of King Kullen’s locations within the same general trading areas as Stoppie’s units, it will be interesting to see how many of those 37 KK units remain open after the dust settles. Stop & Shop is also going to be utilizing technology in the form of robotics at many of its stores. The Quincy, MA-based Ahold Delhaize USA (ADUSA) “brand” will be unveiling a fleet of driverless vehicles in the Boston area that will allow customers (using a smartphone app) to command a modified food truck to park outside their homes where they then can personally select a limited group of items (mainly perishables) that they procure in a checkout-free manner. “This is one way in which we’re leveraging new technology to make shopping easier for our customers—by essentially bringing the store to them. “We also recognize that many of our customers want the opportunity to make their own choices when it comes to fresh produce, and we’re proud to be the first retailer to engage with (developer) Robomart to address our customers’ needs with their cutting-edge solution,” said Stoppie’s president Mark McGowan. Stop & Shop and sister division Giant/Martin’s will also be rolling out approximately 500 robots in its stores to help with issues such as food spills and to spot of out-of-stock items. The googly-eyed machines, named Marty, should be operating at many Stop & Shop units and all 172 Giant/Martin’s stores by the middle of this year. Late last year, Ahold Delhaize said it would also build robot-manner automated warehouses adjacent to some of its stores about which company CEO Frans Muller said: “With the robotized solution, we can optimize those picking costs and be closer to micro-fulfillment to our catchment areas, We can also reduce the cost of the last mile.”…Weis Markets has launched a new price reduction program, effective January 17. The Sunbury, PA-based regional merchant said it has lowered prices on more than 7,000 products in every department in all of its 203 stores. “We understand saving money has never been more important for our customers,” said Richard Gunn, Weis Markets’ senior VP-merchandising and marketing. “That’s why we are making a multi-million-dollar investment to provide the lowest price in the market on more than 7,000 everyday products.” Additionally, in a move related to the Federal government shutdown, Weis it has accelerated store shipments of high-demand purchases by SNAP (food assistance) customers. “As a result of the shutdown, customers who use SNAP to purchase their groceries will receive their February benefits this week (beginning on January 17) – essentially two to three weeks ahead of schedule,” said Kurt Schertle, Weis Markets’ COO. “To meet this early demand, we have moved up our delivery schedules to ensure that we are in stock for our customers. We are doubly prepared for this increase in demand due to predictions of snow in many of our markets. As a company that supplies its own stores and operates its own dairy, our procurement and distribution teams are able to respond quickly and adjust to meet this early demand.”…sadly, there are several obits to report over the past month… I was shocked to hear about the sudden passing of Nate Ostroff, 70, a highly visible member of the Delaware Valley grocery community for more than 40 years. As owner of his own brokerage firm, Network Food Brokers, Nate’s wisdom, generosity and warmth touched many. I also admired Nate’s candor and his accessibility – he went out of his way to help many people and seemed always available to support the industry he loved including in the early days when I first met him though his involvement with the old Tri-State Dairy-Deli Association. An all-around good guy and a real mensch, I’ll miss you, Nate…also leaving us was Nancy Wilson, the great jazz singer. Wilson’s voice was flexible and soothing. She was able to belt out bluesy songs as well as jazz ballads and pop tunes. Wilson, 81, began her career in 1959 and retired in 2011. All told, she recorded more than 60 albums including my favorite, “Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley” (1961)….“Super Dave Osborne” has also passed. “Super Dave,” the incredibly stupid stuntman whose exploits would often leave him injured, was really Bob Einstein, a talented writer and actor who literally was born into comedy – his father was radio comedian and writer Harry Einstein and his brother is Albert Einstein, who for some mysterious reason changed his last name to Brooks. Bob Einstein, who got his first break writing for the Smothers Brothers in late 1960s, most recently played the annoying but funny recurring character Marty Funkhouser in Larry David’s hilarious “Curb Your Enthusiasm” series. Einstein was 76…legendary Broadway star Carol Channing, whose signature platinum hair and raspy voice made her immediately recognizable – she was the original Dolly Gallagher Levi (“Hello Dolly!”) – died earlier this month at the age of 97. Channing began her Broadway career in the early 1940s. While she appeared in nearly 30 films and TV shows, Channing’s career was highlighted by her 60-year affiliation with Broadway. She was also the original Lorelei Lee in the musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (Marilyn Monroe got the movie role). In 1981, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. She also received lifetime achievement awards from the Tonys and the Drama Critics Circle….also passing on was former New York Yankees pitcher and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. Stottlemyre pitched 11 seasons for the Bronx Bombers and was a standout on some of the worst Yankees teams from the mid-1960s to early 1970s (career record 164-139 with a 2.97 ERA). After retiring as a player, Stottlemyre remained in the game as a pitching coach. He helped the 1986 New York Mets (Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, etc.) win the World Series. Ten years later, he guided a talented pitching staff (Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, etc.) to four World Series victories – 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. A quiet, tough guy who was admired by his peers, Stottlemyre was 77 when he died… Marion Wormer is dead. Well, actually, Verna Bloom, the actress who played the wife of Faber College Dean Vernon Wormer (actor John Vernon) in the iconic movie “Animal House” (1980), has left us. In one of the most hilarious scenes in the film, suave fraternity member Otter (Tim Matheson) runs into Mrs. Wormer in the local supermarket produce aisle and begins talking about cucumbers. Here’s some of the ensuing dialogue. Otter: “My name is Eric Stratton. They call me Otter.” Marion Wormer: “My name is Marion. They call me Mrs. Wormer.” Otter: “We have a Dean Wormer at Faber.” Marion Wormer: “What a coincidence – I have a husband named Dean Wormer at Faber.” In a subsequent scene, she attends a frat house toga party and ends up in bed with Otter. Actually, Verna Bloom was serious stage and screen star, whose superb acting could be seen in an excellent and highly underrated film – “Medium Cool” (1968) – a semi-documentary about the rioting during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Bloom was 80 when she passed.