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Grapevine: Hoping to click with grocers

With plans in place for Amazon.com’s two distribution centers in New Jersey, insiders are musing about the e-commerce giant’s next move here. One possibility is AmazonFresh, its fledgling online grocery service on the West Coast.

One source floated the idea when discussing the smaller of Amazon’s New Jersey facilities — the one it plans to open in Woodbridge, where it will occupy one of two buildings once used by C&S Wholesale Grocers. Another person dismissed the idea, noting the other building has since been leased to a logistics firm, but didn’t close the door for another location.

“It’s going to happen,” the source said of Amazon introducing its grocery brand here. “I don’t think it’s going to happen this year, but I think once they got Robbinsville up and running … they’ll refocus the requirement for the northern part of the state.”

Amazon’s 1 million-square-foot Robbinsville distribution hub is now under construction and is slated to be ready by early next year. In the meantime, the Seattle-based company has been piloting AmazonFresh in its home city since 2007, and it launched the service in Los Angeles in June. At the time, Reuters reported that if the offering goes well in California, the company may launch in 20 other urban areas in 2014.

AmazonFresh wouldn’t be the first online grocery delivery service to set up shop in New Jersey. By next year, Peapod.com will occupy about half of a 900,000-square-foot distribution center under construction in Jersey City.

West Coast calling

Speculation has intensified for weeks as to which pharmaceutical company would succeed in courting takeover target Onyx Pharmaceuticals, a San Francisco maker of highly coveted cancer drugs.

Two companies named among suitors with significant New Jersey operations, Pfizer Inc. and Novartis, have dropped out, according to a Bloomberg report, leaving Amgen and AstraZeneca in the running.

Representatives from Pfizer and Novartis declined to speak about the matter, saying their companies don’t comment on rumor or speculation. Sources who follow the industry said the rising price tag likely influenced decisions to withdraw from a potential bidding war.

Onyx, the maker of blood cancer drug Kyprolis, last month rejected an unsolicited bid of $120 a share from Amgen.

“The price certainly seems to have played a role,” one source said. “It just makes sense that as the asking price gets higher, you get more companies dropping out.”

Another source said Amgen could still make an acceptable suitor for Onyx, given they have similar cultures. Both companies are based in California, and companies there often draw scientists from similar talent pools, the source said.

Pay to play not going away

You might think the pay-to-play scandal that brought down the engineering firm Birdsall Services Group would have put the fear of God into any New Jersey company flirting with the notion of violating the state’s campaign contribution laws. 

Well, it didn’t. Small-business owners are telling Grapevine this kind of scandalous behavior is still taking place.

“Pay-to-play is alive and well,” one executive said. “I could become a much larger firm — but there are some things I just won’t do.”

Birdsall and several former executives and owners of the company pleaded guilty to funneling thousands of dollars in campaign contributions through Birdsall employees to Republican and Democratic politicians across the state.

According to an analysis by The Star-Ledger, between 2008 and early 2012, Birdsall made more than 1,000 secret contributions, together worth $1.05 million, to candidates and political groups across the state.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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