retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB yesterday took note of a New York Times report that “public health experts worried about the spread of the H1N1 flu are raising concerns that workers who deal with the public, like waiters and child care employees, are jeopardizing others by reporting to work sick because they do not get paid for days they miss for illness.”

According to the Timespiece, “Tens of millions of people, or about 40 percent of all private-sector workers, do not receive paid sick days, and as a result many of them cannot afford to stay home when they are ill. Even some companies that provide paid sick days have policies that make it difficult to call in sick, like giving demerits each time someone misses a day.”

On MNB user wrote:

I was at a local Thriftway…at the deli counter I ordered a toasted Panini sandwich. While the Panini was toasting, the person helping me, while she was standing in front of the toaster sneezed (because of a cold). She covered her mouth with her arm…but she stood right in front of the toaster, without turning her head. What little sneeze that wasn’t caught on her sleeve, went directly onto the front of the toaster oven.

I promptly said, “forget about the sandwich…I do not want it now. “ And, she promptly replied back, “But, I was wearing gloves.” I stared blankly into her eyes and slowly turned and walked out of the store.

Regarding the new E. coli outbreak apparently connected to ground beef products distributed by Fairbanks Farms of Ashville, New York and sold in the northeastern US, has sickened more than two dozen people and caused at least one fatality, MNB user Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

Cheap food... cheap food... cheap food... America's love affair with cheap food is a major factor in these outbreaks - not directly of course, but our demand for cheap food puts pressure on farms to be bigger and more efficient, processing to be bigger and more efficient and corners to be cut.

People need to start asking where there meat comes from and demanding answers from the suppliers and retailers. And yes America, that may mean meat and other fresh products cost more.   For all of the meat we sell in our stores, we know the story of where it's from. We don't offer mystery ground meat from multiple sources and yes, our meat and poultry costs more. 

Until retailers suck it up and make this a priority, we will continue to see these sad and fatal outbreaks. Our modern food system is really messed up.

It's not just the growers, the USDA or our processors that are at fault, it's us.

Regarding the ongoing price wars between Walmart and Amazon, one MNB user wrote:

When I was running a store, I had the experience of watching Wal-Mart construct a 210,000 square foot store right next door to me.   This would have been about 16 years ago as they were just getting their supercenter format rolling in the Upper Midwest.    I was not going to be intimidated by them and made a point of putting price comparison signs (along with the proper documentation) in the grocery aisles and in the departments around the store.   Within a day or two the Wal-Mart store manager sought me out and told me that it was his company policy to respond to price comparisons in the following manner:
First time-------undercut the item price by one cent.
Second time-----undercut the item price by 20%.
Third time------undercut the entire section by 20%.

He suggested to me that it would be better for all concerned if I no longer hung price comparison signs in my store.    (Now there's an ethical and legal conversation for you!)   After conferring with my superiors, we decided to drop the direct price comparisons…….but I devoted the rest of my time competing against them to out-promote and out-merchandise them every way I could.   Eventually, we got all of our business back and then some as other competitors in that market closed.    I don't know if that "policy" is still in effect today, but it can certainly serve as a deterrent to others who aren't nearly as big as Amazon.

I got criticized the other day for suggesting that, as a consumer, I want to know where retailers stand on certain issues - like a call by a farmworkers advocacy group for Publix to stop doing business with growers that are guilty of abusing workers.

MNB user Philip Bradley wrote:

I sympathize with your wanting to know Publix' position on the labor dispute.

Fortunately, our co-op can take a socially-conscious position on this kind of issue, as one of our principles is that we want our vendors (and their employees) to make enough money so that they can stay in business. Case-in-point: the current dairy crisis, where the market cost for milk has plummeted. However, the price for organic milk sold at the Wedge Coop has not changed, despite the fact that dairy farmers are taking a bath selling to most retail outlets.

I'm sorry you don't have a food co-op conveniently located near your home!

Me, too.

However, not everyone agreed. One MNB user wrote:

Abuses?  These farm workers get to live in Florida and work outside.  Wow, live in Florida, I can't afford to live in Florida.  I can only afford to visit Florida.  They get to work outside, enjoy the weather, and pay no state income tax.  I'm stuck up here in the Wisconsin tundra pushing a mouse around all day.  Now these workers want even more.  Give an inch, they will take a mile.  Did you notice what their cure all to their problems were?  More money.  Send them a check KC.  They will probably whack them into their swimming pools with their polo mallets and have a good laugh at your expense.

I try not to paint with too broad a brush in this space, and to keep an open mind about the attitudes and motivations of the people who write to MNB...especially the people who disagree with me.

But I can’t help myself. I have to say it. In eight years of doing MNB, this is one of the most moronic emails I have ever received.
KC's View: