business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: March 20, 2014

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    Yes, I'm back out west. And this morning I want to tell you a story that really doesn't have anything to do with business, but I hope you'll see some value in it nonetheless.

    About 20 years ago, my mom and dad went to Florida, for the first time getting a place where they could spend a few months and get away from the cold. They invited all of their kids down to visit at various times- I'm the oldest of seven - and I remember dithering about whether I'd make the trip. Finally, my wife, who is a saint, told me that I had to go, that I should go visit my parents, that she'd be fine (even though we had two little kids at the time).

    So I did. And we had a great time … I remember long walks on the beach, my mom making me breakfast (which she probably hadn't done for 20 years), taking them out to dinner and enjoying the fact that I had them all to myself for the first time since I was three years old or so. It was magical … and even more so since a few weeks after I left, my mother suffered the first in a series of seizures. She was diagnosed with cancer, and died four years later. It really was the last time I saw her healthy and energized, and when I think of her, it is how she was that weekend.

    Which brings me to this week.

    A couple of months ago, my brother, Tim, said to me that we should take our dad, who now is 87, on a road trip. It ended up that this week, I had to be in Arizona for a speaking engagement; Tim, who is a teacher, is on break; and our other brother, Brendan, is retired and living in California. The stars aligned.

    So, we are here in Arizona this week, hanging out together, going to spring training games and visiting Sedona and basically just telling stories and laughing and having a great time. My dad seems unbelievably happy - he has this smile on his face that won't go away.

    And it occurs to me that I could've found reasons not to be here. There always are reasons. But I'm here, because of my brother and my wife (who insisted that this was an opportunity not to be missed). I'm glad.

    My priorities have shifted a bit this week, and I hope you'll understand. I'm still getting MNB out each day, though maybe the commentaries are a bit shorter and "Your Views" aren't always being posted.

    The stars have aligned, and years from now, when I think of my dad, it'll be about the way he smiled when his boys took him on a road trip.

    Anyway … that's what on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Florida Today reports that scientists at the Kennedy Space Center are experimenting with something called the Vegetable Production System, which would allow US astronauts to grow fresh produce in space.

    Interestingly, it is not the first plants-in-space project to be developed; the story says that Russian cosmonauts already grow and eat fresh produce in the International Space Station (ISS). However, US astronauts still "rely on food from plastic pouches or tin cans, except for the occasional piece of fruit sent up in resupply ships. Strict NASA food safety regulations haven’t yet established guidelines for cleaning and eating fresh produce."

    (Go figure. The Russians are ahead of us on this one. The shame…)

    If this experiment works, the story, it will clear the way for growing and consuming fresh fruits and vegetables in space.

    Though, if you ask me (and nobody did), the space scientists are wasting their money by going after the low-hanging fruit.

    Instead, they ought to just go ahead an invent the food replicators so familiar to us from "Star Trek."

    It'd be an Eye-Opener….
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2014

    Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said yesterday that his company is committing $30 million "to help war vets," saying that "he fears that with the wind-down of Afghanistan, some Americans may forget too quickly about the needs of the 2.5 million who have served," according to a story from CBS News.

    Schultz said yesterday that he sees two main goals for the funding: "I think one thing that is necessary is a comprehensive mechanism for job training. But another is the fact that, depending on who you're talking to, 20, 30, 40 percent of the two million people who have served are coming back with some kind of brain trauma or PTS. So we're going to fund the opportunity for significant research and for medical practitioners and science to understand the disease and, ultimately, hopefully, come up with some -- a level of remedy."

    He also said that Starbucks will hire 10,000 veterans or their spouses over the next five years.

    In other Starbucks news:

    • The company announced what the Wall Street Journal termed "a first-of-its-kind collaboration to co-create Teavana Oprah Chai Tea. Beginning April 29, Teavana Oprah Chai will be sold in Starbucks and Teavana stores across the U.S. and Canada, with Starbucks making a donation for each product sold to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation to benefit educational opportunities for youth."

    • And, the Los Angeles Times reports that Starbucks will expand its after 4 pm "Evenings" menu, which includes beer, wine and assorted foods, from the 25 stores where it currently is being tested to "thousands of stores nationwide." The move, the story says, "is part of Starbucks’ ongoing effort to branch out beyond the coffee through which it became famous."
    KC's View:
    The first two are savvy public relations moves by Starbucks, which is not to suggest that the effort to support returning vets is only a PR initiative. I think anything companies can do to help veterans is worthwhile.

    As for Oprah…I was sort of thinking that she'd lost her juice, but maybe I'm wrong and this will be a big seller.

    The "Evenings" move really fascinates me, because it strikes me as one of those things that is a lot easier to talk about than do - how are they going to get the liquor licenses they're going to need, for example?

    I think this is a good idea that may be tough to implement…

    Published on: March 20, 2014

    CityWire writes that the new Walmart To Go convenience store that has been opened in Bentonville, Arkansas, reflects the company's determination "to win more than the 10% marketshare it has for the quick-trip spending consumers do mid-week or when they are crunched for time."

    In terms of logistics, the story says, the c-store is "tethered" to Store # 100, the supercenter across the street, "in that all products going into the convenience format" are coming from the larger store, with restocking taking place between 10 pm and 5 am.

    As for prices - the story says that on a list of standard, often-used items, prices were exactly the same at the supercenter, the c-store and a nearby Walmart neighborhood Market.

    • The New York Times reports that "Walmart plans to make a pointed, aggressive play for outdoor and garden business this spring for the first time, offering 'Black Friday-like prices' on more than 60 items, including a Kingsford Charcoal Grill for $88, bags of mulch for $1.97 each and a seven-piece patio furniture set for $298 — a discount of $100."

    The reason? "After an exceptionally rough winter, this spring’s selling season is likely to get an additional boost because a long parade of storms has probably left many homes and gardens in extra need of repairs."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2014

    The BBC has a story about how Tesco had to "scrap a national advertising campaign" when it was revealed that the milk cows portrayed in one ad actually were beef cows that never had been milked a day in their lives. (At least, not successfully. Though they might have enjoyed the attempt.)

    According to the story, "The mistake has led to people on the social-networking site Twitter venting their beef with the supermarket.

    "A spokesman for Tesco said the adverts were being replaced.

    "The mistake was first spotted by farmers, who pointed out that the cows on show were a Hereford cross cow - farmed for beef production rather than milk."
    KC's View:
    Poor Tesco. It can't catch a break. First it was a school kid pointing out a mistake on its orange juice cartons, and now it is farmers suggesting that it does not know what kinds of cows it is using for milk and beef.

    I'm sympathetic. I wouldn't have the first idea how to tell the difference.

    Published on: March 20, 2014 reports that in India, Amazon has begun offering pick-up service, allowing customers there to have online orders delivered to "pickup stores located at some convenient locations."

    According to the story, "This is ideal for customers who do not have a fixed address wherein they can get their products delivered, or have no one at home to collect the product when it arrives. To begin with, the company is offering the service only in two cities- Mumbai and Delhi. To select a particular pickup location, users can search for them via their address, pin code or nearest landmark."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2014

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    • The Puget Sound Business Journal has a story about how two of Seattle's best-known restaurateurs are saying that there definitely will be an impact on prices if the City Council there approves a $15/hour minimum wage.

    Tom Douglas (who owns MNB fave Etta's, as well as a dozen other establishments), says the increase likely would add $1.50 to the cost of each course, or as much as $6 per customer check. And Ethan Stowell, "who runs nine restaurants in Seattle neighborhoods, said his group was predicting a 25 percent price increase."

    Still, Douglas said that "rather than have nine council members decide this (the minimum wage) … I’m more inclined to take it to a vote and see what the people want."

    No question that some things will cost more if the minimum wage goes up. The question that has to be decided is whether the benefits - like allowing people who work 40 hours a week at the minimum wage to be able to support themselves - outweigh the negatives.

    • The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports that Bi-Lo Holdings plans to convert eight Sweetbay Supermarkets recently acquired from Delhaize to its Winn-Dixie banner, effective the end of the month.

    • The Detroit News reports that Burger King plans to introduce an application that will allow customers to use their smartphones to pay for their meals, part of an effort to appeal to younger, tech-savvy consumers.

    According to the story, "The program will be introduced next month and should be in all of Burger King’s more than 7,000 U.S. stores in a few months."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 20, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View: