retail news in context, analysis with attitude

I wrote the other day that it is instructive that while some companies are talking about giving $1 raises to employees, Starbucks is now willing to pay for employees to get a four-year college education. (Where would you rather work?)

One MNB user responded:

While it is great what Starbucks is doing, I think your concept of "doing it right" forgets the context. I'm guessing those other guys might be able to fund college for employees if they too were charging $4 bucks for a cup of coffee. They would lose their target audience in the process. Consumers overpaying for a commodity makes that possible. That is not the space most fast food folks are willing to play in.


But in some ways, I've always wondered is this is a false choice. Let's take McDonald's. While its average transaction may be smaller than that at Starbucks, it also seems to be largely populated by employees who work part time, are paid poorly, and who often leave for other jobs, creating high ongoing training costs. If they paid people better and gave them more hours and even offered them a path to the middle class, would that result in more efficient and effective restaurants that actually are more profitable? I don't know the answer to that ... but I think that maybe McDonald's current troubles suggest that it needs to find a better way.

Yesterday's FaceTime commentary talked about how I went to my local Whole Foods to buy fingerling potatoes, and found three varieties - French, Austrian and Russian Banana - but no description of how they differed from each other. And I said I thought this was a lost opportunity to inform the shopper and create a relationship.

One MNB user wrote:

Might be that Whole Foods didn’t really drop the ball by not expounding on the relative merits of each country’s fingerling potatoes, but is being compliant with the Country of Origin sourcing.

In fact, all three varieties were from California.

MNB reader Steve Sullivan wrote:

Or it's a clever marketing ploy.  The thing to do is to get a bunch of all three and make your own analysis.  And the store sells 3 pounds of potatoes instead one.

It didn't work.

From another reader:

Greetings from the land of potatoes - the great state of Idaho! I think you’re spot on when you say retailers should not just be the source, but the resource. In the research we do, respondents - especially Millennials - want in-store engagement, but they also complain about too many choices. They’re new and overwhelmed in the decision-making process, and they want help. Explain the product differences and illustrate what it’s best used for. Retailers will win if they make shoppers’ lives easier. Manufacturers who embrace the educational aspect of merchandising will secure long-term loyalty from Millennials seeking answers.
And that’s my two cents….

I'm buying your two cents.

And another MNB reader wrote:

Just curious but did you ask a Whole Foods Team Member what the difference was?  I agree that signage is important and could definitely have been helpful in this case but if you didn't bother to ask a Team Member you missed a huge learning opportunity.  I find it's the Team Members more so than the signage that is the biggest source of information.  I've never had a question that wasn't answered in depth and I find Whole Foods Team Members are always excited to share information about a product, recipe ideas etc.  If you did talk to a Team Member and they weren't helpful, well then there's no excuse for that but if you didn't bother I'd say the lack of information is partly your fault for not asking.

There was nobody around. But ... I disagree with your fundamental position. It is not up to the customer to create the foundation for a sale and an ongoing relationship. That is entirely up to the retailer ...

And still another MNB reader sent me the following information about fingerling potatoes:

A small, narrow potato (generally 2 to 4 inches in length) that is actually a very young tuber. The potato has a finger-like appearance and a firm texture that varies from moist to dry, with a flavor that ranges from a mildly sweet to rich and nutty. Like many other potatoes, the finger or fingerling potato as it is also known, can be baked, boiled, fried, grilled, roasted, steamed, or sautéed. There are a variety of different finger potatoes available such as the Austrian Crescent, Buttercream, French Fingerling, German Kipfler, Purple Peruvian, Ruby Crescent, and the Russian Banana. Also referred to as Fingerling Potatoes.

The Austrian Crescent is a good potato for boiling or steaming, providing a cream colored flesh that goes well in salads or side dishes. This potato may have a small crescent shape or also be somewhat straight in appearance. The Buttercream is a smaller potato with a tan colored skin covering a cream-colored flesh that can be boiled, steamed or baked. It is not considered to be a good potato for salads since the texture is not firm and crumbles easily. The French Fingerling, which is more plump and oval than other varieties, has a red outer skin covering a moist cream-colored flesh that provides a somewhat nutty flavor. It can be baked, fried, grilled, sautéed, or steamed. The German Kipfler is a yellow fleshed variety that is considered to be a good potato for making salads. It has a firm flesh that retains its shape well for a variety of baked recipes. The Purple Peruvian, native to Peru, has a purple outer skin that covers a lavender colored flesh. Since this potato has a firm texture that cooks quickly, it can be baked, steamed, or microwaved for shorter periods of time than the yellow or white fleshed varieties. It is a good potato for salads. The Ruby Crescent has a finger-like appearance covered in a ruby colored skin covering a cream colored flesh. This variety is firm textured and well suited for roasting or steaming to be served in salads or side dishes. The Russian Banana, native to the Russian region, is tan skinned with a white to cream inner flesh. It can be baked, steamed or fried to be served as a side dish or salad potato. It provides a rich buttery flavor.

When selecting, choose those that are firm and plump, avoiding those that have shriveled skins, sprouting eyes, soft spots, blemishes and green spots. Store potatoes in a cool dry place. They will keep at room temperature for up to two weeks and longer when stored in cool temperatures. Do not store in the refrigerator because the cold temperatures will convert the starches into sugar and the potato will become sweet and turn a dark color when cooked. Do not store with onions, the gas given off by onions accelerate the decay of potatoes.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Regarding the first woman to be hired as a full-time, regular season official by the NFL, and the general business lessons this teaches us, one MNB user wrote:

It isn’t just female referees in the NFL—how about females as coaches in women’s sports?  All too many women’s sports teams are coached by males.

And from another:

In response to your article, “Game On,” and CNN the report that “corporate America has few female CEOs, and the pipeline of future women leaders is alarmingly thin …”

According to Wikipedia, the Peter Principle describes how “employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively.”  In other words, “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”

In my career, I’ve seen this happen over and over again – I’ve worked with and for a number of managers that have been promoted into positions that they weren’t qualified for.  However, I only remember seeing the Peter Principle applied to men.  The women I’ve known and respected in the workplace seem to be ruled by the opposite principle.  Many females not only get passed up for upper-level positions, but often get “demoted in place” by being assigned lesser-challenging projects and clerical duties.
Perhaps we should call it the “Patsy Principle.”  A female employee is moved into a position where she is efficient and effective, but not allowed to go further.

MNB reader Mark Heckman wrote:

Just about the time we get all this “equality” stuff figured out between the races, the genders, and the have’s and have-not’s, we will soon thereafter surely be replaced by robots.

Beware Skynet.

On the subject of the Food safety Modernization Act (FSMA), one person who described himself as an "enthusiastic" MNB reader sent me the following email:

FSMA, like anything that comes out of Washington, is far from perfect, but supports a general direction in food safety goals we all should care about, since we all have to eat. It seems that we could put our vested interests aside, and agree based on common sense that improvements in food safety, fewer illnesses and recalls, etc. would be a good thing, and create stronger consumer confidence in the system of protecting our food supply.

It’s been noted that the FDA would need $580 million from 2011 to 2015 to carry out FSMA's mandate ... Given that a fighter jet costs between 60 – 100 million dollars to buy, and $30-40 K per flight hour to support, why don’t we just NOT buy and maintain a jet per year in order to do a better job of protecting the food supply for the whole nation!

Probably because the folks who make fighter jets have better lobbyists than we consumers do.

Though, when you think about, shouldn't our elected representatives be acting as our lobbyists?

Now, there's a radical notion...
KC's View: