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    Published on: June 25, 2015

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is faceTime with the Content Guy.

    Well, I made it. Some of you have been keeping track of my recent travels, and so you know that I've been driving cross country, on my way from Connecticut to Oregon, where I'll be spending much of my summer team-teaching a marketing class at Portland State University's Center for Retail Leadership.

    It was a long drive, with some pleasant and even somewhat unexpected detours, and even though it is the third time I've driven cross country, it never got old, never got boring. It was, in its way, sort of consciousness raising.

    The most obvious thing that I observed was quite simply how spectacularly beautiful so much of this country is. Even if you've seen pictures, I'm not sure you can really appreciate how diverse and gorgeous the country is if you've never driven it. Go figure - there actually are amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty.

    There are times that you're driving along and you look out and say to yourself, how small can those cows and horses actually be, and then you realize it is not that they are small, but that the range on which they roam is so expansive that it dwarfs everything around it.

    Two other observations, if I may.

    One is that there is an extraordinary number of windmills cutting a swath across the countryside - I had no idea that their use was so prevalent, and it made me feel good to know that this alternative source of energy is being used in the heartland.

    (Speaking of energy usage ... it was surprising to me that once I got into Wyoming, the speed limit often seemed to be 80 miles and hour. That said, I quickly realized that my car was getting a lot better mileage going 65 ... I went 80 or 85, and may have gotten to where I was going faster, but I also had to stop more often for gas, so it may have been a wash.)

    The other is about how many trains I saw.

    I expected to see a lot of trucks on the road, and I wasn't disappointed. It seems like every tenth truck was from Walmart, and I actually felt that truckers generally drove in a respectful and responsible way. At one point, in Wyoming, an accident took place right in front of me when a couple pretty much drove their minivan right into the path of an enormous truck - I was amazed they weren't killed, and the truck driver was just so nice and so shaken by the incident that I really felt for him.

    But trains ... wow. I saw dozens of these long freight trains cutting through the mountains and plains, sometimes passing each other, carrying all manner of product from one place to the next. And it occurred to me that many people go the store or the gas station and just expect to find whatever it is we're looking for. We don't realize how much effort went into getting it there ... and that's what the trains made me think about. There is a timelessness about trains that I found kind of emotionally resonant ... I would watch their relentless journey and think about how important they were to the growth and settlement of this country.

    I also found myself wondering, d'ya think there are still hobos out there who ride the rails from one place to the next? I know that now we'd call them homeless and that it seems less a charming bit of Americana than it used to ... but I kind of hoped there would be a few ... though to be honest, pretty much everything I know about hobos I learned from watching Joel McCrea in Sullivan's Travels, so maybe I've romanticized the subject more than I should.

    One thing I am becoming more expert about, though, is how great it is to be back on a college campus ... being part of a great business program ... hanging out with students who, if this summer is like past summers, probably will make me smarter than I'm going to make them.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    by Kevin Coupe

    And what the hell is a Treasure Truck, you may ask?

    Well, according to news reports, it is a large boxy Amazon truck driving around the streets of Seattle.

    CNet writes that "There's little information on what exactly this truck (or trucks?) is, though a Web page on Amazon.com provides a few tiny clues. The Seattle-based online retailer says the Treasure Truck is will be 'coming soon' in Seattle and it will be tied in with Amazon's mobile shopping app.

    "The Treasure Truck also has a Twitter account (naturally, @treasuretruck). It has yet to tweet anything but the bio box says: 'Hello Seattle, Treasure Truck is on its way'."

    GeekWire reports that "it is an obvious promotional stunt given that the company has already set up a Twitter handle and Facebook page for the truck. It also just released a YouTube video, with a description saying that the truck will be part of the 'Amazon Mobile Shopping app you may already have on your mobile phone'.

    "On the mobile app, there is a setting that allows users to 'Enable Treasure Truck.' You can also text the word 'truck' to the number 292966 to get more information, but that text just resulted in an automated response that said 'Amazon Treasure Truck is coming to Seattle!' and then directed users to this web site that had little information."

    So what's the betting here?

    One sure thing - it won't be carrying Confederate flags.

    People far smarter than I think that it could be a promotional application of Amazon's “anticipatory shipping” patent, and that the treasure truck just “shows up” with a product that you likely want.

    Which would be pretty cool.

    Whatever it is ... it is a pretty good bet that it'll be an Eye-Opener.

    UPDATE: Time reports that the Treasure Truck, in fact, is designed to "set up shop somewhere in Seattle—that’s the only location, for now at least—and offer a single item for sale. The goods will run the gamut of merchandise sold by Amazon."

    The story goes on to say that "Amazon doesn’t seem to expect all that many customers to walk up to the truck and impulsively buy inflatable paddleboards or steaks like they might pick up a fish taco or a Sno-Cone. Instead, the idea is that people will use Amazon’s mobile shopping app to scope out where the truck is and what’s for sale that day, and then purchase and pick it up later."

    It isn't easier than ordering for home delivery ... but it is designed to generate some excitement by offering really low prices. For example, Time writes, "the item on sale on Saturday, the Solstice Bali inflatable paddleboard set, is priced at $99 on the Treasure Truck, nearly 80% lower than the retail price of $477. Another item coming soon, the Firmstrong Beach Cruiser bicycle, will be priced at $99 too. Amazon says the list price of this item is $299, but it looks like the bike is sold fairly regularly for around $200. "

    It seems to me that this is a perfectly legitimate way to get some buzz going ... but that Amazon has to be selective about how it uses the truck and rigorous about the deals. The minute either becomes routine, the magic will be lost, and nobody will care.

    And that isn't a good thing for any retailer.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    The Wall Street Journal writes in the aftermath of the announcement that Ahold will be acquiring Delhaize that "the supermarket companies’ all-stock deal is billed as a 'merger of equals,'" but that the structure of the deal doe snot look "terribly equitable. Before the deal closes, Ahold will add to its debt levels and use a reverse stock split to return €1 billion ($1.1 billion) to its own investors.

    "The payback seems to be that Delhaize shareholders get a bigger stake in the combined group than they otherwise would, of 39%. It is a strange structure indeed that hands the bidder’s investors cash upfront but leaves the target hoping the promised value in deal synergies actually materializes."

    The story goes on to say that "the combined Ahold Delhaize also looks notably top heavy: the company will have a chief executive, a deputy CEO, a chief financial officer and no less than three chief operating officers, including two in the U.S. alone." This, combined with other duplications that seem designed to make the deal attractive, "casts some doubt on the promised €500 million in cost savings, and on the combined company’s ability to revitalize its U.S. business operationally. Most of the cost savings are expected to come from cutting sourcing expenses, or squeezing suppliers. That is needed, but still may not be enough to compete with the leaner models of discounters that Ahold Delhaize is encountering in Europe and the U.S."

    However, Reuters finds a bright side to the acquisition here in the US, suggesting that the deal "will be a boon for U.S. online grocer Peapod, an Ahold unit which will gain valuable resources to fend off rival Amazon.com and upstart competitors, according to retail industry consultants.

    "Peapod, acquired by Ahold in 2001, is the biggest online grocer in the U.S by sales, but it has struggled to keep up with the growth of rivals. Access to Delhaize's efficient and low-cost distribution centers in the east and its presence in the U.S. east coast is likely to give Peapod an upper hand over Amazon, Wal-Mart.com and smaller rival Fresh Direct, all of whom are expanding in the fast-growing north and south eastern markets, Strategic Resource Group's Managing Director Burt Flickinger said."
    KC's View:
    If Burt Flickinger says it, I believe it.

    But I also think that the earlier point - that the organizational structure is not designed to innovate, but rather to salve egos and grease the wheels of acquisition - also seems entirely possible. If so, this deal will create yet another lumbering behemoth that is culturally programmed to fail.

    I hope this is not the case, just because it wouldn't be good for anyone. But to make this work, both companies have to focus on effectiveness and innovation and creating a culture that nurtures new ideas and entrepreneurial thinking.

    Otherwise, it'll just be big.

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    The Austin Business Journal reports that "inspectors in New York City have found Whole Foods Market Inc. stores there regularly sold mislabeled products that resulted in many customers being overcharged — and some walked out unknowingly with a deal ... In all, the 107 inspections over five years found 800 violations that meant the grocery chain was hit with $58,000 in fines.

    "Not all of the mislabeled items resulted in overcharges, the report said; some actually resulted in undercharging, as it appears some items were marked as having uniform weights even though they might weigh more, thus giving a bit of a discount to customers."

    Time reports that Whole Foods says that it "never intentionally mispriced items, and other industry representatives have pointed out that mislabeling is often the fault of manufacturers packaging foods—not grocers."

    And Fox Business reports that Whole Foods Chief Litigation Counsel John Hempfling says he disagrees with the agency's charges, saying that the city's Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) "is trying ... to coerce us into paying way more money on damages claims that they don’t have evidence to support ... We’re willing to sit down and talk with the DCA, and in fact we have. We’ve cooperated with them every step of the way.”

    Hempfling characterizes the mislabeling as human errors, and says that "the company has instituted measures to catch mistakes."
    KC's View:
    The problem, of course, is that in the modern competitive environment, these kinds of mistakes can get a lot of attention ... and it doesn't help Whole Foods' image one iota.

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Anheuser-Busch InBev has agreed to pay as much as $50 to any Beck's Beer drinker who can produce a receipt, $12 to customers without a receipt, as well as about $3.5 million in attorneys’ fees to settle a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit took issue with the company claiming that Beck's is an authentic German pilsner, even though it has been brewed in America since 2012.

    According to the story, "The suit alleged that phrases featured on Beck’s packaging, such as 'German Quality' beer and 'Originated in Bremen, Germany,' gave consumers a false impression about where the beer was made, in violation of state consumer protection laws." A similar lawsuit has been filed against the company regarding its Kirin brand, which is not made in Japan anymore.

    The Journal writes that "Beck’s isn’t the only brand to trade on its foreign roots. Red Stripe, owned by Diageo PLC, advertises itself as a 'Jamaican-style Lager'; Foster’s, made by MillerCoors LLC, sports a kangaroo in reference to its Australian heritage, and sister brand Killian’s Irish Red alludes to Ireland in its name. All say on their packaging that they are brewed in the U.S."

    All that remains for the settlement to become final is a judge's approval.
    KC's View:
    I'm not a litigious person ... but I have to admit that I'm utterly shocked to find out that Beck's is not made in German, Kirin is not made in Japan, Red Stripe is not made in Jamaica, and Foster's is not made in Australia.

    For some reason, I always figured that Killian's was made here ... though this may have been more assumption than an informed piece of knowledge, and I have no idea why I felt that way.

    The thing is, you have to tell people the truth about a product - what's in it, where it is made, etc... It is not just a legal responsibility but a moral responsibility ... and companies that are less than forthright or even downright duplicitous will lose credibility with the public.

    And should.

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    Interesting story from Business Insider, which reports that Walmart's Neighborhood Markets "are a major threat to traditional supermarkets like Whole Foods, Kroger, and Trader Joe's, and they are expanding rapidly, according to Moody's analysts ... Moody's expects Neighborhood Markets to eventually outnumber Supercenters, with the smaller stores relying on the warehouses as supply hubs. Wal-Mart now has 645 Neighborhood Market locations and more than 3,400 Supercenters."

    The story notes that the format offers "the same low prices as Wal-Mart's giant warehouse stores, but in a much smaller and more easily accessible location, giving the Neighborhood Markets a 'distinct competitive advantage over virtually anyone,' analysts write."
    KC's View:
    Except that Walmart's vaunted low price advantage may be diminished by its new slotting allowance policy. I'm just not sure that the Neighborhood Markets have this kind of juice, and it seems to me that Walmart seems more focused right now on dealing with the Amazon threat by concentrating online. Sure, the Neighborhood Market division will grow ... but I'm just not sure they are a "major threat" to really good companies like kroger and Trader Joe's.

    It actually sounds to me like some analyst was looking for press coverage.

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    New data from the 2015 Animoto Online and Social Video Marketing Study reveals that "video is no longer optional for brands and businesses looking to market to millennials. The study revealed seven in 10 millennials are likely to watch a video when shopping online and 80 percent of millennials find video helpful when researching a purchase decision online."

    In addition, the study says that "nearly two-thirds of millennials (62 percent) prefer to watch a video from a company instead of reading text, and more than half of millennials are likely to watch a video from a brand if they receive it in an email."
    KC's View:
    While the study clearly indicates that video can be a highly successful sales tool for marketers - a conclusion to which I'm perfectly willing to subscribe - to be fair it has to be pointed out that Animoto is an online video creation application.

    So it would've been a surprise if the study said anything else. Just to be fair.

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    Walmart-owned Sam's Club announced yesterday that it will now offer daily deals to shoppers under the rubric of "Shocking Values," describing the program as featuring "hand-picked, well-known brands at low prices. Shocking Values products are carefully chosen based on members’ interests, top trends and popular items from the company’s most popular shopping categories. Members can expect to see a wide range of products including consumer electronics, accessories and watches, kitchen appliances, apparel, home décor, outdoor/garden and more. These deals are for a limited time with limited quantities."

    Members will be able to find the deals online at the Sam's Club website, via mobile application, or via emails sent to people who sign up for notifications.
    KC's View:
    Wait a minute. Are these even lower prices than the every day low prices usually offered?

    This could generate some attention and sales ... but it remains to be seen whether it helps Sam's compete more effectively with the superior and more consistent message delivered by Costco.

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    The Houston Chronicle has a story about a startup company called n-Acuity, describing it as focused on addressing the "brain drain" that companies inevitably will face as baby boomers retire and leave companies with just a fraction of the skilled workforces that made them work.

    According to the story, "In-Acuity worked with education experts to understand the most effective ways to teach adults. The company also developed a systematic method that helps experts organize their experiences using a computer program that helps design a course, generate a curriculum, draft lecture notes, produce graphics and sets up 30-minute modules for live online instruction."

    The program is first being tested on oil and natural gas industry companies, with the potential of being expanded to a wide variety of industries if the concept works.
    KC's View:
    I just thought this worth noting because it is an issue that is of great import to every industry ... and for the record, I think Michael Sansolo has been warning about this in speeches for more than a decade.

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    Earlier this week, MNB posted an email from a reader who complained about a Food Lion policy "not to give 'day old' produce to humans or animals." She went on to say, "We live in a rural area. Lots of animals could eat day old. Or we could even put it on our compost piles. Or better yet we might even be able to give some to the food bank. Or soup kitchens!

    I am informed it is 'policy.' Well, hello. This is 2015... Might be time to rethink policy."

    Well, MNB has received a response from Christy Phillips-Brown, director of External Communications & Community Relations with Food Lion ... and thought that in the interest of fairness, we ought to run it in its entirety:

    Dear Morning News Beat Readers,
     
    Yesterday a comment from a reader appeared in the "Your Views" section stating that Food Lion has a policy not to donate produce. Our food donation program, through Food Lion Feeds, is something that our associates are extremely passionate about.
     
    Regrettably, it seems that the reader who wrote in received some inaccurate or incomplete information. At Food Lion, we have a very robust food donation program. In fact, years ago, our company partnered with Feeding America to found this program, which is now in place at the majority of grocers across the country.
     
    Through our food donation program, all of Food Lion's more than 1,100 stores are paired with a local feeding agency that picks up excess product, including shelf stable items, fresh meat and produce, at least once a week and in some cases every day. In a select group of stores, we are also testing dairy donations and hope to roll this out to our entire network. Also, when our feeding agencies accept pet food donations, Food Lion donates to these items to agencies as well. In 2014 alone, Food Lion donated more than 62 million meals to individuals and families in need across our footprint.  A substantial portion of these donations came from our in-store food donation program, and are part of our commitment to provide 500 million meals by the end of 2020 through Food Lion Feeds.
     
    We're also learning and getting better at this program every day. In conjunction with our Zero Waste sustainability initiative, we're also working toward creating no waste in our stores. We began to test some new practices at a pilot store last year. The store prioritized food donations by improving communication with food bank representatives, and composting was introduced as the next option instead of throwing inedible food or produce waste, such as corn husks or damaged lettuce leaves, in the trash. The store partnered with a local family farm to collect food waste and create compost for gardening.
     
    Within a few months, the pilot store was donating or composting 200 pounds of food per day that would have otherwise been thrown away. Because the pilot was so successful, Food Lion has since introduced zero waste initiatives in an additional 50 Food Lion stores. The company plans to further expand the pilot to 200 stores in 2015 and all Food Lion stores by the end of 2018.
     
    As we learn and grow the food donation program, we will continue to take an uncompromising approach to food safety and product integrity. All of the local feeding agencies we donate product to are certified through their local food bank to ensure the proper food safety practices and training, so that product that reaches those in need in our community is just as safe as the product we sell to our customers in our stores.
     
    Our food donation program through Food Lion Feeds is an integral part of who we are at Food Lion. It's a win-win for our company and for the communities we serve. Not only does the food help to feed those who need an extra helping hand, but it also reduces waste from our stores.
     
    We appreciate the reader who wrote in regarding this program. We're committed to listening to and learning from our customers, always. Despite significant achievements in this area, we can and will continue to get better. We have invited this reader to reach out to us to have a more in-depth conversation so that we can understand his or her experience further and clear up any misunderstanding regarding our food donation program that may remain. We want this customer, all of our customers and the communities we serve to know that you can count on Food Lion every day.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    • Nestle SA announced that it has hired François-Xavier Roger, CFO at Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. and the former CFO for Danone's Asian business, to take on the same role in its organization, effective July 1.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    I was highly critical of Walmart's decision to seek out across-the-board slotting allowances, suggesting that this veers away from a long-held differential and competitive advantage and will result in the company being hooked on the "heroin" of promotional fees that creates higher prices and a system that makes money on the buy rather than the sell. (I wasn't just critical. I was in high dudgeon.)

    I received a fair amount of email in response. One MNB user wrote:

    I'm sure your email box is full with different views on Wal-Mart slotting.  As you point out (with the help of your friend Glen Terbeek and any number of others who will wholeheartedly agree) the idea to ask vendors to pay for Wal-Mart's inability to maintain its cost advantage goes fully against their EDLC / P approach.

    EDLP is WMT's strategy; it's not for all CPG companies.  When WMT commenced EDLP, they had a 3%+ operating cost advantage versus their competitors and they invested it in a shopper-advantage  EDLP program. Today, they no longer have that cost advantage so they want their vendors to fund EDLP that is counter to many CPG's strategy of differentiation. Ditto in WMT .COM platform; any differentiation has been mostly brought to the table by the vendor community.

    The vendor community needs to respond by writing Doug McMillon, Greg Foran and the Wal-Mart Board members, openly protesting this approach, before the official letter is sent out to Vendors. (I'm told that Walmart Finance hasn't yet sent the letter, but it will be out to vendors within a month.)

    The difference in situations isn't lost on me;  If South Carolina can remove a flag within a week, the Wal-Mart vendor community can show a unified front by writing letters and dealing proactively.  There will be many in the MNB community who will hesitate, for fear of retribution. However, not doing anything will also send a message to other retailers that vendors have incremental funds available for the ask. So, it's up to the MNB community to "stop the insanity" as Shark Tank viewers hear from time to time.

    I suggest that the vendors use this opportunity as a rallying cry to eliminate slotting all together, across all retailers, and get back to deploying funding in a way that is beneficial to shoppers. "Selling more" is what Brand funds are to enable, not wage increases, IT investments and more dividend payments for WMT shareholders (much of which is Walton family).

    Wal-Mart's ongoing desire to grow top line worked well in the late 80's and early 90's. However, slow growth results today don't motivate vendors.  Its time to talk about real growth vehicles.

    Foran needs to understand that what works (e.g. slotting) in Australia (within a retail duopoly) isn't going to work in US. But, its really up to all in the MNB community to feel passionately enough to do something about it.

    It will be interesting to see if the MNB community is passionate on their ability to influence change.


    I'm not sure your comparison to South Carolina is appropriate ... but I get your point.

    MNB reader Joe Ciccarelli added:

    I totally agree with you and Glen Terbeek on this move by Wal-Mart. In my 40 years in the CPG Industry I have seen the cycle of retailers who were focused on making money on the buy, rather than taking care of their customer wind up bankrupt and non-existent. Some that come to mind – W T Grant, Food Fair, K-Mart, Revco, McCory & Woolworth all had the same mentality – force the manufacturer to pay and cover their miss-steps.

    From another MNB reader:

    Walmart strikes again in trying to cover their business decisions partially on the backs of their suppliers! The largest CPG’s should look at this decision and IGNORE it! For years these companies gave Walmart a price that included all the other programs that they used at traditional retailers to try and keep an even playing field. I can’t tell you how many hours my Sales staff and I met with company lawyers to make sure the playing field was level. Now Walmart decides to charge for slotting and warehouse space? Any major CPG should make a counter proposal tomorrow with major price increases to cover this give back! You can bet the Krogers, Aholds, Albertsons/ Safeways etc will be watching this very closely. Glen is correct about the beginning of a new model but that can’t happen overnight and in the meantime Walmart’s competitors have an opportunity to make further inroads.

    And another:

    Kevin, I had to laugh at the Walmart slotting fee article. Some chains still try to convince themselves that there are different pots of money from manufacturers. I have seen it personally for years. When will they understand that simply the best cost allows them to do as they wish on pricing. Having suppliers piece the buckets up only hurts Mrs. Consumer and it is obvious in the chains by their retail prices. I refrain from mentioning those high priced chains and also the value chains and leave that up to you. Huge mistake for Walmart, and bad timing.

    And still another:

    Slotting Allowances?  New and different Credit terms?  You are right on in your analysis.  I can hear “Taps” being played in the distance as the flag is being lowered and the sun is setting.

    And from yet another:

    Your analogy of slotting being just like heroin is absolutely true. Let me give you a real example. I participated in a senior level meeting at a dominant US grocery retailer a couple of years ago. In this meeting, the Merchandising EVP told the CEO that they were getting out of the slotting business, primarily because he thought they were paying for slotting in their cost of goods (which is true). The annual amount of slotting was $36 million. The CEO (who has an outstanding reputation in the industry) responded to the Merchandising EVP, “that’s fine with me, just make sure you get the $36 million somewhere else”. This ultimately failed and this retailer, couldn’t take the needle out of their arm and continued to charge suppliers slotting. Sad.

    And another MNB reader chimed in:

    The prices just went up in Arkansas!




    We continue to get email about the South Carolina situation.

    MNB reader Gary Mountain wrote:


    Thanks for expressing what so many must be feeling these past days.  You were very eloquent and compassionate in your words.  Thank you!

    But another reader wrote:

    I personal don't own one or want one but I see this is an exercise in stupidity. Those that fly the flag are probably not going to change their attitude because they stop selling them in Sears and Walmart.  Problem is in the heart and not on the shelves of Walmart.

    And from another:

    Isn't that the moral-equivalent of book-burning?  

    There are people who disagree with you.  Get over it!


    I recognize that people disagree with me on a wide variety of issues, and I have no problem with it. However, I also get the last word ... and I'm certainly not going to apologize for it. (This is something that you will have to get over...)

    I was having this conversation online yesterday with a young man I know (and have known since he was born), and he found the debate about the Confederate flag to be pathetic, since he believed it was overshadowing the broader and more important debate. We're all human, he argued ... and that ought to be both the beginning and the end of the discussion.

    Wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

    I'll tell you what I told him ... that of course we're all human. (Well, maybe not that terrorist who decided to wrap himself in the Confederacy and kill nine innocent people. And maybe not the people at the Council of Conservative Citizens, who apparently believe in white supremacy, and possibly believe that the surrender of the Confederate State of America was, in fact, only a cease fire.)

    But you miss the point of the flag discussion. Life is mostly metaphor, a favorite writer of mine once said, and that flag is metaphor for something very insidious, very painful and very inhuman. By addressing it - and what it stands for - you at least acknowledge the metaphor and then can begin to deal with the problem.

    It won't be easy, and it won't be quick ... it is 200 years since the end of slavery, and we still have black people being killed because they are black.And by the way, while you are right that getting rid of the flag won't magically fix anything,it may actually make a difference in the lives of black people who won't have to look up and see a banner of oppression and hatred and subjugation celebrated as some sort of cherished historical object.

    Symbols matter, and life is mostly metaphor.

    Since we talk about movies a lot here, I was interested in this email from MNB reader Jan Fialkow:

    I watched Gone with the Wind on TV a few months ago — first time in years. I had become enamored with the book as a young girl, loved the romance, the fact that I was reading a grown-up novel. The movie was re-released when I was in junior high, and I was enthralled. Superman in the opening scenes. Rhett Butler gazing up from the bottom of those stairs. Scarlett O’Hara's fire and courage. Wow!

    After this last viewing, I was embarrassed that I had loved it for so many years. GWTW distorted history — often described as written by the victors — to be the vision of the vanquished. It took the ultimate act of treason and made it heroic. It was not crudely racist; it was insidiously racist. I can’t believe I overlooked all that.

    Perhaps GWTW will go the way of the overtly racist Birth of a Nation. Maybe the times finally are a’changin'.


    One can hope.

    I must admit - and I know this will offend a lot of people - that I've long believed that Gone With The Wind is one of the most overrated movies ever made ... I've never liked it much, and won't mourn if somehow it gets relegated to a less elevated position in movie history.

    I said yesterday that as a longtime Amazon shopper and vocal supporter, I was offended by the fact that it moved slowly to pull Confederate flag merchandise from its site ... much slower than Walmart or Sears, for example. I wrote that I will forgive, not not forget, and that I expect better of the company.

    MNB reader Tom Hahn responded:

    Kevin, how disingenuous…….re: Amazon, “I’ll forgive but I won’t forget, and I’ll be watching”?? Is that because you can’t live without them? What kind of stand is that?

    If you are as worked up about this as you insist, how about not using them? That’s how most folks send a message to a business they are unhappy with.
     
    It is fascinating to watch how some people react in these over-emotionalized debates about what’s right & wrong……..people have strong opinions until their sacred cow becomes part of the problem…….then it’s all about rationalization.

    Maybe. That's a fair enough observation.

    And maybe I really can't live without Amazon.




    Kate McMahon wrote an excellent piece yesterday about contretemps that took place over a proposed Nutella boycott over its use of palm oil, though it ended up that Nutella is highly responsible in its sourcing of palm oil.

    Of course, I may have managed to undercut a serious conversation when I commented about an organization cited by Kate - the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - as sounding like something out of a Monty Python movie.

    One MNB user was not amused:

    I read MNB regularly and appreciate your humor most of the time; but palm oil and global warming are no laughing matter. Refer to the link below to learn more about the Roundtable on Sustainable palm oil.  Retailers, such as Aldi have had policies on the use of Palm oil in their products for over 2 years.

    http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-race-for-sustainable-palm-oil


    Sorry ... but I tend to poke fun at most things. Doesn't mean they're not serious subjects, just that I'm an ironist and wisenheimer at heart.

    From another reader:

    Thanks for great commentary on the Nutella blow up.  As you mentioned in your article, palm oil use will only grow with the ban on trans fats in the U.S. While healthier for us, most of the world’s palm oil production comes from Indonesia, much of it from suppliers with dubious backgrounds and processes. With poverty a huge issue in Indonesia, many farmers have turned to growing palm oil. The issue is that to replant densely forested areas with palm oil, they have taken to burning down the forests as it’s the most effective means at killing off native vegetation. Sadly, it also releases incredible amounts of carbon and destroys valuable wildlife habit. Thus, Kevin, arose the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.  Maybe a Monty Pythonesque name, but important work nonetheless. Do some research and you’ll find many top manufacturing brands and retailers are members.

    A few readers joined in the Python comparisons. One MNB user wrote:

    The comparisons are just too rich…
     
    Everyone arriving to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is accompanied by the sound of coconuts clattering…
     
    The French are awaiting the chance to taunt the Italians another time…


    From another:

    As long as they are protected by the Knights who say “ni”, it should all be good. After all, this isn’t the Spanish Inquisition.

    And another:

    France lifts ban on Nutella in return for a shrubbery.

    And another:

    …around which sit the Knights Who Say ‘Nutella’…

    Sorry. We're just looking on the bright side of life...




    Finally, I also got a number of responses to my commentary regarding Olive Garden's order to managers not to clean their rugs more than once a month. I wrote:

    These people are morons. Utter morons.

    I suppose it never occurred to them that Olive Garden is, by its very nature, a family restaurant. it encourages families to come in and eat cheaply. (It isn't like they are enticing customers with actual Italian food.) Families have kids ... and it seems like a pretty good bet that the carpets are getting hit with all sorts of greasy, oily foods ... and that some of the restaurant managers are cleaning the carpets twice a month because they have to, not because they're looking to break the company's finances.

    It also seems to me that if these carpets can't stand to be cleaned twice a month, they must be pretty crappy carpets.

    Once again, this seems like a textbook example of a company that is putting efficiency before effectiveness, of putting Wall Street before Main Street, and not giving a damn about the customer.

    I'd use the Italian word for "morons" here - which happens to be "idioti" - but it doesn't seem appropriate because it would be about the only Italian thing that would be associated with Olive Garden.


    MNB user Carl  Jorgensen wrote:

    There's another, perhaps more colorful, word the Italians use: "cretini."

    One MNB user wrote:

    Pssst  Darden Group!   Have you heard of tile floors?  Don’t you know customers consider cleanliness before food and price? “ Dirty restaurants floors, tables, and restrooms?  Let’s go somewhere else.  "We might get sick here.”

    And another wrote:

    So I gather you are not an Olive Garden fan? I get it, but as you point out it is a family restaurant. I do now understand why the carpets look like they do. Corporate policy to only clean the sauce stains once a month; YUCK! There is only so much you can do with those “fancy” sweepers they use.

    I am familiar with the zero based budgeting concept, it meant we had to bring our own coffee and plastic utensils, cups, dinnerware and napkins. They did make a Keurig available but you couldn’t have one in your office or cubicle for safety reasons, you could provide your own heater so you didn’t freeze from the air conditioning which lead to my suggestion of turning the thermostat up a notch or two. When I left there weren’t restrictions on how many pages you could print but office supplies were being closely guarded. I believe it is supposed to promote an “We’re all in this together mentality”, but lead to much resentment and “tattling” instead. There were bets on when we need to start providing our own toilet paper.


    At Olive Garden there always will be plenty of toilet paper ... it doubles as lasagne noodles.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 25, 2015

    As is my custom at this time of year, I'm going to be taking some time off…

    MNB will be on hiatus from now until Monday, July 13. I know that seems like a long time, but it'll actually only be 10 editions that I'll be missing.

    Which reminds me ... Happy July 4th!

    This will give me some time to recharge the batteries a bit … do a little jogging, a little hiking. a little reading, a little biking, some eating and drinking, a little hanging out with my family, and a little enjoying of the great Pacific Northwest.

    But I'll be back, and I hope you'll welcome me when I return on July 13 with all new stories and commentaries. Between now and then, the MNB archives will, of course, be open. And, I may post the occasional note or picture on Facebook if the spirit moves me … sometimes I can't help myself!

    Thanks…I hope you'll also get some time this summer to recharge your batteries.

    And, as always…

    Fins Up!
    KC's View: