retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get email about the $500,000 settlement by Whole Foods to resolve charges by New York officials that it was deliberately mislabeling products there ... and in one case, we got email about an email.

Yesterday we featured an email from reader Tom Kroupa, who addressed Whole Foods' defiance even as it wrote a check, saying, in part:

Because their CEO John Mackey is a libertarian, his default line is always anti-government. You may recall that he called President Obama a nazi because of his distaste for Obamacare. This may be the reason for his begrudgingly paying the fine for overcharging customers.

Which prompted MNB reader Tom Herman to write:

Someone needs to gently suggest to Tom Kroupa that the only default line in this whole thing is him equating a libertarian to anti-government.  Libertarians are not anti-government any more than liberals are anti-capitalism.  People should not be placed in boxes based on their political leanings.

Fair point. Not all libertarians are anti-government, though I wonder if all anti-government people would describe themselves as libertarians.

Probably not.

From another reader, about the broader issue:

My observation from 45 years of representing food companies in regulatory matters is there is a general lack of meaningful enforcement of consumer protection laws at the federal, state, county and local levels. NYC and Los Angeles county are the exceptions.   I have consistently advised my clients that the class action lawyers, mostly in California (mainly due to a California statute that makes private actions easier) are the primary risk.

With the exception of a recent case involving short measure mulch, I have seen almost no enforcement in my home state of Ohio.

I have to assume that what Whole Foods did in NYC also was happening elsewhere.

We also had a story yesterday about how Boston Globe employees volunteered to deliver newspapers when the company hired to make deliveries screwed up.

MNB reader Mark Boyer - who, it should be noted here, runs a company called Tippin's that makes great pies - offered the following perspective:

Your story on the Boston Globe’s staff delivering papers resonated here. We are in the pie business, and our busiest season is easily this past quarter. I encouraged all of our management team to work in the bakery during this time, and we spent quite a bit of time helping out, typically where a lot of skill or experience wasn’t required. The bakers appreciated the help.

Aside from the benefit to productivity, the learning was phenomenal. We’ve been doing the same thing the same way for a long time, and often no one thinks to ask, “Why do we do it this way?.” Or “Why are we using this ingredient, or this packaging?”

I can tell you the team is busy exploring how to improve a number of processes and ingredients that might never have surfaced had we not spent the time working side-by-side with the team. We’ll get better because of it.

Great story. Thanks for sharing. And keep making those wonderful pies!

From another reader, a different perspective:

Of course, as with anything there are at least two sides to every story… And on this one I am glad to see you focus on the positive side of this...

However, I was a bit surprised to NOT see anything about what had created the mess in the first place…. Globe “Management” (Funny how when things go bad there is almost NEVER a specific name / names associated with it) decided to switch to a new delivery service….  Well who made THAT decision in which this new service was SO ill prepared that it took this amazing effort and sacrifice just to get a Sunday paper delivered  (Wonder if this would have happened back in the newspaper heyday, as I bet many would have switched to the Herald this far into the mess….). 

Just because someone / company  CAN do something, doesn’t mean they SHOULD, and was anyone in the room saying, “Not so sure this is a good idea, can we CONFIRM that this new delivery service can jump in and IMMEDIATELY handle the new delivery….  Somehow this part of the story is not getting any attention….. Cynics would say the media tries not to point fingers at the media.

Actually, I think the Times made this point. I just decided for my own purposes to accentuate the positive.

But if you circle back around ... this actually makes the same point that Mark Boyer was making ... that sometimes upper management needs to get into the trenches to understand how the business really works and what the challenges are. was reported yesterday that the Globe management has re-engaged with the original delivery company to help it solve its problems.

Yesterday's MNB also featured a story about Thrive Market, the online-only store for healthier products. MNB reader Bill Kadlec responded:

Liked your piece about Thrive. I became a “healthy eater” in 2015 and once I found Thrive, I’ve changed my buying behavior on many of these goods. You do have to buy less seldom and often in larger quantities than a typical trip to the store but, that saves shipping and I consume the product anyway. And, their prices are very hard to beat. Occasionally, when something like Rao’s pasta sauce goes on sale, the store is the equivalent cost, but most times, Thrive simply is the price leader and only carries “the good stuff”.

Whole Foods absolutely should be taking a lesson here. And, Thrive needs to protect its flanks. Nothing proprietary in what they’re doing. Any of the big boys could replicate this at any time and, of course, have far deeper pockets to execute with. That is, assuming they make the commitment to doing it right and not diluting the quality of the offerings.

Lessons all around.
KC's View: