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    Published on: March 30, 2016

    by Kate McMahon

    I have a love-hate relationship with avocados. I approach the first slice into the fruit’s pebbly textured skin with trepidation. Will it yield perfectly ripened, subtly flavored inner green flesh, or stringy, bruised, mottled-brown mush?

    So the recent viral story out of Canada about controversial pre-packaged avocado halves immediately caught my attention, particularly since it followed an online brouhaha over pre-peeled oranges at Whole Foods.

    The Calavo product for sale at Sobeys showcased an avocado sliced in half, pit removed, encased in plastic and cardboard. This prompted a post and photo from a “surprised and disappointed” Facebook user, who wrote: “Avocados are their own perfect, compostable, wrapping. Adding packaging to an avocado is strange to say the least. This is wasteful and I'm curious about the reasoning for Sobeys stocking avocado this way?”

    (I also was struck by the freakishly-long shelf-life of the pre-packaged avocado and other avocado products treated with “ultra high pressure” for freshness. The Calavo website says the packaged avocado halves are to be used within 55 days of manufacture date, and consumed within 12 hours after opened. As much as I hate the disappointment of slicing open a mushy avocado, the realization that a pre-cut supposedly fresh product has been encased in plastic for almost two months is disturbing. I’d rather take the risk with the real thing and be disappointed.)

    Sobeys responded to the concerns by saying that the $3.99 product was “developed for people who might be new to using avocados and for a little more convenience. It eliminates the guesswork when it comes to ripeness and any challenges if you are not familiar with peeling and seeding a fresh avocado. The packaging is there to keep the fresh wholesome appearance and quality of the avocado without it browning prior to consumption."

    The majority of Facebook responses criticized the product. Said one: “I'm pretty sure that package would take longer to open than an actual avocado...that is so ridiculous and wasteful!”

    A Sobeys’ spokesperson later told Global Newsthat the product was part of a pilot project in select Ontario stores, “and will be reviewed and re-evaluated to determine whether it will become part of our regular offering.”

    This all sounded familiar. As reported here on MNB, when Whole Foods recently offered peeled oranges in plastic containers, the reaction also was fast and furious. The tweet that set off the contretemps on Twitter and Facebook read: “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn't need to waste so much plastic on them.” It was re-tweeted almost 108,000 times.

    Whole Foods quickly said “definitely our mistake” and pulled the product. “We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.”

    I completely understand concerns about extraneous plastic packaging threatening our environment. But I think there were a couple of salient points lost in the cacophony.

    Whole Foods had said the oranges were meant to be convenient, which is about more than saving time, especially for people with arthritis or limited dexterity. In her blog, Crippled Scholar, Kim Sauder makes a powerful argument that dismissing such products as wasteful “completely ignores how pre-prepared food impacts people with disabilities ... I look at this and see an easier way to eat healthy food.”

    Indeed, there were others (albeit a minority) who concurred that the pre-peeled ready-to-eat oranges were not radically different than sliced apples in plastic bags or other cut-up fruits and vegetables, and access to healthy food is worth the tradeoff.

    Looking at these two scenarios, Sobeys might be best advised to not necessarily do what Whole Foods did when it responded to knee-jerk criticisms, but rather do a better job of explaining the rationale behind the product, preferably in the store where it matters. One person's waste could be another one's compelling need.

    The lesson is an important one - that things rarely are as simple as they appear, and that what is anathema to one person might actually hold significant benefits to another.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Major League Baseball has come into the 21st century, lifting a ban on laptops, tablets and smartphones in dugouts and signing a deal with Apple that will allow managers and coaches to use iPad Pro tablets "to help coaching staffs make better use of data. Teams will be able sift through performance stats from current and past seasons, weigh potential pitcher-hitter matchups, look at 'spray charts' showing where a player is likely to hit a ball, even cue up videos of plays from previous games."

    Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, tells the Journal, “We’re not just replacing binders with tablets, we’re actually helping them do things that weren’t possible before," like staying in the dugout to see video rather than running back to the locker room.

    And Tim Teufel, third base coach for the National League Champion New York Mets, says that "he looks forward to seeing what competitive advantage the MLB Dugout app and iPads can offer. 'Managers have plans and positions laid out before the game even starts. This won’t change that much. But when a relief pitcher comes in, when a pinch hitter comes up, when the game changes in unexpected ways, that’s when it’ll be really useful."

    Unlike the deal that the National Football League (NFL) has with Microsoft mandating "that Surface tablets must be visible on every sideline during games," the Apple-MLB deal only makes them optional. But it probably is fair to say that even resistant managers and coaches mired in the traditions of the past will want to use them if they see the opposition with a perceived competitive advantage.

    In baseball, as in business (and let's face it, baseball is a business), it is foolish to try to compete without the maximum actionable data possible ... but they actually have to act on it. And I think that's a good thing ... even if it means that WiFi connections are going to be as important peanuts and Cracker Jacks to the ballpark experience.

    It'll be an Eye-Opener.

    (Four days until Opening Day. Mets-Royals on Sunday night. Yippee.)
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    The Dallas Morning News reports that "starting this summer, Kroger will bring its ClickList online ordering and pickup at the store service to Dallas and Houston. By the end of the year, about 20 local Kroger stores will be equipped to handle ClickList orders from 40,000 items in a store."

    According to the story, "Kroger has said that online represents about 8 to 10 percent of its business," with forecasts suggesting "that will double over the next three to five years." The company says that "the service is being demanded by two growing demographic groups: the soccer moms who don’t want to drag two kids into the store, and the elderly who would rather have someone else do their shopping."
    KC's View:
    It is striking that Kroger seems to believe that e-commerce could be as much as 20 percent of sales by 2020 or so. And this from a company that I thought for a long time was moving too slowly in this venue.

    Silly me. They weren't moving slowly. Just with deliberate speed and strategic savvy.

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    The Chicago Tribune reports on a new Accenture Strategy study suggesting that retailers that have decided to totally focus on technological solutions to consumer problems may have "overcorrected," and that "people want a balance of digital and human help, and when they don't get the combinations they seek, they leave."

    According to the survey, "In the US, 83 percent of customers ... said they would rather deal with a person to solve a customer service issue than get digital help, while 77 percent said they would rather get advice on a product or service from a human."

    The story goes on to say that "nearly half said they're willing to pay more for better service, and customers are more than twice as willing to agree to an upsell — buying more or higher-priced products and services — when a person is giving the pitch ... Online-only shoppers are actually less profitable than customers who also shop in stores because those using multiple methods tend to spend more."
    KC's View:
    I don't doubt these conclusions, though a preference for human customer service depends on humans who actually know how to deliver on the promise. I've always maintained that some of the best customer service I get is from Amazon ... it is always fast, always relevant. Sometimes it is digital, sometimes it is human. And I've always believed that Amazon does an excellent job of hiring the people who work its customer service lines.

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    The Street has a story suggesting that Costco won't be impacted much by an increase in California's minimum age to $15 per hour by 2022.

    "That is because Costco -- which counts California as its largest market at 31% of annual sales via its 105 stores there -- has long prided itself on paying its workers well above minimum wage, believing it helps them get better workers and retain them.

    "Since 2007, Costco's starting wage in the U.S. and Canada has been $11.50 to $12 an hour. After four-and-a-half years at the company, a typical Costco worker tends to earn $23 an hour. And according to a Costco spokesman, the average hourly wage for a Costco worker in California is already $22.50."

    The story goes on to point out that "although Costco's competitors will be forced to shell out at least $15 an hour to workers in California by 2022, it's unlikely Costco will lose employees or have trouble attracting new ones.

    First, Costco gives a clear line of sight (about four years) to store employees earning in excess of $20 an hour, something that Walmart, Target and other retailers will unlikely ever be able to hang their hats on. Further, judging by past behavior, Costco will likely lift its starting and top wages even higher compared to competitors in order to attract the best talent."
    KC's View:
    I understand that Costco has a different business model, and that its membership fees give it a financial foundation from which it can do different things. But I cannot help but wonder if its approach - pay people better, give them better benefits, make them feel invested in the company, and trust them to drive growth - has more applicability than some folks believe.

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    Campbell Soup yesterday said that it plans "to complete a transition to cans which do not use Bisphenol A (BPA) linings by the middle of 2017. The company began using cans with linings made from acrylic or polyester materials in March 2016 and will continue to introduce the new linings across its U.S. and Canadian portfolio through 2017."

    BPA is seen as a toxic substance that can contribute to human hormonal issues, cancer, infertility, diabetes and assorted other maladies.

    Campbell Soup began preparing for the transition in 2012, and the company says it has tested a number of alternatives before identifying the best options.

    Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Business Journal reports that Kroger "is among a batch of retailers and food companies being targeted in a new report about the presence of toxic chemicals in food can linings. Six nonprofit groups, including Washington, D.C.-based Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Breast Cancer Fund, are launching an online campaign" designed to pressure Kroger "to phase out the use of toxic Bisphenol A, typically referred to as BPA, in its can linings."
    KC's View:
    Kudos to CEO Denise Morrison and all the folks at Campbell Soup, who seem to be taking every opportunity to do the right thing, whether it has to do with eliminating BPA or labeling GMOs. It is called leadership.

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    Motley Fool has a story saying that as Walmart "slows down its store expansion" and runs out of discount stores that it can convert to the supercenter format, grocery pick-up services appear to be "its best bet for continued growth," not to mention a defensive measure against Amazon (as well as against retailers like Kroger, Hy-Vee and others).

    However, the story also notes that "with the program only available in a small minority of Wal-Mart stores, it won't move the needle on sales until it's expanded significantly." But, it also says that "groceries are one of the few retail categories in which Wal-Mart's massive store base gives it an advantage."

    • Walmart has announced that it is teaming up with suppliers such as Campbell Soup and Pepsi to raise money to fight hunger in America.

    According to the announcement, Walmart will donate as much as $3 million to Feeding America, while manufacturers will donate money based on per-item sales during the next month to the organization.

    Walmart said it will get things rolling with a $1.5 million straight donation, and then will match consumer donations up to a total of $3 million.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    • The Seattle Times report that "A bankruptcy judge in Delaware has greenlighted Albertsons’ bid to take over what’s left of Haggen, bringing a supermarket saga of bold ambition and rapid failure to an end. The $106 million deal, announced earlier this month, also brings an eight-decade-old Bellingham institution into the bosom of one of America’s largest grocers.

    "The Haggen brand will live on, however. Of the 29 so-called “core” stores in Washington and Oregon that are going into Albertsons’ hands, 15 in Washington will still carry the Haggen banner. These stores will continue to be run from Bellingham, focusing on organic and local products."

    Business Insider reports that Trader Joe's "appears to be slashing prices, which could put new pricing pressure on Whole Foods Market (WFM), according to Deutsche Bank analysts.

    "They checked the prices on 77 similar items at a New York-based Trader Joe's store and nearby Whole Foods and found that Trader Joe's was about 26% cheaper. The basket at Trader Joe's was $240 while the one at Whole Foods was $303. That's a wider price gap than in previous checks, leading analysts to believe that Trader Joe's is implementing across-the-board price cuts, similar to what the company did a couple of years ago."

    • Supervalu yesterday announced that "it plans to transition to selling 100 percent cage-free eggs at its grocery retail banners by 2025 or sooner based on available supply, affordability and customer demand. Currently, cage-free eggs account for nearly 12 percent of the company’s total grocery retail egg sales."

    At the same time, Pennsylvania-based Weis Markets announced that it also will transition to entirely cage-free eggs by 2026.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    Patty Duke, who got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Hellen Keller in The Miracle Worker, and then went on to play twins in a popular and eponymous sixties sitcom, passed away yesterday from complications from a ruptured intestine. She was 69, and had gone on to a respected career as an adult actress, president of the Screen Actors Guild, and a mental health advocate (which was fueled by her personal struggles with bipolar disorder).
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 30, 2016

    Got the following email from an MNB reader about the minimum wage issue:

    Given all the variables, I don’t imagine we’ll ever really know for sure whether raising a minimum wage has a positive or negative effect on the economy.  But it would be interesting to see what effect a maximum wage would have.  How about a $250,000 maximum annual salary?  Put the millions paid in executive bonuses, golden parachutes, stock options, etc. back into the companies and divide it among the rest of the employees.  I’m thinking that would have a very interesting effect on the economy.

    Gee, I didn't know Bernie Sanders read MNB...

    (Just kidding. We kid because we love.)

    From another reader on the same issue:

    KC, I can tell you first hand that the Los Angeles $15.00 wage has hurt the city. We deal with a number of large operations that have simply moved their production facilities to the surrounding counties and saved money. What was once produced in the city now is produced elsewhere to the chagrin of the politicians. This is a very real and legitimate concern and you should understand that. This so-called “living wage” is only meant to be temporary while you try to better yourself.

    When I was 16, I cleaned out fryers at McDonalds for a years and all I thought about every day was how I could become a manager. When I got into sales all I thought about was how I could better myself and move up the corporate ladder. I passed this desire to my children to make sure they understood that you could always do better. I taught them to never count on others for their success nor blame them for their failures.

    I respect your achievements. I do think we make a mistake, though, if we paint people who are asking for a higher minimum wage as being takers who don't want to work hard, don't want to achieve or excel, or want something for nothing. I just think that is dreadfully unfair.

    And from another reader:

    As a California manufacturer of Consumer Goods we are already at a competitive disadvantage with manufactures in other states, because of high wages, regulatory compliance and taxes. I used to worry about how we were going to compete with imported goods from Asia or else ware now I am worried about how we are going to compete with other American companies.
    It is one thing if you’re a fast food restaurant or grocery store and your competing with other local business in your area, what the minimum wage is does not matter, because you have a captive audience.  In this case it would be a somewhat equal local playing field.  But if you sell Walmart and other major retailers “Made in the USA” products,  how can you pay almost double what other companies are paying in wages, increased workers comp insurance , taxes etc.. and remain competitive.  The person that is now making $15 per hour will have to be paid $20 per hour and up the ladder. It will force companies doing business on a national level to have to move out of California to remain competitive.  Our business has been in California for 30 plus years and we would be forced to start over in another state and our 200 plus employees would have to find another job.  As usual there are two sides to the story, but someone has to make people aware of both sides. And yes I am empathic to our employees cost of living, but if they lose their jobs will they really be better off?

    And another:

    If one ascribes to the belief that raising the minimum wage is good then why stop at $15?  Maybe it should be $20 and if that is better, then maybe it should be $50?  You get the point!

    I do, but with all due respect, I think it is specious ... and about as relevant to the discussion as a maximum wage.

    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    Absolutely agree with your assessment on the Overstated Millennial piece.  While there are many real differences regarding how/when/where they get their information and communication, the reality is that the behaviors of a particular generation are largely driven by the socio economic factors of a particular stage of life.  Maybe unfortunately, my 20-something economical, social, political and moral behaviors in the late 80’s, were not that different than my kids now at the same stage.  And, while my parents rarely held back their shock and disapproval, I’m pretty sure their behaviors in the 60’s were viewed as equally radical to the prior generation.

    Time, is a great equalizer.  Mark Twain’s quote comes to mind, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.

    We forget the lyrics too quickly.

    Yesterday MNB reported on how, in Athens, Georgia, Kroger has a story with a unisex bathroom that has the following sign on the door:

    That store offers a unisex bathroom that has the following sign on the door:

    "We have a UNISEX bathroom because sometimes gender specific toilets put others into uncomfortable situations. And since we have a lot of our friends coming to see us, we want to provide a place for our friends who are dads with daughters, moms with sons, parents with disabled children, those in the LGBTQ community, adults with aging parents who may be mentally or physically disabled. THANK YOU for helping us to provide a safe environment for EVERYONE."

    I commented:

    There are two parts of this story that I think are most important.

    First, the use of the words "our friends." That's huge ... because it recognizes that Kroger isn't taking a clinical, dispassionate view here. In the best of circumstances, customers should be treated as friends ... even customers we don't necessarily understand or who are not like us.

    The other word that's important is "everyone." The best thing about Kroger's approach is how Kroger makes it not just about the LGBTQ community, but about everyone.

    I admire what Kroger is doing here.

    MNB user Tim McGuire responded:

    Great move by Kroger here.  I hope they quickly do the same in their stores in North Carolina to point out the stupidity of the state legislators there.  Why do people work so hard to divide the world instead of unite it?

    Usually because it ignites the base. Or because they can't help themselves because of their own prejudices.

    And from MNB reader Christine Neary:

    I’ve never been more proud of working for Kroger than I am right now.

    As much as right-wing media wants to label transgender people as monsters and freaks, as predators, as things that go bump in the night, the simple truth is that they are people. They are people who face daily struggles the rest of us will never be able to fully understand. They are people whose safety is in question on a daily basis - especially when it comes to the most basic of human needs, like going to the bathroom. I understand concerns over safety - all of us do expose ourselves to a certain level of vulnerability when relieving ourselves, but I have never been able to find a single verifiable and trustworthy report of a transgender person behaving inappropriately in a restroom. It’s a toilet. Have a seat, do your thing, and move on with your day. I’m delighted that the Athens store management has taken such an open, compassionate, and HUMAN approach to this.

    Finally, MNB reader Ken Wagar had thoughts about my rant the other day about the bullying mentality that seems to have infected the country:

    I absolutely agree with your comments on Bully America but my first reaction to it was. No sh**, where have you been? This is not a criticism of you it is just the fact that such behavior is pervasive and we see it reflected daily in many schools, many work places and in politics at every level. It is modeled for us all of the time. In some respects this horse is already out of the barn and we don't seem to have any idea how to corral it. Even bringing the issue up in a group of people often leads to arguments that are much more aggressive and hurtful than is needed.

    I fear we have lost civility in this nation and that it is quickly getting worse rather than better. I hate to be a pessimist but I'm baffled at how we move forward in a more positive manner. I am glad you brought the subject up but worry as to whether we can find answers to such issues.

    Gotta keep looking.

    Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
    KC's View: