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    Published on: December 8, 2017

    by Kevin Coupe

    I got a note yesterday inviting me to Joanie Taylor’s retirement party at Schnuck Markets headquarters in St. Louis next week.

    My first reaction was that I’m sorry that I won’t be able to attend. But my second reaction was that the food industry is a little bit diminished when people like Joanie - the company’s longtime director of Consumer Affairs & Community Relations - retire.

    Joanie has been with Schnuck Markets in this role since 1978 … that’s just short of 40 years. In that time, she has been a tireless advocate for the company’s shoppers, as well as the best possible ambassador for the company. She’s been dedicated not just to the company, but to the industry at large, dedicating herself to all sorts of industry initiatives that made it a better, more responsive place to work.

    As far as I’m concerned, Joanie is way too young to retire … but I imagine that she just wants to spend more time being a grandmother. She’ll probably go to a lot more Broadway musicals. And I expect that she’ll probably be attending more Cardinals games, at home and on the road and probably even at spring training. (For the record, Joanie is one of my favorite people to attend a baseball game with, and I had the privilege of going with her to the last regular season game at the old Busch Stadium, and was sitting next to her the night the Cardinals won their last world championship. She arranged both tickets. She’s the best.)

    It is a cliche, but they simply don’t make them like Joanie Taylor anymore. People will succeed her, but nobody can replace her.

    I do have to chuckle, though. The party next week may be celebrating her career and taking note of her retirement, but it’s being billed as a “Silver Transition.” That’s perfect for Joanie … it has panache, just like she does.

    But I think they have the mineral wrong. Because Joanie Taylor is the gold standard.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    The Seattle Times reports that a King County Superior Court judge in Washington State has ordered Amazon-owned Whole Foods to reopen its closed Bellevue “365 by Whole Foods” store within 14 days.

    The ruling came after the owners of the Bellevue Square shopping center sued Whole Foods, arguing that the retailer was violating the terms of its lease.

    According to the Times, “The Bellevue Square lease, originally signed in July 2015, included an operating covenant committing the grocer to keep the 34,000-square-foot site open seven days a week for the first 10 years of the 20-year lease, Judge Mary Roberts wrote. Whole Foods said the store’s sales didn’t meet the company’s projections after its  September 2016 opening, Roberts wrote. Whole Foods has continued to pay rent since vacating the store in October, and its attorneys argued that those payments satisfied its obligations under the lease. But the lease, Roberts said, contains no provision that would allow Whole Foods to back out if the store didn’t prove to be profitable.”

    Whole Foods had said upon closing the store - which happened after its acquisition by Amazon - that it was just because of underperformance by that specific unit, not any sort of lack of commitment to the format in general.

    This is the second recent case of a mall owner suing a retailer that was closing stores. A judge recently ruled that Starbucks could not close 77 Teavana stores in Simon-owned malls after the real estate company argued that it violated the terms of its leases and would hurt the malls’ overall image and profitability.
    KC's View:
    While I’ve never been the biggest fan of the 365 concept, the Bellevue location was the worst of the lot - it was in a lousy location that was not conducive to a grocery stores. The Bellevue Square folks are kidding themselves if they think that winning this lawsuit solves the broader problem with that space.

    I do, however, think I know how Amazon should address the issue … and I made this point shortly after the company announced it was closing the location.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if Amazon, rather than just abandoning the space, decided to do something innovative with it.

    Since it has its own dedicated parking lot, they could use part of the store as an Amazon Fresh Pickup location. And they could carve out part of the space for an Amazon Books. And then they could take the rest of it and turn it into an Amazon Smart Home Store. I could imagine them mocking up various rooms of the house, and then allowing shoppers to explore ways in which they could use Amazon’s various technologies to make their lives easier, more convenient, more interesting, more, well…amazing.

    It’d be a limited test … but it would be in a location where it could be easily monitored and adjusted, depending on what works and does not. It’s be like an Apple Store, but on steroids. And it might solve the lawsuit issue while doing something innovative. And it might turn a turkey of a location into a destination.

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV announced yesterday that it is creating a new US-based parent company, to be called Ahold Delhaize USA - that will hold its US retail businesses, including Hannaford, Stop & Shop, Food Lion, Giant, and Peapod.

    Kevin Holt, currently the COO of Ahold USA, has been named the CEO of the new company.

    The change takes effect on January 1, 2018.
    KC's View:
    I just hope that the new corporate structure doesn’t result in an overly centralized approach to business in which there is less focus on being locally oriented. And I’m not just talking about “local” as a marketing slogan … I’m talking about having the kinds of tangible local connections that will allow the various banners to be increasingly competitive, not increasingly commoditized.

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    CVS announced yesterday that it is introducing “free, same-day delivery for prescriptions and certain over-the-counter items in Manhattan this week … Prescriptions and the option of adding a selection of over-the-counter products can be delivered directly from CVS Pharmacy in secure tamper-proof packaging right to the customer's door to assure complete privacy. Over-the-counter items that can be added to a prescription delivery include popular items to treat cough, cold and flu symptoms, along with other common conditions.”

    Orders submitted by 11 a.m. are delivered by 4 p.m., or by 4 p.m. for 8 p.m. delivery.
    KC's View:
    This is the future…except that pretty soon, they’ll figure out as way to integrate Aetna’s insurance products into the service.

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    The Washington Post reports this morning that a judge has ruled that bankrupt Toys R Us can pay its top executives $14 million in incentive bonuses so that they feel “properly motivated and incentivized to handle the panoply of responsibilities attendant” to their responsibilities for getting the company through the holidays and a concurrent restructuring.

    The bonuses will be paid, the Post writes, “as long as the company hits its target of $550 million in earnings. It must hit a minimum of $484 million in adjusted earnings before any bonuses are awarded.”

    The story says that Judy Robbins, a Justice Department lawyer representing the interests of creditors, argued that “defies logic and wisdom, not to mention the Bankruptcy Code, that a bankrupt company would now propose further multi-million dollar bonuses for the senior leadership of a company that began the year with employee layoffs and concludes it in the midst of the holiday season in bankruptcy.” She also noted that “some executives already receive other perks, including personal drivers and private planes.”
    KC's View:
    I’m not going to argue with the bankruptcy judge, because she knows a lot more about the law than I do, and I try to make it a practice not to cast doubt on the integrity of the justice system when I disagree with rulings.

    My problem is with the executives - all well-off people who want to be further rewarded for doing what is supposed to be their jobs, which is to rescue a company that is in terrible shape in part because it was mismanaged. Give me a break.

    As I’ve argued here before, it would be nice if just one of these times, these freakin’ people who ask the bankruptcy court to approve bonuses that would be paid to the people actually working in the stores, to raise morale at a time that, if you are on the front lines at Toys R Us, is fraught with uncertainty. When stores get closed, as they certainly will be when the company looks to emerge from bankruptcy, these people will be out of a job … while the senior execs will take their high salaries and bonuses and perks and go off and work for some other company where they’ll get higher salaries and bigger bonuses and more perks.

    Give me a break.

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    Reuters reports that Walmart is saying that “soaring online purchases have caused delays in its distribution network … The backlog reflects the degree to which Wal-Mart, United Parcel Service and other companies struggled to handle peak e-commerce volumes despite months of preparation and major investments to expand and upgrade distribution facilities.”

    The story notes that Walmart “offers free two-day shipping on millions of items when the order size is over $35. The retailer said online sales surged 50 percent in the last quarter.”
    KC's View:
    This is the price of increased success online … everybody playing catch-up all the time. Which is a lot better than the opposite problem, which is having too much capacity and not enough business. As long as all the entities involved are transparent about the situation, most consumers are going to understand.

    Published on: December 8, 2017

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

    • The New York Times has a story about a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine reaffirming that “tasting uncooked foods made with flour can make you dangerously ill” - a conclusion that really means that people should not eat uncooked cookie dough or cake batter.

    According to the story, “Because of concerns over raw eggs, precautions have long existed for licking batter-laced spoons and nibbling homemade cookie dough. But the new results expand both the array of raw goods to be concerned about — even homemade playdough! — and the reasons to be vigilant. More than a quarter of the 56 patients in the 24-state outbreak were hospitalized. One patient even went into kidney failure. All of the patients, whose ages ranged from 1 to 95, recovered.”

    The story notes that the “concerns do not include commercial treats like cookie-dough ice cream and packaged refrigerated cookie dough.”

    Another of life’s pleasures ruined, dammit.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    • The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced that Molly Pfaffenroth has joined its government relations department as a senior manager, focusing on the association’s tax portfolio and assist on healthcare, trade, and nutrition issues. Pfaffenroth most recently served as public policy manager for the National Association for Biomedical Research.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    …will return next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Atlanta Falcons defeated the New Orleans Saints 20-17.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 8, 2017

    I’ve been on a bit of a Ben Bradlee tear lately, at least in part because I’m so looking forward to The Post, the new Steven Spielberg movie - starring Meryl Streep as Washington Post owner Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as legendary editor Bradlee, challenging the Nixon administration over the Pentagon Papers - comes out in a couple of weeks.

    HBO is running a new documentary, The Newspaperman: The Life and Times of Ben Bradlee, which is a terrific look back at Bradlee’s personal and professional life. The film benefits from the testimony of people who were incredibly close to Bradlee - wife Sally Quinn, and folks like Tom Brokaw, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward - and from its use of some of the audio version of Bradlee’s wonderful memoir, “A Good Life,” which Bradlee read himself.

    There are a couple of moments in the documentary that are uncomfortable, especially because of recent events. Early in the film, Bradlee talks about his close friendship with John F. Kennedy, and that it was only after JFK’s death that he discovered that the president had been having an affair with his sister-in-law; Bradlee always maintained that he did not know about JFK’s extracurricular activities, though he’s not entirely persuasive on that point. What is persuasive, however, is the discussion about whether someone in Bradlee’s position - at the time, he was editor of Newsweek - can be so close to someone so powerful. (The answer is no.)

    The other uncomfortable moment comes near the end, when Bradlee is shown on a television program being asked if there is anything he regrets. He says that other than the fact he hurt his first two wives, he doesn’t regret much. The problem is that the questioner is Charlie Rose, who has been in the news lately for a lot of things other than his interviewing skills. (I might’ve looked for a way to edit Rose out of the piece, if only because it sounds a sour note at the wrong moment of the film.)

    But other than that, The Newspaperman is a strong piece of work about one of the most compelling figures in 20th century journalism.

    The other Bradlee fix I’ve gotten lately is a book, “A Life's Work: Fathers and Sons,”by Ben Bradlee and his son, Quinn Bradlee. Because of severe medical problems that Quinn had as a baby, he’s dealt with significant developmental issues throughout his whole life, and his father - in his sixties when Quinn was born - found within himself unexpected reserves of compassion and love for his child. In many ways, Ben’s relationship with Quinn mirrored the one he had with his own father, forged out of a mutual passion for the woods.

    “A Life’s Work” is a lovely book, and not just about fathers and sons; I think it speaks to parents and children in general. In fact, I think I’m going to get a copy of it for my two sons and my daughter for Christmas.

    Next up - I want to read Bradlee’s wife Sally Quinn’s new book, “Finding Magic,” which is about the spiritual journey she’s taken in her life, in part informed by her journalism about faith and religion, and in part by how she experienced her husband’s dementia and final days.

    By the time I’m done, I’ll be ready for The Post.

    The other day I did a FaceTime commentary about what struck me as the sheer idiocy of AMC-Loews allowing an ad for the new Amazon series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” to run before its movies … since such series encourage people to stay home and watch TV instead of going to the movies.

    Since then, I’ve watched the eight episodes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” - I downloaded them to my iPad and watched them during assorted airplane flights. I am here to report that it is terrific - tightly written, really well cast and acted, and sharply funny with sparkling dialogue.

    The plot centers around Midge Maisel, a “perfect” housewife on Manhattan’s Upper West Side during the 1950s, who suddenly finds her life falling apart when her husband deserts her … and then finds a kind of redemption in the world of standup comedy. I’m old enough to remember some of the New York portrayed in the show, and I think the production gets the period details absolutely right.

    Watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” when you get a chance. It is vastly superior to much of the stuff in movie theaters. The irony is that I watched it a lot faster than I would’ve if the local AMC/Loews had not brought to my attention.

    Finally … I have a new beer to recommend to you this week - Arkansas Red from the Core Brewing Company of Springdale, Arkansas. I had it while enjoying a sensational hamburger at Hive, a great little restaurant in the 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville … a unique spot that features an art gallery in the lobby. Delightful.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: