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    Published on: October 14, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo

    A few years back, I heard a former conservative British minister offer a wonderful view about environmental efforts. Such efforts, he said, were actually perfectly aligned with the essence of a successful business

    The key, he said, is “doing more with less.” In business, that means cutting waste and inefficiency, which is a sure way to grow the bottom line. As the ex-minister explained it, it’s also a sure way to behave in a more environmentally friendly way. Just do more with less.

    That explanation came back to me this week while reading an article about a surprising new way to use environmentally friendly technology to battle global warming and climate change. The UCLA and Stanford University scientists and engineers creating this new solution realized the best place for their experiment was the roof of a Grocery Outlet supermarket in Stockton, California. 

    Like me you may read the article and be completely mystified by the scientific explanations about how an ancient method for creating ice in warm climates led to this space age technology. However, one thing will easily resonate.  When the store manager was presented with the idea he too was baffled by the science, but understood one thing.

    "All I know," he said, "it’s saving me money."

    That quote explains it all. Honestly, I read the article multiple times and I still don’t completely get the science behind either the ancient method of creating ice or the space age use of nanotechnology to create these new rooftop panels. But what I do understand is that someone far smarter than I has produced an idea that could bring vast benefits to the environment and cut costs for retailers, homeowners and more in the very near future.

    That sounds like a win-win and a big one at that.

    But I do have one suggestion on this science that does make sense to me. If this technology works (and apparently that’s the case out in Stockton) retailers need to actually talk about it.

    A few years back, I did a project for an equipment company about a major change in refrigerator and freezer cases. The change was so simple and is likely in every store today—the shift from traditional light bulbs to LEDs.

    Here again, I am no scientist, but the benefits were so easy to see. Traditional light bulbs—incandescents or fluorescents—create both heat and light. Inside a refrigerator or freezer that meant the bulbs were actually causing the cases to work harder to chill the food and battle the heat coming off the bulbs. Harder working cases mean higher energy bills. 

    The LED replacements ended that problem, as they create minimal to no heat.

    But what I never understood was why retailers installing these cases never seemed to explain to shoppers what was done. It struck me as a missed opportunity to both educate and get credit for an innovative and far-from-free solution.

    No matter how you feel about environmental issues you need recognize two things about this Stockton experiment. First, if your competitors are finding ways to be more sustainable they will be cutting costs and that will put you at a competitive disadvantage. So remember, it’s not about politics; it’s about doing more with less.

    And second, don’t shy away from educating your shoppers on what you are doing and why. Changing roof panels and freezer cases or employing more sustainable practices won’t be free, so at least get some credit for what you are doing.

    If you doubt me, watch television for 30 minutes and you are guaranteed to see Amazon’s commercials on its increasingly electric fleet of vehicle. That change is likely to cut Amazon’s costs and demonstrate climate commitment to shoppers.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    Cathy Burns, president/CEO of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), opened up the organization's virtual Fresh Summit yesterday by talking about how we are entering a "new extraordinary."  This struck KC as an important observation because it is pointed at the challenges and opportunities ahead, not the accomplishments of the past.

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    CNBC reports that Walmart said yesterday that "it will split up Black Friday into three different holiday sales events, staggered throughout the month of November. Each will begin on its website and hit stores a few days later.  Customers can also pick up purchases at the store without stepping inside by using curbside pickup."

    On Black Friday itself, Walmart will still feature a serious promotional approach, albeit one leavened with a high degree of public health consciousness:  "Stores will open at 5 a.m. local time. Customers must line up single-file before they enter. Stores will limit the number of people inside. Employees will distribute sanitized shopping carts. And some, dubbed health ambassadors, will greet shoppers and remind them to put on a mask."

    According to Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., "We've been very thoughtful as we planned this year's event.  By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates."

    From the CNBC story:  "Walmart's first Black Friday event will start online Nov. 4 and in stores Nov. 7 and feature toys, electronics and home products. The second event, focused on electronics such as TVs, smartphones, computers and tablets along with some items from other merchandise categories, will begin online Nov. 11 and in stores Nov. 14. And the third event will kick off online Nov. 25 and in stores Nov. 27 — the same day as the usual post-Thanksgiving shopping event. It will have a range of items from electronics and toys to apparel and seasonal decor."

    KC's View:

    Walmart's actual Black Friday plans have to come one asterisk - the trend lines in terms of coronavirus infections are going in the wrong direction, and so it is possible that the retailer will have to adjust its plans.

    But it seems like Walmart is taking this all very seriously.  I just hope that remind people to put on a mask means requiring them to wear a mask.  That needs to be an absolute requirement, for the health of other customers as well as that of Walmart's employees.

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    The New York Times has a story about the struggles at sandwich chain Pret A Manger, which had become a ubiquitous part of London's work life but has found lately that its stores may be its greatest weakness - especially in a city where offices remain closed and workers remain at home.

    "The pandemic has turned back the clock on Pret’s accounts by a decade," the Times writes.  "In August, weekly sales in Britain were about 5.5 million pounds ($7.1 million), barely more than in August 2010, when it had about 150 fewer stores. It has laid off 2,890 people, a third of its staff. Thousands of those who remain have gone from 35-hour contracts to 28 hours a week."

    Pret, the story says, "has become a symbol of the needy city center struggling without commuters."

    Which is why it seems willing to "try anything" to get some traction:

    "It wants to sell Pret food in supermarkets, and has already begun selling coffee beans on Amazon; it has signed up to all the major food delivery platforms to take its sandwiches, soups and salads to its work-from-home customers, and opened a so-called dark kitchen in North London to prepare its food strictly for delivery, modeled on the success of Sweetgreen and Shake Shack, and hopes to open another dark kitchen in either New York or New Jersey soon; and it is devising a special menu of hot evening meals for delivery, such as a Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl.

    "Then there is the coffee subscription, an effort to drive people back to the stores: Five drinks a day made by a barista (coffees, teas and smoothies) for £20 a month. On the face of it, it could be an extraordinarily good deal. With two lattes a week, a subscriber will break even. And the first month is free."

    Pano Christou, Pret's CEO, tells the Times that this is "an opportunity for Pret to become a different type of company. Rather than worry about whether workers will return to their offices and what the government’s advice will be, Pret needs to transform."

    KC's View:

    This actually takes us back to one of the points being made by PMA's Cathy Burns, which I talked about in FaceTime today - that change happens to you, but transformation is something you do.

    If you start from the premise that a business model has been built for a specific time and place, it becomes axiomatic that as times and circumstances change, so must the business model.

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    From Wine Spectator:

    "The Glass fire, which erupted Sept. 27 in the hills above St. Helena, burned wineries and vineyards. It also halted harvest and may prove to be the knockout punch for the 2020 vintage in both Napa and Sonoma. The preceding LNU Complex fires in August had already impacted the vintage, as smoke lingered over the region for weeks when much of the year's crop was going through veraison and thus acutely susceptible to smoke taint. The Glass fire only further jeopardized the vintage, and very few wines will be made this year as a result."

    Winemaker Phillipe Melka tells Wine Spectator, "It is one of the saddest years ever.  Usually, harvest is a happy time. We have very, very little hope."

    Melka "estimates that 35 to 38 percent of Napa's crop he's surveyed has been harvested to date, but believes only a portion of that could result in bottled wine, given the final impact of smoke taint."

    Consulting winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown tells the magazine that "there seem to be three groups of people out there: folks in full denial of smoke taint, those who are hopeful something will work out, and the all-is-lost crowd."  It is likely to be weeks or longer before anyone will know anything for sure.

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the United States, we now have 8,093,600 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 220,900 deaths and 5,227,279 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 38,411,580 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,091,625 fatalities and 28,877,124 reported recoveries.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "U.S. hospitalizations are now at their highest level since Sept. 2, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. As of Monday, there were 35,056 patients hospitalized across the country, more than 16% higher than the level a week earlier. While hospitalizations are rising, they are still lower than July’s daily highs of more than 59,000."

    The story goes on:  "The Northeast, which had an early surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, is once again seeing a rise in all three metrics. New Jersey last week reported more than 1,000 new cases for the first time since May. New York had its seventh straight day of more than 1,000 new cases.

    "Connecticut, which doesn’t report cases on weekends, reported 1,339 cases Monday, up from 823 a week earlier. In Pennsylvania, the number of people in hospitals has risen to its highest level in more than two months.

    "Several Midwest states continue to report elevated numbers of new cases. Illinois reported more than 2,700 new cases. Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin each reported more than 1,000 cases."

    And:  "Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson warned that high levels of hospitalizations in the state were straining the health-care system and urged residents via Twitter to 'work together to reduce our cases.'

    The Journal notes that there is some good news: "Testing nationwide reached an all-time high over the past week, with over one million tests performed on four of the five last days. However, the average percentage of positive tests over the last seven days is also rising. The latest data shows an average of 5.1% of tests were positive. A week ago, the seven-day average was at 4.7% and the week prior, it was 4.6%, according to the Covid Tracking Project."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "A government-sponsored clinical trial that is testing an antibody treatment for Covid-19 developed by the drugmaker Eli Lilly has been paused because of a “potential safety concern,” according to emails that government officials sent on Tuesday to researchers at testing sites. The company confirmed the pause … The Eli Lilly trial was designed to test the benefits of the antibody therapy on hundreds of people hospitalized with Covid-19, compared with a placebo. All of the study participants also received another experimental drug, remdesivir, which has become commonly used to treat coronavirus patients. It is unclear exactly what safety issues prompted the pause."

    The Times writes that "the news comes just a day after Johnson & Johnson announced the pause of its coronavirus vaccine trial because of a sick volunteer, and a month after AstraZeneca’s vaccine trial was halted over concerns about two participants who had fallen ill after getting the company’s vaccine."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "When the coronavirus pandemic shuttered offices around the United States in March, many companies told their employees that it would be only a short hiatus away from headquarters.

    "Workers, they said, would be back in their cubicles within a matter of weeks. Weeks turned into September. Then September turned into January. And now, with the virus still surging in some parts of the country, a growing number of employers are delaying return-to-office dates once again, to the summer of 2021 at the earliest.

    "Google was one of the first to announce that July 2021 was its return-to-office date. Uber, Slack and Airbnb soon jumped on the bandwagon. In the past week, Microsoft, Target, Ford Motor and The New York Times said they, too, had postponed the return of in-person work to next summer and acknowledged the inevitable: The pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon."

    The Times continues:  "Many more companies are expected to delay their return-to-office dates to keep workers safe. And workers said they were in no rush to go back, with 73 percent of U.S. employees fearing that being in their workplace could pose a risk to their personal health and safety, according to a study by Wakefield Research commissioned by Envoy, a workplace technology company.

    "More companies are also saying that they will institute permanent work-from-home policies so employees do not ever have to come into the office again."

    •  The Associated Press reports that the National Football League, while saying it has no plans to move into a playing bubble in the way that the National Basketball Association did, and in the way that Major League Baseball currently is conducting its playoffs, it will "begin PCR testing for COVID-19 on game days starting this week, use of masks in walkthroughs are now mandatory and only play-callers will be permitted to wear face shields in lieu of masks or gaiters on the sideline … The updated protocols sent to teams Monday night also require anyone identified as a 'high risk' close contact to be isolated and not permitted to return to the team’s facility for at least five days."

    The story quotes Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, as saying that "all options are on the table but warned there are several risks to moving into a bubble. He pointed out that other individuals such as service workers still have to go in and out of the bubble. He emphasized the infection can spread more rapidly if it gets inside. And, he stressed the human element, saying that being sequestered can cause an 'emotional' and 'behavioral health toll' that becomes a 'really significant stress point,' especially around the holidays."

    •  The New York Philharmonic said yesterday that its entire January-June 2021 season has been cancelled because of pandemic concerns.

    “In the 178-year history of our institution, the cancellation of an entire season marks a historic first, and a dreadful one at that,” said Deborah Borda, president/CEO of the New York Philharmonic.

    •  Highly anticipated movies continue their migration from planned big screen runs to streaming services, with the latest being Coming 2 America, Eddie Murphy's sequel to his  1988 comedy.  It was just sold by Paramount to Amazon Studios, which will launch it online in mid-December.

    It is just the latest move by Amazon to take advantage of the consumer trend toward streaming that has been prompted by the pandemic.  Others include the sequel to Borat, elaborately titled Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan, which streams later this month … Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, starring Michael B. Jordan … the much-anticipated One Night In Miami, directed by Regina King … and Aaron Sorkin’s Trial of the Chicago 7.

    •  Which is one of the reasons that, as the Wall Street Journal reports, AMC - the world's largest movie theater company - is saying that it "may run out of cash by year’s end if it doesn’t raise additional funds or get more people back to theaters following pandemic shutdowns that have disrupted businesses dependent on consumers gathering in public spaces."

    The story notes that "movie-theater operators have been devastated this year as officials enforced restrictions against gatherings and people have avoided indoor crowds amid the pandemic. The sharp downturn in theater attendance has caused Hollywood studios to delay major movie releases and focus more on providing streaming entertainment to reach consumers at home, giving them less incentive to go to theaters."

    Just last week, Regal owner Cineworld Group closed all its US and UK theaters indefinitely.

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    The New York Times reports that "almost 4,000 tech and corporate workers at Amazon have signed an internal proposal asking the company to give all its workers, including those in its warehouses, a paid day off to vote."

    The proposal says, in part:  "Voting during the pandemic means hourslong lines and confusion over where and how to vote … Amazon has an opportunity to raise the bar and help ensure that every Amazon worker’s vote will be counted."

    Amazon spokesperson Jaci Anderson tells the Times that "in states with in-person voting, workers can request time off at the start or end of their shifts to vote, but how many hours, and whether it is paid, varies based on what state law."

    KC's View:

    I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this … is the suggestion that Amazon should just shut the joint down for a day so everybody in the company can vote?  I'm a proponent of making it not just possible, but easy, for everyone to vote, but I'm not sure how practical or even necessary this is.

    After all, something like 10 million people in the US - me among them - already have voted.  Many states make it easy for folks to vote, and so in those places, this kind of closure probably isn't necessary.

    That said, we are seeing places around the country where the lines are incredibly long and the waits can run into many hours.  It'll probably be even worse on Election Day, so maybe people in those vicinities will need more flexibility than others.  (To people's credit, many of them seem to be putting in the time … and it seems at least possible that we'll have record participation this year.)

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    •  Lubbock, Texas-based, and Albertsons-owned United Supermarkets said this week that it has "surpassed 1,000,000 orders through its Streetside grocery pickup service."

    The announcement went on:  "Like many online industries, the United Family’s e-commerce division has seen unprecedented growth due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. As people looked for options that involved less person-to-person contact, the Streetside team saw an explosion in demand."

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that  Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. "has agreed to a plea deal with the U.S. Justice Department to resolve price-fixing charges, and will pay a fine of $110.5 million.

    "A guilty plea by the second-largest U.S. chicken processor by sales will make Pilgrim’s the first company to admit in court to what prosecutors have alleged was a roughly seven-year effort across much of the U.S. chicken industry to inflate prices. That coordination pushed up poultry prices paid by fast-food chains and other chicken buyers, prosecutors alleged.

    "Pilgrim’s said the plea agreement provides that the Justice Department will bring no further charges against the Colorado-based company, and doesn’t recommend an outside compliance monitor. The agreement doesn’t require any restitution or probationary period, the company said."

    •  Fox Business reports that c-store chain Sheetz is "looking to fill more than 3,000 positions throughout the entire company … In doing so, the company will fill full-time positions across its store locations in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio.  The company will also fill positions in food operations, distribution services, construction and maintenance, and corporate departments."

    Sheetz currently operates over 600 stores across the mid-Atlantic and has more than 20,000 employees.

    •  The Verge reports that Netflix no longer will be offering US customers a 30-day free trial period, following an approach that it has been taking in other countries.  Instead, the story says, Netflix "is introducing new ways to try and attract potential subscribers, including posting some educational content on YouTube for free and other forms of content sampling."

    What's interesting about this is that it is taking an opposite approach to that taken by newer streaming services, which "are leaning heavily on trials to build their initial subscriber bases. Apple just extended the initial free period for Apple TV Plus subscribers by three months to February 2021, while services like Quibi and Disney Plus launched while touting free trials."

    First, Netflix came to this game a lot earlier than most, to the point that "Netflix and chill" has become a common part of the lexicon.  So, it can afford to take some chances and try new approaches.

    That said, Netflix has shown that when it tries new things that don't work, it is perfectly willing to change directions and even go backward to old ways of doing things when that's what customers seem to want.  Which is an admirable level of flexibility.

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Fox Business reports that Commander's Palace in New Orleans has named its first female executive chef - Megan “Meg” Bickford, who actually has worked at the popular restaurant for the past dozen years since graduating from culinary school.

    The job has been known to propel previous holders to prominence - they include Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.

    The story says that "Bickford is replacing Tory McPhail, who held the job for nearly 19 years. He resigned to move to Bozeman, Montana, where he will be closer to family and will lead culinary career development for a restaurant group."

    Not to speak specifically about Commander's Palace, but we all know that restaurant kitchens often can be hotbeds of abuse and toxic masculinity … and so it probably is a good thing that we're seeing more women running them.  

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    The other day I did a piece about Mueller's, a bakery in Bay Head, New Jersey, that I called "the world's best crumb cake," one that many people would drive long distances for.  My intention was to use it as a metaphor - every food retailer, I suggested, needed to have such an item, which can serve as a strong differential advantage.

    Got the following note from an MNB reader:

    Just wanted to let you know that after seeing your piece on the “World’s Best Crumb Cake,” while planning a fall getaway to Cape May, I decided I had to try it.  So last Friday, on our way  from NYC), we made a 45 minute detour to pickup our crumb cake.  I ordered it ahead since I did not want to miss out on it on this long weekend and thought it would make a nice breakfast item to have around for breakfast at our Airbnb while relaxing over the fall weekend.

    Well, I understand it’s important to set yourself apart as a business owner and be known for something, but a misinformation campaign should not be the goal.  I was sorely disappointed with the “World’s Best Crumb Cake,” as was my husband, who ate a small piece and proclaimed it dry, chalky, and tasting far too much like baking soda.  If this is the world’s best crumb cake, that bar must be sunken into the ground where it won’t cause a trip hazard, or maybe Mueller’s world is simply limited to Bay Head, NJ, which unlikely is home to another crumb cake purveyor?  By any means, after 2 days of trying to imagine it might be better warmed up (slightly), while packing up to head home, I was ordered to dispose of it.  Yes, it was truly so bland & taste-free that someone who HATES to waste food thought the best option was to throw it in a trashcan. 

    First of all, I feel awful that you didn't like it.

    My father-in-law (who liked to be referred to as "my sainted father-in-law) used to say, "Where taste is concerned, there is no dispute."  I think this is evidence of that - I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for Mueller's crumb cake, but the opinion clearly is not unanimous.

    I do want to make one point, though.  I don't think Mueller's ever claimed to have the world's greatest crumb cake.  I said it, and for me, that statement is true.

    I just don't want Mueller's to be accused of false advertising.  (It does call its crumb cake "famous," which I think is inarguable.)

    From another reader:

    This reminds me of one of my older brothers' favorite sayings, "Hunger is the finest sauce".  And also has me thinking about the Lebron/MJ GOAT debate.  Googling "the worlds best crumb cake" offers little if any clue to this argument.  (Can there even be the greatest of all time crumb cake??)    And then I am somewhat inspired at a 45 minute detour to at least give what could be the world's best a shot.  (Talk about a great adventure no matter the outcome).   I'd rather be reading about crumb cake than Covid any day of the week!   Dry as a bone or not!

    Just between you and me, I'd rather write about crumb cake than covid.  Alas, that is not the world in which we live.

    Would that wishing would make it otherwise.

    Another MNB reader chimed in:

    I had to tell you I mail ordered Mueller's crumb cake to give it a try. The postal cost was about the same as the cost for the cake so I most likely will not do that again. I did like the cake, it is different from what we get here in Minnesota, in Minnesota it is more cake like on the bottom, less crumbs on top and sweeter, may be it is a European style of crumb cake. I thought it had good flavor, one of the things I like about the most was it was not overly sweet or sugary. One of my brothers goes to New Jersey every once and a while, maybe I can have him pick me up some when he is there.

    There are three kinds of people in the world, I think.  People who like more cake than crumbs, people who like an even balance, and people who like more crumbs.  Count me among the third group … which is why crumb cake c an be a highly personal thing.

    From another MNB reader:

    Thought I would chime in with crumb cake commentary. About 4 years ago I was visiting friends in NJ who recommended Mueller's, so we visited. My experience was that it was decent, but not great. I also agree that it was on the dry side and I like more moisture in mine. I also use Ebinger's (Brooklyn-based bakery that my grandparents always brought to our house on their weekly visits when I was a child - am not 69) as my standard, and maybe it's not fair to judge something today against a memory that might be 50 years old. But as you say, taste is purely individual, and we like what we like. It also is emotional, and whether we remember something that was maybe better in our memory than it was at the time, or whether or not we are influenced by recommendations is also part of the mix. Still, the fun is in trying recommended items as there is no shortage of poor quality items to eat, and no possible way to try everything so we use others' word of mouth to steer us to something that will hopefully delight us. Keep the suggestions coming and the commentary that follows is also good to read.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    It’s damn sad when even Crumb Cake becomes a divisive issue. What the hell is wrong with people these days?

    It's okay.  I'd rather be debating passionately about crumb cake than a lot of the other things about which we're all arguing - or not - these days.

    A few days ago I did another piece about the power of memory, this one about beer jingles and commercials - for Schaeffer, Rheingold and Ballantine - that were so strong that they actually seem to have outlasted the brands themselves.

    Got a lot of email about this, with a number of folks saying that while they were unfamiliar with those brands (which were based in New York City), there were others that resonated with them.

    Like Hamm's:

    Here's another one for Hamm's … see if you recognize one of the actors:

    Or Utica Club:

    Or Ranier Beer:

    Or even Budweiser:

    Thanks to all of you for sending in these and many more commercials.

    I think it actually makes an important point … one that cuts across the subjects of both beer and crumb cake.  Memory is a powerful thing, and when brands can be both relevant and resonant, they can sear themselves into our collective consciousness, creating connections that last a long time.

    There are retailers that do that.  There are retailers that don't.

    Which one would you rather be?  And, are you doing your best to achieve that end?

    Published on: October 14, 2020

    •  In the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, the Atlanta Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-7, taking a 2-0 game lead.

    In the American League Championship Series, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 5-2, taking a 3-0 game lead in the best-of-seven series.

    •  In Tuesday Night Football, the Tennessee Titans beat the Buffalo Bills 42-16.