retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The other day, we posted an email from an MNB reader that read:

This is why we have to be skeptical of those in the KNOW. We dont know. ITS Ok for people to say they dont know.. But dont tell us they know. Lets get some balanced journalism. Most Americans are sick of being told what NOT TO DO. And if you look on the CDC website, overall more Americans died last year than this year. IN AGGREGATE.. Why would you mention that.. it is not draconian enough. Fear sells. Like most Americans - we are sick of it.

I had a long response to that, but here's one piece of it:

“It may in fact be that more people died in the US last year in aggregate than have died so far in the US this year.  But more than 200,000 people have died of this disease this year, and it is projected that more than 300,000 will have died from Covid-19 before the end of 2020.   If you want to argue that making this statement, and arguing that people should wear masks all the time and be careful about assembling in large groups, especially indoors, is selling fear, well, there's probably not much I can say to persuade you otherwise.”

Another MNB reader challenged me on this:

What we’re told is hospitals receive greater funding for covid related cases and are therefore incented to mark cases accordingly.  But that doesn’t mean they died of covid.  Your statement (and those made by so many) should read, in my opinion, more than 200,000 people who have died had covid, not “have died of this disease” or “will have died from Covid-19” because we really don’t know precisely what caused all the deaths.  My concern or question is how many people had covid but died from other complications (cancer, heart attack, pneumonia, diabetes, etc.) 

I think that’s the point your reader was trying to make in citing the total number of deaths last year vs. this year … too many causes are being lumped together.  In my opinion, this is probably the greatest unknown around this pandemic … it seems we’re able to determine through testing how many have covid (far fewer than H1N1) but unfortunately it seems we really have no idea how many have died from it.

My feeling is that if Covid-19 exacerbated an existing condition and caused a death, then I think it is fair to blame it on the coronavirus.

I suppose we can parse the numbers any way we want to create doubt.  I choose not to.  I also choose to believe that the vast number of medical professionals are being honest in their communications and estimations, and not goosing the numbers to make more money.


On another subject, MNB reader Shelley des Islets wrote:

In response to the piece about putting black employees in charge of diversity efforts whether they have any expertise or not in that work, you wrote (in part):

“I have to be honest.  I never thought about this issue from this perspective … it never occurred to me that asking the only Black person in the room to work on diversity issues could be seen by some as a kind of tokenism.

“I also have to be honest about something else.  Other than working assiduously to make sure that there isn't one Black person in the room, I'm not exactly sure what the best approach is for companies to take.  Would someone who looks like me have any credibility on this issue?”

First, thanks for owning your relationship to the perspective—it’s important for those of us who identify as white to share when a perspective is a new one.  It helps also to model taking in new information and allowing it to shift our perspectives accordingly.

To your second point, though, if a company were to decide to shift their focus or their production in a way that they had not done before, who would they engage to lead it?  Someone who has some background in that focus area or with that production activity, who may or may not be currently on staff.  Rather than assigning the current BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) employees to lead diversity efforts, hire in someone who does have expertise in the field.  They may certainly reach out to current BIPOC employees for their perspectives and experience with the company to understand the current context. 

There is also a benefit to having someone ‘who looks like’ you and me lead the learning efforts, especially in companies where the vast majority of people who will be accessing the information and making use of new ideas will also be white people.

Though it seems counterintuitive, it can be at times easier to access some of the sticking points around change when it is someone from within one’s perceived group, at least in the early stages of moving toward greater understanding of institutionalized racism and the issues in a given company.  I have heard from a few black leaders and activists that there is real fatigue around educating white people about racism.  I see it as our failing, and our obligation to address.

From another reader:

As a manager for a Forbes 500 US firm that has been recognized for its efforts in diversity and inclusion and does lots of ongoing training in this area, I can’t help but think of this NYT story as yet another example of managers who are exhibiting unconscious bias and making assumptions about others as a whole.   Being a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant person in a position of authority, I would need to simply ask the candidate I am considering for assistance with our firm’s diversity issues whether or not this activity is something that they would be interested in taking part in, rather than assuming that it would be something that they would want to do simply because of their genetic heritage or the color of their skin. 

Early in my career in the grocery business, I spent two days in an “urban potential seminar” sponsored by my employer that was led by the Rev. C.T. Vivian,  a field general and civil rights organizer for Martin Luther King.   Reverend Vivian certainly impressed upon us during that seminar that I could never begin to understand what it meant to grow up and live as a Black person in the US.   It would be an understatement to say that those two days left a lasting impression on me and shaped me greatly as a person.   Reverend Vivian passed away back in June of this year at the age of 95, having done more over his long life to speak up and stand up for civil rights over his lifetime than anyone else I know.  Even today, I could imagine hearing him with his firm but soft-spoken voice saying, “all you have to do is ask.”    


MNB reader Sandy Voit wrote in about Michael Sansolo's column this week:

Just a quick comment on Michael's column this morning, to say that food co-ops are leaders in this area as they usually have a triple bottom line to reflect that profit is not the sole determinant of success, but that social and environmental issues are nearly as important. (Yes, there is no SER without profit...) At nearly every food coop I have visited (more than 4 dozen so far), educating members/shoppers is integrally important. When LED bulbs are swapped for traditional bulbs, or more efficient refrigerant is used, or skylights are created over the produce area, etc., you better believe that we let our members/shoppers know - and why we made these changes. Our members/shoppers appreciate our efforts and expect us to do the right thing. I am hopeful that conventional grocers also see the benefits of these changes, and not just as economic savings... The same is true for supporting sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, and treating staff well by paying a living wage and providing benefits, providing farmers and vendors with prices that allow them to remain profitable, and in giving back to the community...


Got more email about the beer and crumb cake exchanges here yesterday.

MNB reader Howard Schneider wrote:

Thanks for the memories of the great old beer commercials. It reminds me about a long-ago campaign Budweiser used to run: Pick-a-Pair. Everyone knows, “lather, rinse, repeat” as one of the greatest marketing ploys of all time. Bud did something similar, in ads hosted by spokesdrinker Ed McMahon (and a simple jingle: “Pick a pair of sixpacks, buy Bud!”). The message was, “It’s Pick-a-Pair time, so be sure to pick up two sixpacks next time you shop…” No reason to get two, no promotional pricing, no tie to a sports event; just: buy two. As a guy who started out as a copywriter, I’ve always admired the chutzpah of that promo.

MNB reader Julie Anderson wrote:

I found myself singing along with the commercials. Great memories and great advertising.  Thanks for the memories.

MNB reader Craig Bolton wrote:

Isn’t that Mike Farrell from M*A*S*H fame buying everyone a round of Hamms in the bar?

Yup.  Extra credit to you.

Nice note from MNB reader Dan Jones:

Thanks so much for posting the old beer commercials. 

30 years ago TV was a touchstone.  There was no Netflix, few DVRs, and the only subscription service was HBO.  The nation watched Seinfeld at the same time, and all generations had something in common to talk about the next day.  No longer.

Not only has TV viewing changed, so have the commercials.  Maybe six beer brands advertise regularly, and they are all national/international brands.  CPG ads are extremely rare – even on Food Network.  The commercials of today feature insurance companies (with ducks or emus or whatever GEICO advertisers dream of) or pharma solutions with notoriously horrendous side effects. 

The advent of DVRs and more content has been great, don’t get me wrong.  But few in our industry build brands via TV advertising or other broad reach vehicles.  It is too bad – I expect the rate of people eating is higher than the rate of people looking to change insurance companies or suffering from Plaque Psoriasis.

From MNB reader Monte Stowell:

What a great trip down memory lane with these iconic beer commercials. Thanks for sending these along to all your faithful MNB readers.

Sure beats the hell out of all the e-mails about crumb cakes.

From another reader who clearly is shares my passion for crumb cake:

If you are ever in the Hackensack, NJ area, you need to stop in at B & W Bakery…Home of the Famous Heavy Crumb Cake.

They are located at 614 Main Street, Hackensack, NJ…couple of miles off Rt 4.

It is divine and  I hope you get to try it.  I love it when you showcase mom-and-pop shops with special products.  They are harder to find each and every day.

Next time I am in Hackensack, I promise….

Ands finally, from MNB reader John Rand:

You closed the loop nicely with the beer commercials and crumb cake.  Memory is powerful, so it may be redundant to say this: the very best crumb cake there ever was in the whole world was my Grandmother’s home made crumb cake.

I have no way to compare, of course. Grandma slipped away over 40 years ago, and nothing is as evanescent as the memory of a taste. But Grandma made it. She made it for me, sometimes while I watched, and she told stories along with it. It set the standard for baked goods, along with sponge cake and honey cake topped with sliced almonds and danish filled with homemade jam and a whole range of ethnic foods that she lovingly made, while she told me of my ancestors and her childhood migration across three countries to land in America.

You can’t buy that. But you can pass it on.

If there is a slim but positive thing to come from the current pandemic it might be people in the kitchen, together, making things and telling stories and filling the food with a taste you simply cannot buy anywhere but which stays in the mind, unmatched,  almost half a century later.

For me, it is my grandmother's potato pancakes, served with apple sauce.  (It was only later in life that I found out they were called latkes … and I get hungry just thinking about them.)