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    Published on: January 21, 2021

    The New York Post reports that advocacy group Truth In Advertising (TINA) has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) arguing that "Walmart is once again playing fast and loose with the rules when it comes to labeling goods 'Made in the USA'."

    The Post goes on:

    "The world’s biggest retailer - which five years ago managed to dodge a federal inquiry over its labeling practices by promising to change them -  is now claiming on its website that goods that it sells like vacuum cleaners, towels and plastic storage bins are made in America when they aren’t," TINA claims in its complaint.

    The Post writes that "the nonprofit consumer advocacy group noted that Walmart claimed in a Facebook ad last fall that nearly two-thirds of the millions of products it sells are made in America. Meanwhile, however, only 2,000 items are listed under its site’s 'Made in USA' filter … Under the FTC’s Made in USA standard, only products that are 'all or virtually all' made in the United States can be marketed as 'made' in the USA. And when making qualified claims like 'Made in the USA with domestic and imported parts,' the FTC requires that the qualifying language be clear and conspicuous."

    The Post says that Walmart's response to the filing "sidestepped" the actual accusations:

    “Through Walmart’s Investing in American Jobs initiative, we’ve committed $250 billion over 10 years toward the purchase of products made, sourced, grown or assembled here in the US. We’ve seen some wonderful success stories based on our pledge and hope to contribute to further expansion of US manufacturing and job growth.”

    KC's View:

    Nobody - not Walmart, not customers, and certainly not the Made in the USA movement - is helped if folks are playing fast and loose with accuracy.

    The betting here is that Walmart will settle this complaint with the FTC, promise to do better, not acknowledge any wrongdoing, and we'll all move on until the issue pops up again.  At least, that's my guess.

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    USA Today reports that three Costco clubs in New Mexico are offering curbside pickup - with a $100 minimum order and $10 fee.

    The company says it is a limited test for the moment.  The paper notes that it was just a month ago that "Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer, said the company did not have plans to add buy online, pickup in-store like competitors. Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale Club added curbside to locations nationwide over the summer."

    USA Today writes that "the Albuquerque clubs have rolled out the new service with Instacart … Costco also partners with the online and on-demand grocery company for same-day deliveries."

    KC's View:

    Two things I don't understand.

    Galanti has been quoted as saying that the decision by Sam's and BJ's to offer curbside pickup made Costco execs "scratch their heads."  That makes me scratch my head - it seems pretty evident to me why they did it.  Even before the pandemic people wanted that convenience, and the pandemic simply accelerated it.

    The second thing I don't understand is why they need to partner with Instacart for  a pickup service.  The easy way out?  Maybe … but also maybe not the most sustainable long-term solution to the e-commerce challenge.

    USA Today makes the point that Instacart works with dozens of retailers in offering pickup service.  You'd think that Costco would want to differentiate itself with something unique to its culture and value proposition, as opposed to a me-too offering.

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    "Unilever has promised that every worker who provides it with goods and services will earn a living wage by 2030 even if it costs the company more," CNN reports, adding that "the living wage initiative will extend to 65,000 direct suppliers and several thousand agricultural businesses."

    According to the story, "The owner of Ben & Jerry's and Dove also pledged to spend €2 billion ($2.4 billion) annually by 2025 with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups, including women and Black people, up from €300 million ($363 million) currently."

    In its statement, Unilever said a living wage "allows people to afford a decent standard of living, covering a family's basic needs: food, water, housing, education, healthcare, transportation, clothing; and includes a provision for unexpected events."

    KC's View:

    Unilever CEO Alan Jope positions the commitment as critical to addressing issues of social inequality, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

    This is yet another example of corporations taking positions - sometimes going out of their way to take positions - that have a social/cultural component, though Unilever also would argue that long-term this is good business.

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    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, there now have been 24,998,975 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 415,894 deaths, and 14,968,716 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 97,388,314 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 2,085,525 fatalities, and 69,948,686 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post writes that "at least 14.3 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 2.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 36 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The number of Covid-19-related deaths reported in a day in the U.S. reached its second-highest level yet, even as hospitalizations continued to edge downward and the number of newly reported cases rose only slightly.

    "More than 4,200 deaths were reported in the U.S. for Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and reported early Thursday morning in Baltimore, up from 2,769 a day earlier and 3,963 a week earlier. It was the third time the number has exceeded 4,000, after doing so on Jan. 8 and again on Jan. 12.

    "At least six states including Idaho, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington State didn’t update their Covid-19 data dashboards for Monday, Johns Hopkins said. This could lead to a data backlog that skews numbers in the following days."

    •  Among the executive orders signed by President Biden yesterday was a " 100-day mask mandate (that) applies on federal property and on airlines, trains and transit systems traveling between states, though Mr. Biden will direct the government to work with state and local authorities on similar steps."

    •  Fox Business reports that Lidl "has become the latest retailer to offer incentives for COVID-19 vaccinations, announcing it will give an extra $200 to any U.S. employee who gets inoculated.

    "The additional payment will be used to offset costs incurred by employees associated with vaccine administration, including travel costs and childcare. In addition, Lidl will accommodate employee schedules for vaccine appointments."

    •  From Axios:

    "Amazon's worldwide consumer CEO Dave Clark has offered to help the Biden administration with its coronavirus vaccination goals by mobilizing efforts to inoculate its employees, according to a letter sent to President Biden on Wednesday … Amazon also offered up any technologies, communications and personnel to the White House to help move along tracking and vaccinations."

    Axios writes that "as demand for the coronavirus vaccine is outstripping supply, Amazon has about 800,000 employees, many of whom are essential workers."  By aiding in the vaccination effort, the story suggests, it will help achieve the Biden administration's goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in 100 days.

    Not to mention helping move Amazon's employees to the front of the line.

    •  NBC News reports that "Aiming to boost the slow pace of administering Covid-19 vaccinations, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday that the state has turned to Starbucks for help streamlining logistics and setting a new goal to dole out 45,000 doses a day.

    "Starbucks has assigned 11 employees with expertise in labor and deployment, operations, and research and development to work full time on vaccine distribution in its home state, the company said, adding that the number of employees could change."

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    •  Interesting piece in the New York Times about four technological trends likely to grow in 2021.

    They include:  the growth of conversational "chatbots" that allow for ever-more-sophisticated real-time exchanges between customers and online stores … smarter Wifi that can handle all the various devices and appliances that are connected to the internet … hands-off technology that is increasingly sensitive, personalized and precise about how it detects objects and allows for things like contactless payments, letting people into buildings and start cars … and "tech that virtualizes work and self-care," made more viable since "the pandemic has made it clear that virtualized experiences, like video meetings and Zoom yoga, are viable substitutes for the real thing, whether you embrace them or endure them."

    •  In California, the Press Enterprise reports that "an Amazon Fresh supermarket has opened in Whittier at the site of a former Orchard Supply Hardware store.

    "The store, at 15225 Whittier Blvd. in the Friendly Hills Marketplace, is the e-commerce giant’s fifth such grocery location in Southern California. The others are in Woodland Hills, Irvine, North Hollywood and Northridge … The supermarkets offer free same-day delivery and pick-up for Amazon Prime members and also feature Amazon Dash Carts equipped with digital panels that allow shoppers to sign in using a QR code from their Amazon app.

    "Items are automatically tallied when customers place them inside the carts.  When they exit the store, purchases are charged to whichever debit or credit card is attached to their Amazon app.

    "Shoppers can find store items quickly with Alexa, a virtual assistant, using voice-activated Echo Show devices throughout the store."

    •  From CNBC:

    "Chewy CEO Sumit Singh said Tuesday that calls to its customer service line prompted the online pet supplies retailer to accelerate its plans to launch a virtual vet service — even though that had been years away on the company’s road map … The virtual vet service, which launched in October, is one example of how the company is trying to continue to build on the momentum it’s seen during the coronavirus pandemic."

    Singh also "hook off the notion that pet owners will return to buying more of their dog food, cat litter or pet toys at the store after the crisis, saying customers have formed new habits.  'We’ve been in lockdown for 10, 11 months now, the larger part of the year … Customers have had the opportunity to try online models not just with pet, but across a plethora of services whether it’s home delivery, food delivery, grocery shopping or pet. That, in my opinion, really provides a bit of a mental shift for customers'."

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that "Walmart Inc. Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said the U.S. needs to confront its health and economic crises -- but added he doesn’t support a universal $15 minimum wage."

    According to the story, "President-elect Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current level of $7.25, which is 'too low,' McMillon said during a media briefing with Business Roundtable CEO Josh Bolten. But instead of setting a uniform nationwide level, McMillon called for a higher wage that takes into account 'geographic differences' and 'small business.'  Congress should find the 'right pace' for wage increases, said McMillon, who is serving as chairman of Business Roundtable."

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "About 900,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits last week as the labor market struggles to recover this winter.

    "The number of jobless claims last week was down slightly from the week ended Jan. 9, when applications jumped by more than 100,000 to 926,000. The Labor Department said the increase for the Jan. 9 week - initially estimated as the largest weekly increase since March - was smaller than previously thought.

    "Jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, remain above the pre-pandemic peak of 695,000 and are higher than in any previous recession for records tracing back to 1967."

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    •  Weis Markets announced that it has hired Michael T. Lockard, most recently the SVP-CFO at K-VA-T Food Stores, to be its new CFO-SVP-Treasurer.

    Lockard succeeds Scott Frost, who is retiring.

    Weis Markets also announced that Richard Gunn, its senior VP-merchandising and marketing, has left the company "to pursue other interests."  Taking over his role on an interim basis is Bob Gleeson, VP-perishables.

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

    Three of the major food trade associations released statements yesterday related to the inauguration of President Biden.

    •  From Leslie Sarasin,  president/CEO of FMI-The Food Industry Association:

    "Whether it’s during a natural disaster or a national emergency, the food industry continues to do what it does best – care for its customers and the communities it serves. Thousands of grocery workers day-in and day-out have paid attention to the details of their work to safeguard their customers’ access to safe and affordable food all across America throughout this nearly year-long pandemic. 

    "While 2020 has presented a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, the food industry stands ready as essential partners to not only provide food and household products now, but also to serve as safe, convenient places for customers to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in the weeks and months ahead. Our 12,000 supermarket pharmacies are working fervently to get Americans vaccinated as safely and efficiently as possible while utilizing different types of vaccines. As trusted health care providers to their customers, supermarket pharmacies already provide comprehensive immunization services and counseling to their customers.

    "According to FMI research, supermarket pharmacies currently provide 20% of the nation’s flu vaccines. It is essential that supermarket pharmacies and the broader food industry be part of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination effort. 

    "We look forward to working with the newly elected president, vice president and Members of Congress on issues impacting the food industry - their customers and communities - and ensuring the voice of the food industry is represented authentically on Capitol Hill, to the White House, and throughout the executive branch."

    •  From Tom Stenzel, president/CEO of United Fresh Produce Association:

    “We congratulate President Biden and Vice President Harris on their swearing in today. Given the many challenges facing our country, we are grateful that the President immediately moved to address the need for immigration reform, sending a new legislative proposal to Congress.

    "We strongly support President Biden’s proposal to create a pathway to legal status for America’s immigrant population, including some 1 million farmworkers critical to feeding the nation. We also call on the President and Congress to include a future agricultural guest worker program which will be required to secure an adequate workforce to harvest, pack and ship our products. The bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed by the House of Representatives in the last Congress charts a clear path forward to a long-term, bipartisan solution to these challenges.

    "We stand ready to work with the Biden Administration and the Congress to move this legislation forward."

    •  And, from Greg Ferrara, president/CEO, the National Grocers Association (NGA):

    "NGA and its members, many of them family owners with multiple generations invested in serving and supporting local communities, are committed to working with you and your administration as we strive to grow local economies across the country grappling with one of the greatest challenges in a generation.  From supermarkets to distribution centers, grocery workers have toiled on the front lines during this pandemic, dedicated to feeding our nation.”

    In a letter to the Biden administration, Ferrara outlined priorities that included "employee tax relief, liability protection, assistance with accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for online purchases, credit card fees, the minimum wage and enforcement of antitrust laws."

    "NGA stands ready to work with you and your administration as together we rise to face the challenges ahead of us to lift up our communities and importantly, our local economies," he wrote.

    Published on: January 21, 2021

    Yesterday MNB had a story, about which I offered some commentary, about how Kroger has dropped from its list of charities approved for customer donations a group that has been identified as an anti-government militia.

    I pointed out in my commentary that it wasn't just Kroger.  Amazon also lists the organization as one to which it funnels contributions.  I did suggest that businesses have to be careful about the companies they associate with and, true enough, I was particularly cautionary about anti-government militias.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Thanks for keeping us safe Kevin – top-notch reporting here. With the advent of the new administration today, yeah, why don’t we just cancel everything that offends the sensibilities of the left. I don’t recall you warning any retailers or companies for pouring millions into BLM over the summer (compared to the pittance this IRS-approved non-profit receives from Kroger & Amazon’s programs).

    I think we can all agree that BLM is a prime example of an organization that has pretty successfully “insinuated themselves into the fabric of the culture” to use your expression. Maybe “the culture” would benefit from companies spending more time focused on their business and less time bending over backwards to align themselves with “the culture” as they perceive it.

    And your take on MyPillow….c’mon, was that really necessary? Or just a little schadenfreude on your part? Did your grandmother never tell you if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, maybe it’s best to say nothing at all?

    My grandmother would've been appalled by the notion that I make a living doing something that requires me not to be nice from time to time.  I stopped worrying about that years ago.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Please try to see all sides of this issue.  The group may very well be bad news, but the source given is the Southern Poverty Law Center,  which doesn’t’ have a good track record of objectivity.  If appeal to authority is the argument, the track record of the authority is important.  If you go through the list of what organizations the Southern Poverty Law Center considers extremists, you might be very surprised.  One example:  The American College of Pediatricians.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    The Southern Poverty Law Center is an extremist group in many people’s eyes, should they be banned?

    Who is going to decide who gets banned?  Kevin Coupe or maybe me?

    I hope neither of us are.

    Before I respond to this emails, I want to make one point.  I am not going to get into an extended conversation about the relative merits of the Indiana Oath Keepers, Black Lives Matter, the Southern Poverty Law Center or the American College of Pediatricians.  Not because I don't have opinions.  I do.  But MNB is not the place for this discussion.

    I knew I ran the risk of the conversation going in this direction when I ran the Kroger story yesterday.  But that was a legitimate story, worthy of coverage and comment.  So no apologies there.

    I also know that of all the various websites that cover this business segment, MNB was the only one that did this story.  Now, some would argue that those folks are a lot smarter than I am, because they avoided the risk of controversy.  But for me, this is a legitimate news story - interesting, relevant, and worthy of conversation.  (Which we certainly got.)  Someone yesterday said they thought I was in favor of "cancel culture."  If I were, I wouldn't post emails that disagree with me.

    I wanted to make sure I ran these emails not because I have any desire to get into the muck of a political discussion, but rather because they challenged my perspective, which is fine. 

    Two things surprised me, when I did a little research.

    First, I was curious, so I checked both Kroger's and Amazon's lists of approved charities.  Kroger does not have Black Lives Matter listed … but Amazon actually has a dozen different chapters of Black Lives Matter with which it affiliates for the purposes of charitable donations.

    I didn't mention this before now because it never came up.  I would make the same point in this case as I did with Indiana Oath Keepers  - retailers have to vet the organizations it is working with so that there are no surprises.  (To be fair, I know what "Black Lives Matter" is because of the name.  "Indiana Oath Keepers" is a little more vague.)

    I think your argument that "'the culture' would benefit from companies spending more time focused on their business and less time bending over backwards to align themselves with 'the culture' as they perceive it" is a perfectly valid one.  I'm just not sure it is workable at a time when, as numerous studies have shown, many customers want to know where the companies with which they do business stand on the issues that are important to them.  But if a company says, "We're not going there … not now … not ever," I'm okay with that.

    But this story was about companies who found themselves doing the opposite.  And therefore, I think, legitimate reporting and commentary.

    I cannot imagine that most of the MNB community wants me to ignore stories like these.  (A percentage of the audience may wish I'd have a different perspective, but I cannot do much about that … and I am happy to entertain oppositional thoughts about lots of issues.)

    Second … I will just say this.  I was actually appalled that the American College of Pediatricians would be described as extremist by the SPLC, so I double checked.  In fact, that is true.

    But it also took me about five seconds to figure something else - which is that the American College of Pediatricians is not the American Academy of Pediatrics.  I did not realize until checking that these are very different groups, with different philosophies.

    Which, without commenting on those philosophies, actually makes my point - that groups have to be vetted so you know who they are and what they represent if you're doing business with them.  You have to know what the repercussions might be if you support them.  And that applies no matter where you are on the political spectrum.

    Regarding the third email … Did I argue that any group should be banned?  I’m happy to argue that retailers have to be careful about endorsing or appearing to endorse any group that it believes is not in synch with its values.

    I’m not sure that this is the same as banning them.

    I assume you choose the charities to which you donate.  I do.  We may have charities in common, or not.  But we almost certainly work to choose charities in which we believe.

    All I was saying is that retailers need to know.  In this case, Kroger apparently did not.  Now, we are at a particularly raw moment in our history, and so this conversation takes on a different import.  But I would hope that retailers are looking at the positions they take and the institutions they support and make sure that they are an accurate reflection of their values.

    One other thing.  About the MyPillow crack …

    Yeah, sure.  That was a little gratuitous.  But I found Mike Lindell and his commercials to be annoying long before he ever took political positions.  It was just somehow satisfying to find out that someone who annoys me also has an 'F' rating from the Better Business Bureau.  

    On another subject … the idea that Pizza Hut is going to start using drones to deliver pizza in Israel, one MNB reader wrote:

    I wonder what happens if they send the wrong pizza?

    Or pepperoni.

    Hard to imagine someone hasn't questioned the wisdom of sending out delivery drones in a country in a perpetual state of war and that has proven adept at shooting things out of the sky.