business news in context, analysis with attitude

With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

• Tom Vilsack, who served as Secretary of Agriculture for the entire eight years of the Obama administration, will return to that job after he was confirmed 92-7 by the US Senate.

The Associated Press writes that in his testimony, Vilsack "heavily endorsed boosting climate-friendly agricultural industries such as the creation of biofuels, saying, 'Agriculture is one of our first and best ways to get some wins' on climate change.

"He proposed 'building a rural economy based on biomanufacturing' and 'turning agricultural waste into a variety of products.'  Vilsack also pledged to work closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to 'spur the industry' on biofuels.

"With systemic racial inequity now a nationwide talking point, Vilsack also envisioned creating an 'equity task force' inside the department … Vilsack also heavily backed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly known as food stamps, or SNAP — as a key instrument in helping the country’s most vulnerable families survive and recover from the pandemic era."

•  Food & Wine reports that "Shake Shack announced a new series featuring menu collaborations with well-known chefs and restaurateurs around the country, including Dominique Crenn, JJ Johnson, Chris Shepherd, and Junghyun Park. Called 'Now Serving: A Collab Series by Shake Shack,' the line of menu items will donate proceeds to regional nonprofits that are supporting restaurant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic."

I love ideas like these - they're such a great way to pump innovation into systems that, if they become calcified, can destroy a business model over the long term.

•  The New York Times reports that "Macy’s, the retailer that also owns Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury, said on Tuesday that its sales last year plummeted 29 percent, highlighting the toll that the pandemic has taken on mall chains and the uncertainty around how traditional retail will recover in a post-pandemic world.

"Macy’s said that sales fell to $17.3 billion in the year that ended on Jan. 30, and that it posted a net loss of $3.9 billion, compared with a $564 million profit the prior year."

The story says that Macy's executives "emphasized that Macy’s was building its digital business, which it expects to reach $10 billion in sales in the next three years. It is moving out of unfavorable American malls as part of previously announced store closures and expanding its off-price chains like Macy’s Backstage, which aims to compete with T.J. Maxx."