business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    There was a story in MNB yesterday about a retailer that appeals to the heart and soul, in addition to the stomach.  Today, KC got a reminder in his email about what it means when a business makes his heart sing … 

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    This may be a first for MNB … a link to a poem about food.

    More than just food, actually.  Tortillas, specifically.  Which, if you ask me, is the food item as worthy as any of poetry.

    The piece is called "Ode To Tortillas, A Poem for Sunday," it is in The Atlantic, and is written by José Olivarez.

    It starts this way:

    there’s two ways to be a Mexican writer

    that we’ve discovered so far.

    you can be the Mexican writer who writes about tortillas

    or you can be the Mexican writer who writes about croissants

    instead of the tortillas on their plate.

    (can you be a Mexican writer if you’re allergic to corn?)

    You can read the entire poem here.

    Spoiler alert.  Here's how the poem ends:

    my people: if i have children, i will teach them about tortillas, but i’m sure they’ll want McDonald’s.

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    CNBC writes this morning that "inflation accelerated at its fastest pace in more than 12 years for April as the U.S. economic recovery kicked into gear and energy prices jumped higher, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

    "The Consumer Price Index, which measures a basket of goods as well as energy and housing costs, rose 4.2% from a year ago, compared to the Dow Jones estimate for a 3.6% increase … The increase in the headline CPI rate was the fastest since September 2008."

    CNBC also provides some context:

    "In addition to rising prices, one of the main reasons for the big annual gain was because of base effects, meaning inflation was very low at this time in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic caused a widespread shutdown of the U.S. economy. Year-over-year comparisons are going to be distorted for a few months because of the pandemic’s impact.

    "For that reason, Federal Reserve policymakers and many economists are dismissing the current round of numbers as transitory, with the expectation that inflation settles down later this year around the 2% range targeted by the central bank.

    "Price surges also have come amid supply bottlenecks caused by a number of factors, from production issues with the ubiquitous semiconductors found in electronics products to the Suez Canal blockage in March to soaring demand for a variety of commodities."

    KC's View:

    I'm no economist, but my initial reaction to this news - in fact, my reaction to every piece of economic news these days - is that the world in which we are living this year is very different than the world in which we were living last year.  So comparisons of short-term results are not very instructive.  But, if we start to see broader trends that last over a period of months and quarters, then we'll have stuff to be concerned about.

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    Bloomberg reports on an acquisition made by Apeel Sciences - which has developed "a patented, plant-based coating that extends the freshness of produce like avocados, English cucumbers, mangoes and organic apples without refrigeration" - of a company called ImpactVision, "a developer of food security software using artificial intelligence and advanced imaging."

    The Impactvision technology, according to the story, "can see what’s happening inside fruits and vegetables. The idea is to give everyone across the food-supply chain valuable and cost-saving information like 'When will this apple go bad?'"

    The goal is to allow experts to see inside fresh produce so they can advise growers about potential problems with crops, as well as cull out inferior product before it gets onto store shelves.

    "Apeel Sciences," the story notes, "began nine years ago with a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is now valued at more than $1 billion."  It has been backed by investors like former Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and Oprah Winfrey.

    "The United Nations estimates about a third of the food produced globally is lost or wasted," Bloomberg writes.  "Eliminating food waste would reduce human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions as much as 8%, according to the World Wildlife Fund."

    "The only way that we are going to build a food system that takes care of more people and our planet is by finding ways to align economic incentives of everyone in the supply chain,” says James Rogers, the company's founder-CEO.

    KC's View:

    The mind boggles at what is possible these days, and how technology can help us achieve some of the demands of the ESG (Environmental, Social & Corporate Governance) movement.

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a court in the European Union has voided a 2017 European Commission ruling that Amazon owed the EU the equivalent of $300 million in taxes, giving the tech company a major win that could have implications for other companies.

    Essentially, the EC maintained that Amazon cooked the books so that it appeared to have less profit than it actually had in the EU.  Amazon's response was that it had paid taxes in "full accordance" with international tax law.

    The Journal writes that "the decision is a significant blow to Margrethe Vestager, an executive vice president of the commission who is leading a campaign to curb alleged excesses by some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Amazon and Alphabet Inc.’s Google … The Amazon case is coming to a head as international talks aimed, at least in part, at shifting the taxation of big tech companies are making progress. Those talks, shepherded by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, had been bogged down, leading several countries to impose their own unilateral taxes on big digital companies, including Amazon, over objections from technology trade groups."

    KC's View:

    Not sure this helps Amazon in the court of public opinion.  But as long as it delivers on its broader value proposition to shoppers, I'm also not sure it matters.

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    The Akron Beacon Journal reports this morning that c-store chain Sheetz "is boosting hourly pay for employees by $2 an hour later this month — and adding a temporary $1 an hour boost on top of that.

    "That will put the average wage paid for hourly employees at more than $15 an hour through the summer, Sheetz said.

    "The pay increases are necessary to attract and retain employees, the Altoona, Pa.-based company said in a news release Monday. The family-owned company said it has more than 2,000 job openings listed on the Sheetz website."

    KC's View:

    I think companies giving raises and bonuses like these is a good thing.  But I keep wondering about the optics - and the tangible impact - when the extra money gets taken away.

    Published on: May 12, 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 a total of 33,550,115 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 596,946 deaths and 26558,138 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 160,409,776 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 3,333,728 resultant fatalities and 138,201,737 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 58.6 percent of the US population age 18 or older has received at least one vaccine, with 44.7 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  The New York Times reports that "the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday defended the agency against accusations that federal scientists were being too slow to update their pandemic-control guidance and overly conservative with their recommendations, especially on outdoor mask wearing … Their complaints echoed mounting exasperation — even among some public health experts — with the federal government’s pace in relaxing its recommendations as states across the country move to reopen their economies."

    Especially at issue is the CDC's conservative approach to reopening schools, which critics ascribed to undue political influence in the regulatory process, to its assertion "that 'less than 10 percent' of transmission was occurring outdoors, a statistic infectious disease experts said was a misleading exaggeration."

    I tend to think that it is possible that a few things are happening here simultaneously.

    One is the CDC probably is being overly cautious in its regulatory and guidance approach - it is staffed by scientists, not marketers or businesspeople or politicians.  The thing is about science is that it requires constant observation and learning … it can be frustrating to the rest of us, but I tend to trust these elite physicians and scientists.  Part of their job is to be cautious, to do everything possible to make sure we don't have a resurgence.

    Two, it is amusing to watch people who would love to influence the regulatory process for political reasons complain about political interference.

    Three, regardless of influence, I do think the teachers unions are being unreasonable.  Once teachers are vaccinated - especially now that young people also can be vaccinated - it is time to get back into the classroom. It is hard for many businesses to reopen if schools haven't reopened.

    •  Axios reports that the federal government "has reached agreements with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft to offer free rides to coronavirus vaccination sites through July 4 … A new feature will allow app users to 'simply select a vaccination site near them, follow simple directions to redeem their ride, and then get a ride to take them to and from a nearby vaccination site free of charge,' according to the White House.

    "Lyft and Uber are not being paid by the federal government for the rides."

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    •  From CNBC:

    "If you order potato chips, toothpaste or over-the-counter medication through the Uber Eats app, it will soon be fulfilled and delivered by start-up Gopuff. The two Softbank-backed companies announced a partnership Tuesday … The collaboration will launch in more than 95 U.S. cities next month with a national expansion later this summer. Customers will order through Uber Eats, and that order will be sent to one of Gopuff’s 250 micro-fulfillment centers."

    ″We built a hyperlocal logistics network of micro-fulfillment centers,” Daniel Folkman, senior vice president at Gopuff, told CNBC on Tuesday evening, “We own all the inventory. We are buying all that inventory from manufacturers and distributors so we are able to fulfill those orders to customers in under 30 minutes, 24 hours a day.”

    Folkman added, “We buy the inventory. We sell it for more than we buy it, which is what has made the unit economics of our business much stronger than a number of third-party delivery services, because we’re actually making our money on the product margin, not on the people who deliver it."

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    •  Increased prices and long lines seemed to be the rule rather than the exception yesterday at gas stations in the southeastern US, as businesses and consumers reacted to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which provides fuel for users from Texas to New Jersey.

    The pipeline remains largely shut down because of a ransomware attack apparently engineered by a Russian criminal group.  Officials have expressed confidence that there will be no shortage of gas, and that the pipeline can be reopened by the end of the week.

    •  Department store retailer Macy's appears to be hoping for another miracle ion 34th Street.

    The New York Times reports that "Macy’s is proposing the construction of a commercial office tower on top of its flagship Herald Square store in New York as part of a broader redevelopment plan that would aim to improve the surrounding area and its subway stations.

    "The retailer said in a statement on Monday that it would commit $235 million to help improve the Herald Square subway stations and to 'transform Herald Square and Broadway Plaza into a modern, car-free pedestrian-friendly urban space for New Yorkers and visitors,' according to a website it created for the proposed project … Before Macy’s proposal can move ahead, the area needs to be rezoned to allow the new structure to be built atop the retailer’s iconic Herald Square store, which opened more than 100 years ago and would remain open during any new construction. The project would also need to go through an approval process with the city."

    •  CNet reports that toymaker Mattel is making a big investment in a recycling program that will address environmental concerns about its products.

    According to the story, "Mattel is taking back old Barbie, Matchbox and Mega toys for free as part of a new toy recycling program called Mattel PlayBack. Consumers can print out a free shipping label to mail their outgrown toys back to the California company — and have the parts reused to make future products.

    "The new recycling program is the latest step Mattel is taking to become more sustainable and reach its goal of having 100 percent recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials across all products and packaging by 2030."

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    Norman Lloyd, one of the most enduring of American character actors, has passed away at age 106.

    Perhaps best known to modern audiences as Dr. Daniel Auschlander, on the influential TV series "St. Elsewhere," which ran on NBC from 1982 to 1988, Lloyd had a career that included working with Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin (he was in Chaplin's last film, Limelight), Jean Renoir, and Alfred Hitchcock (in Saboteur and Spellbound).  Lloyd more recently worked with Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer on Trainwreck, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Weir (playing the headmaster who was Robin Williams' foil in Dead Poets Society).

    Published on: May 12, 2021

    MNB reader Tom Murphy had a reaction to our Walmart vs. Amazon piece:

    Reading this article reminds me of a movie I first saw when I was 13 or so, King Kong vs. Godzilla!  It that movie, these two giants are fighting over the city of Tokyo and all of Japan.  As they rumble, there is lots of collateral damage to buildings, vehicle and citizens.  This is what I see in Walmart vs. Amazon…the city is the retail industry and the collateral damage is the retail completion.  The only way you can survive in this fight is to be part of it!

    Another reaction, from MNB reader Steven Ritchey:

    I've already written about my experiences of WM vs. Amazon, how WM left my groceries directly in front of the door, both times I ordered from them.

    When the pandemic first started my brother and his wife were trying several different delivery services for grocery shopping since he has some health issues that kept him from going to stores period.

    She ordered some groceries from WM, included was a box of hair color.  The hair color shipped, but all the individual  pieces were removed from the box and scattered around the box the order shipped in.

    She ordered a printer ink cartridge, they shipped her a full case of them, while charging for one cartridge.  She tried to return the cartridge, but they had no means to handle returns on orders from the fulfillment center.  There's websites devoted to this issue, they have stories of people ordering an iPad and getting a master case of 12 of them, or the same with laptop computers.  I don't know if they've fixed this or if it  is still going on, but it's not hard to see some huge losses happening if this happens on a large scale.

    My brother loves a specific kind of Ocean Spray juice that can be hard to find.  They order it from WM, it only ships in a full case.

    I personally think for WM to catch up with Amazon, they need to fix a number of things such as employee training, shipping problems and making the process more customer friendly.

    I do a good bit of shopping with Amazon and so far have not had any of these issues.  In fact I've got a box on my front porch now.

    Got another email from an MNB reader about the FDA approving vaccinations for young people:

    Amazing ... Florida and Texas are examples where schools are open and functioning. Can’t help if other states are believing the fear mongering being projected. Now they want to vaccinate children when there in absolutely no science to suggest it necessary??

    I think actual scientists might disagree with the "no science" assertion.