retail 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: June 1, 2021

    A note from the Content Guy:  Then other day I had a chance to spend some time via Zoom with Johanna (José) Zeilstra, CEO of Gender Fair, which describes itself as a "public benefit corporation" that wants to accelerate equality in the workplace by rating companies based on their gender-related policies and then give consumers the information they need to make decisions, based on this data, about which companies they want toi patronize.

    Here's one sobering statistic:  Only 16 percent of the companies rated by Gender Fair get a passing grade.  We name some of them.  And at least one of them probably will surprise you.

    Enjoy.

    You can find out more about GenderFair here, and can reach José at j.zeilstra@genderfair.com.

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    Axios reports that The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said on Friday that it is legal for companies to require employees to be vaccinated, and can offer unlimited rewards to those employees to incentivize them to be vaccinated, though those rewards cannot be "coercive."

    The EEOC said that "companies must still provide reasonable accommodation for employees who are exempt from mandatory immunization under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act," CBS News reports.

    KC's View:

    I'm guessing that most retailers will want to stop short of mandating employee vaccination … they'll want to strongly encourage it and incentivize it to the great degree possible, without actually requiring it.

    After all, like masks, vaccines have been made a political issue by some, and requiring them can create far more difficult problems than they should.

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    Two new class action lawsuits have been filed against Amazon, charging that the online retailer's Marketplace platform "harms competition by penalizing merchants who sell products on other platforms for lower prices than they offer on Amazon," the Seattle Times reports.

    The suits were filed last week "on behalf of proposed classes of tens of millions of consumers who have bought merchandise on Amazon" and "describe Marketplace as a pay-to-play scheme in which Amazon is the only winner … Plaintiffs in the two new suits are represented by Hagens Berman, the Seattle firm that previously filed class-action antitrust cases against Amazon’s bookselling division, and attorneys in the Seattle office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan."

    The story notes that "Amazon did not immediately respond to questions about the lawsuits," though "it has previously rebutted claims that its Marketplace policies raise prices."

    The two new suits follow a similar one filed last week against Amazon by the Washington, DC, attorney general;  the Times points out that "attorneys general from five states — including Washington — and the Federal Trade Commission are exploring antitrust cases against the retail behemoth."

    KC's View:

    Just the beginning of the lawsuit barrage that is going to hit Amazon in the coming months.  There is a sense, I think, that the company may have reached the tipping point when it comes to the broad acceptability - at least, as perceived by the regulatory class - of its actions, strategies and tactics.

    The thing is, I'm not sure that actual shoppers feel the same way.  Which means that antitrust definitions have to be reframed if Amazon is going to be reined in at all.

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    The Financial Times reports on an internal Nestlé presentation conceding that "more than 60 per cent of its mainstream food and drinks products do not meet a 'recognised definition of health' and that 'some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much we renovate'."

    The presentation - which was viewed by FT editors - goes on to say that "only 37 per cent of Nestlé’s food and beverages by revenues, excluding products such as pet food and specialised medical nutrition, achieve a rating above 3.5 under Australia’s health star rating system. This system scores foods out of five stars and is used in research by international groups such as the Access to Nutrition Foundation."

    The story goes on to say that "the findings come as food makers contend with a global push to combat obesity and promote healthier eating. Executives at Nestlé are considering what new commitments to make on nutrition and are aiming to unveil plans this year."

    Responding to the FT  report about the presentation, Nestlé said: “In recent years, we have launched thousands of products for kids and families that meet external nutrition yardsticks. We have also distributed billions of micronutrient doses via our affordable and nutritious products … We believe that a healthy diet means finding a balance between wellbeing and enjoyment. This includes having some space for indulgent foods, consumed in moderation."

    KC's View:

    The political writer Michael Kinsley famously said that a political gaffe is when some politician actually tells the truth … and the same probably could be said for a business gaffe.  Except in this case, someone not only said the truth out loud, but apparently also put it in a power point.

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal writes about how Door Dash and Uber Eats have ambitions that "are bigger than your lunch … They are after a whole new category of logistics and are increasingly billing their specialty not as food but as speed and convenience. Companies say that so-called next-hour commerce—which includes delivering everything from drugstore staples and alcohol to pet food on demand—is the prize that could sustain their growth and eventually help them turn a profit."

    “Amazon powers next-day delivery. We’re going to power next-hour commerce,” Raj Beri, Uber Technologies' global head of grocery and new verticals, tells the Journal.

    There are two things happening here.  The Journal points out that these food delivery apps need "to hang onto consumers they won during pandemic lockdowns," which means expanding into new categories and offering improved service.  At the same time, the story says, "Grocery and alcohol orders are typically more lucrative than food, bringing in higher revenue. Apps say they can lower their delivery costs by bundling groceries and other nonperishable goods with hot food, and drivers can handle multiple orders at a time without having to worry about orders getting cold."

    The Journal writes that "Instacart, which commands more than half of U.S. grocery delivery sales according to YipitData, is offering lower commission rates for stores that commit to exclusivity and has emphasized shoppers’ larger basket sizes. DoorDash … is pitching its delivery speed, larger customer base, and experience delivering food from restaurants to draw grocers with prepared food offerings. Uber is touting its international presence, which is appealing to grocers with a global footprint, Mr. Beri said."

    KC's View:

    We're reaching an interesting fork in the road, I think.  I was reading a piece the other day in which an expert on these things suggested that speed and convenience are becoming less important to online shoppers than a low cost of delivery, which would seem to be the opposite of what these delivery contractors are saying.

    Frankly, I'd bet on the latter approach.  I think that in the end, e-commerce always has been more about convenience, about freeing me up from shopping that is a chore to do things that are m ore pleasurable and rewarding.  Which is why bricks-and-mortar stores have to make shopping less of a chore and more of a pleasure.

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    Reuters reports that "overall, U.S. consumer prices in April were up about 3.1% compared with February 2020, the month before the pandemic shut down the economy. Data published Friday showed a separate measure of inflation surging 3.6% last month, and underlying inflation excluding volatile gas and food prices gaining 3.1%, its largest annual increase since 1992.

    "And that may be only the beginning. A survey from the University of Michigan on Friday showed consumers' one-year inflation expectations shot up to 4.6% in May from 3.4% in April.

    Prices are expected to keep rising for much of the summer, pushed up by, among other things, bottlenecks crimping supply of both materials and labor, and surging consumer demand."

    Meanwhile, "Consumer sentiment rose in March, reaching its highest level in a year - mainly due to the third disbursement of relief checks and better-than-anticipated vaccination progress, according to the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers."

    U-M economist Richard Curtin, director of the surveys, tells Reuters that "the recovery is far from complete as less than half of the fall in consumer sentiment has so far been recovered, and the current and prospective stimulus and infrastructure spending has the potential to spark a renewed inflationary psychology, although that will not occur immediately … Inflationary psychology preceded actual inflation by about two years in the last bout in the 1970s. The key balance is not to underestimate the ultimate impact of those policies on jobs and inflation, and not to overestimate the ability of policies to bring any excesses to a painless soft-landing."

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    The Washington Post reports that rising prices for beef and pork are outstripping those for food in general.

    The Bureau of Economic Analysis says that overall food prices were up 0.4 percent in April compared to the month before and up one percent compared to the month a year earlier, "the price of pork soared 2.6 percent in the month of April and 4.8 percent from a year ago … And while beef and veal prices stayed fairly flat for the month, they are up 3.3 percent from a year ago."

    The Post quotes Michael Nepveux, an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, as naming the contributing factors:  "Labor shortages in the meatpacking industry on the heels of months of slowdowns and shutdowns due to covid-19; a surge in restocking food service as restaurants reopen; high grain and transportation costs; and strong exports and domestic demand."

    KC's View:

    One expert says that the "best antidote to high prices is high prices" - that when prices skyrocket, demand lessens, which drives prices down.  Which will be cold comfort to consumers surveying the beef department in their stores marveling at how prices have gotten and having to make sometimes difficult choices.

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    The New York Times writes that "for American teenagers looking for work, this may be the best summer in years.

    "As companies try to go from hardly staffed to fully staffed practically overnight, teens appear to be winning out more than any demographic group. The share of 16- to 19-year-olds who are working hasn’t been this high since 2008, before the unfolding global financial crisis sent employment plummeting. Roughly 256,000 teens in that age group gained employment in April — counting for the vast majority of newly employed people — a significant change after teenagers suffered sharp job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Whether the trend can hold up will become clearer when jobs data for May is released on Friday.

    "It could come with a downside. Some educators warn that jobs could distract from school. And while employment can itself offer learning opportunities, the most recent wave of hiring has been led by white teens, raising concerns that young people from minority groups might miss out on a hot summer labor market."

    KC's View:

    I wouldn't worry too much about the school thing.  I worked my way through high school and college to pay the tuition (admittedly, a long time ago, when such a thing was possible), and it was in those retail stores that I got an enormous education that prepared me for life as an adult.  (And, in their own way, for life as the Content Guy;  I never dreamed I'd spend decades of my life writing about this stuff and reconsidering lessons learned so long ago.)

    Published on: June 1, 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…

    •  Here are the US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  34,113,146 total cases … 609,767 deaths … and 27,863,840 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  171,506,864 cases … 3,566,205 fatalities … and 153,821,025 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 62.6 percent of  the US population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 51.5 percent fully vaccinated.


    •  Kroger Health, the healthcare division of The Kroger Co., is launching a new effort that it says is designed "to incentivize more Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The #CommunityImmunity giveaway campaign will start next week and provide individuals, including customers and associates, the opportunity to win life-changing prizes like one of five $1 million payouts and 50 chances to win free groceries for a year.

    "The program comes after a collaboration with the Biden Administration to encourage increased vaccinations as part of the national push to have at least 70% of U.S. adults with at least their first dose by July 10."


    •  CNN  reports that Krispy Kreme has given away more than 1.5 million doughnuts as part of its promotion offering one free doughnuts a day to people who can prove they've received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.


    •  USA Today reports that Target plans to have all the dressing rooms in all its store open today " after keeping them shuttered for more than a year amid the coronavirus pandemic … The move comes two weeks after Target and other retailers stopped requiring masks for fully vaccinated customers, following updated mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

    The story says that "Kohl's also recently reopened its fitting rooms after keeping them closed when it reopened stores … Fitting rooms remain temporarily closed at sister stores T.J. Maxx and Marshall's."

    The only exceptions at Target, USA Today writes, are the fitting rooms that continue to be used to administer Covid-19 vaccinations.


    •  Richard Galanti, Costco's CFO, said last week that the retailer is beginning "a phased return to full sampling. This will come in waves.

    "The first wave of locations, about 170 of our 550-ish locations in the U.S. will be activated by the first week of June, with most of the remaining locations returning toward the near -- or toward the end of June. The first wave will actually determine how fast we roll out and what and when restrictions are lifted. I'm sure there will be a few states with unique restrictions as well.

    "Increased safety protocols are and will be in place, including all samples prepared behind plexiglass, prepared in smaller batches for better safety control, and distribute it to members one at a time. Food courts, same thing as well. I'm pleased to report that our food courts are also coming back over the next few weeks in a bigger way … We began several weeks ago adding back tables and seating at a handful of outdoor food courts in a few states. Over the past few months, we've also added back a few more food items, including bringing back a new-and-improved churros, which will be at all U.S. locations by the 4th of July, and adding a high-end soft ice cream to replace our frozen yogurt. And by June 7, we plan to have tables in seating back at most locations, but with more physical separation, tables of four instead of six and eight, and about half the seating capacity as we had before."


    •  The Washington Post reports that "the federal government relaxed its guidance Friday for summer camps, saying that vaccinated adolescents do not need to wear masks at camp and that even younger campers who have not been inoculated can generally shed face coverings when outdoors.

    "The updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remove some glaring inconsistencies between earlier camp recommendations that all staffers and campers wear masks and more recent general announcements that face coverings are rarely needed outdoors and that vaccinated people can often forgo masks entirely. Still, even the updated guidance comes with a complex set of considerations that may prompt camps to change policies just days before they open."


    •  Axios reports that New York State "will raffle off 50 four-year scholarships to any public college or university in the state for people between 12–17 years old who receive a coronavirus vaccine from tomorrow until July 7 … It's part of the state's initiative to vaccinate young people after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds."


    •  The Los Angeles Times writes that "in the latest and most extraordinary effort yet to boost California’s flagging COVID-19 vaccination rates, state officials on Thursday announced what appears to be the largest inoculation incentive in the nation: the chance for 10 residents to win $1.5 million apiece.

    "The goal of the multimillion-dollar giveaway is simple: Give residents every possible motivation to finally roll up their sleeves as the state’s vaccine rollout enters its crucial next phase.

    "Those prizes - along with 30 additional awards of $50,000 each - are open to Californians who have gotten at least one dose. Those who have previously received their shots will be entered into the drawings automatically, and there is no need to register, according to state officials."

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon has set the dates for its annual Prime Day promotion this year - June 21 and 22, "as the company tries to get its big summer sale back on schedule after postponing it last year due to the pandemic."


    •  Variety reports that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) is asking the US Department of Justice to conduct "a thorough investigation" of the proposed $8.45 billion acquisition of MGM by Amazon "to ensure that this deal won’t risk harming competition."

    “This is also a reminder of why we need to fund our antitrust agencies so they can take on investigations of multi-billion dollar deals,” said Klobuchar, who chairs the antitrust subcommittee. “Our government cannot ensure major corporations are playing by the rules if enforcement agencies are chronically underfunded. My bipartisan legislation, which recently passed through the Judiciary Committee, would give the antitrust agencies additional resources to conduct rigorous reviews of large mergers.”

    Fast Company writes that the proposed deal reflects " the even greater monopolistic foothold that this deal gives one of the world’s richest and most powerful companies, one whose market cap is not in the billions but trillions. Now, beyond just selling its own products, like baby oils, in its own marketplace and thus edging out smaller, independent businesses, Amazon will be doing the same thing with movies and TV shows at a scale of 10 times what it’s currently been doing in entertainment. The MGM library consists of more than 4,000 films and 17,000 TV episodes.

    "It’s an issue that politicians on all sides of the spectrum have been railing about for years now when it comes to Big Tech, and those cries will undoubtedly grow louder in the coming weeks, potentially even affecting this deal, which rests upon regulatory approval."

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    •  The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Walmart's internship program this year "will be held virtually again this summer because of the pandemic.

    "The more than 700 students from across the U.S. make up the largest group of interns the Bentonville-based retailer has had, said Amy Goldfinger, Walmart's senior vice president of global talent.

    "They will join us virtually as we continue to transform our business with innovation and a competitive spirit to meet customers' needs," Goldfinger said in a news release Friday.

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that Costco "said demand surged in its latest quarter as the U.S. economy began to rev up, but the club-store chain warned it is facing higher costs for everything from workers to imported cheese.

    "The company on Thursday said it generated $45.28 billion in revenue for its quarter that ended May 9, up almost 22% from the same period last year."  Costco also "reported a profit of $1.22 billion for the quarter. That was up from $838 million during the year-earlier quarter."


    •  Crain's Chicago Business reports that healthy ending company "Farmer’s Fridge is launching its fresh, pre-made meals and snacks in 18 Jewel-Osco locations in the city and suburbs, as the Chicago-based startup continues to expand its wholesale business.

    "It recently started selling products on shelves in about 25 Target stores as well, said founder and CEO Luke Saunders. The expansion into retail was spurred, of course, by the pandemic, as people started eating lunch at home."

    The story notes that "Farmer’s Fridge got its start selling products from signature vending machines, many of which were placed in central business districts and depended on lunch crowds. During the pandemic, it turned off most of its fridges and began delivering menu items directly to consumer’s homes. Selling at grocery stores, which have seen sales skyrocket, was undoubtedly the next move."


    •  Seattle-based PCC Community Markets said that this week it is "rolling out the addition of self-check kiosks across the co-op. PCC felt it critical to provide this option, in addition to full-service checkout and delivery via Instacart, to offer shoppers a range of solutions that best meet their needs. All kiosks will be cash-free and accept all forms of contactless electronic payment, including credit cards, Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

    "The addition of the kiosks comes in direct response to member and shopper feedback for contactless options and to meet changing shopping behaviors."


    •  From the New York Times:

    "Gap has long been among the biggest operators of mall stores in the country. But after the pandemic, it will have a much smaller presence in traditional indoor malls as it closes Gap and Banana Republic locations and bets on the expansion of its Old Navy and Athleta brands.

    "'What we have accelerated now is the digital dominance of the business — our e-commerce business is about half of sales for the Gap brand, maybe even more in certain markets — and the restructuring away from real estate that has been obsoleted,' Sonia Syngal, chief executive of Gap Inc., said in an interview on Thursday.

    "She added that only about 17 percent of the company’s overall sales came from indoor malls in the first quarter."

    The Times writes that "the shifts reflect changing consumer behavior and the widening gap between America’s best and worst malls, which was exacerbated by the pandemic. Gap has said it expects 80 percent of revenue from Gap and Banana Republic to come from “off-mall, strip, outlet and online formats” by 2024."


    •  The Associated Press reports that "the US Postal Service wants to raise rates on first-class stamps from 55 cents to 58 cents as part of a host of price hikes and service changes designed to reduce debt for the beleaguered agency.

    "The request for the changes, which would take effect Aug. 29, was filed with the Postal Regulatory Commission. It includes price hikes for first-class mail, magazines and marketing mailers."

    Published on: June 1, 2021

    On Thursday we reported that "a coalition of trade associations has sent a letter to several US agencies asking them 'to issue statements 'emphasizing that state and local rules should not place the burden of verifying vaccination on employees'.'

    The letter comes as a direct response to a new Oregon policy requiring store employees "to verify the vaccination status of customers."

    Lauren G. R. Johnson, CEO-president of Bend, Oregon-based Rudy's Markets, sent me the following email:

    Thanks for the piece on Oregon vaccination/masking.  Through the advocacy efforts of NWGA (NW Grocers Assoc.) and OBI I was able to share the comments below with the governor this week.  I was one of a few grocers on the call as well as Walmart and Home Depot to name a few.  I think our words fell on deaf ears as I believe she isn’t able to humble herself to the state and course correct to align with the rest of the nation and get our staff out of the policing business.  Unfortunate doesn’t even come close to how I really feel…you know me well enough to guess the words I’d really use.  Here were my comments to her:

    Low unemployment means I can’t staff for my regular business let alone man the doors to be the vaccine card and mask police.

    My employees are in harm's way in the position of vaccine card/mask verification:  Threatened by open-carry gun owners … Yelling … Harassment  … Employees quitting their jobs … Employees wanting a leave of absence … Hiring security at the doors of one store ($17,000 per month) last year, considering having to do it again … Explaining how HIPAA works and that it doesn’t apply to this situation … Being yelled at that we are just like Hitler and no better, blatantly called nazis … Staff in tears, myself included, at the awful things people are calling in and saying in person.

    We’ve had to turn off commenting online due to threats of violence against our employees and business.

    You know you have a problem when the mayor of a town who walks into the store, is asked for verification of vaccine then turns around and walks out.

    A few quotes of Dr. Sidelinger, State Health Officer in the Oregonian 5/14 show how out of touch with reality and real life our leadership is:

    “Right now I would anticipate that that would be seeing a card with the individuals name, the vaccines they’ve gotten and the date and where they’ve gotten them.”

    “…I’m asking and hoping Oregonians will continue to do what’s right”

    “I hope that no one out there is dishonest, People have choices now about how they want to protect themselves and their communities and we’ll hope that they’ll do that."

    Governor, people read headlines and your agency’s headlines  that people no longer need to wear masks is all they see, not the requirements.  They hear the CDC, the President and yourself say oh yes, you have a choice, you can require mask wearing to avoid checking vaccine status.  That simply doesn’t cut it, customers say all these positions of authority say I don’t have to, so I don’t have to.  We are not trained or educated to be in this position of enforcement that you have put us in.

    The rush announcement by both the federal government and that of our state leadership have put my staff in harms way.  Not that long ago we as grocery workers were lauded as heroes.  Now we find ourselves from hero, to zero.  Shame on you all.

    My ask:  Align with Washington state and the rest of the country in what is and what is not required of private sector business.  Reflect the honor system with signage, nothing more.

    Lauren is absolutely right about this.  While at the moment I think that it seems prudent to continue asking customers and employees to wear masks, it is not fair to put that onus on store employees to verify and enforce these rules.


    Last week I did an Eye-Opener about how Westborn Market - which I consistently describe as the best food store in the country that nobody ever has heard of - works to assure that its employees see the company as doing more than just offering them a job.

    MNB reader Brad Halverson reacted:

    Nice mention of Westborn Market. They are the real deal and I’d argue the welcome video reflects perfectly. Brian Bandyk, with Mark Anusbigian and his family present a place you want to shop every day. The product freshness, good tasting private label offerings, and customer experience are in rare air among the best grocers.


    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    I normally would read MNB for the trade content but it’s always refreshing when the page wanders into movie or sports content. I found this week’s Bob Dylan videos to be a great diversion. Well Done!

    Thanks.  It was fun.


    I took an extended weekend because my oldest son, who lives in Chicago, flew home on Thursday and we hadn't seen him since December 26, 2019.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Enjoy the time with your son! It brought tears to my eyes to think you haven’t seen him in over 17-months. I don’t know if I could have made it that long without seeing mine. Have a great weekend and enjoy your time with him.

    From another reader:

    Enjoy and cherish your time with your son. Covid has brought about a lot of things to ponder.

    And another:

    KC, we traveled by car over 1000 miles each way a week ago for a three-day reunion with our son and daughter in law and their 8 children we had not seen in two years and our daughter and son in law we had not seen in 17 months. It was a terrific three days and I wish your family a great weekend with your son. These are the most important moments in life!

    Agreed.  And thanks.