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: October 25, 2021

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Some of the world’s biggest companies are betting consumers will keep paying more for products from coffee to toilet paper.

    "Corporate giants including Procter & Gamble Co., Nestlé SA and Verizon Communications Inc. say they plan to continue raising prices or pushing customers to buy more expensive products into 2022 to offset fast-growing costs amid a global supply-chain crisis. Gillette razors, Nestlé coffee and Chipotle burritos are among the products that could get more expensive in coming months.

    "Price increases so far have paid off for makers of household staples as shoppers, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, have remained loyal to big-name brands.  Now companies are counting on customers to lift sales and offset higher costs that have stressed their bottom lines, even as broader inflationary pressures mount and some analysts question whether shoppers will start to seek cheaper alternatives."

    KC's View:

    I think this can be pushed only so far, because alternative brands (think Harrys' and Dollar Shave Club competing with Gillette) will emerge and private label items will continue to grow in penetration. Which could give retailers even more leverage in their dealings with suppliers.

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    GMDC/Retail Tomorrow has announced that it expects to close down its operations at the end of the year, citing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The Colorado Springs, Colorado-based, member-owned nonprofit trade organization, in business for more than 50 years, said in a statement on Friday that " our membership – and the industry – have been impaired by Covid, and while we see hopeful signs emerging on the horizon, it’s clear that the pandemic’s impacts on business practices and policies will be lasting.  Live events and industry conferences will continue to be reassessed, as connectivity is now occurring in new ways.

    "As such, today we are announcing a member vote on a board-approved resolution to dissolve GMDC|Retail Tomorrow as a member-owned nonprofit, effective December 31, 2021.  This news is disappointing to many, but we recognize that our industry has changed significantly across 51 years, and simply put, we are responding to our members’ evolving business needs.

    "While we acknowledge the continued disruptions impacting the retail industry, we are committed to searching for new and innovative ways to deliver meaningful connections through technology, content, and trading partner relationships – beyond GMDC|Retail Tomorrow.  Until then, we will continue to provide member benefits and connectivity through the end of the year."

    The statement continued:  "This is certainly sad news to share regarding a decision that was arrived at neither lightly nor quickly.  The Executive Committee of our board and our legal counsel have been involved in every step of the process as we conducted a thorough strategic review.   As we approach the end of our membership year, we are making this decision now to enable a rational, thoughtful dissolution that best serves the industry, our members, and the GMDC|RT staff."

    KC's View:

    I've had a pretty good relationship with GMDC over the years, and have had the opportunity to both track and be part of its Retail Tomorrow initiative over the past few years.  It would be my assessment that the folks at GMDC have been unusually committed to reinvention - this is an organization, after all, that used to be the General Merchandise Distributors Council, and then was renamed the Global Market Development Center.

    This change, which then evolved further to integrate Retail Tomorrow into the name, wasn't; t just about words or semantics.  While still working to serve the needs of its core constituency, the organization - especially its leadership and staff - understood that if it were to seriously and credibly address the changes taking place in retail, it needed to reflect those shifts internally as well.

    As the Retail Tomorrow initiative evolved, I have to say that the organization (and I give a lot of credit to the staff here - they were inordinately committed and hard-working) produced some of the most interesting conferences I've ever attended.  Immersion conferences took place in locales that included the Google campus in Silicon Valley and the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as in a variety of other places around the country.  The people who engaged attendees in conversation came from a variety of disciplines, but shared a deep commitment to innovation - it always was fascinating stuff.

    The dissolution of GMDC/Retail Tomorrow is a shame, and it may be that I feel it particularly deeply because I think we kind of shared DNA in our desire to paint on a broader canvas than might ordinarily be expected.

    But, the world continues to be disrupted.

    I do think GMDC/Retail Tomorrow is not working in a vacuum.  The issues it has been facing are not unique to it - every trade association is dealing with them, and I suspect that there are more than a few who are reading the GMDC news and wondering if they are seeing their own futures.

    It shouldn't just be trade associations.  Every organization needs to consider the possibility that disruption from the outside can make it impossible to survive long-term.  (No doubt this is at least part of the rationale behind the merger of the produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association, details of which are scheduled to be announced later this week.)

    One other thing.   I suspect and hope that we've not seen the end of Retail Tomorrow.  In some shape or form, in an iteration that continues to disrupt and provoke and challenge, this basic concept deserves to survive.  I think it will.  Our shared DNA has a lot of staying power, I think - MNB, after all, is just a few weeks shy of celebrating 20 years in business.  And Retail Tomorrow, at its core, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is about helping retailers to be as great in act as they are in thought.

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    Kroger said today that its Home Chef meal kit division has reached $1 billion in sales.

    Home Chef was founded in 2013 and then acquired by Kroger five years later.

    "Kroger's commitment to being Fresh for Everyone is underscored by our Home Chef products, which help us bring families together in the kitchen with meal options for any occasion," said Dan De La Rosa, Kroger's group vice president of fresh merchandising, in a prepared statement.  "We continue to strategically expand Home Chef offerings across our family of companies. Whether it's meal kits, or heat-and-eat and ready-to-cook solutions – which are available via subscription, in-store, pickup, or delivery – it's safe to say that Home Chef has mealtime covered."

    "Home Chef was founded on the idea to simplify mealtime with easy-to-make, delicious recipes," said Pat Vihtelic, Home Chef's founder and CEO. "Since 2013, we've grown from delivering meals with a rented truck to becoming a leading brand for Kroger.

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece about how, despite Instacart's strong performance during the pandemic and $350 million acquisition of startup smart cart company Caper AI, it may be facing some headwinds … This year, growth has slowed: Over the past six months, Instacart’s monthly consumer sales have actually fallen an average of more than 7.5% versus last year, Bloomberg Second Measure data show."

    The story goes on top point out that "grocers have voiced concerns about Instacart’s model, with many saying they aren’t making money on the platform because of the high commissions Instacart charges. Others complain that the platform owns too much control over interactions with their customers."

    KC's View:

    Gee.  Y'think?


    The Journal writes that it would "serve Instacart well to become more of a full-fledged, omnichannel partner to grocery stores, something the Caper AI deal helps it accomplish." 

    No argument … except that Instacart is actually positioning itself to be a competitor to grocery stores, not a partner.  It'll work with retailers to the degree that it helps Instacart build sales and market share as it heads toward an IPO, but if retailers show resistance or decide to look elsewhere for e-grocery solutions, it'll be positioned to simply take their customers through the use of dark stores and the customer data that retailers have willingly shared.

    This is a company that will be able to make retailers an offer they cannot refuse.  (I don't know for a fact that Instacart doesn't have a supply of horses' heads ready to leave in their retailer clients' beds.  But I wouldn't bet against it.)

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics is out with a new study showing that "Kentucky, Idaho, South Dakota and Iowa reported the highest increases in the rates of workers who quit their jobs in August," the Washington Post reports, adding that "the largest increase in the number of quitters happened in Georgia, with 35,000 more people leaving their jobs."

    The study, the Post writes, "builds out a portrait of August’s labor market, with historic levels of people leaving jobs and a near-record number of job openings showing the leverage workers have in the new economy. It offers the first detailed insight into the state-by-state geography of this year’s Great Resignation."

    The Post goes on:  "The data comes on top of another government snapshot showing that 4.3 million people quit jobs in August — about 2.9 percent of the workforce, a pandemic-era record.

    "The phenomenon is being driven in part by workers who are less willing to endure inconvenient hours and poor compensation, and are quitting to find better opportunities. There were 10.4 million job openings in the country at the end of August — down slightly from July’s record high, which was adjusted up to 11.1 million, but still a tremendously high number. This gives workers enormous leverage as they look for a better fit."

    KC's View:

    It is hard to imagine that the current situation is sustainable - the combination of an enormous need for people and the continuing trend of the "great resignation" has to give at some point.  It is interesting that the greater number of people quitting their jobs are in rural areas, not in areas where there is more of an emphasis on industrial and service economies.  I wouldn't have expected that.

    Published on: October 25, 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:  46,312,782 total cases … 756,362 deaths … and 36,052,614 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  244,513,863 total cases … 4,965,682 fatalities … and 221,523,414 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.6 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 67.2 percent being fully vaccinated.  In addition, the CDC says, 17.3 percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a booster dose of vaccine.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Children ages 5 to 11 may be eligible for Covid vaccines by early next month, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official. He projected a timetable for young Americans to be vaccinated with at least one dose by early November, and to be fully immunized by the holidays."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 'severe outcomes' for covid-19 patients did not increase significantly since the delta variant started spreading widely — suggesting that while the variant is more contagious, it does not cause more severe illness."

    The Post also notes that "in a separate report last month, the CDC found that people who were not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus this spring and summer were 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die of covid-19 than people who were fully vaccinated."

    •  The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Walmart "plans to start bringing its U.S.-based office workers back to their respective campuses early next month, the company said Friday.

    "Most have worked remotely since March 2020."

    "Given that all campus associates will be fully vaccinated or have an approved accommodation in November, we will transition to working together in our campus offices on a more regular basis starting the week of Nov. 8," said Donna Morris, Walmart's chief people officer.

    •  Fox News host Neil Cavuto went on the network yesterday in his first interview since being diagnosed with Covid;  in addition to having the coronavirus, Cavuto has had a number of health issues over the years, including cancer, a heart attack and a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

    "While I’m somewhat stunned by this news, doctors tell me I’m lucky as well," Cavuto said.  "Had I not been vaccinated, and with all my medical issues, this would be a far more dire situation."

    Cavuto added, ""I hope anyone and everyone gets that message loud and clear. Get vaccinated, for yourself and everyone around you."

    "Life is too short to be an ass," he added, saying that vaccination should not be a political issue.

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Reuters reports that in the UK, Tesco says that its website and mobile application are working again "after the services were disrupted by an attempt to interfere with its systems … The grocer first experienced the problem on Saturday with customers unable to order goods and track deliveries."

    "Since yesterday, we've been experiencing disruption to our online grocery website and app. An attempt was made to interfere with our systems which has caused problems with the search function on the site," a Tesco spokesperson said over the weekend.

    The company said it does not believe any customer data was exposed in the hacking attempt.

    •  The New York Times has a story about why Amazon is getting into business with Judge Judith Sheindlin, who ended her popular syndicated program, "Judge Judy," earlier this year.

    According to the story, "Next Monday, IMDb TV will unveil 'Judy Justice' … the new show is essentially a supersized version of the old one — a certified hit, or so IMDb TV hopes, taken from the dying medium of daytime broadcast syndication. The cases being litigated involve amounts up to $10,000. (It was $5,000 before.) Her on-camera courtroom staff has been expanded to include a stenographer and a law clerk."

    IMDb, the Times points out, is an advertiser-supported streaming service that Amazon launched two years ago that has mostly featured reruns.  "Judy Justice," however, represents a commitment to producing proprietary content for the service.

    "Amazon is counting on Judge Sheindlin’s chutzpah to help establish IMDb TV as a bigger player in what has become, surprisingly, one of the hottest areas in media: free, ad-supported video on demand," the Times writes, adding, "Once seen as dowdy cousins to subscription services like Disney+ and Netflix, which do not carry ads, ad-supported platforms soared in popularity during the pandemic as viewers sought out entertainment comfort food. More viewers than anticipated seem to be willing to put up with a few ad breaks, analysts say. IMDb TV, for one, claims to carry about 50 percent fewer ads than a traditional broadcast network … Ad-supported streaming services had about 108 million viewers in the United States in 2020, according to eMarketer. The number is expected to climb to 157 million by 2024. (IMDb TV does not disclose raw viewing numbers. In May, it said that year-over-year viewership had increased 138 percent and that 62 percent of viewers were ages 18 to 49, the demographic that advertisers pay a premium to reach.)"

    "Judy Justice" is just one example.  Amazon also has commissioned a sequel/spinoff of "Bosch," which ran for seven season on Amazon Prime Video, for IMDb, clearly hoping to drive new viewers to the service, generate higher ad dollars, and create a strong revenue stream that allows it to be more competitive across the board.

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    •  The Cryptocurrency Post reports that Walmart is working with Coinstar and CoinMe to install "200 Bitcoin ATMs in its store branches across the US … the final plan concludes that almost 8,000 Bitcoin ATMs will be placed across the US. According to media reports, there are about 25,000 bitcoin ATMs at selected grocery stored and service station within the US … Coinstar manages about 4,400 kiosks in 33 states across the country."

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    •  The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Produce Association are scheduled to provide what they are calling "an important update" on their merger plans this Thursday, October 28.

    The update will be hosted by PMA CEO Cathy Burns and United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel, as well as members of the executive board of the new organization.

    “This new association will not simply be a combination of our two great associations,” said Stenzel in a prepared statement.  “The new association will be a needed evolution for our industry."

    Burns said that the new organization "will be built on a foundation of strong volunteer leadership from across the supply chain and around the world. Our industry will have a role in many of the critical challenges facing the world in the years to come and, based on the work we’ve already done, I’m excited to create an extraordinary future for fresh produce and floral."

    •  Arkansas Online reports that "a federal judge has dismissed antitrust claims against Tyson Foods that were brought by a group of grocers, including Kroger, Meijer and Publix.

    "The decision is part of an ongoing case against the chicken industry for allegedly conspiring to restrict production and inflate chicken prices from 2008 to 2016.

    "Judge Thomas Durkin of the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division on Tuesday approved the stipulation between the listed parties, who all agreed to the dismissal. Walmart, among others, was not part of the plaintiff class. The order has no bearing on the defendants' claims against other chicken companies.

    "Tyson Foods has previously reached settlements in related price-fixing litigation but has admitted no wrongdoing. Spokesmen have said the settlements are in the best interests of the company and its shareholders, and 'do not constitute an admission of liability'."

    •  The National Retail Federation says it "expects 90% of the country to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa this year, up from 87% last year. On average, it expects them to spend $978 on gifts and holiday items. That’s on par with the previous year’s spending, but still shy of the $1,048 spent in 2019.

    "As was true last year, people say they are putting presents for family and friends at the top of their list, along with spending on décor and food for celebrations. Intentions to spend on non-gift purchases for themselves and the family are down. This year, about 47% say they’ll take advantage of promotions to buy non-gift items, spending about $118, down significantly from the 60% who planned on spending $162 last year."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the supply chain for countless products is or has been disrupted—and that includes wine. There are ships languishing in ports and undelivered cases cramming warehouses to capacity, not to mention winemakers awaiting shipments of labels and bottles. The result: empty shelves at wine shops as well as the aforementioned rationing.

    "The pandemic played a role in the wine world’s supply chain woes; distributors struggled to keep up with the sharp increase in consumer demand and rolling state-by-state shutdowns crimped the labor market. The situation will get worse before it gets better," according to wine-industry experts, "though they didn’t all predict that Champagne will be scarce this holiday season."

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    Regarding my continuing criticism of Facebook, one MNB reader wrote:

    Facebook was founded on the premise of rating girls looks at various universities. What would we expect the outcome of this business model to be? Social media has built its reputation on verbal / video assault on every move every person makes. 

    Facebook lives and dies but what it created.

    What is amazing to me is that the Mark Zuckerberg portrayed so vividly in Aaron Sorkin's "The Social Network" seems more accurate with every passing day.

    I expressed a certain skepticism last week that retailers will be able to make slower delivery a virtue in the eyes of consumers, prompting MNB reader Howard Schneider to write:

    I share your skepticism about making slower delivery a virtue. But I have seen one current marketing message turning a negative into a positive: The leading Ford dealer here in Portland is addressing the shortage of vehicles in stock by telling – and incentivizing – potential buyers to order their Fords with colors and options they want, which obviously entails waiting some time for delivery. Some of us are old enough to remember when ordering a vehicle customized to your liking was a standard way to buy a car. Sometimes innovation requires looking to the past for inspiration.

    In response to our story about unionization efforts by Amazon employees in New York, one MNB reader wrote:

    Unions add nothing but cost into a system.  See auto workers, Teachers, construction, government workers, truckers,  on and on.  The unions say they want more for their members but in reality, it cost jobs, increases costs of finished products, and in a lot of instances allows for inferior workers to stay on the job because they know the firing process is heavily weighted in favor of the employee.  In Amazon’s instance, I am sure that the union has promised many benefits, let’s see what the workers really get for the dues they will be paying, and how quickly Amazon will move to automate further which will cost additional jobs.

    I disagree with the "unions add nothing."  I've never belonged to a union, but I recognize that union membership was highly beneficial to my father and my wife.  My daughter now belongs to one, and we'll have to see how that plays out …

    There are plenty of places in which unions have protected workers who have been exploited.  Have there been times when they've been counter-productive?  Sure.  No argument there.  Can unions add greater costs into systems?  Sure, especially if those costs are related to wages and benefits … but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially in companies where employees are treated like costs, not assets.

    I just disagree with the absolute nature of your statement.  

    Published on: October 25, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  On Friday night in the American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros beat the Boston Red Sox 5-0, taking their best-of-seven series 4-2 and moving on to the World Series.

    On Saturday night in the National League Championship Series, the Atlanta Braves defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2, winning the NL pennant in the best-of-seven series 4-2 and moving on to the World Series, where they will face off against the Astros in the best-of-seven series that begins on Tuesday night.

    While I am primarily a NY Mets fan, I had a rooting interest in seeing the Red Sox and the Dodgers faces off in the World Series.  So, I'm a little disappointed … but on the other hand, I'm going to get a lot more sleep in the next week or so because I can't imagine staying up late to watch any of these games.

    •  It was Week Seven in the National Football League…

    Washington 10, Green Bay Packers 24

    Kansas City Chiefs 3, Tennessee Titans 27

    Atlanta Falcons 30, Miami Dolphins 28

    NY Jets 13, New England Patriots 54

    Carolina Panthers 3, NY Giants 25

    Cincinnati Bengals 41, Baltimore Ravens 17

    Philadelphia Eagles 22, Las Vegas Raiders 33

    Detroit Lions 19, Los Angeles Rams 28

    Houston Texans 5, Arizona Cardinals 31

    Chicago Bears 3, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38

    Indianapolis Colts 30, San Francisco 49ers 18