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: December 22, 2021

    KC offers one final business lesson for 2021, using a metaphor that makes the case for not trying to be all things to all people, but rather focusing on what makes you different, what makes you appealing to a target consumer, and then sticking with it.

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    Fox News reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), has "accused three major grocery store chains of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to exponentially raise prices for American consumers, even as the companies rake in record profits.

    "Warren, a former Democratic presidential candidate, suggested in separate letters to the chief executives at Publix, Kroger and Albertsons that the companies had used their massive profits earned in 2020 to reward executives with bonuses and make additional stock buybacks, all while jacking up the price of food.

    "'Your company, and the other major grocers who reaped the benefits of a turbulent 2020, appear to be passing costs on to consumers to preserve your pandemic gains, and even taking advantage of inflation to add greater burdens,' Warren wrote."

    Warren went on:  "Your companies had a choice: they could have retained lower prices for consumers and properly protected and compensated their workers, or granted massive payouts to top executives and investors … It is disappointing that you chose not to put your customers and workers first."

    While none of the companies have commented on the letter, FMI-The Food Industry Association stepped up to say that the real culprits for higher prices range from "cost increases on supply chain disruptions, including a shortage of labor and transportation, to higher fuel costs and increased consumer demand."

    According to the story, "Warren asked the companies to respond to a series of questions by Jan. 7, 2022, including the extent to which they met or exceeded profit goals during the pandemic; any increase in the average wholesale price paid by their company for different food items; any increase in the average retail price offered by the company for different food; and whether the companies raised wages this year."

    KC's View:

    It is possible for two things to be true at the same time - that these chains did reward top executives while at the same time paying employees more.  I wouldn't mind seeing how the percentages work out at all three companies - did the pay disparity between senior executives and front line workers grow over the past two years?  I also think that the ownership structures at Kroger and Albertsons are different from that of Publix, so we may not be comparing apples to apples.

    It is curious timing for such a challenge to the chains, since inflation has affected prices on almost everything, and there are demonstrable supply chain issues contributing to the problem.  And we know that compared to the before-times, employees are being paid more, and the pendulum, at the moment favors labor over management.

    One other thing occurs to me.  Companies like these know that they are facing enormous competitive challenges, which means they have to worry about being undercut on price by the likes of Amazon and Walmart.  If they are artificially increasing their prices to pad the pockets of senior executives, it seems to me that this could put them at competitive risk.  Which would be their problem, not the Senate's.  I think.

    Sen. Warren may not like the answers she gets, but she also may find that the answers are not as simple as she expects.

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    Axios reports that the US Census Bureau is saying that for the 12 months ended July 1, the US population grew just 0.1 percent, or by less than 400,000 people - the slowest rate of growth since the United States was founded.

    According to the story, "The nation's growth was caused by a natural increase (the number of excess births over deaths) of 148,043 and a net international migration of 244,622. It's the first time that migration surpassed natural increase … The bureau said the 'slow rate of growth can be attributed to decreased net international migration, decreased fertility, and increased mortality due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic'."

    Axios quotes Kristie Wilder, a demographer in the Population Division at the Census Bureau, as saying, "Population growth has been slowing for years because of lower birth rates and decreasing net international migration, all while mortality rates are rising due to the aging of the nation’s population … Now, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this combination has resulted in an historically slow pace of growth."

    KC's View:

    There was some speculation at the beginning of the pandemic that all that time spent at home together because of lockdowns would lead couples of have more children, not fewer.  Apparently not.

    The interesting thing is that, also contrary to early speculation and prognostication, the divorce rate has not spiked, either.

    From the point of view of retailers, it seems to me, the population numbers have tio be of some concern, since businesses depend on having more people to which they can sell more stuff.  Relatively flat population growth means they have to do a better job of creating a compelling value proposition to the existing - and aging - customer base.

    The other thing that businesses need to think about is hiring.  Flat population growth means a workforce that also is not growing.  More immigration than births means that employers are going to have to adjust their approaches so those people can find a home in their companies.

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    CNN has a story about how, while "Amazon's fast deliveries have delighted many customers and helped it grow into one of the world's biggest companies, valued at roughly $1.7 trillion," there have been tradeoffs as Amazon pushes for faster - and later - deliveries.

    "In interviews with Amazon delivery business owners and drivers and in a review of conversations on an internal Amazon forum," CNN writes, "dozens of people who work to deliver Amazon packages said that late-night deliveries are often more dangerous and stressful."

    While "Amazon is far from the first company to deliver at night, and every delivery person can face difficulties after dark," Amazon's policy of delivering as late as 10 pm - several hours later than standard-operating-procedures at FedEx, UPS, and US Postal Service - can create challenges for drivers, such as homeowners brandishing weapons as drivers approach their homes.

    CNN writes:  "The challenge of nighttime deliveries is especially apparent in rural areas, where streetlights are uncommon. Rural customers are more likely to pull a gun on someone entering their property after dark, according to multiple DSP drivers and owners. Drivers unfamiliar with a customer's rural property may not navigate it as effectively in the dark and end up stuck in a rutted dirt driveway.

    "Some drivers and DSP owners have at times questioned Amazon's commitment to safety, due to late deliveries. Amazon says drivers shouldn't make deliveries if they feel unsafe, but drivers say they feel an overriding pressure to complete their routes and are sometimes criticized by colleagues or Amazon employees at the delivery stations for returning packages to delivery stations."

    KC's View:

    Based on everything we know about Amazon's priorities, I must confess to being skeptical about the "drivers shouldn't make deliveries if they feel unsafe" assertion.  The algorithms and tracking mechanisms being used by Amazon and the businesses to which it outsources delivery functionality are unlikely to be able to pick up that fellow with the shotgun or the rutted driveway, and so drivers know they could lose their jobs if they don't make their deliveries in an efficient and timely manner.

    In some ways, I think, this is an underlying culture issue.  Amazon needs to address both the perceptions and realities of its priorities and how they impact the people who work for them in the field.  Of course, this will depend on being able to communicate facts about the situation effectively to consumers in a way that manages expectations.

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that "Starbucks Corp. employees at a store in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood are taking steps to unionize, as organization efforts at Starbucks across the country rise.

    "On Monday, workers at the Seattle-based coffee chain's Broadway and Denny location filed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election and sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, asking him to sign the Fair Elections Principles declaration."

    The story notes that workers at a store in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize, and in quick succession "two cafes in Boston filed for union elections of their own, in addition to a store in Mesa, Arizona."

    "We do not see our desire to unionize as a reaction to specific policies, events, or changes, but rather a commitment to growing the company and the quality of our work," the letter to Johnson said. "We see unionizing as a fundamental and necessary way to participate in Starbucks and its future as partners."

    Starbucks has said that it will negotiate with unions in places where its labor force has voted to organize "in good faith," while still maintaining that it can operate better without anyone getting in between it and its workforce.

    KC's View:

    This strikes me as an entirely preventable situation, and that it is entirely possible that Starbucks put a greater emphasis on strategy and tactics than it did on preserving the culture that differentiated it.  As we all know, culture eats those things for breakfast.

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    Content Guy's Note:  Scott Moses, in addition to being a good friend to me and MNB, is Managing Director and Head of Grocery, Pharmacy & Restaurants Investment Banking at investment banking firm Solomon Partners.  He sent along a rumination about food retailing lessons that can be learned from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," that was absolutely perfect for MNB, where we delight in the use of metaphor to illustrate challenges and solutions available to food retailers.

    I am happy to provide a link to the full piece, but let me offer an excerpt here:

    One of the most impactful books I read as a boy was "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens. I was recently inspired to re-read the book. As many readers know, the classic story revolves around the life – and potential demise – of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean, miserly counting house owner who only learns to appreciate the error of his ways when he is reminded of the past, sees the present from another angle and is given a horrifying glimpse into his future were he not to make amends. In this fictional world, Scrooge gets the opportunity to pivot, change his life and enhance not only his own future, but that of the good people around him, many of whom rely on him. There is bona fide wisdom in this story. 

    In a brilliant exposition of supermarkets’ past (though part of “Christmas present” in the 1843 book), Dickens demonstrates the wonder and delight of London’s grocers and the Christmas bounty they offered: 

    “The Grocers! Oh the Grocers!…the blended scents of tea and coffee…so grateful to the nose…raisins so plentiful and rare…almonds so extremely white…sticks of cinnamon so long and straight…other spices so delicious…candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious…[T]he Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection…” 

    Millions of teammates in our essential, irreplaceable grocery community of service have experienced that magnificent feeling in their stores over their years of customer engagement.  Many thankfully still get to experience it today.  The question is how long that can continue.  

    You can read Scott's entire piece here.

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    An MNB reader sent along this commercial for Aldi that, he said, had a big impact on the retailer's sales in Germany.

    The dialogue is in German, but it isn't hard to figure out what is going on - we can see in people's faces the universal language for dysfunctional relationship between a father and son, made worse by the fact that the wife/mother has passed away.  The dialogue apparently makes clear that much of this commercial takes place on Christmas…

    As the MNB reader told me in the email, "Hats off to our retail workers and others who’ll be working through the Holidays so the rest can enjoy."

    Published on: December 22, 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 up-to-date US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  52,253,848 total cases … 830,990 deaths … and 40,801,232 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  276,710,961 total cases … 5,388,422 fatalities … and 248,241,708 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.2 percent of the US population age five and older, and 72.6 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 65.5 percent of the five-and-older demographic and 61.6 percent of the total US population has been fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also is saying that 33.1 percent of the 18-and-older population, and 30.4 percent of the total population, has received a vaccine booster shot.

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes this morning that "a recent rise in Covid-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant is prompting more vaccinated Americans to consider getting booster shots, but it doesn’t appear to be persuading large numbers of the unvaccinated, survey data shows.

    "Among vaccinated adults who haven’t had a booster shot, 54% are more likely to do so because of Omicron, according to a survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation Tuesday. Of unvaccinated respondents, 12% said the fast-spreading variant’s emergence would make them more inclined to get their first shot."

    Seems likely to me that before long, public health officials will say that people will have tio have three shots to be fully vaccinated, as opposed to two shots with a booster.  Me, I'll take as many chasers as they want me to.

    As I wrote this, a news piece popped up on my laptop saying that "San Jose is poised to become the first city in California to require booster shots as a mandatory component of vaccination.

    "San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announced the proposal Tuesday. If approved by the City Council, it would require all San Jose city employees to receive booster shots as a condition of employment and anyone who enters city-owned facilities to do the same."

    •  The Jerusalem Post writes today about how the Pandemic Response team there has ruled "that anyone over the age of 60 and medical workers could receive a fourth shot of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, the Health Ministry said.

    "The shot will be available four months after receiving the third dose.

    "In a statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the committee for the move, which he said will 'help us overcome the Omicron wave that is sweeping the world'."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "An unvaccinated Houston-area man in his 50s is the first recorded fatality associated with the omicron variant in the Texas county — and may be the first U.S. death publicly attributed to it.

    "The man, who tested positive for the omicron variant before his death, according to Harris County Public Health (HCPC), had previously been infected with the coronavirus and had underlying health conditions that made him particularly vulnerable.

    "State and county officials renewed calls for people to get fully vaccinated and boosted as the best protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death, including illness caused by omicron."

    I saw an evangelical pastor on TV this morning who made the point that getting vaccinated is a perfect embodiment of the "love thy neighbor" ethos.  Which seemed perfectly stated for this time of year, though it would be nice if we loved our neighbors all year long.

    •  From CNN, a story about how "Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death overall, accounting for more than 10% of all deaths in 2020."  Here's how the story frames the revelations:

    "Covid-19 claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States in 2020, driving a record increase in the death rate and a drop in life expectancy of nearly two years, according to final 2020 death data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.

    "Life expectancy at birth fell 1.8 years in 2020, from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77 years, the largest single-year decline in more than 75 years, since World War II.

    "The death rate -- about 835 deaths per 100,000 people -- jumped nearly 17% from 2019, the sharpest increase in more than a century since the CDC has been tracking this data.

    The year-over-year increase was even starker among racial and ethnic minorities, with death rates for Hispanic people going up about three times as much as for White people and death rates for Black people increasing about twice as much as for White people. The death rate for Hispanic males rose nearly 43%, and the death rate for Black males increased 28%, while the death rate for White males increased about 13% from 2019."

    •  NBC News reports that "Chicago will soon require proof of vaccination for indoor public spaces like restaurants, bars and gyms in the new year, the city's mayor announced Tuesday, joining other big cities like New York and Los Angeles in adding the requirement as COVID cases surge.

    "Beginning Jan. 3, anyone age 5 and older will be required to show proof of full vaccination to dine inside or visit gyms or entertainment venues where food and drinks are being served … According to the new guidelines, those 5 and older must show proof of full vaccination, but anyone ages 16 and older will also need to provide identification that matches their vaccination record. Employees at such venues will also need to either be vaccinated or wear a mask and show proof of weekly negative COVID-19 tests."

    •  The National Grocers Association (NGA) said yesterday that it has written a letter to the Biden administration "urging the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to consider exempting businesses in the food supply chain from the COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Mandate following the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to lift the stay on the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)."

    The mandate, at least at the moment, is scheduled to go into effect in early February, and will impact businesses with 100 employees or more.  The letter requests OSHA to “reconsider an exemption for the essential workforce in the food industry so we can keep hungry Americans fed without disruption.”

    “We fear an untenable situation should OSHA restore the vaccine and testing mandate on grocers at this time,” NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara wrote in the letter. “Our members are reporting that many employees intend to quit if required to submit to vaccines or weekly tests. Even if employees opt for weekly testing, grocers are reporting they cannot currently procure enough tests to satisfy the number of employees that require testing. Simply put, we expect significant disruptions to the industry’s ability to supply a hungry American public with needed food and consumer goods should the mandate go forward as planned.”

    •  CNN reports that "the two largest pharmaceutical chain stores in the US -- CVS Health and Walgreens -- are limiting the number of at-home Covid kits customers can buy due to huge demand.

    "The rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant ahead of the holidays has sparked the surge -- and there has been anecdotal evidence over the past week of test shortages at stores across the country."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Organizers of CES 2022 are pressing ahead with plans to host tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas next month, setting up the technology conference as a test for mass business gatherings at a time when surging Covid-19 cases are prompting other companies and groups to change plans.

    "Several participants including Inc., Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. and Twitter Inc., and at least one keynote speaker, T-Mobile’s chief executive, have withdrawn from the event.

    "The Consumer Technology Association is kicking off the biggest U.S. tech conference the first week of January with a scaled-back crowd and vaccine and mask requirements. While there’s a digital component, the organization expects 50,000 to 75,000 attendees at the Las Vegas Convention Center and other venues.  In a normal year, the show gathered close to 200,000 attendees, though it went entirely online last January."

    CTA Chief Executive Gary Shapiro tells the Journal that "the exhibitor count was rising, not dropping. He said the event would proceed unless a government mandate made it impossible to host."

    The piece notes that "the newer Omicron variant is currently driving increased Covid-19 cases across the country. It’s causing companies such as Apple Inc. to reconsider plans to open their offices. JPMorgan’s big San Francisco healthcare conference, scheduled for mid-January, will be taking place online. And next month’s Davos Economic Forum has been postponed for the second straight year. The National Hockey League has called off this week’s remaining games, and some Broadway shows have gone dark once again."

    If I'm reading things right, January conferences may be problematic, though public health experts expect/hope that by February, whatever spikes we see following the holidays will have subsided, making get-togethers possible as long as folks are smart about safety protocols.

    If public health officials decide to make three shots the standard for full vaccination, however, that could throw a monkey wrench into the works.  CES is requiring full vaccination to attend, as is the National Retail Federation (NRF) for its January show.  I would expect that FMI would do the same thing for its planned midwinter conference, as is the National Grocers Association for its late February confab.  But if full vaccination requires three shots instead of two, I imagine it could create some issues.  It'll all depend on timing.

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    •  The Chicago Tribune this morning reports that "dozens of Amazon warehouse employees planned to walk out Wednesday at two Chicago-area delivery stations to demand higher pay and better working conditions, a move that could disrupt operations just days before Christmas.

    "The work stoppages were scheduled to begin at 4:30 a.m. in west suburban Cicero and 8 a.m. at the Gage Park facility on Chicago’s West Side, according to Amazonians United Chicagoland, an organization representing local Amazon warehouse workers.

    "'We are walking out to demand raises, safe staffing, and other necessary improvements to our working conditions,' the nonaffiliated labor organization said in an emailed statement. 'Amazon has broken multiple promises for pay and bonuses, while inconsistently giving raises at different delivery stations where we do the same work.'

    "The organization said a majority of workers scheduled for shifts Wednesday were expected to take part in the walkout."

    •  DoorDash yesterday announced that it has entered into a partnership with Southeastern Grocers Inc. (SEG), parent company of Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie stores, "to offer on-demand grocery delivery from more than 400 stores throughout Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Customers can now order groceries on-demand from their local SEG store, delivered in as little as 45 minutes, through DoorDash’s marketplace app and website.

    "SEG will offer tens of thousands of grocery items for delivery via DoorDash, from core grocery items including fresh produce, dairy, bread, fresh meat and seafood, as well as SEG’s selection of Own Brands products including SE Grocers, SE Grocers Prestige, SE Grocers Naturally Better, and SE Grocers Essentials."

    •  From Bloomberg:

    " Zepto, an instant grocery delivery startup founded by two teenagers, has raised $100 million in a funding round led by Y Combinator, taking its valuation to $570 million within five months of starting services in India’s red-hot quick commerce segment.

    "The startup’s newest funding comes 45 days after a previous capital raise of $60 million at $225 million valuation … Zepto, named after a minuscule unit of time, was started by  Aadit Palicha and his childhood friend Kaivalya Vohra, both 19, who quit the coveted computer science program at Stanford University to return to India and get started in quick commerce. The startup, which promises to deliver grocery and daily essentials in 10 minutes, started in Mumbai earlier this year and has since expanded to Bangalore, Delhi and four other cities."

    The story notes that "online grocery delivery is taking off in India, a $1 trillion retail market where grocery purchases account for the bulk of the retail spending. Zepto is competing against startups like SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Blinkit, Google-backed Dunzo and Naspers Ltd.-backed Swiggy, as well as the likes of Inc. and Walmart Inc.-backed Flipkart.

    "Zepto is growing quickly and its core unit economics are strong, Palicha said in the statement. Delivering within 10 minutes is 'game changing,' said co-founder Vohra, the chief technology officer. The new capital will allow the Mumbai-based startup to grow its team and expand to more cities."

    •  The Washington Post reports on a "rare thing that Americans of all ages and across the political spectrum largely seem to agree on: They don’t trust social media services with their information and they view targeted ads as annoying and invasive, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll. Many Americans use social media — and most use Facebook — but 64 percent say the government should do more to rein in big tech companies."

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    •  Albertsons announced that it is partnering with European food tech company Picadeli to offer a modular store-in-store salad bar concept that initially will be launched in six Safeway, ACME and Kings locations across Washington, D.C., Maryland, and New Jersey.

    Here's the Picadeli pitch:  "Its next-level salad bar is customized for each location, with ingredients specifically selected for each market. Its technology creates efficiencies that reduce food waste, while reducing labor, lowering break-even and increasing profitability. With its innovative technology and patented hardware, it prioritizes food safety, with the design comprised of hygiene first materials, technology-enabled shielding hoods, automatic hand sanitizer and bowl dispensers. Its innovative mounting system for utensils ensures that the grip is never in contact with food, and that products are not mixed. The digital management system allows for full traceability of its supply chain and operation, as well as QR-code scanning to ensure products do not stay out longer than allowed, signaling the need for refilling and AI re-ordering."

    The announcement notes that in Europe, Picadeli already partners with Carrefour, EuroGarages, Franprix, Rewe, 7 Eleven, Coop, ICA, and Kesko.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "about 1,400 Kellogg Co. unionized workers ratified a new five-year contract on Tuesday, concluding a 2½ month strike with a deal that the union says maintains workers’ cost-of-living raises and guarantees no plants will be shut down for about five years.

    "The new contract includes pay raises, new health benefits, pension multiplier increases and cost-of-living adjustments to wages, according to an outline of the agreement from the company … The strike among plant workers in Omaha, Neb.; Battle Creek, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn., and Lancaster, Pa., had been ongoing since Oct. 5. The workers earlier this month rejected a tentative contract agreement. Employees at those four plants make the company’s various ready-to-eat cereals."

    •  From USA Today:

    "Rite Aid said it plans to close 63 stores over the next several months they say will help cut costs and 'drive improved profitability.'

    "The closures were confirmed during the pharmacy chain's third-quarter earnings call on Tuesday by CEO Heyward Donigan.

    "'The decision to close the stores is one we take very seriously as we evaluate the impact on our associates, our customers and our communities,' Donigan said."

    •  National Law Review reports that "a class-action lawsuit filed by Spencer Sheehan which alleged that Whole Foods deceptively labeled its 'Oats & Flax Instant Oatmeal' (sold under the 365 Everyday Value brand) has been dismissed without prejudice.

    "The lawsuit brought a variety of causes of action against Whole Foods based on alleged consumer deception related to (1) the labeling of an ingredient as 'dehydrated cane juice solids' instead of sugar and (2) the whole grain content of the oatmeal."

    The story notes that the court "stated that there was no reason to believe that a reasonable consumer would interpret cane juice to mean fruit juice and that to the extent that the raspberries on the front cover implied that the product contained real raspberries, this notion would be quickly dispelled by the ingredient list". The court applied the same standard to the question of whether Whole Foods was being misleading about whole grain content, and "the case is another reminder that courts will view allegations of consumer deception in the context of all the information available to consumers."

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "The warnings started to stream in early this fall: Shop early or you may not get your gifts on time … Despite early fears, however, holiday shoppers have received their gifts mostly on time. Many consumers helped themselves by shopping early and in person. Retailers ordered merchandise ahead of time and acted to head off other bottlenecks.

    "And delivery companies planned well, hired enough people and built enough warehouses to avoid being crushed by a deluge of packages at the last minute, as the Postal Service was last year.

    "The vast majority of packages delivered by UPS, FedEx and the Postal Service this holiday season are gifts destined for residential addresses, according to ShipMatrix, a software company that services the logistics industry. And nearly all have arrived on time or with minimal delays, defined as a few hours late for express packages and no more than a day late for ground shipments. The UPS and the Postal Service delivered about 99 percent of their packages on time by that measure between Nov. 14 and Dec. 11, and FedEx was close behind at 97 percent, according to ShipMatrix."

    •  From CNN:

    "The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday it is investigating a multistate outbreak of listeria infections connected to Fresh Express packaged salads, which announced a recall of some of its products.

    "Ten people have become ill, 10 have been hospitalized and one person has died across eight states in the listeria outbreak. The illnesses stretch as far back as July 2016, with the most recent coming this October, the FDA said.

    "Fresh Express announced a recall Monday of some of its packaged salad products made at the company's facility in Streamwood, Illinois, because they have the potential to be contaminated with the bacteria listeria monocytogenes. The company advised consumers not to eat, sell or serve a long list of its products with the codes Z324 to Z350 printed on the package.  The recalled salad items were distributed through retailers in the Northeast and Midwest as well as in Canada, the company said."

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    Just a few emails this morning as we end the 2021 years here at MNB…

    Regarding Hy-Vee's decision to expand To Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky, MNB reader Tom Murphy wrote:

    This move should be very interesting and a revealing study of how an aggressive, innovative and consumer-focused (super) regional can compete against a national chain like Kroger…who has very deep pockets and a long history in these new markets.  Not to exclude Publix, who is also a solid, super-regional player…but they don’t have the same deep pockets.  Sounds like Hy-Vee struggled in Minnesota with the larger chains, making this even more exciting to watch.

    I wish Hy-Vee luck, but since it is employee-owned, I hope everyone is ready for a long, likely uncomfortable, battle ahead.

    On an other subject, MNB reader Steve Ritchey wrote:

    With the closure of the last K Mart in CA, and Sears looking to redevelop it's corporate offices, I would think this would serve as a cautionary tale for the likes of Wal Mart and Amazon.  Sears was once the biggest retailer on the planet, look how the mighty have fallen.  It can happen to Wal Mart and Amazon tool  I used to deal with WM and found it very unsatisfactory, at least at the time they didn't see vendors as partners in their success, the vendor relationship was adversarial, at best.  I'm not saying that what happened at Sears would happen at WM and Amazon, but there are lessons to be learned.

    He also had another thought about a different subject:

    Starbucks, how's this for an idea, let's make our company the best place to work that we can.  Let's be open and honest with our employees, treat them as being crucial to our success, because they are.  Let's listen to what our employees have to say.  Maybe then, when a union comes knocking, our employees won't be fertile ground for them to recruit.  I know it may sound Pollyannish, but, maybe it really is that simple.  Employees want to be paid fairly and treated like people, go figure.

    I'm with you.

    BTW … more than a few people have suggested to me that if Jim Donald were still CEO of Starbucks, this never would've been an issue.  I agree.

    Yesterday we posted an email from an MNB reader that read:

    I read your report everyday and prior to the pandemic quite liked you. It is views like this and opinions that you publish that make me never want to comply with anything. Your attitude is the problem. I would get vaccinated and boosted if you came at it from a point of kindness but you don’t. So reading things like this make me want to do the exact opposite of what you want. You are polarizing the country , you are part of the problem not the solution. Remember old school journalism where you just report the facts ? Maybe try that for a bit and remove your biased and incredibly condescending and rude opinions and you may see the people come together for the common good. 

    I commented:

    I'm sorry if you don't like me anymore.  MNB never has been about just "reporting the facts."  From day one, it has been about "news in context and analysis with attitude," and lots of opinion.  (Not just mine.  Your opinions are included, too.)

    I don't think I was being unkind.  Not even condescending, though I can understand if you feel that way.  But if it is attitudes like mine - and, to be fair, virtually every public health expert out there - that are keeping you from being vaccinated … well, I do not even know how to respond.

    Except to say, ignore me.  Stop reading MNB, if it makes you feel better.  But please, please, please … get vaccinated.  Get boosted.  Please.

    This prompted another email from an MNB reader:

    FWIW, I still like you and MNB. More, even.  Retail workers are one of the groups of people bearing the brunt of exposure, illness, and death in this pandemic, and they *need* everyone to do everything they can to protect them - mask up, keep their distance, and GET VACCINATED.   You have been in their corner from the beginning.

    I've tried to be.  Thanks for noticing.

    And finally …

    Yesterday we reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who turns 81 on Christmas Eve, said that he had no intention of leaving government and public service until Covid-19 is under control and his job is done.  (For which I applaud him.  Enthusiastically.  Gratefully.)

    I noted that Fauci's comments reminded me of a scene from the James Bond film  Skyfall, in which M says, "I know I can't do this job forever, but I'll be damned if I'm going to leave the department in worse shape than I found it …  I'll leave when the job's done."  (I included a link to the scene.)

    Another MNB reader chimed in:

    Another great scene from Skyfall … 

    I hope she's right when she quotes Tennyson … that even in these trying times, we can be "heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    In Tuesday Night Football action … made possible because the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus has thrown the NFL schedule into chaos …

    Seattle Seahawks 10, Los Angeles Rams 20

    Washington 17, Philadelphia Eagles 27

    Published on: December 22, 2021

    Where did the time go?

    2021 is just about over.  But as far as MNB is concerned, the year is done.

    In some ways, I'm glad to move on to 2022.  The last couple of years have been stressful and problematic, and I'm hoping that the new year will be less so.  (Not confident.  But hopeful.  Despite Omicron.)

    On the other hand, there is something unnerving with how fast the calendar pages seem to flip, especially when you get to a certain point in your life.  For some reason, the faster the days and weeks go by, the longer it takes me to run four miles.  Doesn't seem fair.  It does seem inevitable.

    MNB will be on hiatus until Monday, January 3.  I'm looking forward to hanging out at home with my family, of having time to read (I have an advance copy of the new Spenser novel by Ace Atkins, "Bye Bye Baby," and the new Gray Man novel by Mark Greaney, "Sierra Six"), watch movies (at home, natch, with Love, Actually definitely on the agenda, as well as the new Matrix movie and Being The Ricardos), cook and eat and drink and take long walks with the dogs and even do some jogging (albeit a little more slowly than a year ago).

    I like the holidays, at least the parts that have less to do with shopping and more to do with connecting to the people and places that are important.  In his novel, "Silent Night," Robert B. Parker pretty much captured how I feel about it:

    I liked the myth elements of Christmas. The way in which its origins reach back far beyond Jesus, to the rituals of people unknown to us. The celebration of the winter solstice. The coming of light in the darkest time. And with it the promise of spring to come and beginning again. I liked it better than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

    I hope you have a wonderful holiday, and safe and happy New Year … stay healthy … and I'll see you on Monday, January 3, 2022 with a fresh supply of news and hand-crafted commentary.

    Sláinte!  And, Nollaig shona dhuit!