Published on: February 17, 2022
I received a lot of email about yesterday's interview with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Let's start with this one, from MNB reader Alan Shepherd:
Really disappointed in your Christie interview, you let him make multiple unchallenged political statements and gave the clear impression you were on board with all he said. Don't assume all of your audience is Republican and keep it to business, not overt politics. Sometimes they mix but not always. By the way, I would feel the same of you had a prominent Democrat on as well and let them make unchallenged political statements. Keep it to business. Very disappointed.
MNB reader Todd Ruberg disagreed, however:
Kevin……what a coup (no pun intended, Mr “Coupe") getting Chris Christie on MNB! And a much better interview than you get on cable news, he seemed liberated to be more candid.
I’ve always appreciated his candor, and I’m hungry for a practical “centrist” given the parties have tended to far to the poles IMHO. I worried a bit that he seemed to fall into some standard republican talk points/positions vs, being the maverick of his reputation ——“Radical Left wing agenda”……. the labor shortage and spending are solved by less gov’t spending (Agree those are factors...We wish it was that singularly simple)…and supply chain will be solved by less dependance on foreign manufacturing (in our industry a significant portion of CPG items are manufactured in US…..think “Toilet paper”).
Loved your question on his role model Republican! James Baker! 20 years removed from serving…..interesting he didn’t name anyone serving today.
Agreed. I actually think it is telling that he named Baker.
From another reader:
You conducted a great, meaningful interview with Governor Christie, particular after your questioning moved beyond the normal, Republican platform.
Yesterday we referenced a piece in the Boston Globe about how supermarkets in poorer neighborhoods often reinforce poor food choices, as opposed to stores in more affluent communities, that point shoppers toward healthier options. It used five different Stop & Shop locations in the Boston area as examples, demonstrating specifically how stores in poorer neighborhoods seemed to have different priorities than those serving more affluent communities.
The story, by Chaseedaw Giles of Kaiser Health News, can be read in its entirety here.
The comparisons are stark, but give Giles credit for acknowledging that "Stop & Shop has started to try to redress the inequity, with changes coming first to its Dorchester location, including an in-store dietitian. The Grove Hall store also sends out an ad circular that features promotional pricing on better-for-you items, which may include fish, vegetables, and fruit. It has joined the Fresh Connect food prescription program that allows participating doctors to prescribe to patients a prepaid Visa card that can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables."
So Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop is trying … though the story also points out that it seems to be caught between two impulses. On the one hand, it has a stated commitment to healthier foods, but there's also a marketing imperative toward localizing stores so they reflect a community's buying habits and preferences, which means that stores in poorer areas may be less aspirational than in wealthier neighborhoods where people have had greater exposure to better-for-you foods.
The story also makes the point that manufacturers pay for product placement, and may be more willing to pay for better placement of healthier products in stores serving affluent communities.
The broader point is that retail and CPG brands are commercial enterprises making "largely commercial decisions" that "make it more difficult for people in low-income areas to eat healthfully, encouraging those with poor diets to continue the habits that landed them with diet-related illnesses."
But I wish that folks would see aspirational marketing - to everyone - as a good long-term commercial strategy, feeding into building relationships with shoppers as opposed to just being transactional.
Got a number of reactions to this story.
One MNB reader wrote:
I manage a store which caters to what my customer buys. Yes, we provide healthy options and a great Produce department but the reality is, it is not what my customers buy. I cannot make shoppers buy heathy or eat healthy.
I see a stark difference from our sister store less then ten miles away. College town with many educated people. My town is working class, meat and potatoes, I like to say.
As you say, give the customer what they want - now seen as disingenuous. In my town as the shopper demographic slowly changes to more Spanish shoppers, we have provided these folks with the items they are looking for, how is this any different than giving any shopper what they want. Bottom line, educating shoppers about how to eat right/healthy is what is needed.
From another reader:
I find this statement (from the writer) the most relevant: “ I’m glad my mom taught me how to make those choices early on. “ The people of the community must take on the responsibility for better eating. Like all things good or bad, it is a learned direction. People need to stop pushing for others to take on their own responsibility. It is not the duty of the retailer stock items that don’t sell. The retailer will stock what the community purchases. The fastest way to affect selection is not to buy the soda, chips, candy bars, unhealthy choices, etc. If something doesn’t sell it’s gone, and replaced with something that does. I guarantee that if healthy options sold in certain communities, the retailer would stock them. There are reasons that WFM is not in low-income markets. It is not driven by racial undertones, but rather by plain old economics.
MNB reader Steve Ham wrote:
I don’t believe that grocery store executives have a hidden health initiative – either for or against healthy food choices based on equality. As you pointed out, “stores in poorer areas may be less aspirational than in wealthier neighborhoods”, and it very probably comes down to category segment ROI. If soda or pre-packaged food sells better with higher ROI on space used in store A, it’ll be featured more prominently and get increased footage. If organics, sushi or more fresh produce in store B gets higher ROI, ditto. Every retailer would love to pull up the bottom 20% of stores higher in sales/profitability.
Sadly, transactional success is what category managers are likely measured against. To deviate from that, all retailers would have to accept the idea that they’d essentially make less money in the short to push consumers in another direction. That’s a big ask, and a vicious circle hard to break free of.
Another MNB reader wrote:
This articles lens of racism driving what is stocked in stores strikes me as nonsense and I question the author's experience in wholesale and retail grocery. Her lens of racism is distorting her perceptions of reality. I have been in the grocery industry for thirty-five years and have witnessed massive changes in offerings by manufactures and consumers willingness to try something new over the years.
While there can be no denying that everyone should eat better; disposable income is a larger factor than racism in those purchase. With SNAP benefits being what they are even that argument is losing steam.
A savvy retailer will always work to customize their offerings and devote space to those items that their customer wants to capitalize on sales, in-stock conditions, and waste mitigation. Period. Is it a retailers responsibility to police (force) customers to buy fruit instead of cake? When does the consumers free will to choose cake come into play? Should the retail bear a huge waste responsibility so they can virtual signal about how they are working towards equity in purchases? Nonsense. Personal responsibility needs to be embraced for ones own health and purchasing decisions.
Just in the interest of accuracy, the word "racism" is only used once in the entire 1,100-word article, and it is a quote from Andrea Richardson, a policy researcher focused on nutrition epidemiology at the Rand Corp. and professor at the Pardee Rand Graduate School. The article's writer, Chaseedaw Giles, actually is far more nuanced in her assessment, as is Phil Lempert, who is quoted several times in the piece.
Which is the point made by yet another reader:
I think the deeper point was that her initial reaction of what must be racial bias softened through her journey of investigation. I like how the author sort of comes full circle with the help of Phil Lempert, in the end acknowledging how she learned a lot about all the science behind how a supermarket is organized. Lastly this story reminds me of the school lunch programs not long ago where they were placing healthy foods on kids lunch trays only to discover most of the healthy food ended up in the trash. As the old saying goes, You can lead a horse to water…
On another subject, from an MNB reader:
Kevin, I may have missed something here, but I am unclear what the employees and unions are specifically seeking from Starbucks. I recently saw a piece on this topic after the first store voted to unionize. Never was there a specific "ask" or list of "demands" from Starbuck's discussed.
My understanding is that Starbucks is already a very generous employer in terms of base pay, college tuition assistance, benefits package, etc.etc. Do you know what they employees are looking for here?
I think that is a fair assessment; I'm not sure I've seen a single list of demands on any sort of national scale.
We also have a dissenting view on my take on the Instacart-TikTok story:
I have a slightly different perspective on this story as I feel both sides did things incorrectly
First. complaining on TikTok about a customer, not cool and a stupid move. Was the customer demanding, very much so and maybe the customer had some valid reasons, but you take your issues to your leadership, not the public forum.
On the flip side, it seems the customer felt entitled to "demand" all these things, which is just foolish at best. Most normal people don't act like this or expect this type of service for shopping. Seems like a page right out of the movie The Devil wears Prada. And the fact KC, that you didn't call out this sense of entitlement is a shame. The customer has every right to ask for things, but she doesn't have the right to demand things which are outside the Business model. (Maybe it's a Business case for Instacart to sell one/one personal shoppers.)
Seriously, asking that she be the only customer, etc... that's beyond the pale. If she wants this type of service, she needs to shell out the money and hire a professional personal shopper.. Then she can make all the demands she wants and control every aspect of the transaction. She might as well have asked the shopper to only look for items canned/made in the past month or is only packed with water from a spring on top of a mountain where flowers are in bloom all year round.
I'm not sure I endorsed the customer's actions. But that, in my mind, is almost beside the point I was trying to make about how retailer hired a company to handle its e-commerce business, which then outsourced the tasks specific a gig worker, who then went on social media and attacked the retailer's customer.
The customer may have been out of line, but the system, and the dependence of so many companies on Instacart, strikes me as out of whack.