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: May 23, 2022

    While in Houston for a speaking engagement, I had a chance to visit a Sellers Bros. market, part of an an independent chain of grocery stores, located in a working class, Hispanic neighborhood.  While it may not be as big as a Walmart or its brethren, I found a store with a strong fresh foods orientation … a strong in-stock position … and a store that seems to have a strong connection to its community.  To me, these are impressive assets that belie the store's modest appearance.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    Bloomberg reports that Amazon "is testing a service that uses the company’s sprawling network of gig drivers to fetch packages from mall-based retailers and deliver them to customers."

    The program, which started last year, uses Amazon Flex drivers from mall-based retailers and make one-day or two-day deliveries to local shoppers;  the orders are placed via Amazon's website.

    Bloomberg notes it is unclear exactly where the program is being tested, though malls that are testing the service appear to include those in malls in Chandler, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tysons Corner, Virginia.  A national rollout of the service is possible if positive reaction warrants it.

    Bloomberg writes:  "The initiative could escalate the already fierce competition between established retailers and startups working to rapidly deliver goods ordered online, often using the services of contract drivers. Instacart Inc. is broadening its offerings beyond groceries, DoorDash Inc. handles some deliveries for retailers like Macy’s Inc. Other Amazon rivals like Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. use gig-economy drivers to deliver some items from their shelves. 

    "Under the new initiative, drivers stop at shopping centers instead of Amazon delivery stations. It’s the latest twist in the Amazon’s complicated relationship with American malls, which are struggling to remain relevant as shoppers stampede online."

    Earlier this month, it was reported here and elsewhere that Amazon has been recruiting mom-and-pop shops in rural America to join an experimental delivery program. The company is paying participating small businesses a per-package fee to deliver Amazon orders within a 10-mile radius to their neighbors’ homes in states like Nebraska, Mississippi, and Alabama."

    KC's View:

    It has been clear to me for a long time that as Amazon built up its delivery and logistics infrastructure, it was going to look for new ways to use it - all that capacity and investment would make a lot more sense if it was accessible to other retailers.  

    Bloomberg also reports that Amazon, "stuck with too much warehouse capacity now that the surge in pandemic-era shopping has faded, is looking to sublet at least 10 million square feet of space and could vacate even more by ending leases with landlords."  Seems likely that Amazon is going to get very aggressive about maximizing the use of all that capacity.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    Axios has a new survey from iCIMS, described as "a talent acquisition software provider, which concludes that Gen Z workers both "crave career stability" and have high expectations of their employers.

    Among the survey results:  91 percent said "they care how long they stay with an employer" … close to 70 percent say "they actually see themselves staying long term" … 

    47 percent said they want to be able to talk openly about mental health at the office … 43 percent want their companies to be engaged in the social causes they support … 41 percent believe that "virtual interaction will be the norm rather than the exception" … and 34 percent want cryptocurrency to be a compensation option."

    KC's View:

    It seems that the upheaval of the past two years may have changed some of what graduating college students want from their careers, and that constantly moving from company to company has lost some of its allure.  That said, it also seems fair to observe that these graduates have high expectations of their employers … which I think is fair, though I think that companies need to be clear that while they embrace these opportunities, they also have high expectations of the people they hire.

    It cuts both ways.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about Unilever's efforts to move beyond its traditional focus on "taste, spreadability and ingredients," and "push to give each of its 400 brands a social or environmental purpose … The brands-with-purpose strategy has become a centerpiece for Unilever since Alan Jope took over as chief executive in 2019. The Scottish marketeer defines purpose as having a point of view on issues important to the planet or society. He has said the U.K.-based company could sell brands for which it can’t identify a mission."

    Which means that Hellmann's mayonnaise now is connected to ending food waste.   Knorr is encouraging people to consume more plant-based foods.  And the list goes on:  "Ice cream brand Wall’s, originally from England, says it is committed to raising national happiness levels … Vaseline petroleum jelly is helping refugees suffering from skin problems. Dove has successfully helped push for laws to prohibit discrimination against people based on their hair texture or style."

    While Jope has maintained that "brands with purpose" grow twice as fast as those without, the Journal notes that "Unilever’s share price and sales growth have lagged behind those of rivals Nestle SA, L’Oréal SA and Procter & Gamble Co. in recent years.

    Some analysts, investors and former executives say that rather than talking about purpose, Unilever should put greater emphasis on shifting its portfolio toward faster-growing categories and on developing new products."

    The Journal writes that "with mounting investor criticism, Mr. Jope has toned down his rhetoric on purpose lately. A person familiar with the CEO’s thinking said that Mr. Jope sees his early rhapsodizing about purpose, without expressly linking the financial benefits, as a mistake."

    And, the Journal goes on:  "Although Unilever is unusual in applying the purpose strategy across its global portfolio of food, home and personal-care products, many big multinationals are now positioning their brands behind social and environmental issues, hitting on themes such as Black Lives Matter, refugee rights, gender equality, LGBTQ rights and climate change in their ads.

    "Companies say taking a stance helps them attract top talent. Workers, especially young ones, increasingly expect their employers to reflect their own values. Consumers can respond, too. Surveys have found that people are increasingly willing to use or drop brands based on a company’s response to calls for racial justice."

    KC's View:

    This is an interesting story, especially since it connects to the earlier story about how 43 percent of Gen Z workers "want their companies to be engaged in the social causes they support."

    It gets very complicated for companies, especially as the issues on which they're pushed to take stands become ever more polarizing, like access to abortion and reproductive choice,  LGBTQ rights, and climate change.  Customers and employees may have very different stands on these issues, just as there may be vast differences between how various parts of the country feel about these issues.  Cater to one, and you can offend and/or disenfranchise the other. Take no stand, and it can look equally bad.

    I'm fond of the John Mellencamp lyric:  You have to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything.  But then again, he writes and sings songs for a living, and my whole gig is about having opinions.  For companies trying to maximize profits, these are much tougher internal discussions.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    John Oliver, on HBO's "Last Week Tonight" this weekend, offered a typically scathing assessment of the Subway fast food chain, which he essentially characterizes as being far more obsessed with growth - often at the expense of its own franchisees - than with the quality of its food.

    As always, Oliver's comments are sharp - and often not suitable for work and where children are present.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    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…

    •  The current US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  85,004,438 total cases … 1,028,924 deaths … and 81,632,147 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  527,809,989 total cases … 6,300,792 fatalities … and 498,064,399 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.8 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 66.5 percent are fully vaccinated … and 46.5 percent of fully vaccinated people have received a vaccine booster dose.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    •  The New York Times reports that "the National Labor Relations Board is seeking to order Starbucks to recognize a union at a Buffalo-area store where the union lost an initial vote last year.

    "The move is part of a larger effort by the board to scrutinize the coffee chain’s response to a nationwide union campaign. In an amended complaint against the company, the agency on Thursday accused Starbucks of intimidating and retaliating against workers who are seeking to unionize.

    "The labor board’s attempt to order the company to bargain at a store where the union didn’t win is 'aggressive' but within the normal range of remedies for such cases, said Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the labor board who teaches law at St. Louis University. 'The complaint sends a message,' Mr. Bodie added."

    The story notes that "workers have voted to unionize at more than 70 Starbucks stores since December, and they have filed petitions for union elections at more than 150 additional cafes. Starbucks owns and operates roughly 9,000 outlets in the United States."

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    •  Ahold Delhaize-owned FreshDirect announced that it will once offer a two-hour alcohol delivery service to the Hamptons and surrounding vacation communities on eastern Long Island during the summer months.  

    The Rosé Express, as the service is called, was first introduced last summer, and will also provide delivery of fresh foods and groceries to the region.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    •  The Associated Press reports that "a military plane carrying enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday in Indianapolis, the first of several flights expected from Europe aimed at relieving a shortage that has sent parents scrambling to find enough to feed their children … The formula weighed 78,000 pounds, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew from South Korea to Japan.

    "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Indianapolis to greet the arrival of the first shipment.

    "The flights are intended to provide 'some incremental relief in the coming days' as the government works on a more lasting response to the shortage, said Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, on Sunday."



    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "small businesses are flashing warning signs on the U.S. economy as inflation, supply-chain snarls, a shortage of workers and rising interest rates darken the outlook for entrepreneurs.

    "Fifty-seven percent of small-business owners expect economic conditions in the U.S. to worsen in the next year, up from 42% in April and equal to the all-time low recorded in April 2020, according to a survey of more than 600 small businesses conducted in May for The Wall Street Journal by Vistage Worldwide Inc., a business-coaching and peer-advisory firm.

    "The measure is one part of a broader confidence index that in May posted its largest year-over-year drop since the Covid-related shutdowns of April and May 2020. Despite rising prices, the portion of small businesses that expects revenue to increase in the coming year fell to 61%, down from 79% in May 2020."

    •  From the Boston Globe:

    "It’s a common complaint this spring among businesses that rely on teens for seasonal summer help. The labor market for young people to scoop ice cream, wait tables, and watch over a pool from a lifeguard chair is, like so many things, out of whack in the wake of the pandemic. Even before summer hits, teens are working in large numbers. After a sharp drop early in the pandemic, more than one-third of people aged 16 to 19 held jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest teen employment rate since before the Great Recession of 2008.

    "And that’s good news for young people who want to make some extra money, with more opportunities and higher wages compared to past years."

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    Roger Angell, often described as the poet laureate of baseball and certainly one of the most elegant and lovingly evocative writers ever to report and opine about the game, doing so for The New Yorker since 1962, has passed away.  He was 101.

    Angell - whose mother, Katharine Sergeant Angell White, began working at The New Yorker as an editor in 1925 - published his first piece in the magazine in 1944, and went to work there full-time in 1956.  In addition to writing for The New Yorker, he also served as the magazine's fiction editor.

    In a lovely remembrance over the weekend, current editor David Remnick wrote that "in recent years, as his odometer headed toward triple digits, Roger Angell became known around our office for the way his cheerful longevity complemented his talent. He was not only the greatest of baseball writers; he had also lived long enough to see Babe Ruth, of the Yankees, at one end of his life and Shohei Ohtani, of the Angels, at the other."

    Remnick wrote "longevity was actually quite low on his list of accomplishments. He did as much to distinguish The New Yorker as anyone in the magazine’s nearly century-long history. His prose and his editorial judgment left an imprint that’s hard to overstate. Like Ruth and Ohtani, he was a freakishly talented double threat, a superb writer and an invaluable counsel to countless masters of the short story. He won a place in both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in the Baseball Hall of Fame - a unique distinction … On the page, Roger created—he threw—a voice that was utterly joyful, as buoyant as a lottery winner. He hated the poetical and the hard-bitten.

    "The Roger Angell of the baseball pieces was a man at liberty, delighted to be in the stands on a long-shadowed afternoon, part of a vast community of fans. The sentences were ebullient but never decorous. His enthusiasm for baseball was so immense that it could not be confined to a singular loyalty. In a given season, he was capable of giving his heart to anyone. He was a Mets fan, a Yankees fan, and a Red Sox fan. In anyone else, this would have been unforgivable."

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    Got the following email from MNB reader Art Ruder:

    This morning you posted a reader's view that referred to New York Governor Hochul as "governess".  I'm curious, would that reader also use the term governess for Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama, Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa or Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota?

    It is a fair question to ask.



    And, responding to my FaceTime video about seeing the Texas Rangers play the Boston Red Sox at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas - the only major league baseball stadium where I had not attended a game, one MNB reader wrote:

    I am so jealous!  Attended my first MLB game at the old Connie Mack in Philly in 1964 as a nine year old. Since have been to over 40 MLB parks except the new Rangers Stadium!

    My top three current (also leaving off the classics Wrigley, Fenway, Dodger) are AT&T, PNC and Citizens Bank.  Bottom three Busch, Rogers, Oakland.  Your Mets are looking really good and did a number on the Phils in that last series.  Enjoy!

    Always.

    Published on: May 23, 2022

    Justin Thomas staged a remarkable comeback at the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, starting the final day seven strokes off the lead and finishing it, after a three-hole playoff against Will Zalatoris, with a 5-under par victory that gave him his second career major.