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    Published on: June 2, 2022

    The other day I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia - hostile territory for me, a Mets and Jets fan - to spend some time visiting a couple of stores with Nicholas Bertram, president of Ahold Delhaize-owned The Giant Company.  It has been a while since I'd been in Philly, and I was enormously impressed by the two urban markets I visited: the Giant Riverwalk store, and the Giant Heirloom Market just blocks from the Liberty Bell.

    In the video above, I talk about the emphasis on food and willingness to test different formats that I think differentiates the company;  I also noticed a real esprit de corps among the front line store employees, who seemed invested in their jobs and roles in the broader company's success.

    Below are some bonus pics from my visit…

    The GIANT Riverwalk store is on the banks of the Schuylkill River, at the base of one enormous apartment building (which has its own dedicated elevator to the store) and across the street from another under construction - both serving as a natural shopper community for the 65,000 square foot store.  You'll notice in the pics below that the store's produce department accounts for close to 25 percent of the sales floor.  Plus, there is a corridor of foodservice counters, all of which feeds into a self-serve 46-beer tap room.  And, you can tell that the store takes food seriously - there's a display of Killer Brownies sourced from Dorothy Lane Market, and if you carry this line, you are invested in a food-centric mentality.

    One other thing.  The size of the store, the width of the aisles, and the depth of the selection suggest that this unit is designed both to serve customers and accommodate shoppers representing GIANT Direct, Instacart, or any other e-commerce provider.  That can be a key asset in an urban setting, and GIANT seems to have it covered.

    The GIANT Heirloom Market, has a somewhat different orientation - its customers are made up of residents of nearby buildings, employees in nearby offices, and tourists visiting nearby historical attractions.  Which means doing things like selling sushi by the piece, and featuring, adjacent to the beer taps, an elevator lobby with historical significance converted into a lounge where people can hang out, eat, drink and socialize.

    Published on: June 2, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal this morning writes that "for many 20-something workers and new grads, a sense of mission is butting up against the need to make money. Though they came of age under Presidents Obama and Trump and formed worldviews during times of powerful social movements, some are shifting their priorities or making compromises they might have criticized before entering the workforce.

    "A sharper focus on money shows up in Deloitte Global’s annual survey of Gen Zers, which the firm defines as people born starting in 1995. (Some others, like the Pew Research Center, say the generation starts in 1997.) Climate change was the top concern, ahead of financial challenges, when Deloitte polled more than 8,000 Gen Zers early last year. This year, however, the cost of living vaulted ahead of the environment as the No. 1 worry in a survey of nearly 15,000 Gen Zers.

    "Meanwhile, 37% of Gen Zers in the latest poll said they have ;rejected a job and/or assignment based on their personal ethics.'  A year ago, nearly half said ethics determine the kind of work they’re willing to do, and for whom."

    Some context from the Journal story:

    "People in every generation hold ideals that eventually collide with reality. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, disrupted the early careers of many in Gen X, the post-boomer generation born between 1965 and 1980. The financial crisis and recession of the late aughts sobered a lot of the millennials who followed Gen Xers into the workforce.

    "Now, the pandemic and its fallout are testing Gen Zers. They approach issues like gun control, foreign policy and racism as people who went through school post-Columbine, have little or no memory of 9/11 and were children when Trayvon Martin’s death helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter movement.

    "They’re entering adulthood as the planet hits the hottest temperatures in recorded history and could soon face some of the most restrictive abortion laws in a half-century.

    They were raised in a time of questioning such widely accepted norms as pronouns, standing for the national anthem and the wholesomeness of Dr. Seuss.

    "They’ve told pollsters for years that all of this - maybe not Dr. Seuss specifically, but social and political issues generally - will be important when they enter the labor force, saying they want to work for companies that share their values.

    "In a recent poll of roughly 400 college seniors commissioned by, however, 54% said they’d be willing to work for a company they 'morally disagree with' for a six-figure starting salary. (Such hefty offers are increasingly common in today’s labor market.)"

    KC's View:

    It is a maxim of adulthood that one has to make hard choices, and that reality rarely conforms to one's dreams and hopes.

    (I'm reminded, of course, of a movie - Broadcast News, in which William Hurt's Tim Grunick says, "What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?"  And Albert Brooks, as Aaron Altman, replies, "Keep it to yourself.")

    Reality, in this case and in this moment, means high inflation (though not nearly as high as it was when I was their age, a point I make at the risk of sounding like a cranky old man).  It also means a possible/potential recession in the near future.  High amounts of college debt.  And, on an emotional level, dealing with things like a pandemic that had an enormous impact on their lives, gun violence (they grew up doing safety drills in their schools), racial strife, climate change (floods, drought and forest fires can have a sobering impact on life's expectations), political polarization, and even debates about the long term viability of a functional democracy.

    Me, I prefer to look at the glass as being almost half-full.  If 54 percent of college seniors say that they’d be willing to work for a company they 'morally disagree with' for a six-figure starting salary, that means 46 percent would not.  I'm not sure a culture can survive long-term with only 46 percent of its members understand the concept of moral responsibility.  But it is a start.

    Published on: June 2, 2022

    From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "The 18-year-old gunman accused of killing 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket last month was charged by a county jury on Wednesday with domestic terrorism motivated by hate and 10 counts of first-degree murder.

    "In addition to those charges, a grand jury in Erie County Court indicted the suspected gunman, Payton Gendron, on 13 charges of second-degree murder and attempted murder as a hate crime and one charge of weapons possession. The indictment said Mr. Gendron acted “because of a belief or perception regarding the race and/or color” of some of the victims.

    "The domestic terrorism charge alone carries a sentence of life in prison without parole."

    The arraignment is scheduled for today.

    The Journal writes that authorities say that the indicted gunman "walked into a Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominantly Black neighborhood, where he fatally shot 10 people and injured three, authorities said, in one of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States this year. All but two of the victims were Black. They included an 86-year-old woman, a retired Buffalo police lieutenant and a church deacon."

    Published on: June 2, 2022

    Axios reports on a Minnesota Target store where the manicurist is a robot.

    According to the story, "The robot, made by a California startup called Clockwork, offers a 10-minute manicure for $10 … Users pick one of 25 colors … watch the tutorial, and insert their fingers one by one.  The machine scans each nail and paints it, starting around the edges and working into the center. It applies two coats simultaneously."

    Axios writer Audrey Kennedy says that "Clockwork delivered on its promise of a cheap and quick manicure … The robot missed a couple spots, but did well for a non-human."

    However, Axios does point to one problem with the Target installation:  "It's hard to shop with freshly painted nails, so get your groceries beforehand."  (Which is a good idea unless you bought ice cream…)

    Published on: June 2, 2022

    Axios reports that a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine says that "those who drank coffee - even with sugar - were less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers in the following seven years."

    The story points out that "previous studies have observed coffee is associated with a lower risk of death but didn't distinguish between unsweetened java and coffee consumed with sugar."  This study defined the optimum consumption of coffee as "moderate," or between 1½ and 3½ cups a day.

    Axios writes that "the researchers from Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, used behavioral data from more than 171,000 people enrolled in a U.K. study to understand coffee consumption patterns.

    "During a seven-year follow-up period, they found that participants who drank any amount of unsweetened coffee were 16% to 21% less likely to die than participants who did not drink coffee.  Participants who drank 1.5 to 3.5 daily cups of coffee sweetened with sugar were 29% to 31% less likely to die than participants who didn't."

    KC's View:

    I like those odds, especially as I pause from keyboarding this story to sip from a cup of black coffee.  (I'm one of those people who think that a perfect symbol of life's promise is a full, freshly brewed coffee pot.)

    Of course, Axios does throw a little cold water on the study, noting that "one guaranteed constant in health research — coffee studies. One week it's good for you. The next? It's bad."  

    Which is sort of like red wine.  But since another perfect symbol of life's promise is the sound of a cork being pulled from a bottle of wine with a waiter's corkscrew, my feeling is that it is important to stick with the studies that not only suggest that an item is good for one's health, but good for one's spirit, soul and psyche.

    Published on: June 2, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Washington Post reports that when fast delivery service Buyk declared bankruptcy, laid off 900 employees and went out of business earlier this year, it was a direct result of the US sanctions against Russia and that country's oligarchs, banks and businesses.

    "Buyk, pronounced 'bike,' was the U.S. subsidiary of Samokat (which means 'scooter'), one of Russia’s most popular grocery-delivery services. Buyk launched in New York City in September 2021 and Chicago in December, with plans to serve Boston, Houston, Miami and Los Angeles by the end of 2022.

    "Although Buyk was incorporated in the United States, co-founders Vyacheslav 'Slava' Bocharov and Rodion Shihskov were also the founders of Samokat."

    The Post writes that "for many Americans, sanctions may conjure images of agents raiding an oligarch’s half-billion-dollar yacht or putting a Premier League soccer team on the auction block.

    "But economic sanctions can also be a blunt instrument, punishing civilians along with the rich and powerful.

    "The unprecedented depth and speed of U.S. sanctions for the invasion of Ukraine disrupted not just the lives of average Russians but also office workers and couriers as far away from Moscow as New York and Chicago."

    When sanctions were imposed, the US "immediately targeted 10 of Russia’s largest financial institutions, cutting Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, off from the U.S. financial system … the actions against Sberbank would prove fatal, choking Buyk off from a source of cash at a critical point in its development.  Through a joint venture, Sberbank and Russian Internet company Group owned 75.6 percent of Samokat."

    While Bocharov and Shihskov were not on any sanctions list, their ability to stay in business, and the importance of Americans getting fast delivery via their service, pales compared to the critical importance of stopping Russia in Ukraine, lest it decide to continue pushing and committing war crimes in more countries and against more people.

    •  Business Insider reports that "UPS has acquired e-commerce logistics startup Delivery Solutions for an undisclosed sum … This acquisition is UPS's second in two years. The delivery giant acquired gig-economy delivery company Roadie in September.

    "Founded in 2017 by Arshaad Mirza and Manil Uppal, Delivery Solutions is an e-commerce logistics orchestration platform that allows retailers to access same-day delivery services from dozens of delivery providers, like Uber and Lyft. Roadie is a listed service on the Delivery Solutions platform, along with Walmart's GoLocal delivery service."

    •  Fast Company reports that "drone delivery company Flytrex announced its new partnership today with The Ice Cream Shop, Unilever’s first online-only shop, offering ice cream delivery straight from the sky to residents in North Carolina and Texas.

    "After placing an order through the Flytrex app, users can expect to receive packages of ice cream in their front or back yard, 'delivered with a flight time of under three minutes,” according to a press release. Unilever’s The Ice Cream Shop offers products from top ice cream brands, such as Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, and Talenti.

    "To prevent spillage - or melting - during delivery, Flytrex uses a wire-release system from its drones, lowering items, such as ice cream, milkshakes, or a dozen eggs, rather than dropping orders from the air. Flytrex packaging is designed to uphold a product’s quality during flight and delivery … In addition to ice cream, Flytrex earlier this year announced partnerships with Jersey Mike’s Subs and It’s Just Wings."

    Published on: June 2, 2022

    •  CNN reports that "starting this fall, shoppers will be able to buy solar panels at Ikea, alongside the Swedish retailer's flat-pack furniture and famous meatballs.

    "The new project, according to a news release, is a collaboration between Ikea's US branch and SunPower, a California-based company that sells and installs solar power products, including solar panels.

    "The line of home solar products, called 'Home Solar,' will be available to members of IKEA's customer loyalty program, according to the release. The products will allow customers 'to generate and store their own renewable energy and live more sustainably'."

    The story points out that "the introduction of solar products is Ikea's latest eco-friendly initiative. Earlier this year, the company announced it would buy back used Ikea furniture from customers in an effort to be more sustainable."

    Published on: June 2, 2022

    Yesterday we posted a missive from MNB reader Craig Espelien on the subject of "externalities," which he defined as "when one party produces something that creates a problem and another group (too often the consumer or the taxpayer) has to deal with the problem at a later date."  The posting was in response to - and in support of - an article that we featured on MNB about the importance of adjusting capitalism's traditional benchmarks to account for new realities.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    My experience with sustainability initiatives showed that there was significant financial incentives to being more sustainable as well as moral and social benefits.  Efforts to reduce any solid waste to leave a production facility was enlightening and a way for local management to engage all employees on a project they could be proud of and incidentally lowered the cost of removing solid waste.  There were ways for similar efforts to make a positive impact on climate change and reduce packaging, energy and operating costs across the enterprise.  Capitalism can be a driver for reducing carbon footprints across the organization and therefore can support climate change in a positive way.

    MNB reader Phil Herr wrote:

    Kudos to the reader who described the concept so well. When I used to teach PR, I used the example of the T-Shirt purchased for $5.00 at Walmart. While a great bargain for the buyer, I asked about the externalities that enabled WM too charge so little. And these include all the processes in creating the item — fuel, fertilizer, bleach, cheap labor, plus shipping and merchandising. So who pays for the externalities in depleted resources, carbon, pollution and so on? Obviously, we all do, but not directly.

    But MNB reader Mike Sommers argued:

    I understand Craig's thought that creating compost doesn't solve the issue of rampant food waste.  However, his assertion that compost is 'better trash', is in fact, a trash argument.  Having experience working on an organic vegetable farm that offers CSA membership, compost is black gold when it comes to harvest yield.  Using compost is a good start to regenerating depleted soil caused by conventional farming practices, used to grow commodity crops, under a more is better, get big or get out ag policy.  All of which, is trash and contributing to the climate crisis.  FDR was correct in saying, 'The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself'.    

    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    Amazon has a big problem with its Chinese vendors.  It can be demonstrated with the recall of eclipse glasses that were not safe to wear by a Chinese merchants that did not exist while Amazon could have determined that.  Whereas US merchants are subject to US court decisions Chinese merchants are not and will scurry under a rock and change their name to avoid US Court decisions.

    Amazon can do several things to reduce the problem.  They can require Chinese merchants to carry Product Liability Insurance from US insurers.  They can make sure that the name of the company is a real company in China.  For individuals, they can require a picture of the Chinese passport to verify identity.  And they can make sure that when they are sending payment they are sending it to China.  Or Amazon can remain complacent with the commissions it receives.

    From another reader, a comment about a recent story:

    The headline of this story “Sears Said To Be Closing Dozens of Stores” was quite surprising.  I would never have thought they still had  “Dozens of Stores” left.

    We took note the other day of a Los Angeles Times piece saying that, "citing the climate crisis, the Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to ban most gas appliances in new construction, a policy that’s expected to result in new homes and businesses coming equipped with electric stoves, clothes dryers, water heaters and furnaces."

    One MNB reader responded:

    Here in So Cal we have plenty of clean burning natural gas.  It is efficient and affordable.  The leftists that run this state are working to push us to all electric when we do not have an electrical grid that meets our needs today.   We keep hearing on the radio and TV about curtailing our electrical use in the afternoons and evenings and that is before summer when the demand will increase.  There is a Reuters story in US New & World Reports about how we are facing a potential shortfall of 1,700 megawatts to as high as 5,000 megawatts.   We are seeing more and more black outs and those foolish enough to sign up for the Smart Energy Program will see brown outs when demand exceeds supply.  If feels like we are moving towards being a third world state. 

    These are all interesting points.

    Though I would point out that it is a little unfair to describe California as being on the verge of becoming a third-world state.  It still has one of the largest economies on the planet … though it does face some enormous long-term challenges.

    Yesterday MNB cited a Wall Street Journal piece about how "supermarkets and distributors are pushing back on higher prices from food makers, as escalating inflation drives more consumers to rethink their spending.

    "Kroger Co. and other grocery chains said they are asking brands to prove why higher prices are necessary before accepting them, and warning manufacturers that they will stop carrying products if food companies won’t negotiate prices. Some companies said they are switching to new meat suppliers with cheaper products, and are delaying price changes for items like canned goods."

    I commented, in part:

    Retailers are entirely justified in taking this approach.  This is the kind of environment in which both retail and packaged brands can lose market share, as some players may be better positioned - sometimes in terms of perception, sometimes in reality - to take advantage of tough economic times.  Think dollar stores and limited assortment stores.  And so, retailers and manufacturers may need to reduce their margins in some areas as a way of preserving relationships with their longterm shoppers.

    At the end of the day, it is really important for retailers to figure out ways to give consumers wins wherever and whenever they can.  Relationships with shoppers aren't just to be pursued during the good times.  In fact, they are even more important during tough times, which can be an opportunity for retailers to demonstrate to their customers that they are on their side.

    One MNB reader disagreed:

    I don’t agree on this at all.  The retailer has no right to justify costing for a manufacturer.  Let’s turn this around on the retailer.  The manufacturer now has the right to demand line-item costs of the retailer to run their business.  The manufacturer will then validate those costs to see if the retailer’s operation is efficient enough to justify the margins they require.  Neither have the right to demand this internal information.  Each only has the right to sell or buy ones products. Retailers are not the watchdog of the industry; they are equal contributors to the problem.  Readers ask yourself these questions: How come inflation has increased food costs over 11% and Dollar stores prices went up 25%.  How come retailers in this environment are charging for late fees on deliveries, increased slotting fees, penny for penny promotions,  reset fees, increased ad costs, etc.??  You state both sides should reduce margins in this environment for the mutual goal of the consumer.  Agreed, but in reality that will never happen when the cost to sell and produce an item increase on both sides of the “aisle”.

    I would argue that if a retailer is positioning itself correctly, it indeed should be a watchdog, serving as an agent for the consumer.  Since it is the gateway to the shopper, a retailer can demand anything it wants of a supplier.  The supplier has a perfect right to walk away - there is such a thing as the intelligent loss of business.

    I'm not saying that retailers always behave in the best interests of shoppers, nor that they always make the most ethical and equitable decisions.  I am saying that they should.  And can.  And that this can be their moment.

    MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman made the following observation:

    With respect to inflation in meat it needs to be clearly stated that the major retail food chains have been and continue to be a significant part of the problem.

    By constantly pushing prices lower and lower all of the chains have been complicit in the inevitable consolidation of the meat packing industry.

    None of them resisted this as they enjoyed watching prices being artificially suppressed at the expense of ranchers across the nation.

    Those of us in the independent and/or cooperative grocery sector have seen this, clearly, for decades, and have instead created relationships with local and regional ranchers and small processors.

    Hence, shocker alert: our beef prices have not escalated anywhere near what we see down the street at the big box stores.

    We reported yesterday about how Amazon is pushing back against a rare piece bipartisan piece of legislation called the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which would prevent tech giants - specifically Amazon - from giving preference to their own businesses on their websites."

    I commented:

    I continue to maintain that if Amazon cannot give preference to its own products online, then bricks-and-mortar retailers ought to be prevented from giving their private label items preferred positioning on store shelves.  What's good for the goose…

    MNB reader Glenn A. Cantor wrote:

    I love hearing about old, out-of-touch legislators trying to create laws to address supposed issues about which they know little.  Not that I favor Amazon, but when you hear these Congresspeople try to explain their reasons for supporting this kind of legislation, it is clear that their perspectives are based purely on politics and not in addressing actual issues.  BTW, I did not know that they solved the gun problem to be able to free up time to talk about Amazon.

    I do think that legislators ought to be able to do two things at once, but I take your point about the gun issue.

    Yesterday I wrote about an email customers received from Alison Weick, the president of e-commerce company Boxed, in which she used plain talk about inflationary pressures to make what is an admittedly self-serving pitch for why people should shop at Boxed, but also was an explanation about how her company is working in shoppers'' best interests.

    I commented, in part:

    Let's stipulate that this email doesn't reinvent the wheel.  But it doesn't need to.  The email is a simple, non-product oriented effort to establish common ground between the store and the shopper, and lay out how Boxed is working to be the agent for the consumer.

    It may not move the needle a lot.  But it is  likely to move the needle at least a little, and that's important in times like these.

    Simple question for MNB readers:  Has your company written a similar email to your customers?

    If not, someone else may have … and may be filling a vacuum that you created.

    One MNB reader reacted:

    My company has not but I love the idea. Customers have many questions around inflation and supply chain and the answers they receive are from us, at store level.  Often, most do not ask and assume, in the case of supply chain, that we are not ordering the product.  Once we explain, they are appreciative for the answers. 

    Exactly.  Can I get an "Amen"?