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: August 9, 2022

    Content Guy's Note:  Today, Michael Sansolo actually speaks … he recorded this video about a technology that everyone has access to, and that offers an important business lesson to retailers.  Enjoy.

    One other note:  You can check out a "Today Show" story about the woman Michael refers to here.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    Bloomberg reports that John Mackey, the founder-CEO of Whole Foods who will retire next month from the company, now owned by Amazon, later this year, plans to build "a chain of plant-based restaurants and wellness centers that offer fitness and spa services."

    The report says that various job posting for the company describe the concept as offering "a broad spectrum of eclectic plant-based dining options, ranging from the most health-promoting to a balanced indulgence,” in addition to being “rooted in lifestyle medicine,” featuring “the best of Western and Eastern medicine, alongside wellness, educational and fitness and spa services.”

    According to the story, "Corporate records list Mackey, 68, as a partner in Healthy America LLC, a startup that raised about $31 million from investors earlier this year and aims to launch a 'national network' of medical wellness centers and vegetarian restaurants."

    It also appears that to some degree, Mackey is getting the Whole Foods band back together:  "Incorporated in 2020, Healthy America is based in Austin, Texas, like Whole Foods and staffed by veterans of the high-end grocer. Its chief executive officer is Betsy Foster, a longtime executive who left Whole Foods in 2020. Walter Robb, Whole Foods’ co-CEO when he departed in 2017, is listed alongside Mackey as a partner. Former executives from Whole Foods’ store development, finance and human-resources departments have also joined the startup, according to their LinkedIn profiles."

    The first location, which is expected to operate under the brand name Love Life!, is expected to open sometime next year.

    Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.6 billion.

    Some context from Bloomberg about Mackey and Whole Foods:

    "Mackey is credited with helping popularize organic foods in the US. He co-founded a natural foods store in 1978 and merged with a rival to form the first Whole Foods two years later. The store grew into a national chain, largely through acquisitions of regional competitors … A longtime vegetarian who went vegan in the 2000s, Mackey has advocated healthy eating with an almost religious devotion and blended that mission into his company’s culture. A libertarian, he has long portrayed health and diet largely as matters of personal choice."

    KC's View:

    Anyone who expected Mackey to simply retire to some farm where he could grow his own food and stay off the grid was inevitably going to be disappointed.  It always has struck me that Mackey is a combination of entrepreneur and evangelist, which can be a pretty restless combination.  Add to that a personal net worth reportedly in the neighborhood of $85 million, and you have the overwhelming likelihood that Mackey was going to open something.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    The Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece about a "hustle" that violates the rules of Amazon's third-party Marketplace, but about which very little seems can be done.

    An excerpt:

    "Mitchell Owens recently discovered that mysterious entities were selling bulk orders of Dum Dums lollipops on Amazon for a couple of bucks less than the price charged by his company. Owens, who runs e-commerce operations for Spangler Candy Co., was concerned the sweets could be potentially dangerous counterfeits.

    "So he placed an order from one of the Amazon merchants. A few days later a 500-pack of lollipops arrived on his doorstep. They weren’t counterfeit and — strangely — had been shipped directly from Walmart Inc.’s Sam’s Club.

    "Owens had stumbled upon a price arbitrage scheme on Inc.’s imperfectly policed online marketplace.

    "The hustle works like this: Sellers, often guided by how-to tutorials on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, scour the internet for products with lower prices than on Amazon. Then they post the items on the website, wait for someone to place an order, purchase the product from another retailer, have it shipped directly to the customer and pocket the difference … They never actually touch the merchandise, a practice known as drop-shipping. The scheme is a violation of Amazon’s policy, which prohibits merchants from shipping products from other retailers, but the perpetrators are betting that they’ll elude detection amid the clutter of the company’s vast web store.

    "With Dum Dums, the sellers are leveraging a yawning price gap between Sam’s Club, which rewards its members by selling a deeply discounted 500-pack for about $15, and Amazon, where Spangler sells its exclusive 400-pack for about $26. Sellers can charge $25 on Amazon to lure price-conscious shoppers and pocket about $6 after subtracting Amazon fees."

    The story notes that "in the last six months, the number of merchants selling Dum Dums on Amazon has proliferated so quickly that Spangler can’t keep track of them. Owens believes that a concurrence of forces — the work-from-home trend, rising prices and online tutorials — has prompted more people to seek side hustles."

    You can read the story here:

    KC's View:

    This is kind of crazy … and it certainly explains why, on occasion, we've ordered something from Amazon and it has arrived in a box from some other retailer.

    I'd like to think that Amazon could better police this issue and enforce its rules, but maybe it is just one of those things that is impossible to regulate to any significant degree, short of shutting down the marketplace.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "Lyft Inc. has formed Lyft Media, a new business unit consolidating and expanding the advertising offerings at the ride-hailing company.

    The news comes more than two years after Lyft acquired Halo Cars Inc., which makes monitors to run digital ads atop cars, and as Lyft faces an increasingly crowded marketplace for advertising in and around car services.

    "Lyft hopes the new advertising products can generate revenue and help it compete against rivals like Uber Technologies Inc., which entered the media business in 2019, when it started selling ads through its Uber Eats app. Uber later began offering ads atop its cars and within its primary ride-hailing app.

    "Beyond the rooftop ads, Lyft will now allow brands to serve content on in-car tablets that riders can use to track their routes, tip and rate drivers, and control the music in each car. Lyft has been testing that service in Los Angeles in recent months and expects to offer it in 25% of all rides by year-end in Los Angeles and three other cities, according to a spokeswoman."

    KC's View:

    I mention this not because retailers compete directly with the like of Uber or Lyft, but because the whole media network space - in which a number of retailers are investing considerable time and money - is getting so crowded.  Advertisers have a wide range of places where they can put their messages, and so the networks that succeed will be the ones that demonstrate a) a targeted and appropriate audience, and b) ROI.

    My big concern - when will consumers get fed up with constantly being sold stuff?  I don't think it is a long road to that point.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    The BBC reports that "the price of olive oil is set to rise as heatwaves hit production in Spain, a leading exporter has warned.

    "Acesur, which supplies the UK's biggest supermarkets, told the BBC this would feed through into prices in shops in the next three to four months when companies renew their contracts.

    "The company's export manager, Miguel Colmenero, said customers could see prices rise by 20-25%.

    "Spain produces nearly half of the world's olive oil.

    "But the country, along with other parts of Western Europe which produce olive oil, including Italy and Portugal, has been experiencing extreme temperatures and a lack of rain in recent weeks."

    KC's View:

    This whole climate change thing is hurting my soul - in the past few weeks, we've had stories about how it is impacting the production of parmesan cheese, the rice used to make risotto, and now olive oil.  Not that climate change is about me … because of course, it's not … not really, anyway … but at some level we all need to internalize the degree to which climate change is going to impact the ways in which we live our lives and find pleasure.  It becomes less abstract that way, and maybe our institutions will become more responsive … and maybe individuals will stop whining about little things, like getting rid of single-use plastic bags.  Bringing your own bag may not change the world all on its own, but every little bit helps.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    •  Amazon is publicly lobbying the federal government to process the existing backlog of green card applications before the September 30 deadline.

    Here's the statement released by Amazon:

    "Amazon is proud to hire people from around the world, and we’re passionate about supporting our employees and their families - including those who have immigrated to the U.S. and want permanent residency. However, we know that many of those employees are stuck in the green card backlog. That’s why we are advocating on behalf of our employees and their families ahead of September 30 - the federal government’s deadline for processing green card applications this year.

    "Immigrants faced long waits for green cards before 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic created even greater delays. In fact, more than 65,000 employment-based green cards went unused in 2021. In 2022, Congress allotted 281,000 employment-based green cards, but more than 100,000 still needed to be adjudicated as of June 30.

    "We are thankful for all of the efforts that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has taken to date, including granting over 176,000 green cards through June 30. But a large backlog remains ahead of the September deadline. If the green cards are not used, they are not transferred or added to next year’s count … To support our teams and communities, Amazon continues to reach out directly to USCIS, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that administers green cards. We are strongly urging the agency to issue all green cards by the deadline. We know that this backlog has a big impact on our employees’ lives and families, which is why we have also offered to help USCIS resolve these cases and efficiently eliminate the backlog. We hope USCIS will take the important and urgent step of allocating all green cards for this year."

    •  Engadget reports that Apple is rumored to be developing new smart home devices to succeed the HomePod product that it discontinued last year.

    One of them is said to be "a kitchen accessory that combines an iPad with a speaker. Meanwhile, the other reportedly brings together the functionality of an Apple TV, camera and HomePod into a living room device … A kitchen device would see Apple competing more closely with Amazon and Google. The two are most closely associated with the smart display category thanks to releases like the Nest Hub and Echo Show 15. It would be interesting to see what Apple thinks it can bring to the field since most smart displays don’t feel essential."

    These devices, if released by Apple, would not be available until late next year or early 2024, the story says.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Women's Wear Daily reports that clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is unveiling a new format this week.  Referred to as The Getaway, the concept is said to be "inspired by the sentiments felt before the start of a long weekend."

    WWD says that "although the stores will still be called Abercrombie & Fitch, the design is intended to replicate a chic hotel lobby, and the merchandise mix is curated to appeal to the varied needs of a 25- to 35-year-old customer.

    "The first two stores will open outside Milan in the Il Centro Shopping Center, and at Los Angeles’ Del Amo Fashion Center. They will be approximately 4,500 square feet and carry men’s and womenswear … the mix will include apparel and accessories appropriate for working out, wearing to the office, heading for drinks after 5 p.m. or to a friend’s wedding. The assortment will address 'all activities in the life of the customer for their weekend itinerary'."

    Carey Krug, senior vice president and head of marketing for the retailer, tells WWD that "the assortment is targeted to a Millennial as well as a Zillennial, which Krug described as a shopper who is out in the workforce and living on their own. 'Someone in their mid-20s is our sweet spot,' she said."

    I love it when retailers try different lanes … I have no idea if it will work or get legs beyond these two stores, but I think the exercise is a positive one for any organization.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    •  The Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC) said yesterday that Patrick “Pat” Posey, a longtime retail executive in Southern California, will succeed Carole Christianson as the organization's Chief Operating Officer when she retires next month.

    Posey began his career with Ralphs Grocery Company in 1986, completed the USC Food Industry Management Program in 1996, and joined Bristol Farms in 1997, where he has risen through the ranks from Store Director to Vice President of Non-Perishable Procurement and Merchandising over the past 25 years.  Posey also has served in the WAFC board for the past 10 years, and is Chairman of the City of Hope “Kids4Hope” Foundation and President of the Olive Crest Food Industry Roundtable.

    Christianson will remain at WAFC  in an Advisory role "to insure a smooth and transparent transition," the organization said in its announcement.

    •  Sunrise ShopRite, which operates the ShopRite of Parsippany and ShopRite of West Caldwell, announced the appointment of Mike Jacob as Vice President of Operations.  Jacob most recently was special projects manager at Wakefern Food Corp., the supermarket retailer-owned cooperative and distribution and merchandising arm for ShopRite stores.

    •  Island Pacific market, which operates 17 stores in California and Nevada specializing in Filipino cuisine, said this week that it has hired Herman Chiu to be its new CFO.

    Chiu most recently was Executive Vice President at Tawa Supermarkets, which operates the 99 Ranch chain.

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    •  David McCullough, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for his biographies of Harry Truman and John Adams, as well as the author of 10 other books on subjects ranging from the building of the Brooklyn bridge to the Wright Brothers, has passed away.  He was 89.

    McCullough was awarded the President Medal of Freedom in 2006, with President George W. Bush calling him “the voice of history."

    •  Olivia Newton-John, who was the world's top female vocalist in the 70's and early 80's, parlaying her fame into a starring role in the film version if Grease, has passed away.  She was 73, and had waged a decades-long battle with breast cancer.

    Newton-John had nine top-10 singles, including "You're The One That I Want" (a duet with Grease co-star John Travolta, "Physical," "I Honestly Love You,” and “Have You Never Been Mellow."

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    Yesterday, in opining on FaceTime about the scandal of Florida naming strawberry shortcake the state's official dessert, I said that beyond question, key lime pie should receive that designation.  (I blame the strawberry lobbyists.  This is political corruption at its most embarrassing.)

    And I mentioned that one of my favorite pics from my recent trip to the Bahamas was of a piece of key lime pie that I enjoyed for breakfast, and I said that I would post the picture below the story.

    Which I forgot to do.  I got called on the omission by an MNB reader.  And I promised to rectify the situation today:

    (I get hungry just looking at that pic … because pie fixes everything.)

    Published on: August 9, 2022

    I noted yesterday in my comments about Amazon's proposed acquisition of iRobot that it is the company's use of subscription services that may appeal most to Amazon:

    It underlines something really important - and, to competitors, concerning - about Amazon's approach - not just starting or acquiring innovative businesses, but then engineering them in a way that takes customers out of the market in the future.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Subscription and replenishment are near-in opportunities for Amazon with iRobot. But think of the data generated. Amazon will know the size and layout of your house, and could analyze things like what kind of furniture, electronics, or other gadgets would fit, for marketing purposes. Let’s hope they don’t combine this with their Blink system, as they’d be able to see everything in your house!

    Another MNB reader had a more dire assessment:

    This is what metastatic cancer does!

    Regarding CVS's ability to get into the primary healthcare business, one MNB reader wrote:

    Staff the stores. Stock the shelves. Then talk to me about healthy and happy !!


    And finally, on another and really important subject, one MNB reader wrote:

    In the Key Lime pie vs. Strawberry Shortcake, I have to vote for the strawberries.  The best strawberry milkshake I’ve had came from a little place somewhere in “strawberry-land” on the backroads between Ft. Meyers and Tampa.  Also, although the best Key Lime pie is better than the best Strawberry Shortcake, I’ve had many disappointing key lime pies, and far fewer disappointing strawberry shortcakes.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on this.