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    Published on: August 24, 2022

    New Nielsen data about the growth of streaming television platforms offers, I think, a perspective on how consumers are changing … how businesses are both leading and responding … and Eye-Opening trends to which retailers ought to pay attention.

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    Advertising Age reports that Walmart is expected to announce later today "a full-fledged loyalty program with the launch of Walmart Rewards, which gives customers cash back via supplier-funded deals that could help the retailer capture data from tens of millions of additional people."

    According to the story, the program is "an outgrowth of Walmart's previous collaboration with Ibotta," and is "already being used by some marketers such as Procter & Gamble Co. and could fuel more brand spending via the Walmart Connect media business. That's because it will give brands something new to advertise - the rebates they’re offering - and generate more targeting opportunities through better data.

    "Ibotta is an online promotions program that lets people accumulate rebate offers from brands based on purchases across multiple retailers."

    Walmart has not yet commented on the Ad Age report.

    Burt Flickinger, managing director of consultancy Strategic Resource Group, tells Ad Age, "It’s an important strategic initiative for Walmart, which was seeing itself get farther and farther behind CVS and Target, which have the best loyalty programs in mainstream food, drug and discount store retail."

    KC's View:

    The only thing I would add to Burt Flickinger's analysis is this:

    What the hell took Walmart so long?

    It has been decades since loyalty marketing programs first were introduced into the retailing environment, and Walmart seemed to take an almost perverse pride in not giving better treatment or prices to customers identified as being loyal.

    Now, let's be fair about this.  Just because you are a member of a loyalty program doesn't mean you are loyal to that retailer.  It used to mean you had a key fob;  now it means you downloaded an app.

    But, a loyalty program does allow a retailer to analyze data and then act on it.  It'll be interesting to see the degree to which Walmart does this, how it segments its customers, and if it actually does offer better deals to its best shoppers.  For example, will it give best shoppers a break on what their Walmart+ membership costs, or whether they can get a Paramount+ subscription at a lower cost?

    And, as always in these cases, I pose the following question:  How will Walmart demonstrate to its shoppers that it is loyal to them, as opposed to just offering deals designed to essentially bribe shoppers to be loyal to it?  

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    Kroger announced yesterday that it has opened "two new spoke facilities in Greater Nashville and the Chicago Metro Area. Serving as last-mile cross-dock locations, the new spokes will operate as a seamless extension of regional fulfillment centers, making Kroger Delivery available to more customers in Tennessee and Illinois. 

    According to the announcement, in Nashville "the approximately 40,000-square-foot facility will work in conjunction with the Atlanta fulfillment center, increasing the network's reach to customers up to 200 miles from the hub."

    In Maywood, Illinois, about 20 miles west of Chicago, "the nearly 80,000-square-foot facility will work concurrently with the fulfillment center in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin."

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    Fast Company has a story about how, if "Ben & Jerry’s is the most high-profile and popular poster child for the phrase 'brand purpose'," this may be the time that the poster comes down.

    An excerpt:

    "Ben & Jerry’s legacy and its ability to balance business and purpose has become as precarious as a bowl of Cherry Garcia left in the sun.

    "In July, Ben & Jerry’s took the highly unusual and virtually unprecedented step of suing its parent company, Unilever, the $121 billion market cap global consumer packaged goods conglomerate. The case is over the parent company’s move to sell Ben & Jerry’s Israel business to a local licensee after Ben & Jerry’s itself announced in 2020 that, because of human rights concerns, it would not be selling its products in the West Bank.

    "Ben & Jerry’s contends that handing over control of its brand to someone else in Israel would cause customer confusion around the values the brand has spent decades building and ultimately dilute and deteriorate its global reputation. Unilever, obviously, disagrees. This past week found the two companies in federal court arguing over whether Ben & Jerry’s merits a preliminary injunction to stop Unilever’s sale to the Israeli licensee."

    The argument, Fast Company writes, is having an impact on Ben & jerry's culture:  "There’s a sense internally of a lack of transparency and communication about what’s really going on. Meanwhile, in the past the brand felt relatively free to weigh in on any issue that they felt relevant to speak out on. Now, Unilever is requiring a more stringent chain of corporate approvals … this is starting to breed a culture of self-censorship, leading to Ben & Jerry’s perhaps being a bit less engaged on issues compared with the last several years. The company has strong views on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the fight for reproductive health services, and trans rights, but given that things are harder internally, Ben & Jerry’s has been doing less in terms of adding its voice to these public debates."

    The story suggests that the polarization in the Unilever-Ben & Jerry's relationship actually is a reflection of the broader polarization in the country;  there was more tolerance back in 2000 when Unilever bought Ben & Jerry's and agreed to let the brand follow its own conscience in taking cultural and political positions.

    Fast Company goes on:

    "If this is indeed a referendum on the compatibility between truly purpose-led brands and public corporations, what’s the most likely outcome? Given the lack of conciliatory communication between Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s, with each side digging in on their respective positions, the most likely - and discouraging for anyone hoping a more conscious version of capitalism was possible - outcome is that Unilever uses its size, power, and influence to play CPG Palpatine and crush this ice-cream rebellion … Eventually, Ben & Jerry’s could become just another subsidiary that spews vaguely progressive, feel-good platitudes, and the closest thing to activism we see from it in the future is posting an image of a rainbow flag on Instagram every June.

    "That outcome will bring all corporate-owned, purpose-led brands into question, with people knowing that there is a limit to just how much purpose a brand can have. It should also weigh heavy on the minds of any social-good entrepreneurs considering an acquisition offer."

    KC's View:

    Or, the two sides can find peace and comity.

    Nah.  Not likely.  Not these days.

    If this break continues, I suspect that we're going to hear Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield weigh in, and it won't be pretty - they're going to argue that Unilever is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of their agreement.

    I think it is fair to say that Unilever has shown more forbearance than one might have expected with Ben & jerry's over the past two decades, but as far as I'm concerned, the reason for buying Ben & Jerry's ice cream - at least for a lot of people - will instantly vanish.  A significant piece of the value proposition will have been diluted, and I think Unilever would be taking a big gamble with the brand's equity and core values.

    It isn't exactly the same thing, but the Wall Street Journal is reporting that "two of Paul Newman’s daughters sued the Newman’s Own Foundation, saying its leaders have strayed from their late father’s wishes and limited their involvement in its charitable giving.

    "The Hollywood star created the Newman’s Own Foundation in 2005, three years before his death. The nonprofit controls a food company called Newman’s Own Inc. that funds the private foundation with its after-tax profits. The foundation had assets valued at about $234 million at the end of 2020, according to federal tax filings.

    "The foundation’s board of directors in 2020 reduced the yearly amount that Mr. Newman’s daughters each receive to direct charitable donations - from $400,000 to $200,000 - a move they said is a violation of Mr. Newman’s wishes, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday by Elinor 'Nell' Newman and Susan Newman in a Connecticut state court.

    "The lawsuit seeks $1.6 million in damages to be donated to the charities of the daughters’ choosing, along with a judgment that requires the foundation to abide by Mr. Newman’s wishes."

    Now, the daughters seem to feel that management at the foundation are taking an approach their father wouldn't have sanctioned.  The foundation argues that it does not have to live up to the mandates as stated by the daughters, and the whole thing seems likely devolve into a messy court fight.

    But as in the case with Ben & Jerry's, if the Paul Newman brand gets tarnished and there are questions about the foundation's charitable giving, there will be fewer reasons to buy his products.  And that would be a shame for an entity that has done so much good.

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    From Eater San Francisco:

    "Mezli installed its first fully robotic restaurant at Spark Social in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood.

    "Mezli isn’t the first automated restaurant to roll out in San Francisco, but, at least according to its three co-founders, it’s the first to remove humans entirely from the on-site operation equation … It’s a startup tale as old as time, so perfect the Netflix mini-series almost writes itself. A trio of Stanford graduate students are going around just living their lives when a problem lands in their laps: a complete lack of convenient and good-for-you dining options that don’t break the bank — especially when you’re living in one of the country’s most expensive metro areas on a graduate student stipend. There’s no time to prep a healthy meal for yourself, and no money to pay someone else to do it for you.

    "But unlike what many other people might do (as in, you know, whine and complain and then fork over $15 for a Sweetgreen salad) these entrepreneurial minds decide to do something about it. Combining their conveniently aligned skill sets as a software and artificial intelligence expert, a robotics wunderkind, and an aerospace engineer, they come up with a solution that not only alleviates their personal dilemma but also stands to open up new possibilities for an established industry."

    The restaurant "begins taking orders and sliding out Mediterranean grain bowls by the end of this week with plans to celebrate a grand opening on August 28 at Spark Social."

    You can read the entire story and see pictures here.

    KC's View:

    I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of these kind of operations, especially if staffing shortages continue to be a major problem for businesses.  

    Published on: August 24, 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…

    •  From the New York Times:

    " The Biden administration plans to offer the next generation of coronavirus booster shots to Americans 12 and older soon after Labor Day, a campaign that federal officials hope will reduce deaths from Covid-19 and protect against an expected winter surge.

    "Dr. Peter Marks, the top vaccine regulator for the Food and Drug Administration, said in an interview on Tuesday that while he could not discuss timing, his team was close to authorizing updated doses that would target the versions of the virus now circulating.

    Even though those formulations have not been tested in humans, he said, the agency has 'extremely good' data showing that the shots are safe and will be effective. 'How confident am I?' he said. 'I’m extremely confident.'

    "This week, both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech finalized their submissions to the F.D.A. asking for emergency authorization of booster shots aimed at BA.5 and another subvariant of Omicron that together account for most coronavirus cases in the United States.

    "Federal health officials say they are eager to offer the updated boosters as quickly as possible, pointing to a death toll that now averages about 450 Americans per day and could rise in the coming months as people spend more time indoors."

    I'm ready to sign up right now.  That number - 450 Americans are dying every day from Covid-19 - certainly gets my attention.  Nothing is perfect, and there are no guarantees … but I want to do whatever I can to improve my odds.  Which I believe will not just help me stay healthy, but is the responsible thing to do to try to keep people around me healthy.

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon has confirmed that it will run a Prime Day shopping event this fall, making it the second of the year.

    According to the story, "Amazon has previously held a fourth-quarter Prime Day. In 2020, it moved Prime Day from the summer to the fourth quarter after the early days of the pandemic caused an overwhelming amount of orders on its site, prompting the company to reschedule. That year, research firm Insider Intelligence estimated Amazon made about $6 billion from the event, adding to the company’s $125.5 billion in sales for the fourth quarter."

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  CNBC reports that "Starbucks has informed workers at two locations that their stores will be closing, a move that the coffee chain’s union says is retaliation for organizing efforts.

    "The company said the union activity isn’t the reason for the closures. It said a Kansas City, Missouri, location, where vote results are pending, is closing due to safety issues. It said a Seattle location, where workers voted to organize in April, will close and reopen, operated as a licensed location by a neighboring grocery store."

    However, "the union maintains some closures are about more than safety, pointing to a list of 19 Starbucks locations that have closed or are closing, with eight of them having unionized, filed or started to organize."

    “If Starbucks was serious about solving safety issues, they could work with partners and our union. Instead, Schultz and Starbucks have sent a message loud and clear — complain about safety, and we’ll close your store,” Starbucks Workers United said in a statement.

    CNBC reports that "About 200 of Starbucks’ roughly 9,000 locations in the U.S. have voted to unionize.  Under interim CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks has been focusing on the company’s reinvention and emphasizing priorities including store safety and advancement opportunities for workers. As part of the push, Starbucks closed more than a dozen stores over safety concerns, most of them on the West Coast."

    Does anyone really believe that if Starbucks were not experiencing labor strife, management would find a way to keep these stores open, and might not even entertain the possibility of closing them?  Really.  I'm asking.

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Weis Markets announced that it has hired John Driscoll - a 10-year veteran of H-E-B, where he worked in construction and project management - to be its new Vice President of Construction and Store Development.

    •  Starbucks said yesterday that it has promoted A.J. Jones II to EVP and chief communications and public affairs officer.  In May, Jones was named acting EVP, chief communications and public affairs officer, and joined Starbucks in October 2021 as SVP of global comms and public affairs.

    I'd feel bad for Jones having to deal with all the acrimony that CEO Howard Schultz seems to be creating, but he's been in the belly of the beast for awhile and knows what he's getting into.  Good luck.

    Published on: August 24, 2022

    Got the following email about the efforts by the owners of Susanville IGA to make sure that I got a chance to taste their highly touted blueberry fritters:

    Great connective move from Rick and Anna.  To go the extra mile, shows just how in touch they are with people that patron their store.  Kudos!

    On the broader subject of the differentiating power of doughnuts, one MNB reader wrote:

    Your piece on the in store donut shop struck a nerve with me.  Southern Maid Donuts in my hometown, which I live less than 5 miles from, closed a few weeks ago after over 50 years of operation, by the same husband and wife team.

    The store wasn't anything different to look at, it was the basic donut shop, nothing different about it's donuts, except they were consistently good.

    What set it apart for me was, while I wasn't in there but every couple of months or so, Layla, the wife and her husband Ron always knew me.  Layla always greeted me with a smile, a warm smile.  She knew what I got whenever I came in, and if for some reason if they were out of the kolaches I always bought, she didn't even ask, just went to the back and got me two still warm chocolate iced glazed donuts.

    I know, just the sort of thing an old fat guy needs.  But it was a small part of what my hometown was then, and small town where people knew each other.  They always made you feel special when  you went in there.

    She died of cancer a few months ago, and Ron ran the store by himself for a while until he decided it was time to retire, it wasn't the for him without her.

    Finally, one MNB reader yesterday called me "highbrow and elitist" because, when commenting on a story about food shortages in specific countries, I joked about having bought enough Sriracha to get me through the next six months.

    Prompting another MNB reader to write:

    High brow and elitist???  I think your reader was rather rude and judgmental.   I wonder how many rolls of toilet paper they stocked up on over the past years.  But I guess they were probably just being practical.