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    Published on: September 9, 2022

    Yesterday's passing of Queen Elizabeth II was a reminder, I think, that leaders are made, not born - leadership requires hard work, emotional as well as intellectual intelligence, and a commitment to duty.  Queen Elizabeth II was an example - sometimes imperfect, but still compelling - of someone who was not born to the job (her becoming queen was an accident of fate), and yet provides leadership lessons that will live on beyond her reign.

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    NBC News reports on a new Gallup survey saying that at least half of all US workers are what is known as "quiet quitters" - doing "the bare minimum of what's required from them at their jobs," consciously rejecting "the hustle culture that has dominated conversations around work and career for decades."

    Some context:

    "In a pandemic era that has physically and emotionally stretched many employees thin, some have begun to speak up about some of the indignities of the modern workplace.

    "While quiet quitting is sometimes defined as simply enforcing boundaries between work life and personal life, the Gallup survey paints a different picture. The survey attributes the decline in engagement at work to a lack of clarity about expectations, fewer opportunities to learn and grow, not feeling cared about and a disconnect with the organization’s mission or purpose, said Jim Harter, Gallup's chief scientist for workplace management."

    The survey also concludes that "there are still more workers who are engaged at work (32%) compared with people who are actively disengaged, a third category that Gallup refers to as 'loud quitters,' who make up 18% of survey respondents. They have checked out of their jobs and are not hiding it."

    This study seems right in line with issues we've been discussing this week on MNB - the fact that business leaders have a responsibility to provide clarity about a company's purpose and the employee's meaning within that framework.  Many workers are disconnected because organizations don't make an effort to connect them to the broader ecosystem, which isn't smart.  Or forward looking.  Or fiscally responsible.

    "Quiet quitting" has been getting a lot of attention in the media, but it ought to be an Eye-Opener - not about workers, but about the organizations within which many of them toil.

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    The Verge reports that "Uber Eats customers in California and Texas may soon have their takeout delivered by a driverless delivery pod after the company signed a 10-year deal with autonomous driving startup Nuro.

    "Today’s announcement is the culmination of over four years of start-and-stop negotiations between the two companies. Uber wanted to use Nuro’s vehicles to make deliveries in Houston back in 2019, but those plans never panned out. Now, the two companies have struck a decade-long deal to expand robot deliveries to more customers than ever.

    "Starting this fall, Uber and Nuro will deploy autonomous delivery vehicles in two cities: Mountain View, California, and Houston, Texas. Neither company would disclose the number of vehicles nor the expected number of customers who will participate in these early tests, but they did say they eventually hope to expand the service area to the greater Bay Area in California."

    The R2 vehicles that are part of the deal are described as "not your typical delivery robot designed only for sidewalk travel. It’s much larger, about half as wide as a compact sedan, but shorter than most cars. And there’s no room inside for human passengers or drivers, making it fully driverless in the truest sense. It has a top speed of 45 mph, making it ideal for residential travel but not allowing it to go on highways. It can carry a total of 500 lbs, with space for about 24 grocery bags in its compartments."

    KC's View:

    What's interesting about this to me is that Axios had a story the other day about how "sidewalk delivery robots are cute and cool, but pilot tests in four U.S. cities found that it takes more than smart technology for a successful deployment."  One of the most important elements is the existence of a local, supportive infrastructure … and it remains to be seen whether it sufficiently exists in the markets being targeted by Uber and Nuro.

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    Walmart announced this week that it is teaming up with UnitedHealth Group for what they call "an initial 10-year, wide-ranging collaboration, bringing together the collective expertise of both companies in serving millions of people with high-quality, affordable health services that improve health outcomes and the patient experience," especially, in the beginning, for senior citizens.

    "The collaboration will start in 2023 with 15 Walmart Health locations in Florida and Georgia and expand into new geographies over time, ultimately serving hundreds of thousands of seniors and Medicare beneficiaries in value-based arrangements through multiple Medicare Advantage plans."

    According to the announcement, United Health has a business called Optum that "will help enable Walmart Health clinicians through analytics and decision support tools to deliver comprehensive value-based care that can help drive positive health outcomes for seniors and Medicare beneficiaries. These capabilities will enhance the care already provided at Walmart Health centers, which deliver quality, accessible care through a collaborative, team-based delivery model, and will help accelerate the transition to value-based care by enabling clinicians to focus on patient outcomes."

    KC's View:

    Walmart has been in the healthcare business for a long time, but this represents a pretty aggressive move that will allow it to better compete with some of the initiatives being pushed by the likes of Amazon and CVS.  And helping seniors navigate an often-confusing system strikes me as a pretty good place to have an impact.

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    CNN has a story about how value-driven retailers - Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Walmart are cited - are taking advantage of inflation to attract higher net worth customers to their stores.

    For example, CNN reports, "Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos this week said the retail giant has been attracting customers earning $100,000 a year in recent weeks. Inflation has pushed up prices for groceries and gas, and now these shoppers are turning to Dollar General and others to try to save money."

    In normal times, the story says, Dollar General's core customer makes less than  $40,000 a year.

    "The highest trade-in that we've seen and the most robust has actually been between the $75,000 and $100,000 group," Vasos said.

    In recent years, CNN reports, Dollar General "has added more discretionary products to its shelves, such as home goods and beauty products, to attract wealthier customers.

    "The trends at Dollar General show that inflation has impacted consumers' shopping habits across multiple income levels, and it's not the only company benefiting from the shift … Rivals Dollar Tree and Walmart have also noted that they're seeing more higher-income consumers in their stores.

    "Dollar Tree CEO Mike Witynski last month said that the bulk of the chain's new customers in the past year have an annual household income over $80,000.

    "And Walmart CFO John David Rainey told CNBC last month that about three-quarters of the company's second quarter market share gains in food came from customers with annual household incomes of $100,000 or more."

    KC's View:

    There's been no question that chains like these are well-positioned to take advantage of shoppers' heightened price sensitivity.

    The question is whether, when things go back to normal - whatever the hell "normal" means anymore - these retailers will be able to hold onto any of these high net worth customers.

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    •  Southeastern Grocers Inc. (SEG), parent company to Winn-Dixie, Harveys and and Fresco y Más, announced that it will "soon offer a new, convenient means to shop for groceries online that will also allow customers to enjoy the same prices as shopping in store. Starting in October, customers can utilize SEG’s proprietary new offering to shop their local Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarket stores online and have their groceries delivered right to them in as little as two hours with the benefit of in-store deals and promotions. For added convenience, customers will be able to pick up their groceries curbside at their preferred store beginning early 2023. 

    "SEG’s proprietary new offering will allow customers to conveniently shop for their groceries online through the Winn-Dixie or Harveys Supermarket app or website and receive their order in two hours or less fulfilled exclusively by DoorDash Drive, DoorDash’s white label fulfillment platform."



    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Amazon.com Chief Executive Andy Jassy said his company is slowing down the rate at which it is hiring new employees after the pandemic boom may have led to overexpansion.

    "Amazon went on a massive hiring spree in recent years to keep up with the customer demand and most of that growth was in the company’s fulfillment networks. Mr. Jassy told a conference that the company will likely be scaling back on that rate of hiring."

    The move comes as Jassy has "attempted to shed some warehouse space by subletting it out as well as deferring the construction of new warehouses. Mr. Jassy has also closed down many of the company’s bricks-and-mortar retail stores."

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week fell to its lowest level since May despite repeated attempts by the Federal Reserve to cool the economy and bring inflation under control.

    "Applications for jobless aid for the week ending Sept. 3 fell by 6,000 to 222,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications generally reflect layoffs.

    The four-week average for claims, which smooths out some of the weekly ups and downs, declined by 7,500 to 233,000.

    "The number of Americans collecting traditional unemployment benefits rose by 36,000 the week that ended Aug. 27, to 1.47 million."



    •  From Bloomberg:

    "US household spending rose more than twice as fast as incomes last year, with consumers splashing out on food and entertainment after pandemic lockdowns eased, according to data published Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    "The average income per consumer unit, before taxes, rose 3.7 percent to $87,432 in 2021 while spending jumped 9.1 percent to $66,928, the BLS said in its annual study of expenditures. A consumer unit is a family or other household group that shares its finances. Inflation over the period averaged 4.7 percent, the BLS said. That means incomes failed to keep up with the rising cost of living while spending outpaced it.

    "The biggest increase among the major categories was in outlays on entertainment, which rose 23 percent in 2021 to surpass pre-pandemic levels in dollar terms. Food and transportation accounted for a bigger share of household budgets than they did in 2020, reflecting higher prices for gasoline and other staple commodities."

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    I did a FaceTime video the other day defending the idea that people, whatever their age or experience, are entitled to feel like they are doing meaningful work, and that leaders ought to consider helping them feel that way as part of their portfolios.  The video was prompted by an interview with just-retired Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who said that younger people "don't seem like they want to work" partly because they want meaningful jobs.  "You can't expect to start with meaningful work. You're going to have to earn it," he said.

    MNB reader Douglas Madenberg agreed with me:

    KC what a fantastic POV in your FaceTime segment on meaningful work.  Should be required listening for every food retailer.

    Supermarkets are uniquely challenged because of the high proportion of “entry level” jobs, usually filled by teens and young adults who are green enough to hope (in this market, expect) to spend their working hours doing something meaningful.  And as you point out, good for them!  A huge advantage in the grocery business is the fact that we are feeding communities, nourishing kids, bringing families together, making people healthier without prescriptions.  If a food retailer isn’t making that connection to every single store and corporate job, then that’s probably the foundational problem.

    To make your point: we’ve surveyed thousands of supermarket employees since Covid, and the NUMBER ONE item correlated with being a GREAT place to work is… My job is personally rewarding. And BTW my general experience with Whole Foods, even since the acquisition, is that their employees seem pretty committed to their work.  John Mackey may be just too far removed at this point to bleed that spirit like he once did.  I bet he’d take a mulligan on these comments.

    You have more faith in Mackey that I do.  I think he'd double-down.



    We had an email from MNB reader Patrick Smith in which he talked about how the economic model, as well as the entrepreneurial culture, have changed at many companies - he recalled that when he started in the food industry, in 1964, his store manager "made $42,000, much of it from bonuses."

    This prompted another MNB reader to write:

    Yikes, 1964 salary of $42,000 in 2022 dollars is $401,406.19.

    Yikes is right.



    Responding to yesterday's interview with Bruce Mehlman, a Washington lawyer and insider who next month will be a keynote speakers at the National Grocers Association (NGA) Executive Conference and Public Policy Summit, on the subject of "the shifting political landscape," one MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin, that was well done. A very timely message and somewhat encouraging as well. Thank you.

    My pleasure.

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    In Thursday Night Football action, inaugurating the new National Football League (NFL) season, the Buffalo Bills defeated the Los Angeles Rams 31-10.

    Published on: September 9, 2022

    There have been a plethora of trailers this week that have grabbed my attention.  First among them was one for Confess, Fletch, an effort to reboot the Fletch movies that Chevy Chase did back in the eighties.  I had a middling opinion of the movies, but was a huge fan of the Gregory Mcdonald novels on which they were based, and so I've always hoped that someone would come along and take another shot.

    It ends up that the someone is Jon Hamm, and from the looks of the trailer, it is possible that they may actually get it right - Hamm has the right amount of cynicism and irony without Chase's unctuous, smug demeanor.  I can hope … and if nothing else, I may have to dig some of my old "Fletch" novels out of the storage facility.



    I also was a big fan of  Knives Out a few years ago, with was Rian Johnson's successful effort to do an Agatha Christie-style mystery, featuring an all-star cast of suspects, and Daniel Craig as a southern fried detective named Benoit Blanc.  I loved every moment of it, especially because it took the mystery seriously without taking itself too seriously.  Knives Out was a hoot.

    Now comes a sequel:  Glass Onion, A Knives Out Mystery, with Johnson returning as writer-director and Craig back as Benoit Blanc.  It looks like it has the potential to be another hoot, with lots of stars as suspects, gorgeous scenery, and a tone that reminds me of The Last of Sheila (1973), one of my favorite movies in the genre, written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim.

    Can't wait.



    And, speaking of can't wait … the trailer for the third and final season of "Star Trek: Picard" is out …



    Discovered a new rosé the other day - the Seaglass 2019, from Monterey County, which is light in the mouth but a great accompaniment with with seafood and maybe a light pasta dish.  Happy to have a bunch of these in the fridge, just waiting for a warm day and an excuse.



    That's it for this week.  Hope you have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Sláinte!