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    Published on: September 16, 2022

    On Saturday mornings, my heart turns to visions of a breakfast burrito - not just any breakfast burrito, but one made and served by Enchanted Sun, a longtime vendor at the weekly Farmer's Market held on Saturdays on the campus of Portland State University in Oregon.  Visions of scrambled eggs, green chiles, cheese, potatoes, and bacon, all served on an enormous flour tortilla, dance in my head.  The problem - I haven't been in Portland on a Saturday since 2019.  But that changed last weekend … and even (of course) suggested a business lesson.

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    Axios reports on new research from Bully Pulpit Interactive concluding that "fifty percent of employees are actively looking for new jobs," and that "only 30% of people are excited to tell others where they work."

    The story says that "most leave because they don’t feel connected to the company’s mission, values or strategy," and that while seven out of 10 say that "the amount of communication they receive is about right, but roughly half say it lacks substance — which is a sure-fire way to lose them."

    Axios argues that "employees are the best, most authentic spokespeople for the brand, and they must be viewed as a prized audience," which means that "to effectively reach them, you have to put in the same amount of effort you would give an external campaign — one that is tightly messaged and micro-targeted."

    KC's View:

    This is something that we've been talking about a lot here lately - the need for business leaders to create cultures of caring that communicate to employees the context in which their companies operate and giving them a sense of why their jobs are meaningful.  If you want to reduce turnover and the number of employees who would be happy to work someplace else, this strikes me as a way to start.

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    Kroger said yesterday that it is engaged in "a new collaboration that provides financial counseling opportunities for its associates … piloting a new program to expand its work with Goldman Sachs Ayco to support associates seeking to achieve their financial goals."

    According to Kroger, "Salaried and hourly associates will be able to access financial coaches and supportive programming. In addition to online tools and resources, this free and confidential service will provide associates with one-on-one financial coaches who have been trained to help associates look at their total financial picture and advise on financial decisions.

    "Each associate can create a savings plan, learn how to avoid common financial pitfalls and explore opportunities to maximize all available company benefits. Associates will be able to review and track their progress toward achieving their financial goals with support from trained financial coaches. These coaches can counsel associates who are looking to achieve a variety of goals, from buying a home and paying down debt to managing estate planning."

    "With six generations making up our workforce, we know our associates are in different places on their financial journey," said Tim Massa, the company's Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer at Kroger, adding, "Our work with Ayco is just one way we are creating a place where our associates can feed their future and reach their full potential."  

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a New York Times story about Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, and how, "rather than selling the company or taking it public, Mr. Chouinard, his wife and two adult children have transferred their ownership of Patagonia, valued at about $3 billion, to a specially designed trust and a nonprofit organization. They were created to preserve the company’s independence and ensure that all of its profits - some $100 million a year - are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe."

    Yesterday, Chouinard sent out an email to Patagonia's customers with the subject line, "Meet Our New Owner," in which he explained the decision.  It is remarkable in both its style and content, and worth reading:

    I never wanted to be a businessman. I started as a craftsman, making climbing gear for my friends and myself, then got into apparel. As we began to witness the extent of global warming and ecological destruction, and our own contribution to it, Patagonia committed to using our company to change the way business was done. If we could do the right thing while making enough to pay the bills, we could influence customers and other businesses, and maybe change the system along the way.

    We started with our products, using materials that caused less harm to the environment. We gave away 1% of sales each year. We became a certified B Corp and a California benefit corporation, writing our values into our corporate charter so they would be preserved. More recently, in 2018, we changed the company’s purpose to: We’re in business to save our home planet.

    While we’re doing our best to address the environmental crisis, it’s not enough. We needed to find a way to put more money into fighting the crisis while keeping the company’s values intact.

    One option was to sell Patagonia and donate all the money. But we couldn’t be sure a new owner would maintain our values or keep our team of people around the world employed.

    Another path was to take the company public. What a disaster that would have been. Even public companies with good intentions are under too much pressure to create short-term gain at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility.

    Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our own.

    Instead of “going public,” you could say we’re “going purpose.” Instead of extracting value from nature and transforming it into wealth for investors, we’ll use the wealth Patagonia creates to protect the source of all wealth.

    Here’s how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.

    It’s been nearly 50 years since we began our experiment in responsible business, and we are just getting started. If we have any hope of a thriving planet - much less a thriving business - 50 years from now, it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is another way we’ve found to do our part.

    Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits. But it’s also resilient. We can save our planet if we commit to it.

    KC's View:

    A remarkable email, I think, by someone who is literally putting his money where his mouth is.

    Published on: September 16, 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 US now has had 97,430,411 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 1,078,018 deaths and 93,705,279 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 616,240,937 total cases, with 6,526,195 resultant fatalities and 595,439,686 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 79.3 percent of the total US population now has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 67.7 percent. being fully vaccinated.  The CDC also says that 48.6 percent of the total US population has received a first vaccine booster dose, with 34.7 percent of the 50+  population and 41.9 percent of the 65+ population having received a second vaccine booster shot.

    • Ipsos and Axios are out with their latest Coronavirus Index, which finds that the country has largely — though not completely — moved on from the pandemic. "The perceived risk the virus poses in Americans’ minds has steadily declined since the Omicron surge in the winter of 2022, and Americans have continued to engage in out-of-home behaviors despite cases rising in the beginning of the summer.

    "The poll also finds that the vast majority of Americans believe COVID-19 changed Americans’ lives forever, but that we are now in a better place than we were a year ago. Many also report feeling optimistic about their health, home life, and finances.

    Finally, while Americans support ending government mandated COVID restrictions, they support the (now defunct) federally funded at-home testing program and free access to vaccines and treatment."

    Specifically:  "The share of Americans who report being concerned about COVID-19 (57%) is among the lowest captured throughout the pandemic. Of those who are concerned, a plurality is more concerned about spreading the virus to people who are at higher risk of serious illness (28%) than for themselves, whether it’s developing long COVID (18%), being hospitalized (12%), or dying (11%).

    "Nearly two in three (65%) say there is a small risk or no risk in returning to their normal, pre-COVID life.

    "More Americans now say they already have returned to their normal, pre-COVID life (46%) than at any point during the pandemic.

    "Still, just 11% say there is no risk of them contracting COVID."

    And, Ipsos goes on:  "A large majority of Americans agree that we will never fully be rid of the virus in their lifetime (85%) and that COVID-19 changed Americans’ lives forever (88%).  At the same time, 82% say we are in a better place than we were a year ago when it comes to COVID.

    "Many describe different aspects of their life as good, such as their home and home life (90%), mental health (85%), emotional wellbeing (84%), physical health (83%), and personal finances (78%)."

    I find some of mask attitudes in the study particularly interesting:  "Roughly half report wearing masks at all times or sometimes when on an airplane (48%) … Fewer report wearing masks at all times or sometimes when on public transportation or in a rideshare (39%) … Finally, the lowest share of Americans report wearing masks at all times or sometimes in grocery stores (33%) and when walking into a restaurant to dine indoors (27%) … Of people who say they wear a mask at all times, sometimes, or occasionally, nearly one in five (19%) report worrying how other people view them because of their mask.

    I would be one of those people who wears a mask when I go to the store, walk through an airport, or sit on a plane.  Not as religiously as I once did, but the vast majority of the time.  I have no problem getting up in front of audiences without wearing a mask, largely because a) it is how I make a living, and b) I'm trusting the vaccines and boosters I've gotten to protect me from serious illness.  I've been lucky to this point, and I'd rather not push it … plus, I believe in what Branch Rickey once said:  "Luck is the residue of design."

    And, for the record, I don't give a damn how other people view me if I'm wearing a mask in a store or on an airplane.

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that FedEx is "closing offices and parking aircraft to offset declining volumes of packages moving around the world … Chief Executive Raj Subramaniam, who took over in June, said he was taking actions to reduce costs including freezing hiring, closing 90 FedEx Office locations, parking some cargo aircraft, reducing Sunday ground operations and closing five corporate offices. FedEx didn’t say if it was cutting its workforce."

    •  The Chicago Sun Times reports this morning that the Chicago City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection has approved an ordinance that will enable two-year test of "robotic personal delivery devices described as 'beverage coolers on wheels' (that) will soon be delivering more restaurant meals and groceries in and around the campus of the University of Illinois Chicago."

    Starship Technologies, the story says, "was authorized to conduct a two-year pilot in an area bounded by Halsted Street, Ogden Avenue, Roosevelt Road and the Eisenhower Expressway."  The vehicles weigh just 75 pounds without product, and have a top speed of four miles per hour;  they've been used in test mode on campus for some time, and this represents an expansion of the pilot.

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    •  The Associated Press reports that "the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell again last week to a four-month low even as the Federal Reserve continues its aggressive interest rate cuts to bring inflation under control.

    "Applications for jobless aid for the week ending Sept. 10 fell by 5,000 to 213,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That’s the fewest since late May … The four-week average for claims, which offsets some of the weekly volatility, fell by 8,000 to 224,000.

    "The number of Americans collecting traditional unemployment benefits inched up by 2,000 for the week that ended Sept. 3, to 1.4 million."

    •  Bloomberg reports that McDonald's has decided to move its innovation center from the Chicago suburbs to the city's downtown, describing it as "a big bet on the city that comes as other high-profile companies flee the area’s high taxes and crime … The move to bring more workers to the third-largest city in the US follows announced departures from Boeing Inc. and billionaire Ken Griffin’s hedge fund, Citadel. Chicago’s appeal has been eroded by high taxes, an indebted government and systemic segregation that has contributed to crime."

    However, CEO Chris Kempczinski said that the confidence in the city is not unconditional:  "“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to operate a global business out of Chicago and Illinois … There is a general sense out there that our city is in crisis."  Kempczinski, the story says, "called on Chicago to tackle crime while improving its business environment and infrastructure such as roads, railways and schools."

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    We reported yesterday that the state of California yesterday filed a lawsuit against Amazon on antitrust grounds, charging that the online retailer stifles competition by penalizing sellers for offering products elsewhere for lower prices.

    MNB reader Tom Murphy replied:

    Nothing new in the market on this.  Walmart and Kroger have for years forbidden vendors from offering lower product costs than their contracts…this is just the next extension.

    Unfortunately, liberal and conservative politicians alike don’t understand the retail economy and marketplace at all, so they do what they normally do…shoot off the mouth for soundbites and shoot from the hip on policy.

    I wrote the other day that it didn't seem to me like Starbucks' stated desire to open thousands of new stores in the next few years was the best strategy - after all, how many people walk about places of any real size and say, what this place needs is more Starbucks?

    MNB reader Mark Baker responded:

    I kind of agree with your sentiments on the addition of more Starbucks locations, but here in the middle of the country (Jefferson City, MO to be specific) we received our first stand-alone Starbucks only in the last 5 years.  In the meantime, there’s chains like 7 Brew and Scooters throwing up drive-thru only locations in every free out lot they can find.  My guess is that Starbucks is trying to head off the loss of customers to these newer, more convenient options.  They’re quickly losing the status and cachet they once had by becoming largely a drive-thru option.

    In the middle of the country there aren’t nearly as many SBUX locations around as there are on the coasts.  What we joke about around here is the fact that Dollar General locations are popping up in locations that aren’t even populated!  I honestly don’t know who is around to even shop at all of them!

    On the subject of Wegmans announcing the end of the company's SCAN app, which allowed customers to scan their groceries as they shopped the store, because of "losses," one MNB reader wrote:

    My view is that there is a high degree of theft, even in "tony" towns and cities. People steal not because they have to, but because they can. It's very simple to not scan an item. My wife sees this constantly at self checkouts at the Shaw's she works at. The solution? Have enough checkouts, cashiers, and baggers, like Market Basket. They don't even have self checkouts.

    Not sure that was the case at Wegmans, but I agree they could have communicated it better, maybe phase it out over time, not a couple of weeks. I'm sure Wegmans will make it right.

    We had a story yesterday about a new bio-engineered purple tomato that has been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for growth and cultivation in the US. and that reportedly has certain health benefits.  I commented:

    If you tell me that purple tomatoes  may help prevent cancer, reduce inflammation, and protect against type 2 diabetes, and add that to the fact that tomatoes are one of my favorite foods, I'm pretty much all in.” 

    Prompting MNB reader Carl Jorgensen to write:

    Like so many genetically engineered foods before it, the new purple tomato is making wonderful promises, which you appear to accept at face value.  The reality is that, time and time again, the promises of GMO foods have not been fulfilled. The promises of higher yields, better nutrition, friendlier to the environment, drought-tolerant, etc. have turned out to be hollow. Traditional crop breeding can produce all of these benefits with greatly reduced risk of unintended consequences. What is the purpose of genetically engineered food? Patents and profits. Sorry to be so cynical, but as each new wonder food and new GMO technology like gene editing and synthetic biology is announced, we forget the dismal history of thinking we’re smarter than nature.

    I also commented:

    I wonder how they'll taste on "a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe."

    Which led MNB reader Steve Burbridge to write:

    It's "inconceivable" that I would eat a purple tomato unless I am only "mostly dead."

    Extra credit to Steve.

    And finally, regarding my piece yesterday about NewSeasons, one MNB reader wrote:

    About 3 years ago, New Seasons opened an outstanding market in the Ballard neighborhood of northwest Seattle.  Easily one of the best I have ever seen; unfortunately, within a three-square block area you had 3 established signature stores by PCC, Trader Joe’s, and Fred Meyer as well as a “serviceable” Safeway.  The result - store closed about a year later.

    Hope new money and leadership brings a better business development and real estate team!  Would love this store in my neighborhood…although we have a Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market nearby as well! 

    And, from another reader:

    One of the things that sets New Seasons apart from many other grocers are the upbeat, positive and helpful team members. Always willing to help. That great attitude must come from the top and it’s a credit to the management.

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    •  Roger Federer, the all-time tennis great who won 20 major titles in his 24-year career, announced yesterday that he is retiring.  His wins include eight Wimbledon championships, six Australian Opens, five U.S. Opens, and one French Open, as well as an Olympic doubles gold medal for Switzerland.

    •  In Thursday Night Football, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 27-24

    KC's View:

    Last night's football game was the first exclusively streamed on Amazon Prime Video and from what I could tell - I didn't watch the whole game, as I flipped back and forth between it and the Mets game on Fox - the production values seemed as high as when the game used to be on broadcast television.  I thought that Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit were fine (though I missed Chris Collinsworth), and the pregame show was fine.  I gather that some folks had audio issues, but I didn't notice any.  My only issue was that there seemed to be a lot of pumping up Amazon during the coverage, which didn't seem necessary … but I suppose that some of that is to be expected.

    We'd better get used to it. I think there will be a lot of major (and minor) sports events on streaming services before too long.  These services have money to spend, and a desire for differentiated content.

    Published on: September 16, 2022

    I've had the chance over the last week or two to catch up with two of the summer's "blockbusters," Jurassic World:  Dominion and Thor:  Love & Thunder, two movies that I think were generally viewed as being the best case for getting people back into theaters.

    To be fair, they did get some folks back into theaters, though not me - I waited to see them at home.  Which is a major shift for me, since I used to see dozens of movies int theaters every year.  

    In the end, I wasn't really sorry I waited.  Both movies were, to me, kind of boring.  Lots of spectacle, some amusing plot turns, a few good performances, but nothing particularly unique.  (Which actually makes sense, since they're both sequels.)

    The best thing about Jurassic World:  Dominion is that it brings back Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, the three stars of the original Jurassic Park - and while they're not given a ton of stuff to do, seeing them is like seeing old friends.  The only problem is that they are a stark reminder that the stars of the Jurassic World franchise, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, are sort of the B-team.

    Thor: Love & Thunder has a different problem.  Original stars Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman have tons of charisma, but they're sort of saddled with a "who cares?" plot that can't support the repartee;  Christian Bale, as the bad guy, does what seems like an extended cameo that doesn't deserve someone of his talents.

    Both movies, as I watched them, seemed more like money grabs than anything else - cashing in on known IP without bring anything new or original to the table.  That's a shame, and if moviemakers find themselves bemoaning the fact that not enough people go to movie theaters and wondering why, they'll have to look no farther than their mirrors.

    Sometimes a sequel can be like comfort food, which is just how I would describe Mike Lupica's newest entry in Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series.  Filling, reasonably nutritious, with flavors that make us fondly remember other experiences, "Fallout" is the 22nd book in the series and Lupica's third effort.  I think he's getting better with time - the plotting is a little more involved, and he's clearing out some of the clutter that was created in the past (the adult son Jesse didn't know existed?) and focusing on murders in the town of Paradise, Massachusetts - which is always where the Jesse Stone books have been at their best.

    This time, there are two murders - one of a high school shortstop Jess was mentoring (Jesse is a former minor league ballplayer) and one of a former Paradise police chief who was investigating an apparent scam being run by a telemarketer.  The dialogue is crisp, and "Robert B. Parker's Fallout" is an entertaining read - which is exactly what it should be, at home, in a comfortable chair, with a nice glass of wine to wash it down.

    My wine of the week is the 2021 Luigi Giordano Rosato, which I had this week at Portland's Piazza Italia only because they didn't have my favorite Chiaretto in stock.  No matter - I ordered my favorite dish, Spaghetti al Tonno (which I try to replicate at home to varying degrees of success, though it never is quite as good), and enjoyed a couple of glasses of Rosato - light enough for a summer night, but juicy enough to hold up to the pasta.


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