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    Published on: November 3, 2022

    A recent New York Times piece about climate change, which was both hopeful and alarmist about our future on this planet, nonetheless had one small item embedded in that filled me with wonder, persuading me that maybe we actually can do anything.

    BTW…if you're interested in the entire Times piece, click here.

    Published on: November 3, 2022

    Got a statement yesterday from critical issues firm Brunswick Group, detailing Albertsons' response to our story about Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filing a lawsuit to prevent Albertsons from paying investors a $4 billion dividend in advance of the company's proposed merger with Kroger:

    “The lawsuit brought by the Washington State Attorney General is meritless and provides no legal basis for canceling or postponing a dividend that has been duly and unanimously approved by Albertsons Cos.’ fully informed Board of Directors. As Albertsons Cos. stated publicly when it announced its Board-led review of strategic alternatives in February, capital return strategies were among the potential options to enhance growth and maximize shareholder value. The special dividend announced on October 14 is the means by which we are independently executing our longstanding capital return strategy and is scheduled to be paid to Albertsons Cos.’ stockholders on November 7. It is not contingent on our merger with Kroger and is not in any way a condition to Albertsons Cos.’ or Kroger’s obligation to consummate the proposed merger  – it will be paid regardless of whether the merger is completed. The allegation that this dividend will somehow hinder our ability to compete in the marketplace is also meritless. Given our financial strength and positive business outlook, we are confident that we will maintain our strong financial position as we work toward the closing of the merger. Additionally, payment of the special dividend will not hinder Albertsons Cos.’ ability to continue investing in our stores and technology to provide an even better shopping experience while we continue to operate as an independent company, and it will not impact the agreements that we have made with unions representing our associates to increase wages and benefits. Our planned combination with Kroger will provide significant benefits to consumers, associates, and communities and offers a compelling alternative to larger and non-union competitors.”

    KC's View:


    We'll see how this plays out in court.  Or, maybe I should say "courts," since in addition to the Washington State AG's state court suit, yesterday the attorneys general of California, Illinois and Washington, DC, all filed a suit in US District Court to delay any dividend until the proposed merger can be reviewed.

    Published on: November 3, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Instacart plans to "pay out its first companywide cash bonuses starting in December … as the grocery delivery provider aims to motivate staff after delaying its initial public offering."

    The Journal notes that "the cash bonus is a shift in the company’s efforts to reward and retain employees. Instacart has historically given out equity rewards to boost retention."

    Retention may be on the company's mind, as The Information reports that "Instacart’s vice president of ad sales, Ryan Mayward, has left the company to join Walmart … He’s the third senior advertising executive to leave Instacart in just over a year, calling into question whether CEO Fidji Simo will be able to achieve her advertising ambitions for the delivery app.

    "The departure comes less than two weeks after the grocery delivery firm told employees that it would postpone going public, which it had been expected to do by the end of the year."

    Mayward's role at Walmart is SVP of Sales.  Before going to Instacart as VP of Ad Sales less than two years ago, he was a sales director at Amazon for nine years.

    KC's View:

    I'm going to be honest here - I have very little interest in the Instacart IPO.  I know it is important, and will be a barometer of the company's ability to succeed long term.

    But I'm much more interested in Instacart's repositioning of itself as a technology company in service to building the brands of its client retailers.  Longtime MNB readers know that I've always had a certain skepticism about the decisions retailers were making, giving up valuable assets - like their customer data - in exchange for an e-commerce solution.

    My sense is that Instacart is trying to address this issue.  (Not because I kept talking about it.  There is new leadership at the company that seems to have different priorities from the old leadership.)

    I have no idea of the Mayward departure for Walmart will have any significant impact on Instacart, but I do think it is doing the right thing in finding ways to reward employees.  That's smart - it isn't the employees' fault that the IPO has been delayed, and finding a way to compensate them for the delay strikes me as demonstrating a level of EQ.

    Published on: November 3, 2022

    Yahoo Finance reports that "Thanksgiving dinner essentials like turkey, cranberries and potatoes are more expensive than ever, leaving many Americans to wonder if it'd be cheaper to dine out."

     Brad Rubin, Wells Fargo Food and Agribusiness Sector Manager of Specialty Crops, says that "for that smaller family [of four] going out this year, which may be considered sort of a luxury for most, might actually have a lot of value there. Obviously, if you have a much larger family, economies of scale are at play, making the meal was probably going to be more economical in that particular instance."

    The story says that "in November 2021, the cost to dine out increased at a slower rate, up 5.79%, compared to the price of groceries, up 9.81%. This year the overall cost of a Thanksgiving basket costs 14.9% more than November 2021, per data pulled by Wells Fargo from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's compared to the cost of dining out at some sort of restaurant for a Thanksgiving meal, up 5.8% in August from November 2021.

    "Beginning with the 'star' of Thanksgiving — the turkey — customers can expect it to cost 23% more than last year, according to recent report from the USDA Economic Research Service. Per a pound, customers can likely expect to spend $1.64 per pound for a frozen whole-hen that that ranges from 8 to 16 pounds."

    KC's View:

    These stories continue to make me nuts.

    Yes, food bought at the grocery store may have increased in cost more than food bought at a restaurant.  But … you buy a decent sized turkey, and you have leftovers that may feed you for another day or two.  Same goes for potatoes and stuffing and cranberry sauce.

    Supermarkets have to start getting aggressive about battling this perception, before it gets out of hand.  They can't allow Wells Fargo and the restaurant industry to define the terms of the argument.

    Published on: November 3, 2022

    •  The Seattle Times reports that "Amazon is parking its Treasure Truck, a fleet of roving vans that offer constantly changing daily discounts on items ranging from steaks to paddleboards."

    The story says that "Amazon started driving its Treasure Truck around Seattle for a 2015 pilot program before expanding to other cities in 2017. Customers could use Amazon’s smartphone app to sign up for texts describing each day’s deal and, if interested, make a quick purchase. Through its tenure, the program advertised offers like 64% off GoPro cameras and nearly $400 off paddleboards."

    Amazon "circulated a message Tuesday alerting customers the promotion would no longer be available by Wednesday. That day’s deal — a $19.99 Schitt’s Creek-themed party game — would be the last."

    “Treasure Truck was a unique way to bring customers exciting deals directly to their neighborhood,” Amazon spokesperson Betsy Harden said. “In 2020, we moved those deals online and the feedback from customers was great. We’ll continue to offer customers new deals every day on”

    •  Axios reports that "Amazon Prime members can now listen to 100 million songs and an assortment of podcasts without paying more as part of a benefit upgrade announced Tuesday … The expanded Amazon Music benefit, a massive increase from 2 million shuffle-free songs, comes after Walmart added Paramount+ and Spotify Premium to its Walmart+ subscription … With the change that is now in effect, Amazon said Prime members 'can shuffle play any artist, album or playlist' and have on-demand access to top podcasts without ads."

    The story notes that Amazon continues to add value to Prime memberships as a way of driving sales.  Its "push into sports streaming with NFL Thursday Night Football and original content with 'Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power' drove record levels of Prime membership signups, the retail giant's CFO Brian Olsavsky said on the company's earnings call."

    •  The Athletic  reports that "Overtime Elite, the company that has earned intrigue by launching a basketball league from scratch last year and shocking the sport’s ecosystem by signing and paying highly ranked high school players, has signed a media rights deal with Amazon Prime. The streaming network will air 20 OTE games in each of the next three seasons. Here’s what you need to know:

    "The contract, the first media rights deal for the league, furthers Amazon’s dip into live sports.

    "This deal will give a large platform for Overtime Elite, where viewers can watch two potential top-10 NBA draft picks and other young, promising players.

    "Amazon has invested in Overtime for the company’s Series D funding round.  Amazon will also air an Overtime season-long unscripted series in the middle of next year."

    Published on: November 3, 2022

    •  MarketWatch reports that "the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits at the end of October fell slightly to 217,000 and clung near pandemic lows, signaling the labor market is still historically tight and shows little sign of slackening."

    •  From CNBC:

    "Private payroll growth held strong in October while worker pay rose as well, particularly in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to a report Wednesday from payroll processing firm ADP.

    "Companies added 239,000 positions for the month, ahead of the Dow Jones estimate of 195,000 and better than the downwardly revised 192,000 in September. Wages increased 7.7% on an annual basis, down 0.1 percentage point from the previous month.

    Job gains were especially strong in the pivotal leisure and hospitality sector, which added 210,000 positions while wage growth accelerated 11.2%. The industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, bars and related businesses, is seen as a bellwether as it took the hardest Covid hit and is still below pre-pandemic levels."

    •  A majority stake in specialty foods distributor Lipari Foods has been sold to a group led by private investment firm Littlejohn & Co., though the Lipari family, management, H.I.G. Capital, and Sterling Investment Partners will remain as minority investors.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    •  AdWeek reports that as Netflix launches its ad-supported tier today, the first beer ad will be one bought by Anheuser Busch InBev.

    According to the story, "Viewers aged 21 and over using the ad-supported experience will first see two 15-second spots for Michelob Ultra - 'H.O.R.S.E.' and 'Last 100m' - followed by a 30-second commercial for Bud Light, titled ;Easy to Enjoy.'  Both brands are using existing creative."

    AdWeek writes that Netflix had "limited inventory," but also banned certain kinds of commercials, such as political and policy-related ads.

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that "In-N-Out Burger is known for making each double-double fresh to order for customers, but the California burger joint is already prepping for its 75th birthday bash nearly a year in advance.

    "Billionaire owner and heiress Lynsi Snyder announced the Oct. 22, 2023, festival on Tuesday in a video posted to In-N-Out Burger’s website.

    “We’re having a giant shindig at Pomona Raceway,” she said. “We’re going to have drag racing. We’re going to have a car show. We’re going to have concerts. We’re going to have food, fun. ... You’re not going to want to miss it.”

    The Times writes that "the drag strip at the Pomona Raceway — officially titled the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona — will be renamed in 2023 the In-N-Out Burger Pomona Dragstrip, Snyder said, adding that her father used to take her to the racetrack when she was a child."

    Published on: November 3, 2022

    Yesterday, we took note of a New York Times story about how advertisers are nervous about Elon Musk's ownership of Twitter, which isn't a good thing, since ads provide about 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue:  ""IPG, one of the world’s largest advertising companies, issued a recommendation on Monday through its media agencies for clients to temporarily pause their spending on Twitter because of moderation concerns."

    I commented:

    Twitter is going to be a real s-show under Musk.  No question in my mind.  He may be brilliant, but he's also a lunatic with a warped sense of responsibility and an apparent willingness to use social media to spread misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies.

    Got lots of response to this.

    MNB reader Mike Springer wrote:

    KC – my first response to your comments on Twitter (Turmoil in the Social Media Space) was Wow!  “…misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies”  Really?  Nice liberal hypocrisy.  Kind of thought you might be a little less slanted than that.  Not a good thing for any of us when the group in power (whoever it is) thinks they can define what’s “misinformation” and what’s not.  Why not allow the platforms of free speech and let the people decide.  Must admit though, it’s been fun to see the left-wingers lose their minds over this.

    I'll get to the larger issue in a moment, but for now, I'd just like to point out that what you described as "slanted" was in my commentary - the whole point is that it is perspective.

    From another MNB reader:

    Nobody is being forced to read those tweets.  If a politically-incorrect opinion falls on Twitter and you don't read it, it didn't make a sound.

    And from another:

    Interesting that the 1st Amendment – in your hands – affords you the privilege to offer your personal point-of-view and debate any issue of your choosing on your MNB social media platform…..but the 1st Amendment evidently doesn’t apply to Elon Musk and his platform because Twitter is going to be a s-show where he will spread misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies. As if that isn’t already being done by our social media overlords working hand-in-hand with the government to cull out anything the administration deems to be misinformation, disinformation, or an outright lie.

    Are we to conclude that your POV on the 1st Amendment is “Free speech for me, but not for thee”? Please explain how and why the rules that govern Twitter should be different than those that apply to MNB.

    After getting these emails, I went back to my commentary just to see if somehow I'd written something that I didn't remember.

    I'm going to repeat my 45-word commentary here, just for emphasis:

    Twitter is going to be a real s-show under Musk.  No question in my mind.  He may be brilliant, but he's also a lunatic with a warped sense of responsibility and an apparent willingness to use social media to spread misinformation, disinformation, and outright lies.

    Opinionated?  Sure.  Provocative, especially if you disagree with me?  Absolutely.  Defensible?  I think so … though people who disagree with me probably would think not.

    But here's what I didn't do in that commentary.

    I didn't suggest that Musk ought to be put out of business because of his opinions.  I didn't suggest that violence should be sanctioned against Twitter's physical plants, nor its management and leadership.  I didn't suggest that people who post on Twitter did not have a right to free speech.

    I also wasn't homophobic or anti-Semitic, nor did I repost anything homophobic or anti-Semitic.

    (I didn't even point out that Musk just spent $44 billion to buy a company that most experts say is worth a fraction of that, and in doing so may be putting his other major company, Tesla, at risk.  Seems to me that qualifies as a s-show, especially if advertisers bail and he loses a significant amount of his revenue.  If I were an advertiser, I wouldn't want to be on Twitter.)

    Here's what I would suggest:  I think there ought to be laws in this country assuring that if anyone posts something online in social media that directly encourages violence, or can legitimately be found to have encouraged violence, the people who post that stuff and the social media companies that gave these statements oxygen ought to be culpable.  That's regardless of the side of the aisle one is on.

    I actually like the free exchange of ideas.  I just think that people ought to responsible for what they say.  To use an old trope, you don't get to yell fire in a crowded theater.  If you work in a bar and over-serve someone, who then gets in a car and causes an accident, you have some responsibility.

    Media companies can be sued.  Social media companies ought to be held to the same standard.

    None of this seems particularly radical to me.

    BTW … The rules that govern MNB are pretty simple.

    Best I can, news is separate from commentary and easily distinguished.

    I moderate every conversation.

    I try not to allow things to get personal. I also try never to take things personally.  When I make a mistake, I admit it.  I also try not to be hypocritical, but hey, I'm only human.

    While other folks are allowed to not have their names attached to what they say (which I encourage because it permits candid  conversations without people getting fired), I won't post wanton or irresponsible attacks that are anonymous.  In fact, I don't post wanton or personal attacks at all.

    The only person who doesn't get anonymity on a daily basis is me.

    And I try really hard to punch up and not down.

    Other than my other rule - try to be both illuminating and entertaining whenever possible, with the goal to be "a good read" even to people who disagree with me - that's sort of it.

    (It's been a long time since I wrote these down on MNB.  Probably a good idea to do it every once in a while.)

    Bloomberg reported yesterday that "CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Walmart Inc. have tentatively agreed to pay more than $12 billion to resolve thousands of state and local government lawsuits accusing the chains of mishandling opioid painkillers," and the Wall Street Journal noted that CVS "said the agreement isn’t an admission of guilt and that it would continue to defend against any litigation that the settlement doesn’t resolve."

    I commented:

    Sure.  Because nothing says "I'm not guilty" like writing a $5 billion check.

    I'm sure that there are all sorts of reasons that companies are allowed to cut deals like these in which they are allowed to claim that they haven't admitted guilt.  It is such a crock, reflective of a culture in which shame and responsibility seem to be alien to how companies do business.

    Executives from all the companies that contributed to the opioid epidemic - and all the lives it destroyed - should get their own, special, particularly fiery circle of hell.

    MNB reader Jerome Schindler wrote:

    As a former pharmacist I lay the blame on the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as well as many of the State Boards of Pharmacy and Medicine.  If the drug chains are asked to fork over $10 billion, these governmental bodies should be forking over $100 billion.

    The DEA has for decades received reports of all shipments of controlled narcotic from the manufacturer to the wholesaler, and from the wholesalers to the pharmacies. 

    Inspectors from the Pharmacy Board would periodically examine our logbook of persons purchasing non-prescription cough syrups containing codeine (best stuff for a cough) to the point that decades ago those pharmacies discontinued their sale of those high margin medications.  The inspectors also could, but rarely did, review opiates distributed via a physicians' prescription.  Had they done that they could have nipped a lot of these pill mills in the bud, but there was always a hesitancy to confront the doctors. More than once in a phone call I was told by a physician, "Don't tell me how to prescribe." 

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    I agree with your sentiment that “Executives from all the companies that contributed to the opioid epidemic – and all the lives it destroyed – should get their own, special, particularly fiery circle of hell”.  Couldn’t agree more, and I am the father of a young woman who as a drug addicted twenty eight year old died in 2021 of a Fentanyl overdose.

    But I do have to say….as a person who worked for a firm being sued for this opiate mess….what is a working pharmacist supposed to do?  Let me tell you.  They fill prescriptions.  You present a written Rx for an opiate and the pharmacist behind the counter doesn’t know you from Adam, no prior knowledge unless s/he dispense mediations for you regularly – they they may know your Rx history.  But should they be held accountable for these prescriptions?  Aren’t the prescribing doctors the ones who overprescribed these medications?  How is the pharmacist supposed to know what is legitimate and what was not legitimate in the days of the OXY drugs?

    Rather than suing the Retail Pharmacies (and remember, these big boys got out in front and cobbled together a deal, what about the Mom & Pop and independent retailers with pharmacies) across the country, large and small that dispensed these drugs its like shooting the horse the bad guy rode in on and not the bad guy!  When will the courts hold the physicians accountable for overprescribing?  I’ll just wait over here for your answer.  Seems to me the manufacturers and physicians prescribing this crap are the ones that should be held to account, not the retailers that dispensed the drugs. 

    Just my opinion, but what do I know?

    First of all, my heart goes out to you.  I cannot even imagine your pain.

    I think you make a really good point … are doctors being held to the same standard of responsibility?

    However, another MNB reader made an excellent point about the pharmacies:

    And they want to become more involved in providing for our health care needs…

    Best I can conclude is that there is way too much pain and way too few people and companies willing to accept responsibility.  And probably too little oversight.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Not admitting any guilt is a “crock.”

    But, where is this money going? Apparently there were lessons learned from how states squandered the tobacco settlements in that the funds have to go to fight opioid abuse, but will cities and states actually get these funds to where they are most needed – the city streets where thousands are struggling with fentanyl and other abuse?

    And, from MNB reader Thomas Parkinson:

    Just watch "Dope Sick" on Hulu.  That explains the behind closed door deals that allow them to not declare guilt by just paying everyone off.


    I agree with you.  I thought "Dope Sick" was amazing … and heartily recommend it.  It was a harrowing viewing experience - scary, compelling, and riveting.

    I reviewed it here.

    The other day we referenced a New York Times story about manufacturers raising prices beyond their need to cover costs.  I have not been complimentary of these companies:

    I have no problem with companies doing their best to cover their costs by raising their prices.  But if you use the moment to exploit customers in an effort to increase your own numbers, raise your stock price and - not coincidentally - increase your own compensation, then I sort of have a problem with you.

    On the other hand, if you are a company that understands that you are best served by being perceived as an agent for the consumer, then I'm on your side.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I don’t think that there are many, if any, manufacturing companies that are “feathering their nest” at the expense of the consumer.  That would be just plain business suicide.  First off, manufacturers don’t just raise the costs of their suppliers.  Their suppliers raise them first which is based off commodity costs.  What the consumer sees is the result of manufacturers trying to stay solvent during these times and keep people working.  Secondly, the manufacturer must go through a justification process with the retailers showing transparency as to their inbound increases.  If the retailer doesn’t agree, then a different process starts.  Finally, regarding the statement of manufacturing companies should be perceived as an agent of the consumer.  How can they?  When there are articles like this one and comments reiterating these comments as facts, the average consumer reads this and then makes the perception that the big corporate giants are just screwing the consumer.  That is a total twist of the facts. 

    I think the New York Times did a good job of citing numerous sources about the price increases, though I concede that "feathering their nests" may have been a tad hyperbolic.  It's just that these kinds of situations irritate me.

    You can read the entire Times piece here.

    We had a conversation here yesterday about the new Hooters virtual chicken format that will deliver a variety of poultry dishes via Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats, but will not actually be available in Hooters' restaurants.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Saying the chicken is good at Hooters is like saying you read Playboy for the articles. 

    The pandemic shut down our one and only local Hooters. Guess they couldn’t make their “restaurant” work just on carry out meals. 

    (Also, good riddance to this sexist, exploitative business model - ugh.)

    I responded:

    Who said the chicken is good?

    And who is arguing with you about Hooters being a sexist, exploitative business model?

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    I will . . . just for the sake of argument.  Nobody is forcing those women, kicking and screaming, to work at Hooters.  Nobody is forcing consumers, kicking and screaming, to eat (and gape) at Hooters.  That’s why it’s call a “free-market.”  Everybody gets to choose.

    True.  Doesn't mean the concept isn't exploitive or sexist.

    (I remember being on a trip with my then-15 year old son almost two decades ago, and he desperately wanted to go to Hooters.  Not only did I want to steer him toward better food, but I told him that his mother would kill me if I took him to Hooters.  He swore up and down that he'd never tell, but I'm smarter than that.  I told him, "You say you won't tell her, but the minute you're in trouble with mom, you'll drop a dime on me just to distract her."  I stand by the idea that this was a good decision.)

    Yesterday, we pointed to a Reuters report that Dollar General Corp "was sued on Tuesday by Ohio, which accused the company of baiting shoppers with low prices on store shelves, only to then charge more at the register.  Citing inflationary pressures faced by consumers, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he sued after receiving 12 complaints about overcharges, including from a shopper charged $2 for shampoo that was listed at $1 on the shelf.

    "Yost said Ohio lets stores have error rates on overcharges as high as 2%, but that testing last month at 20 Dollar General stores in Butler County, just north of Cincinnati, found error rates of 16.7% to 88.2%."

    MNB reader Mike Moon wrote:

    The pricing errors at DG are no surprise. They don't have enough employees to stock empty shelves or run the cash registers. Hanging price change tags would not be top of the list. Some DG stores are even closing mid day or earlier than normal due to staffing issues.

    None of that excuses DG. They choose to run the business lean, offer low wages, and the turnover is horrendous. All the while they are adding stores and remodeling others.  They have opened in thousands of rural markets, often wiping out the local family owned grocery, then can't/won't  take care of the business afterwards. While this has been their Modus Operandi for years, I feel it is unsustainable. It is nice to see them stumble. 

    MNB reader Bob Thomas wrote:

    With the amount involved could it not be called Grand Larceny?

    And, from another reader:

    Tough one.  In times like these management and training take a big hit and you see the results at store level eventually.  If they are doing it intentionally, it will be easy to prove.

    Got another email from an MNB reader about our various stories regarding California's decision to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars as of 2035, and individual communities' decisions to not allow the building of new gas stations:

    One more thing to recognize  there is not enough energy to take care of existing homes snd businesses and then add millions of cars this immediate path is full of lies and stuff that dumb people absorb!

    Hence the decision to reboot the state's energy infrastructure.  Again, these stories strike me as indicative of public policies girding for the future.

    Reacting to the new Office Space-themed holiday commercial from Walmart, MNB reader Howard Davidson wrote:

    Out of a sea of mediocre and over-produced Walmart ads comes this incomprehensible disaster.

    I was prompted to comment because Office Space is a longtime favorite and remains a terrific movie of its time and not deserving of this re-heated exploitation. And what’s with Michael Bolton plopped into all this? I get they want to promote Monday as their version of Black Friday but having a workplace celebrate shopping online at Walmart on Monday is a miss as well as just confusing. Gary Cole seems like he wants to be anywhere but in this ad and everyone else feels just jammed in to move a wobbly storyline forward. If this generates even one purchase I’d be shocked. 

    Tell us how you really feel.

    I'm guessing that everybody got a nice check, and that Gary Cole did the ad and then wandered back to the "NCIS" set, where he is doing a good job replacing Mark Harmon.

    Published on: November 3, 2022

    In Game Four of the World Series last night, four Houston Astros pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter against the Philadelphia Phillies, defeating them 5-0 and tying the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.