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    Published on: November 14, 2022

    A new production of "1776" on Broadway takes the premise - the original musical, about the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence, debuted in 1969 - and stands it on its head.  Every one of the roles is played by a woman, many of them women of color.  This approach (probably done best in "Hamilton") takes a musical with some dust on it and gives it a fresh perspective.  And, of course, provides a business lesson.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    Axios this morning reports on new data indicating that "the average human is older than ever … Earthlings' median age in 2022 is 30.2 years old compared to 20.6 in 1974 — 48 years ago."

    The story notes that "age varies drastically by country: Japan has a median age of 49. For Nigerians, the median age is just 17."  Age also has an impact on birth rates:  "Women typically give birth to 2.4 children in their lifetime today, compared to 4.3 in 1974 … A fertility rate of 2.1 is generally considered 'replacement level' — meaning there are enough births for the new generation to exactly replace the last generation."

    Another implication:  "An aging population can be positive — people living longer, more productive lives. But aging populations can lead to stunted economic growth if elderly, non-working generations end up outnumbering workers."

    It does seem like Eye-Opening data … not suggesting imminent doom, but certainly worth monitoring and attention.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    In this commercial which features and father and daughter in some level of pain because of an unstated loss, Amazon is positioned not just as a convenient option, but a provider of hope and possibility:

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    The Chicago Tribune reports that a Whole Foods store in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood that opened six years ago "to live music, TV-ready politicians and out-the-door lines," that "once been a point of optimism and pride in the South Side neighborhood, one of Chicago’s most economically depressed areas," closed yesterday.

    Here's how the Tribune puts the move in context:

    "The city spent $10.7 million to subsidize the construction of the shopping center in which the store is located. When Whole Foods announced the 832 W. 63rd St. location’s closure in April, local activists said they felt betrayed, adding that the shuttering would limit access to fresh and healthy food in the neighborhood.

    "The company closed five other stores across the country 'to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success' at the time, including a location near DePaul. It also opened an almost 66,000-square foot location in the Near North neighborhood the same week.

    "Few grocery options remain in the neighborhood. The handful of grocery stores remaining include a location for low-budget grocer Aldi close by and the smaller 'Go Green Community Fresh Market' run by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham abruptly closed in June.

    "It is not yet clear what will replace the Whole Foods. The sale agreement with the city requires a full-service grocery store to operate in the Englewood Square development until late 2027."

    KC's View:

    Can't help but feel that the folks on Chicago's South Side, who may have seen their Whole Foods store as a harbinger of hope and possibility, may see the Amazon commercial above with a somewhat jaundiced eye.

    Look, I know that businesses have to be viable to survive.  If you don't have enough customers and don't make enough sales, you have to close the store.

    But I think it is a shame that a company with the resources of Amazon/Whole Foods can't dig deep into its bag of innovation tricks to find a way to change the lives of people who need better food shopping options.  Maybe "shame" is the wrong word … but certainly a lost opportunity.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    The Information reports that Alibaba Group did something unusual for its annual Singles Day promotion this year - it didn't announce how much business it transacted, but rather said that its performance was "in line" with last year's volume.

    Last year, Alibaba did the equivalent of about $76.5 billion (US) in sales during the 11-day Singles Day promotion.

    The story says that "this year’s Singles Day came amid global economic headwinds and growing concerns about the looming recession. In China, the government’s strict zero-Covid policy, which has resulted in draconian measures such as lockdowns, has dealt a blow to the country’s already slowing economy."

    Reuters reports that in general, "the annual Chinese shopping fest was far more subdued than in the past, when staggering transaction volumes, celebrity-studded galas and other excesses were the norm. That says more about the country's gloomy economic outlook than the $187 billion e-commerce titan."

    KC's View:

    The Reuters piece also makes another important observation, that the basic proposition has changed:  "Singles Day was created in 2009 to win over online shoppers with discounts and promotions; these days, brands use it to clear inventory and experiment with new products. It has become far less important to Alibaba’s bottom line."

    Since Amazon's Prime Days were sort of modeled on Singles Day, and it seems that the most recent Prime Days promotions were less overwhelming than in the past, I wonder if this could be a harbinger of things to come.  I wouldn't be surprised;  Tom Furphy and I speculated on "The Innovation Conversation" that it was time for Amazon to reinvent the model and do something innovative and surprising, not something rooted/mired in tradition.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    Fox Business reports that "FedEx Freight, the company’s less-than-truckload arm unit, says an unspecified number of its employees will be furloughed in early December to match lower-than-expected demand.

    "The furloughs will last around three months. During this time, workers will still receive health benefits and may file for unemployment benefits with the state."

    The story notes that "the unit employs around 45,000 people, but it remains unclear how many of them are drivers.  The furlough comes as the LTL segment has seen volumes taper off in recent weeks amid high inflation and fears of a recession on the horizon."

    However, "FedEx Freight has performed the best among the company’s other two, larger business units: FedEx Express and FedEx Ground, which have also been hurt by higher costs and slower-than-expected demand."

    KC's View:

    This may be an anomaly, and it may mean nothing, but it remains striking that we have a delivery company laying off people right before the holidays.  Yikes.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    The New York Times had a piece over the weekend about how, while "the first wave of people who bought electric cars tended to be affluent, environmentally aware technology enthusiasts who lived in California," that seems to be changing.

    "Electric vehicles are starting to go mainstream in the United States after making earlier inroads into the mass markets in China and Europe.

    "Battery-powered cars now make up the fastest-growing segment of the auto market, with sales jumping 70 percent in the first nine months of the year from the same period in 2021, according to data from Cox Automotive, a research and consulting firm. Sales of conventional cars and trucks fell 15 percent in the same period. Buyers of electric vehicles in 2021 were more likely to be women and tended to be younger than in 2019, according to Cox data."

    The Times notes that "gasoline-powered cars, of course, still account for most of the new car market. But electric vehicles’ share of new vehicle sales almost doubled in the first nine months of the year, to 5.6 percent from 2.9 percent in the same period in 2021, according to Cox.

    "That growth could have been stronger if automakers had been able to make more electric cars. Many manufacturers have long waiting lists because production has been limited by shortages of computer chips, batteries and other parts."

    The Times also reports that "electric car buyers used words like 'love' and 'awesome' to describe their vehicles. Many said they would never buy a gasoline car again, but many others said they intended to keep at least one conventional vehicle, because traveling long distances by electric car can be inconvenient and sometimes impossible because of difficulties in finding charging stations."

    KC's View:

    The data suggests that while original buyers of electric cars tended to do so because of environmental concerns, simple economics now are playing a growing role:  "Driving on electricity is generally much cheaper than gasoline. Scores of respondents said they were using energy they generated from rooftop solar panels to charge their cars, potentially lowering costs even further."

    Seems to me that the qualms about distances and charging stations eventually will go away, as batteries get better and charging stations become more plentiful and dependable.  Retailers - especially those that have made pumping gas part of their value proposition - are going to have to figure out how to be part of that continuum.  And they'll have to do that sooner rather than later.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    The New York Times reports that "one of the largest food safety companies in the United States illegally employed more than two dozen children in at least three meatpacking plants, several of whom suffered chemical burns from the corrosive cleaners they were required to use on overnight shifts, the Labor Department found.

    "The department filed for an injunction in U.S. District Court in Nebraska on Wednesday against Packers Sanitation Services, which Judge John. M. Gerrard swiftly ordered on Thursday. The injunction requires the company to stop 'employing oppressive child labor' and to comply with a Labor Department investigation into the practice.

    "Packers, a cleaning and sanitation company based in Kieler, Wis., provides contract work at hundreds of slaughtering and meatpacking plants across the country.

    "The Labor Department found that Packers employed at least 31 children, ranging in age from 13 to 17, who cleaned dangerous equipment with corrosive cleaners during overnight shifts at three slaughtering and meatpacking facilities: a Turkey Valley Farms plant in Marshall, Minn., and JBS USA plants in Grand Island, Neb., and Worthington, Minn. … According to court documents, the Labor Department believes Packers may employ minor children under similar conditions at other plants."

    KC's View:

    What kind of company does this?  What kind of people running a company do this?  Let's reinforce some of the more striking passages from the story:

    "Their jobs included cleaning kill floors, meat- and bone-cutting saws, grinding machines and electric knives, according to court documents. The mix of boys and girls were not fluent English speakers and were interviewed mostly in Spanish, investigators said.

    The Labor Department found that several minors employed by the company, including one 13-year-old, suffered caustic chemical burns and other injuries. One 14-year-old, who worked from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. five to six days a week, suffered injuries from chemical burns from cleaning machines used to cut meat. School records showed that the student fell asleep in class or missed class because of the job at the plant … The Labor Department also accused the company of interfering with the investigation by intimidating minor workers to discourage them from cooperating, and of deleting and manipulating employment files."

    I really hope the injunction is only the first step, assuming these charges can be proven.  Not sure if this is proportional or not, but when kids are exploited this way, companies ought to be put out of business and the so-called adults who run them ought to go to jail.  (I always wonder in these cases - do the company leaders at such places not have children?  Or do they just consider other people's children to have less value than their own?)

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Gap has started selling its products on Amazon for the first time, "as the retailer looks to the e-commerce giant to revive sales of its flagship brand."

    The story goes on:

    "Partnering with Amazon has been a debate for many fashion brands. They gain access to one of the most popular shopping destinations, but cede customer information and give shoppers fewer reasons to visit their own stores. Amazon also charges fees to sellers on its platform.

    "Gap Inc.’s CEO left the company earlier this year. It is being run by former Walmart Inc. executive Bob Martin, who is also the chairman, while the company searches for a replacement. The company has endured years of slumping sales at the flagship Gap brand and, more recently, problems at the Old Navy chain, which accounts for more than half of total revenue."

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    •  United Natural Foods, Inc. and Square Roots, an indoor farming technology company, have "announced a new agreement to co-locate Square Roots' indoor farms on-site at select UNFI distribution centers. The first Square Roots farm, approximately 20,000 square feet in size, is planned for UNFI’s Prescott, Wis. facility and is scheduled to open in 2023 … As part of its Better For All initiative, UNFI is focused on building closer relationships with its produce suppliers to build an efficient, expansive, high-quality supply chain network designed to shorten the time it takes to deliver produce to retail customers. Produce from the first Square Roots farm co-located with UNFI is intended to serve UNFI's retail customers in Wisconsin and Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro area."

    •  From the Washington Post this morning:

    "Plant-based meat, heralded by many as the death knell to Big Meat, appears at this moment to have dealt only a flesh wound.

    "The promise of high-tech meat substitutes prompted a frenzy of celebrity investment and red-hot IPOs in 2019. The pandemic saw significant consumer curiosity and a stampede of newcomers in the category, including entries from the world’s largest food and meat companies, with Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel, Nestlé and others leaping into the fray."

    However, "Meteoric growth in 2020 flattened in 2021 and retail sales have dropped more than 10 percent in the past year. Beyond Meat, the Los Angeles-based purveyor of plant-based burgers, crumbles, nuggets and such, saw its stock prices plunge nearly 80 percent from its peak, and last month the company announced it would lay off about 19 percent of its workforce. It’s not just Beyond: Meat giant JBS SA announced in early October it was shuttering its two-year-old Planterra business in the United States and closing its 190,000 square-foot Colorado facility, and McDonald’s has tabled its idea to roll out the McPlant burger nationally.

    "The industry’s troubles come despite mounting evidence that people should, for health and environmental reasons, reduce their consumption of beef, lamb, pork and poultry produced via traditional animal agriculture."

    The story notes that "most meat substitutes are lower in saturated fat than conventional meat, making them better for you in that regard. But manufacturers are trying to address skepticism about their high level of processing by developing new products that limit unnecessary ingredients and chemicals, and fortifying them with vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients."

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    •  Weis Markets announced that Maria Rizzo, the company's director of marketing, has been promoted to the role of vice president of advertising and marketing, succeeding the retiring Ron Bonacci.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    On Friday, we took note of a Fox Business story saying that "Sears Holdings has emerged from bankruptcy after more than 10,000 court filings and a four-year stay that saw the department store chain shrink from almost 700 stores to less than two dozen.  The bankruptcy estate’s reorganization plan took effect on Oct. 29, signaling an end to Chapter 11 and the start of a liquidation process for its remaining assets."

    MNB reader Greg Pellegrino wrote:

    Can someone do a financial post-mortem on Sears…

    How did Eddie Lampert end up fairing after all the assets were sold in pieces, distributions, etc…

    Who made money and who didn’t?

    It would be very interesting to understand.

    It would be.  Might take a forensic accountant.  Maybe someone like the Charles Martin Smith character in The Untouchables.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Talk about a business case and life lesson on how to kill an iconic brand,  this is it.  Until this story, I hadn’t thought about Sears for a long time.  What is Eddie Lampert doing? 

    These days, Lampert would appear to be giving Elon Musk advice about how to save Twitter.

    Another MNB reader connected the Sears story to another one about Target's new store format that includes space devoted to the fulfillment of online orders:

    First off, Sears, we have that rare animal known as a Sears store in the Dallas area.  A few months ago, I went in there out of curiosity.  You see, like you, I remember when Sears sold nearly anything you could want, it was very hard to compete with the stranglehold they had on tools and appliances.with Craftsman tools and Kenmore appliances.

    But, they got lax, comfortable, they let the quality of their tools and their appliances slip, you could get better buys elsewhere and a new, younger customer didn't have the loyalty to Sears their parents may have had.  Plus, they didn't see the future correctly, if they had seen the e-commerce boom coming, they might have kept their catalogue department, with it's infrastructure, they could have been Amazon before Amazon.  But, they lost their way, they stopped being the value proposition they had been for decades, so people stopped shopping there, they had no reason to anymore.

    When I went into that lone Sears store, it was largely empty, no Craftsman tools, they'd sold off that brand, almost no Kenmore appliances, nothing really to bring in a shopper, I'm surprised it was still open.

    Target, their new emphasis on order filling may be smart.  However, it would be even smarter to stock their stores properly.  They have beautiful stores, neatly laid out, neat shelves, a lot of neat, empty shelf space.

    I'm a sales / merchandising rep for a large broker, I won't say who.  I represent a large well known food company, again, which I won't name here.  Suffice it to say most of you should have at least some of our products in your pantries.  Well maybe not you Kevin since you're such a well known food snob, (I'm joking Kevin).  I walk into one of their stores and many of my basic products are out of stock.  In my other accounts, it's in stock, on the shelf ready to sell, not in Target.

    So, I have ask myself, is the buyer not doing their job in keeping them in stock on staple items, , is the company not giving the buyers enough open to buy to keep them in stock.  Is the product sitting in the back room and they haven't stocked it.  If it is it may go out of date waiting to be stocked, because I've seen these items be empty for some time.

    As you may have realized over the years, I'm a huge believer in the basics, getting the basics done right, keep your store clean, keep it stocked, have some knowledgeable employees running  your departments.

    A store doesn't need to be a carnival ride to be successful, the carnival ride atmosphere may help, the sense of adventure may help.  But, it won't cover the fact that  you're out of basic everyday items that others are in stock on.

    So, this new emphasis on e-commerce and filling orders at stores may be a very good thing, if they have the stock to fill the orders.

    Published on: November 14, 2022

    Week Ten in the National Football League…

    Seattle Seahawks 16, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21

    Detroit Lions 31, Chicago Bears 30

    Cleveland Browns 17, Miami Dolphins 39

    Denver Broncos 10, Tennessee Titans 17

    Minnesota Vikings 33, Buffalo Bills 30

    Houston Texans 16, New York Giants 24

    Jacksonville Jaguars 17, Kansas City Chiefs 27

    New Orleans Saints 10, Pittsburgh Steelers 20

    Indianapolis Colts 25, Las Vegas Raiders 20

    Arizona Cardinals 27, Los Angeles Rams 17

    Dallas Cowboys 28, Green Bay Packers 31

    Los Angeles Chargers 16, San Francisco 49ers 22