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    Published on: December 12, 2022

    I want to tell you about the personal business that took me away from MNB at the end of last week … a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for a friend, a service that left me thinking about duty and honor and sacrifice.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Albertsons may pay to its shareholders a $4 billion dividend that it announced at the same time as its acquisition by Kroger was revealed, though both companies have maintained that it was planned before they even entered into merger talks.

    However, Judge Ken Schubert for the King County Superior Court in Washington State "also extended a temporary restraining order blocking the dividend until Dec. 19.

    "Without the extension, he said, Albertsons would immediately issue the special dividend without recourse from the state. The state filed a notice of appeal to the Washington Supreme Court."

    The story notes that "the state of Washington has said the dividend would hurt Albertsons’ ability to compete with Kroger and other retailers especially if the merger didn’t go through.

    "Albertsons has said the dividend isn’t conditioned on the merger and that it would still have $3 billion of liquidity after the payment."

    KC's View:

    The bet here is that Albertsons shareholders are likely to get a very nice Christmas present this year.

    Ho. Ho. Ho.

    In fact, if forced to make a bet, I'd guess that the odds are slightly better that the dividend gets paid out than that Kroger and Albertsons are allowed to merge.  (Though I still that seems likely, too.)

    The problem with guessing all this is that the landscape seems to be shifting.

    For example, just last week ther Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued to block Microsoft's proposed $69 billion acquisition of video game company Activision Blizzard.  The New York Times writes that "the move is meant to prevent Microsoft from consolidating power in the video-game industry, but it also represents something bigger. The F.T.C. under Lina Khan wants to rewrite the nation’s antitrust approach to Big Tech and mergers … It’s the biggest test yet of Ms. Khan’s effort to overhaul antitrust law. In recent decades, courts have tended to approve so-called vertical mergers, like the Activision deal, that unite two related companies in an industry, rather than putting together direct competitors.

    "But Ms. Khan, the F.T.C.’s chair, has argued that approach ignores the effects of vertical mergers on issues like innovation, particularly as big companies get even bigger."

    While the proposed Kroger-Albertsons deal certainly isn't a vertical merger, it would seem to be in the sweet spot that Khan feels needs to be addressed - big companies getting even bigger, restricting choice for consumers.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    From The Information:

    "The ambitious fintech venture backed by Walmart is planning to launch buy now, pay later loans as soon as next year, three people familiar with the matter said. That could put the world’s largest retailer in competition with fintech lenders like Affirm and Klarna, as well as Apple, another consumer giant set to launch its own installment loans.

    "Walmart has been pushing deeper into financial services with a majority-owned joint venture that’s hoping to expand by targeting Walmart’s 1.7 million employees in the U.S. and its vast number of existing customers. Offering installment loans would be the latest phase of that growth, following the introduction of checking and savings accounts and debit cards."

    The Information notes that while Walmart already offers some access to financial services, such as through its in-store Money Centers that provide transfer and check cashing services, its fintech venture - which is called One - seems designed to allow it to compete more effectively and extensively with both traditional financial services companies and other digital entities.

    One goal - a so-called "super app" that would allow users to manage all the aspects of their financial live sin one place.

    KC's View:

    I've been writing about this business for a long time, and it seems to me that Walmart's aspirations in the area of financial services has been a constant.  "Walmart Bank" is a term that has come up more than a few times over the years, but the company always has faced resistance from well-funded lobbyists from the traditional financial services sector who wanted to do everything and anything possible to keep Walmart out.  I've always believed it would be immensely disruptive - not to mention entertaining -to have a company like Walmart get into the business and start challenging traditional ways of doing business and charging consumers.  This fintech vehicle may allow Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to accomplish something about which his predecessors only could dream.

    At the same time, the "super app" concept is one that has a lot of fans.   Just the other day, The Information reported that "Microsoft recently considered building a 'super app' that could combine shopping, messaging, web search, news feeds and other services in a one-stop smartphone app, in what would be an ambitious move by the software giant to expand further into consumer services, according to people with direct knowledge of the discussions. Microsoft executives wanted the app to boost the company’s multibillion-dollar advertising business and Bing search, as well as draw more users to Teams messaging and other mobile services.

    There's also been speculation that Elon Musk might like to use Twitter as a foundation for some sort of "super app" that would be involved in the payments business, especially since his approach with Twitter to this point seems to be doing little more than alienating sponsors - he seems to approach Twitter's business by taking a throw-spaghetti-against-the-wall strategy, except the problem is that at least some of the spaghetti is toxic. 

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    The New York Times  has a piece that asks the question, "Why Is Howard Schultz Taking This So Personally?"

    The "this" in question is unionization by some employees.  And the "why" seems to be simple:  it conflicts with everything Schultz believes about the company he grew into a global behemoth.

    An excerpt:

    "Mr. Schultz, 69, appears intent on defusing interest in a union before he leaves the company next spring for the third — and, dare one say, final — time. He has thrown himself into providing new benefits and wage increases, but withheld them from employees in the union, which represents about 2 percent of the company’s U.S. work force of more than 250,000. When asked in an interview in June if he could ever imagine embracing the union, Mr. Schultz responded with a single immovable word: No.

    "He has alluded to a downside for customers, and some labor experts argue that a union could seek to limit the number of syrups, powders and foams that can be added to drinks, as a way to ease the burden on baristas. Such 'modifiers' brought in about $1 billion during the last fiscal year and have helped drive record revenues.

    "But friends and longtime colleagues say Mr. Schultz’s opposition to the union isn’t primarily about the bottom line. It’s emotional. A union clashes with his image of Starbucks as a model employer."

    The Times goes on to point out that "the stakes extend far beyond Starbucks. The union campaign has helped give rise to labor organizing at a variety of other companies, including Apple, Trader Joe’s and REI. If the union manages to wring significant concessions from Starbucks, it could accelerate organizing elsewhere and help change the relationship between management and labor across the country.

    "If, on the other hand, the union fades away under Mr. Schultz, it could undermine the recent organizing renaissance and further relegate unions to the economy’s margins.

    "No one knows which scenario will come to pass before Mr. Schultz hands the keys to his appointed successor, Laxman Narasimhan."

    However, it may all come down to this:  "At Starbucks, Mr. Schultz’s resistance to a union appears to be a matter of self-image, according to those who know him: He prefers to see himself as a generous boss, not a boss who is forced to treat employees generously."

    KC's View:

    Actually, I think it comes down to what Michael Corleone told Sonny Corleone in The Godfather:  "It's not personal Sonny, it 's strictly business."

    But of course, in some ways it was personal.  And would get more so for Michael, until he was subsumed by it all.

    Maybe Schultz hasn't watched The Godfather lately, so he hasn't been reminded how this can happen.

    The labor wounds that Starbucks is suffering are largely self-inflicted.  It is because management lost touch with what was happening at the stores, and became disconnected from both its workers' experiences and its customers' experiences.

    That's a dangerous place to be if you are a retailer.  And I find myself wondering the degree to which many other retailers are guilty of the same detachment.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    Amazon last week announced the launch of what it is calling Inspire, which it describes as "an in-app shopping experience that gives customers a new way to discover ideas, explore products, and seamlessly shop from content created by other customers, influencers, and brands they love."  Inspire is beginning its rollout this month to "select customers" in the US, "and will be available to all U.S. customers in the coming months."

    Some details from the announcement:

    "Customers no longer need to search elsewhere or comment on a post to get more details for products featured online; when they see an item in Inspire they can shop for it in real-time on Amazon. In just a few clicks, customers can tap on a video or photo to see product details including average star rating and reviews, color and style options, and price, and then add it to their cart."

    "To get started, customers open the Amazon Shopping app and tap the 'light bulb' icon on the bottom navigation bar. Customers are then prompted to choose from over 20 interests like makeup, pets, gaming, to personalize their feed. Overtime, Inspire will learn more about a customer’s preferences through their interests and engagement to continue tailoring their feed of shoppable content … As the feature rolls out, Amazon plans to add more shoppable features, in-app functionality, and content, building an even more immersive shopping experience for customers."

    TechCrunch calls it "something of a hybrid between TikTok and Instagram."

    KC's View:

    The general consensus seems to be that this is Amazon's attempt to grab a little bit of that TikTok magic, using influencers as a way to direct and shape consumer behavior.

    Entrepreneur writes:  "Amazon has reportedly been testing this product since August … and it follows other major companies that have struggled to compete with TikTok — and went on to make a similar product — including Meta Platforms, which introduced its own short-form video platform on Instagram, called Reels.

    "TikTok has maintained its strength even amid a difficult environment for its peers, with layoffs at companies from Meta Platforms to Twitter to Amazon. The company is reportedly still hiring, despite reports of an intense culture. It is also facing increased regulatory scrutiny."

    Speaking of scrutiny…the Washington Post is reporting that "Indiana’s attorney general sued TikTok … claiming the Chinese-owned company exposes minors to inappropriate content and makes user data accessible to China, in one of the strongest moves against the social media giant taken by a state.

    "Indiana’s lawsuit is the latest move to put TikTok and its parent company under scrutiny. As U.S. officials have sought to regulate TikTok, the platform in recent years has come under sharp questioning in Washington and been under investigation by a bipartisan group of attorneys general for its potential effects on youth mental health, its data security and its ties to China.

    "Filing two lawsuits in a state superior court, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R) argued that everything including people’s interests and their facial features are potentially accessible to the Chinese government. The suits claim that TikTok and its Beijing-based owner, tech giant ByteDance, have deceived consumers about their data security and suitability for young teens."

    I know that Amazon didn't reference TikTok in its announcement … but this may not be the company it wants to be keeping.

    The move probably makes sense in a number of ways, though, as Amazon looks to appeal to younger generations of consumers.  I've never seen any data on this, but I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon's customer base is aging a little bit.  It certainly happened to Facebook and Twitter, as kids moved away from those social media tools precisely because their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were using them.  It isn't hard to imagine that this could happen to Amazon, too … probably more slowly, and probably not as precipitously (because there are, after all, some benefits in being "the everything store" - you have everything.)

    I would point out that one of the key components of Inspire seems to be the enabling of Amazon to know even more about its customers than it already does.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, if Amazon does not abuse the privilege and people feel like they are getting value for their information.  But I do think that if this gets out of balance, Amazon could lose at least some of the connection that it has to its shoppers, especially younger customers as other options emerge.

    Remember - there's no such thing as an unassailable business model.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    USA Today has begun what it calls a series of articles about Wegmans, the upstate New York company that started as the Rochester Fruit & Vegetable Company in 1916 and now has become a regional powerhouse with 109 stores and more on the way, including its first unit in Connecticut and one in New York's Greenwich Village.

    The premise seems to be that examining how Wegmans has changed will explain to some degree how the world has changed, how retailing is being reshaped by events, and how customers are driving and responding to these shifts.

    "Supermarkets are a reflection of society," USA Today argues, "for good or bad. If you are what you eat, it follows that you are where you shop, making the supermarket an aspirational American enterprise. But the stores that are available to you are also who you are. That's why people get upset when they consider themselves Trader Joe's people and there's no Trader Joe's nearby.

    "For all the evolution — and there has been plenty over more than a century in business — Danny Wegman takes no small pride in the fact that, while his grandfather Walter would marvel at the scope of the modern operation (and likely wonder what a Buffalo chicken was), he would still recognize the 'basic businesses' at work.

    "'It’s farming, cooking, running retail stores,' he said. 'Most of what we do does not require a Ph.D. It requires hard work, dedication. And many of our folks can begin in the dish room and end up being an executive chef. That's the best part of our business'."

    Another passage from the story:

    "Wegmans is in a constant state of reinvention: opening new suburban stores after a flurry of supersizing others and abandoning underperforming areas.

    "It may be a family business but it is still a business, and Wegmans is not sentimental:  The chain has closed 27 stores, including its original fruit and vegetable market, shuttered in 1955. The last Wegmans to close its doors was on Pond Street in Syracuse, a location that was a Wegmans for 42 years before closing in 2012. It is now owned by Tops Friendly Markets.

    "The decision to close a store comes down to one word, Colleen said: volume.

    "'We look at, ‘Where can we go where we can do enough volume to be able to support all the great fun things that we want to be able to do?' she said. At Pond Street, 'we didn't have the volume there.'

    "'We used to have larger stores. We're trying to go smaller again and we're finding we're able to do the same amount of volume in a smaller store. So we're trying to find that right balance'."

    KC's View:

    It seems to me that the most important question Wegmans has to ask and answer each day is how they preserve and perpetuate a culture - one that is both rooted in the past but flexible enough to be relevant and resonant in the future - at a time when the company is growing so extensively.  

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that more than two years ago, Walmart investigated the store supervisor who killed six co-workers and injured four others, and then shot himself at the company's Chesapeake, Virginia unit, but did nothing about it.

    According to the story, Walmart's treatment of the man - a decade-long employee who was the overnight shift manager - "and what it knew about problems at the store have been raised in two lawsuits brought against the company by employees who survived the attack."  Both suits allege that the shooter "demonstrated a pattern of disturbing workplace behavior."

    The Journal writes that "in early 2020, Walmart regional managers interviewed members of the store’s overnight shift" about the supervisor "after several complaints that he was an unkind manager and engaged in threatening behavior, according to the former and current employees familiar with the investigation … Separately, people who had worked" with the man "said in recent interviews that he could be combative and difficult to work with. They said he would cover his cellphone camera with tape because he said he worried the government was tracking him."

    The story notes that "it couldn’t be learned what steps Walmart took after the investigation, which hasn’t previously been reported. A spokesman for Walmart declined to comment."

    KC's View:

    You never think things are as bad as they are until they actually get much worse.  That's not an excuse, but it could be an explanation … though it is one unlikely to satisfy the family and friends of people who died or were injured, or, for that matter, were in the store and in harm's way.

    This is something that Walmart and every retailer is going to have to think about, especially in the current climate when mass shootings have become a regular occurrence:  How many complaints have we gotten in the past about employees that we've ignored or minimized, but now need to revisit?  How many catastrophes are on the horizon?  And how do we move fast and responsibly to address these situations?

    This isn't just a matter of human decency, though that ought to be enough.  Retailers - every employer, in fact - has a fiscal responsibility to deal with these situations as a way of avoiding inevitable lawsuits.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    Interesting report from The Conference Board in which it argues that while "during economic downturns, organizations will often look to talent acquisition (TA) as the first place to cut expenses," this actually does not make sense, that "retaining recruiters during the downturn is crucial to a quick recovery once the economy starts to turn around."

    Some context from the report:  "Recruiters are expensive and time consuming to replace. After an economic slowdown, organizations that laid off their recruiters will not only have to scramble to replace them but will lose the organizational expertise they had.

    "Rather than cut ties, shift focus: During a hiring freeze, recruiters can instead focus on creating and nurturing talent pools of top performers; transforming the company’s TA strategy, processes, and technology; or they can be temporarily redeployed to other positions within the organization."

    KC's View:

    In sports, it would be described as "having a bench."  In baseball, the key to great organizations often is the existence of a strong farm system.  (Right now, the New York Mets are spending a fortune to make the club competitive while a farm system that went to hell during the previous ownership is rebuilt.)

    This makes utter sense - you know you are going to need people eventually, so you might as well keep the apparatus alive that will stock the organization effectively at the right moment.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    First, there's this story from the Washington Post:

    "D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine … announced that his office had filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Amazon, alleging that the e-commerce giant stole tips from drivers and deceived consumers about the tipping model.

    "The lawsuit alleges that Amazon used deceptive methods to lead consumers to believe that tip money went directly to drivers, when it actually was being used to subsidize wages … The lawsuit concerns Amazon Flex, a service launched in 2015 that offers quick deliveries. When it was launched, the company encouraged consumers to tip delivery drivers and assured that 100 percent of the tip would go to the drivers.

    According to the lawsuit, in 2016, Amazon changed the model so drivers could no longer see the tip amounts from each delivery, and a large portion of the tips were instead used to pay wages already promised to the drivers. The lawsuit further alleges that the company deceived consumers and workers about the model by hiding the reality of the tip policy.

    "An Amazon spokesperson said in an email that the lawsuit was without merit, adding that the company had changed its model in 2019 and that it had a compensation framework that ensures D.C. drivers earn more than the District’s minimum wage."

    And then … go figure … completely separately (?), there was this announcement from Amazon:

    "Customers can say 'Alexa, thank my driver,' and the driver of their most recent delivery will be notified of their gratitude. Drivers who receive the first 1M thank-you’s will also receive $5 per thank you!

    "Since Amazon opened its digital doors in 1994, not only has selection grown, but so has the ability to deliver quickly and conveniently. So much so, that we hit a major package milestone - 15 billion Amazon packages delivered in the U.S. But for drivers, it’s more than just the packages that they deliver - they form relationships with customers, provide support to the community in tough moments, and sometimes play the role of the unexpected hero … Now, we’ll provide customers with the opportunity to say thanks each and every day—with the help of Alexa. We developed an Alexa feature that allows customers to directly thank their drivers for making their deliveries. This new feature is available to U.S. customers with an Alexa-enabled device (Echo, Echo Show) or the Alexa or Amazon Shopping mobile apps, making it easy to thank drivers in the U.S. anywhere.

    "Starting December 7, any time a customer says 'Alexa, thank my driver,' the driver who delivered their most recent package will be notified of the customer’s appreciation. And, in celebration of this new feature, with each thank-you received from customers, drivers will also receive an additional $5, at no cost to the customer. We’ll be doing this for the first 1 million thank-you’s received. And, the five drivers who receive the most customer 'thank-you’s' during the promotional period, will also be rewarded with $10,000 and an additional $10,000 to their charity of choice."

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Bloomberg reports that "Andy Jassy has appointed four executives to senior roles as he continues to put his stamp on the world’s largest e-commerce company.

    "The appointments include three long-time executives and one relative newcomer. They are joining 'Steam,' a group of senior leaders who help influence the direction of the company and its investment priorities."

    The four promotions are:

    -  "Steve Boom, vice president of Amazon Music, who has been with Amazon for more than a decade. Boom is a lawyer-turned-technology executive who studied law at Harvard and has worked at several other technology companies, including Yahoo, according to his LinkedIn profile."

    -  "Candi Castleberry, vice president of global diversity, equity and inclusion who was hired last year following the resignation of her predecessor. She previously held a similar role at Twitter."

    -  "Udit Madan, vice president of transportation at Amazon, joined the company in 2008 as a software engineer and rose through the ranks, according to his LinkedIn profile."

    -  "Rob Williams, vice president of devices, has a degree in computer engineering from the University of Waterloo and joined Amazon in 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile."

    Bloomberg suggests that "with the promotions, Jassy revealed a commitment to streaming services, logistics and devices."

    Which is sort of an interesting observation, since with all the layoffs at Amazon, the conventional wisdom at Amazon has been that "devices" are less of a priority than in the past.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Fox Business reports that Costco CFO Richard Galanti last week told analysts likely will raise its membership fees.

    ""What we’ve said again, and I’ll say again, is that our view is all the parameters, as it relates to member loyalty and value proposition that we’ve improved to our member, we have no problem thinking about doing it and doing it ultimately," he said during an earnings call. "So it’s a question of when, not if … But we feel that we’re in a very strong competitive position right now … And if we have to wait a few months or several months, that’s fine. And I’ll be purposely coy on when that might be."

    "If we wanted to do it yesterday, we could, and if we want to do it six months from now, we can," Galanti told analysts. "We’ll wait and see."

    The comments came as the Wall Street Journal reports that "Costco Wholesale Corp. sales growth slowed slightly in the most recent quarter compared with recent years as some shoppers bought fewer big-ticket discretionary items.

    "Comparable sales, those from stores of digital channels operating for at least 12 months, rose 7.1% in the quarter ended Nov. 20. That quarterly figure, which excludes currency fluctuations and gasoline sales, hasn’t fallen below 9% over the past two years. Online sales fell 3.7% from the prior year, Costco said. 

    "The slower growth is both due to the quarterly comparison with massive growth last year and some pullback on spending…"

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Juul Labs Inc. has agreed to pay $1.7 billion in a broad legal settlement covering more than 5,000 lawsuits, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "Many of the lawsuits accused the e-cigarette maker of marketing its addictive products to children and teens. Juul has said it never targeted young people and that it has been working to regain the public’s trust.

    "The settlement deal, signed earlier this week, resolves much of the legal liability that had pushed the embattled e-cigarette maker to the brink of bankruptcy. The company is now working to settle cases brought by several attorneys general. Once it has resolved most of its legal liabilities, Juul could seek a sale or strategic investment, people familiar with the matter said.

    "The Food and Drug Administration in June ordered Juul to halt its U.S. sales, saying the company hadn’t submitted sufficient evidence that its e-cigarettes were safe. The agency then put the ban on hold while Juul appealed the decision."

    I have a bias, one that I've made clear here on MNB many, many times over the years.  There is very little that anyone from any of these companies could say that I would believe or trust.  And as far as I am concerned, "to the brink of bankruptcy" isn't far enough.  The goal is addiction, and lifelong customers, and I suspect the "long" part of that may be less important to them than to others.

    •  Yellow Banana, owner-operator of more than 30 Save A Lot locations in the US, announced a partnership with Flashfood, a digital marketplace that provides customers with access to heavily discounted food nearing its best-by date. The food waste reduction app is now available at all of Yellow Banana’s Save A Lot locations, expanding Flashfood’s presence to Dallas, TX and Jacksonville, FL for the first time. 

    The announcement notes that "Flashfood aims to eliminate food waste at the retail level by connecting shoppers with savings of up to 50% on food nearing its best-by date that would otherwise be thrown away. The partnership will enable customers at Yellow Banana’s Save A Lot locations to save big on everyday grocery items like meat, produce boxes, dairy and bakery items, as well as center-store foods and snacks. Shoppers make a purchase directly through the Flashfood mobile app and simply pick their order up from a team member at the checkout area of their participating location."

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    •  Sprouts Farmers Market announced that it has hired Alisa Gmelich, most recently the Chief Brand Officer at Auntie Anne’s, to be its new Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    Responding to last week's interview with Matthew Lee Sawyer, author of "Make it In America: How International Companies & Entrepreneurs Can Successfully Enter & Scale in US Markets," MNB reader Tom Murphy wrote:

    Great interview, both in terms of content and insights.  The failure of most of the examples discussed were the result of what I would call “corporate exceptionalism”…but the negative side of it, maybe better labeled as “ego-driven blindness”!  This is the same problem that causes many (some say as high as 70%) of mergers and acquisitions to fail.  Senior executives just can’t believe they could fail or that anyone could do it better!

    I have been involved in a number of big ones as an employee at FedEx (when they bought Flying Tigers in the 1980’s), with Kroger in the late 90’s when they acquired Fred Meyer, and then as a consultant on a number of smaller deals including on the periphery of the disastrous Safeway/Albertsons divestiture of stores to Haggen.  In all cases, while I was blessed to work with a number of great people, there was executive hubris that drove ridiculous decisions and shareholder expectations for some impossible results.  I was always amazed at how the senior executives and the Board of Directors toasted the completion of the deal when the documents were signed!  That is a kin to popping the champagne in the Super Bowl immediately after winning the coin toss.

    But the real eye-opener…no one ever seems to learn from history?  But maybe new, more focused government oversight will minimize some of the usual collateral damages.  Let’s hope so…we will know by the outcome of the Kroger/Albertsons deal…many years from now!

    And from another reader:

    Interesting conversation that reinforces applying cultural views, practices and standards from other countries can have its challenges. When Bel Brands, the hugely successful French cheese company, decided to make a go of it here, they wisely hired a U.S. executive team led by the former head of the specialty cheese division at Kraft Foods. Moreover, they allowed the team to make decisions and pursue market development initiatives that were respectful of how the U.S. dairy aisle cheese business operates. At the time my agency was representing Sargento Foods and I distinctly remember being in a Nielsen category review meeting when suddenly Bel came out of nowhere to take significant share in snack cheese. They did it by investment spending way ahead of what early volume numbers would warrant. Snack cheese had always been the red headed stepchild of dairy aisle cheese, and Bel as a focused specialist with a unique product in Laughing Cow and Babybel. They ran the table on the category ahead of other domestic brands. The key to victory was the right management team, and a willing parent company to back and support their aggressive plans. It was a huge win for them, and set them up for expansion success. Importantly they didn’t try to impose French sensibilities on a marketing environment that’s distinctly unique to American packaged foods strategy. Snack cheese was ripe for the taking and that’s where they invested. Had they attempted to take on Sargento in their core slices and shreds business it would have been a disaster.

    We took note last week of a Business Insider report that Amazon has an invitation-only Ad Verification program that pays users $2 a month to share their mobile phones' traffic data.  According to the story, "Amazon is tracking what ads participants saw, where they saw them, and the time of day they were viewed. This includes Amazon's own ads and third-party ads on the platform."

    One MNB reader responded:

    Please allow me to adjust my tinfoil hat while I tell you that I wouldn’t do this for ANY amount of money…

    I did a FaceTime the other day about evolving EV technology, which provided a business metaphor.  And, as you know, I'm a sucker for a metaphor.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I am by no means an expert, it seems to me, the drag on the wheels to recharge the battery while accelerating would hinder the acceleration process and cause the battery to work harder.  Love the thought though, I drive an electric car.  

    I'm no expert, either.  Obviously.

    MNB reader Carl Jorgensen wrote:

    Love it when you make a video while driving. Nice to recognize downtown Norwalk out the window.

    Thanks.  I get grief occasionally when I tape FaceTime videos while driving by the coastline, so I thought it was important to do one in a less affluent area.

    On another subject, MNB reader Chris Connolly wrote:

    Thanks for your mention of the passing of Bob McGrath.   His hometown and mine are 12 miles apart and Ottawa has long been very proud of him, as they should be.  

    And finally, last week we had a piece about CVS pharmacists working remotely, which prompted this email from another MNB reader:

    For the sake of clarification, someone needs to point out to the folks at CVS as well as the Wall Street Journal that there is absolutely not a shortage of pharmacists in the United States today.  

    There is, however, a shortage of pharmacists willing to work for CVS and Walgreen due to the fact that they use metrics-based performance to determine the level of success in their pharmacies; rather than judging their staffs on the basis of the number of positive patient outcomes or lives saved, pharmacists and technicians are expected to produce better results with fewer people and more and more pharmacists are not willing to be subjected to that standard.   In addition to filling an ever increasing number of scripts, chain pharmacists and their staffs are expected to administer vaccinations and conduct other activities that prevent them from actually speaking to patients at length and providing required counseling to them.

    In addition, the pandemic illustrated that neither company could demonstrate compassion toward its pharmacy staff members based on their efforts to ratchet up doing still more with less while pharmacists and technicians struggled with keeping themselves healthy, not to mention their patients.    It’s not a coincidence that both firms are offering large hiring bonuses in many markets for both pharmacist and technician positions because they cannot find applicants otherwise.     

    Community pharmacists who wish to practice at the top of their licenses will not be applying for openings at either of these firms until they are being judged by more than just numbers.

    We had an email last week on this subject that read:

    Kevin, I had to laugh while the reading the story about CVS Remote Pharmacists “while still meeting patient-privacy requirements”. The pharmacy techs at my local CVS continue to announce to me and the long line behind me the medications I am picking up. Geez…

    And I responded:

    Agreed.  Worst nightmare:  I'm at CVS, and the pharmacist shouts out, "Coupe, double order of Viagra!"

    Prompting MNB reader Fred Horowitz to write:

    I clearly read to the bottom on the right day, Mr. Viagra!

    I like to think it is always worth sticking around until the end…

    Published on: December 12, 2022

    In Week 14 of National Football League action…

    Las Vegas Raiders 16, Los Angeles Rams 17

    Minnesota Vikings 23, Detroit Lions 34

    Baltimore Ravens 16, Pittsburgh Steelers 14

    Cleveland Browns 10, Cincinnati Bengals 23

    New York Jets 12, Buffalo Bills 20

    Houston Texans 23, Dallas Cowboys 27

    Philadelphia Eagles 48, New York Giants 22

    Jacksonville Jaguars 36, Tennessee Titans 22

    Kansas City Chiefs 34, Denver Broncos 28

    Carolina Panthers 30, Seattle Seahawks 24

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7, San Francisco 49ers 35

    Miami Dolphins 17, Los Angeles Chargers 23