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    Published on: February 15, 2023

    by Michael Sansolo

    Though short on days, the month of February is long on opportunities to build promotions around food, but there might be a big one that gets vastly under celebrated.

    No doubt, every food store in America celebrated and worked hard this past weekend thanks to the Super Bowl essentially becoming the biggest food holiday this side of Thanksgiving. And then we had Valentine’s Day, which offers up near endless opportunities to help people like me find flowers and (more than ever) meal solutions to whip up unexpectedly good fare for the day. (BTW - I failed!)

    And the reality is that most supermarkets nail it when it comes to both days.

    But ask yourself if you are maximizing February’s longest celebration, the annual commemoration of Black History Month. Now granted in today’s hyper-partisan and sensitive times this may seem like a path you don’t want to risk taking, but the opportunity is there to deservedly celebrate African-American culture and focus on food in a way that could delight any shopper.

    You can easily start by watching a bit of mediocre fare on Netflix called “Somebody Feed Phil,” starring Phil Rosenthal, best known as the creator of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” a long-time television hit. Rosenthal’s assignment in this new show is to travel to cities around the world, sampling every day cuisine and, spoiler alert: he seems to like everything in a very non-critical way.

    However, two episodes really struck me as it pertains to Black History Month. On Phil’s trips to both Chicago and New Orleans, he spends significant time in long-standing African-American neighborhoods, sampling local favorites and learning about the culture and history surrounding each dish. 

    That serving of history and community connection comes across most strongly in New Orleans when he visits the Tremé, a neighborhood still on the rebound from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Though his travels Phil meets locals trying to rebuild community spirit, with food at the center of his journey and their efforts.

    The connection of food to history, culture and community seems like a recipe to build ever better promotions for events like Black History Month or even celebrations of different nations and peoples. It takes us beyond just putting up signs and displays and allows food to spur insight into the how and why some traditions came to pass.

    It might be a way to connect on a much deeper level with your African-American customers, for example, during Black History Month, while exposing your Caucasian customers to interesting new recipes and meal ideas with a side of historical education.

    Sure, it’s not as easy as putting chicken wings and beer on display for the Super Bowl or candy and Roses for Valentine’s Day, but it might go a long way to building superior community connections well beyond a single month.

    Doing nothing it would seem (and forgive the paraphrase here) would be a missed opportunity and that’s a terrible thing to waste.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    There's no such thing as "the consumer," even though that's a construct we all use (including me).  But a couple of MNB stories this week - as well as a quick look through a new LL Bean catalog - reminded me of why it is important to listen to customers carefully and talk to them differently.

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    The Information reports that Instacart is "gearing up" for the launch of a site - dubbed Instacart Business -  that would appeal to small businesses, challenging both Amazon and Walmart, which have their own entries in this segment.

    According to the story, "The move could help Instacart broaden its appeal beyond home grocery deliveries and comes as the company has been in a holding pattern on a long-awaited initial public offering. Instacart has been keeping its IPO paperwork up to date and could push forward once market conditions improve … Instacart has not yet set an exact launch date and the company is still finalizing parts of the product, including deciding whether to launch a business-specific version of its Instacart+ subscription service."

    More context from The Information:

    "While Instacart has offered same-day delivery for products from Staples since 2020 and Office Depot since 2022, the company is still known primarily as a grocery-delivery company, as the carrot in its logo reflects. As growth in at-home grocery delivery cools following the pandemic, launching a service catered toward business products could help Instacart widen its reputation from delivering just groceries to providing a broad range of products … Instacart has also been trying to diversify its sources of revenue beyond its core delivery business. The company has invested heavily in its digital advertising business, allowing brands to promote their products in search results and offer coupons through the app. Instacart’s ad revenue is expected to grow 41% this year, more than double the growth rate of Amazon’s advertising business, according to projections from Insider Intelligence."

    KC's View:

    It strikes me as sensible that Instacart is trying to broaden its base while still focusing on its core competencies … while I know a lot of folks are focused on the IPO, I'm much more interested in how the business continues to evolve.

    That evolution, by the way, is what I'll be talking about with Chris Rogers, Chief Business Officer at Instacart, who will be appearing with me, live onstage, during the technology innovation track at the National Grocers Association (NGA) Show in Las Vegas.

    I hope you'll join us for this and all the sessions we'll be conducting at the NGA Show on Sunday, February 26.

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    The latest dunnhumby Consumer Trends Tracker (CTT) is out, reporting that "Americans believe that grocery retailers are earning a 35.2% net profit margin, 14 times higher than grocers’ actual net profit margin average of 2.5%, and that food-at-home inflation is 24.3%, double the annual rate reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics."

    The reports' findings include:

    •  "In the third wave of the CTT, dunnhumby also found that despite perceived inflation reaching a new high, customers are coping a little better compared to the last wave of the report.  Consumers who reported they would have difficulty covering an unexpected expense of $400 dropped from 64% in July to 60% in November 2022. In addition, 48% of consumers reported they are getting the kind of food they want to eat compared to 43% in the second wave."

    •  "Inflation worries are driving customer sentiment. When consumers were asked as part of the survey, why customer sentiment is the lowest it has been in 50 years, consumers responded by a five to one margin that inflation was the cause, with covid coming in a distant second. When asked about 2023, only 22% of respondents predicted inflation and the state of the country will get better. Forty-seven percent of respondents predicted inflation and the state of the country would improve three years from now. Over a five-year period, 54% of consumer are optimistic that their own finances and the state of the country will improve."

    •  "Younger shoppers are most optimistic, but only in the short term. For 2023, 31% of consumers aged 18-34, believe their finances and the state of the country will get better, compared to just 13% of consumers over 65. Over a three and five-year timeframe however, there were no significant differences by age."

    •  "While improving slightly, most consumers continue to struggle financially.  No state is immune, but the states with the highest rate of financial insecurity (75%) are Oregon, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and West Virginia. The states with the lowest rates of financial insecurity (45%) are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Delaware."

    In addition, the report says, "Forty-four percent of consumers reported it was very or extremely important for retailers to help them make healthy choices, an increase of 3% from the previous wave. In addition, 48% reported they choose healthy foods while shopping (up 2%), 40% read diet and nutrition information (up 2%) and 29% are buying products for a specific diet when they shop. The top five diets in the U.S. cited in the survey are 1) Keto, 20 Low carb, 3) Low sugar, 4) Vegetarian, and 5) Gluten free."

    KC's View:

    For the record, the "woefully" in the headline was my word, not dunnhumby's.  But I'll stand by it.

    But … if consumers are misinformed about margins, that is at least in part because retailers have done a lousy job of explaining their business model to shoppers.  I'm not sure how granular retailers need to get, but I think there have to be ways to talk about the differences between gross and net profits in a way that fosters shopper loyalty.

    That said, there are a lot of people in this country who are misinformed about a lot of things - that's clear from their belief that inflation is a lot higher than it actually is.  Sure, some of this has to do with mindset, but an over-dependence on social media for news, combined with the precipitous decline in local newspaper readership, means that people just don't know stuff.

    One of the best things about my job is that every morning, I scan dozens of newspaper sites.  I read not just news that I can use on MNB, but dozens of other stories that grab my attention and spark my curiosity.  I'm not the best informed person on the planet by any means - I've described my knowledge base as wider than it is deep - but I get a lot of news from a lot of different sources, and very little of it is from social media.

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    Business Insider reports that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy yesterday told an internal employee meeting that was "brutally honest," urging staffers "to band together as the company tries to get through an unusually challenging time."

    Here's how Business Insider describes Jassy's statement, which was a response to a question about simultaneous cuts and investments being made by the company:

    "Jassy said there's a lot of work to do to make progress on Amazon's existing businesses, new businesses, across teams, and the company's culture. That will take 'many months' and some of the company's moves will be 'misunderstood.' But he promised employees that the progress they make will 'redefine' Amazon and better-position the company going forward, according to a recording of the all-hands meeting obtained by Insider.

    "'This is not work that's going to take one or two months, you know, we're going to make progress, meaningful progress every month, but this will take many months, and I'm quite confident that we will be misunderstood and we will be underrated,' Jassy said. 

    'And you know what, that will not be the first time it's happened, and it will not be the last time it happens. If we focus squarely on delivering for customers and realizing, all of us as owners, that we all have a piece of making this happen, and being part of the solution, I'm quite confident that we're going to deliver an immense amount and redefine what it is to be Amazon. I feel really strongly that our best days are unquestionably in front of us, and I look forward to making that happen with all of you,' he added."

    KC's View:

    I've been saying that it remains to be seen whether Jassy has the skills to create enthusiasm and lead his folks into battle.  This may be the beginning of that, but time will tell.

    I do find myself wondering how the "all of us as owners" line landed.  A business always is going to be healthier if employees feel ownership, but the culture has to nurture that over an extended period of time.  You just can't say it and expect it to happen.

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    Fast Company has a story detailing the threat presented by a banana-killing fungus that is threatening the very existence of the Cavendish variety, which is ubiquitous in US supermarkets.

    According to the story, "In late January, when the Venezuelan government announced that it had detected a banana-killing fungus on farms in some areas, it was the latest outbreak of a disease that has been slowly spreading around the world. Last year, Peru declared a state of emergency when it detected the same disease. In Colombia, where the fungus was discovered in 2019, hundreds of acres of banana trees were destroyed in an attempt to stop it from spreading.

    "First discovered in Taiwan in the 1990s, the fungus spread through Asia to the Middle East and Africa before ending up in Central and South America. Once it’s in the soil, it stays there, so the land can no longer be used to grow bananas.

    "No good solution exists yet. But on a Dole banana plantation in Central America, a new field trial will soon test Cavendish bananas that have been gene edited in an attempt to help them survive the fungus. Elo Life Systems, the biotech company that developed the bananas, used data analytics to quickly sort through the genomes of other varieties (and other plants) that are naturally resistant to the disease."

    The story notes that "since it takes time for the trees to grow, the new plants at the Dole plantation aren’t yet proven. But in the lab, the gene-edited bananas survived high doses of the fungus. Now they’ll be grown and tested in Dole’s nurseries, and then moved into fields that are not in use because they’re infected with the fungus. By the end of next year, researchers should know whether the plants can survive and perform as well as the original banana trees. Other startups are also racing to test gene-edited bananas."

    KC's View:

    One of the interesting things about this story is that it points out that as climate change makes it harder to grow all sorts of crops, we're likely to see more gene editing taking place to keep the food flow sustainable.  Which may dismay some people, but may absolutely be necessary.

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    The monthly Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey indicates that "the U.S. online grocery market finished January with $8.4 billion in total sales, down 1.2% compared to last year … The drop in total online grocery sales was entirely driven by Ship-to-Home sales, which declined 15% to $1.3 billion. Pickup posted the strongest gains, increasing almost 3% on a year-over-year basis to 4.1 billion, while Delivery grew less than 1%, holding steady around $3.0 billion."

    Collectively, the survey says, "the three segments captured just over 12% of total grocery spending in the month, slightly higher than a year ago and likely buoyed by strong overall grocery spending by U.S. households. Excluding Ship-to-Home, the share of spending attributed to Pickup and Delivery was more than 10%."

    And, the study says, "The total overall eGrocery user base for January dropped 1.6% versus last year. Pickup was the only receiving method that expanded its respective monthly active user (MAU) base during January, although it was up only by 1%. In contrast, the MAU base for Delivery dipped 2%, and Ship-to-Home plummeted 10% compared to the prior year. 

    "The pullback in total MAUs was driven mostly by the largest user group (30–44-year-olds) which shrank 5% from the prior year, but a 4% decline in the 60-and-over age group also contributed. 

    For January, the study concluded, "the likelihood that a customer will use the same service within the next 30 days dipped approximately two percentage points versus last year to 60%. The decline in repeat intent was largely driven by the more frequent customers, which is a troubling sign because they spend considerably more per order than the customer segments who buy less often.

    “This large gap in repeat intent is concerning and should raise a red flag for conventional grocers,” said David Bishop, a partner in Brick Meets Click. “While our monthly research didn’t examine the causes for the variations between Grocery and Mass, it could be associated with a number of variables, including product pricing, service-related costs, or differences in customer experience, so grocers may want to analyze what are the main culprits driving their respective rates lower.”

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    From CNBC:

    "Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz declined an invitation from 11 senators to testify on March 9 on the coffee company’s compliance with federal labor law, according to a letter seen by Reuters late on Tuesday.

    "Last week, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs a committee on labor issues, and 10 other members of the committee asked Schultz to answer by Feb. 14 whether he would take part.

    "Schultz, who re-joined Starbucks as interim CEO in April 2022, will 'fully transition' out of the role next month, said Starbucks acting executive vice president and general counsel Zabrina Jenkins in the letter.

    "'Given the timing of the transition, his relinquishment of any operating role in the company going forward and what we understand to be the subject of the hearing, we believe another senior leader with ongoing responsibilities is best suited to address these matters,' Jenkins wrote."

    KC's View:

    If you believe that Schultz is going to "fully transition" out of an operating role at Starbucks when the new CEO - what the hell is his name again? - steps in, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you.  Cheap.

    Schultz may not have an operational title, but he's staying on the board, and his shadow will loom long and large over the new CEO.  (What the hell is his name again?)

    I think Schultz is an absolute wussy for declining this invitation - he's been the loudest, most insistent voice at Starbucks in pushing back against unionization.  In fact, if I remember correctly, he went to one market where unionization was on the table even before he returned to the CEO job for the third time, when he wasn't even on the board.  So declining an "invitation" to testify strikes me as gutless - he ought to have the backbone to go make his case.  (If memory serves, wasn't it quite literally his backbone that was the issue when he decided not to run for President?  Just asking.)

    I'm no Bernie Sanders fan, but I kind of hope that the invitation becomes a subpoena.  Not sure what the legal requirements would be to make that happen, but I'd like to see a Schultz vs. Sanders exchange … if nothing else, it would be entertaining, and quite possibly illuminating.

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Amazon said yesterday that it opened a new suburban format Amazon Go store in the Fredrickson area of Puyallup, WA. Like other suburban Amazon Go stores, the announcement says, "this store offers an expanded selection of grab-and-go food and beverage items, including a broader range of beer and wine, and everyday essentials you might need in a pinch. It features a Made-to-Order kitchen, a selection of specialty tapped beverages, and self-serve Pinkberry Fro-yo … Additionally, for added convenience, you can return eligible items purchased on at the customer service counter.

    Clearly, not all bricks-and-mortar store development is on pause.  

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    •  From Axios:

    "Consumer prices rose at a more rapid monthly pace in January, the Labor Department said on Tuesday — interrupting a monthslong streak of cooler inflation readings.

    By the numbers: The Consumer Price Index rose 0.5% last month, as prices for food, energy and apparel accelerated at a more rapid pace. In the 12 months through January, inflation was 6.4%, compared to 6.5% in December.

    "Core CPI, which excludes food and fuel prices, rose by 0.4% in January, matching the same pace in December. Over the last 12 months through January, this index rose 5.6%. In December, that figure was 5.7% … It was the highest reading since October — the latest sign that squashing inflation might not be a consistent, downward path."

    The Washington Post adds:

    "The latest report underscored a key challenge facing the Fed — and the overall economy. Prices are easing, a welcome reversal after 2022’s eye-popping inflation rates. But finishing the job requires targeting some of the most persistent sources of inflation and keeping the pressure on. No part of the Fed’s job until now has been easy, and the central bank had to scramble to get inflation down from 40-year highs last year. But price increases are still abnormally high, and getting them down to sustainable levels may require a level of pain that has so far been avoided."

    •  Subway announced yesterday that it is "exploring a possible sale of the company. There is no indication of timing or assurance that a sale will occur. J.P. Morgan is advising the company and will conduct the sale exploration process. The company does not intend to make any further public comment regarding the process until it has been completed."

    The company said that Subway's "management team remains committed to the future and will continue to execute against its multi-year transformation journey, which includes a focus on menu innovation, modernization of restaurants and improvements to its overall guest experience."

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  Target-owned Shipt announced that it has hired Amy Benson as its new chief people and community officer.  The announcement notes that Benson "has spent her career at Target, most recently serving as a vice president of human resources."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Burger King owner Restaurant Brands International Inc. named a new chief executive Tuesday, saying the company needs to do more to help its restaurant owners improve their profits.

    "The Toronto-based fast-food chain operator said Joshua Kobza, the company’s chief operating officer, will take over as CEO March 1. Mr. Kobza previously served as Restaurant Brands’ chief financial officer and chief technology officer in his 11 years with the company."

    Published on: February 15, 2023

    One MNB reader emailed me with some personal experience connected to our story about Amazon dipping its beak deeper and deeper into third parties' marketplace sales:

    If you’re a Fulfilled by Amazon seller like we are, Amazon takes between 66% = 70% of the selling price since we have chosen them to handle their inbound freight.

    That includes deductions for:

    •  Orders not received by customer (why should we pay for that)?

    •  Orders damaged in transit (same question as above)

    I am sure they feel that since they are a monopoly, they feel can charge what they want.  And since the duopoly of UPS and FedEx charge smaller merchants close to $20, just to ship a 12” square empty box to a consumer…they probably feel that small vendors have no alternative. However, nature abhors a vacuum, and someone may come along to challenge parts of their monopoly. 

    I wrote a piece the other say suggesting ways in which Amazon need to improve, which prompted one MNB reader to write:

    THANK YOU for calling out Amazon! My feeble voice has no chance of being heard or cared about but perhaps yours will.

    My issue??  I’ll keep it short with only 2:

    The deliveries have gotten terrible and are consistently slow.  Specifically, the 2 day delivery for Amazon Prime is now a “slogan” versus a reality.  A PAID reality I may add.  I live in Charleston, SC.   While not a major city, a city that at least Amazon should have no issues with 2 days deliveries.  My deliveries are consistently 3-4 days.  While perfectly acceptable from me with other vendors, NOT acceptable to me from Amazon BECAUSE I pay you for Prime and YOU tell me 2 day delivery.

    Fed’Ex/UPS used to make the Amazon deliveries to me in Charleston. What a smooth machine these two were!  NEVER had an issue.  I order from other websites such as Columbia, Saucony, North Face and Wal-Mart.  These items are delivered sooooo very smooth with UPS and/or Fed’Ex.  Amazon about a year ago changed to THEIR OWN drivers.  What a mess from day 1.  I have MANY examples but I’ll share one that happened Thursday. I’ll be brief:

    Amazon tracker says “10 stops away” followed a bit later with “You are the next stop.

    The tracker then shows the driver not even close to my house.

    Then 1 hour later, message to me is “Driver on the way”.

    I went to bed at 10:05pm, woke up with no delivery.

    REMEMBER, AMAZON messaged me 1) I was 10 stops away, 2) I was next stop, 3) Driver on the way.

    The delivery took place 2 days later.

    True story and I have screen shots of the messages.

    This is a CONSISTENT event. With Amazon.

    Keep the fire on them Kevin!

    From another MNB reader:

    This story reminds me of two things: first, that Bezos mantra for the longest time was about a laser focus on adding value to the customer relationship, which always came first – even above and beyond the investors. What happens if you lose sight of what got you to the big show because you’re just so big and pervasive you acquire a belief you can’t fail. That is the beginning of the “decline of the Roman empire” so to speak.

    Second, Jay Chiat, founder of Apple’s ad agency back in the Steve Jobs era, famously said – “I wonder how big we can get before we get bad.” Customers come first. Period.

    I suggested the other day that Andy Jassy needs to send an email to every Amazon Prime member, explaining the shortcomings and issues, and being as transparent as possible about what Amazon is going through.

    MNB reader Michael J. Schillo responded:

    Instead, Andy J will be let go in 6 weeks and Jeff Bezos will send just the email you are recommending and be a hero.

    And then he and Howard S will compete for biggest ego in Seattle.

    I'd prefer to miss that showdown, if you don't mind.  Yikes.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Totally agree with your thoughts about the email “explainer”. However, maybe another idea is to realign customer expectations. What is the Prime core value proposition? For me personally. it’s cost free shipping and access to Prime Video. At the end of the day, who REALLY needs same day/next day delivery. This next day delivery promise is may not be as big a customer value as thought? I may be wrong, but it’s an easily testable proposition.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Attn: Doug McMillon at Wal Mart – Tighten the screws on your operation.  This COULD BE your golden opportunity!  Clean-up your on-line “Marketplace” and make it more attractive for consumers and your vendors.   Amazon is faltering - step up your game.

    On the subject of Walmart closing pickup-only depots, MNB reader Todd Hudgens wrote:

    The closure of the Depots are a sign of eComm slowing, but I believe more so because BOPIS has been institutionalized at Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets, The Depots were designed to test grocery pick up and was a brilliant move by Walmart. They worked out the kinks and tested to ensure they would work, not knowing how visionary pick up would be with an unknown pandemic appearing. I loved the Depot in Bentonville but have since moved to our local Neighborhood Market. I suspect many have done the same and more will just move their weekly pickup to a nearby location.

    Thank you and love your column to start my day.

    From another reader:

    I was a pickup customer at the Illinois test unit from the start,  nearly 3 years ago, until it closed last week. This week I tried a pickup at their Supercenter, which is less than a mile away from the test. It seems that they learned nothing from their 3-year test. Pickup typically took a couple of minutes at the test store. At the Supercenter, 12 minutes. I’ll be revisiting Jewel to see if their pickup service has improved since I last tried it in 2020.

    And, regarding Walmart's decision to close some of its technology hubs, one MNB reader wrote:

    Your WSJ excerpt and commentary on WalMart’s IT hubs closing is misleading.   The full WSJ article notes that “Before the closures, [Walmart] had 11 tech hubs in the U.S. and six abroad, according to its website.”   So, closing 3 locations is not a wholesale mandate to centralize and gather around the water cooler.  WalMart also has 20,000 IT staff worldwide – I don’t believe they could all fit in Bentonville.   With today’s far-flung organizations with offices and people around the globe, why should certain groups have to go into one location just to hop on the video call that they can have just as easily from home? 

    Secondly, I believe this idea of “networking and pollination of ideas and innovation” is a corporate myth for most organizations.   Maybe the innovation lab works in small, localized groups and departments, but for the vast majority of modern companies, it is not desirable or even physically possible for everyone to be in a room “spitballing” all day.   Not only are key people located literally everywhere, but the available office space is too small for “everyone” to be in the office at the same time.   Someone has to mind the store and get some work done; not everyone is a budding Steve Jobs.    

    I asked the other day if whatever FTC agreement might be reached with Kroger and Albertsons would have an impact on Kroger's stated plans for a pure-play e-grocery entry into the northeastern US.  One MNB reader responded:

    KC my guess is if Kroger is starting e-grocery in the Northeast now, before buying Shaw's, then it probably wouldn't matter if they decide to sell Shaw's and continue e-grocery. I can't imagine they will hold onto Shaw's, they haven't opened a new store in years, and only do a few remodels a year. Not to mention Shaw's is fourth at best in the market areas they serve, behind Market Basket, Hannaford, and Stop and Shop. 

    I recently expressed some level of skepticism about whether CVS would be able to live up to its ambitions when it comes to the health care business, prompting MNB reader Donna Brockway to write:

    I have the same concerns about CVS biting off more than they can chew.  Their out of stocks, particularly in Pharmacy and Health and Beauty Care continue to be extremely high - I get my prescriptions at a CVS pharmacy inside a Target store, thereby being convenient for me to shop for other items while there.  Not only are there high out of stocks on the above-named areas, but in the last couple of months, several of my prescriptions have been out of stock.  This shocks me as you would think they would have a better handle on it than that.  And only two weeks ago, they announced that the Pharmacy will not be open Sunday or Monday, most likely due to labor shortage.

    I'm watching them closely, as I don't think they can pull off everything they are trying to become.

    On the subject of what's been driving egg prices, one MNB reader wrote:

    As a former dairy category manager for over 30 years at two highly successful retailers I can tell you eggs are priced weekly from the wholesaler and we changed retail prices immediately.  Take pride in being the slowest to rise and the quickest to go back down. Some retailers may be interested in taking some extra profit but the best retailers think about their customers first. 

    Commenting the other day about a lawsuit against Walmart because its mint fudge cookies didn't actually have either, I wrote:

    I know not everybody agrees with me on this, but I think that if you are going to say that something has fudge in it, it ought not be necessary to play word games to win the argument - it ought to have actual fudge.  And actual mint, not artificial flavoring.  I understand that packaging language, often tiny print, can serve as a defense, but it really is about the lowering of standards.

    One MNB reader responded: 

    I have over 50 years experience in matters relating to food labeling and advertising.  The federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act states that a food is deemed to be misbranded if its labeling is false or misleading in any particular.  Most states have an identical law.   Unfortunately FDA (and state) enforcement of this provision is all but non-existent.  In recent years the class action lawyers have been the only ones responsible for ensuring some degree of compliance.  Most of the cases are filed in federal court.  The federal judges are busy and many consider these consumer product cases not worthy of their attention.  Over 35 years ago I was involved in a suit regarding a claim of "5 oz of milk in every slice" being made on the label and in advertising for the leading brand of single wrapped processed cheese food slices.  One day the judge came into the courtroom and said something like  "I just came from a hearing involving a complicated criminal case involving multiple defendants and now I have to hear about cheese slices."  When he said that, in spite of all our factual evidence, I knew we were doomed. 

    While there is no federal or state standard for "fudge" a Google search will show that it is generally understood to be made of sugar, milk and butter (milk fat).  An unqualified claim of "Mint" where the mint flavor is in whole or in part artificial requires the qualifier "artificially flavored" by FDA regulation found at 21 CFR 101.22.  By my observation a third of domestic food products do not comply with FDA labeling requirements.  For imported foods it is probably 80%.  A large portion of the foods offered for sale at major retailers such as Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Old World Market and even Macy's do not comply.  Jungle Jim's in Cincinnati has a huge amount of imported foods segregated by country.  I have not been there in over 10 years but my estimate then was 90% plus of those food items did not comply.  FDA has a District Office in Cincinnati.  It truly is a "Jungle" out there." 

    In a 1924 case involving alleged APPLE CIDER VINEGAR the US Supreme Court said "The statute is plain and direct.  Its comprehensive terms condemn every statement, design and device which may mislead or deceive,  Deception may result from the use of statements not technically false or which maybe literally true.  The aim of the statute is to prevent that resulting from indirection and ambiguity, as well as from statements which are false.  It is not difficult to choose statements, designs and devices which will not deceive.   Those which are ambiguous and liable to mislead should be read favorably to the accomplishment of the purpose of the Act.  The statute applies to foods, and the ingredients and substances contained therein.  It was enacted to enable purchasers to buy food for what it really is."

    FDA often cites that case and language on the very rare occasion that they allege a food label is false or misleading.

    That should be the standard.  The problem is, without any enforcement even the good guys are forced to do likewise to remain competitive.  

    On the subject of Amazon's bricks-and-mortar intentions, one MNB reader wrote:

    I live in Torrance CA.  About 2 years ago, Amazon took over this empty grocery store.  It was making it into  an Amazon Prime store.  Now it does not appear that any work is being done.  Has Amazon stopped working on Amazon Prime stores?

    Not completely.  But they're clearly taking a deep breath.

    And, on another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

    I will confess that I somehow missed that Zappos was acquired by Amazon. But that explains why the service has dropped. I thought they were using Amazon to help with shipping. I HATE getting my order in individual boxes on random days, much slower than ever before. I miss Zappos. Much like Whole Foods now, it’s been dumbed down and isn’t special anymore. And I can’t believe any business would believe that Amazon wouldn’t drastically change things when they got their hands on it. 

    Responding to yesterday's FaceTime about Stew Leonard's new swimming school and related charity efforts, one MNB reader wrote:

    Thanks for your wonderful Facetime video today.  It certainly struck a chord with our family.   58 years ago, my in-laws were young newlyweds with an 18 month- old son living in a remote farmhouse in Western Illinois.    My mother-in-law, pregnant with my wife, had a small, fenced-in area behind the house where she could allow her son a chance to be outside under her watchful eye.  One morning, she had her son and their dog in the play area when she was distracted by something that had occurred in the house.   During the few moments she was in the house, the dog unlatched the gate to the play area and her son slipped through, wandering down to a nearby farm pond where he drowned.  

    As a remembrance of her older brother whom she never knew, my wife has made numerous named and anonymous contributions to YMCAs where we have lived, stipulating that the intent of the funds was to provide discounted or free swimming lessons to any child whose family couldn’t afford it.    She often wishes she could do more to prevent the same tragedy from occurring in any other family.   You can be certain that both of our sons learned to swim at an early age as well.  

    And finally, we had this response to our story about the fellows who fell into a vat of chocolate:

    I believe there is only one person fully qualified to provide the proper context on Monday’s story regarding Mars Wrigley’s chocolate safety-related fine….Tom Smothers.

    It sort of breaks my heart that there are generations of people who have no idea who the Smothers Brothers are.