business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    A new Axios survey suggests that "two-thirds of leaders said they’re in sync with employees, yet only 44% of employees feel the same way, and a majority of employees don't know how to access company-wide information like goals, strategies and updates."

    It won't surprise you to know that I have a thought or two about that…

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    The Washington Post reports on a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluding that "many young children are not consuming fruits and vegetables daily and are regularly consuming sugary beverages."

    According to the story, "In 2021, a third of children age 1 to 5 did not eat a daily fruit and nearly half did not eat a daily vegetable during the preceding week, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, 57 percent drank a sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during the preceding week, the report found.

    "In Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi, more than 70 percent of young kids did not eat a daily vegetable in the preceding week. The percentage of children who did not eat a daily fruit or vegetable was highest among Black children and lowest among non-Hispanic White children.

    "In 40 states and the District of Columbia, more than half of children drank a sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during the preceding week (in Mississippi, it approached 80 percent). And parents reported that more than 70 percent of Black children drank a sugar-sweetened drink in the previous week."

    KC's View:

    Somehow, it isn't surprising that the numbers looked that way in 2021 - we were in the middle of a pandemic, and parents were struggling with a lot of different issues on a daily basis.  I'm sure that diet in many cases was low on the priority list - they just had to get through the day, maybe get the kids to do some schoolwork and manage to get their own work done as well.

    That's not to say this isn't a continuing and worrisome trend.  But we also have to keep it in context.

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    Business Insider has a really good piece in which it takes a hard look at Amazon's "Earth's best employer" initiative, announced in 2021.

    The initiative, which was launched as Jeff Bezos handed the CEO reins over to Any Jassy, "aimed to revamp the company's reputation as a toxic workplace. The company even added the slogan 'Strive to be Earth's Best Employer' to its set of 16 leadership principles it follows.

    "But 18 months into the launch, employees say the Earth's best employer project still hasn't taken off. The company's growing bureaucracy has drawn the scorn of many employees, who call it 'Day 2,' a derisive play on Amazon's speedy, risk-taking culture referred to as 'Day 1.' Meanwhile, employees are still complaining of a toxic, secretive culture in which they aren't notified when they're put on a performance-improvement plan and managers face little oversight on how they evaluate employees. 

    "Current and former employees told Insider the initiative lacks direction and executives have struggled to clearly define its scope or provide tangible deliverables for what the initiative should achieve. Managers at Amazon are defaulting to a hodgepodge of party lines when referring to the initiative, while their actions exacerbate the same toxic culture employees have been complaining about for years."

    The story goes on:

    "Employees said the lack of guidelines around the initiative have severely dampened its impact on the company's workplace culture.

    "'We came up with the best employer idea before we defined it,' one of the people said. 'Nobody knows what it means or why it's important.'

    "As the economy worsens, some employees believe Amazon's Earth's best employer initiative was all just a 'marketing gimmick.'  Now that the labor market has shifted, Amazon has little reason to spend resources in making good on their promises.

    "'It was all just for show anyway,' another employee said. 'Amazon went through a phase where they pretended to care about their employees. That phase is over'."

    KC's View:

    I've been saying here for a long time that if Amazon brought the same level of attention and investment to labor relations that it brings to other areas of innovation in its business, it could be a game-changer.  But there has been no evidence of that happening.

    A lot has happened at Amazon since 2021, but I think one would be hard-pressed to identify the workplace as an area in which the company has made any meaningful strides.  

    I've criticized Amazon lately as over-promising and under-delivering in a number of its business segments, a reversal of how it used to be perceived.  It seems that its workplace may have been a kind of leading indicator of the business's broader problems.

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    Attorney General Kris Mayes yesterday announced that her office "is launching an anti-trust investigation of the proposed merger between The Kroger Co., parent company of Smith's and Fry’s Food & Drug Stores, and Albertsons Companies, which operates supermarkets under the Albertsons and Safeway brands in Arizona."

    “Hardworking Arizonans struggle daily to put fresh, healthy food on the table for their families and have already suffered through devastating price increases over the past year," she said.  "In addition to skyrocketing prices, the proposed merger raises questions about the potential for store closures that could force consumers to travel farther for groceries – possibly creating food deserts that disproportionately affect minority communities.”

    In addition, Mayes said, ""Thousands of employees will also wonder whether their jobs will still exist if the merger is finalized. And even if they remain employed, workers may have to worry whether their wages or benefits will decrease.  Farmers and ranchers also fear that a consolidated supermarket giant might wield unfair buying power that would force them out of business in favor of corporate producers. I will fight to ensure that Arizona consumers, workers, and local grocery producers are not harmed."

    Kroger and Albertsons announced the $24.6 billion merger last October.  It is expected that it will take at least a year to clear any regulatory hurdles before the deal is closed.

    KC's View:

    And the lawyers get richer…

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    The Fresh Market announced that it is expanding its relationship with Firework to launch what the companies are calling "the US's first-ever Shoppable Video-Live Commerce (SVLC) retail media network (RMN)."   According to the announcement, "The Fresh Market will offer brands the opportunity to run video ads as sponsors across their ongoing livestream series, which features holiday meal prep tutorials and chef-developed recipes that are already enjoying extremely high conversion and engagement rates with Fresh Market customers."

    Some context from the announcement, which comes "during a period of unprecedented growth for RMNs. Having realized the untapped revenue potential of their owned digital channels (e.g. websites, apps), more and more retailers are launching RMNs. Meanwhile, thanks to the multitude of advantages RMNs confer on advertisers — such as superior ad targeting, increased brand safety, and heightened visibility where and when shoppers are most likely to transact — brands have been quick to redirect their ad dollars toward these novel marketplaces."

    "Overall, the combined viewership of our first four Firework-powered livestreams exceeded 2 million views and we saw conversion rates of the special occasion meals featured in the shoppable videos to be over 300% greater than our traditional digital advertising results," said Kevin Miller, Chief Marketing Officer at The Fresh Market, in a prepared statement.  "Having proven the power of Firework's video commerce content in 2022, we're excited to offer our partners an innovative and differentiated means of storytelling in an entertaining new way. We call it Shoppertainment."

    KC's View:

    I think these retail media network announcements are all very interesting, but I continue to have the same concern - that at some point, they will serve mostly to clutter up the customer experience, creating so much noise and largely existing to create an alternative revenue stream for retailers.  This doesn't have to happen, but it could happen, and retailers should be vigilant.

    I'm always intrigued by the notion of "Shoppertainment," but I think retailers need to focus on whether shoppers, in some circumstances, actually want to be entertained while shopping.  

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    Entrepreneur reports that fast feeder Chick-fil-A "has opened a break room pop-up on Manhattan's Upper East Side to say thank you to the city's nearly 65,000 delivery workers, who brave the elements in the winter months to serve NYC diners … From February 16 to April 13, workers who show proof of any completed food delivery order – and that includes all food deliveries, not just Chick-fil-A – within the past week for DoorDash, UberEats, Grubhub, Postmates, Caviar or Seamless can gain entry to The Brake Room.

    "With its punny name, the space is appropriately fitted with indoor bike storage and areas to sit and relax. Additionally, patrons will have access to refreshments, phone charging outlets, WiFi and restrooms.

    "The Brake Room is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday through Saturday but is closed on Sundays — a custom followed at all Chick-fil-A stores."

    Entrepreneur notes that "data shows that food delivery orders have tripled since 2017, with Chick-fil-A reporting the highest number of NYC deliveries in the 2022 winter months."

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    •  The Information reports that several software and payments companies, including PayPal and Shopify, are getting into the returns business: "They offer services to help brands salvage revenue by convincing shoppers to swap out purchases or buy something else instead of requesting a full refund. Their pitch to online sellers is they need these services to better compete with Amazon … Smaller sellers, which make up the bulk of the approximately 2 million subscribers to Shopify’s website-building software, in particular have felt the squeeze—which has been an opportunity for software providers like Loop Returns that can plug into Shopify-hosted sites."

    Some context:

    "Sites like Amazon have long made it easy for shoppers to buy items to try out at home and return what they didn’t like. But as many more people bought things online during the pandemic, return rates soared. With stores closed, more shoppers got in the habit of purchasing several items or sizes they had no intention of keeping, a behavior they maintained even as lockdowns lifted.

    "The return rate for e-commerce purchases more than doubled to 18% in 2020 from the year earlier, according to the National Retail Federation. That stoked a land grab in the returns business among payments and e-commerce giants - PayPal announced it would buy venture-backed startup Happy Returns in May 2021. That same month installment lender Affirm bought returns software provider Returnly for around $300 million."

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    •  From the Associated Press:

    Fewer Americans filed for jobless benefits last week despite efforts by the Federal Reserve to loosen the labor market with higher interest rates as it tries to cool the economy.

    "Applications for jobless aid in the US for the week ending Feb. 11 fell by 1,000 last week to 194,000, from 195,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

    "It’s the fifth straight week claims were under 200,000."

    •  The Conference Board said this week that its Measure of CEO Confidence "stands at 43 to start 2023, up from 32 in the final quarter of 2022 … In the survey, 93 percent of CEOs still report they are preparing for a US recession over the next 12-18 months (compared to 98 percent in the Q4 2022 survey). They also still expect that the recession will be brief and shallow with limited global spillover (86 percent).

    "However, the percentage who are preparing for a deep US recession dropped from 13 percent in Q4 2022 to 7 percent in Q1 2023, signaling that some CEOs are somewhat less pessimistic. Nonetheless, 55 percent of CEOs believe that a global recession is the greatest challenge for their companies."

    The Conference Board notes that "a total of 142 CEOs participated in the Q1 survey, which was fielded between January 17 through 30.

    •  Ahold Delhaize said that its US business saw a Q4 sales increase of 9.2 percent, with overall same-store sales up 9.3 percent.

    Annual sales were up 7.9 percent to $58.9 billion, compared to a year earlier.  Q4 operating income was up 16% to about $914 million, and up 3.9% for the year, to about $2.8 billion.

    Q4 online sales were up 17.3 percent, and annual online sales were up 14.5 percent.

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  FMI-The Food Industry Association announced the promotion of Steve Markenson to the role of vice president, research & insights;  previously he was FMI's research director.

    FMI also announced the promotion of Kelli Windsor, the organization's director of digital communications, to to senior director, digital communications.

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    •  Tim McCarver, who parlayed a solid career as a major league catcher into a Hall of Fame career as a broadcaster, has passed away.  He was 81.

    McCarver was a two-time All Star and two-time World Series champion who was the catcher of choice for two of baseball's most iconic and successful pitchers - Bob Gibson when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals and Steve Carlton for both the Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies.  When he transitioned to the broadcast booth, McCarver proved to be both eloquent (some said too talkative) and prescient in his color commentary … he knew and loved the game, and was able to communicate that joy while teaching both the basics and the subtleties of the greatest game on earth.

    And, he was fearless - he got fired from the New York Mets broadcast booth in 1999 after 16 seasons on the air because management felt he was too critical of the team.

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    Got the following email from an MNB reader about the study suggesting that consumers are woefully misinformed about the rate of inflation and the margins enjoyed by food retailers:

    Two thoughts.

    Inflation is much higher than the amount reflected by the CPI.  It may not be as high as consumers think, but the truth is that people are making purchase decisions based on inflation such as increasing the amount of private brands in their baskets.  The consumer choices to combat inflation through their purchase behavior does not cascade through to governmental reporting in my opinion.

    The margin issue is a bit more challenging but in these hyper-toxic political times, constantly hearing about the “greedy companies” that are taking advantage of inflation and making more money than ever is simply not accurate but certainly believable to many.

    Unless, of course, we're talking about oil companies, which are by definition greedy - in fact, "greedy" may be an understatement.

    This note to Michael Sansolo, regarding his column this week:

    I was very excited when I saw you mention “Somebody Feed Phil” but spoiler alert, disappointed when you referred to it as “mediocre fare”….

    Now, I understand that taste is highly personal and we all have likes/dislikes that are our own, but I find that the show is a breath of fresh air amid the cesspool of streaming television programming.  Yes, it’s goofy and more than a few episodes lack any real “meat” (pun not excluded), but at our home, we find that the sweet & loving message overrides these misses most of the time, and in the really good episodes, including New Orleans (which I recommend to anyone who will listen), it has much more emotional impact than one might expect.  I also find the inclusion of his family heartwarming and genuine in a non-saccharine way that is largely absent from most television & movies produced in the U.S.  I wish I had a job that included either of my brothers on a regular basis.

    On top of this, he ends his shows with a plea for people to get out and experience the world, and he breaks bread with many folks he just meets and is willing to be open to the experience of it.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem mediocre to me.

    Got a number of emails about yesterday's reference to a New York Times piece about how the pipeline for retail CEOs is running dry…

    One MNB reader wrote:

    I agree wholeheartedly with you on this. There is far more focus on personal development and promotion than in “player development”. If companies focus on helping their teams grow, they will have ample candidates for upper management. It takes time and effort, but in can be done internally. With technology, some things can be done online. If companies with realize “we are only as good as our people”, they will be successful in the long run. I believe Peter Daniels stated this well when he said “do what is right and the money will come.”

    MNB reader Rickard Werner wrote:

    The reason that more CEOs don't come out of Marketing is because they are over-visioned; overly focused on vision.  The reason that CEOs coming out of Finance are not successful, especially in the long term, is because they are under-visioned, cutting programs like management training.  Merchants represent the goldilocks-zone with a balance of financial realism and strategic and long-term vision.  This is clear as day to me and does not reflect any bias I may have as a former Merchant.

    I bemoaned the lack of management training programs, which prompted MNB reader Grant Krause to write:

    I have heard a version of this before…

    HR teammate: What if we spend the time and money to train/educate a teammate and they leave?

    HR leader: What if we don't, and they stay?

    I also got a lot of email about my stick shift/"ghost skills" video yesterday…

    MNB reader John Mansfield wrote:

    I enjoyed watching you drive your Mustang and discuss the importance of ghost skills,  noting the stick shift which my old manager Joe DiVincenzo would always brag about.

    The video scenery reminded me when our realtor Ken Delvecchio was driving my wife and I around Southport in ’03 when I worked at Daymon.  We never bought a home, instead moved to England to work at Sainsbury's.   One day we got the impulse to drive out to the Cotswolds so I rented a car in Marylebone.  When I saw it I thought, sweet a new silver 4 door Vauxhall with the steering wheel on the right thinking this will be fun.    Then I noticed the left-handed stick shift, thank goodness for ghost skills.

    That skill came in handy visiting a potential new supplier I found in France when I was in the frozen department. The sales Rep drove us around all week until the last day.  He bid us farewell in Normandy and said have a safe trip flying back to the US.  The fairly young sales Rep he left with us who was also flying back to the US told us she could not drive stick shift.  Typically, the customer (us) is not chosen for doing any driving so we all stared at each other asking who will drive the Mercedes diesel van to get us to the Charles de Gaulle airport?  We still talk about my driving skills through Paris avoiding pedestrians, scooters and bicyclists with their bags baguettes.

    Thank you for your thought provoking videos and industry articles.

    Great story.  Thanks for sharing.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    All of my cars were sticks for 27 years, at which point, the new car I wanted to buy was only available as an automatic.  It was sad because it’s easier to handle New England’s wintery road conditions with a manual transmission.  By the way, nice neighborhood you’re driving through there!

    It is a nice neighborhood.  It's my town, though not my neighborhood…I live a lot closer to the railroad tracks.

    And, from MNB reader Daniel McQuade:

    Apparently driving with both or at least ONE hand on the wheel at all times is a skill that has gone away as well....come on Bud, along with receiving your Medicare card, comes slower reflexes!

    Point taken … though I will note that it was a quiet road and a straightaway … I was being careful.

    One last note … thanks to all the fellow Wordle players who shared their experiences and strategies.  I enjoyed them enormously.

    BTW … today I got it in two.

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    "Star Trek: Picard" is back for a third season, with its first episode premiering last night, and the available evidence would suggest that - finally - the sequel series to "Star Trek: The Next Generation" may have figured out how to recapture the old magic.

    The first two seasons of "Star Trek: Picard" have been uneven.  I enjoyed them, but in retrospect it mostly because I enjoyed seeing Patrick Stewart returning as now retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard.  The plots were hit and miss, but Stewart was great.  It was no accident, I suspect, that the best episode of the first two seasons came in the first one, when Picard was briefly reunited with Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis as his former shipmates, Will Riker and Deanna Troi.  The magic of all the Treks has been when the actors and their characters connect with each other, and that one episode only left us wanting more.

    In season three, all of the old Enterprise crew are returning, which promises to be fun and, hopefully, dramatically pleasing.  Last night's episode was a bit of a tease, but there was a wonderful moment when Picard and Riker are about to face off against bad guys, and Riker cracks, "Between your stiff fingers and my bad knees, as long as we don't have to shoot anyone or move, we should be okay."

    Now that's the "Star Trek" I love.

    I'm a big fan of both Marc Maron's podcast, "WTF," and his standup comedy, and his latest, now available on HBO, is called "From Bleak To Dark," and it is terrific.  Like all great comedy, it is rooted in both reality and tragedy - the death of his girlfriend during Covid, the dementia of his father, and the general state of the world.  He doesn't offer any reassurances - in fact, he's pretty sure nothing ever is going to get better - but he manages to illuminate both the state of the world and the human heart.

    (I'd post a trailer, but it is a little profane…so you'll have to look at it here.)

    Published on: February 17, 2023

    Monday is President's Day here in the US, which is a federal holiday that we largely observe with car and mattress sales.  I'm not in the market for either, but I will be taking the day off … and will be back Tuesday with curated news and hand-crafted commentary.

    Have a great weekend, and I'll see you then.