business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday we picked up on a piece in Bon Appétit in which a Whole Foods employee spoke about she allowed shoplifters to leave the store because of deeply felt concerns about people too poor to buy food.

I commented:

I am sympathetic to the people who are hungry and don't have the money to buy food, and I'm certainly sympathetic to the employee who feels she is facing an ethical dilemma, and has chosen to not say anything.

But I think she's wrong.

Quite simply, the food isn't hers to give away.  It isn't even her boss's food to give away.  It belongs to Whole Foods - and despite the fact that it is part of a multi-billion-dollar corporation and can afford it, Whole Foods has a right to expect a certain level of institutional integrity from employees.

Now, if Whole Foods wanted to say that certain kinds of shoplifting should go unchallenged, that is its right.  (Not a good idea, though, because individual employees will bring their own biases to specific situations, and it isn't fair to put them in that position.)

In the end, unchallenged small crimes often lead to much larger crimes as people think they can get away with them.  It is where the fabric of civilized society begins to unravel.

One MNB reader responded:

I totally agree with you on this, Kevin. I found it ironically funny, that the employee interviewed could not make the connection that losses to the company can end up resulting in a loss of a paycheck. Perhaps she should familiar herself with the concept of “death by a thousand tiny cuts.”

We also had a piece about how yesterday was National Supermarket Day, described in a bunch of press releases that I've received as "a National Day of Appreciation for our industry’s food retail employees, recognizing the essential role that grocery workers play at every level of the industry and across their communities."

I commented, in part:

Because I am by nature a wisenheimer, I'd like to mark the occasion by suggesting that this is way too little.

If retailers don't think about their employees as being essential every day, then having a "day" won't do much, if anything, to create cultures of caring within their organizations.

"Essential" is word that was thrown around a lot  in the early days of the pandemic.  Not so much anymore, I think.

Essential-ness ought to be at the core of every food retailer's vision, strategy, tactics and employee relations efforts.  Every day.  Because the people on the front lines are way more important in terms of the customer experience than the folks at headquarters.

And if you are a retailer, you ought to ask yourself if, within your organization, this is true?

Ask the question.  The answer may be an Eye-Opener.

MNB reader Tom Jackson responded:

I strongly agree with you KC ---Everyday needs to be appreciation day for all employees (especially frontline workers). With a positive Culture, you can use National  Supermarket Day, to enhance or affirm what  management is doing everyday with their employees/associates. Anthony Hucker, CEO Southeast Grocers, might have said it best - “We are in the people business and we just happen to sell groceries”.  This National Supermarket Day, hopefully will be a clear reminder of what our commitment to our people should and needs to be. 

MNB reader Tom Murphy had some thoughts on another subject:

Really enjoyed your discussion of the NGA sessions and challenges for independents regarding data and innovation.  As you may recall, my grocery indoctrination came as VP of IT with Kroger during the 90’s.  But since then, most of my grocery work in consulting has been with small to mid-sized grocers, associations and/or wholesalers.  You touched on the challenge of culture regarding the need to continue to speed up and innovate in today’s market and economy.  Tom Furphy mentioned that large grocers have more resources to throw at this and the independents might struggle and require a bigger helping hand from their “technology partners”.

In my experience, the bigger issue for independent operators is that they are generally made up of leaders and mindsets that play to merchandising and operations.  That in fact, the concept of building a strategy or technology/innovation roadmap for increased customer experiences…is totally foreign to them and completely outside of their skill set.  Additionally, their size and available resources probably precludes them from having those in-house capabilities.  Until someone comes up with a way to help these smaller grocers, they will struggle with this, just like you or I would struggle with putting together a category plan or building a store labor schedule…it is just not part of our capability…thus not part of our culture.

The Associated Press wrote the other day about how "the government agency responsible for tracking down contaminated peanut butter and defective pacemakers is taking on a new health hazard: online misinformation.

"It’s an unlikely role for the Food and Drug Administration, a sprawling, century-old bureaucracy that for decades directed most its communications toward doctors and corporations.

"But FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf has spent the last year warning that growing 'distortions and half-truths' surrounding vaccines and other medical products are now 'a leading cause of death in America'."

Califf makes the point that "almost no one should be dying of COVID in the U.S. today … People who are denying themselves that opportunity are dying because they’re misinformed … We’re now in a 24/7 sea of information without a user guide for people out there in society.  So this requires us to change the way we communicate."

I commented:

First, regarding Covid.  The Wall Street Journal this morning has a story about how, while "the US has dodged a major wintertime Covid-19 surge as the pandemic continues to recede into the background," the fact remains that "the death toll is still growing … the US  averaged about 400 deaths a day in a three-month span covering November through January, based on weekly Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts of death certificates listing Covid-19 as the underlying or contributing cause."  That's a significant improvement - during the same period a year ago the number was 1,700 deaths a day, and the year before that it was 2,800.  But, the Journal notes, Covid-19 remains "among the major causes of death in the U.S. The disease ranked at No. 3 in 2020 and 2021, behind heart disease and cancer, and might rank there again in 2022."

When I got Covid late last year and said so here on MNB, one of the first emails I got was from an MNB user who wondered if I was reconsidering my decision to be vaccinated and boosted.  Which struck me as absurd - the reason my case (like that of so many other people) was relatively minor likely was because I'd been vaccinated and boosted.  If it is recommended that I get another booster tomorrow, I'll get one, just like I get flu vaccines every year and got a shingles vaccines when the doctor suggested it.

There is no doubt in my mind that the majority of those 400 daily deaths are preventable, and can be ascribed to misinformation.  So I think that the FDA has that right.

I'm not sure, however, that Twitter, YouTube and Instagram memes featuring Scooby-Doo and SpongeBob are going to be up to the task of remedying the problem.  Misinformation seems to be a plague on our culture, whether it has to do with health, politics or virtually anything else.

One MNB reader responded:

Whenever I see the term “misinformation” used, all I can think is that someone is telling me “you’re too stupid to think for yourself, so we’ll tell you what to think”.

For every doctor/health care official who talks about the benefit of the Covid vaccine, you can find one who tells you the vaccine does nothing or that the vaccine is harmful. I made the decision to “vax to max”. I have good friends who have not taken the vaccine. I don’t classify them as “misinformed” or “stupid”. I view them as rational people who made a different decision them me.

First of all, I'm not sure your information - that for every doctor who thinks the vaccine is effective, there is a doctor who thinks it is either ineffective or harmful - is accurate.

But that doesn't mean that you should get the vaccine or boosters.  I would never suggest that it should be mandated.  

That said … I was astounded the other day about a legislative proposal in Idaho that would make it a criminal misdemeanor to administer a Covid-19 mRNA vaccine in Idaho.  And all I could think was that whoever introduced that legislation must think that citizens of Idaho are too stupid to think for themselves, so they've decided to tell them what to think.

Yesterday we took note of a report that "the Cincinnati Reds will wear an advertisement for the Kroger chain of supermarkets on their jersey sleeves during the 2023 season."

I commented:

I hate this.  It is the NASCAR-ification of baseball, and all about ownership greed.

To be honest, though, I hate this less than the so-called ghost runner rule, which is now permanent - it means that extra innings have to begin with a runner on second base, which MLB says speeds up the game.  Which may be true, but it is a stupid rule - all about speed and nothing about the integrity of the game.

One MNB reader reacted:

I understand your perspective about the patch and the ghost runner as a baseball purist. I am surprised at the contrast between this take and the advice you often give to companies on your site.

Is it corporate greed when impulse items (candy) are put in the check lanes or a shipper is put at the end of an aisle for some extra sales? You often remark on how companies need to innovate and meet the changing needs of their customers. It seems to me that what baseball is doing is 1. Acknowledging that it is easier to make more money off the customers they already have than it is to attract new customers. And 2. Gen X (Of which I am a part) and Gen Y are much less willing to sit through 3 hours of baseball than previous generations. They have identified a changing need in their customers and are taking steps to meet it. That seems very much like what you promote almost every day on MNB.

But it's baseball.  The most important thing that doesn't matter.   (Thanks, RBP.)

In the end, I can live with the patches, though I hope it is limited to just one - I would hate the idea of uniforms turning into brand billboards.

But the ghost runner rule is just stupid.  And counter-productive … it just alters the fundamentals of the game.

So, by the way, does the new pitch clock.

ESPN had a piece the other day entitled "How MLB pitch clock would impact famous baseball moments."  Exhibit number one - Kirk Gibson's famous walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, which took almost seven minutes to play out.

You can read the entire story here.  But essentially, ESPN makes the point that all of those minutes were filled with high drama - Gibson was hurt and coming off the bench to pinch-hit, and the duel between him and Dennis Eckersley was called with extraordinary precision by Vin Scully on TV and Jack Buck on radio.  (I vividly remember where I was when it played out more than three decades ago - on a sailboat slowly making its way up the Hudson River, approaching the Tappan Zee Bridge, with a sky that was clear, and there was almost no noise save for Buck's voice echoing across the water.  "I don't believe what I just saw!" he exclaimed when Gibson homered.  Watch it on YouTube … even now, this is baseball at its best.)

The powers that be screw with these moments at their own peril.