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    Published on: March 3, 2023

    A few weeks ago we had a story about how New Belgium Brewing is reformulating its Fat Tire amber ale, essentially lightening it up a bit and making it more of a traditional ale.  I happen to be a big Fat Tire fan - I love amber and red ales - and my concern has been that we have a New Coke situation happening here.  So, I decided to do a taste test.  (I still don't understand why they couldn't have released the new ale under the Fat Tire name, but kept the traditional product…)

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Wall Street Journal has an Eye-Opening report that "the slow move toward a cashless society is helping to send the ubiquitous ATM into decline around the U.S., presenting challenges for those who still largely rely on cash. 

    "After peaking at 470,000 ATMs in the U.S. in 2019, the number of machines has declined annually over the past few years to 451,500 at the end of 2022, according to data tracked by research firm Euromonitor International. The reason: Many people quit using cash during the pandemic and haven’t gone back, said Kendrick Sands, consumer finance research manager for the London-based firm."

    According to the story, "Cash and checks are forecast to fall to 14% of total payments this year from 42% in 2010, with the most precipitous drop coming just after the pandemic started in 2020, according to Euromonitor estimates."

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    Fox News reports that Walmart plans to open "28 new Walmart Health center locations next year. This includes expanding into two new states – Missouri and Arizona – and deepening its presence in Texas … By the end of the 2024, the Arkansas-based company plans to have more than 75 Walmart health centers across the United States."

    According to the story, "The new facilities will be approximately 5,750 square feet and located inside Walmart Supercenters. They will be equipped with Walmart Health’s full suite of health services, including primary care, dental care, behavioral health, labs and X-ray, audiology and Walmart Health Virtual Care telehealth services.

    "The company, which opened its first health center in 2019, also announced that it's changing the footprint and layout of the centers so that patients can spend more time with their doctor and less time in the waiting room."

    KC's View:

    Amazon, of course, also is deepening its investment in the health care business.

    It sounds like it may not be long before we'll be visiting Amazon for an initial diagnosis, and then turning to Walmart for a second opinion.  Or vice-versa.  And, at Walmart, we're hear the following over the loudspeaker:

    "Clean-up on aisle four.  Code red on aisle seven.  Stat!"

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    Politico reports that Walgreens "confirmed Thursday that it will not dispense abortion pills in several states where they remain legal — acting out of an abundance of caution amid a shifting policy landscape, threats from state officials and pressure from anti-abortion activists.

    "Nearly two dozen Republican state attorneys general wrote to Walgreens in February, threatening legal action if the company began distributing the drugs, which have become the nation’s most popular method for ending a pregnancy.

    "The company told Politico that it has since responded to all the officials, assuring them that they will not dispense abortion pills either by mail or at their brick-and-mortar locations in those states.  The list includes several states where abortion in general, and the medications specifically, remain legal — including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana. For example, Kansas’ law that patients only obtain the pills directly from a physician is blocked in court … The company stressed that it is not yet distributing the pills anywhere in the country, but is working to obtain certification to do so in some states, though declined to say which."

    Politico goes on to point out that Walgreens' decision "is the latest to demonstrate how widely abortion access can vary state to state in a post-Roe America even in places where there are no bans in effect — as elected officials tussle with the federal government, activists and corporations to block the availability of services.

    "E. Michael Murphy, the adviser for state government affairs for the American Pharmacists Association, said his members are struggling to navigate 'blatant contradictions between state and federal law that make it very challenging to identify what is legal and what is not legal'."

    KC's View:

    As noted in a story earlier this week, Walgreens is just one of a number of major retailers - the others include Costco, Walmart, Kroger, CVS, and Rite Aid - that were put on notice by state Attorneys General not to accept a changed FDA rule that would allow them to sell mifepristone by mail, and that they should expect legal action if they do.

    I pointed out then that these companies were being put in a potentially untenable position, being forced to either knuckle under to state legal threats or adhere to what the federal government says is legal.  It is the very definition of being between a rock and a hard place.

    Walgreens is doing what it has to do.  But if there are customers out there in states where the pill is legal, and yet somehow they are being denied access, I suspect they may vote not just in the polling booth, but also with their wallets.

    One other point.  Companies like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart - plus Amazon - all are making moves to become more deeply embedded in the health care system as care providers, not just a place to pick up prescriptions.  This whole situation, as they are placed in the crossfire of a culture war, may not help them in those ambitions.

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    The New Yorker has a piece that puts the recent announcement about how Starbucks has created a new product line, dubbed Oleato, that puts olive oil in coffee, into the context of its development as a company, culinary influencer and cultural force.

    The writer, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, as it happens, has a father-in-law who lives in Milan, where Oleato already is available.  So he took him there to sample the new brew, and offers a critique.

    I won't reprint the whole thing here, but suffice it to say that the phrase slick, oleaginous sediment is used in the review.

    You can read it here.  (And I recommend it.)

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    •  From TechCrunch:

    "Curbside pickup of groceries and other big-box retailer goods had been growing for years, then boomed during the pandemic, reaching mainstream adoption. Now, Target is taking the opportunity to offer more services through its Drive Up curbside option, with this week’s announcement that it plans to allow customers to return new, unopened items from the convenience of their car.

    "The launch could prompt rival retailers to offer support for returns through their curbside pickup services as well, as the addition could give Target a competitive advantage in the market. The convenience of the service could prompt consumers to shop at Target over others if they knew they wouldn’t have the hassle of going inside the store and standing in line to return items that didn’t work out."

    •  From The Information:

    "The founder of Amazon smart doorbell subsidiary Ring, Jamie Siminoff, is stepping aside as CEO, he said in a blog post Wednesday. Siminoff will be replaced by Elizabeth Hamren, who most recently was Discord’s COO and previously held executive roles at Meta and Microsoft.

    "Siminoff, who oversaw Ring’s $839 million acquisition by Amazon in 2018, will remain with Ring as 'chief inventor,' according to the blog post. The transition will take effect on March 22, according to Ring.

    "Ring is part of Amazon’s devices unit, which has been hit with deep cuts during the company’s recent layoffs."

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "The number of people applying for unemployment benefits in the United States fell for the third straight week. That’s good news for American workers, but potentially bad news in the fight against inflation by the Federal Reserve, which has been ratcheting up its benchmark interest rate for a year in an effort to cool the economy, loosen the labor market, and tame inflation.

    "Applications for jobless claims in the United States for the week ending Feb. 25 fell to 190,000 from 192,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. It’s the seventh straight week claims were under 200,000."

    •  Kroger released its annual and Q4 results yesterday, saying that total company sales were $34.8 billion in the fourth quarter, compared to $33.0 billion for the same period last year. Excluding fuel, sales increased 5.9% compared to the same period last year.

    Same-store sales were up 6.2 percent, while digital sales were up 12 percent and private label sales were up 10.,1 percent compared to the same period a year ago.  Operating profit was $826 million, down from $965 million from the same period a year ago.

    Total company sales were $148.3 billion in 2022, compared to $137.9 billion for the same period last year. Excluding fuel, sales increased 5.2% compared to the same period last year.  Full-year operating profit was $4.1 billion, up from $3.5 billion a year ago, on annual same-store sales that were up 5.6 percent.

    •  Publix Super Markets said that its Q4 sales were $15.3 billion, a 22% increase from $12.6 billion in 2021; same store sales for the period were up 12.4 percent.  Net earnings for the three months ended Dec. 31, 2022 were $1.3 billion, compared to $1.1 billion in 2021, an increase of 21.6%. 

    Publix’s sales for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31 were $54.5 billion, a 13.6% increase from $48 billion in 2021.  Comparable store sales for the fiscal year increased 9.9%.  Net earnings for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, 2022 were $2.9 billion, compared to $4.4 billion in 2021, a decrease of 33.9%.

    •  Costco said that its Q2 net sales "increased 6.5 percent, to $54.24 billion, from $50.94 billion last year. Net sales increased 7.3 percent, to $107.68 billion, from $100.35 billion last year.  Same store sales were up 6.8 percent.

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    • Walmart apparently won't be looking for a new CEO anytime soon.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has indicated that he plans to remain in the role for at least three more years.

    According to the story, "His plans to stay in the role for more than a decade will extend the company’s timeline for finding its next leader, the people said.

    "In recent years, Walmart has elevated several executives into roles that made them likely successors to Mr. McMillon, including U.S. CEO John Furner, 48, and International CEO Judith McKenna, 56.

    "Kathryn McLay, 49, the head of Sam’s Club, Walmart’s warehouse chain, is also among those seen as potential candidates, said these people, as well as a more junior generation of executives."

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    Wayne Shorter, one of the most influential jazz saxophonists in history, has passed away.  He was 89.

    Rolling Stone writes that Shorter, "in addition to his own renowned albums and work with jazz supergroup Weather Report, collaborated with the likes of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, and Joni Mitchell … Over a career that spanned eight decades — from his 1959 debut to his 2023 Grammy-winning Live at the Detroit Jazz Festival — Shorter was one of the most prolific and visible ambassadors of jazz, expanding the boundaries of the art form itself while fusing its influence with all genres of music."

    Shorter was among the recipients of the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors.

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    Love these emails responding to yesterday's ode to the manual transmission, prompted by a Wall Street Journal story about a resurgence of the stick shift.

    I rhapsodized, in part:

    For almost 30 years, my cars - all ragtops - have had manual transmissions - two Miatas, and now, a Mustang.  Before that, we actually had a Toyota Camry station wagon with a manual transmission (which admittedly wasn't the best idea, since we also had kids riding in it).  And for a brief time I had an old Triumph Spitfire with a manual transmission.  (Which actually was the only part of the. car that worked - the electrical system was horrible, and I finally had to sell it because it was too expensive to keep on the road.  When I bought my first Miata, it was like driving a Triumph that actually worked.)

    I'm happy about the generational resurgence that manual transmissions are experiencing.  The Journal story is an Eye-Opener, reflecting a trend that is rooted in the love of actual driving, when you can sense the road and feel the gears and even, in my case, the wind and sun and the promise of a good day.

    MNB reader Brian Blank wrote:

    Hey Mr. Coupe - Or should that be “Mr. Sports Coupe”?

    I’m also a stick-shift fan, and have owned a number of them throughout the years (VW Rabbit, Datsun pickup, Datsun Maxima, VW Golf, Saab 9-3, Volvo C70), but currently without one.  I got a huge smile a couple weeks ago from a Jeep Wrangler I saw on my evening commute.  It had one of those slogan covers on the rear-mounted spare tire that read “This vehicle is equipped with a Millennial Anti-Theft Device” and in the center was an illustration of a manual shifter pattern.

    And MNB reader David Carlson wrote:

    This article brought back some great memories.  When I was in High School in the 80s, my dad had a 1967 Triumph Spitfire hardtop convertible.  So much fun to drive – not the fastest car ever, but the handling was amazing.  But oh, that electrical system… even turning on the headlights was a dicey proposition.  Fun times!

    Finally, I got a nice email from an MNB reader reacting to another reader to said I had revealed my "true colors" in my story and commentary about the state Attorneys General trying to put retailers on the spot about the dispensing of mifepristone:

    Hope you continue to show your true colors (what ever that is…) because after many years of following MNB all that has been apparent is that you are prudent, fair, honest, level headed, and an equal opportunity presenter and listener. Who knew you had true colors.

    Thanks.  Nice to be appreciated, though Mrs. Content Guy would probably laugh at "prudent" and "level headed."  I'd certainly admit that I can be an equal opportunity wisenheimer.

    Published on: March 3, 2023

    Eugene Levy has become a kind of cultural treasure, bringing his unique comic persona to projects like "Schitt's Creek" and the American Pie movies.  And now, he's on Apple TV with "The Reluctant Traveler," a series that is kind of the flip side of "Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy."

    While Tucci wanders the various regions of Italy with an enormous appetite for food, wine and cultural discovery, Levy has an entirely different perspective - he likes to stay home, luxuriate in routine and comfort, and rarely go outside his comfort zone.

    That's the premise of "The Reluctant Traveler," as Levy travels around the world - his destinations include Finland, Costa Rica, Venice, Utah, the Maldives, South Africa, Lisbon and Tokyo - encountering local people and exploring some remarkable locations.  Levy goes through the series with a raised eyebrow and a finely turned sense of skepticism;  he's not at ease with the idea of hiking through the rainforest at night to see snakes and spiders, or ice fishing, or taking a helicopter ride that drips into the Grand Canyon.

    But he's a good sport and excellent company, willing to try things that he never has before.  It helps that everyplace he goes, he's starting in fabulous hotels and eating wonderful food - there's a lot of wish fulfillment in "The Reluctant Traveler."  And the biggest lesson seems to be in the spirit and centeredness of the wonderful and gracious people he meets, all of whom enlarge his world and spirit.

    "The Reluctant Traveler" is terrific.  I highly recommend it.

    While "Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy" currently is without a TV home - CNN canceled the hit show after two seasons when cost-cutting was mandated by the network's new owners," CNN still has a commitment to air a spinoff, "Eva Longoria: Searching For Mexico."  I, for one, can't wait until it premieres, on Sunday, March 26.  The location and host may be different, but it looks like as much fun as the Tucci show:

    Speaking of things I am looking forward to … the third season of "Ted Lasso" begins on March 15.  Here's the trailer:

    That's it for this week.  

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