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    Published on: March 8, 2023

    Today I'm pleased to share with you my conversation with Dr. Mindy Weinstein, author of a fascinating book entitled "The Power of Scarcity:  Leveraging Urgency and Demand To Influence Customer Decisions."  I've always thought that scarcity is too little employed as a marketing tool by most food retailers, and Weinstein offers a unique perspective on the tools that retailers can use to create customer loyalty and sales.  Sometimes, less is more.

    "The Power of Scarcity" is available on Amazon, the iconic Portland independent bookstore Powell's, on, and wherever books are sold.

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    Green Zebra, the Portland, Oregon, "healthy convenience store" that began operations a decade ago, announced this morning that it will wind down operations and close all three of its units at the end of the month.

    “We have been holding on by a thread since the pandemic started and have been in austerity mode since then,” said Lisa Sedlar, Green Zebra's Founder and CEO. “We experienced 9 straight quarters of increases to our cost of goods, packaging, fuel, insurance, taxes, freight charges and well, pretty much everything. Combine that with supply chain and staffing shortages and razor thin grocery margins, we just couldn’t overcome all the obstacles. We definitely gave it our all and fought the good fight. We are thankful for the opportunity to have been in service to our community.”

    Green Zebra's mission from day one has been to "redefine what it means to be a convenience store in America. Instead of selling cigarettes, lottery tickets and jumbo-sized sugary drinks like most convenience stores, Green Zebra offered customers made-from-scratch grab-and-go meals, a full service coffee bar, kombucha Zlurpees, locally sourced meat, produce and groceries along with the best local beer selection in Oregon. In addition Green Zebra supported its staff with fair wage jobs, increasing their internal minimum wage seven times in their 10 year history and offering affordable health insurance for all staff and their dependents."

    Sedlar said that as she winds down the business, "We will pay all of our team members in full, including their accrued vacation hours."  She said that she is "personally reaching out to other local grocery leaders and encouraging them to hire our team members," who she described as "knowledgeable grocery professionals who provide the highest level of service."

    KC's View:

    I've always been a big fan of Lisa Sedlar and Green Zebra, and have waxed rhapsodic about it here, especially during the summers when I was teaching marketing at Portland State University.  The Green Zebra on PSU's campus was just blocks from the apartment I'd rent during the summer months, and it was a go-to for a number of items.  (My favorite was the tuna melt, served with Mama Lil's Peppers.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.)

    Some pics from Green Zebra's halcyon days:

    Give Lisa enormous credit.  Coming out of roles at both Whole Foods and New Seasons Markets (where she was CEO for seven years), she tried something different, to tap into what she saw as an unexplored niche.  I admire people like that. We all should.

    Green Zebra hardly is the only business facing difficult decisions at this particular economic juncture.  To be fair, few of the past 10 years probably have been easy for Lisa.  It is hard enough to grow any business, but at the precise time she needed a serious capital infusion, the pandemic kicked in and made it almost impossible.  She also was extraordinarily transparent about it all;  a couple of years ago she was on "Wahl Street," a sort-of documentary on HBO Max about actor Mark Wahlberg's entrepreneurial efforts.  Lisa's pitch to Wahlberg appeared to be going well and he seemed on the verge of investing in Green Zebra when the pandemic hit, the world collapsed, and Lisa was left utterly exposed.  She eventually had to close one store permanently, close the PSU store temporarily, and opened another store in a new location.  But traction, especially over the past few years, has been hard to come by.

    And, she was doing it all in downtown Portland, Oregon. It breaks my heart to say it, but it is a city that has grown inhospitable to many businesses, a city desperately in need of reinvention and yet seemingly utterly resistant to it.

    One of the things I really admire about Lisa is her insistence, though it all, that Green Zebra had to be a values-based business.  That meant championing the local food economy, as well as partnering with dozens of nonprofits in the interest of giving back. She's both really smart and has an enormous heart, and while I'm sure she's spending time trying to sort through the experience and figure out why she was unable to keep the company afloat, she should find some solace in the notion that Green Zebra was a noble effort that moved the needle on what convenience food retailing can be.  The company may be winding down operations, but I suspect the core value proposition is one that will find new life in an other time and place.

    It is just like Lisa that in the announcement she says, "People often ask me if shopping local makes a difference and my answer is a resounding YES! Now more than ever small businesses need our support."

    Still fighting the good fight.

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has agreed to testify before a US Senate committee about the company's approach to labor relations and unionization.

    The move came just a day before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), was scheduled to vote on issuing a subpoena to Schultz.  

    An invitation to Schultz to appear before the committee previously had been declined, with the company saying that because Schultz scheduled to step down from the CEO job in just a few weeks, it made more sense for someone else to testify.  But Sanders observed that because Schultz has taken the lead in framing the company's response to unionization efforts, he was best positioned to answer the committee's questions.

    The Seattle Times writes that "Starbucks, long considered a model employer, has been facing a growing union campaign movement since November 2021. Schultz has described unions as a third party that will divide the company and its workers. At least 285 stores have successfully unionized.  There are 509 unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks and 102 against the union, Starbucks Workers United."

    Schultz's appearance is scheduled for Wednesday, March 29.

    KC's View:

    This is going to must-see TV.  I'm not sure how much light will be shed on the subject, but I suspect there will be plenty of heat.  At least there will be lots of entertainment value.

    I do hope for some light, of course.  A nuanced conversation about the role of organized labor in 2023, and how companies that price themselves on having progressive cultures should cope with unionization, obviously is timely.  Let's hope expectations are exceeded.

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    KPMG yesterday released a new study saying that "37% of consumers consider environmental sustainability and 33% consider social responsibility in buying decisions."

    Other conclusions in the study:

    •  "Over 75 percent of consumers are at least somewhat familiar social responsibility.
    --over 50 percent of them associate social responsibility with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); employee human rights; health and safety; and fair wages."

    •  "Over 75 percent of these consumers are looking for environmentally friendly products and/or packaging.  Approximately 50 percent of these consumers determine a product’s environmental sustainability based on product labels, descriptions, images, or marketing."

    •  "50% of underage (age 13-17) Gen Z consumers are most likely to say that environmental sustainability is important to purchase decisions."

    •  "Consumers are most likely to choose a product/service based on environmental sustainability features in the personal care products (48 percent), groceries (44 percent), restaurants (42 percent), and apparel (42 percent) categories."

    •  "Of consumers who say a company’s social responsibility is important to their purchase decisions, over half (51 percent) determine a product’s social responsibility based on product labels."

    •  "Underage (age 13-17) Gen Z consumers are more likely to say that social responsibility is important to their purchase decisions (41 percent versus 33 percent for overall consumers)."

    •  "The categories for which consumers are most likely to choose a product or service based on social responsibility features are restaurants, apparel, and personal care products."

    The conclusions are included in the 2023 KPMG Winter Consumer Pulse Survey.

    KC's View:

    We're in a moment when there are those who question why businesses should prioritize issues like sustainability and social responsibility, and this survey provides a partial answer to those questions - businesses should focus on these issues because a lot of customers want them to.

    In addition, these investments represent a bet that a belief in sustainability and social responsibility will pay off in the long run.  Companies that are making these bets are capitalists - they want to make money for themselves and their investors.  

    There will be other companies that will make different bets, and that's okay.  But the assaults on businesses and businesspeople who are betting on a more sustainable, socially responsible future makes absolutely no sense to me.  Though, maybe it is just another reflection of the intolerance and division that infects every corner of our culture.

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    From the Washington Post:

    "Toblerone, the chocolate bar known for its distinctive triangular peaks, is losing the Matterhorn mountain from its logo after falling afoul of strict marketing rules on 'Swissness.'

    "Future Toblerone wrappers will feature a generic mountain design instead, after the chocolate bar’s American owner, Mondelez, decided to shift some production to the Slovakian capital of Bratislava this year.

    "The packaging redesign 'introduces a modernized and streamlined mountain logo that aligns with the geometric and triangular aesthetic,' a Mondelez spokesperson said in a statement. Toblerone’s distinctively shaped boxes will also be changed to read: 'Established in Switzerland,' rather than 'of Switzerland.'

    "Under the 'Swissness' legislation, which came into force in Switzerland in 2017, businesses have to show their products are sufficiently 'Swiss' to claim that label and to use national symbols of Switzerland. Swissness has long been associated with prestige products such as Swiss watches."

    The Post also writes that "Switzerland is not the only country concerned about safeguarding the authenticity of its products. French producers fought for years to protect the name Champagne from being used by foreign producers — a spat that reared up again in 2021 in Russia."

    However, there are holes in the trend:  "A U.S. appeals court last week ruled that the name 'Gruyere' is a common term for cheese made in America and can be used for producers outside of the Gruyère region of Switzerland and France."

    KC's View:

    This seems entirely fair to me.  One ought not be able to say that a product is from Switzerland if it is being made elsewhere, or with ingredients not from Switzerland.

    Same goes for products described as "made in the USA," or any other country. 

    We had a story yesterday about how US regulators are toughening their rules about what products can say they are "made in the USA," and I think that's a good thing.  To fudge the facts is to lie to consumers.

    I had an MNB reader yesterday who responded to that story by writing, "Who the hell cares where the cows are from?"  My answer to that is a) a lot of people do, and b) regardless, companies should not be allowed to deceive their customers.  

    Transparency requires trackability, and demands accountability.  

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    The New Yorker has a piece entitled "A Community of Desires: The Seduction of the Big-Box Superstore," in which writer Annie Ernaux assesses the unique role of the superstore in French culture.

    An excerpt:

    "We choose our objects and our places of memory, or, rather, the spirit of the times decides what is worth remembering. Writers, artists, filmmakers play a role in the elaboration of this memory. Superstores, which the majority of people in France have visited roughly fifty times a year in the past forty years, are just beginning to be considered places worthy of representation. Yet I realize, looking back in time, that from every period of my life I have retained images of big-box superstores, with scenes, meetings, and people.

    "The superstore and the supercenter cannot be reduced to their function in terms of home economics, to the 'chore' of grocery shopping. They provoke thought, anchor sensation and emotion in memory. We could definitely write life narratives from the perspective of superstores that are visited on a regular basis. They are part of the landscape of childhood for everyone under fifty. For all but a limited segment of the French population—those who live in the center of Paris and other old historical cities—the superstore is a familiar space, whose regular use is part of daily life but whose impact on our communities and our way of 'building society' with our contemporaries in the twenty-first century we do not fully grasp. When you think of it, there is no other space, public or private, where so many individuals so different in age, income, education, geographic and ethnic background, and personal style circulate and rub shoulders with one another. No enclosed space where people are brought into greater contact with their fellow-humans, dozens of times a year, and where each has a chance to catch a glimpse of others’ ways of living and being. Politicians, journalists, 'experts,' those who have never set foot in a superstore, do not know the social reality of France today."

    Really interesting piece that, in the style of The New Yorker, is given room to breathe and ruminate.  And you can read it here.

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Business Insider reports that Ian Wilson, a human resources vice president at Amazon Web Services (AWS), told an internal town hall meeting that the company is looking for ways to rehire people who have been laid off in recent months.

    Here's the exact quote:

    "I do believe that one of the best things developmentally for any of us, including the individuals of our team that were impacted by the role reductions, is the experience and the time they've had at Amazon. So one thing we've been really clear about, so many of those folks are eligible to rehire."

    "How do we really proactively extend an invitation to any of those Amazonians that are ready to return and resume their career with us? How do we make those opportunities available?" he added.

    Business Insider writes that "Wilson said re-staffing laid off employees has been 'top of mind' for him, but it's been difficult because of Amazon's recent hiring freeze. Still, he said there are 'different conversations' happening to support them, and 'as things turn' at Amazon, he wants to 'leverage' the former employees for future opportunities."

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    •  In Maine, the Ellsworth American reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Hannaford Supermarkets is acquiring Tradewinds Marketplace in Blue Hill.

    Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  The banner is expected to be changed over to Hannaford in May.

    Tradewinds originally opened in Blue Hill in 1999.

    •  IRI and NPD, which merged in August 2022, yesterday announced a new combined company name and brand identity - Circana, saying that the name conveys the notion of providing "clients a first-of-its-kind, full-circle perspective on the market and consumer."

    Published on: March 8, 2023

    Yesterday we reported that Kroger announced "a more than $770 million incremental investment in its associates during 2023. The company will use this investment to raise average hourly rates, improve healthcare options, build new training and development opportunities, and more."

    One MNB reader - obviously someone better at math than I am -  wrote:

    $770 million sounds like a big number but if you spread that across about 420,000 employees that is $1,833/yr at 2,000 hours worked in a year that is 91 cents/hour.

    Yesterday we took note of a Bloomberg report that California Governor Gavin Newsom has "directed the California Department of Health and Human Services to review all relationships Walgreens has with the state," a reaction to Walgreens' decision not to sell mifepristone, an abortion pill, in 20 states, including some where abortion remains legal.  Walgreens made that decision under legal threat from a number of state attorneys general.

    I commented, in part:

    In my opinion, Newsom isn't helping the situation.  He's posturing every bit as much as the GOP attorneys general.

    One MNB reader replied:

    I couldn't agree with you more. I'm a liberal, and a Californian, but I'm sick and tired of politicians on both sides courting outrage instead of solving problems. In this case, punishing Walgreens (or more likely, talking about punishing Walgreens and then not actually doing anything meaningful) accomplishes nothing. 

    Newsom is setting himself up to run for President someday, and that's clearly become more important to him than governing. I'd say the same thing about Desantis and others.

    If Newsom really believes that women ought to have access to abortion-related healthcare, then he ought not be cutting off California's relationship with a retailer that can help provide it.  This is like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    In writing about my disappointment that Fat Tire amber ale is being reformulated, I mentioned that I am open to suggestions about red or amber ales that I should try.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Being an East Coaster, wondering if you are familiar with Blue Point Toasted Lager.  It’s a easy drinking Amber but not sure if it has changed since AB bought them.

    I don't know - it's been years since I've had one.  But I'm happy to try one in the interest of research.

    Finally … yesterday the New York Times wrote that "the Biden administration, keeping a watchful eye on an outbreak of avian influenza that has led to the deaths of tens of millions of chickens and is driving up the cost of eggs — not to mention raising the frightening specter of a human pandemic — is contemplating a mass vaccination campaign for poultry, according to White House officials."

    I commented:

    The problem is that there is a cadre of birds out there lobbying against any sort of national vaccination program, saying that it is just an excuse to inject them with microchips that will allow the government or global elites like Bill Gates to track them.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    That's funny, I don't care who you are.


    MNB reader Kevin Duffy responded:

    Are the chickens going to be required to wear a mask?

    Good point.  I hope so.

    And then, this absolutely terrific response from an MNB reader:

    If a mass vaccination program for poultry is in place and we subscribe to the notion that it is actually a way to track the movements of chickens, will we finally be able to answer the question of "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

    Boom!  Mic drop!  Wish I'd come up with that line.