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    Published on: March 14, 2023

    The midlife crisis as a concept is just 58 years old.  And this year, millions of millennials will turn 40 and, experts say, will start experiencing the pangs that often come when one starts considering the likelihood that you're closer to the end than the beginning.  But for this batch of millennials, there are a number of factors adding to their discontent and concerns.  Which underlines, in some ways, why it makes sense for businesses to create cultures of caring that, in the end, will be good for business.

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    by Kevin Coupe

    Go figure.  Today is National Pi Day.

    Not National Pie Day.  (That's January 23.)

    National Pi Day is celebrated every March 14 in recognition of Pi, the mathematical sign that signifies "the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  For any circle, the distance around the edge is a little more than three times the distance across."

    (I'm quoting from, because the last math class I took was in 1971, and I only have a vague memory of not understanding it then.  Today, I have no clue.)

    I only bring this up because, like all of its customers, I got an Eye-Opening email from Dorothy Lane Market yesterday:

    I just think this is really smart - a play on words that tries to make customers hungry, and establishes Dorothy Lane Market as the place to satisfy that hunger.

    If I lived anywhere near Dayton, that's where I would've gone today.  For all sorts of pies, ranging from fruit to pizza.

    This is what great marketers do.  They find opportunities, and exploit them in ways that make sense.

    Because here's a math equation that I do understand - that addition and multiplication are the most important kinds of calculations that retailers can make.  But addition and multiplication don't happen on their own … they require a retailer to be imaginative and innovative.

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    In Washington, DC, Marymount University said that a new on-campus convenience store is equipped with Amazon Go's checkout-free technology.

    According to the story, "The private, Catholic liberal arts university is the first higher education institution to incorporate Amazon’s technology, most often seen in Amazon Fresh grocery stores, in an on-campus store, Marymount spokesman Nick Munson said. The Saints 24 store sits inside the 200-bed Gerard Phelan Hall, in a lobby previously used as a check-in desk and since renovated as a student lounge and store … The cost and length of the university’s contract with Amazon is unclear. Munson declined to comment, saying the agreement is confidential. Amazon declined to address the deal itself."

    KC's View:

    I think a college campus is a great place for a Go store, and the fact that Amazon continues to license the technology while closing down some of its own stores, makes me wonder if it is going to focus more on that side of the business.  It is less capital intensive to license the tech, which would seem more in line with current priorities.

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    Time has a story about how "a new web-based tool released by Swedish climate intelligence company CarbonCloud is bringing us closer to being able to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions of a grocery list as easily as we would the nutrition values. It’s not quite ready to launch the carbon-counting revolution, but it is a start."

    The story points out that "food and agriculture are responsible for nearly a quarter of global emissions. But unlike electricity generation (25%) and transportation (14%), little has been done to reduce the climate impact of what we eat. Yet doing so is vital: a recently published study in Nature Climate Change found that our current food system could add 1°C in global warming by the end of the century, propelling us well past the 1.5°C (2.7°F) limit that helps us avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis."

    Time writes that "consumers could play a significant role in pushing food companies to reduce emissions by choosing low- or net-zero carbon products," but they need reliable, accessible data to do so.

    You can read the entire story here.

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "Chick-fil-A Inc. is reaching beyond North America with a $1 billion plan to take its signature crispy chicken-breast sandwich overseas. 

    "The Atlanta-based company said it plans to open restaurants in Europe and Asia by 2026, with locations in five international markets by 2030."

    CEO Andrew Cathy is quoted as saying that "Chick-fil-A has plenty of room to grow in the U.S., but that an international presence is necessary as the family-owned business charts its future."

    “We feel like it’s time to continue to innovate and try and test how we will do in international markets so that we can learn,” Cathy tells the Journal.

    Some context from the story:

    "Sales of Chick-fil-A’s signature crispy chicken-breast sandwich have long been ahead of the pack. The company’s relatively simple menu focused on poultry has helped privately held Chick-fil-A grow to become the third-biggest U.S. fast-food chain by sales behind McDonald’s and Starbucks Corp., according to market-research firm Technomic Inc. 

    Its U.S. sales have quadrupled in the past decade, with its restaurants averaging more yearly sales than any other fast-food chain and many sit-down ones, Technomic said. 

    Chick-fil-A is still determining how many international restaurants it will open overseas, Mr. Cathy said. It is planning to stick with its model in which franchisees run just one restaurant, working closely with the company and splitting profit with the chain after paying fees."

    KC's View:

    Chick-fil-A is said to be looking for stable economies and dense populations, combined with a high demands for chicken.  That all sounds fine, but I'll be interested to see a) how those international markets respond to the closed-on-Sundays policy, and b) how much Chick-fil-A will deviate from its traditional/simple menu to cater to local tastes.

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the 1st District Court of Appeal in California has "reversed most of a ruling invalidating Proposition 22, the state’s 2020 voter-approved gig economy law allowing giant ride-hailing and delivery companies to classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees.

    "The 1st District Court of Appeal determined Proposition 22 should stand, disagreeing with a 2021 ruling finding that central provisions of the law conflicted with the state Constitution, rendering the law unenforceable, and tossing it out in its entirety … The lower court’s ruling, made by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch in August 2021, found that the law conflicts with the state Constitution by restricting the Legislature’s ability to regulate workers’ compensation rules."

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    •  From CNBC:

    "Rivian and Amazon are in discussions to adjust the exclusivity clause of their agreement for the EV maker’s electric delivery trucks, a company spokeswoman said Monday.

    "Eliminating the exclusivity piece of the agreement would allow Rivian to court new customers as it works to ramp production of the vans and its R1 series pickup and SUV. The company is also working on a forthcoming R2 model and is in need of cash. Last week, Rivian announced plans to raise $1.3 billion via a sale of convertible notes to help fund R2 development and launch."

    The story notes that "Rivian and Amazon struck a deal in 2019 to hand over 100,000 electric trucks to the e-commerce giant. Amazon began delivering packages with the vehicles in July, and Rivian last month touted 10 million packages delivered via the vans.

    "But Amazon, Rivian’s largest shareholder, has since underwhelmed with its order numbers, telling Rivian it wanted to buy about 10,000 vehicles this year — the low end of a previously stated range … Amazon said in a statement to CNBC that 10,000 vehicles was the original commitment, and that there has been no change to its order volume or partnership with Rivian."

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    •  Walmart announced this week that in order to assure its customers low prices for the Easter season, "we’re continuing to invest in the moments that matter this year by offering a Walmart-curated Easter meal and Easter basket at last year’s price.

    "Last year, we made significant investments on top of our everyday low prices to offer an entire basket of holiday mealtime essentials at the same price as 2021. It was a first for us at Walmart, and both new and existing Walmart customers responded enthusiastically when saving money was a top priority.

    "We know that continues to be true for many of our customers, so we’ve decided to do it again, this time for the Easter meal and basket. We’re offering both for less than $100 total, so our customers can celebrate Easter without compromise."

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    •  To help customers deal with inflationary food prices, Winn-Dixie said that it is "lowering prices on more than 150 everyday items. Through the grocer’s 'Down Down' program, customers can save more than 15% on average at their neighborhood store. Discounted products for the spring season include fresh produce and dairy items, pantry staples, frozen appetizers and meals, family favorite snacks, health and beauty products and essential household cleaning supplies. Items included in the 'Down Down' program are updated each season, giving shoppers more saving opportunities on their favorite products throughout the year.

    •  The Richmond Times DispatchI reports that "Wegmans is asking the Virginia Supreme Court to rethink a recent decision that could impact its $175 million distribution center under construction in Hanover County.

    "Several homeowners sued the Hanover County Board of Supervisors saying that it illegally passed a special use permit paving the way for the Sliding Hill Road site’s construction near the Hanover Airport. The residents opposed the development for reasons like industrial traffic, noise pollution and environmental damage. Wegmans was later added to the case as a second defendant.

    "The Hanover County Circuit Court initially ruled that the homeowners did not have the appropriate status to bring the suit against the board. Its decision to dismiss the case did not consider any of the eight ways the homeowners claim the board violated the law.  A Virginia Supreme Court opinion in early February said the lower court erred when it decided not to hear the homeowners’ arguments. The court voted unanimously to remand the suit back to Hanover."

    •  From Food & Wine:

    "When it comes to flavor, McCormick & Co. says Gen Z and millennials want one thing and one thing only: Spice, spice, and more spice. And it's ready to deliver with a slew of new partnerships and releases in 2023. 

    As part of the February Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference, McCormick & Co., which owns Frank's RedHot and Cholula, announced its fiery plans to grow the spicy food market in the coming year."

    Brendan M. Foley, President & CEO of McCormick, said at the conference, "Gen Z and millennials are kicking up the demand for heat.  They are more experimental and prefer authentic, bold, and spicy flavors more so than the generations before them. Their love of heat has driven growth in inherently hot foods like hot sauce as well as in foods with hot and spicy profiles like salty snacks. While 90% of consumers prefer some level of heat, consumers also want a balanced pairing of flavor and heat."

    •  Willamette Week reports that Portland, Oregon-based Zupan's wants to upgrade its customers' taste in beer.

    Zupan's, the story says, "has launched a series of courses examining the fundamentals of the beverage, as well as different styles, that will be held monthly.

    "The classes, which take place at the company’s subterranean events space at the West Burnside Street location called Cellar Z, are open to beer drinkers of all levels of expertise—and, yes, that even includes folks who don’t know the difference between a lager and an ale. Attendees will not only get to learn about the history of beer and various styles’ ingredients and processes; students also get the opportunity to educate their palates with numerous samples."

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    •  Masatoshi Ito, who founded Seven & I Holdings and then used it to acquire a majority share in 7-Eleven, has passed away.  He was 98.

    The New York Times writes that "Mr. Ito’s experience in retail started with a family-owned clothing store in Tokyo. He then founded Ito-Yokado, a chain of grocery stores that became the foundation for one of the world’s most valuable retail empires, earning him the admiration of management gurus at home and abroad.

    "Perhaps his greatest contribution to modern Japan began in 1973, when a young executive persuaded him to bring 7-Eleven to the country. Starting with a single store in Tokyo, the deal he struck with the chain’s owners, the Dallas-based Southland company, launched a revolution in Japanese retailing that would transform everything from the way companies moved their products to the way people eat."

    Published on: March 14, 2023

    Yesterday we pointed out a Wall Street Journal piece about how, as people return to physical stores, retail theft is rising, cutting into companies' profits.  There are, the story notes, two kinds of theft - shoplifting and organized retail theft, which is a much bigger problem.

    I commented:

    The Journal story says that there are some legislative responses in play:  "New legislation signed into law by President Biden last year, called the Inform Consumers Act, will make it harder for criminals to resell stolen goods online. The Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023 currently making its way through Congress seeks to pool expertise and provide more tools to prosecute criminals and recover stolen goods."

    But I do think this falls into the broader category of the fabric of society unraveling, and people - for a wide variety of reasons - stop adhering to the social compacts that used to bind us together.  Or at least most of us together.

    This is easier said than done, but I've always subscribed to the William Bratton (who ran police departments in Boston, New York City and Los Angeles) approach to this issue - one of the most important ways one stops major crime is to stop the small crimes.  That approach is out of favor at the moment, and we see the result.  Retailers have to increase their own security measures to make sure their stores are safe and secure, but they deserve the support of law enforcement when attempting to protect their businesses.

    One MNB reader commented:

    I have to challenge you a bit on your support of the comment that the best way to stop major crimes is to stop small crimes.

    In reality, the best way to stop crime is to support public services that enable our fellow humans to not only fulfill basic needs, but also thrive in a way that allows for an improved quality of life.

    If we focus on punishing small crimes, how do you suggest we do that? Fines associated with these small crimes? Which will only further dig a hole for most of the people who are committing these crimes which perpetuates the cycle. Do we then put them in jail when they can’t pay those fines? This impacts the family unit they are a part of and again, perpetuates the cycle.

    We need to focus on building people up – and that also needs to come from retail businesses not lobbying against a vast majority of their employees best interests.

    Always appreciate your commentary (and usually agree), but I couldn’t let this one go without a response. Thanks for always keeping the conversation open!

    Another MNB reader had a different reaction:

    It is my belief that Congress needs to pass laws that allow Retail security to do their job.  When you decide to engage in criminal activity, then your right to personal safety should  become voided.  Now, I do not mean that Store Security should be armed and putting people's lives at risk.  But, we have all heard the stories where someone engaging in retail theft is tackled, gets scrapped up or maybe suffers a broken arm, and then they sue the Retailer for a huge sum of money.  This should not be allowed.  

    If you chose to engage in criminal activity, then you are accepting the risks associated with that.  Our laws have become twisted, where those breaking the law seem to have more rights than those following the law.  Squatters can take over your home, and as the legal home owner, you have to have them evicted.  People can run into a Walgreens, fill a garbage bag with expensive cosmetics, and if you try and stop them, you can face a lawsuit.  How did it come to this?

    It's time for our Politicians to work together, and create laws that allow Retailers to protect their inventory, and the shoppers in their stores who are following the law.  This should be an easy solution, and I don't understand how our Government has let this become a $100B problem.

    Law abiding citizen pay for these crimes.  We talk about the price of groceries going up, yet no one talks about the fact retailers have to make up for all that theft, and they make up for it by raising prices on those who don't steal.  This is backwards.  It's time for Congress to act, and put laws in place where Retailers can once again protect their merchandise.

    Kroger said last week that it has hired John Boehner - the former Congressman from Ohio who served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015 - to help its lobbying effort aimed at federal approval of its proposed $24.6 billion acquisition of Albertsons.

    I commented:

    I wonder if Boehner gets a special bonus in the form of a couple of cases of merlot if the deal ands up being approved.

    But one MNB reader took issue with the hiring:

    I’m a strong conservative, and Boehner was never one of my favorites. I don’t think he’s the best choice to help negotiate this deal!  Time will tell!

    I responded:

    I checked, and if my sources are accurate, in 2010, Boehner received a 100 percent conservative score from the American Conservative Union, and has a lifetime score from that organization of 94.  In 2010, Boehner had a 100 percent rating from the conservative Club for Growth, and a 83 percent lifetime rating.

    Which makes me wonder, what the hell does one have to do to be a strong conservative these days?

    Or, is it possible that what passes for a strong conservative in 2023 isn't what was considered conservative in 2010 … or at any time before that?

    Another MNB reader chimed in:

    Regarding your question, I think you are correct in asking. I believe that conservatives now are different than they were in 2010. I know I am. Even though I’m a registered Republican, I don’t agree with many of them. Again, I really appreciate your comments!  

    Yesterday I did as FaceTime video in which I tried putting a little olive oil in my black coffee - it didn't taste bad, it kind of looked weird, but I argued that retailers should actually get ahead of Starbucks' much-vaunted plans to offer this as a beverage by doing it themselves.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    I totally enjoyed your non-scientific coffee experiment. Made me laugh.  Did you really like it?  Especially given your fondness about Schultz.

    It didn't suck.  With a little work, it might actually taste pretty good.

    MNB reader Gregory Grudzinksi wrote:

    Love this idea.  And the idea of getting retailers out in front of the Oil & Coffee wave is, frankly, really really smart.

    Thanks.  I get one right every once in a while.

    And another MNB reader wrote:

    Wondering how many people did as I did after reading this piece by you:

    Went straight to kitchen.

    Made 5 ounces strong black Starbucks freshly ground coffee from coffee maker.

    Added I teaspoon olive oil from Italy.

    Drank.  Not impressed.

    What I had was a great cup of black coffee with small pools of olive oil floating on top.  There was an “essence of infused olive oil” but that’s about it.

    Perhaps Howard could use my “essence of infused olive oil” line.  Howard could throw a bit of Salsa or Texas Pete Sauce in there and really get our mornings started!