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    Published on: March 23, 2023

    A column in The Information the other day suggested, essentially, that Twitter these days has lost its appeal to a lot of "power users" - that it used to be a place where people could and would get smarter.  Not everybody, and not all the time, of course,  but enough to be appealing.

    To me, this column reflected something I've been thinking a lot about both in my content consumption and content creation.  My goal is to always try to get smarter.

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce has issued a subpoena to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as it looks into whether the labor body improperly influenced at least one Starbucks election.

    According to the story, "Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), who chairs the committee, wrote that she believes the NLRB has communications and documents outlining alleged misconduct in Starbucks elections, and is seeking documents on the matter. Ms. Foxx requested that the NLRB official provide the documents to the committee on March 29, according to the subpoena … Ms. Foxx wrote that she believes that an NLRB report last month confirmed certain allegations brought forward by Starbucks last year, particularly regarding an election in the Kansas City area. Ms. Foxx wrote in the letter that NLRB employees shared more information about the election with Workers United than with Starbucks, thereby helping the union."

    The Journal says that the NLRB and Starbucks Workers United have not yet commented on the subpoena.  Starbucks management said it welcomed the move.

    The Journal writes that "as Starbucks has pushed back against a unionization drive in its U.S. cafes over the past 18 months, Starbucks Workers United has filed hundreds of unfair labor practice charges against Starbucks, and the NLRB has issued more than 80 complaints against the company covering roughly 260 of those allegations. Starbucks is contesting those charges."

    There were two other Starbucks stories that were posted this morning:

    •  Bloomberg reports that as Laxman Narasimhan takes the CEO reins from Howard Schultz this week, "unionized Starbucks baristas plan to welcome their new chief executive officer with strikes at about 100 cafes Wednesday, demanding that the company drop its alleged antiunion coercion.

    "The work stoppage, which organizers said will involve stores in more than 40 US cities, is the union Starbucks Workers United’s latest effort to force a pivot by the coffee giant. Since scoring an initial landmark victory 15 months ago in Buffalo, New York, the union has prevailed in elections at around 290 of the company’s roughly 9,000 corporate-owned US cafes. But the pace of new unionization petitions has slowed down, as workers allege the company has been retaliating in stores and stonewalling them at the bargaining table."

    •  And, in a profile of Narasimhan, the Journal makes several points about his planned approach to leadership of the company.

    First, he says that he is the CEO.  Not Schultz.  While he will turn to Schultz for guidance, "The world, though, needs boxes and lines.  There’s one CEO, and that’s me."

    Second, he plans to put a lot of focus on supply chain issues.  For example, after spending six months immersing himself in the system, he found that Starbucks has too many different cup and lid pairings.  “It was startling to me, how many we had,” he said. “We’ve got things to do to become more disciplined.”

    And third, "Narasimhan said he plans to regularly work alongside baristas in cafes to understand why it sometimes is so aggravating to get a customer a simple cup of coffee. He intends to work four hours in a different Starbucks store each month, and expects his senior leaders to do the same."

    KC's View:

    It is fair, I think, to say that many of Starbucks' problems are related to a disconnect between management and the front lines.  Forget the blame game, and which CEO is responsible.  Management forgot that the company's brand equity entirely rests in its stores, and that had negative repercussions.  (Schultz may have an unusually high profile for a CEO, but I would suggest that most Starbucks customers are far more familiar with their local barista.)

    If Narasimhan can re-establish a culture in which the front lines are elevated in terms of importance and investment, that will be a step forward. And maybe even a lesson for other retailers at risk of disconnection from the front lines.

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    From CNN:

    "Americans are one step closer to being able to buy chicken grown from animal cells, also known as lab-grown meat.

    "Good Meat, the developer of such a chicken product, announced Tuesday that it has received a so-called 'no questions' letter from the Food and Drug Administration. That letter states that the administration is satisfied that the product is safe to sell in the United States. The FDA issued a similar letter to another company that makes meat from cultured chicken cells, Upside Foods, in November.

    "That’s a big step, but it doesn’t mean shoppers will be able to try the product just yet. To get the green light to sell to consumers, both companies need the go-ahead from the US Department of Agriculture."

    According to the story, "Good Meat, which is owned by plant-based egg maker Eat Just, said that after the USDA signs off on its product, chef and Good Meat board member José Andrés will start serving the cultured meat at a Washington, D.C., restaurant.

    "There’s no clear timeline for when Good Meat or Upside Foods will get USDA approval. But internationally, things are moving quickly. Good Meat’s cell-based chicken was approved for sale in Singapore in 2020, and has since been available for purchase in restaurants in that country."

    KC's View:

    For me, the question always is one of education.  How transparent will stores and restaurants be about the source of this meat?  How much will they invest in illuminating people about the rationale and processes behind these new products?  How much transparency will regulators mandate, vs. how much will businesses do voluntarily?

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    MediaPost reports on a. new study suggesting that purpose-driven marketing may not be all that it is cracked up to be.

    According to the study, 57 percent of those surveyed "could not name a brand taking care of the environment. The same percentage couldn’t think of a brand promoting diversity and inclusion. And 54% can’t name a brand giving back to the community."

    The study was done by data intelligence company GfK.

    The story goes on:

    "Affluent consumers, defined as those earning $125,000 or more per year, are more likely to be able to name a purpose-driven brand, as are Democrats.

    "Surprisingly, Gen Z -- often cited as the generation most likely to choose brands based on their social and environmental promises -- are least likely to be able to name any cause-driven brands.

    "Among those who could come up with a name, Amazon and Walmart received the 'overwhelming majority' of mentions, the report says. Tesla was the only other brand to get more than 100 unaided mentions.

    "Amazon was the most-mentioned in all three issues. Under the environmental umbrella, Tesla, Walmart and Apple followed. For diversity, Walmart, Target and Google followed. And for the community, Walmart, Target and Apple came next."

    KC's View:

    I'm sure that some will see these numbers as suggesting that companies should not engage in purpose-driven marketing.  And I have to admit that the naming of companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target as being purpose-driven sort of misses the point of what that term means.

    I think that being purpose-driven means having the long view, and not being interested in just the short-term boost in sales and recognition.  So I'd worry about doing the right thing, not getting credit.  

    But I also would argue that this statement - "54% can’t name a brand giving back to the community" - is a shot across the bow of most supermarkets in the US.  Almost every grocery store in this country supports its local community, with local jobs, donations and in all sorts of other ways.  I don't think they should be seeking credit for credit's sake, but I do think that perhaps they need to be better communicating their community connections and the ways in which they are investing in local communities and neighborhoods.

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    Willamette Week reports that "the Miami ghost kitchen company that scattered its trucks across Portland shortly before the pandemic and received over $1 billion from SoftBank and other overseas investors appears to have called it quits in Portland.

    "Miami-based Reef Technology last week closed most, if not all, of its remaining ghost kitchens across the city."

    The story notes that at its height in 2021, Reef "operated 26 'vessels' across Portland - trucks where its employees cooked food for delivery. Each vessel sold seven to 10 food brands, under names like Mr. Beast Burger, Sticky Wings and Man vs. Fries.  Reef entered Portland in 2019 with grand plans to turn drab, underused parking lots into hyperlocal centers of commerce filled with electric vehicle-charging stations, ghost kitchens offering delivery-only food, and pop-up grocers. The idea was a utopian one: create micro-communities so that no city dweller need walk more than four or five blocks to access all of the essentials."

    KC's View:

    The story suggests that this is not one of those cases where Portland's troubled urban landscape was the main problem.  In fact, it sounds like Reef was unable to maintain the contracts for the parking lots where it was parking its vans.  No locations, no business.  Though I'm sure that the unsettled social climate in Portland didn't help.

    I continue to believe that the ghost kitchen model is one with real potential, and it would be a mistake to dismiss it just because of some places and some companies where it does not work.  Some concepts just need to marinate longer than others.

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From Forbes:

    "One of the world’s most successful drone delivery companies will be expanding to mainland Europe and the United States in 2023. Manna Aero has already done over 100,000 drone deliveries in multiple locations in Ireland, and is trending to hit over 1,000 deliveries per day in individual dense urban markets."

    According to the story, "Google sister company Wing is probably leading drone delivery in the U.S., right now, running deliveries in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in addition to other locations in the U.S. and globally. Amazon’s drone delivery efforts are evolving slowly in comparison.

    "But Manna Aero has is approaching roughly similar scale to Wing, and has demonstrated the ability to do 2,000 to 3,000 flights/day across its multiple locations … Each Manna Aero drone does 7-8 deliveries an hour at 50 miles/hour (80 km/hour) at a cost of roughly one-tenth a human driver in a car. The company’s latest drone, the X-drone, carries about 7.5 pounds (3.5 kg) of cargo in a hold with about 30,000 cubic centimeters of space (about 1800 cubic inches). It flies deliveries within a relatively small radius: perhaps up to five miles or eight kilometers, and returns home when battery consumption reaches 60%."

    The assumption largely has been that drone delivery schemes were more appropriate for suburban and rural areas, as opposed to more crowded urban areas.  But Manna is taking the opposite approach - the goal this summer is to do 1,000 deliveries a day in Dublin, Ireland, and then, apparently, use learnings from that experience to expand to a still-unnamed US market.

    (By the way, "Manna" - as in "manna from heaven" - is a great name for a drone delivery company.)

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    •  From USA Today:

    "Walmart has announced plans to close stores in Hawaii and Minnesota, which join a handful of other stores closing in several states this year. 

    "The retail giant said the decision was made after a review process that determined the impacted stores failed to meet financial expectations … Ten stores in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington D.C., and Wisconsin will close by the end of the year, along with two experimental 'pickup' locations in Illinois and Arkansas. 

    "Employees at shuttered locations are eligible to transfer to other stores, Walmart said."

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    •  The Los Angeles Times traces rat infestations at a Trader Joe's store in Oakland, California to the calls for unionization that have taken place at the unit - resulting in a filing of a petition this week with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) calling for a union election.

    The infestation - employees said they spent time each morning cleaning rat feces until, after two years, the problem was resolved late last year - was just part of the problem.  Employees also said that the "company leadership has chipped away at worker benefits and morale," and that "they are seeking a union primarily to address what they see as Trader Joe’s disregard for their physical safety and financial security in the high-priced San Francisco Bay Area."

    The Times writes that "three Trader Joe’s stores have voted to join independent union Trader Joe’s United."  And, "Like Starbucks and REI — companies that have long cultivated reputations as progressive brands with robust benefits for their service workers — Trader Joe’s has been criticized for its response to worker organizing."

    •  From The Hill:

    "A proposed California bill could ban the sale of Skittles, Hot Tamales candy, Dubble Bubble Twist Gum, and other food items containing chemicals that the legislation’s supporters say are toxic and dangerous.

    "Introduced by Assembly members Jesse Gabriel and Buffy Wicks, AB 418 proposes that California stop manufacturing, selling, or distributing foods that contain Red Dye No. 3, Titanium Dioxide, Potassium Bromate, Brominated Vegetable Oil, or Propyl Paraben.  These chemicals can cause significant health problems like increased risk of cancer, damage to the immune system and behavioral issues in children, Gabriel’s office said in a news release.

    "While many Californians won’t recognize these chemicals by name, they can be found in popular food and drink items. For example, according to Label Insights, Titanium Dioxide can be found in cupcakes, trail mix and ice cream. Propylparaben can be found in caramel chocolate."

    •  Kohl's announced this week the addition of full-sized Sephora stores to 250 of its units around the country, bringing "the total Sephora at Kohl’s fleet to more than 850, achieving the partnership’s initial planned goal of the Sephora at Kohl’s rollout … In addition to expanding across more than 40 states, Sephora at Kohl’s will enter seven new states in 2023 including Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah, bringing Sephora at Kohl’s presence to 48 states."

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    Executive Suite is sponsored by Robin Russell Executive Search.

    •  Weis Markets announced that Alison Gregas, the company's private brands manager, has been promoted to the position of director of private brands.

    Published on: March 23, 2023

    We've been having a small debate here about the coming introduction of a microwaveable grilled cheese sandwich.  I argued that this another sign of the decline of western civilization because people have become so lazy they don't want to make a simple grilled cheese sandwich, while an MNB reader argued that I was ignoring the needs of college students living in dorms and small children not allowed to use grills.

    Another MNB reader chimed in:

    A little more on the microwave grilled cheese story – the popularity of Smucker’s Uncrustables frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches always amazed me.  There is nothing easier for any healthy individual over the age of 18 months than smearing some peanut butter and some jelly on sliced bread with a dull knife, and it won’t be soggy and requiring an energy-gulping device to accomplish.  The height of laziness has already been reached, and microwaveable grilled cheese is anti-climactic.

    I agree.

    On the subject of AI advancements, one MNB reader wrote:

    Perhaps not in my lifetime, I’m 64, but certainly coming I foresee people having a personal AI almost from birth that you will communicate with throughout your life. More than a personal assistant as it will help you figure stuff out and learn from past mistakes and keep track of everything. “AI where is the receipt for…”  These AIs will be fought over after a person passes and over time and several generations an AI could become a sort of an all knowing fountain of family knowledge and matriarch for the family.

    On another subject, from another reader:

    It comes as no surprise to me that the more established older generations do not shop online as much as younger generations - not because of technological comfort or anything like that, but because we already have most of what we need or want, so our shopping frequency across all channels is much lower.  As a Gen X member, I shop for discretionary items when I’m in the mood or a new need arises, and shop for necessities in big lumps (the Costco run, the weekly/bi-weekly supermarket trip, etc).  I suspect many of us more established generations also do more stocking up than the generations just starting out, if for no other reason than that many of us have room in our houses for the giant bale of paper towels from the warehouse club or case deals on canned goods, as opposed to young people in small starter apartments.

    From yesterday's MNB:

    "The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said this week that the window is closing for humanity to effectively address the threat of climate change.

    “Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”

    The Associated Press writes that if humanity has a chance "to prevent the worst of climate change’s future harms," it will require "quickly slashing nearly two-thirds of carbon pollution by 2035."

    I commented, in part:

    I'm sure that there will be those who will suggest that if every country does not adopt these goals and then work aggressively to meet them, then it does not make sense for any country to do so.  The argument will be that if we do it unilaterally, we handicap ourselves from competing effectively in the global economy.

    And there will be those who will question the science behind these warnings.

    I cannot help but think, though, that if we do not heed these warnings, there won't be a global economy in which our grandchildren can thrive.  

    One MNB reader wrote:

    The thought of is fine but the actual implementation of this objective is impossible.  There is no way that our global leaders are in lock step on this and the current infrastructure could never handle the added strain.  Our current technology is inadequate to make this cost effective.  The nuclear “antis” don’t want these around, so that leaves earth scarring solar panels, wind farms that kill birds, and water generation which has its own issues.  This proclamation seems to me to be the tiger with no teeth.

    Earth scarring solar panels?  Bird-killing wind farms?  Really?  I love it when I come upon a field of solar panels, or I see windmills on the landscape.  It makes me feel that there are some people in some places who are connected to reality.

    From another reader:

    Thank you Kevin for what you do. 

    I know that the climate is changing and it has always changed.  Glaciers covered most of Canada down to as far south as Missouri at one point.  Yes, we want cleaner energy and we want cleaner water but at what cost?  I think the UN proclamation is another example of “you never let a crisis go to waste” and we have to quickly make changes they want. 

    Here in California just after they banned the sales internal combustion vehicles by 2035 the state send out an urgent notice asking that we all turn off some of our electric appliances because we do not have enough electricity.   I’m afraid we are going to hamstrung our economy while countries like India and China give lip service to cutting their carbon output.  China earlier this year approved five more coal fired energy plants after approving on average two new plants per week in 2022. China uses almost 50% of the worlds coal production and they are increasing their use while the US uses 11% and is decreasing our use. 

    Wait until everyone finds out how polluting it is to manufacture lithium batteries for vehicles not to mention what do we do with them when the die.       

    You're right.  Many will give lip service to these issues and do whatever the hell they want.

    But I think "American exceptionalism" means that we have to lead.

    And, from yet another reader:

    As Al Franken noted on "The Daily Show," we Baby Boomers get the feeling that maybe we caught the last helicopter out of Saigon.

    True.  Which makes me want to do the last tango in Paris.  Because there's still so much to be done.