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    Published on: April 6, 2023

    While in Chicago, I went to the giant Starbucks Roastery on Michigan Avenue, because they are among the first of the company's US stores to be serving Oleato - the coffee-with-olive-oil concoction that former CEO Howard Schultz has described as "transformational" and a product that "demonstrates the creativity and bold vision that makes Starbucks a global leader in coffee innovation."

    Well, I'll be the judge of that.

    Some pictures from the Roastery:

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    Business Insider reports that an internal memo at Amazon recently informed managers "that employee stock awards - called restricted stock units, or RSUs - for 2025 will be reduced due to the economic climate and company budget. The document also cited a possible change in Amazon's pay model that would give staff more cash, a change that could make up for any potential weakness in its stock price."

    The story notes that "Amazon has historically offered less base cash pay compared to some of its peers. Instead, it has used stock grants - and the potential for massive share price increases - as a means to attract talent. That strategy worked very well when Amazon shares surged from 2009 through most of 2021. But last year, the stock plunged, undermining the value of RSUs as an employee retention tool.

    "Amazon's recent decision to reduce the number of RSUs granted to staff marks a major reversal from 2022. That year, the company issued a record amount of stock awards, as Insider previously reported. In 2022, it disclosed $19.6 billion in stock-based compensation, up 54% from the year before and more than double the level from 2020."

    The story notes that "the potential change in pay structure could address frustration among Amazon employees. Departing staff often cited low base cash pay as the primary reason for leaving, according to an internal document seen by Insider and people familiar with the matter. The current compensation approach has become a major issue in recent years, driving higher turnover and causing Amazon to identify it as one of the factors it must tackle to become 'Earth's Best Employer,' as Insider previously reported.

    "An internal survey last year found that employees preferred higher base pay, according to people familiar with the matter. The employees put a higher value on a package with 75% cash and 25% equity, versus those with a lower cash component, they said."

    KC's View:

    This makes sense at a time when Amazon's share price has been struggling, and we've even begun to see some headlines questioning whether the company is being overvalued.  To be fair, though, there also have been a lot of stories lately suggesting that Amazon's stock is a great buy at current levels, that a price surge in inevitable.

    I like the idea that the company is responding to employee concerns by giving them what they appear to want.  Though, if I worked for Amazon - and depending on what my financial solution happened to be at the time - I'd like to think that I would prefer lots of stock.  Assuming, of course, that I continued to believe in the company and current management.

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    The Connecticut Post reports on the closing of a Stop & Shop store in Greenwich, Connecticut, linking it to the opening a couple of years ago of a Wegmans in Harrison, New York, an "an easy drive for many in Greenwich."

    A spokesman for the Ahold Delhaize-owned chain confirmed the closing, saying that it was not meeting "financial expectations."   The spokesperson tells the Post that the "closure is not indicative of any future operational plans for Stop & Shop stores in Fairfield or Westchester counties."

    Local officials say they are looking for another supermarket chain to take over the space, which Stop & Shop will vacate in mid-June.

    KC's View:

    Part of the problem with that store was that it is small and undistinguished - there's no reason that a smartly run store with a strong specialty foods focus can't make it there.  I wouldn't even describe the Stop & Shop as being in the mushy middle;  it is just mushy.

    This may be a problem that Stop & Shop eventually will face in Connecticut, where Wegmans has announced its plans for a new store in Norwalk.  As I've written here before, it will be across the street from a Walmart (not a supercenter), a third of a mile from a Costco, less than a mile west of a Super Stop & Shop and a ShopRite in Norwalk, one mile from the Darien Trader Joe's, less than two miles east of a not-so-super Stop & Shop in Darien, about two miles from the Darien Whole Foods, 3.8 miles from an independent grocer called Palmer's, also in Darien, and 4.5 miles west of Stew Leonard's in Norwalk.

    I know and shop at all of those stores (some more than others).   I live about 2.5 miles from the Norwalk Wegmans site.  And in a lot of ways, I think those two Stop & Shop stores will be most vulnerable when Wegmans opens.

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    In two weeks, Walmart plans to reopen the store in Chesapeake, Virginia, that was the site of a mass shooting that resulted in the death of six employees.

    The store reportedly has undergone a significant remodel, and will include a permanent memorial to the employees who were killed by a team leader at the store, who committed suicide after murdering his colleagues.  The memorial, Business Insider reports, "will include foliage and six seating structures in honor of the six victims, 'providing a peaceful place for people to pause and remember the permanent impact these associates made on our lives,' according to Walmart."

    According to the piece, "The store reopening comes as Walmart continues to wrestle with the shooting's aftermath. Several shooting survivors and at least one of the victim's families have sued the company for millions of dollars, accusing the company of ignoring reports from co-workers of 'disturbing and threatening behavior' of the shooter."

    KC's View:

    It is nice that the store will have a memorial, but the nicest memorial would be an approach to public policy that actually deals with the issue of gun violence.  I'm so sick of people who believe we can't do anything, or that "thoughts and prayers" are an adequate response.

    "A peaceful place for people to pause and remember?"  I think that in some ways, that is precisely the wrong reaction to the epidemic of mass shootings that makes stores and schools and churches unsafe and definitely not peaceful.

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    From Axios:

    "America's labor market has continued to surprise, to the upside. One real-world effect is the lasting (favorable) job conditions for marginalized workers to reap benefits others get much sooner.

    "For the half-century that data has been available, white workers have enjoyed higher rates of employment than Black workers. That gap still exists, but it has been shrinking notably in recent months.

    "Among the workers most likely to want a job (those aged between 25 and 54), the difference between white and Black employment is 3.5 percentage points - hovering just above the smallest in data that dates back to 1994."

    Skanda Amarnath, executive director at research firm Employ America, tells Axios that "not every issue of inequity is resolved here - not every job is equal.  But employment is an important part of people's welfare."

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    •  Marketing Daily reports that "pickleball mania is everywhere and headed soon to a Walmart near you. Walmart is teaming up with Break The Love to introduce more people to the sport. This digital platform helps spread the pickleball passion, giving users access to court reservations, instructional resources and purchasing gear."

    The goal of the collaboration is to give away 125,000 pickleball reservations to customers and employees.

    According to the story, "In addition to the comped reservations, Break the Love will run 25 community events in cities nationwide, with pickleball programming and giveaways. It will also sell pickleball merchandise on its site, which will click through to check out on Walmart’s website, says Trisha Goyal, founder of Break the Love."

    Marketing Daily points out that the move is a timely one, coming "as America is desperately ramping up the pickleball infrastructure, with communities often converting tennis and basketball courts and parking lots."

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    •  Amazon apparently hopes that diamonds are forever.  Or close to it.

    Bloomberg reports that Amazon "is teaming up with a unit of De Beers Group to grow artificial diamonds, betting that custom-made gems could could help revolutionize computer networks. 

    "De Beers’s Element Six division will be working on the project with Amazon Web Services’ Center for Quantum Networking, a unit that’s seeking next-generation ways to transmit data securely over longer distances.

    "Quantum networking uses subatomic matter to deliver data in a way that goes beyond today’s fiber-optic systems. The diamonds would be part of a component that lets the data travel farther without breaking down. 

    "Conventional signal repeaters can’t handle information in this form, known as qubits. Ultimately, this equipment could wind up in networks used by AWS, a provider of cloud computing services that accounts for the majority of Amazon’s profit."

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Costco yesterday reported March net sales of $21.71 billion, up 0.5 percent from the same period a year ago.  Overall same-store sales were down 1.1 percent, with US same store sales down 1.5 percent, Canadian same-store sales down 2.4 percent, and other global same-store sales down two percent.

    March e-commerce sales were down 12.7 percent.

    •  From CNBC:

    "Bed Bath & Beyond announced Wednesday it is working with Hilco Global to get merchandise back on its shelves in the company’s latest effort to stay alive and avoid bankruptcy.

    "The home goods retailer has entered into a vendor consignment program with ReStore Capital, an investment manager under Hilco that provides 'creative financing solutions' to struggling companies.

    "Under the agreement, ReStore Capital will purchase up to $120 million, on a revolving basis at any given time, of prearranged merchandise from Bed Bath’s key suppliers to boost inventory levels at its namesake chain and Buybuy Baby. 

    Bed Bath has been struggling to stock its shelves after its vendors tightened their credit terms, cut limits and required prepayments before agreeing to fulfill orders, the company has said previously."

    Sounds like good money after bad to me.  I cannot for the life of me figure out what viable niche Bed Bath & Beyond's can occupy in the modern world.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "A battle over burrito bowls has begun. 

    Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is suing Sweetgreen Inc., saying the salad chain’s latest menu item - the Chipotle Chicken Burrito Bowl - infringes on its trademark and is confusing customers.

    "The burrito chain alleges in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, that Sweetgreen is using the word chipotle in capital letters, mimicking its trademarked logo. 

    "Chipotle said it recently sent a letter to Sweetgreen asking it to use lowercase letters in chipotle and to rename the bowl, even offering other possibilities … Chipotle is asking the court to stop Sweetgreen from selling the chipotle bowls and order the salad seller to pay it any profit it made from the new item, plus damages and lawyer fees."

    Published on: April 6, 2023

    From the Charlotte Observer:

    "Leon Levine, the Family Dollar Store founder who shared his fortune with health care, education and community causes in Charlotte and beyond, died Wednesday. He was 85.

    "Levine’s name marks institutions across the region. The self-made man who never finished college started one of North Carolina’s biggest scholarship programs … The Leon Levine Foundation has granted more than $450 million, with more than half the total awarded since 2008."