business news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get emails about the Albertsons baker who got a lot of attention when she refused to inscribe a pro-Donald Trump statement on a birthday cake; I think such refusals are silly, but got challenged by a reader who asked if I'd ever turned down advertisers for ethical or moral reasons. I said I had, but that it is different.

One MNB reader agreed with me:

In my opinion the crux of this cake decorating issue is who is ultimately the responsible party, meaning who owns the joint.   You own MNB and can do as you wish with accepting or rejecting advertising.  You gain or lose by your decisions.  The baker is not ultimately responsible.  Albertsons is ultimately responsible and gains or loses based on what the employees do or say.  If the baker owned the store then he can choose whether or not to decorate a cake because he is ultimately the responsible party.  Having strong convictions is fine but when you are employed by someone their opinions on operations should trump the employee’s.  If the employee doesn’t agree with that then he can and should find a new employer or go into business for himself.

From another reader:

Okay, so put yourself in the shoes of this poor Albertsons bakery employee.  I could envision the quandary. They were potentially damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  If they HAD done the Trump cake deed, they likely would have dragged their employer thru a variation on a press mess but would have more closely aligned Albertsons to a given political sentiment and then lost their job over the decision to proceed.  I think they took the safest road there was in a nasty no win jungle.  Both roads had alligators.

I disagree. If the baker had inscribed the cake with a pro-Trump statement, nobody would've noticed, and the national media wouldn't have been all over the story.

I continue to maintain that the baker should've just done the inscription, and then voted for Hillary.

On another subject, I got the following email from MNB reader Edward Zimmerman:

Just returned from Portland, OR – Lake Oswego to be precise and visited the new 365 store.

I found the design utilitarian and cold. More important, I went specifically to have dinner and check it out. Arriving at 6:15, I found the hot bar picked over and looking dry and leftover. I literally walked around for 15 minutes trying to decide what to eat. I settled on a packaged Chicken Caesar, dry, tasteless. A few chicken wings, unimaginative, and some kind of pulled chicken meat – a cross between BBQ and Indian – not memorable. Finally, I selected some Hummus – very good and pre-cut carrot and celery sticks which tasted old and somewhat reminiscent of bleach.
Whole Foods has a lot of work to do to make me return – C+ at best.

Chiming in on the continuing debate about bricks-and-mortar retail vs. online, one MNB user wrote:

I might suggest a counter argument to your perspective.  Brick and mortar HAS a differential value that they can exploit as they discover WHY e-commerce isn’t as strong for food and beverage.  I believe it relates to two distinct issues, selection of fresh and complexity of fulfilling total grocery requirements.  That said, I also chuckled a bit about using The Ed Sullivan Show as a reference point for discussing millennials…..thanks for the laugh, even if it was unintended!

On the subject of Amazon expanding into the college bookstore business, MNB user Joe Lucas wrote:

Amazon continues to break through the monopoly of the college book sale and good for them. My son at K State regularly “rents” books for minor classes and the experience has been, like most with Amazon, cost effective, timely, easy, and returns of the book are a snap.  Unfortunately, he still has to pay $250.00 for the engineering books…but it’s a start!

The story we quoted about the Amazon campus store said that "in the campus store where the textbooks used to be, there are now adult coloring books, racks of university-branded polos and windbreakers and three narrow bookshelves displaying assorted novels. The rest of the store is a vibrant collage of spirit wear and school supplies: backpacks and baseball caps; pompom hats and striped scarves; notebooks and correction fluid."

To which MNB reader Mark Woodgerd responded:

Correction fluid? What's that?

This made me laugh out loud ... because of course, there is an entire generation that has no idea what correction fluid is.

Just to confirm, I asked my 22-year-old daughter yesterday if she had any idea what correction fluid was, and she responded, "Is it sexual?"

Which made me laugh even louder.

yesterday, MNB took note of a Business Insider piece about what might be called the creeping robotization of the fast food business, and the likelihood that this will extend to supermarkets and other retail segments. In many ways, the story suggested, much of this is being driven by Amazon, where founder/CEO Jeff Bezos has a famous antipathy toward people in business, often saying that his goal is to automate everything possible and depend on algorithms to drive marketing and merchandising decisions. This can drive cost out of the business, which puts the pressure on other retailers to do the same.

I commented:

Inevitably, this story will generate emails from people who will suggest that it proves, once and for all, that Amazon is evil, and that its growth is promoting trends that will bring about the downfall of America.

To which I can only suggest, somebody has to build and program the robots.

And while I certainly don't think that it is a good thing that people may be losing their jobs to robots, I think it is important to not just embrace progress, but to think about one has to adjust in order to be relevant within a changed society.

One MNB user responded:

Yep, you are correct. Undeniable proof Amazon is the American evil and the greatest killer and future killer of American middle income jobs and the middle class. They are bad now, but the future will be worse…not to mention the de-socialization of America on top of destroying jobs.
I also find it a bit sad/disturbing that some will simply brush this evil off very naively saying something to the effect of “simply make yourself more relevant.” While undeniably important, if we don’t balance the need for technology advancement with the need to preserve jobs, the future looks dim…BTW, do robots pay Social Security taxes?

I think we simply have different definitions of "evil."

Another MNB user wrote:

This sounds great until someone inevitably develops computers and robots that can program and assemble themselves.  I'm all for progress, but one does have to wonder at what point does an automated future begin to do more harm than good?

And MNB reader Mark Boyer wrote:

Don’t you think the robots will eventually be able to build and program more robots themselves?

Well, we know this is going to happen. The system is called Skynet, and when Judgement Day happens, we're all screwed.

We quoted an Australian news story yesterday that used the word "spruiking," which I said I'd never before heard. It is Australian slang that means "to speak in public," especially in the case of a salesman or showman.

My education has been continued by MNB reader Gary Harris:

So how surprised would you be to hear that ‘spruiking’ is a word we’ve used at Wegmans for almost 30 years?
From my fuzzy memory archive, here’s where I think it started with us. It seems that back in late 80’s or early 90’s, a grocery store (Big Fresh, maybe?) in Oceania (don’t remember if it was an Australian or a New Zealand chain) had a TV ad campaign that featured a senior employee spruiking produce. This 1st ad included hawking to customers, clever one liners, and juggling. Much fun in the produce department.

The 2nd ad featured him having to teach spruiking to a new hire, a young aboriginal man who watches with a detached, skeptical expression as the older employee does his best to impress. The 3rd and final ad has the senior employee tossing an orange (or maybe a mango) to the young man and encouraging him to try it. The surprise ending is the young man launching into a cleverly written and well-executed break-dance while spruiking the product, to the senior employee’s delight.
So Spruiking has been in our cultural vocabulary for several decades. We fell in love with the ‘theater’ aspect of engaging customers by entertaining and having fun with them, and of course the story of the ad campaign is something that’s apparently timeless, because it still resonates when we think of the generational and cultural differences between these employees and how they were able to go right past tolerance to appreciation. Sure wish I could find that video!

You brought back memories. I think it was Big Fresh in NewZealand ... and I shot a video profile of that store maybe 30 years ago. And that's exactly what they were doing, though I don't remember the word.

I'll have to see if I have that old video in the basement...

By the way, I got another note about this story ... specifically about the sentence in which I wrote that it was a word that "I'd never heard before."

An MNB writer asked:

Do you always dangle your prepositions?

Not always. But sometimes.

There actually is a school of thought that suggests that prepositions indeed can be dangled, and that this particular grammatical rule is nonsensical.

No less a writer than Winston Churchill felt this way, once writing, "This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put."

I'm with him.

The question did remind me of a joke that my dad used to tell, about the guy who enrolled at Harvard and on his first day stopped a fellow student and asked, "Where's the dining hall at?"

The student looked down at the questioner and said, "At Harvard, we do not end sentences with prepositions."

To which the new student replied, "I understand. Let me ask it again. Where's the dining hall at, ass----?"

Just thinking of my dad telling that joke makes my morning.
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