business news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to our Friday FaceTime about how an Austin-area H-E-B gave away food to customers when the electricity went down at a particularly bad time last week, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

You know how I feel about H-E-B so not surprised by your chat this morning. I am willing to bet that decision was not made by corporate by the store manager. The real key to service is trusting people on the ground to make decisions, and empowering them to do it. My consulting career has taught me that while a of businesses talk empowerment and trust, too few really practice it. 

Last week I did a Zoom conversation about organic and regenerative farming with Carl Jorgensen;  I admitted in that prologue that I cannot remember being on a farm.  (Vineyards, yes!)  MNB reader Sandy Voit wrote:

Sorry you haven't had experience of being on a farm. It is amazing and humbling to talk with farmers about their experiences in raising food and marketing it. They are truly the unsung heroes in our industry - they are there all hours of day and night, in all weather, ensuring that our stores have great produce (or dairy or meat) for our customers to buy and enjoy.

Also want to drill down a little further and recognize the support that is needed to keep farmers on the land. PCC Community Markets, back in 1999, created a Farmland Trust to basically buy development rights of farms in order to keep their property taxes low so farmers wouldn't be forced off their land as increasing property values would drive their property taxes sky high. This Farmland Trust has now saved 26 farms (over 2700 acres) and continues to expand its programs and fundraising. And PCC Community Markets has provided them over $1MM in the past 5 years towards these efforts to keep sustainable farmland available in our region. All a part of the greater environmental good that good groceries make happen...

As I mentioned last week, once pandemic restrictions are lifted I suspect I'll be visiting a number of farms - I got a bunch of invitations yesterday after that piece was posted.

Weighing in on Walmart's promised wage increases, MNB reader John Rand wrote:

Some years ago (5? 6? ) I was lucky enough to enjoy an extended and unstructured hour long conversation with a senior leader at Walmart and, at one point, he asked me a wonderfully open ended question: what was the one thing I would recommend Walmart do to improve its business that it wasn’t looking at?

My answer was, “Pay your people more.”

He started to laugh but then asked me my reasoning, and I said that Walmart was critically dependent on a customer base that was something less than extraordinarily affluent, and that anything that produced greater spending power for the bottom 1/2 to 2/3 of the country would increase business. And further, that Walmart set the de facto wage rates for the entire country due to its size. 

I like to think he took that seriously. Even if it had nothing to do with me, I have noticed a general increase in their pay rates in recent years. 

This latest news is in line with that. And probably will mean other retailers will need to compete a little more in wages to attract employees.

Finally, one MNB reader wrote in about my Friday OffBeat conversation with Mark Greaney, author of the "Gray Man" series of novels:

I was familiar with Mark Greaney from his work with Tom Clancy so I watched and enjoyed your interview.

He said he lived in Cologne and you mentioned you experiences there.  I spent a weekend or more each year in Cologne for over 20 years as I visited my distributors in Europe or visited ANUGA and ISM, I loved that city.  You mentioned that waiters marked coasters each time they delivered a glass of beer to keep track,  did you notice that the local brand Kölsch, came in small glasses wherever it was served?  The glasses were the right size to keep the beer cold while you finished it off, so I would consume 3 - 5 glasses with my Jaegerschnitzel. 

The waiter marked the coaster each time they came by with a tray full of glasses and dropped a glass off at the table.  I look forward to my next visit to the Fruh, Gaffel House among other favorite places.

I do remember drinking multiple glasses of Kölsch while consuming Himmel und Erde - Heaven & Earth - which consisted of blood sausage, mashed potatoes and apple sauce.  (I misstated the name of the dish as "Heaven & Hell" in our conversation.)  But Heaven on Earth would've been a better name for the dish.