business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday  we ran a special edition of MNB - an extended conversation with John Grant, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770 in Los Angeles, to talk about the issue of mandated hazard pay.

MNB reader Neil Stern - who, it needs to be pointed out, is the CEO of Good Food Holdings, which certainly has been affected by the mandates - responded:

Well done!

I hope you get a good conversation going because he was thoughtful throughout.

Thoughts and quibbles:

He began by mentioning retailer inconsistency around masking and testing. It was not the retailer but government policy in an evolving situation. Retailers have consistently gone beyond the local governments in enforcing mandates.

The issue of trauma for the associate is very true. People are stressed, tired, emotionally and financially impacted. It has been a tough year and certainly retail workers had a different experience than white collar workers.

Decent explanation on why grocery...but yes, every worker (and maybe even more so, the police) … have had stress. But I will take the point that grocery was "more" essential than most.

I hate the "profit" discussion. Food retail (even in 2020) is a fundamentally low margin and low profit business. We could go on and on with comparisons but Target made $6.5 billion on $94 billion in revenue in 2020; Home Depot $12.9 billion on $110 billion and Kroger made $2.8 billion on $135 billion in revenue. Better than last year, sure. Better than other types of retailers (or suppliers)?  Not even close!

Another MNB reader wrote:

Congratulations on doing a unique format today.  It is a very important issue and it was great to see the discussion between you and John Grant.  I was amazed at how many things you agree on.  Both of you are very respectful of the other’s opinion even when you disagree.  It reminds me of years ago when we spoke to each other and listened, versus the current climate of trying to shout down or minimize people we disagree with.

I especially like how you wanted to learn more and let John present his case.  One of my favorite quotes from Larry King (paraphrasing) was, “I never learned anything while I was talking.”  I think both you and John learned a lot from your conversation.

From another MNB reader:

Pertaining to 34,700 union grocery workers exposed to or having had COVID out of 900,000, well that's a percentage just under 4% and if you look at the percentage of Americans who have HAD COVID it's sitting at around 9%, with 30 million out of 328 million in the United States.  So if you add in "exposure" perhaps it's 20-30%.  

This is simply another argument "against" hazard pay for supermarket workers who have so far experienced COVID or have been quarantined as a result of exposure is at a minimum of 1/3rd of the rate in the country.  But it may be more likely that it's about 1/5th!  

From yet another reader:

At the heart of this is the overall  lack of coordination in response to the pandemic, that in my opinion is nothing short of a national tragedy!! Clearly as a nation we were unprepared and leaving it up to each state to develop their own response hasn’t worked all that well.  Going forward as “one nation” we can and must do better! 

And, one more:

Regarding mask mandates here in the Portland, Oregon market, all I can say is at all the major grocery chains, mass merchandiser chains, and all other retailers have 100% mask compliance. It has been a requirement for a long time, and I think this is why we have one of the lowest instances of COVID-19 infections in the country. It ain’t that hard to put on a mask and protect yourself and others. Eventually, we will all look at this issue in the rear view mirror.

I think this is an important issue and that we'll continue to have an good discussion about it here on MNB.  If you missed yesterday's piece, you can access it here.

The other day we referenced a Chicago Tribune report that Cleveland Avenue, a venture capital firm launched by Don Thompson, the former McDonald's CEO, has put $15 million behind Dom's Market and Kitchen, a new food hall format that is the brainchild of Bob Mariano, the former Dominick's and Roundy's CEO who launched the Mariano's chain before selling it to Kroger.

I commented:

There are two reasons to be excited about the Dom's opening.

First, it has been my conviction that one result of the pandemic's impact on the restaurant business would be a growth of food hall concepts, especially those driven by people from the traditional restaurant business.  The pandemic laid bare the degree to which they were vulnerable to economic shifts, and a smartly developed food hall has the ability to spread the bets around a little bit.

Second, it is from Bob Mariano and his team - and their track record is pretty damned strong.  

MNB reader Julie Anderson chimed in:

I don’t know Bob or have even met him, but I know Dominick’s. I shopped at their first location, and continued to shop there till I moved.

I have watched Bob take his creativity and bring it to every entity he has been associated with. I applaud him. He is an innovator in the industry.

Makes me smile. Wish I lived in Chicago. When I go back home I will make a point to go and visit.

Finally … thanks to all of you who enjoyed my little April Fool's joke last week:

New reporting from the Suez Canal indicates that previous stories about why the skyscraper-sized container ship Ever Given blocked the canal were inaccurate - the ship did not run aground because of high winds that forced it off course

Authorities who boarded the ship - which was going from the Yantian district of China to  Rotterdam in the Netherlands - to inspect its cargo found that it in fact was loaded down  with thousands of grey Amazon Prime delivery vans that the company planned to scatter across the EU in an effort to dominate the continent's delivery infrastructure.  There also were several containers loaded with delivery drones.

It was fun to write, and I really enjoyed the fact that a few people thought it was true.

One MNB reader wrote:

Disappointed you did not give the full report. BBC reported that one container on the ship was loaded with archived videos of “Facetime with the Content Guy”, being bootlegged into Europe.  Apparently upon discovery the ship’s captain left his post as he was so enthralled watching them, especially the cooking sessions.

Not the first time I've been involved in smuggling something into Europe.

Some day I'll tell you the story about how, in October 1979, I helped smuggle a girl without a passport from Italy into Germany.