business news in context, analysis with attitude

We took note yesterday of a Fast Company piece about Ben & Jerry's dispute with its owner, Unilever, over differing interpretations about what it means to be a "brand purpose" business. 

I commented, in part:

I think it is fair to say that Unilever has shown more forbearance than one might have expected with Ben & Jerry's over the past two decades, but as far as I'm concerned, the reason for buying Ben & Jerry's ice cream - at least for a lot of people - will instantly vanish.  A significant piece of the value proposition will have been diluted, and I think Unilever would be taking a big gamble with the brand's equity and core values.

MNB reader Nathan Tully wrote:

This is an incredibly interesting story to me and I have been following it from the start.

I think consumer activism in the form of speaking with your wallet has two sides that seem to get lost in the discussion around brands. I believe that B+J really stepped on a landmine with this boycott in Israel. Using a brand and its voice for causes has many risks. It seems that B+J had tunnel vision on making their statement and possibly felt that they were invincible. For everyone who supports a cause there is someone who does not and just because a person likes the brand they may not walk in lock step with the values of the organization producing it. True, some consumers may leave the brand due to the latest fight about B+J not being able to stand up for what they believe in but what about the those who had already left the brand because of their previous years of activism?

I am one of those folks. Personally I loved B+J ice cream and ate it for many years. When they really ramped up their social/political activism I personally could no longer fund their efforts through my purchase so I pivoted to other premium brands.  It was that easy. I am sure that my little $200 a year support of the brand going away did not impress anyone at B+J but multiply that by the millions of consumers with different opinions and now you have a brand in jeopardy.

I think it is time for these companies to focus on the basics and just churn out good products. I know what the data says about “feel good” consumerism but data is always subjective to the lens being used to look at it. Every single thing does not have to be made into a cause. It seems that the leaders at Unilever understand the danger associated with B+J’s radical stance to try not to sell to a certain segment of consumers – money is always green.

With all due respect, I disagree with you in this sense.  I have no problem with companies that want to engage in cultural/social/political activism, and structure their brands to reflect those beliefs.  They believe that in doing so, they will attract like-minded consumers and can grow in what they feel is an ethical way.

But I also have no problem with companies that do not want to take this approach.

Consumers get to choose.  Investors get to choose.  And we see what happens.

I find it interesting when some to suggest that it is wrong for companies or investor groups to focus on issues like environmental, social and corporate governance, as well as diversity, inclusion and equity.  Again, this is a choice - you can or you can't (actually, you will or you won't).  But to suggest that nobody should … that seems anti-free market to me.

But, for the record, I believe the data - I think many people, especially many young people, would rather support companies that they feel reflect their values.  I like that about them.

You may be right that Ben & Jerry's may have gone a bridge too far with its Israel position.  The real mistake may have been accepting the acquisition pitch from Unilever … though it did work out for 20 years, such deals may have expiration dates, like it or not.

Responding to yesterday's FaceTime video about streaming exceeding cable television in terms of viewing time in America, one MNB reader wrote:

I agree with the assessment that streaming has changed how our viewing habits. However I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the business model. As more and more steaming services add exclusive content, I need to add more streaming services to view shows I have interest in. The combined costs are rapidly adding up to the expense I tried to eliminate by leaving cable. I also have come to realize that as I grow my streaming services that much of the content beyond what I was interested in, is either duplication of some of my existing services or just crap. I now am moving to a model where I am going to join a service, binge what I want, disconnect when done, and reconnect later if there is something I’m interested in. I feel like the current model is as bad as the cable model. And now the streaming services think offering lower fees by adding commercials, is going to make customers happy?   Not this one. 

Maybe we should bundle all of the streaming services together for a reduced price!  Oh wait that feels like cable! 

Regarding Starbuck's closure of stores for "safety reasons," which some say is more about unionization activity, one MNB reader wrote:

Safety may be the stated reason but, that most likely is not the issue.  The company will not continue with marginal locations that now are facing increased operational expenses.  Most likely, they are not seen as profitable It stinks for the workers, but their name is not on the door.  The union's name is not on the door.  If the company wants to close stores as a means to maintaining profitability, then they can.  End of story.  The unions can cry and whine all they want.  Maybe the workers should have foreseen this prior to going down this road.  Hopefully the workers can find other employment.  If they even want to.

All of which would work … except that I have a feeling it runs contrary to US labor law.

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

So Walmart is finally going to take the plunge into the loyalty program business.

We'll see what sort of program they have, one thing you can bet on though, it will be largely funded by their vendors.

The Walmart I used to deal with isn't going to spend a dime they don't absolutely have to spend.

Another MNB reader wrote:

It’s not that it took so long, it’s just their age old strategy of passing discount directly to the shopper is dated, not as exciting as a loyalty program.  At the end of the day, there is just so much spending and perception is reality even when it is not.  At the end of the day, getting a carton of milk free will convince many that Kroger is cheaper.

We pointed out yesterday in pandemic coverage that "federal health officials say they are eager to offer …  updated boosters as quickly as possible, pointing to a death toll that now averages about 450 Americans per day and could rise in the coming months as people spend more time indoors."

I commented:

I'm ready to sign up right now.  That number - 450 Americans are dying every day from Covid-19 - certainly gets my attention.  Nothing is perfect, and there are no guarantees … but I want to do whatever I can to improve my odds.  Which I believe will not just help me stay healthy, but is the responsible thing to do to try to keep people around me healthy.

Prompting one MNB reader to write:

Or maybe they’re responsible for keeping themselves healthy.

So you don't subscribe to the philosophy that being part of a community means that we should all try to be responsible in our behavior?  That part of being human is looking out for others?  That we should care enough for each other than we should modify our behavior if not doing so means we could harm others?

How many people got sick or even died during the pandemic because there were others who decided that they did not need to wear masks, and didn't need to get vaccinated or boosted, and ended up getting sick and then infected other people?

Glad you're not my neighbor.  Or a member of my family.  And I sure as hell hope that I've raised my kids to be better than that.