business news in context, analysis with attitude

We reported yesterday that the state of California yesterday filed a lawsuit against Amazon on antitrust grounds, charging that the online retailer stifles competition by penalizing sellers for offering products elsewhere for lower prices.

MNB reader Tom Murphy replied:

Nothing new in the market on this.  Walmart and Kroger have for years forbidden vendors from offering lower product costs than their contracts…this is just the next extension.

Unfortunately, liberal and conservative politicians alike don’t understand the retail economy and marketplace at all, so they do what they normally do…shoot off the mouth for soundbites and shoot from the hip on policy.

I wrote the other day that it didn't seem to me like Starbucks' stated desire to open thousands of new stores in the next few years was the best strategy - after all, how many people walk about places of any real size and say, what this place needs is more Starbucks?

MNB reader Mark Baker responded:

I kind of agree with your sentiments on the addition of more Starbucks locations, but here in the middle of the country (Jefferson City, MO to be specific) we received our first stand-alone Starbucks only in the last 5 years.  In the meantime, there’s chains like 7 Brew and Scooters throwing up drive-thru only locations in every free out lot they can find.  My guess is that Starbucks is trying to head off the loss of customers to these newer, more convenient options.  They’re quickly losing the status and cachet they once had by becoming largely a drive-thru option.

In the middle of the country there aren’t nearly as many SBUX locations around as there are on the coasts.  What we joke about around here is the fact that Dollar General locations are popping up in locations that aren’t even populated!  I honestly don’t know who is around to even shop at all of them!

On the subject of Wegmans announcing the end of the company's SCAN app, which allowed customers to scan their groceries as they shopped the store, because of "losses," one MNB reader wrote:

My view is that there is a high degree of theft, even in "tony" towns and cities. People steal not because they have to, but because they can. It's very simple to not scan an item. My wife sees this constantly at self checkouts at the Shaw's she works at. The solution? Have enough checkouts, cashiers, and baggers, like Market Basket. They don't even have self checkouts.

Not sure that was the case at Wegmans, but I agree they could have communicated it better, maybe phase it out over time, not a couple of weeks. I'm sure Wegmans will make it right.

We had a story yesterday about a new bio-engineered purple tomato that has been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for growth and cultivation in the US. and that reportedly has certain health benefits.  I commented:

If you tell me that purple tomatoes  may help prevent cancer, reduce inflammation, and protect against type 2 diabetes, and add that to the fact that tomatoes are one of my favorite foods, I'm pretty much all in.” 

Prompting MNB reader Carl Jorgensen to write:

Like so many genetically engineered foods before it, the new purple tomato is making wonderful promises, which you appear to accept at face value.  The reality is that, time and time again, the promises of GMO foods have not been fulfilled. The promises of higher yields, better nutrition, friendlier to the environment, drought-tolerant, etc. have turned out to be hollow. Traditional crop breeding can produce all of these benefits with greatly reduced risk of unintended consequences. What is the purpose of genetically engineered food? Patents and profits. Sorry to be so cynical, but as each new wonder food and new GMO technology like gene editing and synthetic biology is announced, we forget the dismal history of thinking we’re smarter than nature.

I also commented:

I wonder how they'll taste on "a nice MLT – mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is nice and lean and the tomato is ripe."

Which led MNB reader Steve Burbridge to write:

It's "inconceivable" that I would eat a purple tomato unless I am only "mostly dead."

Extra credit to Steve.

And finally, regarding my piece yesterday about NewSeasons, one MNB reader wrote:

About 3 years ago, New Seasons opened an outstanding market in the Ballard neighborhood of northwest Seattle.  Easily one of the best I have ever seen; unfortunately, within a three-square block area you had 3 established signature stores by PCC, Trader Joe’s, and Fred Meyer as well as a “serviceable” Safeway.  The result - store closed about a year later.

Hope new money and leadership brings a better business development and real estate team!  Would love this store in my neighborhood…although we have a Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market nearby as well! 

And, from another reader:

One of the things that sets New Seasons apart from many other grocers are the upbeat, positive and helpful team members. Always willing to help. That great attitude must come from the top and it’s a credit to the management.