business news in context, analysis with attitude

Last Thursday I posted a FaceTime video that I recorded in Chicago, where I went to the giant Starbucks Roastery on Michigan Avenue  because they are among the first of the company's US stores to be serving Oleato - the coffee-with-olive-oil concoction that former CEO Howard Schultz has described as "transformational."

MNB reader Phil Smith responded:

Love the Ode to Oleato and the humility how you presented it given your general tenor towards Howard lately. I’ll have to try it in Seattle’s Reserve next time. 

I’ll keep you posted on CBD Coffee development here in Portland. No matter the coffee, caffeinated versions have no afternoon business. That Oleato May be great but I doubt it will provide incremental volume. Until coffee figures out how to incorporate a flip side functional benefit to caffeine such as CBD, any innovations are just breathing recycled air.

And another MNB reader wrote:

You should change your mantra from MorningNewsBeat to “On the road with Kevin”. These visits are fantastic. Thanks.

It is my pleasure.

If I've learned anything in my career, it is that I'm able to find business lessons pretty much anywhere.  If I could figure out how to pivot my business model so that all I do is travel and find lessons and stories in unexpected places, I'd do it.

Last week we took note of a Business Insider report that an internal memo at Amazon recently informed managers "that employee stock awards - called restricted stock units, or RSUs - for 2025 will be reduced due to the economic climate and company budget. The document also cited a possible change in Amazon's pay model that would give staff more cash, a change that could make up for any potential weakness in its stock price."

The story noted that "Amazon has historically offered less base cash pay compared to some of its peers. Instead, it has used stock grants - and the potential for massive share price increases - as a means to attract talent. That strategy worked very well when Amazon shares surged from 2009 through most of 2021. But last year, the stock plunged, undermining the value of RSUs as an employee retention tool."

I commented:

This makes sense at a time when Amazon's share price has been struggling, and we've even begun to see some headlines questioning whether the company is being overvalued.  To be fair, though, there also have been a lot of stories lately suggesting that Amazon's stock is a great buy at current levels, that a price surge in inevitable.

I like the idea that the company is responding to employee concerns by giving them what they appear to want.  Though, if I worked for Amazon - and depending on what my financial solution happened to be at the time - I'd like to think that I would prefer lots of stock.  Assuming, of course, that I continued to believe in the company and current management.

MNB reader Tim Callahan wrote:

You can’t use your “restricted stock units” to buy this week’s groceries that have dramatically increased in price. Cashing in some stocks two years from now doesn’t solve TODAY’S problems!

You might be looking at this from the wrong side of the fence!

Agreed.  But I did say that I'd "prefer lots of stock" depending on the state of my own financial situation at the time.

Another MNB reader responded:

The best plan would be one that improved base salary compensation but also offered employees a choice of how much of their performance “bonus” would be paid in cash or stock options.

Lots of companies offer such a choice…including a premium (2X or 3X value) for choosing stock options.

We also had a piece last week about how Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop is closing a Greenwich, Connecticut, store, with the Connecticut Post linking the closure to "the opening a couple of years ago of a Wegmans in Harrison, New York, an 'an easy drive for many in Greenwich'."

All Stop & Shop said was that the store was not meeting "financial expectations."

I commented:

Part of the problem with that store was that it is small and undistinguished - there's no reason that a smartly run store with a strong specialty foods focus can't make it there.  I wouldn't even describe the Stop & Shop as being in the mushy middle;  it is just mushy.

This may be a problem that Stop & Shop eventually will face in Connecticut, where Wegmans has announced its plans for a new store in Norwalk.  As I've written here before, it will be across the street from a Walmart (not a supercenter), a third of a mile from a Costco, less than a mile west of a Super Stop & Shop and a ShopRite in Norwalk, one mile from the Darien Trader Joe's, less than two miles east of a not-so-super Stop & Shop in Darien, about two miles from the Darien Whole Foods, 3.8 miles from an independent grocer called Palmer's, also in Darien, and 4.5 miles west of Stew Leonard's in Norwalk.

I know and shop at all of those stores (some more than others).   I live about 2.5 miles from the Norwalk Wegmans site.  And in a lot of ways, I think those two Stop & Shop stores will be most vulnerable when Wegmans opens.

One MNB reader wrote:

Living in Stamford, Connecticut, I often wonder about the business validity of some of these supermarkets and their locations.

If you head to West Stamford, the ShopRite does gang busters, while the very large Stop & Shop across the street is as sleepy as it comes. They simply can’t compete on price, and also assortment to some degree and services (the ShopRite has a pretty darn good butcher, fish monger, prepared foods etc…).

Finally, last week we reported that "in two weeks, Walmart plans to reopen the store in Chesapeake, Virginia, that was the site of a mass shooting that resulted in the death of six employees.  The store reportedly has undergone a significant remodel, and will include a permanent memorial to the employees who were killed by a team leader at the store, who committed suicide after murdering his colleagues.  The memorial, Business Insider reports, 'will include foliage and six seating structures in honor of the six victims, 'providing a peaceful place for people to pause and remember the permanent impact these associates made on our lives,' according to Walmart."

I commented:

It is nice that the store will have a memorial, but the nicest memorial would be an approach to public policy that actually deals with the issue of gun violence.  I'm so sick of people who believe we can't do anything, or that "thoughts and prayers" are an adequate response.

"A peaceful place for people to pause and remember?"  I think that in some ways, that is precisely the wrong reaction to the epidemic of mass shootings that makes stores and schools and churches unsafe and definitely not peaceful.

One MNB reader responded:

Looking at the news in some states you would think parents are most worried about children seeing people dressed in drag or reading uncomfortable history.

The fact that there are almost weekly school shootings doesn’t seem to register. There are simply too many guns being sold to people that have no business owning them. 

Oh, come on.

Are you seriously suggesting that our nation and culture ought to prioritize the banning of some people from owning guns, or banning unqualified or untrained people from owning guns, over the banning of books and drag shows?

How can you suggest such a thing and consider yourself a serious person?