business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reported yesterday on a full page Starbucks ad in the New York Times that read:

    Who needs a coffee machine?

    Maybe we should think of companies less like machines and more like individuals? With a machine, you just turn it on and it does its job. It has no responsibilities and no morals. And it has no future. An individual - and a corporation - is obligated to live in the world according to human principles in the present, or else it cannot thrive in the future. For us, this means remembering that we are more than a coffee company; we are a people company, serving coffee one customer at a time.

    To learn more about what we hold dear, visit:

Our comment, in part: It seems to us that Starbucks continues to hit all the right notes as it continues its expansion inside and outside the US, understanding that it needs to always perceived as doing the right thing regarding its shoppers and employees. It strikes us that Starbucks, because of its rapid expansion and growing ubiquity, could reasonably expect to be subjected to many of the criticisms that companies like Wal-Mart like experience. But with few exceptions, Starbucks avoids these pitfalls, largely, we think, because it understands the notion that as a growing company, it has a larger responsibility to its people – those who shop in its stores, and those who work there…It is a lesson that more retailers should learn. Stand for something. Communicate it effectively and frequently. And, in order to compete in a tough marketplace, understand that it makes sense to embrace a higher responsibility, not run from it.

One MNB user responded:

Even though I don't drink coffee anymore, I have followed Starbucks even before Howard Schultz bought and created the company as we know it today. I have had the good fortune to sit in on numerous Annual meetings as I live in Seattle, and have known a number of people who have worked at all levels of the company. Not all have been pro Starbucks, though the majority have.

Watching and listening to Howard S. over the years in a variety of situations (I'm not a an employee), and several of his key people, there is no question that this message today may be in the form of advertising, but it is spoken from the heart of the company that is lead by Schultz. I've not seen much of this if any at all from the principals of WM, though it may be I just don't live in the right town to do so, as I have also seen it/heard it from Jim Sinegal and key people within Costco, again a locally based company.

I hope that the heart that is genuine resonates with others as it is essential for us to strengthen one another as individuals, as communities, as businesses within those communities.

Another MNB user wrote:

We must recognize that Starbucks, unlike, Wal-Mart or the large grocers, deals with their customers face-to-face. They deal with a wealthier clientele; they bring happiness to their customers in the form of that daily latte, etc. Their workers are called "barristas", and they sell something that most of us can't make at home. The entire Starbucks business model is geared toward inter-personal relationships. And in my town of 15,000, at least, they co-exist peacefully with five(!) other coffee houses, two drive-throughs, plus four diners. I suspect that in most of their locations Starbucks has brought an original concept. No, I don't think that Starbucks and Wal-Mart are comparable on any level.

MNB user Ryan Boegh wrote:
Good piece.

Wal-Mart once upon a time did stand for something, “made in America, by Americans”. When Sam died so did their principles and hence the message of the company.

Now their slogan is “Falling Prices”.

Has the old phrase “stand for something, or fall for anything” ever rung truer??

MNB user Linda Allen wrote:

Starbucks benefits by its actions plus being out ahead of the game (e.g. not waiting for criticism, then going public with what it does in the way of pro bono and/or customer or supplier friendly activities). It does strike me, however, that Starbucks' customers are part of a socio economic class that values trendiness, and enjoys setting trends and talking publicly about it. These folks and wannabe trend-setter followers have higher incomes than many shopping at Wal-Mart. They can better afford to pay $4.50 for a morning coffee (oops, latte) and have a life-style that generates the time and desire to drink it.

You could say they are more principled and better communicators. But also that members of the general and food industry press find Starbucks much more interesting and in sync with their own values and experience. Easier to connect with and write about positively than the more mundane and "controversial" commercial and economic services Wal-Mart delivers to its customers.

That seems like a legitimate observation and criticism…even though it came perilously close to accusing us of being elitist.


We referenced a Chicago Tribune piece yesterday about where the Windy City’s best chefs shop, and were specific about the appeal of Costco. But MNB user Dale R. Ohman, of Caputos Fresh Markets, felt that we ignored the better story:

We are the DESTINATION for Chefs in Chicagoland. Certainly not Jewel or Dominick's! Are you kidding me! We market to the individual customers, one at a time. If we don't have it, we will get it. I know for a fact the chains do not do this. Looking for something unusual, shop Caputos Fresh Markets!

We love it when someone feels this passionately about the place where he works. Having people on board who share this kind of passion should be every retailer’s goal.

MNB reported yesterday on an IRI study saying that even as people try to eat more nutritiously, they also are spending a third of their CPG dollars on foods that taste good. We wondered when the two notions became mutually exclusive, and said that we try and satisfy both criteria whenever and whatever we eat.

To which one member of the MNB community responded:

You could not have said it better.

As I read the IRI commentary my blood pressure was rising. Eating nutritiously from my perspective equals indulging in wonderful, good tasting food. Whoever got the notion that nutritious eating means bland or boring food is missing out on natures bounty and good cooking. What a shame the media continues to separate food into "good food- not so good tasting" and "bad food- yummy."

Finally, we had some discussion yesterday about what one MNB user viewed as the lousy food and beer sold at baseball stadiums around the country…which prompted one MNB user to write:

I shudder to think about what ballpark this poor fan must be suffering - half of the baseball experience lies in the food! I’d like to invite this reader (and any other baseball fans out there) to come on down to Pac Bell Park in San Francisco (yes, I know it’s now called SBC Park, but I still can’t bring myself to say it) to enjoy a grilled dog and a basket of Gilroy garlic fries. Yum! There is literally something for everyone here – from clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls to the traditional peanuts and cotton candy. And for all you beer fans out there – we’ve got a Guinness stand, too!

We agree – SBC Park is one of the nicest baseball experiences in the US, and ownership is to be commended for creating it within walking distance of downtown San Francisco. It is one of our favorite sports venues.

While we hate to pick on a Giants fan (as this MNB user clearly is, we would, however, gently point out that the same level of denial that makes her still call the stadium “Pac Bell Park” may also be responsible for so many Giants fans believing that Barry Bonds never cheated, never took steroids deliberately, and has a right to the records that he has been breaking.
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