business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Let’s be honest, things haven’t been fun lately. But reading Monday’s MNB, I found myself unexpectedly uplifted. It seemed like story after story examined ways businesses and consumers are learning to grow, evolve and change as we navigate the Covid-19 period.

What was most uplifting was a single e-mail to KC from a reader who is discovering the joys of cooking. I have a feeling that person isn’t alone.

To kill time (I seem to have so much of that these days) we’ve been spending many evenings binge watching various shows on Netflix and thanks to my adult daughter we’ve finally found a family favorite. It’s called “Nailed It” and might well be meanest, funniest and most instructive reality show I have ever seen.

"Nailed It" operates with a simple premise: three amateur bakers are challenged to make intricate cakes, only they have both far too little time and way too little skill. The results are laugh out loud funny in most cases and the commentary from the expert judges is both educational and biting.

But the show makes me think about more than the schadenfreude of seeing other people struggle. It reminds me how unskilled I personally am.  In fact, my wife and daughter have decided that once our semi-quarantine is ended, they are going to challenge me to bake up some goods. (My wife is an expert in the kitchen and her baked goods are both beautiful and delicious, so this is totally unnecessary.)

Many years ago a retail friend gave what I still think is the smartest quote ever. He said that the incredible popularity of cooking shows is basically analogous to pornography. In his words, it’s things people like to watch, but will never, ever do themselves.

I think that has to change with cooking, however, and maybe this virus will provide the push.

Back when I was in school, home economics was required for all girls and shop for all us guys. Frankly, both should have been required for everyone, but sadly, as I saw with the education of my children, neither are required for anyone anymore.  At the moment, I’m sure my children think cooking and home repairs are far more important than, say, calculus.

Given the incredible hit on municipal budgets I doubt either course in life skills is returning anytime soon, but there may be a fabulous opportunity for food retail to connect with shoppers in powerful ways by teaching them how to shop, store and cook smarter - skills that suddenly seem really important again. It won’t require creating a full academic curriculum, but maybe the industry can help by simply offering insights that inexperienced and lousy cooks (me included) can use.

The New York Times had a simple article this weekend explaining how to find suitable substitutes for products when making assorted recipes with limited pantry options.  As so many of the stories on MNB made clear yesterday, look for opportunity to build on the centrality of food retail to modern lives.

This crisis has made so many unexpected things possible in the way that necessity is always the mother of invention and growth. My 90-year-old parents managed to master technology (no small thing, by the way) so that we could hold a remote Passover Seder last week, bringing together family from five states and two countries. I have to believe that necessity is making a lot of us glad we've mastered modern skills, but also leave us wanting to get better at life skills long ago seen as unimportant.

And that seems like a huge opportunity and certainly a way to find a bright spot in all of this.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.