business news in context, analysis with attitude

From MNB last week:

A federal jury in Ohio yesterday found that three of the nation's largest pharmacy chains  - Walmart, CVS and Walgreens - "substantially contributed to the crisis of opioid overdoses and deaths in two Ohio counties," the New York Times  reports.

It is, the Times writes, "the first time the retail segment of the drug industry has been held accountable in the decades-long epidemic."

All three chains said they would appeal the verdict.  CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis characterized the defense this way: “Pharmacists fill legal prescriptions written by DEA-licensed doctors who prescribe legal, FDA-approved substances to treat actual patients in need.  We look forward to the appeals court review of this case, including the misapplication of public nuisance law."

I commented:

I am completely sympathetic to the pain and agony suffered by patients and families that became embroiled in the opioid addiction epidemic, but I must admit that I am a little conflicted about the degree to which pharmacists could've or should've stepped in to prevent their distribution.

The Times story points out that the plaintiffs argue that "pharmacies turned a blind eye to countless red flags about suspicious opioid orders, both at the local counter with patients and at corporate headquarters."  In other words, even as they detected a worrying rise in opioid prescriptions, they stopped counting pills because they were too busy counting profits.

That is a reasonable argument, and it seems entirely possible that all three chains flunked the ethical test.  But allowing pharmacists to question and/or veto doctors' orders may be a slippery slope.

One MNB reader responded:

Having managed a store with a pharmacy: The pharmacists are caught in the middle. They have an obligation to point out a wrong, just like if they have two scripts that do not interact well. But when they are a part of a corporation many of the rules are enforced by the legal dept. Also you are correct, pharmacists do not like to question doctors. I have witnessed disagreements where the doctor threatens to have a pharmacist license over refusal to fill a script. Very ugly. Not to mention doctors can suggest NOT going to certain pharmacies. Comes down to money, drives all. 

And, from another reader:

I don't know the facts, I was not in court to hear arguments from both sides. That said, for years we have been encouraged to:  'See something - Say something'.  Did and when did that 

Logic suggests there was a pattern of scrips written by one or a series of Drs. that would have been outside the norm. Pharmacists are highly intelligent, science educated individuals who I presume would be aware of extraordinary prescriptions and I presume many did and took action of some sort.  There is plenty of blame, morally and ethically, to be placed on all parties.  I don't know how you legislate/regulate moral and ethical behavior.  The Opioid crisis includes many both passive and active enablers.

Your opinion was spot on.  Thank you!

The other day we took note of a Star Tribune report that Lunds & Byerlys has adopted a new perk designed to attract and retain employees - it will let "its employees decide when and how frequently they would like to be paid for the hours they work."  Including, if they wish, on the same day that they work.

One MNB reader responded:

I keep thinking back to the old adage “give a man a fish and feed him for a day”.  I see this as people request their pay when they have a “want” but at the end of the month when rent comes due, they don’t have enough built up hours to take care of the “need”.  This has the feeling that it will drive more activity to payday loan places than less to help people cover large monthly expenses since they do not have a “regular” check.  It can also contribute to “the great quit” as associates can get their checks that day and never come back.  Perhaps a better solution would be in-house classes on budgeting, stretch assignments to help get people promoted into higher paying jobs even if it’s not with their current employer or use the cost of managing/providing this service to offer all the associates a raise.

Just another take on a program that, in the end, is here to line the pocketbooks of the company that is offering the service at the expense of the lower wage earners.

A story we had about how CVS decided to close down hundreds of drug stores prompted MNB reader Gail Nickel-Kailing to write:

Since moving to Helena Montana 5 years ago from Seattle, we had to deal with a variety of culture shocks. No rush hour was the best (unless there is train crossing your street of choice), for example. But the hardest has been the paucity of retail options. The nearest Apple store is nearly 300 miles away!

But the CVS stores (yes, there are 2) are the saddest excuses for a retail pharmacy I’ve ever seen. I expect at least one of them will close in this wave. That will leave 2 national pharmacies represented here: CVS and Walgreens. It can be really hard if you need a prescription and they are out of the necessary drug (that’s happened to us a couple of times) or if you need something outside their regular hours. Heaven help us if you need an emergency prescription in the middle of the night. I think the only option might be the hospital pharmacy; I have no idea what we’d do.

We’re seniors on Medicare and the best priced pharmacy supplement for us is a Walgreens partnership, so we’re limited even more. It can be really scary for someone taking heart medication, insulin, or other prescriptions for chronic conditions.

MNB reader Tom Murphy had some thoughts about retailers doing business with Instacart:

Many of your readers, myself included, understand the risk a retailer assumes when they sign up for Instacart services.  MNB has done a good job of covering both sides of the Instacart model…what the app/service does for them and what is does to the retailer.  However, I personally don’t hold much hope for retailers “controlling” the Instacart service or market or reversing the damage already done.  Guys/gals like us (people over 50…being polite here) are much more concerned with whom our stores are than those younger than us.  There is a huge population (the digitally addicted) that cares mostly about convenience and prices.  If Instacart can convince them that it can provide the best of both…most  retailers (other than the big ones) will suffer accordingly.  I think this evolutionary mutation has already occurred, is spreading faster than the delta variant, and cannot be put back in the box.  

Short of a major event or misstep by Instacart, I think the best quote is, “this train has left the station!”

I made the offhand comment the other day that a Starbucks I visited went to drive-through-only at 2 pm, and closed at 7 pm, because of staffing shortages.

One MNB reader responded:

I was staying in Vegas for the Supply Side West convention last month and the Starbucks in my hotel did not open for the two days that I stayed there citing employees as no shows those days.

From another reader:

Count your lucky stars, KC.  The Starbucks here, in Auburn, Maine, closes at 4:00 in the afternoon for the same reason. 

We reported a few days ago that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon "believes that current inflation rates are an opportunity for his company because it will allow Walmart to double-down on its longtime low-price approach … McMillon said, 'We’re proud to try and hold prices down.  Our conversations with suppliers today, tomorrow will be ‘How can you help us roll back prices and swim upstream and be different than everybody else?'"

One MNB reader responded:

Personally, I think this is how they plan to win: “Our conversations with suppliers today, tomorrow will be ‘How can you help us roll back prices”. I think we all know that Walmart pushes back on their suppliers and the suppliers will have to absorb the cost if they want to continue to do business with Walmart.

Dollar Tree, which has spent more than three decades selling products for $1, announced that it raise its price for to $1.25 for most items by the end of April 2022.

One MNB reader observed:

Average manufacturer price increases are in the 6%+/- range.  Dollar Tree is going up 25%???  Hmmm … who’s gouging who?

And from another:

It may only be 25¢, but that's a 25 percent increase in cost.  That's not chump change!

Reacting to east week's "MNB @ 20" conversation with Judy Spires, MNB reader Steve Workman wrote:

Love your conversation with Judy Spires! I remember Judy from her early days at ACME Markets in Malvern, PA before Albertsons’ bought them.  During that time, I worked for Entenmann’s Bakery was on the Board of the Philadelphia AMR (Association of Manufacturer’s Representatives).  ACME was one of my accounts and I remember when Judy was promoted to VP of the Floral Department.  She used to come to our dinners when we honored ACME and was always very friendly.  It is no surprise that Judy has been as successful as she has in her Grocery career.  Judy has always been very friendly, approachable, and innovative.  BTW, she kept a smile for the full 35 minutes of your interview……

MNB reader Douglas Madenberg wrote:

I’ve been thinking about the Judy Spires conversation… she mentioned the old adage, Necessity is the mother of invention.  True enough, but doesn’t it seem the most groundbreaking inventions actually create the necessity on their own?  Thinking of iPod, EZ Pass, even Amazon, things  we never thought of and now can’t live without.  Maybe the best innovators are out ahead of the human need, not just the market opportunity.

Anyway thanks for always providing the forum to allow the thoughts to percolate…

And, in response to my conversation with Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball:

I was introduced to the sport by my brother and his wife while visiting them in Florida. Being a competitive person, I didn't take to well with him beating me as bad as he did. So, when I returned home, I started a movement in my neighborhood, started a Facebook group dedicated to Pickleball. To date, there are 34 members. We use this page to find players on a daily basis as well as share videos about the strategy of the sport as well as videos of us all playing. It's a great way to stay connected with each other and decompress from work and COVID fatigue. it's also great exercise and something my wife even likes to do. Needless to say, I am a fanatic and will continue to be.

I am currently sidelined due to recent rotator cuff surgery on my non-playing arm and I can't wait to get back at it in early January 2022.

Good luck.  

Lots of kind email about MNB's 20th anniversary…

MNB reader Glen Terbeek wrote:

Congrats on your 20 years providing a great service to the industry, using a great format.  In today’s world, twenty years speaks to how effective you have been.  Here is to another twenty years!  The industry needs it,

I remember talking with you at a FMI convention in Chicago when you were considering starting MNB.  Great job!

One MNB reader wrote:

I'm looking forward to your next 20 years or my expiration date, whichever comes first.

MNB reader Michael Starkey wrote:

Congratulations and thank you! As I have shared with you in the past, if I only have the time to read one newsletter in the morning, it's always MorningNewsBeat!!

MNB reader Cindy Sorensen wrote:

Congrats!! I remember where I was when I first heard about Morning News Beat.... working from my home office as a region sales manager for The Minute Maid Company. We received an email recommending we subscribe to this new daily newsletter...20 years ago. The rest is history.

MNB reader Sandra Kednay, for former student of mine at PSU, wrote:

Thanks so much for sharing this nostalgic trip down your memory lane.   What a star! Loved the format and the music too!

MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

Loved the video, it gave me goosebumps -  (Especially the dog pics!)

It's great that you've gotten to travel the country and meet so many wonderful people along the way, and I really appreciate what you do week in and week out, for twenty years. I consider myself a friend, congrats and here's to another twenty years!

And another:

Great photos and lots of memories over a very quick 20 years Kevin!  Thanks for letting us be a part of it.

MNB reader Deborah Faragher wrote:

Congratulations, Kevin, on 20 great years.  I’ve now been retired for 11 years and still read you every day.  I appreciate your thoughtful comments, your candor, and your humor.  Keep it up!

And from another:

Well done.  Great content and insights always with a sense of humility and humor.

Well, maybe more humor than humility, if I'm going to be honest.

From another MNB reader:

I know I have read Morning Newsbeat for over 19 years and pretty close to 20 years.  I was reading a trade magazine (remember when they were in waiting rooms) and Michael Sansolo said in an article that the first thing he did every morning was read MorningNewsBeat.  I thought what the heck is that.  I did NOT “subscribe” immediately because the president of our company wanted to cut down on the number of emails on the server (pretty funny).  I went to your website every day to read your updates.  I finally subscribed. I think I did it just to upset our president who obviously was way behind the times.

Proving that 20 years is a long time ago, I still have my monthly planner (hard copy) from November 2001.  I just looked up what I was doing during your founding week.  As a sales rep from a consumer products company, I called on two accounts that no longer exist.  Life changes slowly until it doesn’t.

Thanks for your insight, humor and “offbeat” observations over the years.

And from another:

What a great milestone Kevin!  You have certainly found your niche in work and like thousands of others I look forward to reading and hearing your daily insights in the food industry.  

MNB reader Jim Antrup wrote:

Congrats on 20 years, I have only been following you for a couple of years but I do enjoy your news and commentary.

MNB reader Terry Marshall wrote:

Congratulations on the 20 years!  I am sure it has flown by since you are doing what you love.  I have been a reader for about 15 of those years and appreciate the content that you have written.  I believe it still has the edge it did when I first subscribed and leads us to think about the direction of retail, and in many ways society and culture.   I’d wish you another 20 great years but I think you will probably want to be fully retired by then, so instead, here’s to more great columns for as long as it lasts.  All  the best!

MNB reader Steve Deatherage wrote:

Congratulations on your 20 year anniversary.  I enjoy getting my updates every morning and the content within.  Your on the spot videos start my day and the updates and info in the content keep me informed across the US.  I really appreciate what you do and how you bring it to your readers.  Here’s to another 20 years and counting, thanks.

MNB reader Bob Culbertson wrote:

Just wanted to send you a note of congratulations on your anniversary. I can’t remember the date I started following you, but I retired over 8 years and still read it every morning. I spent 47 years of my working career working for independent retailers, some local chains, and 32 years working for Cub Foods/ SuperValu. The great thing about your newsletter, is that I not only get to continue to hear about what is going on in the grocery industry, but I get additional lessons from your connections that impact other industries. Many things you talk about even are good life lessons. 

Keep up the great work.  Congratulations.

From another reader:

I just wanted to reach out and say congratulations on 20 years….keep up the good work!

I really enjoy your newsletter and appreciate all of the industry news, notes and “hot takes” on our rapidly changing industry that you have provided over the last 2 decades.

I originally signed up in November, 2001 per a colleagues recommendation at the time (I was working for Perdue Farms), and have continued my subscription over a couple of job changes since then.  

Just curious…how many “long haulers” like me are still tuning in today?

Good question … the shame of it is that I've changed email systems several times since the beginning, and the specific data has been lost.  But I can tell you that I started out with maybe 100-150 people that I knew, and now am lucky enough to be well into five figures.

The operative word being "lucky."

Finally, I had a headline the other day:  Organized Theft Causing Retail Employee Tsuris.

Which led MNB reader Suzanne Shriner to write:

Holy Cow, KC … It’s been ages since I needed to look up the definition of a word!  Tsuris.  Well done!  Cannot wait to regale my family members this Thanksgiving with my tales of tsuris!

Glad I could help.  I like to think of MNB as having multiple uses.