business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, we pointed to a Bloomberg report that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), following up on the Supreme Court ruling that banned affirmative action in college admissions - or at least mandated that race could not be used by colleges as a factor in determining who to admit - "urged Target Corp. to end its efforts to racially diversify its workforce and vendor network.

"He called the Minneapolis-based company’s programs 'discriminatory' and threatened 'significant and likely costly litigation' should Target fail to change its ways."

I commented, in part:

There is basically one reason that companies like Target … pursue diversity and inclusion initiatives.  It is because businesses are better when more people of different backgrounds, beliefs, genders and ethnic origins are represented around the table and in their stores.  Businesses are better when employees at all levels reflect the customer base, and I think that in most cases, these efforts are to be admired, not condemned.

I'm not sure what Cotton's standing would be in such a lawsuit.  (He would know better than I, being an elite Harvard and Harvard Law School graduate.)  But I'm sure he's right - someone probably is going to sue Target.  And probably Walmart.  And maybe even any other company that tries to be proactive about diversifying their ranks.

I don’t understand the world anymore. 

One MNB reader responded:

If there are members of your large readership who will lambaste your comments regarding diversity I feel sure they are vastly outnumbered by those who applaud them.

I hope so.  To be fair, I didn't get one email taking issue with my comments.  Based on history, this was a little surprising.  But maybe I've just worn these folks out.

From another reader:

Why would Tom Cotton, senator from the state of Arkansas which is also the location of Walmart HQ want to threaten Target whose HQ is in Michigan?  The culture wars are a drag on the economy and for Cotton to threaten Target with  'significant and likely costly litigation' shows what a Paper Tiger Senators can be.

It isn't about anything other than scoring political points.  But again, to be fair, that's a game that people play on both sides of the aisle.

I have no problem with that, except when, as a result, people get hurt, people get bullied, people get disenfranchised, and people are denied rights that they should be able to take for granted.  But it ends up, of course, that there is very little that we actually can take for granted.

Got this email on a recent subject from MNB reader Steven Ritchey:

As we age, and yes, I'm included in that.  I spent Saturday doing tasks that 30+ years ago would have been no trouble, but at my current age, left me really, really tired.

However, for those of us in the supermarket business, we need to think of an aging population, and offer products specifically for that segment of the population.

I'm not thinking of new foods or really what product we buy, though, there could be changes in store for us as we age.

What I'm thinking of is how foods are packaged.  Cans that have a pull tab on them, unless they are soft drink and beer cans, are getting increasingly difficult for my older, weaker hands to open.  I have to use something to pry them open.  The same goes for some packing that has you peel a film off the top, some are difficult to pull.  I know my girlfriend's mother, as she got older was more and more reluctant to cook on the stove, or go to the trouble of baking.

That brings to mind something else food processors need to consider.  Package sizes.  With aging comes smaller households as children grow up and empty nesters become the new reality.  Plus, often we eat less.  So, having ingredients in smaller, easy to open packaging would seem to be in order.  Maybe smaller portions of meat and chicken at the meat counter.  I know it takes me a while to use a package of 6 or 8 chicken thighs, or even two steaks, as I'm mostly cooking for one.  Maybe even having some smaller frozen dinners that microwave well, that actually taste decent.

Frankly it's a pain to cook for one, I do it, but sometimes I come in from work and just want something quick and easy.

I know I sound like a grouchy old man, which frankly, some days is what I am, but sometimes I think many marketers are missing a large market here.

But then, I could be wrong, it's been known to happen.

Maybe I need to take Spenser's advice and keep my mouth shut, he says it seldom fails him.

Two things here.

First, I think you may a lot of legitimate points.  Manufacturers and retailers are going to have to adjust their strategies and tactics to account for an aging population.

BTW, MNB reader Rich Heiland asked the pertinent question:

Wonder how many businesses are trying to reach yesterday's market rather than today's and tomorrow's? By the way, I am a generational mix on all this.

Me, too.

And second, don't keep your mouth shut.  Maybe sometimes, but I think, for the most part, it is good to keep in mind the words of Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

As for Spenser's admonition, keep in mind that he was created by a guy who wrote more than 70 books, sometimes turning out two or three a year.  So it wasn't like he was keeping his mouth shut.

Yesterday we cited a Bloomberg analysis that I thought made sense - that Amazon may fairly be described as a great logistics company, but not a great retailer.  At least, not always.

Prompting this email from an MNB reader:

What is a retailer?

Amazon is losing my respect. The customer comments are not legitimate and honest. Descriptions are not complete. Truth and honesty is all they have to market.

Bought an electronic squirrel remover and it does not work along with all the others they list. They even have fake customer reports.

Bought an outside wood chair $180 that ended up being only 16" off the ground, so I could not easily get out of it at 79 yrs old. No mention of how high it was only how wide! Cost me $52 to return, because the company would not compensate.

There's something called an "electronic squirrel remover?"

We took note yesterday of a CNN piece about how sales figures suggest that America may be falling out of love with ice cream.

One MNB reader commented:

This may be the manufacturer’s fault. Many national/regional brands are reformulating their product from Ice Cream to Frozen Dairy Dessert. The next store walk you do, check Blue Bunny, Edy’s, and Breyers half gallon 48 oz. containers.

Come to think of it, maybe the downsizing of packaging is also affecting consumption.

MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

Here in Portland, Oregon Albertsons, Safeway, and Fred Meyer have been using brand name ice cream pretty much every week, since Memorial Day. The key sale brands are the big four, Tillamook, Umpqua, Dreyers, and Breyers, and PL in the 1.5 size. Lots of BOGO ads with exorbitant regular retails and many ads at sub $3.00 pricing using digital ad pricing. FYI, low pricing in 14 oz Ben and Jerry and many other brands at 2/$6.00. Needless to say, this summer has been a banner year for us frequent buyers of ice cream. The value proposition of buying in food retailers vs Baskin Robbins is obvious. BR is really good ice cream, but you can buy the brand name ice cream for less than what a scoop costs at BR. 

Your email reminded me of something I should've mentioned yesterday.  During my summer adjunctivities at Portland State University, one of my favorite stops was at Salt & Straw.  They had two amazing flavors that I just couldn't get anywhere else - Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero (wow!) and Arbequina Olive Oil (extraordinary).  

But I also liked to keep a 1.5 quart of Tillamook's Marionberry Pie Ice Cream in my freezer, just so I could have a spoonful or two at night.  (You can see I have a thing for marionberry.)  I mention this because I want to congratulate whoever is running marketing at Tillamook Ice Cream for the outstanding job they're doing getting distribution all over the country.  I see it everywhere now, and imagine my delight at finding Tillamook's Marionberry Pie Ice Cream in the freezers at a nearby Wegmans.  (They also make a damned fine Mint Chocolate Chip (Mrs. Content Guy's favorite), and I'm hoping one of these days their Orange and Cream will make it to local freezers.

Another email on the subject of ice cream, from MNB reader Duane Eaton:

I’m truly concerned about the future of our country.  As if threats to democracy inspired by our leaders and legislative regressions in race relations, gender rights, voting rights, reproductive rights were not enough.  You would think that the inabilities of our leaders to think beyond their own re-elections and actually work together to pass laws that might benefit society would be.  But as localities are busy banning books while promoting gun sales and our highest court officials appear guilty of wanton ethics violations, you now tell me that Americans are eating less ice cream.

Well, I’ve had enough!  As a true American, I pledge to do my duty and increase my already higher than average consumption rate to save our beloved ice cream industry, on which so many small farmers depend.  My hope is that others will join me.  I hereby promise to regularly visit our local ice cream establishments such as Woodside Farm Creamery, Cowgirl’s Creamery at Emerson Farms, and UDairy Creamery at the University of Delaware.  Thank goodness Tillamook has done its patriotic duty and started selling its ice cream on the East Coast.

See?  I'm not the only one thrilled by Tillamook's east coast foray.