business news in context, analysis with attitude

On Friday, we took note of a report from  The Takeout saying that "a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleges that Roundy’s, a subsidiary of Kroger, has been misleading consumers by labeling its eggs as 'farm fresh.'  The plaintiffs in the filing argue that the use of this phrase indicates to consumers that the hens producing the eggs are 'living a natural life on a farm.' However, Kroger’s hens are kept in a battery cage system in which they allegedly receive minimal access to the outdoors."

I commented:

I suppose that opposite argument will be that the battery cage systems actually are on farms, and therefore the "farm fresh" description is technically accurate.

That said, the cages do sound kind of awful.  But let's face it - when we scramble our eggs and make omelets or frittatas, most of us prefer not to think about the living conditions endured by the chickens that laid them.  (I'm making a great Bruncheon Eggs recipe for Mrs. Content Guy's book club this Sunday, and I can guarantee you I'm going to do my level best to forget this story by then.)

I must admit, though, that I admire the folks who file these kinds of lawsuits.  I know they're a pain in the neck for retailers and producers, but they look to hold us all to a higher standard.  There's a place in the world for people like that.

MNB reader Benjamin Brill responded:

When possible, I choose to maintain a Plant-based diet, though I do sometimes give way to convenience, such as traveling where such diets are less common than in Portland, Oregon.

Your comment, though, that you’ll do your “level best to forget” the miserable living conditions of non-plant protein sources, should be an “eye-opener.”

The risks of living in denial and willful ignorance, some of your most common themes (!), apply to business and self-governance alike. 

It really doesn’t take much critical thinking to arrive at the ethical and economic forks in road between cruelty and compassion, food waste and efficiency, that lead one to forego animal products. And nowadays, there are plentiful meat, cheese and dairy substitutes that will satisfy, and even fool you, in a blind taste test. The future of agriculture is plant-based.

MNB reader Mike Sommers wrote:

Instead of doing your best to forget where the eggs you buy come from, switch to eggs that come from cage free/pasture raised hens.  Then you don't need to support but try and forget about the system that abuses animals but support the farmers that raise their animals in a method that makes you more comfortable. 

And from another MNB reader:

There is a market for people that need to feel that chickens are well taken care of, that the eggs are handpicked each day, and they will pay for the difference.  But the reality is this, if you have a family, the cost to benefit is not there.  I wonder if many people would realize the removal of “Farm Fresh” from a carton of eggs?  Probably not.  Which leads me to think that this is more about a money grab for the law firm vs public safety and holding to higher standards.

When I reread my commentary on this story, I realized that I was indulging my weakness for smart-assery.  It doesn't say much about me when I suggest that it is appropriate to "not to think about the living conditions endured by the chickens that laid them."

I then thought about it, and realized that I had no idea what eggs I buy on a regular basis.  So I went to the fridge and found the package that I bought just a couple of days ago:

Go figure.  I'm actually am a responsible shopper.

From Friday's MNB:

USA Today reports that "Starbucks and the union representing the coffee giant's organized workers have filed dueling lawsuits over a social media post about the Israel-Hamas war … The Seattle-based chain filed a federal lawsuit against Starbucks Workers United in Iowa on Wednesday over a pro-Palestine post shared by a union account in the early days of the Hamas-Israel war, court records show.

"This post damaged the company's reputation and garnered negative attention from customers, with more than 1,000 people sending in complaints, Starbucks claims in the lawsuit. The company also says that workers and stores across the country have since received threatening phone calls, hostile customers and vandalism.

"In their own lawsuit filed in federal court in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the union says Starbucks - long known for its rocky history with organizers - is using the incident to perpetuate an 'illegal anti-union campaign by falsely attacking the union’s reputation with workers and the public'."

I commented:

This story is precisely why I've avoided using the current Mideast situation for "business lessons" - this kind of squabbling strikes me as petty and distracting in view of the real world facts and the tragedy of what is happening in that part of the world right now.

These lawsuits seem designed to make points that have nothing to do with war and peace, with the violence that is ravaging the region and destroying people's lives, and that could easily escalate in ways that nobody can control.

The fact that the posting was taken down in 40 minutes suggests that the union knew that one of its members had crossed the line.  It is hard for me to imagine that any thinking, feeling person who is not mis-guided by ideology would come out in favor of the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israeli innocents - even if one is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

I'm not going to dive too deep on the politics of this, precisely because the waters are so murky.

But here's my suggestion.  Starbucks' and the union's leadership should agree to drop their lawsuits and then shut the hell up.  This crap just makes them both look shallow, stupid and tone-deaf.  There is so much more important in the world than your unionization debate.

I repeat:  Shut the hell up.  

MNB reader Beth Bartholomay wrote:

I just wanted to comment on your assessment of this story.  I think you are minimizing the affect that these social posts have on the company’s reputation, brand, and most seriously, the safety of their employees and customers (The company also says that workers and stores across the country have since received threatening phone calls, hostile customers and vandalism).  I think it is completely appropriate for Starbucks to demand the removal of their company name and brand identifiers to protect all parties.  This is not a trivial situation like your response seems to indicate and sadly it is likely to happen again so it’s best to address it now before someone gets hurt.

Another MNB reader wrote:

Posting political views on company sites has always been tricky.  In this case I feel Starbucks did what was necessary to protect the company and it’s employees.  They were forced to answer.  The union however by counter suing was a tit for tat move and put them in a bad light.  They should have owned up and made a collaborative statement with Starbucks of nonpartisan support demonizing this tragic situation.  Think what that would have done for corporate / union relations and safety of the eee’s on the front line.  Then as you put “Shut the hell up.”

And from another reader:

Agree with most of your sentiment in the Starbucks and Union lawsuits with one point of disagreement: Starbucks should continue the portion of the lawsuit where “Workers United and its affiliates and members continue to use our name, logo and intellectual property.”

Every union has its own branding (name, logo) and Starbucks is correct in stating that its name and logo are its intellectual property and have every right to protect that intellectual property.

Got this email regarding Friday's FaceTime, which took business lessons from a Boston globe story about how the New England Patriots seem to have betrayed their core values, which has coincided with a long losing streak:

I’d argue the Patriots are failing for another business lesson; not being willing to adapt to a changing environment. The reality is the Patriots do not have a generational player like Tom Brady.  So they need to win differently than how they have before.  The game itself is played differently than it was twenty years ago.  And the team’s culture of “team first” is not popular in a time where the star players have podcasts, and platforms to promote themselves.  That makes the Patriots less desirable than other teas where their individualism can be expressed. 

Changing how you do things is very hard, when you have been successful doing it a certain way for a long time.  But I think the lesson for the Patriots and organizations is to be mindful that you have to adapt to stay current and innovative.

BTW … The Pats won yesterday.   

And regarding a story about Dollar General's growth, one MNB reader wrote:

 I find it interesting that DG is focused on such growth.  To me it may be an attempt to disguise low per store sales with sheer mass.  I don’t know about you or your readers but EVERY DG store I have been in is totally disheveled (I’m being kind), understaffed, dirty, and not time convenient to check out.  Being in the business we look at stores with a very critical eye, so I come away with feeling like I need a shower.  I think they should focus on cleaning up their current act instead of just spreading more of it around.  I will shop ALDI all day in comparison.  And LIDL….who?