1. Department: HBC

Your Views:  We All Deserve A Break Today

Lots or response to yesterday’s FaceTime, in which I went to McDonald’s to road test the supposedly new-and-improved burgers that have been seven years in the making.

MNB reader Barbara Watters wrote:

Love the morning FaceTimes.  Your McDonald’s segment had me remembering my recent Big Mac a few weeks ago.  Blah and bleg.  The flavor was nostalgic but the messy construction and subsequent mess it left, was not worth it.  Mea culpa as I was NOT doing market research as you were.  It was my choice.  Live and learn…and burp.  However, Viva la Fries!!!!  Still the best fast food fries out there.

Agreed.  They change the fries at their own peril.

MNB reader Kathy Williams thought I got a little ahead of myself:

I watched you at Mickey’s D this morning and unfortunately only 1 of the 3 sandwiches you tried has been given that new makeover.  The Quarter Pounder with Cheese  has been prepared as a fresh patty not frozen since 2018  and the purpose was to keep it moister which you had discerned from your bite.  The Big Mac and other burgers will not be changed until early 2024 so you will need to make another trip back there to check it out!

(Do I really have to go back?)

MNB reader Mike Sommers wrote:

I believe I read some articles that said the changes aren’t coming out until 2024.

If that is the case, then you’ve established the baseline, and will unfortunately, need to go back in a few weeks. 

Kudos for going out and trying after your consistent fast feeders/lowest common denominator comments throughout the years.

Well, they’re doing a lot of publicity for a product that isn’t yet available.

(I guess I really do have to go back.)

Thank you for making me hungry today, I don’t like the big Mac but I sure do like me some Chocolate Shake!

It is a very good shake.

MNB reader John Letourneux wrote:

Kevin, I enjoyed your FaceTime regarding McDonald’s hamburgers. The best part about it was that I saw you ate your hamburgers right side up. It drives me crazy watching somebody eat it upside down with the bottom bun on the top. Thank you.

I’m embarrassed to say that my wife and I eat a Sausage Egg McMuffin almost every Saturday morning. It has just the right mix of fat and salt. It makes me drool. My wife uses a napkin to soak up the grease after her sausage. What a shame.

And from MNB readerTony Moore:

I had to laugh at your daily video clip when you mentioned you were not gonna eat all the burgers cause then you would get sick.  I assume you’re primarily referring to the quantity of all the food but I think subconsciously or maybe consciously you were referring to the expected quality. 

I stopped eating at most fast food, hamburger places, because I found the immediate gratification did not exceed the downside  feeling, a few minutes later, of having a lead ball in my gut. 

Responding to Michael Sansolo’s column yesterday about a community’s reaction when it looked like they were getting their McDonald’s taken away, MNB reader Joe Frindt wrote:

It strikes me as ironic that in a commentary about a landlord wanting to improve his real estate conditions, Michael chose to refer to the McDonalds in this way… “Five Guys and even a Shake Shack in the same center as the McDonald’s and both are significantly more expensive—and better—than anything Ronald McDonald offers.) “  Isn’t this aside comment reflecting the same attitude that the landlord was projecting and the town revolted against?  As someone who has worked in CPG for nearly 20 years, one of the first lessons I learned is that “taste is subjective” and while Michael may think that Five Guys and Shake Shack are better, perhaps a reflection on listening to the community would indicate that “nearly 3,000 signatures” think McDonald’s is just perfect.

I’m with Michael on this one.  Five Guys and Shake Shack are objectively better.  But we take your point.

MNB reader Rob L Vasseur, Jr  wrote:

“I’d argue that the importance of a local McDonald’s pales in comparison to how much local supermarkets and drug stores are valued.”

This is the statement that you make after just proving it wrong in your lead-up story? If those same local supermarkets and drug stores were to close, I seriously doubt that they would receive 3000+ signatures in favor of the stores staying. Many people like to downplay the role that McDonalds has in the community. But it would be rare, if not impossible to find 1 person that has NOT been to McDonalds.

Just a final quick note, I went to McDonalds last night for dinner. The total for a Big Mac, Med Fry, and Lg Coke was OVER $10.00. Not a cheap dinner from my perspective.

Ten bucks for dinner sounds pretty cheap to me.  I’m curious what you would consider cheap.

We had a piece earlier this week about Walmart’s entry into the romantic comedy business, creating a 23-part online series called “Add to Heart” that it describes as “a first-of-its-kind shoppable commercial series” – in essence, “RomCommerce.”  

“Add to Heart” follows New York interior designer Jessica “as she returns to her hometown for the holidays. After losing her luggage on her travels, she visits her local Walmart, where she bumps into an old flame Javi. Between the town festivities, decorating and shopping, they start to rekindle their spark.”

Which led MNB reader Chuck Jolley to write:

Did Walmart partner with Hallmark on this project? If not, do they understand they’re stealing a copywrited plot line?

Hallmark has one and only one plot. This sounds like every Hallmark movie ever made. 

Sounds about right.  To be honest, I’ve never watched any Hallmark movie, much a Hallmark Christmas movie.

On the subject of shoppable content, MNB reader Andy Casey wrote:

Marketing has always embraced technology seeking to be more integrated yet less intrusive with our lives. Expect much more of this going forward.

On another subject, MNB reader Karl Graff wrote:

One thing to remember is that payroll is one of the few controllable expense a retail manager can influence.

When bonuses, raises, staffing are all based on P&L – that payroll expense is about the only lever a manager can pull that has noticeable effect on the P&L.

So while corporate speaks to adding staff, the management team has some tough choices to make- can we afford it and still make all the other financial goals we have to?

It’s always a tug of war. Most salaried store management staff know they are short staffed- that’s why so many work 50-70 hours per week. Knowing something and really being able to do something about aren’t the same thing.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, retailers were loyal to their staff and customers. Now they are loyal to their shareholders.

I rhapsodized the other day about the pleasures of real maple syrup, as opposed to ther fake stuff that is loaded with high fructose corn syrup.  MNB reader Kerley LeBoeuf wrote:

Right on regarding maple syrup!

Bought Runamok Bourbon Aged syrup at Livi’s Market, a gourmet convenience store (honestly) in Irvington, VA.  Fabulous!

MNB reader Lucie Moisan had a thought about another story:

Reading your comment on food being even more important when we age, it made me think back of what I saw over the weekend. My husband and I decided to try back IHop. It had been a while and the snowy weather gave us an excuse for pancakes (with real maple syrup). I was very surprised that they had a 55+ menu – no idea if this is new or not! Reviewing the menu now, I see that you have healthy and not so healthy options, but there is the beginning of a great idea there.

Also, on a side note, they must have revamped their interior design because on top of being clean it was cozy and welcoming with great light intensity – quite rare for a chain!

I must admit to being shocked.  But I like to think that every company is capable of redemption.

We took note the other day of a Wall Street Journal report that CVS Health plans to “move away from the complex formulas used to set the prices of the prescription drugs it sells, shifting to a simpler model that could upend how American pharmacies are paid.”  The Journal noted that “a similar payment model, sometimes known as ‘cost plus,’ has been promoted by entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s eponymous pharmacy company.

One MNB reader responded:

Your commentary reminded me  about the “On Point” episode from last night (included link below) – the pharmacy world is fast spinning into oblivion and it’s unlikely that the involvement of billionaires like Mark Cuban that will save it.  He may move the needle but it may only hasten the demise of a large number of retail pharmacies, which while photos of mismanaged stores abound and provide fodder for complaints, are actually providing one of the most basic forms of healthcare to millions of people. 

The real issue is that pharmaceutical wholesalers are raising prices for drugs while pharmacy benefit managers, of which it should be pointed out CVS’ Caremark is one of the top 3 companies accounting for 80% of the business, are reducing payments to the retail pharmacies, making for an untenable business model of paying more for the item in the store than it sells for to the customer.  This has led to the large corporate pharmacies cutting staff & hours for both pharmacy techs and pharmacists, and has led to chaotic work environments where there may be only one person (a pharmacist) running a retail pharmacy with no backup staff. 

Even more concerning is the 37% drop in pharmacy school enrollments in the last 5-10 years, as students look at the compensation vs. the student loans for a job with grinding hours and responsibilities and decide to do something else.  This is going to be much more painful before it gets better.

Another MNB reader wrote:

Don’t be deceived by CVS’s lame attempts to appear benevolent with their announced proposal for changing prescription drug pricing and reimbursements by their pharmacy benefit manager business.   CVS Health controlled 33% of the PBM market in the US in 2022 and that percentage is likely higher this year as they continue to squeeze independent community pharmacies out of business and push prescriptions to their own retail and mail order pharmacies. 

As an example, my employer (with over 250,000 employees) uses CVS for its pharmacy benefits and earlier this year the PBM notified me that my wife’s independent pharmacy could no longer fill my prescriptions (and my wife could no longer serve as my pharmacist) because her store did not have the ability to fill my maintenance medications for 90 days at a time.   They then told me that the only two places that could fill my scripts were either CVS’s (Caremark’s) mail order facility or a Walgreens store that was 19 miles from my home (and nowhere near any place that I would travel on a semi-regular basis).   If I did not use those facilities, my prescriptions would no longer be covered by my employer’s prescription insurance plan.  

What CVS didn’t tell me is that my wife’s pharmacy has asked numerous times to be granted permission to fill maintenance med scripts for 90 days at a time and CVS has denied the request every time, knowing full well that those denials would give CVS the chance to force patients to move to its own pharmacy business.   In an act of what some would consider to be cutting off my nose to spite my face, my wife and I have gone to paying cash for my prescriptions as they are filled at her pharmacy, thereby making my prescription insurance truly for catastrophic use only…..but allowing her employer to keep the revenue and the small profit they earn on my purchases.   I refuse to give up my wife’s 31 years of experience as a talented community pharmacist in exchange for someone at a chain pharmacy who can barely hand me my ‘bag of pills’.  

If we don’t continue to tell stories like this, we will soon find ourselves with numerous pharmacy deserts that are not unlike the food deserts that we discuss regularly in this forum.    Until our employers and legislators understand the long-term implications of the continued concentration of the PBM business among a few huge companies, these issues will keep driving independent community pharmacies out of business and will discourage pharmacists from working in retail settings.  

On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

In response to the article on Senior Care Issues Create Retail Opportunities, the short answer could be the vacant shopping malls that have the space to provide care from senior living (55+) to assisted living to nursing home to hospice. It’s cold and snowy in Minnesota today so most of the foot traffic at the mall near me are seniors walking around empty store fronts.

MNB reader Rich Heiland chimed in:

Your piece on the lack of accessibility for most seniors when it comes to a comfortable retirement home, either independent living, assisted living or total care, is timely.

I have been researching this area since, well, who knows? The least expensive, highest quality place in our community would require $100,000 down. The most expensive, in excess of $250,000 down. Monthly independent living at the cheapest option would be $3,600 a month including meals; at the pricier one, $6,500. If one of us needed to move into assisted care or memory care that would be a total of $12,000 a month at the cheapest one for the existing one-bedroom apartment AND the additional care. At the most expensive one, around $16,000.

By the way, that initial $100,000 or $250,000 does two things. First, it allows the facility to collect interest on your money instead of you. But, it also is a draw-down if you outlive your funds so you don’t get kicked out.

We have a long-term care policy we pay $6,000 a year for. It would kick in after Medicare and is capped at $750,000. It would kick in only for assisted living or memory care, not independent.

Thanks to this policy, and our savings, my wife and I most likely could manage but how many could? As your post shows, precious view when looking at the aging population as a whole.

And finally, this reaction to our citing a USA Today report that Pizza Hut has come up with a new idea for holiday tipping – “Customers of the pizza chain can order a doormat with a barcode that delivery drivers from any company can scan to get $25 worth of Pizza Hut food … Starting Wednesday, Dec. 6, customers can order a Reverse Delivery mat online for free without shipping costs or having to enter any credit card information … “Delivery drivers will scan the doormat’s QR code and be taken to a link where they will enter their full name, email and shipping address … They will be sent a gift card code can be used for any item on a Pizza Hut menu for as long as supplies last until Wednesday, Dec. 27.”

Maybe this makes me the 2023 Grinch of the Year, but hear me out….

…so it’s a $25 gift card for PH…free food is free food but c’mon.  Pizza Hut is gross and has been for years.  

..the whole thing hinges on the driver even seeing it while they’re standing on the porch in (probably) the dark, in rain/snow/cold….will they see it?

…will they have time to dig out their phone, snap the code, and enter their details?  Why do I feel like I’m the customer whose dinner is getting cold in the car while they’re hanging out on someone’s front porch? 

By the 2nd or third house….meh.  Don’t need more PH.  

Are payroll drivers (as opposed to independents who drive for GrubHub, Uber. Etc) even allowed to have their phones out while working?

Just freaking tip your drivers, folks.  Don’t give them a bunch of hoops to jump through so you can feel good.  

Agreed.  Totally.  It isn’t even real pizza.

The post Your Views:  We All Deserve A Break Today appeared first on MNB.

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