Posts tagged with "Costco"

The new pandemic shortage: Ketchup can’t catch up

April  9, 2021

After enduring a year of closures, employee safety fears, and start-stop openings; now, many American restaurants are now facing a nationwide supply chain shortage of one of their customers’ favorite condiments: ketchup.

More specifically, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, ketchup packets are being grabbed up by the handful—as toilet paper was earlier in the year—depleting restaurant supplies.

To meet the demand, managers are using generic versions, pouring out bulk ketchup into individual cups, and hitting the aisles of Costco for substitutes.

“We’ve been hunting high and low,” Chris Fuselier, owner of the Denver-based Blake Street Tavern told the Journal, saying he has struggled to keep ketchup in stock for much of this year.

The pandemic turned many sit-down restaurants into takeout specialists, making individual ketchup packets the primary condiment currency for both national chains and mom-and-pop restaurants. Packet prices are up 13% since January 2020, and their market share has exploded at the expense of tabletop bottles, according to restaurant-business platform Plate IQ.

Even fast-food giants are pleading for packets. Long John Silver’s—a nearly 700-unit chain—had to seek ketchup from secondary suppliers because of the rush in demand. The industry’s pandemic shift to packets has pushed up prices, costing the Louisville, Kentucky-based company an extra half-million dollars, executives said, since single-serve is pricier than bulk.

“Everyone out there is grabbing for ketchup,” Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Mattingly told the business news outlet.

The ketchup conundrum strikes at a cornerstone of American diets. The tomato spread is the most-consumed table sauce at U.S. restaurants, with around 300,000 tons sold to food-service last year, according to research firm Euromonitor. Even more is eaten at home, and the pandemic helped push retail ketchup sales in the U.S. over $1 billion in 2020, around 15% higher than 2019, Euromonitor data showed.

Kraft Heinz Co. is ketchup’s king, with the research firm saying Heinz holds nearly 70% of the U.S. retail market for the condiment. But the more than 150-year-old brand wasn’t prepared for the pandemic.

Kraft Heinz couldn’t keep up with orders for its sachets––the industry term for ketchup packets.

Steve Cornell, Kraft Heinz’s president of Enhancers, Specialty and Away from Home Business Unit, said restaurants need patience while it ramps up supply. The company plans to open two new manufacturing lines in April, and more after that— increasing production by about 25% for a total of more than 12 billion packets a year. Kraft Heinz already is running extra shifts at plants, and cut back on some varieties to focus on making more single-serve packets.

The company also invented a no-touch ketchup dispenser to help meet demand for COVID-safe alternatives to shared bottles.

“We’re busy doing everything we can,” Cornell said.

Research contact: @WSJ

Fowl play: Ravens snatch groceries from Alaska Costco customers

March 30, 2021

While Edgar Allen Poe described the raven as an “ungainly fowl” in his famous poem, shoppers in Anchorage, Alaska, would say that these birds are both nimble and light-fingered.

Indeed, according to a report by HuffPost, a growing number of Anchorage-based Costco shoppers are reporting that ravens have stolen their groceries in the store’s parking lot.

Matt Lewallen said he was packing his groceries into his car in the parking lot of the Anchorage Costco when ravens swooped in to steal a short rib from his cart, the Anchorage Daily News reported on March 26. “I literally took ten steps away and turned around, [when] two ravens came down and instantly grabbed one out of the package, ripped it off and flew off with it,” Lewallen said.

Lewallen said the piece of meat was about 4 inches by 7 inches large—providing a sizable meal for a strapping bird.

“They know what they’re doing; it’s not their first time,” Lewallen said. “They’re very fat so I think they’ve got a whole system there.” And once he got back home, he noticed that one of the ravens had taken a poke at another rib but did not rob it.

“I cut that meat out and started marinating it and my wife said, ‘That’s gross, we should take it back,’ ” Lewallen said. “Costco actually took it back even after we had started marinating them and gave us a full refund.”

Additional raven thief sightings have emerged on social media. “My parents were minding their business after a shop and made it home with one less steak!” Kimberly Waller wrote on Facebook. “The bird snatched it right out of the pack in the parking lot.”

Anchorage resident Tamara Josey replied to Waller’s post and referred to the ravens as “calculating.” She said ravens “ hovered” over her in an attempt to steal her groceries.

“I had two ravens, one that was on the car next to me and he kept squawking really loud,” Josey said. “He would sit on the car and stare at me, then hop next to the bed of the truck on the other side, and he kept going back and forth. The other raven was on the ground. He kept trying to pull — I had those little mini-melons you have in the mesh baggies — he kept trying to grab the netting and pull my melons off the cart.”

A raven started to fly in a circle around Josey until she got them to scram. “He was waiting for another opportunity to grab the melons off the cart, but they never were deterred,” she said. “They just stayed posted, waiting for their next opportunity to steal something out of my cart.

“They are very dedicated to their mission,” she added.

A manager at an Anchorage Costco declined to comment to the newspaper about the raven thieves.

The Anchorage Audubon Society tallies the raven population every December. The group reported 923 common ravens in 2018, 621 in 2019; and 750 birds in 2020.

Rick Sinnott, a former wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said hundreds of ravens fly to Anchorage in the winter for food. After winter turns to spring, most of the ravens leave, Sinnott said.

But before they do, the ravens stick around to pluck assorted meats, fruits, and vegetables.

“For years, decades, they’ve watched people in parking lots of grocery stores with all this food,” Sinnott said. “They know what a piece of fruit looks like in a grocery cart because they’ve seen it on the ground or seen it in a garbage can.”

Research contact: @HuffPost

U.S. pharmacies to receive 1 million vaccine doses from Biden Administration next week

February 4, 2021

President Joe Biden will free up more doses of COVID vaccine for anxious Americans, his administration announced on February 2. The doses will be available at retail pharmacies nationwide by next week, The Chicago Tribune reports.

The push comes amid new urgency to speed vaccinations to the public, to prevent the spread of potentially more serious strains of the virus that has killed more than 445,000 Americans since the beginning of 2020.

Starting next week, 1 million doses will be distributed to some 6,500 pharmacies across the country, the White House said. The administration is also boosting by 500,000 the weekly allocation of vaccines sent directly to states and territories for the coming weeks, up to 10.5 million. It is allowing state and local governments to receive additional federal dollars to cover previously incurred expenses relating to the pandemic.

Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients announced the moves on a call with the nation’s governors Tuesday morning and then detailed them to the public in an afternoon news conference.

Drugstores have become a linchpin in the U.S. infrastructure for dispensing flu shots and shingles vaccines—and the industry is capable of vaccinating tens of millions of people monthly. “This will provide more sites for people to get vaccinated in their communities,” Zients said.

“This is a critical step to provide the public with convenient trusted places to get vaccinated in their communities,” he adde, according to the Tribune.

The number of participating pharmacies and the availability of vaccines  are expected to accelerate as drug makers increase production. The White House said the ultimate goal was to distribute the vaccines through more than 40,000 pharmacies nationwide. State and local guidelines will determine who is eligible to get a shot at their neighborhood pharmacy. Availability will be limited at first.

“Getting it into pharmacies is a viable approach,” Dan Mendelson, founder of the health care industry consulting firm Avalere Health told the Tribune. “The pharmacies know how to move people in and out.”

Participating are major chains like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, big box stores such as Walmart and Costco, and supermarket pharmacies. CVS said it will receive 250,000 doses initially, to be distributed to pharmacies in 11 states.

The pharmacy doses will be distributed to states by population, but a priority will be to get the vaccine to minority communities that have suffered a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus, Zients said.

Walgreens said it was selected in part to “optimize vaccine access in medically underserved areas.”

The 1 million doses being shipped to pharmacies will be on top of the increased allotments to states over the coming three weeks.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

Trump’s Goodyear boycott shows how political and social tensions can flare over workplace attire

August 21, 2020

On August 19, President Donald Trump urged Americans nationwide to boycott Akron, Ohio-based Goodyeartweeting, “Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES – They announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS.”

The tire company said there was no specific ban, but it had asked employees to refrain from some workplaces expressions that might inflame political and social discourse at work.  

And Goodyear is not the only American business that is trying to stop divisive debates in the workplace. Even as companies declare support for the Black Lives Matter movement, some are not allowing employees to wear masks or other attire that expresses solidarity with the cause, The Chicago Tribune reports.

Employees have pushed back against what they say is an attempt to silence them—staging protests at Whole Foods, denouncing Trader Joe’s on Twitter, calling for boycotts of Taco Bell and Starbucks—while their employers defend the restrictions as a matter of dress code.

Alrady, there have been attire-related incidents: On Long Island, New York, a Target customer was asked to leave after confronting an employee wearing a Black Lives Matter mask and asking if she didn’t think all lives matter, according to news reports describing the June 25 incident.

Employers, reluctant to alienate customers or employees, may hope banning personal statements across the board will keep conflict at bay. But they must consider the legal ramifications of restricting certain forms of expression, and the cost of bad publicity and poor employee morale, the Tribune notes.

“This is definitely a challenge employers are going to face, if not now it is likely they will face it in future,”  Lauren Novak, an attorney with Schiff Hardin in Chicago who represents employers in labor and employment cases, told the news outlet.

.In the Chicago suburbs, a Costco employee told the Tribune that she wore a Black Lives Matter mask to work after hearing about managers making racially insensitive comments to other employees at the warehouse. After working two shifts with the mask, the employee was called into a manager’s office in late June and told to stop wearing it because it was “political,” “controversial” and “disruptive,” the employee told the Tribune.

In a silent protest in the days that followed, the employee, who is Black, said she arrived at work wearing the mask, made sure people were watching, and flipped it inside out upon clocking in.

“For so long we have been taught that we cannot speak out against an unjust system that affects every aspect of our life,” said the employee, who has worked at Costco for more than a decade and asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. “We are supposed to shut up and take it.”

Cellphone photos of Costco’s employee handbook that the employee provided to the Tribune show its dress code says only that employees must be “neat, clean and professional.” People identifying themselves as Costco employees have posted pictures of themselves on Facebook wearing attire at work that celebrates LGBTQ pride.

Costco declined a request from The Chicago Tribune to comment or answer a list of written questions.

Last week, the Chicago-area employee said she was given permission to wear a mask depicting a raised fist as long as it doesn’t include words. The employee plans to make more such masks to distribute to co-workers who want them.

Private employers have the right to regulate what employees wear to work. But restricting some forms of expression could risk violating labor or employment law.

Employers should consider whether employees are wearing Black Lives Matter masks to protest racially discriminatory working conditions, which could be considered protected, concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act, Novak said.

Employers also could face allegations of discrimination or creating a hostile work environment if the dress code policy isn’t consistently enforced and disadvantages people based on race or another protected class, said Fern Trevino, an employment lawyer in Chicago who represents workers.

They could run into issues if attire celebrating LGBTQ pride is permitted but Black Lives Matter is not.

“Employers should inform employees of the dress code policy in writing and should assure the policy is consistently and equitably enforced,” Trevino said.

Some companies have responded to public pressure—and some have not.

Taco Bell apologized after an Ohio employee who declined to remove his Black Lives Matter mask was fired from a franchised restaurant, saying “we believe the Black Lives Matter movement is a human rights issue and not a political one.” The fast-food chain told USA Today that it doesn’t prohibit the wearing of such masks and is working to clarify its policies.

However, Whole Foods says that “in order to operate in a customer-focused environment,” employees must comply with its long-standing dress code prohibiting clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not company-related. It provides face masks to employees if theirs don’t comply.

Whole Foods, which sent home two New Hampshire employees for wearing Black Lives Matter and “I Can’t Breathe” masks, has seen protests in Massachusetts, Philadelphia and Seattle over the issue.

A central concern for employers is that allowing employees to wear Black Lives Matter apparel will provoke other employees to don All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter—or other potentially divisive slogans, Novak said.

It’s a “woke” world we’re living in now: Employers will have to decide whether they will take a stance against those viewpoints, she said.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

Over 2,000 people have petitioned Costco to add a vegan hot dog to its food court menu

October 7, 2019

It may not be in the Zagat guide, but a visit to Costco’s food court menu-which serves a menu of pizza, hot dogs and ice cream—is a on the must-do list of most shoppers when they visit the big-box store.

Now, according to Business Insider, nearly 2,000 people have signed a petition for the warehouse retailer to introduce a vegan hot dog to its food court menu. The Change.org petition was started by Scott Hildebrand, who wrote on the website that he has been vegan for eight years and has eaten a meat-free diet for over a decade.

“We need to work with companies to make plant-based options more accessible,” Hildebrand, who lives near Costco’s headquarters in Washington State, said in a statement. “Our family, like countless others, are regulars at Costco. I’d love to see them extend plant-based options to the food court, so we can enjoy veggie hot dogs after a Sunday shopping trip.”

Costco already is on the same page. The company has announced that some stores will start selling a plant-based burger within in the next few weeks, Business Insider reports.

Indeed, the stores actually went too far and  sparked a backlash in July 2018, the new outlet says, when it cut its Polish hot dog from its menu in favor of vegan and healthier options like açai bowls and organic burgers.

“Sorry, but when I feel like a hot dog or pizza, a salad is the last thing on my mind,” the petition reads.

The petition also notes the growing availability of vegan and plant-based options nationwide, including Burger King’s Impossible WhopperKFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken, and Ikea’s rollout of a vegan hot dog.

The petition is directed toward Costco CEO Craig Jelinek.

A Costco representative did not return a request from Business Insider for comment.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Consumer wallets ‘spring a leak’ as prices soar on diapers, kitty litter, and toilet paper

February 12, 2019

Most of us cut back on everything but the essentials when household prices go up, but our budget remains the same. However, according to a February 10 report by The Wall Street Journal, the cost of staples—including such fundamentals as diapers and cat litter—is expected to increase in 2019, leaving us little choice but to ante up.

Producers of household products, from toilet paper to bleach, are set to raise prices again this year after already hiking prices in 2018, hoping to offset higher commodity costs and boost profits, the financial news outlet says.

New Jersey-based Church & Dwight already has increased prices for about one-third of its products, including Arm & Hammer cat litter and baking soda, and some OxiClean cleaning products.

“The good news is that competitors are raising [prices] in those categories as we speak,” Church & Dwight CEO Matthew Farrell said on a conference call last week, during which the company reported higher quarterly sales and lower profits.

What he left out of that statement to financial analysts was that it was good news for the company and its stockholders—but not for America’s consumers.

The company is now discussing more price increases with retailers, including for personal-care products, Farrell told analysts Tuesday. Those brands include Nair, Arm & Hammer Toothpaste, Orajel, Simply Saline, Waterpik, and Viviscal, among others.

Other household names that are planning to release similarly “good” news, according to the Journal, include Procter & GambleColgate-Palmolive, and Clorox, which are raising prices in response to higher costs of raw materials and transportation, as well as unfavorable foreign-currency swings.

For much of the past decade, the Journal notes, price cuts have been far more common than price increases as U.S. companies were mostly reluctant to test consumers’ spending power and brand loyalty in a fragile economic recovery.

When companies tried to raise prices, “they better have had a uniquely strong innovation or be willing to lose market share to competitors,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj told the news outlet.

Adding to the challenge of raising prices is that more shoppers have been switching to store-branded paper towels and discount detergents, or opting for online upstarts such as Dollar Shave Club.

Traditional brands also have been under pressure from big-box retailers such as Costco and discounters like Walmart Inc. and Amazon to keep prices low—pushing the manufacturers to focus on lowering costs in their supply chains or pare back advertising.

Finally, after failing to see success when they tried to combat weak demand by lowering prices, the industry’s biggest player, P&G, shifted its course last summer, announcing it would charge more for several of its brands—and several rivals followed suit, the Journal reports.

The recent price increases are largely playing out in the companies’ favor, Wells Fargo Securities analyst Bonnie Herzog told the Journal. Sales volumes of household and personal products in the United States. declined 1.4% in January, according to Bernstein’s analysis of data from Nielsen. Dollar sales of those products rose 0.7% in the period, Bernstein said, indicating that the price increases, on balance, are padding the bottom lines at consumer-goods companies.

How consumers will deal with the price hikes long-term remains to be seen.

Research contact: aisha.al-muslim@wsj.com