This week, Jimmy Donaldson (MrBeast) asked his fans to lend him a helping hand by “fronting-up” the stock of his chocolate brand in local Walmarts across the country. Walmart is the retailer with a current (but soon-expiring) exclusive to carry the Feastables chocolate brand, which was launched by the popular Youtuber in 2022.
It’s recently become fashionable to take shots at Jimmy. After providing corrective eye surgery for “1,000 people” in a recent video, opinion pieces began to trickle out, offering spurious critique and particularly bad takes about ableism.
Despite the critique, Jimmy’s work is admirable. But make no mistake, he is a capitalist who has found an excusable avenue (philanthropy) to do just about anything and everything. That includes selling junk food to children through his CPG brand, Feastables, and his fast food brand, MrBeast Burger.
The history of chocolate is rife with stories of exploitation of labor, particularly in countries where cacao is grown. It’s ironic — but not novel — to see a multi-millionaire asking his followers to provide free labor, specifically for a chocolate brand.
As we said in “Guilt-Free Consumerism” from The Senses in May of 2021:
Chocolate as an industry is anything but sweet. With the world’s biggest suppliers (Mars, Nestle, Mondelez, and Hershey) facing a lawsuit in the U.S. for child slavery, the confection has done a lot to earn the title of “guilty pleasure”.
Pashmina Lalchandani, the founder of Bar & Cocoa, is an expert on the topic of fair trade chocolate. According to her, the growth of the “bean-to-bar fair trade market” over the past decade has done little to make a dent in the global chocolate trade, which still utilizes child labor.
Today there are an estimated 2 million children enslaved in the global chocolate trade.
Because of this, it is important to question the ethics of such a request and consider the impact it may have on the already precarious labor conditions in the chocolate industry; even if that industry is being disrupted by creator-led brands such as Feastables; whose demographic is most succinctly summed up by the name of their recent SKU, “DEEZNUTS” — a peanut-butter-and-chocolate Reese’s competitor.
There could be fallout with other creator-led brands, too. More requests from other founders may flood foot traffic into stores. Retailers (in this case, Walmart) would then have issues dealing with unplanned and unmanaged labor; let’s remember that planograms are tightly-managed and policed by third-parties which represent adjacent brands; the very same brands which have already overcome one lawsuit for their labor practices.
Labor exploitation in any form should be examined.
It’s just a shame that the critic-class have already spent their credibility in deriding Mr. Donaldson for things that weren’t worthy of critique.
P.S. Is foot-scanning technology just a cover for fetishists? Probably not. But we ask the question anyway in an actually fun podcast to queue up for your “it’s almost Spring” long-run this weekend. Listen to the Future Commerce Podcast wherever podcasts are found, or reply to this email and I’ll put it on cassette and snail-mail it to you with a player.
The Digital Natives are Analog-Curious. For the first time since 1987, vinyl sales have surpassed CD sales. While neither instance of physical media approaches digital music sales (not even close), this still seems like a significant moment.
- Our Take: The yearning for physical things — be it media, or even buttons, is powering a revival in digital media. As we foretold in our 2023 predictions podcast, the lack of security with digital media is creating a latent anxiety.
As streaming services expand, collide, and even expire, the chance that your favorite show (or even in-progress viewing) will no longer be available, is growing. As such, we’re anticipating a new physical media format war in the coming years.
Frightful Weather, Delightful Spending Habits. A new study has shown that one of the largest contributing factors to eCommerce sales in the U.S. this year will be weather. Bad weather seems to to be a big booster for online sales.
More Sights & Sounds. You can own your own blockbuster sign for a nominal $15,000 fee. Apple is launching a classical music app that may hint at more genre vertical apps to come. California’s Governor is questioning whether the state wants to continue doing business with Walgreens. And apparently happy memories help stave off current sadness.
Digital Digs Discounters in Dire Distress. ThredUp is struggling with profitability. Zulily has announced more layoffs in its corporate teams. StitchFix missed analyst expectations; losing $66M in 2022 (up from $31M YoY), reducing their EBITDA by half.
Chocolate Labor Exploitation 2.0. MrBeast asked his followers to tidy up his chocolate displays on Walmart shelves. In return for this free labor, a promise has been made to donate to charity.
New Ways to Order Up! Uber Eats is partnering with Tampa International Airport so users can order concessions online. Meanwhile, Wingstop is piloting a phone ordering system powered by AI virtual assistants.
Digital Modeling Ethics. Digital figures and influencers are bringing to light something interesting to consider. When someone can be anyone (or anything) via an avatar, what does it mean for the ethics of a white man making money off of a digitally-created black female model? Does this take away from the livelihood of an IRL black model?
For more reading on the topic of Velebs — virtual celebrity influencers — read our seminal report on the topic, Virtual Influencers Killed the Dead Celebrity.