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    Published on: March 18, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Washington Post reports that even as the Covid-19 coronavirus has "pitched grocers onto the front lines of an accelerating public health crisis, forcing many chains to reduce hours and put buying caps on such high-demand foods as ground beef and frozen pizzas," it seems likely that further steps will be required …  it’s only a matter of time before supermarkets take even more drastic measures, as they look for ways to curb the spread of the highly contagious virus among customers and employees."

    Some of these potential steps can be found abroad, among them:

    •  "In Italy, Lidl is capping stores to 20 shoppers at a time, who are limited to 10-minute slots."

    •  "In China, at the height of its outbreak, stores checked customers’ temperatures at the door and required them to stand at least three feet apart from others in line."

    The Post has an example of how one US independent is adapting:

    "In Youngsville, La., NuNu’s Fresh Market has a 15-person limit from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. — a move aimed at protecting vulnerable groups. Managers are also limiting essentials like bread, rice, eggs and baby formula to two per customer and have asked shoppers to limit the number of people they bring along on shopping trips."

    The Post goes on:  "The discussions on how to separate shoppers are part of a broader reckoning for supermarket operators being faced with unprecedented levels of demand and looming uncertainty, as entire cities and states order residents to shelter in place. Many are also worried about labor shortages, as tasks increase and workers fall Ill. Walmart and Kroger — the nation’s two largest grocers — are rapidly recruiting store workers and truck drivers to meet demand, while Amazon has said it will hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers."


    •  From CNN:

    "Seattle officials will provide more than 6,000 families with $800 each in grocery vouchers for Safeway stores as Washington state's biggest city faces the coronavirus crisis, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced Monday.

    "The $5 million program will benefit 'eligible families who are currently enrolled in City-supported child care programs and food assistance programs,' Durkan said in a statement.

    'As schools and child care facilities close, we need to do everything we can to support families and ensure they can put food on the table,' the mayor said."

    The story says that "the vouchers will allow recipients to buy food and household goods but not tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets or fuel, the mayor's office said. Voucher use will also require a free Safeway membership, which residents can access right away at any Safeway."


    •  The Washington Post has a sobering story about how, "in the part of Italy hit hardest by the coronavirus, the crematorium has started operating 24 hours a day. Coffins have filled up two hospital morgues, and then a cemetery morgue, and are now being lined up inside a cemetery church. The local newspaper's daily obituary section has grown from two or three pages to 10, sometimes listing more than 150 names, in what the top editor likens to 'war bulletins.'

    By death toll alone, the coronavirus has landed in the northern province of Bergamo with the force of a historic disaster.

    "But its alarming power goes even further, all but ensuring that death and mourning happen in isolation — a trauma in which everybody must keep to themselves."

    The Post has an illustration that shows the degree to which death has pervaded communities:  "The newspaper L'Eco di Bergamo usually has an obituary section of two or three pages. In recent days, it has been 10 or 11 pages. Some 90 percent of the deaths, its editor says, are related to the coronavirus."

    From the Washington Post

    The idea that we may be Italy in just a few weeks is frightening.  No other word for it.

    I must admit that this was one industry I hadn't thought about - yesterday I got an email from Sympathy Brands noting that new federal guidelines "maximizing gatherings to ten people, funerals, memorials and those mourning" have having an enormous impact on people who are losing loved ones to the coronavirus and all the other "normal" stuff that kill people every day.  On an average day in the US, there are some 7,700 deaths - and these are anything but average days.

    What this means is that there are people who are suffering the loss of loved ones and, at the same time, suffering from social disconnection at a time when they need connection most.  This is something to which we must pay attention as a society … 


     • Fox Business reports that "the coronavirus crisis stands to do damage to the US economy - and the job market - with the potential to send the U.S. unemployment rate much higher.

    "Fox Business has learned that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a luncheon with Senate Republicans on Tuesday that it was possible the unemployment rate could reach as high as 20 percent if the administration did not take actions to stabilize the economy.

    For comparison, in February the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent."

    However, the White House and the US Department of the Treasury emphasize that a 20 percent unemployment rate is just one scenario out of many possibilities, and that "appropriate steps" could prevent things from getting that bad.

    However, the Los Angeles Times reports that "as fallout from the coronavirus pandemic hits the economy, it’s slamming the American workforce: Some 18% of adults reported that they had been laid off or that their work hours had been cut, a new poll found.

    "The proportion affected grew for lower-income households, with 25% of those making less than $50,000 a year reporting that they had been let go or had their hours reduced, according to a survey released Tuesday."


    •  The New York Times reports that "Amazon is moving to meet a surge in demand for household staples and medical supplies by pulling back on stocking items like consumer electronics and toys.

    "In emails early Tuesday, Amazon told the sellers and vendors that supply the products on its website that it would not accept some shipments into its warehouses for three weeks. That includes halting purchase orders from brands that sell directly to the company and stopping shipments from the third-party sellers that offer goods on its marketplace."

    The story goes on:  "As Americans hunker down, they have been turning to Amazon in droves to bring products to their doorsteps, not just for toilet paper and hand sanitizer but for all kinds of items, from condoms to puzzles for children.

    "With sales up, brands have been scrambling to restock Amazon’s warehouses, which has had trouble processing so many products at once. Its loading docks to bring shipments into its warehouses have turned into a major choke point in American e-commerce."

    Media Play News, which reports on the DVD and Blu-ray industry, notes that "priority items include health and household items, beauty and personal care, grocery, industrial and scientific. DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies were not on the list."


    •  Nine-store independent food retailer Mollie Stone's, which operates in the hard-hit San Francisco Bay Area, announced that it is opening its doors "to those seeking work during these unprecedented times.

    "We invite YOU, or someone you know that is currently seeking work, to come join us in making a difference in people's lives through food as we embody our commitment to our communities," the company says in an email and on its website.

    "All new Mollie Stone's employees, including short-term, part-time and full-time will receive competitive pay and health care benefits immediately.

    "We are hiring on the spot at all 9 of our locations for all positions. Please apply in-store directly with a Store Manager. Please help us spread the word by sharing this with your community."

    Keep in mind that Mollie Stone's is operating in a market where shelter-in-place has been imposed.  There are a lot of people who are looking for work, but there also may be a lot of people who would be thrilled to find a legitimate reason to get out of the house.


    •  Go figure.  The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic actually seems tio be a good thing for troubled meal kit business Blue Apron.

    Bloomberg writes that "Blue Apron Holdings Inc.’s stock more than doubled this week as cities around the country are forcing restaurants to curtail operations and as panic-buying empties the shelves of the nation’s grocers."  It was just a month ago that the company said that it was considering all its strategic options, including a sale of the company.

    I suspect that there are a number of business models that may not have seemed urgently relevant a few weeks ago that today seem a lot more germane to how we are living our lives.  A sale of Blue Apron may go a lot more smoothly, and at a higher valuation, than people might've expected back in February.

    One of the things t hat I think will have to come out of the current situation is a recognition that this is not an isolated scenario that never will happen again.  Not only can it happen again, but it almost certainly will … and we would be foolish as a culture if we do not take the lessons we learn today and make plans for the future.  The Blue Apron model may be flawed, but it certainly has some applicability and, with some tweaks, can be made to fit how people live their lives and how retailers come to market.


    •  From the Boston Globe:

    "As the coronavirus crisis causes dine-in bans and an overall strain on many restaurants, third-party delivery services such as Grubhub and Uber Eats have stepped in to provide some relief … DoorDash plans to help restaurants — both existing and new to its platform — generate up to $200 million in additional sales this year. All restaurants previously partnered with DoorDash will not pay commission fees for pickup orders, while independent restaurants that are not currently partnered with DoorDash or Caviar  can do so for free and won’t pay commission fees for 30 days if they sign up between now and the end of April."

    DoorDash has said that it is "shipping more than one million sets of free hand sanitizer and gloves to its delivery people, and will provide financial assistance to those eligible who are either diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine."


    •  Add Stew Leonard's to the list of food retailers saying that they will have special seniors-only shopping hours.

    The iconic retailer sent out an email this morning announcing that "effective Thursday, March 19th until further notice, Stew Leonard’s will open half an hour early each day to allow our most vulnerable shoppers – seniors and those with vulnerable immune systems – to shop in a less crowded environment. If you are under 60 or in good health, please wait until regular store opening times before coming to shop at Stew’s."

    Interestingly, in the same email, the retailer said that "all Stew Leonard's stores are well-stocked with plenty of Farm Fresh Food arriving every day."

    Which is good news to those of us who are Stew's customers.  I'll let you know how it goes.


    •  Meanwhile, concern about the pandemic seems to break along party lines, as Axios reports that "twice as many Democrats as Republicans say they're very concerned about the coronavirus."

    The story says that a newAxios/Ipsos poll says that 51 percent of Democrats say they're very concerned about it, and 38 percent say they're somewhat concerned, while only 11 percent say they're not concerned at all.  This compares to 25 percent of Republicans who say they're very concerned, 43 percent who say they are somewhat concerned, and 31 percent say they're not concerned at all.


    •  The Associated Press reports that the United States and Canada are working on a ban on non-essential travel between the two nations during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

    According to the story, "Both countries are eager to choke off the spread of the virus but also eager to continue the critical economic relationship. Canada relies on the U.S. for 75 percent of its exports.

    "Truck drivers and Canadian snowbirds, who live in the U.S. for part of the year, are among those expected to get an exemption. Completely closing the border would cause severe economic damage to both the U.S. and Canada as the two economies are integrated. Much of Canada’s food supply comes from or via the U.S. and and 98 percent of its oil exports go to the U.S..

    "About 18 percent of American exports go to Canada."


    •  From the BBC:

    "Sainsbury's has said it will prioritise vulnerable and elderly people for online deliveries and limit people to only buying three of any single item … The move comes as supermarkets continue to try to stop customers stockpiling.

    "Aldi has already introduced limits of four items per shopper on all products, while Morrisons has said it will expand its online delivery service … Other retailers including Tesco and Boots have set limits on particularly popular products such as pasta, tissues and hand sanitiser."


    •  Willamette Week reports that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is closing "bars and restaurants to all but takeout statewide and limit public gatherings to no more than 25 people for the next four weeks …  It will allow no on-site dining or drinking, but will permit takeout pickup. If establishment owners don't comply, they could face criminal charges."


    • • From Groupon, a picture is worth a thousand words.  (Check out the discount.)

    •  LL Bean announced that it has closed all of its US bricks-and-mortar stores, at least until March 27.

    This includes, the company said, its Freeport, Maine campus - which traditionally is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  It is just the fifth time that the company has closed the Freeport location, and the first time for more than 24 hours.  All employees will receive pay and benefits for the duration.

    The company's e-commerce business remains open, with employees following strict CDC guidelines.

    My friend, LLB Bean CEO Steve Smith, told me that the company has "put in place extraordinary and impressive social distancing in our warehouse - I’ve been super impressed by our management of our operating areas to be creative and smart."  And I continue to be super-impressed by LL Bean, and especially how Steve always puts the spotlight on the front line folks who make the company possible.  To me, that's leadership.


    •  Add Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue to the list of retailers closing their stores for at least the next few weeks because of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.


    •  In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "toilet paper isn’t the only item selling swiftly in stores."  Best Buy also is seeing a boom, with an "uptick in sales of devices to make it easier to work from home. Think keyboards, monitors, webcams and laptops … In addition to computing devices, Best Buy said sales of freezers and refrigerators have also been brisk in recent days. That’s not surprising as many consumers have become stockpiling food and other supplies as many schools are canceling classes and health experts emphasize the importance of social distancing in the days and weeks to come."


    •  The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that Lunds & Byerly’s is setting aside an hour each morning so that customers facing the greatest risk from COVID-19 can have the stores all to themselves.  The Edina-based grocery store chain announced Monday that all stores would operate 7 a.m.–9 p.m. until further notice. The first hour of the day, from 7 a.m.–8 a.m., is intended only for shoppers who are elderly or have compromised immune systems.

    The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal also reports that the Mall of America will "remain closed until at least March 31, according to a release the Bloomington megamall posted online … MOA is the state's largest draw for tourists and it boasts 40 million annual visitors, 40 percent of whom come from 150 miles outside of the Twin Cities."


    •  Kansas has become the first state in the US to say that it is shutting down its schools for the rest of the academic year.  California has said that a similar move is likely there.


    •  Build those walls!

    ABC News reports that "the Maine island of North Haven has banned people who do not live on the island full-time from visiting due to new coronavirus concerns … It only allows travel for essential purposes to the island, which includes providing medical care, conducting law enforcement activities, direct caregiving and resupplying the island with items residents need.

    "Residents are also allowed to travel back and forth to the island to get essential needs."

    Contractors working on the island also are banned for the moment.

    At the same time, the Washington Post reports that "much of North Carolina’s Outer Banks will begin restricting tourists and visitors this afternoon in an effort to reduce travel and limit permanent residents’ exposure to the coronavirus, officials in Dare County announced Tuesday … To gain entry, Dare County has established entry permits. But the permits are only available to 'essential personnel,' including government workers, permanent residents and nonpermanent residents who own property or work in the county."


    •  Variety reports that "the Rolling Stones have postponed their North American tour, which was scheduled to begin May 8 in San Diego.

    The Rolling Stones commented, “We’re hugely disappointed to have to postpone the tour. We are sorry to all the fans who were looking forward to it as much as we were, but the health and safety of everyone has to take priority. We will all get through this together – and we’ll see you very soon.”


    •  Also from Variety:

    "Disney’s Black Widow is the latest tentpole to shift its release date as fears of coronavirus continue to mount.

    "The Marvel superhero adventure, starring Scarlett Johansson, was slated to hit theaters May 1. Disney has already delayed Mulan, The New Mutants and Antlers, but held off on postponing Black Widow in hopes that it wouldn’t have to scrap another movie.

    "While an exact budget for Black Widow has not been revealed, Marvel movies typically cost somewhere in between $150 million and $200 million. It would’ve had to do well with international crowds in order to turn a profit."


    •   And finally …

    At a time when we're all being encouraged to practice social distancing - which also is a time when, quite frankly, we all could use a hug - I must admit that I'm a little envious of our dogs, who clearly aren't worried about how close they get to each other.

    That's Zazu on the left, and Spenser on the right.  Looking at them this morning made me happy, and so I thought I'd share a bit of the joy.

    Stay safe.  Stay healthy.

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    We may have a public health crisis, but we're also clearly in the middle of a financial crisis. precipitated by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.  MNB "Content Guy" Kevin Coupe isn't an economist and doesn't even play one on TV ... but he has an idea how to help businesses and individuals.  He puts it out there, and is just waiting for people to tell him how misguided he is.

    Published on: March 18, 2020



    by Michael Sansolo

    In my column yesterday, I wrote how the current situation surrounding the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and the panic shopping for things like toilet tissue reminded me of a great lesson from the first Men In Black movie.  Early in the movie, Will Smith asks Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K) why the presence of aliens on earth is kept so secret.  Smith argues, "People are smart. They can handle it."

    Later in the day, we actually linked to the scene on YouTube … but as I thought about it, I realized that what comes after that exchange also ought to inform how we think about our rapidly changing world.

    In the scene Tommy Lee Jones, reminds Will Smith of everything he does not know:

    "Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe," he says.  "Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow."

    Exactly.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    This is how you do it - Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen posted a YouTube video yesterday with an update "on how we are keeping stores clean and replenished. We encourage customers to be kind, shop responsibly and only buy what they need during this difficult time, understanding we will continue to restock our shelves."

    KC's View:

     I think it is reassuring when consumers see the face and hear the voice of the person in charge … it personalizes a business in a way that I think is helpful, especially in these trying times.

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    Costco announced yesterday that it is spending $1 billion to acquire Innovel Solutions, described as a "middle mile and final mile delivery and installation business," for $1 billion.

    It is being bought from Transform Holdco, which owns and operates Sears and Kmart stores.

    Seattle Business writes that the move expands Costco's "e-commerce-delivery muscle as demand for those services continues to expand during the coronavirus era … Costco had been a customer of Innovel since 2015. Under Costco’s ownership, Innovel will continue to serve Sears and Kmart as well as other third-party customers and also retain Innovel’s 1,500 employees."

    The story says that "products delivered and installed via Innovel include major appliances, furniture, mattresses, televisions, grills, patio, fitness equipment and wine cellars. It operates 11 distribution and fulfillment centers and operates in excess of 15 million square feet of warehouse space around the country."

    KC's View:

    It is sort of surprising that the company that owns Sears and Kmart has anything worth selling.  Go figure.

    I know it is not a popular opinion, but I've long felt that Costco - while always a respected, high-performing retailer - is vulnerable to an Amazon-driven e-commerce revolution.  Costco never has seemed as far along as it should be, and it has all the real estate keyed to suburban families who have houses with basements and lots of storage space, kids and minivans, while we're moving to a more urban society where people have smaller homes or apartments, fewer kids because they get married later, and may not even own cars.

    And so a logistics play like this strikes me as making a lot of sense.  I also suspect it may be the first of several such moves.

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    TechCrunch reports that "as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the U.S., grocery delivery apps have begun seeing record numbers of daily downloads, according to new data from app store intelligence firm Apptopia. On Sunday, online grocery apps, including Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt, hit yet another new record for daily downloads for their respective apps, the firm says.

    "Comparing the average daily downloads in February to yesterday (Sunday, March 15), Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt have seen their daily downloads surge by 218%, 160% and 124%, respectively … on Sunday, Instacart saw more than 38,500 downloads and Walmart Grocery saw nearly 54,000 downloads, the firm says. Shipt, though hitting record numbers, saw only 7,285 downloads on Sunday. To some extent, its lower figures could be due to Target’s move to integrate Shipt’s grocery delivery service, which it owns, into its main app."

    More from the story:  "Several grocery delivery services, including Instacart and others, promoted the fact they would add a 'contactless' delivery option, which helps contribute to the huge sales boost. On Thursday, Instacart said its sales growth rates for the week was 10 times higher than the week before, and had increased by as much as 20 times in areas like California, New York, Washington and Oregon."

    KC's View:

    What we don't know is the degree to which this changed behavior will persist once the pandemic subsides.  It certainly is possible that people who didn't use these apps before will find that they like the experience, and that not going to the store gives them time to do a lot of other things that they'd rather do.

    My feeling - and this may just be wishful thinking - is that to some degree, people will return top Main Street and bricks-and-mortar stores when the mood shifts to the positive.  They may feel that they've missed that physical connectivity during this time of social distancing, and will look for any opportunity to connect.

    But … I think it will be incumbent on physical retailers to improve their games.  Mediocre, complacent retailing won't keep people in the stores, even if they return when the pandemic is over.  At the same time, I think it may be even more important for retailers to have effective and even proprietary e-commerce offerings that take advantage of people's changed perspectives.

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    From the Seattle Times, a story about how one Seattle restaurant company quickly adapted to the city's dramatically changed business climate.

    An excerpt:

    "Right around the time Monday morning Gov. Jay Inslee was getting ready to announce the closure of all Washington restaurant dining rooms and bars, Canlis was getting ready to kick off a new business model the 70-year-old fine-dining institution hopes will help it ride out the novel coronavirus pandemic in Seattle.

    "The Canlis brothers’ announcement last week that they would shut their dining room and switch to drive-through/delivery service proved surprisingly prescient as Inslee’s announcement basically left all restaurants in Seattle with the options Canlis had adopted: takeout or delivery only, through March 31 — and maybe longer, depending on how the state handles virus issues over the next few weeks.

    "With Seattle restaurant owners everywhere struggling to come to terms with their new, limited options, Monday began with cars lined up around the block waiting to partake in Canlis’ new drive-through experience, and ended with a subdued scene at Joule and Revel, where respected Seattle chef Rachel Yang sold an abbreviated menu at half-price, clearing out three days’ worth of food in both kitchens; ordered á la carte, it sold out in under an hour."

    You can read the entire story here.

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    •  The Verge reports that "Apple is reportedly planning to launch a new 5.5-inch entry-level iPhone, according to evidence found in iOS 14 by 9to5Mac. It has been rumored for some time that Apple would soon release a new 4.7-inch LCD phone that reuses the iPhone 8 design with updated internals, but this is the first indication that Apple may release a 'Plus' version — and given the apparent 5.5-inch screen size, this new phone will presumably reuse the iPhone 8 Plus’ design."

    The story says that "the new 4.7-inch entry-level iPhone will start at $399, will be available with either 64GB or 128GB of internal storage, and will come in gray, silver, or red, according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo."

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    …with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Bloomberg reports that "Starbucks Corp. urged a federal court in California to throw out a would-be class suit involving some of its largest-sized drinks, saying no reasonable consumer would be misled about the amount of espresso shots and caffeine in its hot beverages."

    The story says that the plaintiff in the case sued Starbucks because "the largest drinks, venti, contain the same amount of caffeine as the medium-sized, or grande drinks," saying that consumers "expect that as the drinks increase in size, so too does the amount of coffee or espresso and, correspondingly, the caffeine."

    But, the plaintiff cannot "point to any false statement made by Starbucks about the number of espresso shots or caffeine content of its products, the company said in a filing."  Starbucks also argues that details about caffeine content are available on its website, which means she hasn't been misled in any meaningful way.

    Is it just me, or do complaints like these somehow seem more petty and meaningless than they did a few weeks ago?

    Published on: March 18, 2020

    •  The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) announced the promotion of Brian Kimmel, the organization's SVP/CFO, to the roles of executive vice president/COO/CFO.

    Kimmel has been with NACS for 27 years.

    "During Brian’s career at NACS, he has demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities marked by numerous organizational transformation accomplishments, effective colleague mentoring and development, and strong and consistent financial performance,” said Henry Armour, NACS President/CEO.  "As we begin the new decade, we are excited to see Brian take on this new and well-deserved role and continuing to provide his effective senior leadership for years to come."