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    Published on: March 26, 2020

    MNB Content Guy Kevin Coupe has noticed an uptick in promotions for software that will allow employers to monitor employees' computer use at home.  Now is not the time, he argues, to show such a lack of faith and belief in people working under less than ideal conditions and feeling enormous stress.

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    Fairway Market, which declared bankruptcy last January and put its 14 stores up for sale, has sold eight of them.

    Five of its New York stores (four in Manhattan, one in the suburb of Pelham) have been sold to Wakefern member Village Supermarket for $76 million, and one to Key Food member Seven Seas Georgetowne for $5 million, which have said they will run them as going concerns.

    Village Supermarkets also acquired Fairway’s production and distribution center as part of its deal.

    The real estate leases for two stores in New Jersey - in Paramus and Woodland Park - have been sold to Amazon for $1.5 million.

    The announcement says that "Fairway Market continues to serve its communities by operating all of its stores, including stores not sold during the Court-supervised auction, and intends to do so for the foreseeable future to accommodate the current public need for our products."

    The unsold stores are in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, two on Long Island, and one in Stamford, Connecticut.  The plan is for Fairway to continue operating them because of the pandemic that has created enormous demand and business for the units.

    The New York Post writes that Amazon "submitted bids for four Fairway stores, including one in Westchester and one in Brooklyn … It’s unclear why half its bids fell through, but some sources speculate it might have had to do with Local 1500, which represents some 3,000 Fairway Market workers and fought hard against non-union bids."

    One thing that is clear, the Post writes, "is that Amazon won’t be using the Jersey stores under the Fairway name - a right that was purchased by Village Supermarket, which operates ShopRite stores."

    Scott Moses, Managing Director and Head of Food Retail & Restaurants Investment Banking at PJ Solomon, which was M&A investment banking advisor to Fairway, said in an email yesterday that "these Fairway stores and DC employ over 1,500 people, who have been doing heroic work responding to our local exigency during the ongoing crisis, clearly demonstrating the critical role our supermarkets play in communities all around the country."

    Fairway started as a fruit and vegetable stand during the Great Depression, and grew into an iconic New York City presence, serving a number of its neighborhoods in a way that many residents found to be both irresistible and inimitable. But in 2007, when the founding Glickberg family sold an 80 percent stake in the company to a private equity group, things almost immediately went downhill, as the new owners focused on expansion (at one point considering a national growth strategy) without any of the marketing and merchandising savvy and panache that the founding family had mastered. It went public … then went bankrupt … then was bought out of bankruptcy … and then started closing some of the suburban stores that were the biggest drain on its operations and profits.

    KC's View:
     

    I'm glad that Fairway has a future, albeit with different owners in different places … because those stores, even through mismanagement and hubris, have played important roles in their communities.  Many of them were, in fact, essential - before "essential" became a term used in pandemic management.

    The challenge remains, however, as it does for every food retailer.  When the pandemic ends … whether in two months or six months or 12 months or 18 months … these stores must find new ways to be essential to their customers.

    How are we to be essential?  This needs to be the question that every retailer asks itself … with the knowledge that it has to be asked every day, and that tomorrow's answers may be different than today's.  

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    From CNBC this morning:

    "Americans displaced by the coronavirus crisis filed unemployment claims in record numbers, with the Labor Department reporting Thursday a surge to 3.28 million.

    "The number shatters the Great Recession peak of 665,000 in March 2009 and the all-time mark of 695,000 in October 1982. The previous week, which reflected the period before the worst of the coronavirus hit, was just 282,000.

    "Consensus estimates from economists surveyed by Dow Jones showed an expectation for 1.5 million new claims, though individual forecasts on Wall Street had been anticipating a much higher number. The surge comes amid a crippling slowdown brought on by the coronavirus crisis."

    KC's View:

    Yikes.

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    The National Grocers Association (NGA) and the the United Fresh Produce Association yesterday announced that they are partnering "to connect produce distributors to retailers."

    The idea is to connect "produce distributors who can deliver fresh produce and other items with independent supermarkets on a store-door basis.  United Fresh & NGA will work with companies to assess their retail needs, as well as foodservice distribution communities and provide an opportunity for companies to network on business solutions."

    “The fresh produce industry is committed to continuing to feed America. Foodservice distributors and processors have strong capabilities to deliver product, transportation and supply chain solutions in these unprecedented times,” said Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president & CEO. “We’re pleased to partner with NGA, working in tandem to get more fresh, healthy produce items in the hands of consumers.”

    “The entire food industry has come together incredibly during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, ensuring that Americans across the country have access to affordable and nutritious food,” said Greg Ferrara, NGA president and CEO. “Our collaboration with United Fresh will improve upon what has already been accomplished, keeping independent grocers stocked with fresh produce.” 

    KC's View:

    It may be that this is just the beginning of a number of alliances, coalitions and even mergers that we are going to see going forward … affecting both retailers, suppliers and their trade associations.

    The cultural and economic impact of the pandemic will create enormous implications for a lot of institutions, and, as an industry friend suggested to me the other day, a lot of companies will be looking for dance partners … and maybe even marriages … that will sustain them long-term.

    To mix my metaphors, it will be like musical chairs … and nobody will want to be left standing when the music stops.

    Watch for more of these kinds of deals, and for some of them to start as partnerships and then evolve into something more.

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    The Washington Post this morning reports that workers in at least 10 Amazon warehouses - two in New York City; Shepherdsville, Kentucky.; Jacksonville, Florida; Katy, Texas.; Brownstown, Michigan.; Oklahoma City; Moreno Valley, California; Joliet, Illinois; and Wallingford, Connecticut - have been infected by the Covid-19 coronavirus.

    "In some cases, Amazon shut down facilities for cleaning, and some co-workers who were in close contact with their infected colleagues have been quarantined," the story says.

    The Post writes that "just last week, warehouse workers sounded alarms that the company is not doing enough to protect them from the virus. That came after workers at Amazon warehouses in Spain and Italy tested positive for the virus. Since then, more than 1,500 workers from around the world have signed a petition that calls on the company to take additional steps to ensure safety in the workplace.

    "Some workers complained that Amazon pushes them to meet the per-hour rate at which it wants orders fulfilled, a practice that they worry discourages safe sanitary practices such as washing hands after a cough or sneeze. Others have complained about 'stand-up' meetings, where workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder at the start of each shift."

    Amazon has said that it wants to hire some 100,000 people to help it meet rising demand in the time of the coronavirus.

    “We are supporting the individuals, following guidelines from local officials, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of all the employees at our sites,” said Amazon spokeswoman Lisa Levandowski.

    The Post writes that "the company has recently adopted new policies for its warehouses including more regularly cleaning door handles, stairway handrails, touch screens and more, Levandowski said. It’s nixed stand-up meetings, staggered start and break times to aid social distancing and suspended screening workers as they leave to improve the flow of workers, she said."

    KC's View:

    Here's my question.

    Keeping some of these facilities open may justifiably create some outrage … but would the outrage be even greater from consumers hungry for next-day deliveries if any of those warehouses were to be closed, even temporarily?

    I know what I think.  Shame on us for being so addicted to the crack that Amazon has so effectively peddled us.  (Gotta go now.  I just remembered something I need to order from Prime…)

    Published on: March 26, 2020

     In New Jersey, the Asbury Park-Press reports that a New Jersey man "was charged with making terroristic threats, harassment and obstruction" after he coughed on a Wegmans employee there and then said he had the Covid-19 coronavirus.

    According to the story, the man coughed on the employee after she told him "he was standing too close to her and an open display of prepared foods … The woman asked him to step back as she covered the food."  After coughing on her, he told her he was infected.  Police were called, and then arrested and charged him when he refused to identify himself.

    The Park-Press writes that "the incident is the latest in a shocking trend of people coughing, licking or otherwise possibly infecting a person or surface amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

    "In Purcellville, Virginia, employees at a Harris Teeter threw out hundreds of dollars worth of items after two teens appeared to film themselves coughing on produce.

    "A man in Warrenton, Missouri, is also facing charges after he filmed himself licking deodorant sticks at a Walmart and asking, 'Who's scared of coronavirus?' the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported."

    KC's View:

    I try to have a generous and tolerant view of mankind on general, but people like this test my resolve.  The good news, I think, is that the vast majority of people are responding well to the challenges created by the pandemic … and I hope it continues.

    Published on: March 26, 2020

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

    •  The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has resulted in 488,055 confirmed cases globally, with 22,049 deaths and 117,603 confirmed recoveries.

    In the US, there have been 68,594 confirmed cases, 1,036 deaths, and 428 recoveries.

    In terms of confirmed infections, New York is by far the hardest hit state with 33,013 (almost half the national total), followed by New Jersey (4,402), California (3.158), Washington (2,588), Michigan (2,295), Florida (1,977), Illinois ((1,865), Massachusetts ((1,838), Louisiana (1,795) and Georgia (1,387).

    •  The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker "says the ability of Massachusetts residents to go to the grocery store will remain an 'unimpeded right' as the state tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus," but he also is setting some new rules, "including a statewide ban on reusable bags in stores and a temporary repeal of local plastic bag bans."

    The story says that "the move comes amid concerns that reusable bags can carry viruses, as well as increased lobbying efforts by the plastics industry."

    The Globe writes that "the order also mandates new precautionary measures - like hand-washing breaks for employees and social-distancing markers at checkout lines - and requires grocery stores to close free sampling programs and self-serve food stations, like salad bars."

    •  Hy-Vee announced yesterday that "to show its gratitude during this historic time," it is "giving a front line employee appreciation bonus to all of its part-time and full-time store employees. The employees will receive a 10% bonus on all their hours worked from March 16 to April 12. The bonuses are a $10 million commitment to employees and will be paid out on April 17."

    In addition, Hy-Vee is also offering new benefits to its more than 80,000 employees in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    Hy-Vee also said it is providing new benefits to its more than 80,000 employees in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, "offering job protective leave for employees who either test positive for COVID-19 and/or are required by health officials to self-quarantine. This benefit will provide job protection for a minimum of two weeks and applies to all employees, no matter their length of service. Additionally, under this benefit, full-time Hy-Vee employees enrolled in short-term disability will also receive a minimum of two weeks paid time off.

    "A second benefit offers employees affordable access to telehealth services, including mental health. Hy-Vee is waiving co-pays for all full-time employees and their dependents who utilize the 24-hour virtual medical service and is allowing part-time employees to use the service for a minimal fee per visit."

    •  C-store chain Sheetz announced yesterday that it is giving its 17,000 employees a $3 per hour raise - from March 13 to April 23 - to thank them for their hard and dedicated work during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

    The company said it will re-evaluate the raise and perhaps extend it as events unfold.  Sheetz also said it is looking to hire for more than 1,300 open positions at the company.

    "Our employees are the heart and soul of Sheetz and their commitment to serve our customers and communities as an essential business during this critical time has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Sheetz President and COO Travis Sheetz said in a prepared statement. “This special compensation is just one way to express our gratitude during this difficult time.”

    •  USA Today reports that McDonald's is temporarily ending its all-day breakfast offering, saying it needs to streamline operations during the pandemic.

    "We are working with our franchisees and local restaurants to focus on serving our most popular choices and will begin temporarily removing some items from the menu over the next few weeks,” Bill Garrett, the senior vice president of McDonald’s U.S. operations, said in a statement.

    •  Remember the Waffle House index?

    That's the measurement used by some to determine how bad a natural disaster is.  The more Waffle Houses are closed - and the company only closes them when it absolutely has to - the more significant the damage.

    USA Today reports that Waffle House is closing 418 of its restaurants around the country, though 1,574 in the southeastern US remain open.

    For now.

    •  If the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic actually has proven to be a boon to Blue Apron's troubled meal kit business, there is news that higher end meal kits also are coming to market.

    The New York Times writes that "Dan Barber, the chef and an owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County, is assembling market boxes for pickup. Each will contain ingredients and cooking instructions for a dish that will serve two to four people. Though the ingredients will vary daily, you can count on a rich broth as one of the components, along with fresh and fermented vegetables, meats, eggs and a flatbread made with freshly milled flour. They are meant to keep the restaurant staff and local farmers employed. The ingredients and recipe will change weekly." Cost of the boxes:  $50.

    This story underlines something that NYT columnist Frank Bruni wrote about the other day, that while the "pandemic is first a story about public health," it may also end up being "a story about class, and I think the conversation about income inequality in America, which has increasingly heated over recent years, is about to grow more heated still."  He used as his example restaurants selling $70 orders of veal parmigiana to be delivered to high-end NYC domiciles … the same ones that may be buying $50 meal kits-for-two with fermented vegetables and freshly milled flour.  F. Scott Fitzgerald was right - "The rich are different from you and me."

    •  Bloomberg reports that Manhattan's Four Seasons Hotel, which typically can charge as much as $1,000 a night for its rooms but currently is closed because of the pandemic, "will provide free rooms to doctors, nurses and other medical personnel."

    "“Many of those working in New York City have to travel long distances to and from their homes after putting in 18-hour days,” said Ty Warner, the founder and chairman of Ty Warner Hotels and Resorts, which owns the property. “They need a place close to work where they can rest and regenerate.”

    Ty Warner is the the guy behind the Beanie Baby phenomenon … nice to know that all the money he made from those things is being used for something positive in tough times.

    •  USA Today reports that "Starbucks is serving up free coffee for first responders and healthcare workers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.  The coffee giant announced Wednesday that through May 3 'any customer who identifies as a first responder or frontline worker supporting our healthcare system' will receive a free tall brewed coffee, either hot or iced.

    "The offer is for police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, hospital and medical staff and medical researchers, Starbucks said … Starbucks also said Wednesday that the Starbucks Foundation is donating $500,000 for care packages and medical equipment for U.S. frontline responders."

    Of course, Starbucks also has "switched to a drive-thru and delivery-only model as it continues to adjust to the evolving coronavirus outbreak. The change started March 21 and is expected to last two weeks.  The company had previously announced it was closing some stores and switching to a to-go model in response to the government calling for increased social distancing to help contain COVID-19."

    •  Interesting piece in the New York Times this morning about how a number of retailers - Guitar Center, Dillard's and arts and crafts chain Michael's - have decided that they are "essential" and are staying open during the pandemic.

    "The Department of Homeland Security has laid out guidelines for businesses across the country to follow when deciding whether to stay open, even in regions not known to be hot spots for the virus," the Times writes.  "The agency is careful to note that its definition of a 'critical' work force is not an official standard, leaving it up to corporations to decide for themselves."

    The Times goes on:  "That some retail stores are staying open while other businesses have closed reflects the piecemeal approach to combating the pandemic in the United States. There are emergency orders limiting business to essential retailers in about half the country, but much of the South and West has no such government restrictions."

    •  Variety reports that AMC Theatres, the biggest movie theatre chain the US - which find itself entirely closed, with virtually no revenue coming in - has furloughed virtually every corporate employee … including CEO Adam Aron.

    "At this time, AMC is not terminating any of its corporate employees, however, we were forced under the circumstances to implement a furlough plan, which is absolutely necessary to preserve cash and to ensure that AMC can reopen our doors once this health crisis has dissipated,” the company said in a statement.

    •  Variety  reports that Netflix's streaming service was experiencing slowdowns and even some outages yesterday because of high usage rates that spiked in the early afternoon.  Complaints were highest in the Northeast, Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and Texas.

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    Nonprofit newsroom ProPublic has a long and fascinating story about how Walmart barely - and only through sustained lobbying efforts - managed to avoid being indicted by the US Department of Justice for its opioid dispensing practices, which put the opioids into the hands of doctors who were running what are called "pill mills."

    While some company pharmacists were raising alarms about how prescriptions were being filled, the story says, "in response to these alarms, Walmart compliance officials did not take corporate-wide action to halt the flow of opioids. Instead, they repeatedly admonished pharmacists that they could not cut off any doctor entirely. They could only evaluate each prescription on an individual basis. And they went further. An opioid compliance manager told an executive in an email, gathered during the inquiry and viewed by ProPublica, that Walmart’s focus should be on 'driving sales'."

    You can read the story here.

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    •  Reuters reports that "India’s online delivery firms, including Walmart Inc’s Flipkart and Amazon’s grocery service Pantry, have had to halt services as a 21-day nationwide lockdown began to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic … Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day countrywide lockdown from midnight on Tuesday, an announcement that sparked widespread panic buying."

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Groupon CEO Rich Williams and COO Steve Krenzer have stepped down.  Williams also has given up his board seat.

    The story says that "Aaron Cooper, a company insider who most recently served as Groupon president for North America, has taken over as chief executive while the company searches for a permanent CEO.  Groupon didn’t comment on the reason for the executive changes … It also didn’t address the now-vacated position of chief operating officer."

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    Got the following email responding to my piece yesterday about advertising that struck me as tone-deaf in the moment:

    Aren’t the ads and tv time made and bought months in advance? They might not have a choice but to let it run unless they want to spend $$$$ to make a commercial for what’s happening today??

    They might be better served spending the $$$$ for their customers/associates/charity

    Just a thought.

    The time is bought, but I think if it were me, I'd try to be relevant.

    MNB reader Jackie Lembke chimed in:

    My husband and I have been having this same conversation on a regular basis as we watch TV. Car companies seem to have reacted pretty quickly to the new normal but others are still airing commercials that are out of touch with our present normal. The issue being the ones not reacting are becoming annoying as I would like to think companies from which I buy product understand my current situation and are at least sympathetic and aware that a backyard party right now is not appropriate, neither is a cruise or vacation anywhere. Step up to the plate and adjust or you may not have a business once I am ready to vacation (probably not a cruise for a while if ever and I loved cruising before this current crisis), shop and eat out.

    And from another reader:

    Wholeheartedly agree on companies/ads that need to think about messaging/content that is appropriate given the current environment we’re all living under.  Although, I do give advertisers some benefit of the doubt relative to traditional/analog content as that has longer lead times to adhere to prior to hitting the market.

    However, digital/streaming ads require far less lead-times and can be altered/substituted with much quicker turnaround time and there shouldn’t be any reason to not modify content to be more time/place appropriate.

    Perhaps the best example of “seizing the moment” that I’ve seen over the past several weeks is what Guinness did in altering their spot in front of St. Patrick’s Day.  It struck a great balance of acknowledging the environment caused by the  pandemic while at the same time resilient and uplifting…and guess what, it made me thirsty for a Guinness! 

    Got this Costco update from an MNB reader:

    Today’s Oregon update: I went to the Costco at 8:30 am, an hour before the 9:30 opening.  Long line.  Manager came out and announced they would open at 9:00 (half hour early, very welcome at 39 degrees) and that plenty of TP and paper towels in stock to cover everyone in line, but only Kirkland brands.  Please take only one.  He told us they got 15 semis since yesterday and people had been working all night to stock the shelves.

    Now at 9:30 there is NO line to get in.

    This morning I had already been to Fred Meyer, Safeway, Whole Foods, WalMart, WinCo, Albertsons and even Zupans.  Not a square to spare anywhere but Costco.

    And now I also have new wiper blades...

    From another reader:

    The thing in grocery stores that continues to be (pretty ) fully stocked are DSD items - Breads, Soft Drinks, Beers, Wines, Chips, etc…

    While maybe not essential items they do provide comfort for a lot of people.

    Those all sound pretty essential to me.

    And, on another subject, from an MNB reader:

    You quoted several stories about President Trump hoping to open some parts of the country by Easter.  Those stories  failed to report his comments that he will be listening to his healthcare professions before any decision is made.  He also said some parts of the country could be opened up when other parts are not and all parts of the country need to adhere to his safety protocols .  Later in the afternoon Dr. Fauci commented that President Trump listens to his views and also the views of the other experts. 

    Governors will make the decision for their states, and some will be in a position to open up and keep the social distancing protocols, others will not be ready yet.

    From MNB reader Fred Caito:

    Your dogs are the epitome of man’s best friend.  A few questions about the dogs:

    Are the dogs from the same blood line or litter?  What are the ages of the dogs?  Embarrassed to ask, what breed are the dogs?

    Thanks.

    I've actually gotten this question from a number of folks.

    Spenser is the newbie in the family … he's about six months old.  Zazu is my daughter's dog, and she is about 20 months old.

    Both are pure labs … are from the same bloodline (they are third cousins, I think) … and both share the distinction of being having not made the cut at Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  Guiding Eyes is a wonderful organization - we raised one dog who passed all the tests and ended up with a blind woman (and saved her life a couple of times).  We've also taken Guiding Eyes puppies from time to time just to socialize them.

    We're not exactly sure why Zazu and Spenser didn't make the cut, and are amazed that Guiding Eyes was able to make that determination so early in their lives.  But we're grateful to have them.

    Parker, my son's dog, is almost 10 years old and is a rescue dog.  She's a mix of lab and some other stuff, and is an absolute sweetie.

    We've been incredibly lucky with dogs over years.  We had a collie/golden retriever mix named Kipling for many years;  she lost a leg in a car accident when she was about two, but lived another 12 years and was amazingly active and loving.  After that we had Buffett … we thought we'd never have a dog as great as Kipling, but Buffett was amazing.  And now, Parker and Zazu and Spenser.

    Mrs. Content Guy keeps telling me that Spenser probably is my last dog, because of my age.  (Not her last dog, she notes.  The only question is who she replaces faster, Spenser or me.)  I'm not sure I agree with her, but when Spenser starts getting gray around the snout, I'm going to get worried.

    However … I also firmly believe in the theory that if there is a heaven, it will be a place where all the dogs you've ever loved will come to greet you.  In which case, I'll be okay.

    Published on: March 26, 2020

    Today should have been Opening Day for Major League Baseball,  that day when all seems fresh and new and possible.

    Not so much this year.

    Walt Whitman once described it as "the American game … it will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us."

    Well, blessings - at least as found on the baseball diamond - are in short supply this year.

    But here's one.


    Published on: March 26, 2020

    More details on something we're going to try on Friday, between 5:30 and 6:30 pm EDT - an MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    You can join us on Friday by going to Zoom, and going here.  (Don't do it until Friday afternoon!)

    One of my favorite things over the years has been to, while traveling around the country, mention here that I'd be in this bar or that restaurant at a specific day and time, and invite MNB readers to come by to join me for a drink.  It's always been great fun … and now that I'm pretty much grounded for the duration, I kind of miss.

    So, we're going to do it virtually.  The folks at GMDC-Retail Tomorrow have agreed to sponsor and host it … Hopefully, you can put it on your calendar … choose a libation for Happy Hour … and then prop up your laptop or warm up your computer on Friday for a conversation and a drink.  (I'm probably going to go with great Oregon Pinot Noir … and I'm hoping the weather is good enough to light the fire pit.)

    Among the folks scheduled to join us will be Michael Sansolo, Kate McMahon and Tom Furphy - all regular MNB contributors.

    If you'd like to shoot me an email ... to kc@morningnewsbeat.com ... to let me know you'll be joining us, that'd be great. Though not necessary.

    Some suggestions…

    •  If you have not used ZOOM before, you will be asked to download the app to your phone or computer to join the virtual room.

    •  Please try entering the virtual room at least 5 minutes ahead of time to ensure that your mobile device or computer is setup properly.

    •  Do not use two devices at once to enter the room. If you join by computer, please keep your mobile phone at a distance to avoid any feedback.

    •  When you are not speaking, please mute yourself to avoid unintended background noises that may disrupt the conversation.

    •  You have the option of joining with your camera turned on, or off. Either way, you can still connect with your audio.

    See you Friday!  Stay safe.  Be healthy.