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    Published on: April 2, 2020

    The US Department of Labor this morning announced that 6.6 million people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, just one week after it announced that 3.3 million such claims has been filed.

    The math is devastating - close to 10 million people have filed for unemployment claims in just two weeks.

    The New York Times points out that previously "the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982."

    The Times writes that "a month ago, most forecasters still thought the United States could avoid a recession.  Today, with the pandemic shuttering businesses and forcing vast layoffs, many economists are expecting a decline in gross domestic product that rivals the worst periods of the Great Depression."

    From the Wall Street Journal:  "'The speed and magnitude of the labor market’s decline is unprecedented,' said Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG LLP. Ms. Hunter said she expected that millions more claims will be filed in the coming weeks and projects 20 million jobs will be lost."

    The Journal notes that "the increase in unemployment claims is set to drive up the unemployment rate, which was hovering near a 50-year low as recently as February, by several percentage points.

    "Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM US LLP, said the unemployment rate rises by 1 percentage point for every 1.5 million initial jobless claims. That means two weeks of claims near 3 million could lead to a jobless rate of 7.5%."

    KC's View:

    All of these claims are being filed by people who no longer be able to spend the kind of money on food that they used to, much less on cars, clothes, entertainment, travel and all the other things upon which disposable income used to be lavished.

    Scary stuff, making life even more uncertain at a time of enormous uncertainty.

    This was, of course, inevitable … much of the country is shutting down as a way of dealing with the pandemic.  (Imagine what will happen as Florida and Texas shut down to a greater degree than they have.)

    The question is where we go from here … and how effectively we are able to grapple with the pandemic … since until we resolve the nation's health crisis we cannot begin to resolve its economic issues.

    National Retail Federation (NRF) Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz argues that while the coronavirus pandemic “has triggered shocks," the underlying economy is sound.

    "“How quickly the country gets a handle on containing the virus will determine the degree of the impact on the economy and how soon businesses can reopen,” Kleinhenz says.   “We expect a severe contraction, and if the nation doesn’t get the virus under control the fallout will be worse … All the policy we throw at this will not help unless we reduce the public health risks."

    Exactly.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    MNB Content Guy Kevin Coupe focuses on a digital divide that still exists in the culture - ironically, since technology is how we're all communicating today.  It is a divide, he suggests, that retailers and brands should try to bridge.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe


    An MNB reader sent along this ad to me, from the Allianz insurance company, pointing out that it seemed tone-deaf.

    I totally agree … I'm sure the thought behind it was well-meaning, but it does seem entirely tone-deaf.  And if they don't understand why, well, then they're not paying attention.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    Content Guy's Note:  The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is having an enormous impact on people of all ages, backgrounds, and places around the globe;  some are having shared experiences, and some are individual to specific people and circumstances.

    Among the people I've been thinking about are the young people who have just started or are about to start their careers, and who now may be facing enormous uncertainty and questions about what comes next.

    I decided to reach out to some young people I know - some of them former students of mine at Portland State University in Oregon, to ask them to answer a pair of questions:

    How has the pandemic has affected you personally or professionally?

    How do you think the world - including but not just the business world - should be different whenever and however we come out of this.

    First up … Zoe Davis, a senior Marketing student at Portland State University. After growing up on a vineyard in California, she moved to Portland to help better connect her knowledge and passion for the food and beverage industries while pursuing a career in digital marketing and branding.


    by Zoe Davs

    "Expect the worst, hope for the best."  That's the mantra a lot of young Millennials and Gen Z-ers are living by these days. Professors talked about looming economic declines but we all assumed that would be long after we got our diplomas and entered the "real world."  

    In the last month, however, hordes of almost-graduates - including me - have had to come to terms with internship and job losses, cancellation of graduation, and the fear of landing in the job market at its most overcrowded. My post-grad future, which had one month ago been so clear and tangible, now feels like a hazy dream filled with a too-good-to-be-true plot. My spring break was going to be spent celebrating birthdays and visiting family, instead, I found myself scrolling endlessly on Indeed and other job-finding sites like I used to scroll through Twitter, or swiping through LinkedIn profiles like it's Tinder.

    Many friends or fellow students I know have either had to drop out a term before graduation, lost their jobs, moved home, or a combination of the three and what was supposed to be a term worth celebrating is now a term filled with anxiety and stress.

    Despite all this uncertainty and fear, though, I've also seen a surge of camaraderie on social media; strangers supporting strangers, content creators finding more time to make art and make others laugh, and most importantly, conversations about what we as a generation can do to ensure the least represented or hardest hit are supported through whatever means necessary. Mutual aid groups and crowd-funding have helped countless people get a plane ticket home, buy groceries for folks in the service and hospitality industries, and the list goes on and on.

    There are going to be insurmountable challenges that everyone will have to face, old and young, rich and poor.  But selfishness can only get us so far; now is the time to be altruistic, to do what's better for the greater good even when what you really want is that seventh pack of toilet paper. My high expectations for post-grad life have changed but I'm still hoping for the best - for my fellow students, for my career, for this world - because all we can do right now is hope (and stay indoors).

    We don't know how long this crisis will last, but I hope at the very least people working in what we now consider "essential businesses", whether janitors or grocers or sanitation workers, will be given the proper respect and financial compensation they truly deserve for the work they do; hazard pay, while helpful, doesn't truly balance the cost-benefit equation for many workers who are surviving on minimum wage while also putting their health at risk. Universal healthcare, too, needs to become a greater focus of conversation. For many service workers, healthcare is a luxury that has proven to be necessary when they're forced to be in contact with customers, sick or not, every day. If nothing else, there needs to be a greater appreciation within society for these front line heroes, many of whom have no other choice but to compromise their own physical and mental health to put food on your table, take away your trash, and deliver your packages."

    KC's View:

    People like Zoe give me hope … attitudes like hers are, I think, essential in their own way.  (And besides, she quoted a song from The Twelve Chairs, which means she really is educated.)

    We'll have more essays in coming days.  Stay tuned.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    Media Post reports on new research from renowned brand trust researcher Edelman, entitled "Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic," which shows that "nearly two-thirds of consumers believe their countries won't even make it through the crisis without brands playing a critical role … it also finds that brands already are doing a better job than most governments, so far. A slight majority (55%) of consumers say brands are responding quicker and more effectively to the pandemic than government has."

    From the study:

    •  "Sixty-five percent of respondents said that a brand’s response in the crisis will have a huge impact on their likelihood of purchasing it in the future.

    •  "Sixty percent said that they are turning to brands that they absolutely can trust. Over one-third of consumers said that they have started using a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way that it has responded."

    •  "By contrast, there is great risk to brands that are perceived to be acting unsympathetically. One-third of respondents have already convinced other people to stop using a brand that was not acting appropriately."

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    Facebook does enough in terms of policies and procedures to disillusion almost anyone … but it would appear that it knows how to position itself for the pandemic - as a core factor in people's desire to connect with each other at a time of physical distancing.

    Founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post that the company "made a short film ‘Never Lost’ to honor the solidarity and resilience of so many people coming together during this time. Thank you to everyone doing your part."

    The film features British poet Kate Tempest reading her 2019 work, "People’s Faces."  It will be seen both online but also on various broadcast media.

    KC's View:

    I almost hate to admit it, but this is a really, really strong piece of work … touching, effective, and memorable … and almost enough to forget momentarily that Facebook can be problematic for lots of reasons.

    Momentarily.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

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

    •  In the US, there are a reported 215,357 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with  5,113 deaths and 8,878 reported recoveries.

    New York and New Jersey today alone account for almost half of all the cases, at 83,901 and 22,255 respectively.

    Globally, there are 950,430 reported coronavirus cases, with 48,276 deaths and 202,627 reported recoveries.


    •  From the Washington Post, some encouraging news:

    "Mandatory social distancing works. The earlier the better, preliminary data from two weeks of stay-at-home orders in California and Washington show.

    "Those states were the first to report community cases of covid-19 and also the first in the nation to mandate residents stay at home to keep physically apart. Analyses from academics and federal and local officials indicate those moves bought those communities precious time — and also may have 'flattened the curve' of infections for the long haul.

    "While insufficient testing limits the full picture, it’s clear the disease is spreading at different speeds in different places in the United States. California and Washington continue to see new cases and deaths, but so far they haven’t come in the spikes seen in parts of the East Coast. 

    "Social distancing efforts need to continue for several more weeks to be effective, experts say … It has been 16 days since counties in the San Francisco Bay area told some 6 million residents to stay at home, and 13 days since the order extended to all of California. As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed infections per capita in densely populated New York City was 15 times that of the Bay Area. In New York City, a flood of coronavirus patients has overwhelmed local hospitals and 1,096 people have died. New York state ordered people to stay home 11 days ago.

    Compared with the Boston area, which has a more-similar population density, California’s Bay Area has about a third of the of the cases, per capita. The state of Massachusetts ordered people to stay home 8 days ago."

    Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, says that the data give "“great hope and understanding about what is possible … In New Orleans, and Detroit, and Chicago and Boston right now, [we’re] trying to make sure that each of those cities work more like California than the New York metro area.”

    One of the ironies is that there are specific cultural tendencies in California that also have made it harder for the coronavirus to spread - like the fact that public transportation is generally lousy, and more people travel in their own cars.  Go figure - such behavior may not be great for the environment in the long run, but it is really good for suppressing viral spread.


    •  The Blaze reports that "Vermont's Agency of Commerce and Community Development has ordered all 'big box' retailers in the state such as Walmart, Target, and Costco to stop the in-store selling of items the agency has determined to be "non-essential" as part of its effort to stop the spread of COVID-19."

    The state apparently is saying that "large retailers must cease in-person sales of items that include, but are not limited to: Arts and crafts, beauty supplies, carpet and flooring, clothing, consumer electronics, entertainment (books, music, movies), furniture, home and garden, jewelry, paint, photo services, sports equipment, and toys."  These non-essential items are to be made available "via online portals, telephone, delivery, or curbside pickup, to the extent possible."


    •  USA Today reports that beginning tomorrow, Costco "will limit how many people can enter its warehouse clubs as part of its response to the coronavirus," allowing "no more than two people to enter stores with each membership card."

    Costco already has reduced its operating hours and offered special times for senior citizens and at-risk shoppers.

    Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News reports that Costco "is cutting ties with the contracting company that handled its in-store samples because of decreased foot traffic due to the coronavirus outbreak … On Monday, Costco notified its warehouse managers that it would no longer employ contractors with San Diego–based Club Demonstration Services to clean its warehouses and would shift those responsibilities to its own employees."

    The story continues:  "Costco’s shift is just the latest example in the changing labor environment as corporations attempt to deal with the economic realities presented by the novel coronavirus. Even Costco, which initially experienced a surge in business as shoppers flocked to its stores to stock up and prepare, has shown it's not immune."


    •  The Associated Press reports that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said yesterday that "everyone in the nation’s second-largest city (should) start wearing masks to combat the coronavirus."  The mayor said that "he had been awaiting advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on mask-wearing but with the COVID-19 rate surging had decided to wait no longer.

    "The mayor said all 4 million residents who are performing essential tasks such as food shopping should wear homemade, non-medical face coverings, or even bandannas, as people in other COVID-19-struck countries have done."

    California Governor Gavin Newsom, the AP writes, has not been willing to quite so far - yet - and instead has been focusing on "keeping people inside. He also announced the state may need 66,000 additional hospital beds, 16,000 more than previously forecast, to handle the crush of illnesses expected during the second part of May."

    California has the third most cases in the US - behind New York and New Jersey - with 9,936 cases and 215 deaths.

    While the federal government has not issued guidance suggesting that everybody should wear some sort of face mask when outside, there has been a fair amount of public debate about the issue, with some doctors suggesting that such a move is inevitable.

    At the same time, the New York Times reports, "at Office Depot, employees have been told that they cannot wear masks in the store. Some Walgreens workers say they were also discouraged from wearing them. Many other large retailers, including Target, have started to allow masks, but are leaving it up to employees to procure their own supplies … Stop & Shop, the regional grocery chain, is supplying protective shields that cover employees’ faces. The store is not providing masks, though employees are allowed to wear their own … A Walgreens representative said workers who wished to wear masks could do so."

    "Walmart said on Tuesday that it would begin supplying masks to its employees in the United States, but acknowledged that delivering them to all its stores and distribution centers could take as long as two weeks," the story says.

    Give Walmart credit for being ahead of the game at this point.  There is no excuse - NO EXCUSE - for any retailer to deny their workers the right to wear masks in-store.  These people are at risk, and they need to do whatever they can to protect themselves, their families, their co-workers, and, quite frankly, other shoppers.  In fact, I think more retailers should follow the Walmart model, not just allowing masks for providing them.


    •  Following Walmart's announcement this week that it will begin taking employees' temperatures when they arrive at work, in addition to providing them with personal protective equipment (PPE), Amazon-owned Whole Foods said this week that it is doing the same thing at its flagship Columbus Circle location in Manhattan, and plans to roll out the practice nationwide.


    •  With the decisions by Pennsylvania and Florida to issue stay-at-home orders this week, it means that just 15 states do not have them.

    Axios writes that "the two are the latest states to announce policies to enforce social distancing, which have affected more 250 million Americans. More than 1.5 billion people worldwide had been asked to remain at home as of last week."

    Not sure what the other 15 are waiting for.  A doctor I found to be utterly persuasive on TV this morning said that communities that look at New York and say, "that isn't us" should instead look at New York and say, "this will be us in two weeks."  And then proceed accordingly.


    •  The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has issued to a reminder to the state's retailers that, while she understands the need to take “extra precautions” in the midst of the pandemic, it remains illegal not to take cash.

    "I understand that essential businesses need to take extra precautions right now. But not everyone has a credit card, and consumers should not face economic barriers to accessing necessary goods and services," she said on Twitter.

    Some context from the Globe:  "Even as many brick-and-mortar shops have been forced to close due to the coronavirus outbreak, many essential businesses that remain open have asked customers not to use cash over concerns that dollars bills could transmit the highly contagious disease.

    "However, as the Associated Press reported last month, health experts say the risk of transferring the virus through the use of paper money appears to be low, especially compared to the person-to-person contact officials have advised people to avoid."


    •  The New York Times reports that "Home Depot has ordered all 2,300 of its stores in North America to stop sales of N95 masks to try to free them up for those on the front lines of the coronavirus emergency response."

    "We stopped restocking stores a couple weeks ago to prioritize shipments for hospitals and first responders,” Sara Gorman, a spokeswoman for Home Depot, said in an email on Wednesday night. “As an extra precaution, we locked them down with a stop sale beginning last week."

    The story notes that "the demand for masks, gowns, face shields and gloves has skyrocketed during the spread of the virus, which has killed at least 4,726 people and sickened more than 209,000 in the United States.  The frantic competition for supplies has resulted in a number of high-profile episodes of hoarding and price-gouging. It has drawn scrutiny to retailers that sell personal protective equipment, commonly known as P.P.E."

    Home Depot was not the only major retailer to redirect supplies because of the crisis, the story says, as both Lowe's and Target have redirected their stock of the N95 masks to medical professionals.

    The Home Depot announcement "came on the same day that President Trump said that the federal government’s stockpile of personal protective equipment had nearly been depleted by the states."


    •  ABC News  reports that "Menards has received a second notice from the Michigan Attorney General's Office, this time for encouraging customers to visit stores for non-essential reasons.

    Menards is allowed to remain open under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's 'Stay Home, Stay Safe' order. But the company is supposed to limit operations to sustaining or protecting life.

    "Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the retailer is using marketing and sales practices to draw in customers for non-essential purposes.  She sent Menards a letter on Wednesday demanding the company stop any activities that violate the spirit of Whitmer's stay home order."


    •  The New York Times reports that "arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby drew a rebuke on Wednesday from Colorado officials, who said the retailer was not complying with stay-at-home orders in the state and must immediately close its stores during the coronavirus outbreak.

    "In a cease-and-desist letter to the company, W. Eric Kuhn, the senior assistant state attorney general, wrote that it had come to the attention of the Colorado Department of Health that Hobby Lobby had reopened its stores in the state this week.

    "Mr. Kuhn wrote the company’s actions violated a March 25 executive order signed by Gov. Jared Polis directing Coloradans to stay at home and requiring all businesses to close that were not designated by state health officials as critical."

    Hobby Lobby also had to be ordered by the state of Ohio to close its stores, the Times says, after it ignored previous state directives.

    This kind of behavior is reprehensible in this environment.

    Though hardly limited to certain retailers.

    The Times also notes that "Colorado’s action against Hobby Lobby comes as governors across much of the United States have signed stay-at-home orders and health authorities have urged Americans to practice social distancing. Still, some haven’t heeded the advice, from spring breakers to some megachurches. In Florida, a pastor was arrested after defying virus orders."

    There are concerns that some churches across the country will either ignore stay-at-home orders or actively encourage their members to violate them this weekend during the Palm Sunday observances and next weekend for Good Friday and Easter Sunday.


    •  From the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS):

    "Convenience retailers say they have seen an increase in sales of grocery staples as customers are increasingly turning to their local convenience store for pantry items. Here are findings from a national survey conducted by NACS, the trade association that represents the more than 152,000 convenience and fuel retailers in the United States:

    - More than half of convenience retailers (52%) say their grocery sales have increase.

    - Convenience stores are offering more at-home products: 52% are adding more cleaning/toiletry items, 31% are emphasizing ready-to-heat meals, 28% are offering more multi-pack/bulk items.

    - Stores have dramatically scaled back self-serve foodservice and restaurant functions but are offering new programs to allow social distancing and to enhance convenience: 14% are offering some sort of curbside pickup program and 11% have added or increased delivery options: 66% have closed public seating and dining areas, 45% have removed customer access to self-serve foodservice like coffee, fountain drinks, bakery items and roller grill.

    - Virtually all retailers (99%) say they have enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning conducted as often as every 20 minutes.

    Illustrating, I think, something that was true before and may be even more true in the future - that consumers care less about format and more about who has what they want when they need it.  Which puts virtually every retailer at risk, and gives virtually every retailer greater opportunities.


    •  Major League Baseball announced that it has cancelled a two game series scheduled to be played in London on June 13-14 between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, citing the pandemic.

    MLB previously had cancelled series scheduled to be played in Mexico City and Puerto Rico, and has placed the opening of the regular season on hold for the time being.

    “We made the decision because it was unlikely the events would go forward, and timely cancellation allowed us to preserve important financial resources,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred.

    Hate to say it, but I am completely persuaded that the NHL and NBA seasons are over … that it is likely that the baseball season could be cancelled, and I'm not even sure that the NFL or college football seasons will begin on time.  At the moment, before we have a vaccine or even broad-based testing, it would be utterly irresponsible to even consider putting thousands of people into a stadium for a sporting event.


    •  As expected, The All England Lawn Tennis Club announced that it is cancelling the Wimbledon tournament this year, the first time it has been called off since World War II.   It will not be rescheduled for later in 2020, and will return in its usual calendar slot in 2021.

    At the same time, Variety reports that "the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the U.K.’s largest arts festival and the launchpad for countless comedy and stage acts, will be shelved this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The Fringe is among five Edinburgh festivals that have been canceled in light of COVID-19 concerns. This group also includes the Edinburgh Art Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh International Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

    "The cancellation of all five festivals, which have been held in the Scottish city for more than 70 years, is a massive blow to Edinburgh, which is transformed every summer by the events, welcoming around 4.4 million attendees and more than 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries."


    •  The Washington Post reports that a group of Americans that does not want to run out of eggs has "turned to backyard chickens to help get them through the days of quarantine and social distancing. As a result, hatcheries nationwide are reporting spikes in orders as they scramble to keep pace with the newfound demand.

    "Cackle Hatchery, based in Missouri, which hatches about 250,000 baby birds per week, has already seen a 100 percent increase in sales this year. McMurray Hatchery, a century-old establishment in Iowa that sells millions of hatched eggs each year, has been so busy that callers have had to wait in a queue for orders and inquiries for the past two weeks, often with as many as 10 people ahead of them."

    The story says that "hatcheries are also seeing a swell of interest for broilers, chickens that are bred and raised for meat. McMurray’s Hatchery noted a rise in 'homesteaders types,' or buyers with small farms and acreage who want to raise their own meat sources."

    No yolk?

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    The New York Times has a story - written before this morning's devastating jobless claims report - about the recession that has been precipitated by the pandemic.

    "Fears are growing that the downturn could be far more punishing and long lasting than initially feared — potentially enduring into next year, and even beyond — as governments intensify restrictions on business to halt the spread of the pandemic, and as fear of the virus reconfigures the very concept of public space, impeding consumer-led economic growth.

    "The pandemic is above all a public health emergency. So long as human interaction remains dangerous, business cannot responsibly return to normal. And what was normal before may not be anymore. People may be less inclined to jam into crowded restaurants and concert halls even after the virus is contained.

    "The abrupt halt of commercial activity threatens to impose economic pain so profound and enduring in every region of the world at once that recovery could take years. The losses to companies, many already saturated with debt, risk triggering a financial crisis of cataclysmic proportions."

    The analysis goes on:

    "Among investors, a hopeful scenario holds currency: The recession will be painful but short-lived, giving way to a robust recovery this year. The global economy is in a temporary deep freeze, the logic goes. Once the virus is contained, enabling people to return to offices and shopping malls, life will snap back to normal. Jets will fill with families going on merely deferred vacations. Factories will resume, fulfilling saved up orders.

    "But even after the virus is tamed — and no one really knows when that will be — the world that emerges is likely to be choked with trouble, challenging the recovery. Mass joblessness exacts societal costs. Widespread bankruptcy could leave industry in a weakened state, depleted of investment and innovation.

    "Households may remain agitated and risk averse, making them prone to thrift. Some social distancing measures could remain indefinitely. Consumer spending amounts to roughly two-thirds of economic activity worldwide. If anxiety endures and people are reluctant to spend, expansion will be limited — especially as continued vigilance against the coronavirus may be required for years."

    You can read the entire story here.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    Bloomberg reports that Amazon "is planning to open a new grocery store in Irvine, California, the second confirmed location for an as-yet-unnamed retail concept separate from the company’s Whole Foods Market chain."

    According to the story, "Amazon last year said it would launch a new supermarket, also distinct from the Amazon Go cashierless convenience stores, starting with a store in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. The company’s plans in nearby Irvine had been the subject of speculation since Amazon began renovating a former Babies R Us there. The company has received a liquor license for the location under the name 'Amazon Fresh,' the same name as its grocery delivery service."

    KC's View:

    Funny … a couple of months ago I figured that Amazon's bricks-and-mortar ambitions would end up being one of the bigger business stories I'd write about during the first quarter of the year.  Now, not so much … though it is nice to write about something "normal" and not pandemic-related.

    While Amazon seems to have a number of things going - Amazon Go stores, an Amazon Go Grocery in Seattle, and now this new supermarket format that the public has yet to see.

    The Woodland Hills store was supposed to open early in 2020, but I have to wonder if a lot of these plans will be delayed until the impact of the pandemic has subsided a bit.

    Tell you one thing, though - if Amazon's goal with these new stores is to create a value-driven format, the current economic crisis and descent into recession or worse will certainly be the appropriate environment in which to test them.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

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

    •  From MarketWatch:

    Kroger said yesterday "that same-store sales excluding fuel soared 30% in March amid coronavirus-related stockpiling of household necessities. Demand lifted the last week of February, 'dramatically heightened' in the middle of the month, then tapered off but remained above normal the last week of the month. Demand was spread between grocery items and fresh food, though Kroger says it's too soon to tell what, if any, changes there will be to food consumption or sales in the future.

    "Despite the volatility and ongoing uncertainty from the outbreak, Kroger is maintaining its 2020 guidance."


    •  From Yahoo Finance:

    "The U.S. Postal Service has been in trouble for some time. Now, the coronavirus crisis has come along and made everything much worse.  Mail volume (and the accompanying revenue) could be down 50% this year, according to some estimates. The already teetering Postal Service could run out of money soon. That fear, combined with widespread concerns about letter carriers exposed to the virus, has put some lawmakers into a fatalistic mindset."

    Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service, says that it is possible the USPS could go out of business.  "We need to start thinking in those apocalyptic terms, because we are about to face the apocalypse."

    Government support is said to inadequate to the challenge, and there have not been lessening of some of the fiscal requirements that make it hard for the USPS to break even, much less make money.

    The irony is that there probably are going to be a lot of Americans who will get their stimulus checks delivered in the mail.  We may need the post office in order to vote this fall, depending on how the pandemic unfolds.  The status quo is not acceptable, but it is equally unacceptable that we allow it to fold.

    Published on: April 2, 2020

    Got the following email from MNB reader Carol Elliott:

    I've been a long time fan of your newsletter and have read it "with religion" for many years.

    However, I have to take issue with your statement that "both could be right" in Amazon's dismissal of a protesting NYC worker. NO!!! Not this time. This worker was protesting Amazon's lack of transparency regarding the number of covid-19 positive employees at that warehouse ("don't tell the employees") and Amazon's total lack of action to remedy it. In fact, Amazon showed complete callousness by summarily firing the employee, who, by the way, was a member of the management team.

    The covid-19 pandemic is literally a matter of life and death. Are some people's' lives less valuable than others? NO!!! Evidently Amazon thinks so by their actions. It's time to get back to corporate responsibility. Since we are still collecting data as to how this virus is spread, if Amazon doesn't think they owe it to their employees to do everything possible to ensure their safety, how about their customers? Bottom line, none of us really knows exactly how many ways this is spread yet. Therefore an abundance of caution is needed. That means Amazon needs to deep clean that facility, find PPE to provide workers and assure customers that every precaution is being taken. Anything less should be considered attempted murder.

    I am starting to "vote with my pocketbook" and I encourage everyone reading this to do the same. Jewel-Osco, Whole Foods, Amazon, are on my "avoid as much as possible" list now, Trader Joe's just got added. Reasons: Incredibly penurious paid time off (7 days for covid-19 positive/sick Trader Joe's employees when self quarantine time is 14 days?, Whole Foods telling their employees to "share" their paid time off?); Lack of PPE for employees; Lousy store cleanliness (a perennial problem at Jewel); Horrendous and unnecessary OOOs (30 years in retail supply chain has given me some insight here).

    On a positive note, I commend Mariano's for stepping up. PPE for employees, enforced social distancing in checkout lanes, good store cleanliness, better in stock positions generally. They will be getting my meager dollars for food and essentials.

    We're all in this together and it's about time that corporations, like people, step up and do their part to ensure the well-being of everyone in society. 

    I have not, nor have ever been, an employee of a retailer. Just sold technology to them (all of them) for many years and so have been fortunate to peer into their operations.

    When I said "right," I should've said "accurate" … what I meant was it was possible that the employee actually had violated social distancing policies, which gave Amazon an excuse.  But I don't think Amazon made the right decision in firing him, especially at this time.


    I did a FaceTime video yesterday about an order I placed on Amazon for products from Whole Foods, which showed up in about an hour - which sort of amazed me under the circumstances.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Just watched today’s video. You didn’t mention if there was a charge for delivery. As a prime member is it included?  No tipping?

    No.  (Though there would've been had I spent less than $35.) And no.

    From another reader:

    I’m glad you are so close to a Whole Foods – life must be much simpler up in your CT neighborhood.  Here in NYC our delivery options are not as plentiful.  My husband ended up ordering from Amazon Fresh and could not find any openings when he searched during the work day, until he stayed up until 1 AM one morning in order to get a delivery 48 hours later (not in under 1 hour) – if this is the new normal, I am not digging it, but I am sure glad I don’t have to feed a family….

    And Instacart is showing all stores w/in 5 miles (15? Listed) are UNAVAILABLE.

    Maybe more importantly for your health…

    I’m sure you will have heard this from others, but I sure wish you might have used some kind of protection while picking up the bag and setting it on your counter, in addition to wiping down the individual containers.

    You are absolutely right - I should have used gloves when I picked up the bag.  I did protect the counter when I placed the bag there - I put it on a dishtowel, which I promptly put in the laundry.

    From MNB reader Douglas Madenberg:

    I’ve gone through a similar thought process with Whole Foods as the distribution point for Prime grocery.  I shop at a WF store here on Long Island and Amazon has done a nice job integrating my past purchases at the store along with my Prime history.  It’s a major point of convenience for me, to be able to reorder from one spot.  Plus I get my Prime discounts and even pay with an Amazon Visa which gets me more rewards on each order.

    However I do get concerned that their plan for that “last mile” – store employees packing staged orders of shopping bags into their cars – leaves considerable safety holes.  I took a photo this past summer, on a 100+ degree day.  After the bags have been outside in the heat, even with the AC at full blast in this guy’s SUV, by the time it’s my turn on his route, what are the chances that my meat and eggs are arriving at a temp below 40 degrees?  It’s something they’ll likely need to address if they really want to take full potential of the Prime grocery opportunity.

    Contrast that with Fresh Direct, where my orders arrive via refrigerated truck, and my perception is the product delivered is safe for my family.  As I said, the digital and cross-channel convenience is important enough to me that I’m not going away from Amazon/WF, but I’ll likely not order on hot days!

    MNB reader Julia Ann Mataras wrote:

    Congratulations!  You are lucky that it only took 2 hours.  I live in Northern NJ- and I can’t even get a delivery time for an online order  I have to constantly check throughout the day and night for one.  It could take several days for one to open too.

    And from another reader:

    I have been using Prime Whole Foods delivery for well over a year. My cold/frozen items are always packed inside an insulated cold pack and then placed in the paper bag. With the exception of an occasional odd substitution—fresh oregano instead of fresh sage, gluten-free apple pie instead of apple pie—I have been very happy with the service. (To be fair, the shoppers almost always text me about substitutions so I can approve or decline. But not always...)


    On another subject, from another reader:

    Thanks for including the pictures of your dogs.  They do make me smile every day.  I also appreciate the updates you are providing.  It gives me a nice condensed snippet of the situation.  Hopefully people will all do their part so we can get beyond this crisis and back to a “new normalcy”.  It will never be the same, it will all depend on how we adjust and move on.


    And from another reader:

    Being a longtime reader of MNB, I would like to say that since the Coronavirus issue has been in the forefront of our news cycle, you have done the best job ever giving your readers content of what is going on throughout our country during this crisis. We are all better informed because of the extent of your excellent content in MNB. Keep it coming. Bravo!!

    Thanks.