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    Published on: April 23, 2020

    When Starbucks starts reopening its US stores again, it will have droves of latte-thirsty consumers, but also the challenge of how to create a store experience that is socially responsible with physical distancing.  MNB Content Guy Kevin Coupe has an idea - and it builds on existing customer behavior and existing technology.

    Published on: April 23, 2020

    From the Washington Post:

    "More than 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department, a signal that the tidal wave of job losses continues to grow.

    "The new total comes on top of 22 million Americans who had sought benefits in previous weeks, overwhelming state processing systems. There is no precedent for the velocity of job losses since March. Economists estimate the national unemployment rate sits somewhere between 15 and 20 percent, much higher than during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. The unemployment rate at the peak of the Great Depression was around 25 percent."

    The Post goes on:  "In the wake of the Great Recession, the number of unemployed - about 15 million - was significantly higher than the number who claimed benefits, and the unemployment rate still peaked at just 10 percent. Economists expect us to blow by that figure when April’s jobs data is released on May 8."

    And:  "Hopes for a sharp economic rebound are fading, overtaken by the public fear of going back to restaurants, movie theaters, schools and gym classes. The growing possibility of a 'W'-shaped recovery — in which a resurgence of the virus, or a spike in defaults and bankruptcies, triggers another downturn — has analysts reframing what a reopened or rehabilitated economy might look like."

    KC's View:

    Hate to say it, but we know this isn't done … it isn't hard to imagine that the unemployment rate will double yet again.

    And yet, it seems to me to be important to remember that we have a health crisis, not an economic crisis … and that the economy will right itself when we make breakthroughs in dealing with the pandemic.  An economic resurgence won't happen fast, and won't happen everywhere at the same time.  (One sure bet - it'll happen in the stock market first.)  But it will happen.

    The important questions:  What kind of country will we be?  Will we have learned anything from the lessons that a pandemic teaches us?

    Published on: April 23, 2020

    The New York Times has a piece this morning about how the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has prompted a shift in priorities for Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder-CEO.

    "After years of working almost exclusively on long-term projects and pushing day-to-day management to his deputies, Mr. Bezos, 56, has turned back to the here-and-now problems facing Amazon, the company said, as the giant retailer grapples with a surge of demand, labor unrest and supply chain challenges brought on by the coronavirus.

    "He is holding daily calls to help make decisions about inventory and testing, as well as how and when — down to the minute — Amazon responds to public criticism. He has talked to government officials. And in April, for the first time in years, he made a publicized visit to one of Amazon’s warehouses."

    The Times notes that "Mr. Bezos’ daily oversight hasn’t led to perfectly smooth sailing. Amazon has struggled to respond quickly to the growing number of coronavirus cases in its work force, and it has been slammed with orders from consumers … Mr. Bezos’ change reflects how completely different managing is during a crisis, said Bill George, a former chief executive of the medical device company Medtronic who teaches leadership at Harvard Business School.

    “'That you analyze, plan, delegate, hold people accountable — all those good techniques kind of go out the window,' Mr. George said. 'The leader, no matter how large the company, does need to take charge'."

    The Times writes that pre-pandemic, "At Amazon, Mr. Bezos typically gave his priority to projects that addressed a major risk to the business or where he felt he was uniquely qualified to get involved, according to two people familiar with his process, who like others interviewed for this article requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss Amazon’s operations publicly. That meant he was spending more time on fun, futuristic bets. Before the voice assistant Alexa was released, he held several meetings a week to track the product’s development. He closely followed the cashierless Amazon Go stores … The coronavirus crisis changed that luxury."

    These days, the story says, Bezos is engaged in daily phone calls with his executives, making decisions about the company's logistics and supply chain issues - which have frayed at the edges because of the pandemic - as well as coordinating efforts to deal with human resources issues created by infections in the company's warehouses, which also have created real and perception problems for Amazon.

    KC's View:

    It is amazing how a little virus can redefine what the word "future" means.

    If you haven't done it, I'd suggest going back to yesterday's Innovation Conversation with Tom Furphy, which focuses on how and what Amazon is learning from this experience … and likely will come out of it more informed and dangerous than ever.

    Published on: April 23, 2020

    From Bloomberg:

    "The clock is ticking for the U.S. to avoid a meat shortage as sick workers force more slaughterhouses to shut down.

    "Tyson Foods Inc. on Wednesday said it was idling its largest pork plant, making it at least the sixth major U.S. meat facility to shutter in the last few weeks. Currently, about 15% of hog-slaughtering capacity is completely offline, and there are also additional slowdowns at pork, beef and poultry companies across the nation."

    The result is that "meat prices are starting to surge … retail costs may rise as grocery stores mandate rationing on pork chops."

    Shortages of product and increases in prices may be seen as soon as two weeks from now, Bloomberg writes.

    "Much has been made of the frozen inventories that are kept in warehouses, which could help cushion the blow of plant closures — as long as they don’t last very long," the story says.  "While there are hundreds of millions of pounds of frozen meat in U.S. warehouses, the supplies account for only a fraction of what’s typically produced in any given month."

    One irony is that farmers have plenty of product, but the closing down of processing plants means that they have no place to sell them - which means that animals may have to be euthanized and buried.

    KC's View:

    It amazes me that we as a country cannot come up with a fast and effective response to this problem … you'd think the fact that there are so many unemployed people who will be dealing with food insecurity would be enough of an impetus to creating innovative solutions.

    Problem is, we're playing whack-a-mole … and not dealing with the fact that organizations like the United Nations are saying that famines of "biblical" proportions could double global hunger.  

    We need first-rate intellects and innovators to fix these global and national problems, I think.

    Published on: April 23, 2020

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

    •  In the US as of this morning, there have been 849,092 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 47,681 deaths and 84,050 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 2,653,899 coronavirus cases, 185,061 deaths and 727,857 reported recoveries.

    Let's underline the US results for a moment.  We are within days of having more than one million coronavirus cases, and more than 50,000 deaths … which is a roughly five percent mortality rate, if my math is correct.  Of course, the mortality rate probably is a lot lower than that - but we don't know what it is because relatively few people in the UDS have been tested.

    Which makes it very difficult for state governments and private businesses to make informed decisions about when and how to reopen … it remains an enormously fluid situation.  All they can do is their best, while maintaining as many options as possible and the ability to pivot when the science indicates they should.


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "A pair of newly reported deaths in California have challenged the longstanding timeline of the coronavirus pandemic, raising new questions about when and how the virus first arrived in the U.S. and the costs of the nation’s lack of preparation earlier in the winter.

    "The first U.S. death from the coronavirus took place in early February, according to a county in the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly three weeks earlier than U.S. health authorities had previously realized … Previously, the first known U.S. deaths from Covid-19 involved two people in the Seattle area who died Feb. 26 … It isn’t known when the people who died in Santa Clara were infected."

    In a different context, the great William Goldman once said, "Nobody knows anything."  Which seems about as true when talking about the Covid-19 coronavirus as anything.


    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he anticipates most of the U.S. economy will restart by the end of August after the coronavirus has led to social distancing measures that have shuttered many businesses."

    “We’re operating under the environment that we are going to open up parts of the economy and we’re looking forward to -- by the time we get later in the summer -- having most of the economy, if not all of the economy, open,” he said yesterday.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "research on the new coronavirus and how coughs spread suggest the virus can travel further, and linger longer in the air, than previously believed.

    "So far, the consensus has been that the virus that causes the disease Covid-19 is mostly transmitted through large droplets that are created when people cough, sneeze or talk."  But now, "Some scientists are looking at other modes of transmission, such as through contact with infected surfaces and through inhalation of tiny virus-containing particles called aerosols that can stay suspended in the air for hours. While it remains unclear whether such aerosols are infectious, yearslong research on how respiratory droplets travel, combined with emerging data about the viability of the new coronavirus in aerosols, have prompted some scientists to question whether current public-health and health-care guidelines are sufficient."

    There are going to be a lot of studies of the coronavirus and the way it has and can be spread … and my feeling is that I'm pretty much going to pay attention to what Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says.  (If I understand the Journal story correctly, he's been a little skeptical about this new research.)

    But I also think one other thing is important.  I suspect that most of us see the current situation as the worst case scenario … that we're at the bottom of the hole, and now it is a matter of climbing out of it.  It strikes me as at least possible that we are not at the bottom … that things could happen that would make things worse, and the hole deeper … and that as a culture, we have to be ready for that.  Absolute certainty about anything would seem to be a mistake, I think.


    •  Albertsons Companies yesterday "announced a $50 million commitment to hunger relief across the 2,200+ neighborhoods it serves in 34 states and the District of Columbia through its Nourishing Neighbors Community Relief campaign … The new cash commitment is in addition to the $3 million the company already pledged to its fundraiser for neighbors affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Over the last four weeks, customers have generously donated more than $13 million to the effort at the company’s stores, which include Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Shaw’s, Star-Market, Tom Thumb, Randalls, and other banners."

    "This time of extraordinary need demands an unprecedented response,” said President and CEO Vivek Sankaran. “The basic needs of many of our neighbors have been threatened like never before. With a strong presence in more than 2,200 communities, we are committing an additional $50 million to help ensure that people in our neighborhoods have access to the healthy food they need. We are hopeful that more companies will join us and use our broad hunger relief network to distribute help locally, where it is needed most.”


    •  Los Angeles magazine reports that LA County will begin publicly listing places where coronavirus cases have occurred, including restaurants, nursing homes, treatment facilities, prisons and "other institutional settings."

    The story notes that "the move to publicly disclose the information about restaurants comes after strikes and protests at several local food service operations where employees felt their health was put at risk."

    This seems akin to the letter grades that many communities assign to restaurants based on their food safety procedures, and that must be posted on those businesses' doors or windows.  It makes a lot of sense, though food safety violations often are self-inflicted wounds, and the institutions may not be able to help whether one of its employees comes down with the coronavirus.


    •  CBS News reports that Publix Super Markets has launched a new initiative - buying fresh produce and milk that farmers were planning to sell to the now dormant restaurant and foodservice industry, and then donating that product to local Feeding America food banks.

    In the first week alone, the story says, "some 150,000 pounds of produce and 43,500 gallons of milk is expected to be donated."

    "As a food retailer, we have the unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the needs of families and farmers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic," said Todd Jones, Publix CEO. "In addition to providing much needed produce and milk to food banks, this initiative provides financial support to farmers during this challenging time."


    •  The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has no plans to require that the state's supermarkets only engage in pickup and delivery or orders, essentially closing grocery stores to shoppers.

    The Globe points out that "some experts have suggested the drastic policy may be necessary to keep grocery store workers safe and limit the spread of COVID-19 … Many smaller, independent grocery stores — and even a few select Whole Foods and Kroger locations across the country — have converted to delivery or curbside pickup due to concerns that in-store crowding could spread the virus between customers and workers.

    "However, both methods require more in-store staff, and online grocery ordering services have already been overwhelmed by high demand amidst the pandemic. Baker noted Wednesday that a statewide order could also create crowding outside the stores."

    I think that closing stores to shoppers is a bridge too far … for the moment, as long as most people behave in a responsible way, adhering to official guidance about masks and physical distancing.  There will be places where retailers will make the strategic decision to convert certain unites to "dark stores," but, to be honest, I'd be willing to bet that some of that was going to happen anyway.  The pandemic just put the process on fast-forward.


    •  Bloomberg reports that "a giant study that examined outcomes for more than 2,600 patients found an extraordinarily high 88% death rate among Covid-19 patients in the New York City area who had to be placed on mechanical devices to help them breathe … Overall, the researchers reported that 553 patients died, or 21%. But among the 12% of very sick patients that needed ventilators to breathe, the death rate rose to 88%. The rate was particularly awful for patients over 65 who were placed on a machine, with just 3% of those patients surviving, according to the results. Men had a higher mortality rate than women."


    •  From Los Angeles  magazine:

    "Even L.A.’s most famous record store is struggling to survive the pandemic. Amoeba Music has lost nearly all its revenue while closed, 400 workers have been furloughed, and owner Marc Weinstein is worried about paying rent for his three stores when May 1 rolls around. On Monday, Weinstein launched an Amoeba Go Fund Me campaign, seeking to raise $400,000 to cover immediate expenses for the store and staff."

    “We have weathered many storms: 9/11, recessions, the internet, downloading, and streaming. But we don’t know that we can weather the COVID-19 storm,” Weinstein said on the  Go Fund Me page. “We’d like to reassure you that we’re doing everything we can to keep Amoeba going, and to position ourselves to play a vital role in what is for now a very uncertain future. We know how much we’re all going to need Amoeba again, this oasis of music, where we can find each other once more.”


    •  Axios reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "has confirmed that two pet cats living in separate New York state homes have tested positive for the coronavirus … These are the first pets in the U.S. to test positive for COVID-19, the agency said. The cats experienced a mild respiratory illness from the virus and are expected to recover."

    The story says that "the first cat, which was tested after showing mild respiratory issues, was not living in a home with confirmed coronavirus patients.  The owner of the second cat tested positive for COVID-19, but another cat in that household hasn't shown symptoms."

    Axios reports that "there is still no evidence that pets can spread the coronavirus in the U.S., the agency said in a statement, and routine testing of animals is not recommended."


    •  The Well & Good website offers a prescription for how to cope with the pandemic.

    Banana bread.

    At least, that's what a lot of people seem to think, since "somehow, it’s become the unofficial baked good of COVID-19. Everyone, it seems, it making it."  Google searches for banana bread recipes are off the charts.

    "Now, certainly there’s nothing wrong with banana bread; it’s about as uncontroversial as baked goods come. (Hey, fruit cake can’t say the same.) Unlike other baked goods, the name gives it an air of health superiority. It’s bread, not cake. And it’s made with bananas. Surely it’s the health equivalent of having a salad for breakfast!"

    Well & Good did some research and found that "as it turns out, COVID-19 is not the first perilous time in history when people turned to banana bread. Food historian Sarah Wassberg Johnson says that the first time anyone made banana bread was likely during the Great Depression - another time of extreme economic and social hardship for most Americans."

    The reason?  "The ingredients are cheap, bananas are easy to find regardless of season, and it’s easy to make. 'We don’t think of bananas as a seasonal fruit, the way we do apples, even though apples can be found at the grocery store year-round. So there’s a timelessness with it,' Johnson says.  'Also, unlike apples or some other fruits, the texture of bananas is easy to work them into a mix because they’re already soft. It takes less work than some other ingredients'."

    Plus, there are "specific qualities banana bread has that make it primed to be a food hero right now, especially when it’s straight from the oven. Food that’s warm, sweet, and carb-loaded is comforting - and who doesn’t want a thick slice of comfort when they’re in the middle of a pandemic?"

    I am officially craving banana bread right now.  I have a bunch of bananas in the kitchen, and I'm going to dig up a recipe.

    Published on: April 23, 2020

    And, in non-pandemic-related news….

    •  From CNBC:

    "Amazon is investing $10 million to help conserve or restore forests in the northeastern U.S., as part of its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040, the company announced Tuesday. 

    "It marks the first investment from Amazon’s $100 million Right Now Climate Fund, which was first unveiled last September in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, and aims to restore and protect forests, wetlands and peatlands around the world, with the goal of removing carbon from the atmosphere. The fund is a part of Amazon’s 'Climate Pledge,' wherein the company also pledged to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement by 2040, a decade ahead of the Paris accord’s goal. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement in 2017."

    The money will be used to expand three programs "being stewarded by The Nature Conservancy, the American Forest Foundation and the Vermont Land Trust, which aim to open up carbon credit markets to small family forest owners and owners of mid-sized forests."

    Published on: April 23, 2020

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

    •  The New York Times has a story about how the iPad - which seems to have become almost an afterthought at Apple - has emerged as almost the perfect device to survive the pandemic.

    Why?  It is relatively cheap for a piece of technology - less expensive than a laptop or computer, and even less expensive than some iPhone models.  And it does a lot:

    "With a bigger screen than an iPhone, the iPad excels at videoconferencing with apps like FaceTime and Zoom, and it’s great for watching movies and programs on Netflix and YouTube. When you attach it to a good keyboard, it becomes an excellent budget computer with a zippy internet connection for browsing the web, writing emails and composing documents. All for half the price of a regular iPhone."

    I totally get this … I find my iPad to be invaluable for content consumption.  I prefer content creation on my MacBook Pro, but I can use the iPad for almost everything else.  You can read the rest of the iPad piece here.

    Published on: April 23, 2020

    •  Walmart said yesterday that it has hired William White, senior vice president of marketing at Target, to be its new chief marketing officer.

    Bloomberg writes that "White, a former Coca-Cola Co. executive, joined Target in 2013 and oversaw category and brand marketing, including the retailer’s ubiquitous 'Target Run; campaign. At Walmart, White will report to Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside and fill a role that’s been vacant for nearly a year since the departure of Barbara Messing."

    Published on: April 23, 2020

    Responding to our various stories about the changes likely to take place in the restaurant business as it evolves in a post-pandemic world, one MNB reader wrote:

    Yes, a second thought when I read the following … "Younger Americans are eager to eat and drink out in public again.  They will, however, likely shy away in large numbers from festivals, sports venues and international trips for a while once coronavirus lockdowns are lifted across the U.S., perhaps preferring to shop online from home while waiting to see how vaccine trials pan out."

    There are going to be some very disappointed “younger Americans” – when they find out how many restaurants have closed… permanently.  I know the demand is there, but I question how much of the supply will be available to take advantage of it.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    I can see commissary-type operations popping up where you have skilled workers preparing high level gourmet meals. No dining room. Just pick up or delivery via the many delivery services available. May work better with just delivery. Labor cost would be much lower than full service restaurant.

    Regarding Kroger's release of a blueprint, based on what it has learned during the pandemic,  that other businesses can use to navigate the current situation, one MNB reader wrote:

    I am so proud of Kroger for summarizing and sharing their learnings to help other have a safe and successful restart.  They have continued to live by their core values through this time, both in how they treat employees, partners, competitors and in their Zero Hunger Zero Waste efforts!  


    MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

    I would like to give kudos to the grocery chains and the consumers here in the Portland, OR market. Winco, Safeway, Albertsons, and Fred Meyer are all practicing social distancing and wearing masks. The stores have placed signs, etc, showing how far people should distance themselves from other shoppers, have instituted one way aisle shopping, and the store employees and shoppers are wearing masks. The one noticeable thing I see is that people are much more friendly and are tolerant of these changes. The shelves still have several out of stocks in certain categories, but their appears to be bathroom tissue and paper towels back on the shelves. Now that the panic buying has declined, we will all be back to some semblance of normalcy for having most categories back in stock. Hang in there people.


    Regarding the worsening problems faced by America's malls, one MNB reader wrote:

    My view is that this real estate should be looked at by Amazon as part of their brick and mortar strategy. They are looking for space and this real estate is in prime areas for pick up locations. I’m no real estate expert, but it could help elevate the blighted mall and turn these areas into thriving areas again thanks to Amazon.


    Finally … yesterday I wrote:

    I love movies as much as anyone, but it'll be a long time before I go back to a theater.  It breaks my heart a little, but there it is.

    Which prompted MNB reader Tom Stenzel to write:

    I find your comment here from yesterday extremely sad…

    My wife and I respect the need today for social distancing and abide by all public health advice.  But we will be the first ones back in our local movie theater when it opens.  We’ll enjoy the finest dinner at the best restaurant in town as soon as they open for business.  And I can’t wait to join 40,000 of my closest friends to cheer on the World Champion Washington Nationals at the first chance we can get.  But if some of you Mets fans choose to skip the bus ride down to our stadium, that’s okay with me too!   We won’t put others at risk, but we won’t stop living the life we love as soon as it’s possible to return to it.

    Just another perspective to share…thanks.

    I'm with you … but only theoretically.

    I'm going to be more measured in my response … mostly because, quite frankly, there are too many unknowns.  And the fact that so many people who go on ventilators end up dying doesn't add to my confidence.

    By the way … it may be awhile before you go to the movies.

    Axios had a story today saying that "in response to some state-specific efforts to begin reopening movie theaters as soon as next week, the National Association of Theater Owners said Wednesday that it is unlikely many theaters will be ready to resume so soon …  Even if theaters were to restart, surveys show consumer sentiment around attending leisure events is still largely behind the federal government's plans to open up.

    "On top of that, movie studios are unlikely to want to distribute their films anytime soon, as it's unlikely they'll be able to pick up big bucks from their cut of theater sales if enough seats cannot be filled."

    So I'd keep my Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+ and other streaming service memberships paid up.

    Published on: April 23, 2020

    From the Boston Globe:

    "The Red Sox and former manager Alex Cora learned their punishments on Wednesday resulting from an investigation by Major League Baseball into allegations of illegal sign stealing.

    "Cora was suspended from MLB for one year for his conduct while serving as bench coach of the Houston Astros in 2017.

    "In addition, the Red Sox lose a second-round pick in this year’s draft, and replay operator J.T. Watkins has been banned through 2020 and cannot return to his job in 2021. The team was not fined."

    According to the story, "The report says commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigative team found that Watkins, 'on at least some occasions' during the 2018 season, violated MLB’s rules surrounding the use of game feeds in the replay room. Watkins used the feeds to update the information he usually gave to players before the game.

    "The report essentially exonerates Cora, saying that he – along with the rest of the coaching staff, the front office, and most of the players – weren’t aware of Watkins’ use of in-game video."

    KC's View:

    I don't mean to be cynical here … but let me get this straight.  Cora was one of the main guys behind the electronic stealing of signs when he was a coach in Houston, but he knew nothing about it when it was happening while he was manager of the Red Sox?

    Really?

    Is it just me, or does this seem to stretch credibility a bit?

    Blaming the video operator sounds vaguely like the Patriots blaming the guys responsible for inflating the footballs - and doing to the team's advantage - when that scandal broke a few years ago.

    Thought I hate to be cynical here…