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    Published on: April 29, 2020

    Remember the story from the other day about drive-in movie theaters were able to stay in business because their very nature allowed for mandated physical distancing?  KC came upon a story about how some businesses are taking the idea from a different direction, and in doing so are tapping into a very human (and very timely) need.

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    Breaking news this morning from the New York Times:

    "U.S. gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy, fell at a 4.8 percent annual rate in the first quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That is the first decline since 2014, and the worst quarterly contraction since the country was in a deep recession more than a decade ago.

    "Even so, most of the quarter came before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns and layoffs. Economists expect figures from the current quarter to show G.D.P. contracting at an annual rate of 30 percent or more … The estimates issued on Wednesday are preliminary and based on incomplete data, particularly for March. Some economists expect final figures, due later this spring, to show an even bigger decline."

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    Potential good news about a Covid-19 vaccine, as reported by the New York Times:

    "In the worldwide race for a vaccine to stop the coronavirus, the laboratory sprinting fastest is at Oxford University.

    "Most other teams have had to start with small clinical trials of a few hundred participants to demonstrate safety. But scientists at the university’s Jenner Institute had a head start on a vaccine, having proved in previous trials that similar inoculations - including one last year against an earlier coronavirus - were harmless to humans.

    "That has enabled them to leap ahead and schedule tests of their new coronavirus vaccine involving more than 6,000 people by the end of next month, hoping to show not only that it is safe, but also that it works."  Early tests on monkeys suggest that it does.

    "The Oxford scientists now say that with an emergency approval from regulators, the first few million doses of their vaccine could be available by September — at least several months ahead of any of the other announced efforts — if it proves to be effective," the Times writes.

    KC's View:

    Nice to have a little good news to report … even if this is more promise and potential.

    Even if the vaccine works, we'll need a lot of it, and probably other versions because, if I understand the science correctly, this won't be a one-size-fits-all situation.

    So there will need to be a lot of cooperation - on a global scale.   Not necessarily humanity's strong suit.  But maybe, in this time, we can respond to ther better angels of our nature.

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    The Washington Post reports that President Trump has signed an executive order, invoking the Defense Production Act, "compelling meat processors to remain open to head off shortages in the nation’s food supply chains, despite mounting reports of plant worker deaths due to covid-19" and concerns that these plants are becoming hot spots.

    The order says that "the government will provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance, according to a person familiar with the action who spoke about the order before it was signed by the president."

    The Post writes that "at least 20 meatpacking plants have closed in recent weeks because of covid-19 outbreaks … The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents thousands of workers at U.S. meat plants, said Tuesday that at least 17 have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and at least 5,000 have been directly affected by the virus … Industry analysts say pork and beef processing has fallen 25 percent because of these outbreaks. Major meat companies, including Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA, have repeatedly touted their essential role in the nation’s food supply chain, often resisting calls from government officials and labor advocates to close their facilities due to outbreaks."

    Some context from the Post:

    "Worker safety experts say such an order would prevent local health officials from ordering meat companies to use their the most effective weapon available to protect their employees from the coronavirus - closures. They also fear that it would also undercut newly issued federal health guidelines designed to put space between plant workers. Trump has not publicly explained which provisions within the act he will rely on to compel plants to remain open or grant companies protection from workplace safety requirements."

    At the same time as the White House prepared the new executive order, the Post writes, " the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OSHA released interim guidance for meatpacking and processing facilities. It outlined procedures for cleaning shared equipment and reconfiguring workstations. It also included information on how companies can use physical barriers to put at least six feet between employees, who typically stand shoulder to shoulder in the plants.

    It also called for the use of personal protective equipment and revising attendance policies to ensure employees are not penalized for taking sick leave because of the coronavirus. But like previous CDC and OSHA guidance for workplaces during the pandemic, it is voluntary and not enforceable."

    One of the questions that seems to be open for debate is whether, by using the Defense Production Act, the Trump administration is able to grant manufacturers virtual immunity from lawsuits by workers who are infected in the workplace - though the nature of the coronavirus might make such determinations problematic.

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican lawmakers on a private call that he wants to shield companies from liability over pandemic-related suits," a position that the Journal describes as a response to "a major push by American businesses, which are getting hit with lawsuits as workers in meat-processing facilities, grocery stores, retailers and other locations get sick or die from Covid-19."

    The Journal adds that "companies have been loath to say publicly that they are seeking laws to shield them from liability, and have instead been emphasizing the steps they are taking to protect workers, from disinfecting facilities to operating on staggered shifts to allow for more social distancing. They also say they worry about how to do the right thing in an environment in which some of their services are so essential to the basic functioning of the economy, like providing food and health care, that they need to stay operating."

    Here's how the New York Times characterizes the issue:

    " Lobbyists say retailers, manufacturers, eateries and other businesses will struggle to start back up if lawmakers do not place temporary limits on legal liability in areas including worker privacy, employment discrimination and product manufacturing.

    "The biggest push, business groups say, is to give companies enhanced protection against lawsuits by customers or employees who contract the virus and accuse the business of being the source of the infection.

    "The effort highlights a core tension as the economy begins to reopen: how to give businesses the confidence they need to restart operations amid swirling uncertainty over the virus and its effects, while also protecting workers and customers from unsafe practices that could raise the chances of infection."

    KC's View:

    I don't know how you keep plants open if they are proven hot spots … but maybe there's a way.  It does seem problematic and potentially counter-productive.

    There are two different discussions happening here  … one is about what is taking place in ther plants, and the other is about what is happening in the stores.  They are, of course, connected, but one of the things that retailers have to do is their level best to avoid consumer panic.

    That's what Stew Leonard Jr. did - pretty effectively, I think - in an interview today with CNBC:

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    The New Yorker has a fascinating piece entitled "Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not."  It offers some important lessons from how different state governments reacted to the pandemic.

    An excerpt:

    "The initial coronavirus outbreaks in New York City emerged at roughly the same time as those in Seattle. But the cities’ experiences with the disease have markedly differed. By the second week of April, Washington State had roughly one recorded fatality per fourteen thousand residents. New York’s rate of death was nearly six times higher.

    "There are many explanations for this divergence. New York is denser than Seattle and relies more heavily on public transportation, which forces commuters into close contact. In Seattle, efforts at social distancing may have been aided by local attitudes - newcomers are warned of the Seattle Freeze, which one local columnist compared to the popular girl in high school who 'always smiles and says hello' but 'doesn’t know your name and doesn’t care to.'  New Yorkers are in your face, whether you like it or not … New York also has more poverty and inequality than Seattle, and more international travellers."

    The New Yorker goes on:  "It’s also true, however, that the cities’ leaders acted and communicated very differently in the early stages of the pandemic. Seattle’s leaders moved fast to persuade people to stay home and follow the scientists’ advice; New York’s leaders, despite having a highly esteemed public-health department, moved more slowly, offered more muddied messages, and let politicians’ voices dominate."

    You can read the story here.

    Published on: April 29, 2020

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

    •  In the US, there now have been 1,035,765 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 59,266 deaths and 142,238 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 3,149,108 coronavirus cases, with 218,385 fatalities and 962,763 reported recoveries.

    CNN reports that some researchers believe that the mortality rate actually could increase in coming weeks:  "One model frequently cited by the White House coronavirus task force has upped its predicted death toll again, this time projecting 74,000 Americans will lose their lives to the virus by August. 

    "The projection was adjusted because of longer peaks in some states and signs that people are becoming more active again, according to Dr. Chris Murray, director of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

    "Last week, the model projected 67,641 deaths from Covid-19."


    •  Online consultancy Brick Meets Click reports that April online grocery sales were up 37 percent to $5.3 billion compared to the previous month, an increase driven by a 33 percent in crease in the number of orders and a slightly higher average transaction size ($85 from $82).


    •  The Washington Post reports on a new poll conducted in conjunction with the University of Maryland saying that "nearly 3 in 5 Americans say they are either unable or unwilling to use the infection-alert apps under development by Google and Apple, suggesting a steep climb to win enough adoption of the technology to make it effective against the coronavirus pandemic."

    The Google-Apple initiative would create a smartphone application that "would notify users who had come in close contact with a person who tested positive for covid-19," an app that is positioned "as a way to enhance traditional forms of contact tracing to find potential new infections and help make resumption of economic and social activities safer in the months ahead."

    Among the issues getting in the way of adoption are a) a general distrust of big technology companies, b) concerns about privacy violations, c) and the fact that one in 6 Americans don't have smartphones.  The demographics on people without smartphones tends to skew older, and it is older people at greater risk for contracting the coronavirus.  Fifty-three percent of those 65 or older who were polled said they do not have smartphones, with the percentages even higher in people 75 and older.

    The poll also reflected a greater willingness by Democrats, who tend to be more concerned about the pandemic, to use the app, than Republicans, who tend to express fewer concerns about it.


    •  Reuters reports that the great 2020 toilet paper shortage may be about to fade into memory.

    According to the story, " U.S. consumers have begun spotting rare Quilted Northern and Charmin toilet paper rolls on store shelves across the United States, as stocks start building after weeks of severe shortages … Empty shelves were still a problem at nearly half of American grocery stores as of mid-April, but supplies were markedly more plentiful than they had been during the prior week, according to the consumer products data tracker NCSolutions."

    Reuters writes that "store checks last week showed toilet paper was approaching normal stock levels after being 'deeply deficient for over 50days,' said Burt Flickinger, managing director of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, adding that it was the first week his firm saw adequate levels of shelf stock."

    The higher supply levels are at least in part because of increased production by manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and Georgia Pacific.

    It has taken several months to get there, but there's no question that some level of normality is returning to the supermarket shelves that I'm seeing on a regular basis.  (There still are some weird outages - like Cascade dishwasher detergent, Thomas's Whole Wheat English Muffins and Original Goldfish - that seem to cut across a lot of stores.)  But it is not hard to imagine that once we get past Memorial Day, there will be even greater normalcy.

    That said, I do think there will be continuing and completely justified consumer concerns about what might happen in the fall if we get a resurgence of the coronavirus, combined with the regular flu.  And what happens if we have a bad hurricane season on top of it all?  All of this could add up to continued stocking up in certain categories by people who can afford to do so and have the room to keep extra supplies.  Retailers and suppliers need to be prepared.


    •  From ZDNet:

    "There may not be many brick-and-mortar retailers that make it out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's safe to say Target will emerge stronger thanks to decisions it made in 2017.

    "Here's what happened in 2017: Target bought Shipt for $550 million just a few months after buying Grand Junction for its supply chain and delivery platform. Grand Junction gave Target a platform and transportation and supply chain analytics and Shipt gave it foot soldiers to deliver locally.

    "You can pretty much name the retail standouts in the pandemic. Amazon is an obvious winner. Walmart is a go-to store due to groceries as well as staples. Costco enjoys a similar position. And Target has shined with its own spin that revolves around staples, food, supplies and delivery that puts it on par with the likes of Amazon."

    I think it is fair to say that Target was defining a "new normal" for itself even before there was broad public knowledge about the pandemic - which means that not only was it well positioned to deal with current issues, but it also has made its strategic investment decisions for the future.  There seems to be no ambiguity within Target about what it thinks the center of the target is.


    •  Variety reports that California Gov. Gavin Newsom said yesterday that Stage 3 of the state's reopening process is “months, not weeks” away.

    Stage 3 in the process affects movie theatres, hair salons, nail salons, gyms, and churches, "though with modified practices to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Sporting events could also resume, although without spectators."

    The story notes that "California is taking a far more cautious approach than some other states, especially in the South, which have already allowed theaters to reopen. Theaters in Georgia were given the green light on Monday, while theaters in Texas are allowed to reopen this Friday."


    •  From the Boston Globe:

    "Warning that Massachusetts is still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Charlie Baker announced Tuesday that he is extending his order closing non-essential businesses and his stay-at-home advisory for residents until May 18. The measures had been slated to expire on May 4.

    "The announcement came as the heartbreaking toll of the pandemic continued to rise, with 150 newly reported deaths bringing the total to 3,153. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases also rose by 1,840 to 58,302. A total of 254,500 people in the state have now been tested, the Department of Public Health reported.

    “I know pushing these dates back a couple of weeks is probably not what many people want to hear,” Baker said at a State House news conference. “We all look forward to stepping in front of this podium to tell you that we’re starting to open for business. I know that we’ll get there soon, but we have to be smart about how we do it and recognize and understand that there are risks associated with going back too soon."


    •  From CNBC:

    "Best Buy said it will gradually reopen its doors to customers with in-store consultations by appointment.

    'Starting in May, the company said it will allow shoppers to schedule a time to meet with a dedicated sales associate to talk about technology needs, discuss a potential purchase of a kitchen appliance or more. It will begin by offering the service at about 200 of its 1,000 U.S. stores, the company said in a news release. 

    "Best Buy’s CEO Corie Barry sent an email to customers Tuesday afternoon, saying the retailer will also resume in-home delivery, installation and repairs — but with new safety precautions. Those services will return in early May."


    •  The Hill reports that "workers from corporations are planning a walkout Friday, including employees from Amazon, Walmart and FedEx.  The workers are seeking better health and safety standards as well as hazard pay while working during the coronavirus pandemic."

    According to the story, "The Friday demonstrations will also request protective and cleaning equipment and full disclosure on the number of infected cases in company facilities.

    "The protest would result in employees of the listed businesses calling in sick from work or stepping out during their lunch break. At the same time, some union members will reportedly join workers outside warehouses and storefronts in support of the strikes."


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that some school districts around the country "are giving up on remote learning and ending the academic year early, after concluding that it was too cumbersome for teachers, students and parents.

    "Washington, D.C., as well as parts of Georgia, Texas and elsewhere plan to end a week to several weeks early.

    "Schools have struggled to launch remote learning for more than 50 million children across the country during the coronavirus pandemic in the largest experiment in remote learning ever. Among the issues they’ve encountered, not all students have internet access or have parents available to help, causing concerns about inequity.

    "As a result, many districts haven’t required schoolwork be completed or graded. Student participation, when schools are even able to measure it, has often been below regular attendance level."

    Living with two school teachers, I have some small experience with this … and I think it is extraordinary the degree to which they - having had virtually no experience with online education (except for my daughter, who took a couple of college classes that way and found them to be wholly unsatisfying) - have managed to reinvent themselves in fairly short order and learn to use the technology.  Neither would suggest that online education can or should replace the classroom, but they strike me as having been amazing.

    There are going to be a lot of  tough decisions that a lot of school districts are going to have to make, especially as communities facing tax shortfalls try to decide where they are going to make cuts.  (Betcha the term "austerity budget" will start to get used a lot by school boards and town councils.)  I just hope we don't forget how important education is to the nation's ability to compete on a global scale.  It isn't just a budget expense, but an investment that will determine the nation's future … and when we think about bail-outs and loan forgiveness, I'd like to think that the nation's schools are included in the conversation.

    For that to happen, though, citizens/taxpayers have to make their priorities known.


    •  The New York Times reports that "Simon Property Group, the biggest operator of malls in the United States, has come up with a game plan for reopening 49 shopping centers across 10 states starting on Friday."

    According to the story, "Security officers and employees will 'actively remind and encourage shoppers' to maintain a proper distance from others and to refrain from shopping in groups. Food court seating will be spaced to encourage social distancing, and reusable trays will be banished. Play areas and drinking fountains will be temporarily closed, mall-provided strollers won’t be available and, in restrooms, every other sink and urinal will be taped off. Regular audio announcements will be made 'to remind shoppers of their part in maintaining a safe environment for everyone'."

    The Simon game plan, the Times writes, provides "a glimpse of how the broader American shopping experience is likely to look as the country begins to slowly reopen. But the success of such an approach depends largely on whether retailers will also decide to quickly reopen stores and whether the public will feel comfortable going to malls when tests for the virus remain difficult to get."


    •  BuzzFeed News reports that "Starbucks will begin reopening cafés for to-go service in the US beginning in May, the company told investors today. By early June, Starbucks expects to reopen 90% of its company-run locations in the US … stores will ask customers to download the Starbucks app and order ahead so they can 'pick up and go' at the store. Starbucks will also be available for delivery on Uber Eats. All workers will have their temperatures checked as part of new safety measures."

    Starbucks yesterday also reported that its Q2 revenue fell to $6 billion from $6.31 billion in the year-ago period.  The company reported Q2 net income of $328.4 million, down from $663.2 million in the year-ago period.

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    Bloomberg reports this morning that United Parcel Service (UPS) is about to start using drones to deliver prescriptions to The Villages, one of Florida's biggest retirement communities.

    According to the story, "The time-sensitive deliveries from a CVS store about a half mile away are scheduled to begin early May. They will mark the first paid residential deliveries by UPS’s drone unit Flight Forward, which received approval last year to operate under relaxed rules for commercial lightweight unmanned aircraft."

    The Villages is locked down because of the coronavirus, and so drone deliveries are seen as an effective way to get people their medicines while observing smart disciplines to avoid spreading the infection.

    The story goes on to suggest that "deliveries by UPS and drone-technology partner Matternet to The Villages, which has some 135,000 residents about an hour north of Orlando, may be expanded to include more CVS Health Corp. stores. UPS in November made limited home-delivery drone flights from a CVS pharmacy in Cary, North Carolina."

    KC's View:

    It isn't just a way to deal with the demands of the pandemic.  It is a way to normalize a form of delivery that just a few years ago was seen as out-there.

    Once again, the pandemic throws us into fast-forward and accelerates technology development in meaningful ways.

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    Reuters reports this morning that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) is urging the US Department of Justice " to open a criminal probe of Amazon.com Inc, saying the online retailer was building a monopoly using 'predatory data practices' on vendors using its platform."

    It was reported in the Wall Street Journal last week that Amazon employees have been using sales data for products marketed by independent sellers on its site as a way of deciding what private label items it should make and market, and how much it should charge for them.

    Reuters notes that Hawley has long been "critical of big tech platforms like Alphabet’s Google."  And, the story points out, "The big four tech platforms — Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook — are under investigation by the House Judiciary Committee and Justice Department while the Federal Trade Commission is probing Facebook and Amazon. Meanwhile, groups of state attorneys general are looking at Facebook and Google."

    KC's View:

    I continue to believe what I said last week.

    If Amazon is assuring third party vendors that it won't use their sales data to make decisions about competitive private label items, and it is doing so, that would be wrong.

    If Amazon assured Congress under oath that it doesn't do this, and it does, that could be more than problematic.  It could be a crime.

    But … Amazon is doing what every retailer does.  It looks for high-performing brands and, where it makes sense, knocks them off in a private label version and undercuts them on price.  Amazon probably is doing it better and faster and with greater impact, but that's par for the course.

    That said, Amazon is a convenient political target in some precincts on both sides of the aisle, so it should expect to see more of this.

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    Walmart CEO Doug McMillon did an interview with Axios in which he talked about the company's temporary $2 entry wage increase.

    KC's View:

    Not just at Walmart, but in the entire industry, I think it would be a very bad look when they start rolling back wages that were hiked during the pandemic.  And so I'm glad that McMillon is talking about post-pandemic wages the way he is.

    Workers are essentially going to be told that they are a little less essential to the success of the business than they were before?  I'm not sure that this is a sustainable argument. 

    I repeat:  I think that the essential nature of employees cannot be thought of as ephemeral, at least not if businesses want their workers to feel invested in their mission, as opposed to just cogs in the machine.  

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    •  The Verge reports that "the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in sales for consumer technology in the US, even as spending declines overall, an NPD analyst is reporting. For the week ending April 18th, NPD’s Stephen Baker notes that consumer tech sales increased by 23 percent year-over-year. In contrast, the group tracked an overall decline in spending of 23 percent across the industries it tracks. NPD’s data also suggests that people are buying more tech to keep themselves entertained, not just to work or learn remotely."


    •  From Digital Commerce 360:

    "Ecommerce order volume has increased nearly 47% in the last 30 days ended April 20 compared with the February average, according to logistics vendor Narvar Inc., which has more than 650 retail clients in its network.

    "Last-mile technology vendor Convey has noticed similar spikes. For the week of April 6-12, shipment volume was up 55% compared with the year-ago week, according to the vendor’s data that is based on 130 retail clients. In fact, every week starting Feb. 10, shipment volume is elevated compared with the year-ago week, with the exception of April 13-19."

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    •  The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) is teaming up with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to launch the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund, which will "provide a sustainable and tangible solution to help the nation address one of its most enduring challenges: food insecurity."

    According to the announcement, "1 in every 9 people in the United States struggles with hunger, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation for those at risk. The COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund will provide a direct answer to the nation’s food insecurity challenge by providing access to healthy food. The program will provide 22-lb boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables, enough to provide the daily recommended serving requirements for a family of four for a week."

    The  program will launch first in Denver, Colorado with $150,000 in initial funding from Novo Nordisk and an anonymous funder. 

    “PMA is honored to collaborate with the PHA to help reduce food waste, address hunger, and improve health and wellness at a time when one of our most basic human needs—access to fresh fruits and vegetables – is being threatened by disruptions caused by the pandemic. We are also fortunate to have our strategic partners at Brighter Bites lend their expertise and distribution networks to this great cause,” said PMA CEO Cathy Burns. “We remain driven to growing a healthier world and the COVID-19 Fresh Food Fund is one way to do this.”


    •  CNBC reports that PepsiCo reported fiscal first-quarter net income of $1.34 billion, down from $1.41 billion.  Net sales rose 7.7 percent to $13.88 billion.

    The story notes that "Pepsi also said Tuesday that it has closed its $3.85 billion acquisition of Rockstar Energy, freeing up the company to make distribution deals with other energy drink makers. The company said that it has signed an exclusive U.S. distribution deal with Vital Pharmaceuticals, which makes the fast-growing Bang performance energy drinks."

    Published on: April 29, 2020

    Yesterday, when pointing out the current statistics related to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, I wrote:

    To put this into context, the US now has more than four times the number of cases as Spain, which is second … or about as many cases as Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the UK and Turkey combined.  (Those are the second-through-seventh countries in terms of cases.)

    Prompting one MNB reader to respond:

    I suggest you put it in real context… the total population of the listed countries combined is 325 million and the population of the US is 331 million so the number of cases per capita looks very similar.

    There has never been an effort or a system to administer and  process the number of a single test that the US has processed in the short amount of time,  so it is no wonder that trying to give a test over 5 million people in 6 weeks has been a struggle.  Dr. Birx answered questions about our testing by showing the US has tested 17 per 100,000 people;  South Korea has tested 11 per hundred thousand people.  There are plenty of labs, and actually plenty of test kits but matching the test kits to the labs and getting the tests sent to the high capacity labs has had the normal amount of confusion and now seems to be lined up to test over 2 million people per week.  Great to see the biggest companies (Walmart, Kroger, Walgreen’s, CVS) in our industry stepping up to make a difference to bring more testing to the people. 

    It is great to see that.  But two months into this pandemic, there are a lot of people far smarter than I who feel that the US has done done what it needs to do in terms of mass testing, and was unprepared for this crisis.  You're right that it never has been done before.  But in this country, that's not supposed to be an impediment.  Just the next challenge.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    We are in an economic crisis, not a health crisis.  At the expense of our liberty and millions of jobs, we have yielded to governments around the world to shut down many of our lives.  Hold this response until later this year when it will be proven that this is the greatest economic disaster to ever hit the U.S. and the rest of the world.  How many lives will be lost because of this economic disaster? 

    I'm not sure, to be honest, what you are suggesting … except that it sounds like you think we are over-reacting to the pandemic.

    The thing is, I'm intrigued by your statement that this is an economic crisis, not a health crisis.  I was under the impression that we were in a health crisis, and that once it is resolved to some degree, the economic problems will subside.  (Though, to be fair, that may not be true if this lasts another six, 12 or 18 months.)

    From another reader:

    Not to get all political, but do you suppose the # of US cases of coronavirus has anything to do with the lack of universal healthcare? I'm actually quite surprised that I'm not reading more opinions to bring the discussion back to the table.  It's probably no surprise that I'm a fan of universal healthcare. I can't help wondering if things would be different if we all felt that our health was a priority and not an economic decision.


    We got several emails responding to Michael Sansolo's video commentary yesterday about the Giant - and giant - produce he got via an e-grocery order.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Michael, do you think your selection at Giant was more to do with the surplus on goods associated with the change in eating habits of consumer from restaurants to in home? I would tend to think the produce selection you received had more to do with a surplus of selected product which was raised to a specification required to supply a different audience than the typical household.  I would venture to guess Giant may not have known they were getting this type of produce when they ordered, or they may of even gotten it at a discount, which I assume you did not see.  The trick will be will they keep this selection when the “new normal” sets in and will they do so at the same prices?  Or, will they disappoint you by providing you something you expect, which may change your shopping habits only to later let you later? 

    Consistency is the name of the game in capturing and maintaining a customer in todays environment.  Time will tell, by I am betting on the later.

    Another MNB reader reacted to the large produce this way:

    Waste of food. Bigger is not better. Sell by pound so customer can choose size they need. And ethnic groups like different sizes- Asian vs Hispanic etc. Wish you guys had worked in the industry.

    I asked Michael Sansolo to respond:

    So Bigger isn't always better and I agree. What was so positive about this, is obviously the staffer who assembled our order couldn't know our exact wants when it came to ripeness and flavor of all those items. But he or she found a way to delight us by providing exceptional value with large items that were all in good shape and frankly are keeping well. 

    As for food waste, ordinarily that would be more of an issue, but given today's realities we are throwing away very little. That onion, for example, has already contributed to multiple dinners and lunch and even a couple of omelets. As my daughter jokes, we are becoming like the hunter gatherers of centuries past, using every part of everything we have one way or another. 

    A "wow" moment is anytime you provide the unexpected and hopefully delightful moment to the shopper. That's what happened to us.


    The discussion of the degree to which changing consumer habits will be locked in included a comment from one expert saying that new habits are formed in 30 days, prompting MNB reader Jerry Sheldon to write:

    The reality is from 18 to 254 days to form habits and research found that we form a habit more quickly for something that we want to do versus things we have to do. Think how well we do on a new diet for example. A lot of the changes we’re experiencing are driven by self-preservation, not “want to,” so while we’ll definitely have changes, wholesale changes to shopping patterns will be tempered by the human psyche and constraint of choices more so that fundamental patterns that are permanently changed I think.

    MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

    I think a lot of the shopping experience will change or disappear.  Salad bars? Hot bars? Soup stations?  Probably gone, can't have hands touching tongs and putting the tongs back on top of loose salad greens, like before.  And getting customers to glove up is wishful thinking at best.


    We had a story yesterday about all the extraordinary steps that a restaurant in Galveston, Texas, is taking to serve its customers and employees.  Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    That's not unique to Galveston (though kudos to the owners) - in Smithtown, New York La Famiglia - a family owned restaurant has been handing out free meals to first responders and those in need for weeks now - to the point where the local police have had to handle traffic for them. Not only does it support the community but it allows them to keep most if not all of their staff employed. 


    Responding to the suggestion that restaurants, when reopening, should consider using throwaway menus, single-service condiments, and disposable forks, knives, spoons, and dishes, one MNB reader wrote:

    The downfall of all these suggestions is the waste we’re creating for the illusion of safety. Dishes can be washed, menus wiped down. The biggest risk will be staff and other diners breathing. 


    Reacting to our picture of a crowded Huntington Beach last weekend in California, one MNB reader wrote:

    Huntington Beach, a pic is worth a thousand words, or maybe just four - you can't fix stupid!


    On a related subject, from an MNB reader:

    Supermarkets have made many significant changes due to the pandemic. Most to promote a healthy shopping environment and should be applauded.

    However, there is one rule being implemented that appears to be of self-interest. One Way Aisles. The science actually proves that passing another customer going the same direction is more of a risk as the two intersect the forbidden 6 foot zone for a longer period of time and distance.

    Since the CDC and others are recommending less frequent visits, using a shopping list and buying a little extra, retailers are seeing the expected results - fewer visits and smaller baskets.

    Someone had a great idea. Like having milk at the furthest point from the main entrance, let’s have one way aisles. Customers will be forced to go one way even if they don’t want to. If the item they want is at the far end of a Do Not Enter aisle, then they would be forced to go down an aisle not intended to pick up the item and then continue  down the aisle to the end. Clearly they will see other items they forgot and will add them to their purchase of the day!

    Please, I don’t need to spend more time in the store!

    If retailers were really concerned about safety then them would have all employees wear masks. Or at least have all employees and vendors abide by the same one way rules as the customer.

    This is just a tactic to change traffic slow and increase sales short term. And hopefully, long term, to get customers to venture down an aisle never visited before and finding a treasure found when they didn’t know it was lost.


    Regarding Disney's early release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for streaming two months earlier than originally planned to satisfy an audience largely sheltered at home, MNB reader Mary Schroeder wrote:

    Wondering why you didn’t reference the opening day mentioned below as Star Wars Day.  Really, the only day to open.  May the Fourth be with you…

    Probably because I'm far less a Star Wars fan than I am a Star Trek fan.  (I know that April 5, for example, is First Contact Day.)


    And, from MNB reader Peter Talbott:

    Hi Kevin, sending thanks to your long-time recommendation of "Bosch" on Amazon Prime.  This has been our ‘quarantine theater’ every evening for the past few weeks, and we just finished season 4...so that’s about 30 nights (we do have some 2-episode nights)...with 2 more seasons still to go!  And a special bonus game of “spot the Mad Men actor” almost every time.