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    Published on: May 14, 2020

    KC is concerned about a meat shortage.  KC would prefer to avoid going to stores during these pandemic days.  And KC likes subscription services.  Put these three things together, and KC found a potential solution - a meat subscription service that gets delivered to his house once a month.

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    While some states are slowly opening up their economies to the point where movie theaters actually will be allowed to operate, the question remains whether people actually will go to them in a pandemic-conscious world.

    Well, Missouri's B&B Theatres seems to have identified a way in which it can start to get people back in the habit.  On its Facebook page, this is the offer it is making:

    Ready to see a Movie on the BIG SCREEN! Always wanted to have a private theatre all to yourself?  Now is your chance! Introducing A YOU AND A FEW OF THE CREW!

    Book your movie night for you and 9 people (10 people in total per auditorium).

    Just go to bbtheatres.com. Select your showtimes/movie and book yourself a socially distance night out! There will be limited showtimes and nights offered. $200 per group or $300 per group includes a Med Popcorn and Soda per person. For an ENTIRE AUDITORIUM! No additional concessions will be available at this time. No refunds or exchanges will be allowed. BUT you can earn Backstage Pass points so log in today and book your Socially Distance Night at the movies! #FinallyANightOut #MagicOfTheMovies #PopcornYesPlease #StaySafe

    Tickets will only be sold online. Cash will not be accepted. Credit and debit cards only. Thank you for understanding as we navigate this new world.

    Our employees will be wearing masks.  We encourage our guests to do the same while in the lobby.

    Employees must wash their hands frequently. Gloves will be worn if directly handling food.

    We will be setting showtimes so that only your group will be in the lobby at your given time.

    Staff will be assigned to clean the restrooms on a regular basis.

    Thank you for your patience and understanding as we begin the reopening process. We can’t wait to welcome you. Trust us we will be smiling behind our masks. Stay safe and we can’t wait to Enjoy the Magic of The Movies again!!!

    They're not going to make any money on these shows, but it appears that the company thinks it is worth the investment - old habits will have to be rekindled at a time of new realities.

    Could be an Eye-Opener.

    🎥Ready to see a Movie on the BIG SCREEN! Always wanted to have a private theatre all to yourself? 👍Now is your chance!...

    Posted by B&B Theatres Liberty Cinema 12 with Grand Screens®, MX4D®, ScreenX, screenPLAY!®, and Lyric® on Wednesday, 13 May 2020

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    From Politico this morning:

    "Workers filed nearly 3 million new unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, signaling that a wave of coronavirus-induced layoffs is continuing as the country struggles to reopen for business.

    "The latest number, which covers the week ending May 9, pushed the two-month tally of unemployment claims to 36.5 million, reflecting a jobless rate that the Bureau of Labor Statistics acknowledged last week is the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s."

    Politico goes on:  "As high as the official unemployment rate is — BLS said it reached 14.7 percent in April — that likely understates the damage, because large numbers of people misclassified themselves as employed but absent from work, artificially suppressing the jobless rate by about five percentage points."

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    Forbes reports that Louis Borders has raised $30 million in investment capital that he plans to use to build an e-grocery business to compete with the likes of Amazon and Walmart.  The new business, Home Delivery Service, came out of stealth mode this week.

    According to the story, "The 71-year-old entrepreneur tried this once before. After founding the Borders bookstore chain with his brother, Tom, in 1971, he jumped into the dotcom frenzy of the mid-1990s with a novel concept: use the internet’s growing reach to create a digital grocery store that would allow consumers across the U.S. to store shopping lists online, order through their computers, and receive their food at their doorsteps. He called it Webvan and, like many supercharged startups at the time, it mushroomed into a national operation valued at $8 billion in just three years."

    And then it collapsed, burning through hundreds of millions of dollars on its way to an ignominious demise that remains as a touchstone for many e-commerce businesses that resolutely try not to make Webvan-style mistakes.

    Now, as the pandemic creates more demand for e-grocery, Borders thinks his time has come.  Again.

    Forbes writes that "Borders, as convinced as he was in 1996 that online grocery shopping is the future, says he can offer free delivery (no tipping allowed) and competitive prices because of the cost savings achieved through automation, as well as cutting out the grocery store middleman and collecting the retail markup himself."

    The story goes on:  "Sustaining interest after the pandemic fades has yet to be tested though, as does his business strategy, which looks a lot like the original version. Home Delivery Service will take on the expense of owning and operating warehouses, just like Webvan. It will rely on robots instead of workers to tick off the items on someone’s shopping list and move products directly from their warehouses to consumers, just like Webvan.

    "He says his advantage this time around is a higher level of automation, which should allow him to fill online orders at half the expense as competitors. The plan includes a network of at least a hundred, 150,000-square-foot distribution centers (Amazon’s range from 400,000 to 1 million square feet) that will allow products to be received, stored, picked, packed, transported and delivered without ever being handled by a human worker. Robots will sort arriving inventory into trays and shuttle them into storage, where they will be retrieved by self-driving vehicles and delivered to a different group of robots with grips designed for specific types of products and hoisted into reusable grocery bags."

    Forbes writes that "Borders has enticed at least two investors — Toyota Motors and Ingram Micro — who provided the early funding of $30 million, even though Borders has yet to open a single warehouse. He says the investors are interested in deploying the technology in their own factories … He’s now looking to raise $25 million through a Series A, which would help him build his first facility in San Francisco and start taking orders by 2021. He plans to have a nationwide network built in the next five or so years and is looking to add other types of merchandise, like apparel and toys."

    KC's View:

    One has to wonder if, when preparing to take meetings with Borders, these investors are whistling to themselves, "Do It To Me One More Time."  (That's a Captain & Tennille reference, just FYI.)

    Let's be fair - Louis Borders was working on Webvan two years before Jeff Bezos launched Amazon.  And there are parts of this model that seem to be in synch with the times, like a reliance on robotics and the use of lots of smaller warehouses that sound more like really, really big dark stores.

    I have to admit that I wonder about launching in San Francisco - wouldn't it make more sense to test it in the heartland, where it is less expensive to operate and where a company like this will need to be successful if it is to be sustainable long-term?

    And, it is a small thing, but isn't "Home Delivery Service" a little prosaic?  I like my entrepreneurs and innovative initiatives to be able to find the balance between engineering and poetry.

    There also seems to be a bit of hubris at work here.  Borders is quoted in the story as saying, “Amazon is certainly best and first in the business, but their core model is to put stuff in a cardboard box and hand it to a third party.  It’s just a different model.”  If he thinks that's all Amazon is, then he is deluding himself and I wouldn't give him $100, much less tens of millions of dollars.

    It may be that changing shopping habits created by the pandemic do offer Borders an opportunity, but when I think of Webvan I always think of a day in the summer of 2001 when I was in San Francisco and went to the then-new Pac Bell Park for the first time.  I was sitting in the stands, enjoying the sunshine and the beer while watching the Giants play … and I placed my beer in one of the thousands of cup holders in the ballpark that had the Webvan logo on it.  Webvan had gone out of business more than a month earlier, and this just struck me as symbolic of the company's history of bad investment decisions.

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    CNet reports that Amazon is once again taking new e-grocery customers, mostly ending the waitlist for new online food shoppers that it created a month ago as it found its systems stressed by the pandemic and shifting customer needs.

    "We've removed the invite list in most cities, and more than 80% of eligible Prime members are able to shop without requesting an invitation," an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. "We continue inviting new customers every week."

    The story notes that the move comes as "Amazon confirmed it was speeding up its delivery times, following long delays, and was able to manage more goods coming into its warehouses. All these changes point to Amazon now slowly moving back to more normal operations, after it struggled to respond to a surge in customer orders and factor in 150 new safety protocols for its workers during the pandemic."

    Meanwhile, Fox Business reports that Amazon is converting yet another of its Whole Foods stores to a so-called "dark store" that does delivery online to online shoppers.

    The story says that "so far, the company has converted five stores in its New York City (Bryant Park), San Francisco (SOMA), Baltimore, Austin, Texas, and Castle Rock, Colorado, locations. Additionally, Whole Foods will shut the doors of its DePaul store in Chicago and convert it to online delivery only effective Wednesday at 4 p.m. central time."

    “With stay-at-home orders in place, customers have generated unprecedented demand for grocery delivery," a spokesperson for Whole Foods Market said. "As we navigate the challenges associated with COVID-19, we continue to find ways to increase delivery availability while navigating safety measures and social distancing.”

    KC's View:

    It isn't so much how Amazon responded to the pandemic.  The real question is what Amazon learned from the many mistakes it made … and the betting here is that it learned a lot.

    Published on: May 14, 2020

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

    •  In the US, there have been 1,430,348 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 85,197 deaths and 310,259 reported recoveries.

    Globally, the count is 4,449,418 coronavirus cases, 298,449 deaths and 1,671,556 reported recoveries.


    •  From the Washington Post:

    "The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority sided with Republican legislators and struck down on Wednesday the decision by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s administration to extend a stay-at-home order intended to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus.

    "The 4-3 decision limits Evers’s ability to make statewide rules during emergencies such as a global pandemic, instead requiring him to work with the state legislature on how the state should handle the outbreak.

    "The justices wrote that the court was not challenging the governor’s power to declare emergencies, 'but in the case of a pandemic, which lasts month after month, the Governor cannot rely on emergency powers indefinitely'."

    FYI … Wisconsin is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to the impact of the pandemic on states - it ranks 25th, with 10,902 cases of the coronavirus and 421 fatalities.

    The Post notes that "local officials in the city of Madison, as well as Dane and Milwaukee counties, announced they would be issuing their own stay-at-home orders through the end of the month.

    "The American Civil Liberties Union was among the advocacy groups that slammed the high court’s decision, noting the disproportionate impact the virus has had in minority communities."


    •  The New York City Council yesterday passed bills that "will cap delivery fees charged by services like Grubhub and prohibit other charges, a move lawmakers say will help struggling businesses as the city fights the coronavirus," the Wall Street Journal reports.

    "Under the changes, delivery apps will be prohibited from charging restaurants more than 15% per delivery order and more than a 5% fee on other service. These third-party services could face civil fines of up to $1,000 a day per restaurant, if they violate the new laws, officials said.

    "Another bill passed Wednesday prohibits the services from charging restaurants for phone calls made through an app that didn’t result in a transaction. The civil fine for this violation is up for $500 a day per restaurant."


    •  From the Boston Globe:

    "Doctors and scientists are discovering two common characteristics among many of those who are losing their battle with COVID-19 - they are overweight or obese and suffer from a chronic disease. Ninety four percent of deaths from COVID-19 are in those with an underlying age-related chronic disease, mostly caused by excess body fat."

    The story goes on:

    "COVID-19 has pulled back the curtain to reveal just how unhealthy we are as a nation. Only about 12 percent of Americans are metabolically healthy, without a large waist, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol. The major driver of poor metabolic health, which increases the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, is the nation’s diet — rich in starch, sugar, and processed foods and low in unprocessed food, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, good fats, seafood, nuts, and seeds.

    "While some otherwise healthy individuals with COVID-19 are hospitalized, the vast majority of hospitalized patients are overweight or suffer from a diet-related chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or cancer. Adjusting for other risk factors, Americans with obesity have a more than four times higher risk of hospitalization, while those with severe obesity (a body mass index of over 40 versus 30 for obesity) have a more than six times higher risk."

    Sounds like the national emphasis on the obesity issue was in fact almost ahead of its time, because it can cause not just many health issues and a slow death, but, in the case of Covid-19, something a lot faster … and, at the moment, getting more attention.

    Makes me glad that when I'm done with MNB this morning, I'll be pulling on some sweats and my New Balance and going out to do my usual four miles.  If this damn disease is going to get me, it is going to have to catch me first.  (Not that I'm that fast…)


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Tyson Foods is lowering its prices on beef, responding to concerns about a meat shortage around the country because of pandemic-related closures at a number of processing plants.  The move also comes as the nation's economy continues to be in a kind of free fall, with rising unemployment creating more food insecurity.

    According to the story, "The Arkansas company, which processes about one-fifth of the nation’s beef, plans to reduce prices for ground beef, roasts and other beef products by as much as 20% to 30% for sales made this week to restaurants, grocery stores and other customers. The move will help keep beef affordable, said Noel White, Tyson’s chief executive.

    "Tyson, the biggest U.S. meat company by sales, has a lot riding on the price of beef. Beef represented more than one-third of the company’s $42.4 billion in sales last year. Nearly half of the company’s beef is sold to grocery stores and food retailers, the company estimates."

    Now, of course, it is up to retailers to make sure that their prices reflect the lowered costs.  Because if beef prices go up even as beef costs come down, it won't be a good look for the retail sector.


    •  Bloomberg reports on how the pandemic has created enormous demand for various appliances:

    "Even as personal spending in the U.S. plunged the most on record amid stay-at-home orders, people bought all kinds of appliances. Sales from March 15 to April 11 rose for about 70% of the 88 subcategories for home and kitchen goods tracked by market researcher NPD Group. Some of the gains were just staggering, including electric pasta makers (462%), soda machines (283%), handheld cleaning devices (284%), water filtration machines (152%) and air purifiers (144%). The much-written-about baking trend also showed up, with purchases of those bread makers surging more than sixfold."

    The story says that "lockdown life has forced people to rethink their homes, as they have morphed into spaces where schooling, working, exercising, inventory-stockpiling and germ avoidance are new, high-stakes activities. If history is a guide, that won’t change when the world returns to some semblance of normal, according to Ian Bell, a researcher with Euromonitor International.

    After Brexit and the Cape Town water shortage, people didn’t fall back into a 'psychology of abundance' once the crisis passed, he said in a recent presentation. That portends a major shift toward appliances, including adding more space for refrigeration and food storage."

    In addition, this shift could be for technology-enabled appliances:  "Washing machines with sanitizing cycles and Samsung’s touchscreen refrigerators are primed to go mainstream quicker with the added attention on home hygiene in the coronavirus era. For consumers stockpiling food, a fridge or freezer will be able to alert them when items are about to expire or need to be reordered…"

    If he's right, that portends continued positive sales numbers for the retailers that sell the products that fill things like extra refrigerators and freezers, and the ingredients used to make things like fresh pasta and bread.


    •  The Seattle Times has a story about what restaurants there will look like when they finally start to open, perhaps as soon as early next month.

    "Servers will likely don masks and gloves," the story says.  "You’ll order from a disposable paper menu while your server stands 6 feet away. If you leave your seat to use the restroom, you will be asked to put on your face covering. And in what will likely ignite the biggest controversy, restaurants will be required to record your personal data — name, number, email address and the time of your visit — and maintain those records for 30 days."

    The story doesn't even mention something I was reading the other day - that every restaurant in America is going to small like Lysol because of new cleaning regulations.


    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that "Los Angeles County’s stay-at-home orders will 'with all certainty' be extended for the next three months, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer acknowledged during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.  Ferrer later added that even if the orders remain in place through the summer, restrictions will be 'gradually relaxed' under a five-step plan."

    “We are being guided by science and data that will safely move us forward along the road to recovery in a measured way—one that allows us to ensure that effective distancing and infection control measures are in place,” Ferrer said, noting that public cooperation and compliance are necessary in order to relax the rules.


    •  Another cultural casualty of the pandemic - the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which announced that it is cancelling its entire 2020 season, which normally runs from June to September at the Hollywood Bowl and Ford Theatre.

    It is the first time in the institution's history that it has been cancelled.  It will result in the laying off of all seasonal employees and the furloughing of all orchestra members - the cancellation will result in the loss of $80 million in revenue.


    •  The Boston Globe reports that Kowloon - an iconic and kitschy Asian restaurant on Route 1 in Saugus, Massachusetts, a dozen miles north of downtown Boston - will celebrate its 70th birthday this summer even in the shadow of pandemic by evoking past and more carefree times.

    According to the story, "Owner Bob Wong tells the Globe that he hopes to add a drive-in movie theater and carhop service this summer.

    "He envisions servers on bicycles toting cocktails and food, plus classic flicks such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Grease on a projector. He’ll also play a doo-wop soundtrack to nail the throwback atmosphere."

    Such moves seem likely to be supported by local government officials, since Massachusetts is imposing a phased-in opening-up approach that asks restaurants to use outdoor seating whenever possible.

    I admire the impulse.  If a restaurant cannot allow folks to come inside and eat the way they're used to, it makes sense - if possible - to come up with imaginative alternatives.  Kowloon is a little far for me to drive for dinner - about 180 miles - but this story makes me want to go there.

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    The Seattle Times reports that Starbucks is reaching out to many of its landlords and asking for a break on rents for the coming year as it continues to deal with the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic - stores that had to be closed for months and even n ow are operating only as take-out facilities.

    In a letter to landlords sent by COO Roz Brewer, the company said, "“Effective June 1 and for at least a period of 12 consecutive months, Starbucks will require concessions to support modified operations and adjustments to lease terms and base rent structures."

    The Times writes that "Starbucks demanded the rent relief one day after the company announced it would reopen 90% of its 8,900 company-owned U.S. stores by early June. In a May 4 post on Starbucks’ website, President and CEO Kevin Johnson wrote that Starbucks 'will not just survive, but with adaptations and new routines, it will thrive.'

    "The letter to landlords struck a more dire tone, asking them to 'adapt to new realities'   -  including an anticipated $225 billion hit to the American restaurant industry over the next three months.

    "The company called the closure of many businesses to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus 'a staggering economic crisis,' adding that 'the psychological and economic scars will last for months, if not years'."

    Starbucks reportedly stayed current on all its rents during March and April, even as stores were shuttered.

    KC's View:

    The story gives the sense that Starbucks is finding a level of understanding as it looks for concessions.  Landlords and their banks realize that having a Starbucks is a long-term investment in the value of a property, and that losing a Starbucks - especially in a time when there may not be folks lining up to take over the space - would not be prudent.

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "a group of 13 U.S. attorneys general on Tuesday asked Amazon.com Inc to provide data on coronavirus-related deaths and infections among its workforce, along with evidence of the company's compliance with paid sick leave laws."  The story says they also "asked for assurance that Amazon would not retaliate against workers who raise concerns about health and safety issues with management, the media, co-workers or relevant government agencies."

    In a letter, the Times writes, "the officials asked for a state-by-state breakdown of the number of Amazon workers, including those at Whole Foods, who have been infected or died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

    "The letter, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, was joined by states including Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington."


    •  Reuters reports that Amazon is urging the US Congress to pass laws that would prohibit price gouging during pandemics or other times of national emergency.

    Brian Huseman, VP of public policy at Amazon, said in a blog posting that while there are state laws against gouging, there is no national standard, which makes it difficult to enforce private policies on a national basis.

    Amazon has been criticized for not moving quickly enough to deal with third-party vendors on its marketplace that were gouging for high-demand items during the pandemic.

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    •  The New York Times reports that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Open Agriculture Initiative, which was a high-profile project at MIT's Media Lab that posited that food could be effectively grown at home in mini-greenhouses, has been closed down, and its principal research scientist, has left the university.

    The closure, according to the Times, came "amid allegations that its results were exaggerated to sponsors and the public."

    At the same time, the story says, MIT "announced that it would pay a $15,000 fine to the state Department of Environmental Protection because the project, the Open Agricultural Initiative, or OpenAg for short, improperly disposed chemicals into a well at a research center outside Boston where it conducted some experiments."

    The moves are part of a broad housecleaning going on at MIT's Media Lab, where the former director, Joichi Ito, was forced to resign when it was revealed he had financial connections to convicted sex offender-sex trafficker-rapist-overall dirtbag Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide last year while in a Manhattan jail.

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    •  Albertsons announced that "Dan Dosenbach, currently Vice President of Human Resources and Labor Relations in the company’s ACME Markets division, has been appointed to the newly-created role of Senior Vice President of Labor Relations. Reporting to Dosenbach in the new role of Group Vice President of Labor Relations is Brent Bohn, currently Vice President of Human Resources and Labor Relations for the company’s Southern California division."


    •  Raley’s announced the addition of Jennifer (Jen) Warner,  most recently Vice President of Legal at Columbia Sportswear Company, to the organization’s executive leadership team in the role of Chief Administrative Officer. 


    •  The Fresh Market announced that it has hired Kevin Miller, most recently the chief marketing officer at Natural Grocers, to be its new CMO.


    •  The Sweetgreen restaurant chain announced that it has hired Chris Carr, formerly executive vice president and chief procurement officer at Starbucks, to be its new COO.


    •  From Reuters:

    "Harvard surgeon and author Atul Gawande will step down as chief executive officer to take on the role of chairman at Haven, the healthcare joint venture of Amazon.com Inc, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

    "Boston-based Haven said on Wednesday Gawande was taking the new role to focus on company strategies, and form policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "Chief Operating Officer Mitch Betses will manage day-to-day operations, while Haven looks for a new CEO, the company said."

    Published on: May 14, 2020

    We had a story yesterday about how Instacart seems to be one of the big winners during the pandemic … which I termed as a cautionary story for any retailer client doing business with it.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Living in NYC, we decided to try Instacart when we couldn’t get any delivery window with Amazon/Whole Foods for four weeks (and have given up trying given the lack of response).  While not without bumps (we got only 60% of our items on our first try), the in-stocks at ShopRite have improved vastly in the last 4 weeks and I can see using Instacart for as long as the pandemic restrictions are with us.  But after that, it’s a guess, as the service is highly inconsistent and you’re never quite sure how many replacements you’ll get.  We may use it here and there for some items but I think I’ll go back to my smaller shop trips at our local store in the neighborhood where I can be sure the shopper knows the difference between green beans & haricot verts and organic vs non-organic produce.

    I will also note that the time savings they promote is misleading – the website is not stellar or easy to navigate with store product listings and it takes time to build a grocery list, and then to pick substitutes for every item is a chore, followed by the back & forth while the shopper is doing their job.  It seems the time savings is more like 20%  at best for our family of 2 at this time.

    And from MNB reader Joe Axford:

    Someday soon people are going to say about Instacart, "You know what? KC was right!"

    Maybe.  We'll see.

    From another reader:

    I did some shopping for a mom who is not only taking care of her family but her 92 yrs old mother. She ordered through Instacart:  8 strawberries, 2 cups grapes, 8 bananas, 1 melon, 2 oranges, 2 apples.

    TOTAL INSTACART BILL  $32.00

    I shopped at a store:  1 lb strawberries, 4 bananas, 1.5 lbs grapes, 3 lbs Empire apples  bag of 9 BIG  navel oranges and melon  - $16.46 and I delivered to her door… NO CHARGE!

    I AM HORRIFIED AT WHAT PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE  A LOT OF MONEY ARE WASTING MONEY ON:  INSTACART!


    On the subject of grocery price increases over the past month, one MNB reader wrote:

    I am a bit surprised the Food Research & Action Center did not include a decline in promoted offerings as a contributing factor to the inflated price. They are assuming price increases, instead of simply a decline in promotional pricing. Some retailers began minimizing their ad blocks when the pandemic began. By not actively enticing consumers to the stores with low pricing it is also helping minimize unneeded shopping trips as we work to social distance as much as possible. Are the retailers profiting by gaining greater margin, most definitely. Are consumers paying more than they did last year, or last month for the same products, undoubtedly. But while some inflation could be contributed to what the Food Research & Action Center found, I’m betting the majority is coming from simply slowing the massive promotional engine of consumerism. Brands will need to find new ways to engage with their audience when shopping trips are limited and browsing is frowned upon.

    A note from MNB reader Jerome Schindler:

    I am not a fan of the Kroger store in my Columbus neighborhood for other reasons but while supplier promotional activity is surely down, their pricing otherwise appears to be favorable.  (I only put up with this particular store because it is less than 2 miles from my home - what a shame that is their primary draw.)

    As for food prices overall, I am not convinced that consumers are paying any more for the food they actually buy.  The price index calculation for food has been criticized in part because consumers react to pricing by altering what they buy.  While I have read that egg prices were above $3 a dzn in  some areas not long ago I have not seen anything above 95 cents here. This week they are 65 cents a dzn at Kroger.  These are not organic, free range or cage fee but are what most consumers purchase.  Last week whole USDA choice tenderloins were $7.99/lb.  That's $2 less than the lowest price I can remember in recent years.  Shrimp and some varieties of Salmon have also been in the $7-8 range.

    In general I am in total agreement with those who think that post pandemic, which may not arrive until 2021 at the earliest, the new normal, world wide and not just in the USA, is not going to be the old normal in many ways even beyond commerce.  I predict a significant reset politically as well as economically.  A national debt level approaching 20 trillion will be a part of the reason in the U.S.  Taxing the hell out of the "rich" to pay for all of this will be demanded, but the reality is, in the whole scheme of things, there really isn't that much wealth to tap unless you go down way past the top 5%.  And that will include you, me and probably 90+ percent of your readers.  I am a 77 year old former pharmacist, current lawyer and amateur economist.  My daughter says I am the smartest person she knows.  I will not likely still be around for anyone to judge if she is correct.

    MNB reader Mark Dixon wrote:

    Hey KC, it would be fair to consider the increased cost of groceries could be largely due to the cancellation of promos by most, if not all retailers during April. Some retailers are continuing this practice into May. These promotions were cancelled either by the retailer themselves to minimize disruption at store level while having to reallocate their teams to placing TPR tags on shelf versus stocking much needed supplies. Also, a large number of manufacturers cancelled their planned promotional activity due to the fact that they were scrambling to provide adequate inventory to retailers to keep their shelves stocked. From my perspective, things are improving and we may see promotional TPR’s resuming later this month, that is as long as the manufacturer is not allocating products and is able to ship the retailers PO’s in full.

    But another MNB reader argued:

    I spent 33 years in the CPG industry in sales .... Would you expect the industry to pass up making higher margins?  Not to mention, no need for any sales as consumers will pay the price and be happy to get what they need ... 

    The good old American Way!   Got to love greed!!! 

    Still another MNB reader wrote:

    I whole heartedly agree with you about your list of grocery retailers, especially Winco Foods, who are doing a great job of keeping their prices low considering what has happened with product availability in many categories. It is also apparent that many CPG companies have taken away their promotional allowances away or have reduced them, thus that leads to the higher prices that show up in the high demand categories. Retailer ad content pages have been substantially reduced, as product supply cannot be guaranteed in many categories. Two categories that are starting to have product on the shelves are bath tissue and paper towels. Their is no shortage of tissue products, as retailers allowing limited purchases have allowed the shelves to return to some semblance of normalcy. 

    Wipes and sanitizing products cannot be found anywhere on the shelves here in the NW markets. If Lysol and  Clorox are producing 24/7 you would think that you might find these products once in awhile on the shelf.


    Responding to someone questioning some of the decisions that public health officials have made, I wrote:

    I believe with all my heart that all these doctors and nurses and health professionals and scientists are simply doing everything they can to protect people from getting sick and dying - that this is their primary agenda.  Have state governments, therefore, made some mistakes in how they've approached the pandemic?  Sure … but I don't believe maliciously.

    I am very grateful for the health professionals and scientists – they are working (and have worked) tirelessly to bring this to an end as quickly as possible.  I also don’t believe (or maybe unwilling to believe) that anyone is doing anything maliciously, however, I see severe abuses of power that continue to this day. 

    I do not believe that prohibiting someone from buying paint or seeds has ANYTHING to do with passing the virus to others.  I am deeply hurt as I watch bad actors “doing their job” as they have been instructed to do – but I don’t agree with what they have been instructed to do (e.g. arresting someone who was paddle boarding ALONE in the Pacific Ocean – REALLY?!).  We need to be smart about our behavior, but where government officials have overstepped their bounds, they need to take a step back, acknowledge to their constituents that they were in error, and remedy the overreach immediately.  They need to say “I was wrong.  Let’s fix this”.

    We'll have to agree to disagree.  I totally trust Dr. Fauci … and I don't think he believes we've gone too far.


    Regarding a proposed return of baseball, MNB reader Arne Hendrickson wrote:

    Suggesting some new (tongue firmly in cheek) rules for the chap/lady with the “double switch” comment:

    Reduce innings to 3 vs 9. The game is way too long!!

    Eliminate 2nd and 3rd..we only need 1 base.

    Unless you hit a dinger you are OUT! Singles, doubles, walks, etc clog up the “action” and are boring.

    More electronics, please..I can’t stand it when there is any question on a call!!

    And on that, umpires are superfluous…get rid of ‘em.

    More jumbotrons.

    Cork the bats…please.

    Let the players bet…

    Live gambling during the game..like horse racing…

    Let the teams cheat…may the better cheater win.

    How hard can it be…let's go!!

    It would make things interesting…


    Yesterday I did a FaceTime video in which I talked about a generational divide in our house over how to set the table.

    Apparently, this touched a nerve.

    MNB reader Greg Kerr wrote:

    You are not alone….Constant “battle” with my 17 year-old daughter when she sets the table.  I am an X-er and learned from my parents how to set the table.  She will go so far as to not even put out knives, whether we use or not!  Frustrating, but I am to a point that there are bigger battles to fry than this one.  At the end of the day if they want to be “barbarians” in their own home someday, fine, but while in our house…set the table with the knife and fork in the right spots…we do use paper napkins…wife hates having to do anymore laundry than necessary!  LOL

    I solved the latter problem - I do all the laundry.  (Always have.)

    MNB reader George J. Denman wrote:

    I agree 100% with the traditional way you shared on setting the place settings. Having been raised to eat “continental style” using the fork backwards with the left hand and the knife with the right, this makes even more sense. 

    MNB reader Jackie Lembke wrote:

    Due to the way my kitchen and at least the daughter's kitchen is arranged we don't do place settings. We have everyone get their food from the kitchen, buffet style then go sit down at the table and eat. Table really isn't big enough to serve family style and it works for us. If we were to do a formal meal with family style then except for placement of the napkin the rest I would agree with you. Note that in many restaurants silverware is rolled in the napkin so all is on one side.

    We actually eat the kitchen counter most nights … but we always set the table.  Probably just me being a pain in the … neck.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    I think traditions are important KC, having grown up in the sixties and seventies. We can try to pass them down, but can't force it. I have to admit I'm left handed, so everything to the left of the plate suits me just fine now. My grandmother would be giving me the evil eye had I ever done that at her table though!

    From another reader:

    This was a DAILY battle with my sister while growing up (and, not to mention, several boyfriends over the years).  You're doing it right, Kevin!!  

    And from MNB reader Monte Stowell:

    Your missive about table settings probably overloaded the Amy And Emily Post websites looking for the correct way to put together a table setting. Your generation and mine were taught the correct way to put together a proper table setting.

    Generations change, and so does the way my kids and now grandkids look at the way table settings are supposed to be. When we have the big sit down holiday dinners, my wife empties out the hutch with all the fine china and about 100+ pieces of silverware. The kids sit down and they do not know where to start with all these shiny knives, forks, and spoons. The puzzled looks on their faces are priceless. Only then do they look around and watch what us grandparents and parents do with this arsenal of utensils that are in front of them. Formal sit down dinners are few and far between, given the casual way most families dine today. Many thanks for the humor in your video about table settings. Cheers.

    Another MNB reader chimed in:

    Did your folks teach you with the same mnemonic I learned?

    “Fork” has 4 letters – the same as “Left”.

    “Right” has 5 – the same as knife and spoon.

    Mom and Dad didn’t have much use for hors d’oeuvres forks or dessert spoons so “top” was irrelevant.

    That's a new one to me.

    MNB reader Kathy Means wrote:

    You are correct. Fork on the left, with the napkin. Knife and spoon on the right. And if you need more stuff, it goes with its friends in the order of use (first thing used on the outside, e.g. a salad fork to the left of the dinner fork).

    I don’t know whether this is why, but in the right/left hand thing, you would pick up your fork in the left hand to hold your food steady while you pick up the knife in your right hand to cut the food.

    MNB reader Shawn Robertson wrote:

    Had a great laugh over this today KC.  Grew up in NE CT in a very strict family where we had to sit, say grace, eat everything on our plate, ask to be excused from the table (had to insert the please word) then rinse and place our dishes in the sink.  Wow right?  Then the Nuns would beat every lunch time if the same protocol wasn’t followed, ouch again.  Today at 60 years young, we eat off paper with the TV on in the living room and most times with our devices open and reading emails, or sharing the Content Guy with my wife, and, no rules.  I side with the kids on this, however, the ah ha moment is that they are eating with you.  I want those days back.

    This is a very good point.  We are lucky that they want to eat with us.  And talk to us.  And even set the table and do the dishes and do some of the cooking.

    Who could ask for anything more?

    From another reader:

    Knife and spoon on the rights side; dinner and salad forks on the left.  Cloth napkin (and here’s where you and I differ) on the right side.  And I was told a “trick” to know where your bread plate and wine or water glass go is to form a lower case “b” with the left hand for the bread plate on the left and a lower case “d” with your right hand for the drink glass.  This came in handy for all those corporate meetings at banquet tables of 8-10 people and making sure one didn’t use the wrong glass or bread plate.  Of course, no chance of that happening now with everyone sheltering at home.

    MNB reader Kim Marsh wrote:

    I’m a long time reader and I just retired 2 weeks ago after 36 years with P&G, nestle, Gillette, Kraft Foods, Kellogg’s, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition and finally King Arthur Flour- been a pretty good run, of a strange time to retire. 

    At any rate, my partner is the former president of the Old Chicago  restaurant chain and not only does he believe it’s important to set a table ‘correctly’, he goes so far as to turn the knife blade to face the correct way on the right hand side of the plate. 

    He also makes sure to plate our food beautifully and wipes off any sauce or food in the rim. His philosophy is that a beautiful and ordered presentation makes for a more pleasant eating experience. 

    So we would concur with you. We used to go so far as to say no TV or phones during dinner either so as to actually interact with the people at the table. Crazy I know!!

    MNB reader Tom Jackson wrote:

    Hey Kevin---The first way you set the place setting was perfect. That is the way I learned and I married a Home Economist and we agreed on how the place setting should be. The one thing I had to change was the direction of the knife blade. I always thought the blade should be facing outward but, I am told that inward is correct (just like you did it).

    And from another:

    I am in 100% agreement with your table setting, including the fabric napkin. I would use a water glass not a wine glass. I have tried to impress upon my 29 year old son the way it should be and I correct the setting every time. Key word, every. He is not going for it.

    And another:

    I set my table like you. My mother set the table like you too!  I’m 64.   But I don’t think it matters really - as long as I have the right silverware to eat, I’m fine with whatever side it is on.  As for paper or cloth napkins:  I like cloth myself.  But if you have young kids- it is just not practical.

    And another:

    KC – interesting conversation topic.  This was fun.

    Because I have a restaurant background with an “Olde Style English” influence, I’ve always adopted a formal place setting. 

    I’ve been teaching this setting to my kids (10 & 15) – the fifteen-year-old had a class/testing on this at his private school.  He’s less concerned about it now as a 15 yr. old.  As his visitation to the dinner table is brief and efficient.  But, my 10 yr. old does like to help and she is eager to set a table based on the formal positioning of flatware, silverware, and stemware.  I’ve always used the “rule of thumb” to position items in the setting, at a length of the knuckle to the tip of the thumb, from the edge of the table to the base of the plate, and silverware.

    And from another:

    I have to say I have never really given this a lot of thought, but I’m with you fork on the left knife and spoon on the right, with knife closest to the plate WITH the blade turned towards the plate. Now when it’s just my wife and I, it’s just grab what you need and go sit down. I hammered into my kids good manners and I think they have continued to use use them, elbows off the table, close your mouth when you chew, napkin in your lap.

    I hope that when we are finally able to eat in restaurants again, the tables are set correctly and people still remember their manners.

    Hope so, too.


    Finally, yesterday MNB featured a Facebook video in which the drama club at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Washington, performed a number from "Les Miserables" via Zoom, since they were unable to do the show live as intended.

    It was stirring … and stirred up a lot of email.

    MNB reader Tim Callahan wrote:

    Thanks for the "Les Miserables" presentation. My wife and I had tickets for the touring production in Philadelphia in late March. Obviously the show was postponed with the rescheduled performance scheduled for some time in 2021.

    The virtual performance made me smile and gave me hope for next year’s production.

    It is a wonderful show (and I'm not a big fan of "epic" musicals - I hated "Phantom of the Opera, for example.)  But I've seen "Les Miz" twice - once in London and then again on Broadway.  Totally worth it.  (And I've been known, on long summer drives, to put the top down on the Mustang and sing along with the soundtrack.)

    From MNB reader Alan Clements:

    Just fantastic, Shorecrest!  Well done!

    From another reader:

    Along with school, proms,  graduations, sports and all their other activities, this is just one more thing this generation has to give up--- But they made lemonade from lemons by posting their video.  They are wonderful!

    Hopefully someday they will have the opportunity to share their immense talent on stage.  Thank you sharing!

    And another:

    Bravo !!!!!! Outstanding !!!!!! Would love to hear more.

    And still another:

    This was excellent- bravo to this HS team! 

    And because the show must (always) go on, one MNB reader wrote:

    Just fantastic and a real day brightener! We miss our season to the Broadway plays that come to Madison so this was just the fix.  Thanks for sharing.

    I shared your video with my daughter and she sent this video, originally seen on "God Morning, America," back….. and it includes a retailer at the end!