retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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.