business 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, as of this morning there have been 1,725,278 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 100,572 deaths and 479,973 reported recoveries.

Globally, there have been 5,701,498 confirmed coronavirus cases, 352,604 fatalities and 2,445,444 reported recoveries.

•  From Fox News:

"Consumers amid the coronavirus crisis named retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Costco and Publix among the best in pandemic response.

"According to Magid Food and Beverage Insights Tracker, polling 1,000 shoppers for May 2020, 30 percent more shoppers feel favorable about Amazon's efforts than not, leading all retailers. Costco followed with a differential of 25 percent, Walmart at 22 percent, and Publix and Kroger at 21 percent."

More from the survey:

"Forty-four percent of shoppers agreed that retailers adapted to the pandemic 'fairly well,' while an average 41 percent responded positively overall. 28 percent polled said they've started shopping at new retailers with the top reason being product availability.

"Eighteen percent of respondents said they switched retailers based on efforts to support small businesses, while 45 percent said they're shopping online now more than ever before."

•  USA Today writes that "unprecedented demand, the shutdown of some food manufacturing facilities and a shift to more workers having to assemble orders for pickup and delivery - all caused by the coronavirus pandemic - are adding costs into the grocery business, and some of those costs will eventually make their way to the checkout lane, industry-watchers say."

One of the things that the USA Today story talks about, while addressing how "the grocery business will never be the same," is how, "in addition to higher prices, look for an increase in automation, touchless checkout systems and a continuing increase in pickup and delivery options."  Again, all of this stuff costs money - and retailers will be forced to figure out how to raise prices - never easy as recession hits - without alienating shoppers.

Some retailers, I would guess, actually will embrace the moment, saying something along the lines of, "We have such great products, we offer such great service, and we employ such great people that we're going to make them worth paying for."  Because value isn't always about cutting costs.

•  Bloomberg reports on how some restaurants, facing dramatic changes to their business models because of pandemic concerns after months of bering virtually shuttered because of shelter-at-home orders, are embracing a new role as food markets.

To use the word we've been embracing here - restaurmarkets.  (As opposed to "grocerants," which has supermarkets becoming restaurants.)

According to Bloomberg, one example of the trend is Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, in New York City's Greenwich Village, which actually is going back to the future as it carves out this role.

An excerpt:

"Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria is bringing back their beloved chef Justin Smillie to take over the kitchen and oversee its market. Smilie is leaving Upland, Stephen Starr’s Cal-Italian dining room in Manhattan’s Flatiron District to take the job. His return to a neighborhood restaurant reflects the sense of uncertainty that hangs over destination dining rooms that depended on business expense accounts and tourism.

"At Alimentari, Smillie isn’t looking to reinvent the menu, as many chefs do when they take over a kitchen. Instead, he’ll continue to serve the spit-roasted, peppercorn-rubbed short ribs and bucatini cacio e pepe that put the place on the map, focusing his time with owner Donna Lennard on expanding the market at the restaurant’s entrance that most people ignored."

The story goes on:  "The deli display and shelves take up about one-fifth of the restaurant space; prior to the pandemic, these accounted for only 10% to 15% of sales, says Lennard. Market sales now make up 50% to 60% of business at the restaurant, which reopened a week ago. 'And then, if it settles at 25 to 30% of our business, that will be amazing,' she says.

"Il Buco has a built-in grocery store to take advantage of. But the hybrid restaurant-grocery store (and wine and liquor, too) has become such a viable model for struggling places that several are planning to keep it going, even when restrictions start lifting."

I've been to Il Buco several times (it is amazing), and if I lived in that neighborhood I'd definitely take advantage of its market offerings.  I do think that there will be a lot of restaurants that, feeling vulnerable because of the pandemic and unsure of their prospects going forward, that will embrace this model to varying degrees.  I can even imagine them doing cooking lessons, wine tastings, and all sorts of experiential programs that will entice customers.  Ultimately, it is about feeding people, and defining that role in a broader sense that makes sense.

•  The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is out with new research saying that "more than half (58%) of all consumers say their communities will reopen more non-essential businesses within the next two weeks and they expect to be commuting, but at a lower level … Overall, two in five adult Americans (38%) say they are currently commuting, down from 57% who said they were commuting before the COVID-19 pandemic. That means fully one-third of all commuters are off the roads, even after some recent increases."

•  The Financial Times reports that "Zipline, the world's largest drone delivery service, has launched the US's first emergency unmanned aircraft system in a pandemic to distribute medical supplies to healthcare workers battling coronavirus. The US Federal Aviation Administration has given a waiver to Novant Health, a partner of Zipline, to use its drones to deliver personal protective equipment and supplies to frontline teams in Charlotte, North Carolina."

Another example of how the pandemic has not so much changed the game but accelerated it, moving the culture and technology into an inevitable future faster than almost anyone expected.

•  The National Grocers Association (NGA) announced today that it will host its annual leadership meeting virtually, September 22nd – 25th, 2020.  The announcement comes in what NGA called "an effort to prioritize the health, safety, and resources of our members as they continue to help their communities navigate the COVID-19 pandemic."

•  Brookshire Grocery Co.said that it " is donating $1.2 million to make a difference in the communities it serves.   The $1.2 million donation will provide more than 9.6 million meals for families in East Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Of the total donation, $1 million is from BGC’s giving back program and the additional $200,000 is as a result of the customer match program."

•  The Associated Press reports that "Walt Disney World is presenting its plans for reopening after being shuttered along with Florida’s other theme parks since mid-March because of the new coronavirus.

"Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando will present their proposals for phased reopenings before an Orange County task force on Wednesday, said Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. If Demings signs off on them, the plans will be sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for approval."

The story notes that "Universal Orlando presented its reopening proposal last week to county officials, saying it was aiming to reopen June 5. Officials approved those plans and sent them to the governor."

•  Apple plans to open 100 of its US stores this week, USA Today reports.

"In most of the stores, customers won't be allowed to enter the premises, and instead will only be able to pick up products in front of the store or via a dedicated curbside location. Apple will be setting up Genius Bar appointments in front of the stores as well.

"The Genius Bar is where customers go to get free tech support, or to have data moved from Apple devices. 

"However, some stores will allow customers to come in and shop, including locations in the San Diego and Santa Barbara areas in California, Las Vegas, Houston, Texas and Boca Raton, Florida … customers and employees will all be required to wear face coverings, and in the stores that will allow patrons to enter, they will need to have a temperature check first and to stand a good distance apart from others."

•  From the Detroit Free Press:

"Automakers and suppliers around the world are investigating ways to virus-proof their vehicles to win customers in a post-COVID-19 market.

"Ideas under consideration include blasting car interiors with ultraviolet light, using foggers to spray disinfectants, upgraded air filtration systems and antimicrobial materials."

One example:  "A Michigan tech company has begun making UVC lights to sterilize the inside of ambulances, police cars and other emergency vehicles. UVA light is a component of the natural sunlight we’re exposed to daily. Shorter wavelength UVC is more toxic, but normally screened out by the Earth’s atmosphere. It can be produced by artificial lights and arc welders."

The reason:  "In a sweeping five-country survey, 80% of respondents in the U.S., China, Japan, Germany and Italy told consultant IHS Markit they’d be willing to pay for systems to disinfect their vehicles."

•  Axios Sports reports that the National Hockey League may be back in business., 10 weeks after it shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the story, "NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced yesterday that 24 teams would return, if and when medically cleared, for a unique playoff tournament in two hub cities."  Those cities are still to be determined, but include Chicago, Columbus (Ohio), Dallas, Las Vegas, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver.

Axios  writes that "training camps will resume no earlier than July 1.  The season will conclude with the presentation of the Stanley Cup in early autumn."