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    Published on: June 4, 2020

    The AMC movie theater chain said it lost more than $2 billion in Q1, and has "substantial doubt" about its ability to stay in business.  There's a business lesson here for retailers, KC says, which have to offer not only a compelling physical experience but also control the product they sell (fresh food and private label) as much as possible.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    The New York Times this morning reports on how restaurant supply companies have embraced consumers as a new and growable market as their traditional customers continue to deal with pandemic-generated realities.

    An excerpt:

    "While the pandemic has changed myriad aspects of American life in ways we are still starting to see (will anyone ever go back to a desk job?), none may be as pervasive as the new ways we shop and eat. As grocery shopping became a minor tactical operation, home cooks began to think like the chef of a small restaurant that is booked every night.

    "To stock refrigerators and cabinets with supplies for menus planned a week or more in advance, they have turned to many of the same businesses that restaurants used — from major regional wholesalers to family farms raising asparagus and a herd of goats. Many of these suppliers slapped together their retail operations overnight in March in a desperate attempt to survive the month. Now, as summer nears, these new trade routes may be here to stay.

    "In San Francisco and Washington, D.C., fishmongers who once supplied only restaurants now send their trucks into residential neighborhoods. Midwestern farms that used to take chefs’ orders by phone sell their vegetables and cheeses in consumer-friendly quantities through online stores."

    Of course, it isn't just restaurant suppliers.  It also is restaurants:

    "Restaurants in every major city now offer not just delivery and takeout — minor lifelines for the industry — but also boxes of the ingredients used in their kitchens, sometimes with recipes or assembly instructions included. Chefs are boxing up their hummus and selling partly-assembled meals to be finished at home — all the supplies for beef barbacoa tacos; a clay pot of biryani sealed under a lid of dough that needs half an hour in the oven; cookies with decorating kits; meats that had been aged for expense account spenders, now for you."

    The Eye-Opening point is this:  Just like supermarkets talk about being grocerants (with restaurant-type facilities inside their grocery stores), many restaurants and their suppliers now are thinking in broader terms about their mission and business models.  Think "restaurmarkets."    They are thinking more in terms of feeding people good food, and less in terms of atmosphere and bells and whistles.

    I'd like to think that this will mean we'll all eat better.  But it also could have tremendous implications for traditional food retail, which will have to deal with new competitors coming that them from a different angle.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    Breaking news from Fox Business this morning:

    "Another 1.87 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, but with all 50 states gradually reopening their economies, the job losses triggered by the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown are beginning to slow … The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department, which covers the week ended May 30, pushes the 11-week total of losses since states directed residents to stay at home and forced nonessential businesses to roughly 42 million, a rate of unemployment unseen since the Great Depression.

    "Still, the report suggests the worst is over for the labor market: It marks the ninth straight weekly decline of Americans seeking jobless benefits since claims peaked at the end of March."

    KC's View:

    I think that may be the very definition of a silver lining.  Maybe.  I hope.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    HuffPost reports this morning that "eleven states and the District of Columbia warned Walmart on Tuesday that they believe the company is failing to protect workers and customers during the coronavirus pandemic."

    Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Amazon is being sued "for allegedly fostering the spread of the coronavirus by mandating unsafe working conditions, causing at least one employee to contract COVID-19, bring it home, and see her cousin die."

    The details:

    •  The HuffPost reports that a dozen attorneys general have written to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon to say they were “concerned that Walmart has not taken adequate steps” to protect employees.

    “Our offices continue to receive reports of overcrowded stores and a general failure by Walmart to implement measures to ensure that customers and employees maintain a distance of six feet from each other, and to monitor compliance with such measures,” the attorneys general wrote.   They asked Walmart to commit to the enforcement of "social distancing inside its stores and to taking particular steps in the event of a confirmed or likely case of COVID-19."

    And, they "cited complaints from workers who said they weren’t notified about potential exposure to colleagues with the virus or felt pressure to work 'even if they are sick or symptomatic'."

    According to the HuffPost story, "Walmart said that in addition to normal sick days, employees are eligible for coronavirus-specific leave if they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been advised to quarantine by medical personnel. But the policy does not specifically cover workers who may be immunocompromised or have recently been in contact with someone who was ill. Several employees recently told HuffPost that they still felt pressured to come into work even though they feared getting sick."

    •  The suit against Amazon, Reuters writes, "was filed on Wednesday in the federal court in Brooklyn, New York, by three employees of the JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, and by family members.

    "One employee, Barbara Chandler, said she tested positive for COVID-19 in March and later saw several household members become sick, including a cousin who died on April 7.

    "The lawsuit said Amazon has made JFK8, which employs about 5,000, a 'place of danger' by impeding efforts to stop the coronavirus spreading, boosting productivity at the expense of safety.

    "It said Amazon forces employees to work at 'dizzying speeds, even if doing so prevents them from socially distancing, washing their hands, and sanitizing their work spaces'."

    Reuters says that Amazon has not commented on the suit, though it has consistently maintained that "it has always followed guidance from health authorities and its workplace safety experts since the coronavirus pandemic began."

    KC's View:

    It is a pretty good bet that the legal issues that emerge from the pandemic, like federal investigations and civil suits, will outlive the virus itself.  We'll all be vaccinated and/or enjoying herd immunity, and lawyers will still be hashing this stuff out, taking depositions, conducting discovery, and charging big fees.

    God bless America.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    From this morning's Wall Street Journal:

    The chief executive of one of the country’s biggest chicken producers and three other industry executives were indicted Wednesday on charges they conspired to fix prices on chicken sold to restaurants and grocery stores, the Justice Department’s first charges in a continuing criminal antitrust probe.

    "Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. CEO Jayson Penn and a former company vice president, Roger Austin, were charged in the one-count indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Denver. Colorado-based Pilgrim’s, majority owned by Brazilian meat conglomerate JBS SA, is the nation’s second-largest chicken producer. Also charged were the president of Georgia-based Claxton Poultry Farms, Mikell Fries, and a vice president, Scott Brady.

    "The indictment, filled with alleged instances of cozy discussions about pricing and text messages about holding the line on bids to customers, charged the executives with colluding to fix prices and rig bids from 2012 to 2017. The charges also referenced other unnamed executives and chicken suppliers and suggested the sharing of pricing information extended beyond the alleged discussions between Pilgrim’s and Claxton."

    The companies previously denied any price fixing, but have not yet commented on the charges.

    KC's View:

    Note to these chicken execs … The sky may, in fact, be falling.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    CNBC has an interview with Campbell Soup CEO Mark Clouse in which he says that he expects the sales increases generated for the company by pandemic-induced changed consumer shopping habits to be sustained over time.

    “We do expect the stickiness, if you will, of these behaviors to continue moving forward,” he said.

    According to CNBC, "Like many other Big Food companies, Campbell’s has struggled in recent years to adapt to changing consumer tastes. Americans were avoiding the aisles in the center of grocery stores, instead opting for fresh options.

    The pandemic has reversed those consumption trends, reviving sales for products that had fallen out of favor, like Kraft Heinz’s mac and cheese and General Mills’ cereal. But it’s too early to tell if consumers’ buying habits will be permanently altered."

    KC's View:

    I'll answer that one.

    Companies like Campbell Soup are seeing bottom line improvements at the moment because of the pandemic, in which consumers wanted highly processed food that they could keep in the basement for long periods of the time.  They may continue to see an improvement in the short-term because, as the nation slides from pandemic to recession, many consumers may want cheap food.

    But I think believing that highly processed, highly storable, cheap food is a long term strategy is not very evolved.  Big Food companies that had problems before the pandemic are eventually going to have those same problems again, and to think otherwise is foolish.  So enjoy the traffic, cash the checks … but invest some of that money in trying to get ahead of the shopper so you're not always playing catch-up.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    Andrew Nadin, EVP and chief customer officer at Southeastern Grocers, has penned a letter to vendors - referred to as "valued partners" - in which he lays out the rationale for the company's decision to sell 62 stores and a distribution center to  Ahold Delhaize-owned Food Lion, plus explore sale options for all remaining Bi-Lo stores, which effectively ends its use of that banner.

    "The successful execution of our long-term transformation strategy may at times require difficult decisions," he writes.  "These transactions were a critical strategic move and an important next step for our continued growth and broader evolution as a business. 

    "We recognize that you will be eager to assess the impact of this announcement on our partnership and your volume of business within this footprint. It’s important to note that the stores involved in these transactions can remain a robust part of your business in the Southeast. Those stores not involved in the Food Lion transaction will remain in active operation with SEG – potentially until April of 2021. And as we have shared, we are continuing to expand our store network in our core footprint as demonstrated by our recent acquisitions of (4) former Lucky’s Market locations and (4) Earth Fare locations.

    "After the conclusion of these transactions, we will continue with approximately 425 successful stores in operation through our Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie banners. These actions will facilitate greater investment in our remaining footprint so we can continue to provide an exceptional shopping experience our customers can always count on.

    "We are now in our third year of a five-year transformation, and despite operating within an increasingly competitive sector of the economy, we continue to generate success in the marketplace. As a company that has experienced considerable change over the last three years, this is a significant next step in our transition to becoming fit for growth and moving forward successfully."

    Nadin goes on:

    "As we enter the next phase of our business transformation, this strategic market shift will allow us to optimize our growth strategy by concentrating our thriving business on three banners. Our next stage of evolution will usher in a period of unprecedented capacity for the development and growth of our people, innovation in our stores and products … We are relying on you to continue providing the products and services we need to serve our customers. We are a people-first company and are committed to putting our associates, customers and valued partners at the heart of our decisions. We know that you hold the same level of dedication and commitment in continuing to give our customers a store they can always count on."

    KC's View:

    For me, it is all about what "business transformation" means.  Is it just rearrange deck chairs on a ship that is moving in the same old direction?  Or is it really transforming the business for a 21st century consumer who is dealing with new realities and who has new needs and desires?

    Published on: June 4, 2020

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

    •  In the United States, there now are 1,902,101 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 109,146 deaths and 688,692 reported recoveries.

    Globally, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has reached 6,591,382, with 388,353 fatalities and 3,183,701 reported recoveries.

    From Axios this morning:

    "Texas, Arizona and Oregon saw significant spikes last week in new coronavirus infections, while cases also continued to climb in a handful of states where steady increases have become the norm."

    The story notes that the spikes could just be the result of improved testing accessibility.

    But, in Texas "the spike in recorded cases does seem to reflect an actual increase in new infections — not just better testing.  Testing in Texas increased by 36% over the past week, while the number of confirmed infections rose by 51%.

    "Texas also saw an increase in the percentage of all coronavirus tests that came back positive. In a state where testing is improving and the underlying outbreak isn't getting worse, you'd expect the share of positive tests to go down."

    Axios concludes:  "Nationwide, new cases have plateaued over the past week. To get through this crisis and safely continue getting back out into the world, we need them to go down — a lot."

    •  Business Insider reports that "Nevada is allowing some hotels and casinos to reopen on Thursday as part of the second phase of the state's reopening plan.

    "But Las Vegas casinos won't look quite the same as they did before the coronavirus pandemic. Before reopening, casinos must submit a plan to the Nevada Gaming Control Board that ensures proper hygiene and social distancing measures will be in place."

    The BI story says that "for MGM Resorts, whose Las Vegas properties include Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, and New York-New York, that means enacting a 'Seven-Point Safety Plan' that calls for employee screening, social distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols, and hand-washing stations on casino floors. Employees will be required to wear masks, while guests will be encouraged to do so. In some parts of the resort, like at roulette tables, guests will be required to wear masks."

    One has to wonder if all these restrictions will cause Las Vegas's traditional customers to says, "All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me…"

    •  Bloomberg has a story about how London's iconic department store, Harrods, will reopen its one million square foot Knightsbridge store on June 15, though it will be an altered environment for a changed reality.

    The Harrods website makes clear that when the store reopens, "footfall monitoring technology will be in operation to limit capacity in-store and ensure social distancing can be maintained. Clear signage will direct customers and employees safely around the store, and specific doors will be designated for entering and exiting the building. Furthermore, an enhanced cleaning program has been introduced, including hand sanitiser stations established across the store and at the entrance and exit points."

    Bloomberg notes that Harrods' "cafes, wellness clinic and beauty salons will remain closed for the time being. It’s also not clear when the many personalized services that Harrods offers - from gift wrapping and bed linen customization to its “discreet” invitation-only personal shopping for its richest customers - will resume."

    Some of the problems are simultaneously structural and historical:  "The building, with its terracotta exterior and grand dome, was built in 1883 and has multiple entry points and a warren of underground tunnels. There are 16 escalators within the buildings, multiple stairwells, and—in normal times—a bustling food hall, restaurants, and many interactive experiences, particularly in its toy department. The building also has protected status, meaning any significant alterations cannot happen without approval from the local authority."

    Perhaps the biggest change is how Harrods is trying to siphon off some of the Knightsbridge shopper traffic as a way to reduce stress on the original store.  It is opening another store in a Westfield mall several miles away in a far less tony neighborhood, where it will "showcase discounted stock during the iconic British department store’s summer sale in a space that can help cope with Covid-19 social distancing. Rather than uniformed doormen opening taxi doors, there’s a massive, multilevel parking garage and a train station."

    Michael Ward, Harrods' managing director, says the mandate is clear:  the retailer must look "at every aspect of its current operations" and think differently "to enable growth, while protecting customers and employees."

    Dealing with the implications of the pandemic may be the immediate problem, but the Bloomberg story makes clear that even before the virus started working its way across the globe, British bricks-and-mortar luxury retailing - of which Harrods is the gold standard - already was in trouble.  "Even before the pandemic," the story says, "retailers were struggling with high rents and property taxes and a structural shift in consumer behavior. British shoppers buy more of their goods online than anywhere else in Europe."

    Ewan Venters, chief executive officer of Fortnum & Mason, another high-end British food and homewares retailer, explains the challenge this way to Bloomberg:   "Companies will need to 'recalibrate their brains' to determine new operational models," he says.


    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "as airlines try to convince Americans to fly again, they have touted their policies for keeping passengers safe, including the requirement that everyone onboard a plane wear a mask.

    "But travelers on recent flights said the rules are not being enforced. And flight attendants said they have been told not to confront passengers who opt to not follow them … The patchwork enforcement of policies have left passengers uncomfortable, confused about whether they should be wearing masks or not, and concerned about their safety. They’ve also left flight attendants with the difficult task of trying to make people do something they won’t be punished for if they choose not to comply."

    Passengers, the story says, are left with a tough choice - do they confront the other passengers themselves, or sit silently and run the risk of infection?

    One MNB reader recently suggested that he planned to bring extra masks with him on flights so he could offer them to recalcitrant passengers, but of course, that won't matter if those passengers refuse to wear them.  The airlines strike me as being largely disingenuous on the issue - they say they'll have conversations with disagreeable passengers and will try to move them to seats where they will be physically distanced, but of course that will be a little tough on planes where most seats are sold.  (And who will want to move into a seat previously occupied by one of these people?)

    For the moment, let's assume that we cannot toss these folks off the plane while in mid-air.  

    The problem is that there is no federal rule.  I think there ought to be - the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ought to say, for the foreseeable future, that if you are on an airplane, you have to wear a mask.  If you don't like it, drive … walk … or maybe ride a bicycle.  But you don't get to fly.

    This is not just a matter of some people being selfish.  (Though it is important to remember that masks protect other people, not the people wearing them.)  This is a matter of public safety and responsible public policy.

    •  Engadget reports that the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas "is still scheduled to take place as an in-person event despite COVID-19 having a firm hold over most walks of life. Although many, many other events and conferences have been canceled this year, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) seems confident that CES can take place in January with safety measures in place."

    The CTA tells Engadget that it believes that by widening aisles and putting more space between seats at certain events, it can address the physical distancing issues raised by the pandemic.  CTA also says that it will encourage the wearing of masks, but will not commit to requiring them;  likewise, it says that it is looking into the possibility of taking people's temperatures before they enter CES, but has not committed to doing so.

    I break out in a pandemic sweat just thinking about how CES is a potential breeding ground for the coronavirus - all by itself, based on how many people attend from so many different places, CES could propel a third wave of the pandemic.  

    That said - January is a long time off, and a lot can happen between now and then.  Some of it could be good for events like CES, but some of it could be bad.  They've got to, in the words of the theme song from Mel Brooks' "The Twelve Chairs," hope for the best but expect the worst.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Walmart executives weighed in on a range of topics at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday, from the global coronavirus pandemic and the retailer’s role in healing America’s racial wounds to out-of-stock products and the intense demand for puzzles.

    "The company’s 50th shareholder meeting was held over a conference-call line, one of several signs of unusual times. The annual gathering typically draws tens of thousands of Walmart workers to its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters for a festive affair with musical performances and pep-rally-style presentations from executives."

    "'Obviously we are meeting under extraordinary circumstances,' said Walmart Chairman Greg Penner to kick off the hourlong call. 'There is the pandemic which we have been responding and adapting to for the past months, but also we are meeting under the shadow being cast by the violence of racism which is tearing at our country'."

    “The killing of George Floyd is tragic, painful and unacceptable,” said CEO Doug Mr. McMillon. “It’s important that we all understand that our problems as a nation run much deeper than one horrible event.”

    Other excerpts from the story:

    - "Mr. McMillon said that the coronavirus pandemic has put strain on Walmart’s workforce and supply chain. More than 270,000 of Walmart’s 1.5 million U.S. employees have taken coronavirus-related leave in recent months, he said. The country’s largest private employer has hired over 300,000 workers to keep up, many of them on a temporary basis, he said."

    - "Walmart is ramping up its health-care services to meet the needs of the pandemic, said executives. Walmart currently has 187 drive-through Covid-19 testing sites in 31 states, said Mr. McMillon, and is exploring ways to test its workforce, including antibody testing."

    - "The rapid consumer shift to online buying in recent months as more Americans stayed home will likely linger longer-term, said executives. Amid the pandemic Walmart is adding more, sometimes faster, online delivery windows for shoppers, said Mr. McMillon."

    •  Business Insider reports that "Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said Wednesday that he doesn't expect any significant design changes to the company's new corporate headquarters, despite pandemic concerns that have many companies reassessing office space.

    "'I don't anticipate significant changes,' McMillon said in response to a question about the new 300-acre campus, which is still under construction.

    "McMillon made the remarks during the company's shareholders meeting, which was broadcast online.

    "'We've got flexibility and time should we learn things that change our minds,' he said."

    One thing that the company has learned, McMillon said, is that it is "hard to onboard a new associate in this environment.  How do you get to know people? How do you get a sense of what culture is like? And culture inside a company is such an important aspect that I think being present with each other is going to matter over time. And that will influence the way we think about our new home office campus."

    •  Business Insider also reports that "Walmart has removed firearms and ammunition from the sales floor of some stores amid widespread protests against the death of George Floyd.

    "Customers can still purchase these items, even though they are no longer publicly displayed."

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    The Washington Post this morning writes that when Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry's decided to wade into the current conversation about racial injustice and police brutality, prompted by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, it decided to do so with a far more pointed and specific commentary than many of its business brethren.

    Not that the other companies did not take a stand.  They did - with statements that decried racism, expressed support for people of color, and urged both societal and political (small "p") change.

    Here's how the Post frames the Ben & Jerry's response:

    "Standing out in this vanilla-bland crowd is ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, which posted a lengthy and pointed message on its website blaming Floyd’s murder on 'inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy.'  The company called for white America to 'acknowledge its privilege' and for the need for action to 'dismantle white supremacy.'

    "The frozen-dessert company’s missive also distinguished itself with its specificity: The message expressed support for concrete policy steps, including the passage of Democratic-sponsored legislation creating a commission to study the effects of slavery and discrimination and to consider reparation proposals; and the establishment of a task force supported by Floyd’s family’s to draft 'bipartisan legislation aimed at ending racial violence and increasing police accountability.'  It also suggested the Department of Justice 'reinvigorate' its civil rights division and for the restoration of consent decrees rolled back by the administration of President Trump curbing police abuses."

    KC's View:

    Social and political advocacy, of course, is built into the Ben & Jerry's DNA … but it never ceases to amaze me that it has continued to show itself in the two decades since Unilever bought the company.  When it did so, Unilever declared its intention to continue the company's commitment to "critical, global economic and social missions."  And, go figure, it has.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  9 to 5 Mac reports that "Peloton members will soon be able to turn the Apple TV into a living room fitness instructor. Subscribers were notified on Tuesday that a new Peloton app for the Apple TV is on the way … Peloton subscribers can view live and on-demand fitness classes including cycling, running, strength training, yoga, and more categories. Members primarily interact with the service using Peloton’s stationary bike hardware. Peloton bikes and treadmills feature a built-in touch screen for riding or running along with instructors.

    "Other components of Peloton’s programming like strength training and yoga may be better suited away from the bike or treadmill. Peloton works on the iPhone, iPad, web, and now Apple TV."

    There are so many streaming services that everybody is looking for an angle and advantage.  In this case, Apple is accessing a committed and loyal user base, which would seem a sensible approach.

    •  The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that Amazon is "adding a dozen more Boeing jets to its fast-growing Prime Air operation, expanding its fleet of winged merchandise movers by 17% to help improve deliveries during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    "The Seattle-based company announced it is leasing 12 Boeing 767-300 converted cargo aircraft from Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) of Wilmington, Ohio.

    The new aircraft will join Amazon’s existing fleet of 70 767 wide-body jets and smaller 737 freighters."

    According to the story, "Amazon Global Air Vice President Sarah Rhoads said the new additions to Amazon's air fleet will help speed package movements and deliveries to customers."

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  French retailer Carrefour has agreed to acquire 224-store Wellcome Taiwan from Dairy Farm for the equivalent of $108 million (US).

    •  The New York Post reports that LVMH, which agreed late last year to acquire jewelry chain Tiffany & Co. for $16.2 billion, is looking to renegotiate the deal, which has not yet closed.

    The reason:  the pandemic, which closed Tiffany's stores, and social unrest in the US have combined to make the luxury retailer worth less than it was just six months ago.

    LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault is said to be looking for ways in which he can argue that Tiffany "is in breach of its obligations under the merger agreement."  But Tiffany management is said to be confident that there is no legal basis to demand a renegotiation of the deal.

    I am reminded of the line from Jean-Paul Sartre:  "When rich people fight wars with one another, poor people are the ones to die."

    •  Forbes has a piece suggesting that Sears, long on the precipice of collapse, may be closer to the edge than ever:  "The number of Sears and Kmart stores that remain in business could be more than 10% less than the last numbers issued by their parent company, Transformco.

    "What’s more, a large percentage of Sears stores have not reopened following the coronavirus shutdown. Given the company’s previous aggressive policy of closing stores it raises the question of whether it has plans to permanently shut down those locations."

    The story concludes that "Sears has continued to defy the critics who have predicted its demise time and time again. It has weathered poor management, bad merchandising and a financial structure that seemed to unduly benefit its owners rather than shareholders, employees or, most importantly, its customers. But the coronavirus pandemic may be the one thing it will ultimately not be able to survive."

    The day that Sears, once the nation's biggest retailer and a symbol of American capitalism, goes out of business, it will be a sad day.  It also is likely to be the single most unsurprising event to happen on that day, or in that week, month or year.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    Bruce Jay Friedman, a novelist, playwright and screenwriter who specialized in dark humor and satire - largely about the rich target known as the male psyche - has passed away.  He was 90.

    Among his most familiar work are the screenplays for Splash and Stir Crazy … the play "Steambath" … "The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life,” a book turned by Neil Simon into the screenplay for the film The Lonely Guy … and a short story called "A Change of Plan," which was turned by Simon into a screenplay for 1972's The Heartbreak Kid, directed by Elaine May and starring (hilariously) Charles Grodin, Cybill Shepherd, Eddie Albert and Jeannie Berlin.

    KC's View:

    I have such fond memories of the original version of The Heartbreak Kid, one of the funniest and most observant comedies of that era.   If you've never seen it, you should - and avoid the execrable 2007 remake, which proved yet again why some movies are so perfect that they never should be remade.

    Published on: June 4, 2020

    Yesterday we had a story about howAmazon has patented a blockchain system designed to provide transparency from product source right through to the consumer, arguing that it reflects a larger reality - that consumers deserve to know everything about the provenance of the products they buy.  I argued that retailers and manufacturers need to figure out ways - independently, or using third-part systems - to make that data available and accessible.

    This prompted one MNB reader to write:

    I read your blog daily and for the most part enjoy it except for the political stuff. I noticed in this article what you are describing is exactly the same process Repositrak, a subsidiary of the Park City Group,  has offered for many years. I know they were (are?) one of your sponsors for some time although I haven't seen them on the site lately.  You failed to mention them……..why?

    The fact is I just didn't think of them in the moment … though if I had, I would've had no problem mentioning them.  I just would've said - full disclosure - that ReposiTrak has been a sponsor and will be again.  You know, in the interest of transparency.

    There was no subterfuge.  Just evidence, I think, that I don't give sponsors preferential treatment in editorial coverage.

    I mentioned in the commentary that I knew of one company that has been in the transparency business for a decade, though not originally using blockchain technology - Made in USA (which, I noted - transparently - was an MNB sponsor early in its development).

    Adam Reiser, who started Made in USA all those years ago and now is CEO of its parent company, Verity International, wrote in to say:

    Thanks for the mention in MNB today.  A couple of comments:

    Traceability and transparency are the values that have driven Verity International Ltd.’s business since its start nearly 17+ years ago.  Our original business services were validating supply chains and claims for our registered trademark Made in USA certification.  Verity’s standard is recognized by the FTC, EU, WTO and with partnership with the Chinese Government for the Transparent Made in China Certification.  We are now in 43 countries, recognized as the worldwide leader in third party independent verification of products.  We are the leader in validating PPE products and our seals currently appear on over one million new masks each day that are distributed to meet each country’s standards.

    We have been doing traceability using AI (Watson) Blockchain, IoT devices for over five years.  We offer our capabilities to any country, retailer or company needing this service.  We agree that Amazon’s move to transparency is the right direction.  Any efforts to improve consumer trust in products sold improves a retailer’s position in the marketplace.

    Agreed.  Which is the reason I sort of just gave you what amounts to a free commercial. Once.

    On another subject, MNB reader Mike Bach wrote:

    Kevin, while I don’t have the data to prove this, it seems that Amazon is setting the high bar in terms of employee, product and system health and safety.  To me, few businesses seem to care about this as much as Amazon.

    Amazon runs more ads promoting sanitary cleanliness and employee safety than any other retailer. Other retailers have reshot footage showing wearing of mask and shields between cashier and customer, but they haven’t gone far enough.

    DSD and distributors to retail stores could do a better job promoting what they are doing to make shoppers feel better about picking up their products. Often, we’re left with the only impression of importance for these companies being based on what we see when looking at their in-store shelf merchandiser.  Many of them seem focused on speed to task completion, without masks & gloves.

    I think the airlines could actually learn something from what Amazon is doing. Instead of promoting their credit cards through on-plane announcements (which they are still doing on UA and AA as recently as last week) they could promote the investment the airline put into hygiene / cleanliness since that particular planes last flight, for example.  Flying for business and pleasure is one area where fliers have great hesitancy to re-engage, yet on the flights I’ve been on recently, a couple of the airlines seem to be doing a good job tactically (handing out wipes, etc.) even if they are not promoting it, on-air or even on-plane. If you miss the airlines CEO email blast, you wouldn’t know the airlines are cleaner (more sanitary) today.

    To me, this is just another example of where Amazon is demonstrating its leadership without ever having to play the price card.

    Regarding H-E-B's decision to no longer require customers to wear masks in its stores, one MNB reader wrote:

    H-E-B must truly have a truly effective PR department. H-E-B, at least in Houston, never enforced the requirement that masks be worn by customers even though it was mandated by the city and county.

    When I asked store management about the lack of enforcement, I was told that at 5:55am, on the morning the mask requirement was to take effect, corporate sent out a notice that customers would not be required to wear masks.

    I am practically an H-E-B evangelist. H-E-B is a wonderful company to work for (I am a retired Partner) and they respond quickly and wondrously during natural disasters. They support food banks, education, and countless community functions. In all those ways H-E-B is the ideal corporate citizen.

    We used to say that we needed to be better than “good enough”. But in dealing with the coronavirus “good enough” became the motto. They let down their Partners and they let down their customers who tried to act responsibly. 

    And finally, from MNB reader (and self-professed Philadelphia Phillies fan) Kirsten Saybolt, regarding our story about how Japan's Yomiuri Giants had to cal off a preseason game after two players tested positive for COVID-19 - which I argued illustrates why it will be so hard for sports to come back:

    I had a chuckle this morning when I opened your email.

    I was so hungry for sports news that ‘The MNB Sports Desk’ was the first link I clicked on. (I love sports but usually start from your first article and read down)

    All kidding aside, you have a good point there. The entire NBA shut down immediately over one player’s positive test result. What will they do when (not if) that happens again?  I sense that this could be the subject of an upcoming ‘Eye Opener’.

    Thanks for the great insight on all things retail and more

    Well, that was so nice I'll even forgive you for being a Phillies fan.

    All they need is one person on one team to test positive, and everything could get thrown into chaos … the question is whether it is better to try to open up and risk being closed down again, or just giving up on the season until this pandemic is under control?

    I don't know the answer to that … but if someone gets very sick with a career-ending respiratory illness, or actually ends up dying, then those who pushed to reopen sports may end up looking short-sighted.