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    Published on: June 12, 2020

    This will annoy people who already think KC spends too much time and energy criticizing Instacart's retail clients ... but today he has a cautionary tale illustrating how, while Instacart is looking out for their customers and its own relationship with them, they may not be looking out for those retailers' best interests.

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    It is two years ago this week since the passing of Anthony Bourdain, the influential chef and documentarian who was able to put culture, politics and even geography into context through the exploration of food.

    Delish observes the moment by sharing a YouTube clip from Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" TV series, in which he goes to a Waffle House for the first time and finds it to be a "magical, spiritual place …  an irony-free zone where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Where everybody, regardless of race, creed, color, or degree of inebriation is welcomed. Its warm yellow glow, a beacon of hope and salvation, inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered, all across the south, to come inside. A place of safety and nourishment. It never closes, it is always, always faithful, always there for you."

    It is a lovely clip, in its own way sad because Bourdain's voice is silent at a time when we could use it, and yet somehow hopeful in its ability to see beauty and even inclusiveness.  And, it is wistful … remember the days when we would crowd around tables or into booths, without fear of infection?  It seems so long ago…

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    The Washington Post reports that "the agricultural community of Immokalee is quickly becoming an epicenter of coronavirus cases in Florida, with the state health department’s dashboard showing a large cluster of cases with nearly 900 recorded since April. And as workers move north to work the summer fields in other parts of the country, advocacy groups worry they will take the virus with them."

    According to the story, "As of Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection reported 899 positive cases out of roughly 2,500 tests conducted in the Immokalee Zip code. That is a 36 percent positive rate, far higher than the 5.58 percent positive rate for those tested in Florida overall and much higher than wealthier areas of Collier County."

    Part of the problem, the Post writes, is that it is "unclear how many farmworkers have had the coronavirus, or how many have died of it: In Orange County, where Orlando is, the medical examiner releases name, age, occupation and where the deceased lived; in Collier County, the medical examiner releases only where a person died. And because Immokalee doesn’t have its own hospital, very sick farmworkers are hospitalized in Naples or neighboring communities. The state also does not report data on how many people have recovered from the disease."

    At the same time, Reuters reports:

    "From apple packing houses in Washington state to farm workers in Florida and a California county known as 'the world’s salad bowl,' outbreaks of the novel coronavirus are emerging at U.S. fruit and vegetable farms and packing plants.

    "A rising number of sick farm and packing house workers comes after thousands of meat plant employees contracted the virus and could lead to more labor shortages and a fresh wave of disruption to U.S. food production … While social distancing can be more easily implemented for workers harvesting fruits and vegetables in fields and working outside may reduce some risks for virus spread, plants that package foods such as apples and carrots resemble the elbow-to-elbow conditions that contributed to outbreaks at U.S. meat packing plants."

    Regardless of concerns, Reuters writes, "The Trump administration said last month it may extend an executive order to keep meat plants operating to fruit and vegetable producers as well, a sign it is concerned fresh produce could be the next sector hit."

    KC's View:

    I think this is the kind of stuff that businesses have to take very, very seriously … doing the kind of testing necessary to assure that agricultural workers are not infected may take time and money, but probably not as much as if the pandemic shuts down many of these businesses because everybody is sick.  Vigilance is all.

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    There is a really good piece in Fast Company about Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario, who announced this week that she is stepping down.

    No successor has been named.

    What's interesting about the story is how Marcario's impact is calculated.  here's an excerpt:

    "Marcario joined Patagonia as chief financial officer in 2008, and she stepped into a different company than the one you think of today. While the brand was iconic, its internal operations weren’t as strong as its image. Although the company had been founded on a commitment to grassroots environmental organizations, that part of the brand was often viewed, at least externally, as an appendage to the apparel business.

    "But Marcario brought a laser focus to her work, working quickly to review supply chains and streamline production, helping the company eliminate waste and excess packaging, develop new technologies such as recycled down and Yulex natural rubber wetsuits, and expand its Free Trade certified standards, all bringing the brand’s commitment to the environment even closer to its products.

    Marcario, the story suggests, is an exemplar of a new kind of capitalism, "continually proving that a commitment to the environment and sustainability could also be good for business. Since she joined Patagonia, it has quadrupled its sales and become a $1 billion company."

    Terrific company … an extraordinary story … and definitely worth reading here.

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Door Dash "is close to securing new funding that would value the largest U.S. meal-delivery company at more than $15 billion before the infusion, as a wave of deal making sweeps over the red-hot industry."

    Exactly how red-hot?  "DoorDash was valued at around $13 billion in 2019, nearly ten times what it fetched a year earlier. Should the San Francisco company manage to seal a deal at an even higher valuation, it would be a sign of the improving outlook for meal-delivery companies in the coronavirus era.

    "DoorDash filed to go public in February, shortly before the coronavirus upended the economy and financial markets, and is still aiming for a listing this year."

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    12:30 PM UPDATE:  This morning, Starbucks reversed its position on Black Lives Matter paraphernalia being worn by its store employees.

    CNBC writes that "Starbucks said Friday that the chain would allow workers to wear attire and accessories highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement, reversing its prior stance after social media users called for boycotts of the company."

    In fact, Starbucks will provide the shirts:  "The chain will make 250,000 shirts with a design that includes “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” available to workers in its company-owned cafes in the United States and Canada."

    More to come on Monday's MNB…


    ORIGINAL STORY:


    While Starbucks has explicitly stated support for the Black Lives Matter movement and pledged via social media that it would "stand in solidarity with our Black partners, customers and communities," that apparently does not go as far as allowing employees to wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts, pins, or any other accessory that  mentions the movement.

    The company has said internally that such clothing or accoutrements could be seen as inciting divisiveness, and BuzzFeed reports that the company worries that it "could be misunderstood and potentially incite violence."

    A  Starbucks spokesperson tells BuzzFeed that the "company is dedicated to helping end 'systemic racism,' but that the dress code policy would remain in place because it was necessary 'to create a safe and welcoming' environment for customers and staff."

    The story notes that "Starbucks partners … have the option to buy a T-shirt from its approved 'Black Partner Network,' which aims to spark conversation 'around the African diaspora'."

    KC's View:

    This is actually a tough one, though I suspect that it won't be long before Starbucks reverses its position on this - it decided at some point to allow visible tattoos, and it'll allow Black Lives Matter paraphernalia.

    It may not be as big a political problem as Starbucks thinks.  The New York Times noted the other day that "since the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25, public opinion on race, criminal justice and the Black Lives Matter movement has leaped leftward."     There's no question that recent events have been galvanizing.  It is ironic that today marks the 57th anniversary of the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the Ku Klux Klan  and the  White Citizens;' Council in Jackson, Mississippi;  it is worth noting that it took until 1994 before De La Beckwith was convicted of the murder.

    The Black Lives Matter movement argues not that black lives matter more than other people's, but that they matter just as much - and that the systemic racial prejudice works against that equality.  But, of course, not everyone accepts that argument … and Starbucks has to decide a) how many of those people are its customers, and b) to what degree it needs to be concerned.  Not necessarily an easy decision when you've just lost billions because of stores closed during the pandemic.

    It always is problematic for companies to deal with employees expressing political opinions while at work, and in general, I think it is a good idea to avoid it.  But increasingly, this is being seen as a social justice and human rights issue, not a political issue.   I think Starbucks will change its mind on this, simply because many will see it as being off-brand not to.

    Victor Hugo once wrote, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."  I think we're seeing that play out before our eyes right now … though what we're watching reminds me of another Hugo quote:  "He who does not weep does not see."

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the US, there now have been 2,089,825 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 116,035 deaths and 816,174 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there now are 7,613,578 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 424,137 fatalities, with 3,852,889 reported recoveries.


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Some U.S. states that were largely spared during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic are now seeing record hospitalizations, causing some experts to fear that loosened restrictions and the approach of summer led many Americans to begin letting down their guard.

    "The post-Memorial Day outbreaks in states come roughly a month after stay-at-home orders were lifted. Experts urged people to continue to take the virus seriously and not take increased freedom as permission to stop wearing masks or resume gathering in large groups."

    The Journal writes that "in Arizona, the state’s health department over the weekend reminded hospitals to be in emergency mode as intensive-care units in the state approached 80% capacity. Texas set three straight days of hospitalization records this week, surpassing 2,000 a day for the first time. Utah hospitals have hit records twice in hospital admissions since May 25 … Alabama reached an all-time high for hospitalizations Wednesday, according to state data. The state now has 647 people in hospitals with Covid-19, up 44% from Memorial Day.

    "In Arkansas, hospitalizations have doubled, from around 90 to 181, along with sharp increases in positive test results. South Carolina saw a 24% increase during that time.

    Meanwhile, some states that experienced higher rates of infection and had later openings, such as New York, are experiencing a decline in hospitalizations."

    According to the story, "Experts analyzing states with worrisome trends in serious cases are largely pointing to the onset of summer, when people began to congregate in resort spots.  Some also suspect that officials who allowed businesses to reopen after a relatively calm few weeks might have sent an inadvertent message that the problem had largely passed."


    •  USA Today reports that in Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame plans tio reopen on June 15 … but visitors will be told to stay at least “two Stratocasters apart."

    The story says that "temperatures will be checked at the door and fans must wear masks. There will be continuous cleaning inside and hand sanitizers. There also will be advance online ticketing, limited capacity with timed ticketing and no cash will be accepted."

    On June 14, healthcare workers and their families will be able to tour the Hall for free.

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From TechCrunch:

    "Facing unprecedented growth, Instacart has secured new funding to keep up with demand. The San Francisco company announced today that it has raised $225 million in a round led by DST Global and General Catalyst. Existing investor D1 Capital Partners participated in the round, which brings Instacart’s valuation to $13.7 billion.

    "Instacart will use the cash to invest in shoppers and partners, build out its advertising and enterprise business, and focus on customer experience, per Apoorva Mehta, founder and CEO of Instacart in a statement. The company will also invest in technical and operational infrastructure to help customers get their groceries on time, with orders up 500% year over year."

    Bloomberg points out that "the new value matches the price Amazon.com Inc. paid to acquire Whole Foods in 2017."

    I've always said that Instacart's business model is a good one … for Instacart.  But this valuation actually would worry me if I were one of its retail clients, because it gives Instacart even more resources with which to compete with me.  (Have I said this before?)


    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Zara-owner Inditex said it is permanently closing as many as 1,200 stores - 16% of its global outlets - and will pivot more aggressively toward selling online, as the fast-fashion giant maps out its post-pandemic future.

    "As many of the world’s major economies start to reopen, global retailers like Inditex are throwing open the doors to their stores again, hoping demand and foot traffic will return. But for many big players, including department-store chains and fast-fashion retailers, the pandemic only punctuated a yearslong reckoning brought about by a boom in online shopping.

    "Inditex, a family-controlled chain that many analysts and investors see as having entered the crisis on a stronger footing, is one of the first big retailers to outline how it sees the industry’s future amid a tentative reopening. The answer: fewer stores and a more concerted push online."

    They could have dithered and procrastinated, but would've inevitably ended up in exactly the same place - having to close at least as many stores, but being reactive rather than proactive.  This is what you do - you embrace the future rather than try to delay its march forward.

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    •  From Variety:

    "Walmart has figured out a way to get its goods in front of shoppers – even if the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are keeping them from visiting its stores.

    "As part of an advertising agreement struck with Discovery, the large retailer will have products and ad messages woven into and around a new HGTV series that has homeowners record themselves as they make over a room with the help of designers stationed remotely. The 'self shot' series, 'Design At Your Door,' debuts Thursday at 9 p.m. eastern."

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    •  As protests continued around the US, focusing on racial justice and prompted by the murder of George Floyd, an African-American man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck, American businesses continue to respond in a variety of ways.

    For example, The Verge reports that "Apple is launching a $100 million initiative to promote racial equality for people of color with a focus on “education, economic equality, and criminal justice reform.” The program, named Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, will be led by Apple VP Lisa Jackson."

    In a statement CEO Tim Cook said that "the initiative will challenge the systemic barriers to opportunity and dignity that exists for communities of color and particular for the black community," and suggested that the initiative will lead to “changes that touch just about everything we do.”


    •  The New York Times reports this morning that "Nestlé is considering selling most of its bottled water operations in the United States and Canada, the company said on Thursday. That business accounts for a significant share of the Swiss food giant’s sales but has also drawn criticism from environmental groups."

    The Times says that Nestlé "has come under fire from groups that say it drains natural water supplies to bottle and sell at a profit. Environmental activists regard bottled water as inherently wasteful, at least in countries with drinkable tap water, because of the energy required to transport it to stores. Bottled water also contributes to the global glut of plastic waste."

    In this context, the Times reports, "Mark Schneider, Nestlé’s Tesla-driving chief executive, has been trying to show that the company can be both sustainable and profitable."

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    •  Walmart announced this week at Scott Morris has been hired as the company's new senior vice president - Food & Consumables, private Brands & Manufacturing.  Morris most recently was executive vice president of Merchandising at Southeastern Grocers, and before that had stints at Coborn's and Supervalu.


    •  Smart & Final announced that  Scott Drew, the company's executive vice president, has been promoted to the role of COO.

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    …will return next week.

    Published on: June 12, 2020

    Just Mercy, the 2019 legal drama based on a memoir by Bryan Stevenson, is a movie that seems made for the racial strife of the moment - which is why Warner Bros. decided to make it available all month for free home streaming on a variety of platforms.  I urge you to take advantage of the offer, because Just Mercy is a terrific film, and would be under any circumstances.

    The film looks at how Stevenson, as a young lawyer just out of Harvard, moves to Alabama to found the Equal Justice Initiative.  The goal is to represent convicts who were not provided with adequate legal representation.  They all are poor, and most are black.

    Most of the film focuses on Walter McMillian, known as "Johnnie D,"  who was wrongly convicted of murder and is on death row;  the conviction, as Stevenson finds out, is based on perjured testimony, and the issue is how to get him into the appeals process in a way that can circumvent institutional prejudice.

    The legal drama is fascinating, and would be a good film all on its own.  But what gives the movie so much currency is the way it unfolds while in the real world we are seeing in-the-moment examples of justice corrupted, of people whose rights have been violated simply because of then color of their skin.  The sheriff who arrested McMillan isn't a caricature, because we've seen a far worse version of the character with his boot against a black man's neck.  When Stevenson goes for a jog, the scene is nerve-wracking because current events have taught us what can happen to black men who go jogging.

    In some ways, I have to believe that Just Mercy is far more of an edge-of-your-seat thriller than it was when it opened simply because of we know more.  And by "we," I mean people like me who haven't had to live with the disadvantage of being black and dealing with a system stacked against us.

    Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson and Jamie Foxx as McMillan are spectacular in their roles - they never overplay, but find the simple, evocative moments that make them eminently relatable.  And Brie Larson, playing the Alabama woman who helped  Stevenson and in doing so put herself and her family at risk against an unfriendly community, is excellent in a small but critical role.

    Just Mercy is a must-see - it manages to be both an entertaining film and a criminal justice lesson without getting preachy or dogmatic.

    Somehow, despite the fact that there have been 30 Lucas Davenport novels by John Sandford (in addition to the two dozen or so other books that he has written), I'd never read one.  Not sure why.  In the beginning, I guess they just weren't on my radar, even though the Davenport books are in my favorite genre.  Then, there was a terrible USA Network movie with Mark Harmon in the lead, and I think that sort of put me off.

    But the publisher, who sends me books from time to time in the hope that I'll review them, sent me a copy of the most recent, "Masked Prey," recently.  Because of the pandemic, I'm not getting out much, and I've been on a bit of a reading tear, and so I settled down with the book to see what it was made of.

    And loved it.

    I'm coming to the series late, and so I'm picking up some of the backstory as I go along.  Davenport, as I understand it, is a former Minnesota police detective turned US Marshal, and in "Masked Prey," he is brought to Washington, DC, to deal with a case in which the children of elected officials have been put at risk, perhaps so someone will be able to extort their parents.  Davenport finds himself doing a deep dive into extremist right wing groups and Nazi sympathizers who want to undermine - or just destroy - government and the "deep state" that they believe controls it.  It all seems entirely and disturbingly plausible.

    "Masked Prey" is an entertaining novel … and I think I need to go back and revisit some of the series' earlier books.  Should be plenty of time this summer…


    Had a chance to enjoy a glass of the 2019 The Palm by Whispering Angel, a burdensome name for a light and fresh rosé that is a less expensive version, at about $15 per bottle, of its slightly more expensive ($22) big brother.  It is well worth it - it is from Provence, France, and is made of a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, and who could ask for anything more.


    That's it for this week.  Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Stay healthy.