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    Published on: August 25, 2020

    KC points out that we all got a lesson yesterday in not taking things for granted, adding yet one more thing to a list that includes wifi on airplanes and GPS mapping systems.  Being a such a business is both good news and bad news ... 

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    DoorDash, the delivery service that largely has focused on he restaurant business, with more recent forays into partnering with drug stores and convenience stores, now is making a major play in the supermarket sector.

    CNet reports that DoorDash is "partnering with Meijer and Fresh Thyme to deliver to customers in Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Detroit and Indianapolis. It's also working with Smart & Final in California to deliver groceries in Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Coast, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.

    "DoorDash said that more than 10,000 items will be available for delivery from participating grocery stores in under an hour, which means there's no scheduling or waiting required.  The company will add more options across the country in the coming weeks through grocery stores like Hy-Vee."

    CNN quotes Mike Goldblatt, DoorDash's head of grocery and convenience partnerships, as saying, "Grocery stores on DoorDash will be available on an on-demand basis … That means no scheduling required, no queues, no waiting."

    CNN writes that "there is a $3.99 delivery fee for each grocery order, unless users are part of DoorDash's subscription service, DashPass, which costs $9.99 per month and includes grocery."

    The move positions DoorDash as a stronger competitor against Instacart, which has delivery relationships with more than 400 retailers in North America, and recently announced a partnership with Walmart in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Tulsa for same-day delivery.

    And, of course, both companies are engaging retailers by promising to make them more competitive with Amazon.

    KC's View:

    Clearly this is an initiative that has been in the works for some time, but I have to wonder if any of these companies now using DoorDash as an e-commerce solution were given pause less than three weeks ago when it announced the launch of DashMart, which it described as "a new type of convenience store, offering both household essentials and local restaurant favorites to our customers’ doorsteps," often in 30 minutes.

    In other words - and let's be absolutely clear about this - DoorDash no longer is just a service provider to the c-store business.  It is a convenience store, no doubt with ambitions to expand geographically from the eight cities it now is serving to a much broader footprint, and no doubt with ambitions to expand beyond a convenience selection to a broader grocery offering.

    DoorDash is opening its own dark stores to compete against its clients.  It actually is saying out loud the stuff that Instacart has avoided saying about its own plans.

    What the hell are these retailers thinking as they jump into bed with a partner that would be perfectly happy to steal their customers and their very souls?  These delivery companies, with their hidden and not-so-hidden ambitions, are like the mythical Nidhogg, eating corpses to sustain itself…

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    Ahold Delhaize-owned Hannaford Supermarkets announced a new partnership with Instacart "to offer same-day delivery from nearly all Hannaford store locations. With this partnership, Hannaford is expanding the ways in which their customers across New England and New York can access fresh groceries and household essentials by offering delivery directly from the store to their door in as fast as an hour. This partnership will complement Hannaford’s existing curbside and delivery service Hannaford To Go, which remains available to customers."

    The company goes on:  "Hannaford customers can now choose between Hannaford To Go curbside pick-up and delivery services offered at or same day delivery service with Instacart by going to or opening the Instacart app on their mobile device to begin shopping. From there, customers enter their zip code and can begin adding items to their Instacart grocery cart. An Instacart personal shopper will pick and deliver the order within the customers designated time frame – same-day or, for convenient scheduling, up to two weeks in advance."

    KC's View:

    Not to draw too fine a point on this, but let me just quote the salient paragraph from the Albany Times Union story about the deal, in which it points out that in addition to Hannaford … 

    "Price Chopper, Market32, Aldi, Honest Weight Food Co-op, B.J.'s, Shop Rite, Market Bistro, The Fresh Market, Sam's Club, Rite Aid, CVS, Staples and Big Lots are among the retailers offering Instacart delivery locally."

    Yup.  That's how to differentiate yourself.  Do what everybody else is doing, with the same company with which everybody else is doing business.

    Beware the mythical Nidhogg…

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    In California, the Orange County Register reports that Amazon continues to lay the foundation for its planned chain of grocery stores - each of which will have a form of checkout-free shopping with Amazon Dash Carts that "will be equipped with cameras, sensors and a scale to automatically detect what shoppers drop in. Each cart will keep a tally and then charge the items to the customer’s Amazon account when they leave the store, so no cashier is needed."

    The first of the breed, in Woodland Hills, California, has been opened as an Amazon fulfillment center tasked with delivering products ordered in the area;  the story says that "city documents and media reports show Amazon grocery stores also will be opening in La Verne, North Hollywood and Fullerton."

    Dates for when the new stores will be opened to the public have not been announced, though there are expectations that Woodland Hills could open before the end of the year.

    The Register quotes MNB fave Burt Flickinger III, managing director for the retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, as saying that the delays in opening the stores are in part because of the demands put on Amazon by the pandemic, but he also says there are other contributing factors.

    "They are still trying to straighten out their Whole Foods acquisition,” he says. "Whole Foods is the only major food chain that has seen negative same-store sales for a number of quarters."

    Flickinger also says that the Whole Food stores "are poorly designed."  He says, "There’s not enough space for pickup and delivery.  That’s a monumental mess, both logistically and from an engineering standpoint."

    And, Flickinger says that Amazon has "a big black eye" because if being "months behind in delivering much-needed consumables during the early days of the pandemic."

    KC's  View:

    I think Burt Flickinger makes an excellent point about the design issues facing Whole Foods.  At the Whole Foods I go to, which isn't all that old - it was opened in 2010, seven years before the company was acquired by Amazon, but certainly recently enough for leadership to have known better - they've pulled out the cafe section (unused during the pandemic, anyway) to put in the staging section for pickup and delivery orders.  (And then they put the PrimeNow pickup parking spaces at the other end of the store, which makes no sense.)  Here's how it looks:

    That would seem to be a different situation at the Woodland Hills location, where there appears to be a door at the far right hand side of the store designed for pickup/delivery functionality.

    Here's the thing to remember, though.  This shortsightedness isn't just an Amazon/Whole Foods issue.  There are a lot of stores being built out there that are not laid out for a world in which pickup and delivery are a significant part of the business.  And that's a real mistake.

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    KB US Holdings, parent to gourmet grocers Kings Food Markets and Balducci's Food Lovers Market, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and accepted a stalking horse bid from TLI Bedrock to purchase the Company for $75 million.

    The stalking horse bid sets a floor for subsequent bids.

    KB operates 25 Kings stores and 10 Balducci’s stores.

    “Although the company’s liquidity has improved during the covid-19 pandemic, the company recognizes that its current liquidity is only temporary, and that it must seek a permanent solution to address its historical liquidity constraints,” M. Benjamin Jones, a restructuring consultant, said in a declaration filed with the bankruptcy.

    According to the announcement, "In conjunction with the sale process, KB has obtained a commitment for approximately $20 million in debtor-in-possession ("DIP") financing from its existing secured lender.  Upon Court approval, the new financing, combined with cash generated from the Company's ongoing operations, will be used to support the business throughout the sale process. KB has sufficient liquidity to meet its go-forward business obligations and will operate its business as usual and pay its business partners for goods and services provided on or after August 23, 2020, the Chapter 11 filing date."

    Scott Moses of  PJ Solomon is serving as investment banker to KB US Holdings, Inc.

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    Tony Hsieh, for the past two decades one of the most respected CEOs in the country because of his leadership at Zappos, yesterday announced that he is retiring.

    The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Kedar Deshpande is set to take over as CEO, effective Monday.

    Also from the Review-Journal story:

    "Hsieh, 46, a Harvard University graduate, joined the online shoe company in 1999, initially skeptical that the venture could be successful. It was sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2009, but he remained with the company and has a residence in downtown Las Vegas.

    "In 2012, he invested $350 million into revitalizing downtown Las Vegas, developing the popular Container Park with its fire-breathing praying mantis art sculpture at the entrance. About 60 percent of the $350 million Downtown Project budget focused on real estate, while $50 million each was meant for small businesses, tech startups and education, arts and culture."

    KC's View:

    One of my favorite stories about Hsieh is how, when the company moved into new office space, he made sure that the offices with the best views were given to customer service personnel, because he realized how important it was that these people - the ones actually interacting with shoppers - be happy in their work.

    Which says it all.

    Amazon seems to have exercised a light touch since acquiring Zappos, presumably because Hsieh was so good at his job.  It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in the future … not to mention what challenges the 46-year-old Hsieh embraces next.

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    Bloomberg has a story about Trader Joe's that, contrary to much coverage about ther company, suggests that "its future is more uncertain than ever, as it contends with changing shopping habits precipitated by the pandemic."

    Trader Joe’s faces two big challenges, the story says:

    "The first is that COVID-19 has driven a surge in online grocery shopping, and the company doesn’t sell via the internet. In its weekly podcast, 'Inside Trader Joe’s,' the company said it would rather invest in its staff than in digital infrastructure.

    "Yes, going online would be tricky. Having employees fulfill online orders would swell the number of people inside stores, and translating the company’s high-quality service to home delivery would be costly … But Trader Joe’s should experiment. Aldi Sued is taking its first steps in this direction, teaming up with grocery-delivery company Instacart in the U.S. and also offering curbside pickup. Using an intermediary would be a good way for Trader Joe’s to dip its toe in the water too."

    Second, "The chain’s small floor plan — each location is typically 10,000 to 15,000 square feet — is also a pandemic-era challenge. In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the stores are limiting the number of shoppers allowed inside at a given time. This is a problem for all value retailers, which rely on a high number of relatively low-value transactions.

    "As the economic consequences of the pandemic grow heavier, consumers may be prepared to give up some of the comfort of shopping in a big store in exchange for lower prices. That would bode well for Trader Joe’s, as its products are estimated to be about 10-15 per cent cheaper than comparable ones at traditional supermarkets. (Its bananas, sold individually, are famously low-priced at 19 cents each.) 

    "In the meantime, the company could focus on getting shoppers to buy and spend more by finessing its product range. It could start selling diapers, for example. Merchandising and marketing efforts could also help. The company could show you how to make a whole week’s worth of lunches from its frozen foods."

    KC's View:

    I'm not sure I entirely agree.

    I'll buy that Trader Joe's ought to be trying to figure out an online component.  I wouldn't even be surprised if they are working on such an initiative, but don't want to release it until the offering is fully marinated.

    But expanding the product selection to sell things like diapers?  (Trader Poo?)  I don't think so.  Retailers that are special dilute their value propositions when they do the same things that everybody else is doing.  They may generate some new sales, but the loss of a differentiated image could be a much bigger problem in the long run.

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    The New York Times writes that "there is something discomfiting about the idea of getting fantastically rich off someone else’s misfortune, which is what happens when a 'short' trade - or bet against a stock or industry - succeeds … But on Wall Street, such brazenness is celebrated. Investors love little more than a contrarian bet that pays off, a combination of math and seeming magic that allows them to find a market disruption before everyone else and score a big win."

    The Times explains that one sector in which such bets are being made - and are paying off - is the mall business, where the combination of "e-commerce, changing consumer habits and evolving demographics," accelerated by the pandemic, "had pummeled all malls to some degree in recent years," though "some were far worse off than others."

    By betting on their demise, some believed, they "could profit handsomely."

    They were right.

    You can read the story here.

    Published on: August 25, 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 United States, we now are closing in on six million confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus - the exact number is 5,915,911, resulting in 181,117 deaths and 3,218,514 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 23,830,644 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 817,371 fatalities, and 16,373,520 reported recoveries.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Daily new U.S. coronavirus infections rose slightly but continued their downward longer-term trend, as some states worked to manage outbreaks through natural disasters and new information emerged about the complexities of the disease … The seven-day average of new U.S. cases through Sunday was 42,638, lower than the two-week average of more than 46,915, suggesting a downward trend. The seven-day average has been less than the two-week average for almost a month—though that has corresponded with a decline in testing."

    •  Also from the Wall Street Journal:

    "Children now represent about 9% of all Covid-19 cases in the U.S., up from 2% in March, according to the most recent weekly report from the Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. From July 9 to Aug. 13, cases in children doubled to 406,109, according to reports from 49 states.

    "Most children experience mild or no symptoms, doctors say. But some are reporting issues that persist for weeks, or the development of post-viral syndromes. Symptoms reported include fever, cough, headaches, shortness of breath and gastrointestinal problems."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "The seven-day case average has risen by more than 25 percent in the past week in five states and territories, according to The Washington Post’s tracking: Guam, South Dakota, Maine, North Dakota and Wyoming. The average number of deaths has increased the most — more than 50 percent — in Kentucky, Arkansas, Virginia and Iowa."

    •  The New York Times reports that "come fall, the rise of influenza and other seasonal respiratory infections could exacerbate already staggering delays in coronavirus testing, making it easier for the virus to spread unnoticed, experts said.

    "In typical years, doctors often don’t test for flu, simply assuming that patients with coughs, fevers and fatigue during the winter months are probably carrying the highly infectious virus. But this year, with the coronavirus bringing similar symptoms, doctors will need to test for both viruses to diagnose their patients — further straining supply shortages in an already overwhelmed testing system."

    The Times goes on:  "Flu viruses and coronaviruses differ in many ways, including how they spread, how long they linger in the body and the groups they affect most severely. Food and Drug Administration-approved antivirals and vaccines exist for the flu, but no such treatments yet exist for the coronavirus, which has killed about 800,000 people worldwide in less than a year.

    "Being infected with one virus doesn’t preclude contracting the other. And researchers also don’t yet know how risky it is for a person to harbor both viruses at the same time.

    "Those differences make it essential to tease the two pathogens apart, as well as rule out other common wintry infections like respiratory syncytial virus, or R.S.V., which hits the very young and very old especially hard."

    •  The Washington Post reports on how "health officials in Maine have linked a wedding reception in Millinocket to 53 coronavirus cases and one death, highlighting yet another example of the health risks posed by large gatherings. Investigators from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention say people who did not attend the wedding have been infected after coming into contact with guests …  Those infected ranged in age from 4 to 98, officials said."

    •  Axios reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of convalescent blood plasma for use as a coronavirus treatment.

    Here's how the FDA site describes scenario:

    "Convalescent refers to anyone recovering from a disease. Plasma is the yellow, liquid part of blood that contains antibodies. Antibodies are proteins made by the body in response to infections. Convalescent plasma from patients who have already recovered from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may contain antibodies against COVID-19.

    "Giving this convalescent plasma to hospitalized people currently fighting COVID-19 may help them recover. FDA has issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to be used in hospitalized COVID-19 patients and is being investigated for the treatment of COVID-19 because there is no approved treatment for this disease. Based on scientific evidence available, the FDA concluded this product may be effective in treating COVID-19 and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product in hospitalized COVID-19 patients."

    There are some concerns that the FDA may have fast-tracked this treatment beyond its ability to deliver.

    The Hill writes that "in the case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, there are conflicting signs about whether convalescent plasma even works. Studies across the globe have given mixed signals."

    And Axios adds, "The EUA — which is not the same as a full FDA approval — will make the treatment easier to obtain in some settings, but it won't help advance the type of randomized trial needed to fully determine its effectiveness."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "University of Hong Kong scientists claim to have the first evidence of someone being reinfected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

    "Genetic tests revealed that a 33-year-old man returning to Hong Kong from a trip to Spain in mid-August had a different strain of the coronavirus than the one he’d previously been infected with in March, said Dr. Kelvin Kai-Wang To, the microbiologist who led the work.

    "The man had mild symptoms the first time and none the second time; his more recent infection was detected through screening and testing at the Hong Kong airport."

    •  Axios reports that "69% of respondents in a Harris survey said they’d support a priority system for distributing a vaccine within the U.S., while just 31% said they’d prefer a first-come, first-served approach.

    "But 66% of Americans said that if the U.S. develops the vaccine, it should only be made available abroad after all U.S. orders have been filled.  Just 34% said it should be made available overseas immediately."

    •  From Fox News:

    "Grocery chain Kroger announced on Friday that it is adding over 220 coronavirus testing clinics at its stores across the country. The clinics will be available via appointment to both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients.

    "The company’s healthcare division, Kroger Health, says the announcement comes just in time for the upcoming flu season, which medical experts warn could add extra complications to a health care system already struggling due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic … The initiative is part of the company’s COVIDCare Plus testing program, which aims to provide coronavirus test kits that produce reliable results within 72 hours."

    •  Responding to the demands of the pandemic, BJ's Wholesale Club says that it is making contactless curbside pick-up available of online orders available at all its locations.

    According to Connecticut Patch, "members can order items on or on the BJ's app and have the items delivered right to the car. The stores have marked curbside parking spaces for the pickups. Team members will load orders into vehicles.

    "BJ's also announced that the company is expanding its 'buy online in-store pick-ups' to include fresh and frozen grocery items. The expansion is currently available in 'select clubs' and will be available at all locations by the end of October, officials said."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Nearly six months into the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., big-box retailers are emerging as business winners while competitors - including some apparel sellers and small businesses - struggle.

    "The big sellers’ strength wasn’t always a sure thing. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, while they had rising sales, they also had rising costs and complications as they tried to keep workers and customers safe and product moving.

    "But now, Walmart Inc., Home Depot Inc. and a handful of other big retailers are delivering not only strong sales but also strong profits. Last week, Target Corp. posted an 80% jump in earnings from a year ago, while profit leapt 75% at Lowe’s Cos. Inc.’s profit doubled to a record $5.2 billion in its June quarter."

    In addition, the story says, "Big-box profits benefited from higher prices. Strong consumer demand—boosted by government stimulus checks—and a shortage of some goods lessened the pressure to offer discounts … Many already weakened retailers such as department stores and apparel retailers gave up more ground to their big-box competitors amid forced closures, spending shifts and lagging e-commerce capabilities."

    •  The Associated Press writes about how "small retailers, especially those selling non-necessities like apparel, are still struggling months after state and local governments lifted shutdown orders aimed at containing the virus. With the virus far from under control in many areas, however, consumers worried about getting sick are staying home and doing their purchasing online or, if they venture out, going to big stores like Walmart and Target where they can do one-stop shopping.

    "The weak sales and erratic customer traffic have forced store owners to be creative in hopes of persuading customers to stop in rather than order from a big online retailer. But for some owners, disappointing sales and an uncertain outlook have forced them to close their stores for good and stake the future of their businesses on the internet."

    The AP points out that "the most recent retail sales tallies from the government show sales at clothing sellers, which tend to have physical locations, fell nearly 36% from May through July. But online and other non-traditional retailers saw their sales soar 26%.

    "Small retailers have also learned to be more customer-friendly. They’re using, for example, texts to communicate with shoppers and making pickups easier by setting aside dedicated parking spaces so people can grab and go…"

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "home sales surged in July, signaling how much the pandemic is reshaping where and how Americans want to live during this period of social distancing and working from home.

    "Home buyers who were reluctant to venture out in March and April when much of the country was under lockdown have returned in force since late spring. With the effects of coronavirus showing little signs of abating, many home shoppers have new priorities for a place to live, or are accelerating existing plans … Buyers are ready to move farther from cities, now that many workers aren’t commuting every day. The pandemic has spurred some households to live closer to family, or somewhere that offers more space with so much time spent at home, brokers and economists say."

    Indeed, the story says, "First-time buyers accounted for 34% of sales in July, NAR said, a category that includes many millennial buyers.

    "This group, who range from their mid-20s to their late 30s, are a growing presence in the housing market. Older millennials who delayed getting married and having children are now reaching those life milestones, which increases homeownership demand. Younger millennials, who are now entering their 30s, are starting to buy homes more actively at an age when previous generations also began homeownership."

    •  From Fast Company:

    "Since Google and Apple launched their joint exposure notification platform in May, countries across the globe have begun releasing apps that will inform their residents if they’ve come into contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. The platform is designed with privacy in mind and does not collect personal data."

    The story says that "in the U.S., five states have launched apps so far. As of a week ago, Virginia, the first U.S. state to launch an app on the platform, had over 300,000 downloads for a population of roughly 8.5 million, according to local news reports. The Apple-Google platform is also being used by a growing list of countries around the world, including Germany, Ireland, and Canada. The latter made its exposure notification app available to citizens in Ontario as a test case for the rest of the country at the end of July. To date, of Canada’s 37.6 million residents, only two million have downloaded the app. The Canadian Digital Service has not specified whether that two million are all among Ontario’s 14.5 million citizens or from around the country."

    There are two issues at work.

    One is that the app "will need greater buy-in to make a serious impact."  The other is access - "citizens are having to contend with whether their phone is new enough to participate in the notification system … users must have an Apple or Android phone purchased within the past five years."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Instagram has deleted an account that claimed to throw 'COVID parties' at Arizona State University after the school sued Facebook and the owner of the account on Thursday on allegations that the account improperly used the school’s logos and trademarks … It is unclear who ran the account … The university’s regents filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Thursday. The lawsuit said the account shared misinformation about the coronavirus with students and claimed to be throwing large parties as students returned for fall semester classes last Thursday."

    Facebook may have pulled the account, but it isn't conceding that the university has a point;  it just says that the account violated terms of service.

    Either way, I'd be appalled if one of my kids actually attended a party like this.  I'm working on the assumption that I've raised them to be smarter than that.  Then again, I know of some parents who have thrown parties for friends and families, throwing caution to the wind … demonstrating that age does not exactly equal intelligence.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "The James Beard Foundation, which honors outstanding American chefs, restaurants and bars each year in a gala ceremony, said Thursday that it would not announce any more winners for its awards in 2020 and 2021, citing the pandemic that has closed restaurants and continues to ravage the economy.

    "The foundation had already released its list of finalists for the 2020 chef and restaurant awards, and announced winners of its media awards, earlier this year. Now, in a virtual ceremony broadcast live via Twitter on Sept. 25, the foundation will celebrate previously announced honorees in categories such as America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement and Humanitarian of the Year.

    "No awards will be presented in 2021, either; the organization, which is based in New York City, said it would be unfair because of the hardships restaurants face."

    •  Time has a story about how, "as the end of summer approaches, debates over schools re-opening in countries across the world have parents, teachers and authorities all facing difficult choices amid the coronavirus pandemic. Those decisions have also become part of what has become, in some places, a broader trend of urban flight: In New York City, for examples, some wealthy families have left Manhattan for good and plan to enroll their children in schools closer to their second homes in places like the Hamptons."

    It isn't, Time notes, the first time.  "A young King Henry VIII was in his late 20s and at the start of his reign when an outbreak of the plague ravaged Europe in 1517 and 1518. Contemporaneous reports indicate his intense fear of contracting the disease, given that his grandmother was thought to have died from it in 1492."  And so he got out of town:  "Throughout the epidemic, Henry and the royal court left London and constantly moved around to avoid infection, stopping at places for short periods of time before moving on to the next palace or residence."

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    From the Associated Press:

    "Long seen as an urban treasure, food trucks are now being saved by the suburbs during the coronavirus pandemic. No longer able to depend on bustling city centers, these small businesses on wheels are venturing out to where people are working and spending most of their time – home.

    "As food trucks hunt for customers that used to flock to them, they're finding a captive audience thrilled to skip cooking dinner, sample new kinds of cuisines and mingle with neighbors on what feels like a night out while safely staying close to home."

    The story goes on:  "Since stay-at-home orders earlier this year emptied out city centers and canceled gatherings, many food trucks – like brick-and-mortar restaurants – have gone out of business or aren't sure when they'll open again.

    "Food trucks adjusted their business model as they headed to the suburbs: They focus on dinner, adding kid-friendly options and preparing for larger orders. A new neighborhood means being unsure how many customers they'll get and gambling on how much food to bring. To avoid that, many trucks urge customers to order ahead online."

    KC's View:

    There was a similar story much earlier in the pandemic, but I thought it was worth bringing up again - it reflects an admirable willingness on the part of some in the food truck industry to rethink the business model in view of new realities.

    I also think that supermarkets ought to be embracing the opportunity to use these foodie-entrepreneurs to expand their own palettes and their customers' palates.

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Ahold Delhaize-owned The Giant Company has launched a new brand platform, For Today’s Table. 

    The Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based company said that, "building on the new company name, logo and purpose launched earlier this year, For Today’s Table sets the course for the company’s continued growth, innovation, and investment for today and into the future. For Today’s Table represents the notion that the world is a better place when families come together at their table and connect over a meal, no matter where their table may be … For Today’s Table will be brought to life in creative and relevant ways that are authentic and real in message and tone for all who interact with the company’s local brands.  For Today’s Table will guide the company as it focuses on families and their need to connect around food – whether it’s planned ahead of time or a quick decision made after a long day of curveballs."

    Nicholas Bertram, the company's president, says that the new brand platform "sets the stage for our go-forward strategy, crystalizing our commitment to customers, team members and the community, inspiring us to double down on future growth and investment."

    •  The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that c-store chain "Wawa has rolled out an official widespread test run of an extensive dinner menu after months of development, the latest move from the company to grow market share and go toe-to-toe with national fast-food giants.

    "The piloted items — which include pot roast, pasta dishes, and burgers and fries — are trialing at select stores and become available after 4 p.m. Customers can customize the offerings via the Media-based convenience store chain’s touch screen ordering system.  Dinner options include rotisserie chicken with mac and cheese; entree platters like braised chicken, pork roast or pot roast with two side dishes; and penne or fettuccine pastas with alfredo, marinara or bolognese sauce. Pasta dishes are available with roasted chicken or vegetables, broccoli, meatballs and asiago cheese."

    The story says that more than 100 of the company's stores are testing some permutation of the new dinner menu.

    •  Business Insider reports that "Dollar General is doubling down on fresh grocery options as part of its bid to become one of the top retailers in the US."

    The story explains:

    "For Dollar General, grocery is the key to continuing its ongoing expansion — by attracting more consumers to its stores. Fresh food also positions the retailer to go toe-to-toe with massive rivals like Walmart and Whole Foods.

    "Dollar General has enjoyed an excellent few months, with cost-conscious shoppers flocking to dollar stores during the coronavirus pandemic. Outside its sales success, however, the company is making several big moves for the future, post-COVID-19 world. 

    "On August 5, Dollar General announced that it would build three new cold storage distribution facilities. The warehouses – located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Ardmore, Oklahoma, and West Sacramento, California – will each house products like frozen goods, milk, cheese, deli meats, and support a network of 1,500 stores. The move was just Dollar General's latest barrage around its DG Fresh initiative.

    "DG Fresh is a program that Dollar General first began working on in January 2019. The DG Fresh initiative has seen the dollar-store giant establish fresh and frozen-food options in its stores, which have traditionally lacked a grocery element. Currently, Dollar General delivers grocery products to more than 9,000 of its total 16,500 locations."

    •  The Washington Post has a story about local entrepreneur Shana Greenbaum, who four years ago founded Healthy Fresh Meals, which now "delivers more than 4,000 servings every week to around 500 customers — including health-conscious gym rats and a sprinkling of professional athletes — throughout the Washington-Baltimore market. The average meal is about $12 … The menu changes weekly. A recent week included several offerings, such as Thai coconut curry salmon for the average consumers or steak, sweet potato and broccoli for the athletic crowd."

    According to the story, "Greenbaum’s staff cooks the meals and heat-seals them in recyclable trays designed to keep them fresh for a week with refrigeration. About 90 percent of the clients are households. Some buy an entire week’s worth of lunches and dinners that are delivered on Sunday by a small army of drivers. The rest of the orders go to businesses and are delivered on Monday. Customers pay a $10 delivery charge that covers all the meals for the week, whether it’s one or 50 … Healthy Fresh’s clients include the D.C. United soccer team, some National Football League players around the region and at least one local university. She is waiting to hear whether a big, health-oriented organization will become a client. If it pans out, the deal could add prestige and $500,000 a year in new orders."

    Interesting piece about an entrepreneur who is getting it done … and you can read it here.

    •  USA Today reports that KFC is suspending the use of its longtime slogan, "It's finger-lickin' good."

    According to the story, "KFC said during an unprecedented year during which the COVID-19 pandemic has upended businesses and lives around the globe, use of the slogan 'doesn't feel quite right'."

    "We find ourselves in a unique situation – having an iconic slogan that doesn’t quite fit in the current environment," says Catherine Tan-Gillespie, global chief marketing officer at KFC.  "While we are pausing the use of It’s Finger Lickin’ Good, rest assured the food craved by so many people around the world isn’t changing one bit.”

    •  The Charlotte News & Observer writes about how a Lowe’s Home Improvement store there "will be the first to open Lowe’s Tool Rental, offering rentals of commercial-grade equipment for pros and do-it-yourself home improvement customers … By renting equipment brands … customers can save on the cost of owning, maintaining and storing tools … Items for rent include floor and prep installation, lawn and garden, and towable equipment like trenchers and concrete mixers."

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Amazon announced that Jeff Wilke, CEO of the company's worldwide consumer business, will retire early next year, and will be succeeded by Dave Clark, who runs Amazon's worldwide operations.

    The Seattle Times writes that "the hand-off from Wilke to Clark, likely to be smooth given the long tenure and close working relationship of the executives involved, comes as Amazon has converted the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic into one of its most profitable periods ever."

    The Times quotes Amazon founder-CEO Jeff Bezos:  "Jeff’s legacy and impact will live on long after he departs.  He is simply one of those people without whom Amazon would be completely unrecognizable."

    Wilke said, "I don’t have a new job, and am as happy with and proud of Amazon as ever. … It’s just time."

    However, the New York Post reports that Wilke "aims to complete two final projects in the coming months. The first is to oversee the rollout of Amazon Go convenience stores and their ambitious cashierless technology, which allows customers at Amazon Go stores to pay for items by simply walking out of the store rather than ringing them up at a register.

    "The bigger task for Wilke, according to a source close to the company, will be to oversee the rollout of high-powered sensors that drive the cutting-edge tech — which currently are currently operating at a mere 26 Amazon Go locations in the US — to Whole Foods, which Amazon acquired for $13.7 billion in 2017."

    •  Amazon also announced that it "also added three new members to its senior leadership team … Alicia Boler Davis joined the company in April 2019 as vice president of global customer fulfillment after nearly 25 years rising through the ranks of General Motors. She is the first Black person in the group of top executives, which has been less diverse than the company as a whole.

    "The two other additions are John Felton, with Amazon for 16 years and currently vice president of global delivery services, and David Treadwell, who left Microsoft after more than 27 years to join Amazon in 2016 as vice president responsible for the technology foundations of the company’s e-commerce services."

    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "Amazon has developed an online certification program with City University of Seattle to train its military employees and their families for higher-paying jobs in the company.

    "The effort is an outgrowth of an earlier partnership between the mega-retailer and the Seattle-based private nonprofit university, which provides online degree programs to some 7,000 students enrolled around the world. It reflects Amazon’s emphasis on “upskilling” its workers, and specifically the thousands of military veterans and their spouses working for the company, said Charles Stevens, senior manager of Amazon global military affairs.

    "The courses, in topics such as database technologies, business analytics and product management, can stand alone or be incorporated into undergraduate or graduate degrees.

    "They fit into a broader trend — which has accelerated with the pandemic and ensuing labor market disruption — toward highly focused training programs that can lead directly to new jobs or promotions, said Chris Graham, president of Workforce Education Solutions, part of the National University System, which City University is a part of."

    •  From the Chicago Business Journal:

    "Toys R Us has ended an e-commerce partnership with Target launched 10 months ago in favor of fulfillment through Amazon …  item descriptions on the Toys R Us website now include the phrase 'Sold and shipped by or fulfilled through,' and buying links redirect to Amazon."

    The story notes that "Toys R Us filed bankruptcy in 2017 and closed all its stores in 2018, but the brand was resurrected last year by Tru Kids Inc., a company led by Richard Barry, a former Toys R Us executive.

    "In October 2019, Tru Kids announced that Minneapolis-based Target would support the relaunched website, managing content, online sales and fulfillment."

    But now, the company is moving over to Amazon to handle online fulfillment.

    Haven't we seen this movie before, and don't we know how it ends?  It was 20 years ago that Toys R Us, unable to handle its own online fulfillment, made a deal with Amazon to take over … and a lot of folks might argue that this was the beginning of the end for the old Toys R Us, as Amazon was able to abscond with untold sales and customers.  To be clear, this was suicide, not homicide - Toys R Us gave away those sales.  

    There's not as much at stake now.  Toys R Us is a mere ghost of its former self.  But it is hard to imagine that this is the best way for it to establish its differentiated value proposition.

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    We had a piece the other day about how, at Kings Food Markets, if people come in without wearing a mask, they get two things:  a mask, and a card with CEO Judy Spires' phone number, in case they have any questions.

    MNB reader Kim Marsh responded:

    Great to see Judy SpiresSpires make the news, again, for her leadership. 

    She literally said what so many of us wish our government & political officials, as well as CEO’s and leaders of large organizations would say ‘I take accountability, the buck stops with me’. 

    With those simple words she is creating a safe working environment, letting her employees know she literally has their backs and creating a lasting, and most likely, positive personal relationship with their customers. 

    In my experience Judy is truly a one of kind leader in our industry and beyond. This is a  wonderful example of positive leadership that stands out amidst the chaos of our world today.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Regarding the challenges facing malls, one MNB reader wrote:

    That got me thinking about all the closed or nearly empty malls - repurpose them with Doctor, Dental offices, Eye care doctors - child care facilities - pet care facilities - DMV office - Post office -  the list is endless.

    Foot traffic would drive the sales to other retail outlets that are ready there  and may attract others to come back.

    Maybe someone has already tried that and failed - just a thought.

    Last week MNB took note of a New York Times report that chef Dan Barber's two Blue Hill restaurants in New York - in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., and in Greenwich Village - will not reopen next year, having been closed by the pandemic, but instead will shift to a rotating chef-in-residence format that will last at least a year.

    I commented:

    This is fascinating - a restaurant that is legendary in its approach to farm-to-table cuisine, largely built on the reputation of its owner-chef, deciding to throw all the sticks into the air and reassemble them in a different way when they land.  It may be a risk, but it also can be an adventure that will bring the company new insights and show it new directions.

    MNB reader Julia Ann Mataras responded:

    My goddaughter had her wedding at Blue Hill several years ago.  It was a beautiful wedding- and the food was fantastic.  Blue Hill was a wonderful venue for a wedding.  Having said that, while it will be sad to see the change in operating model - I’m glad that a “displaced” chef might have a place to work and get his name known.  Even though it was said that this change was in the works pre-covid, I still think it is a sign of the times.

    Thank you Kevin- for brightening my day, every day.  I look forward to listening to you daily as I have my lunch at my desk here at home. I might not always agree with you- but your views and opinions always make me think about mine.

    Published on: August 25, 2020

    I'm happy to announce that on Friday, August 28, at 6 pm EDT / 3 pm PDT, we're going to do it again … an MNB Virtual Happy Hour.

    The folks at GMDC/Retail Tomorrow have once again agreed to sponsor and host it.  Hopefully, you can put it on your calendar … choose a libation for Happy Hour … and then prop up your laptop or warm up your computer on Friday, August 28, for a conversation and a drink.  (You don't have to let me know you're coming, but it would be nice to know.)

    To join us, click here.