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    Published on: September 2, 2020

    I've enjoyed it so much that one last time this summer, as we hurtle toward Labor Day, I'm going to take a long weekend.

    I'm going to take off Thursday and Friday this week, and MNB will be closed (except, of course, for the archives) on Monday to observe Labor Day.

    I'll be back on Tuesday, September 8 with all-new hand-crafted news and commentary.

    See you then.  Have a great weekend … stay safe … be healthy.

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    By Michael Sansolo

    To make the point that we all can overcome the dismal times we face these days, two weeks ago I wrote about a car dealership that pivoted hard to deal with Covid related challenges and produced some of its best sales results ever.

    This week, I want to share a more personal story of making the best of these times.  I think if offers ideas for how to pivot in this strange period and also how to have a new appreciation of how much frequently maligned millennials can accomplish when properly motivated.

    Ten days ago, my son got married and to be blunt, nearly everything that was planned for this joyous day fell apart thanks to the coronavirus. The caterer went bankrupt and the list of invitees fell from 150 something to 20.

    And then it  rained.

    But somehow it ended up being perfect thanks to lots of creativity, flexibility and, of course,

    For example, covid meant there would be no bridal shower. So my wife and daughter ran a virtual shower, sending gift boxes to all attendees, running games on line and in the process, allowed the two families to meet, including three grandmothers ranging from 90 to 98. It was special.

    My son’s friends followed that with a creative bachelor party. Instead of booze and strippers, it was again on Zoom, with scheduled times for get togethers with family and friends from different periods of my son’s life. (High school, college and now, life in Chicago.)  It, too, was special.

    But the wedding topped it all and here’s where those millennials came through big time.

    Friends of my son and now daughter-in-law staffed the bar, the food station, arranged the flowers, music, cake and, of course, a Zoom live stream to connect with scores of missing guests. And yes, it rained right after the ceremony, but one friend even showed up with 30 umbrellas.

    Immediately after all of that my daughter specifically said, “Write a blog about this and how those do-nothing millennials pulled this off!” I know better than to disagree with my daughter, especially when she is right.

    The reason I share this story is two-fold. First off, I’m completely over the moon with how great the wedding turned about despite the endless challenges. My son married a wonderful young woman and I am filled with hope for their life to come.

    But for business reasons, the speed and effectiveness with which everyone pivoted to save the entire event is the story I have to share. Certainly 1,000 Zoom events won’t make up for all we had to forego with this special day, but I don’t feel like we missed anything. With a lot of creativity, flexibility and graciousness from the young couple, we ended up with something special and certainly unique to its time. (My greatest hope is that my son and daughter-in-law in years to come have to explain to children and more why everyone dressed like bank robbers for their wedding. Yes, we even had wedding specific masks, which another millennial made.)

    I have to believe that some of that can-do spirit resides in your teams as well. As we are living in completely unprecedented times, doesn’t it make sense to offer up some new challenges about how to create excitement and connection for world. You may just find millennials, and more, on your staff full of “what if” ideas that can some restore some connection and excitement to your business and your customers at a time when it is needed more than ever. 

    Believe me, it worked for us!

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    Amazon this week has opened a new Whole Foods store in Brooklyn, New York - a permanent so-called "dark store" that only is being used to fulfill online orders in the borough.

    The move builds on what Amazon/Whole Foods already was doing curing the pandemic - converting traditional stores into temporary fulfillment centers as a way of compensating for the dramatically higher demand for e-grocery created by the coronavirus.

    The dark store is in Brooklyn's Industry City complex, about five miles south of the new Wegmans store opened last year adjacent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

    "Grocery delivery continues to be one of the fastest-growing businesses at Amazon," the company said. "We’re thrilled to increase access to grocery delivery. It’s never been more important."

    KC's View:

    One of the things that Tom Furphy has long said in our Innovation Conversations here on MNB is that Amazon, despite its e-commerce DNA, is agnostic when it comes to serving customer needs.  Which explains why it is operating at so many different levels at the same time (online, c-stores, traditional grocery stores, organic/specialty stores), and using so many different tech-centric approaches (checkout-free, Dash Cart, dark stores, Prime, Subscribe & Save).

    A "dark store" essentially is a warehouse, albeit more of a micro-fulfillment center that can be more targeted in its focus.  One can imagine that Amazon could open such centers with two components - half dedicated to Whole Foods, and half to a more traditional selection - and being driven to an even greater degree by robotics that improve efficiency and productivity while reducing friction.

    It is all Amazon's way of moving chess pieces around the board in a way that give it the best opportunity to meet and exceed customer demands.  Competing retailers have to be careful that they're not playing checkers.

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    From the Washington Post, a story this morning about how "the novel coronavirus has changed how Americans buy groceries. The pandemic has altered what products people purchase, when and where, who is buying them, and how much time is devoted to the endeavor.

    "Americans are spending more, yet increasingly they are being offered fewer choices, both online and in person, slowing a years-long trend toward innovations that put 'good for you' and 'environmentally friendly' spins on established and much-loved products … The winnowing — what one expert calls a 'Sovietish' reduction of choice — is also solidifying eating patterns, for good or for ill. With customers’ selections reinforced by online advertising, repeat ordering and other algorithms, the food system is becoming bifurcated as consumers who have expressed enthusiasm for healthful or artisanal foods are offered more of the same, while those with a penchant for highly processed comfort foods are inundated with opportunities to restock."

    The Post writes that "the monthly grocery bill for the average American household spiked to $525 in March, up 30 percent over March 2019, according to census data, as dollars pivoted from restaurant meals to home and people snapped up items in bulk. By July it had settled to about $455 a month, still up 10 percent over the same month last year."

    KC's View:

    And that doesn't even include the wine and vodka bill.

    (Did I say that out loud?)

    I do think it is interesting to see how negative feelings about so-called "big food" have been scaled back by the realities of the pandemic.  But I also believe that it would be a mistake to underestimate the aspirational nature of the American public … people  are going to continue to want things that are new and better and innovative.

    To think otherwise is the same as saying that people who move out of the city to the country are turning their backs on what cities have to offer;  in fact, they are going to want the communities to which they are moving to offer more and better features that meet their needs and wants.

    The problem, of course, is breaking through.  That's the challenge.

    The Post writes that "new products and start-up food businesses may be in trouble. And with many trial-balloon opportunities nixed during the pandemic - trade shows like the Fancy Food Show or the Natural Products Expo West have been canceled, along with sports and music events - there are fewer forums for debuting a product and persuading retailers to buy in."

    All true.  But like Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park

    The retailers that always have focused on finding new and interesting food products to offer their shoppers will continue to do so.

    Sure, center store may become more commoditized, with those sales shifting to online.  But that will leave more room on a growing perimeter to innovate and push boundaries, which I completely believe will work if it is effectively communicated to shoppers.   You've got to tell them the story!

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports that negotiations to acquire TikTok's US operations - Walmart and Microsoft have teamed up for one bid, with Walmart virtually salivating over getting access to all the app's young customers - "have hit a snag over the question of whether the app’s core algorithms can be included as part of a deal."

    According to the story, "The algorithms, which determine the videos served to users and are seen as TikTok’s secret sauce, were considered part of the deal negotiations up until Friday, when the Chinese government issued new restrictions on the export of artificial-intelligence technology, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "Now both sides are trying to figure out whether the order means the algorithms need Chinese government approval for transfer, and if so, whether Beijing would sign off. The complexity involved has reduced the chances that a deal could be completed soon."

    The situation remains a political hot potato:  "The Trump administration has ordered the Chinese company to unload the platform’s American operations by mid-September or have it shut out of the U.S. market entirely. The administration has cited censorship and data-security concerns as reasons to force the sale.  Chinese commentators have described the Trump administration’s demand as an attempt by the U.S. government to appropriate Chinese technology in a forced fire sale."

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    Southeastern Grocers yesterday announced the sale of 23 BI-LO and Harveys stores to Alex Lee, Inc. and B&T Foods. 

    According to the announcement, "SEG will be selling 20 BI-LO stores to Alex Lee, who is the parent company of Lowe’s Foods and Merchants Distributors; two BI-LO stores and one Harveys Supermarket will be sold to B&T.  These agreements follow the Company’s previously-announced decision to enhance investment in its core banners.  SEG will begin the transitioning these stores to Alex Lee and B&T in September; the process is expected to conclude in November."

    The move is part of the continuing divestment of the Bi-Lo banner by SEG, as the company engages in what it calls a five-year transformation plan.

    Scott Moses of PJ Solomon is serving as financial advisor to SEG on the transactions.

    Published on: September 2, 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, there now have been 6,258,028 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 188,907 deaths and 3,497,431 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 25,928,158 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 861,703 fatalities, and 18,212,644 reported recoveries.

    •  CNBC reports that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is debunking online theories challenging the fatality numbers used for the coronavirus.

    At issue is a claim on social media - recently removed by Twitter - that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had "quietly" updated its numbers to suggest that only six percent of all deaths defined as being caused by the coronavirus actually were, and that the rest of them were from "other serious illnesses."

    While it is true that a large percentage of people had other health conditions, "that does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of Covid didn’t die of Covid-19. They did," Fauci said.  "So the numbers you’ve been hearing -- there are 180,000-plus deaths -- are real deaths from Covid-19. Let (there) not be any confusion about that.

    “It’s not 9,000 deaths from Covid-19, it’s 180-plus-thousand deaths."

    •  CNBC reports that "the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a draft report that lays out a federal plan for distributing a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. if and when one is approved for public use. The vaccine would be distributed in four phases with health-care workers and vulnerable Americans, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, getting it first."

    The story goes on:

    "The U.S., as part of Operation Warp Speed, has already invested billions of dollars in six potential vaccines as of last month, including from drug companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which have all entered phase three trials. 

    "Some vaccine candidates are being manufactured before regulatory approval. Because of the pandemic, U.S. health officials have been accelerating the development of vaccine candidates by investing in multiple stages of research even though doing so could be for naught if the vaccine ends up not being effective or safe.

    "U.S. health officials have said they are optimistic they will find at least one safe and effective vaccine by the end of the year and possibly more than one by early 2021.

    "While there is hope scientists will find a safe and effective vaccine, there is never a guarantee, scientists say. They warn that questions remain about how the human body responds once it’s been infected with the virus."

    Not only that, but the scientists suggest that of the seven trials being supported by Operation Warp Speed, it is likely that four of them will fail.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The U.S. recorded its smallest number of daily coronavirus cases in months, continuing a slowdown in new infections, as New York City delayed the start date of in-person classes for the nation’s largest school district … New York City schools, which had planned a mix of remote and in-person instruction, will now start in-person learning on Sept. 21, instead of Sept. 10 as earlier planned, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. Students will start school remotely on Sept. 16 before returning in-person, giving the district more time to ensure the hybrid approach works and to prepare for a safe reopening."

    •  Also from the Journal:

    "While the number of Covid-19 cases has been hovering below the peaks of earlier this summer, caseloads remain elevated and the national total exceeds six million.

    "Florida reported more than 7,000 new cases, its highest daily rise since Aug. 11, according to the Florida Department of Health. The number of infections also rose in Texas, which reported nearly 5,000 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins data."

    •  From Axios:

    "The 23rd installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index shows that a majority are hopeful we can get COVID-19 under control in six months. At the same time, however, most believe the federal government is making our country’s coronavirus recovery worse. For both of these items, and many others, attitudes are deeply divided along partisan lines. Additionally, as more parents report sending their child back to school, nearly half say their school district’s plans for the year have already changed."

    •  Engadget reports that Apple is rolling out a new iPhone update, iOS 13.7, that offers access to the COVID-19 Exposure Notifications Express framework that "allows you to more easily participate in your local health authority’s efforts to inform people if they’ve been in contact with someone who got sick with COVID-19."

    The story notes that "in places where the local health authorities have decided to use Apple’s new framework, iOS 13.7 allows you to receive exposure notifications on your device without downloading a separate app. As with any dedicated COVID-19 apps you can download, taking part in this new system is optional.

    In the US, Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. will be among the first jurisdictions to use Exposure Notifications Express. Those systems will be fully compatible with existing apps. An additional advantage is that those jurisdictions won’t have to develop and maintain their own apps."

    •  The US Government is cancelling its orders for new ventilators.

    The Associated Press reports that "the Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement Tuesday affirming that the national stockpile has now reached its maximum capacity for the life-saving breathing machines, with nearly 120,000 available for deployment to state and local health officials if need.

    •  The Associated Press reports that Uber has a new policy - "if a driver reports to Uber that a rider wasn’t wearing a mask, the rider will have to provide Uber with a selfie with one strapped on the next time they summon a car on the world’s largest ride-hailing service.

    "The mask verification rule expands upon a similar requirement that Uber imposed on its drivers in May to help reassure passengers worried about being exposed to the novel coronavirus that has upended society. Now, Uber believes it’s time to help make its drivers feel safer, too."

    •  The New York Times reports that "AMC Entertainment announced that it would reopen roughly 140 additional theaters by Sept. 4, bringing a total of 70 percent of its movie theaters in the United States back into operation … The majority of the theaters will reopen on Sept. 3, the same day that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet comes out. Theater executives are hoping the $200 million thriller will draw crowds of viewers out of their homes to experience the film on the big screen. But it remains to be seen whether people will want to sit in an enclosed space next to other moviegoers at a time when the virus continues to spread across the country."

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    From the Food Marketing Institute:

    " A new study conducted by the FMI Foundation shows that Americans are using family meals to stay strong – physically and emotionally – during the global pandemic; and they plan to continue this positive practice when the world returns to a new normal. As the nation observes National Family Meals Month in September, this news underscores the proven scientific benefits of sharing meals."

    David Fikes, executive director of the FMI Foundation, points out that a new study from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior " demonstrated the undeniable value of family meals … It showed that more frequent family meals were associated with better dietary and family functioning outcomes."

    Some stats from the study:

    •  "It revealed that as a result of the global pandemic, Americans are cooking more and having more family meals.  An incredible 94% say they are cooking the same amount or more than before the pandemic.  And three-quarters of Americans report they are having the same amount or more family meals – both in-person and virtually."

    •  "It confirmed that family meals keep us connected.  Seventy-one percent (71%) of people who have been eating more in-person meals (and 70% having more virtual meals) agree that 'I feel more connected to my family since the pandemic has started'."

    •  "It also showed that people appreciate the emotional benefits from breaking bread together.  The preponderance of Americans – 78% -- have positive sentiments about family meals such as: 'they are a high point of my day,' or 'they help to make me feel calm' or 'they are an important part of my household’s regular routine'."

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    •  Amazon announced that "it is on course to invest $18 billion this year to help independent businesses sell to customers, including investments in logistics, tools, services, programs, and people. Since the beginning of the year, Amazon has launched more than 135 free tools and services to help sellers grow their sales in Amazon’s store. In the next twelve months, the company will provide more than 500,000 U.S. small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) currently selling on Amazon with online selling guidance, education, and support, and the company plans to onboard an additional 100,000 U.S. businesses as new sellers in its store."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Zoom Video Communications - a company that relatively few people had heard of pre-pandemic - in its most recent quarter reported "a profit of $185.7 million on sales that had increased about fivefold from the year earlier to $663.5 million."

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    •  Bloomberg reports that Unilever has committed to spending $1.2 billion "to help its suppliers adopt technologies to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the production of cleaning products by 2030 … Unilever’s is the first large investment in a sector that has finally begun looking to replace oil in its production process with ingredients derived from wood or microbial fermentation, or even recycled carbon from other industries."

    Published on: September 2, 2020

    This email from MNB reader Maurine King  made me so happy…

    Just wanted to share a laugh with you this morning!

    Here I am sitting at my computer at work with my earphones on listening to your daily FaceTime with the Content Guy as you expand on the newspaper metaphor from yesterday.

    I absolutely laughed out loud SO LOUDLY that one of my colleagues came from their workstation wanting to know what they were missing out on and if I was ok!!  I had to explain what you were saying and how folks couldn’t wait to get their hands on the daily newspaper to read the obituary section!  LOL  My mother in law, God rest her soul, did just some.  After finding the obituary of someone she knew, she would pick up the telephone and call me to tell me so and so had passed...and ask the question “did I know them?”  If I didn’t know them, she explained to me how I really did know them as they were related to so and so and her daughter married so and so, and the conversation would go on and on like the Energizer Bunny!  I cannot remember, same as you, when I last looked in the newspaper for an obituary notice.  Yes...I do that online too.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for once again, for starting my day by sharing what’s on your mind, as I do look forward to hearing what’s on your mind.  I don’t know how you keep going and never run out of something that’s on your mind but glad that you don’t!

    Taking a different approach to commenting on that FaceTime video, MNB reader Julia Ann Mataras wrote:

    It’s nice to see you in other parts of your house.  But what’s with the dishtowel on your shoulder? 

    I had just finished making breakfast.  It is MorningNewsBeat, y'know.  (Chorizo omelette, in case you were wondering.)

    I was critical of Floridians and Public shoppers not paying attention to supermarket aisle directional signs designed to facilitate social distancing, prompting MNB reader Bob Thomas to write:

    How can you expect Floridians to follow arrows?

    Dec 24, 2014 - “Always with the left turn signal on, from when they left the house that morning. That's a legal turn in Florida. It's known as an 'eventual left.'” — Jerry Seinfeld.

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud.

    And finally, from MNB reader Kelsi Ward:

    As many others said today, thank you so much for posting the story from the transgender woman the other day. I followed up reading it with changing my own email signature.

    Representation and visibility matter!

    I changed mine, too.