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    Published on: October 12, 2020

    Content Guy's Note:  The other day I got an email from Cornell University, an institution of higher learning with a long history of thought leadership in the food industry.   They're launching a new virtual program next month entitled "Rethinking Retail & Brands," designed to help industry executives figure out, in a post-pandemic reality, how to identify and implement "actionable ideas and practical tools that will help … unlock new value streams for your organization and customers. 

    The conference materials say that it will help attendees "establish a flexible mindset to adjust to the changing retail landscape."  Which sounds good, but I wanted to know more about what that means and how they want to do it, and so I reached out to my friend Daniel Williams Hooker, who is on the Cornell business school faculty, to find out more.

    Below is our conversation … which includes an interesting digression into the parallels between retailing and education, each of which is finding new ways to reach customers these days.  Enjoy.

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    MarketWatch reports that wholesaler SpartanNash has "issued a warrant for Amazon to buy a total of 5.44 million common shares, which would represent about 15% of the shares outstanding."

    According to the story, the warrant - which, if executed, would represent an investment in SpartanNash of close to $100 million - is part of a new agreement between the two companies that will essentially double the amount of business that SpartanNash is doing with Amazon.

    Multiple reports point to customers using the Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Now programs has being the chief beneficiaries of the expanded relationship.

    KC's View:

    This would seem to be even more evidence of Amazon's commitment to making Amazon Fresh and Amazon Prime Now, and bringing its online grocery offering closer to as many customers as possible.

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    Time Out has a story about Fridge No More, a new grocery delivery service launched in Brooklyn, New York, and promising to deliver in 15 minutes or less.

    According to the story, co-founders Pavel Danilov and Anton Gladkoborodov "claim to offer a 15-minute delivery—with no minimum purchase required—within a one-mile radius of their 'storefront' by using electric bikes for a more convenient and environmentally-friendly service. Currently, they only operate in Williamsburg with a Park Slope slated to follow later this month. There are plans to open in Manhattan."

    According to the story, "The service doesn’t offer as many options as some competitors—there are currently two brands for whole milk, for example—but the curated inventory allows the service to be more efficient, according to Danilov, who’s also invested in other food start ups. On the Fridge No More app, you’ll find about 800 items, but they plan to grow it to 3,000 or so in a warehouse-like space … Fridge No More’s quick service is also meant to give people an option to not feel like they have to stock up their fridges and freezers with a one-time order. It’s supposed to help prevent food waste, too."

    KC's View:

    I love this story, not because I think Fridge No More necessarily will scale up to the point where it will have a major footprint (which it may, but who knows?), but because it makes me happy to know that even in this environment, new businesses are opening.  Hope springs eternal.

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    Re/code has an interview with Stephenie Landry, Amazon’s vice president of grocery, in which she lays out how the company will deal with potential large spikes in demand this fall and winter - spikes that created issues for the company and disappointed its customers earlier this year.

    " The new feature, which will appear in areas only where delivery availability is limited, prompts customers trying to place grocery orders from Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods to reserve a virtual place in line when there is no immediate availability over the next few days. Once a shopper signs up, they are given an estimate for when delivery availability will open up and, when it does, the company notifies them and gives them two hours to place their order."

    You can read the piece here.

    Published on: October 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…

    •  The United States is closing in on eight million coronavirus cases - we now have had 7,992,932 confirmed cases of Covid-19, resulting in 219,706 deaths and 5,128,492 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 37,786,413 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,081,848 fatalities and 28,374,689 reported recoveries.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The U.S. reported fewer than 50,000 new coronavirus cases for the first time in five days, while cases remained elevated in several states, particularly in the Midwest.

    In Wisconsin, the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases hit 2,510 as of Sunday, the highest level since the pandemic began, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.

    "Wisconsin’s daily tally was more than 2,600, down from a peak of more than 3,000 reached Thursday.

    "Indiana reported more than 1,500 new cases for Sunday, down from a single-day record of nearly 2,000 cases reached Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Illinois reported more than 2,700 new cases, slightly lower than the heightened levels of recent days."

    And, the Journal writes, "The coronavirus infection rate ticked up over the weekend in some New York hot spots where the state has tightened social-distancing restrictions, state officials said Sunday. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed schools and nonessential businesses, banned mass gatherings and limited houses of worship to no more than 25% of their capacity - or 10 people - in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Rockland and Orange counties where clusters of Covid-19 cases have emerged in recent weeks."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that pandemic-induced "public-health restrictions and a weakened travel industry have kept conventions and meetings from returning to Las Vegas, a continuing setback for the city’s battered casino industry and the state’s overall economy. City officials and event producers say they expect Las Vegas’s convention business to return as coronavirus concerns ease, but no one knows when that might be or how conventions will be operating by then."

    There has been some loosening of restrictions by the state government, but critics say it is too little, especially when compared to other communities around the country.

    The Journal provides some context:

    "The Las Vegas Strip has transformed over the past two decades into a hub for conventions and events, competing with cities like Orlando, Chicago and New Orleans. Casino companies have relied on group bookings to fill hotel rooms, restaurants, banquet halls and entertainment venues, keeping the Strip humming through the week.

    "The state’s new gathering policy likely won’t attract much new business, people in the industry say, but it gives meeting planners some confidence for 2021.

    "At Caesars Entertainment Inc., group bookings accounted for 15% of hotel occupancy at the company’s Las Vegas properties and up to 30% at Caesars Palace alone last year, the company said. Caesars companywide has had 2,500 meetings and events canceled since the start of the pandemic, and that number is growing, said Michael Massari, Caesars chief sales officer."

    •   The New York Times  reports on the emergence of a new retail banner called Covid-19 Essentials, described as perhaps "the country’s first retail chain dedicated solely to products necessitated by an infectious disease.

    "With many U.S. stores closing during the coronavirus pandemic, especially inside malls, the chain has seized on the empty space, as well as the world’s growing acceptance that wearing masks is a reality that may last well into 2021, if not longer. Masks have evolved from a utilitarian, anything-you-can-find-that-works product into another way to express one’s personality, political leanings or sports fandom.

    "And the owners of Covid-19 Essentials are betting that Americans are willing to put their money toward covering where their mouth is. Prices range from $19.99 for a simple children’s mask to $130 for the top-of-the-line face covering, with an N95 filter and a battery-powered fan."

    According to the story, "The chain has locations in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, and is looking to open stores in California."

    This made me wonder, how many supermarkets - already defining themselves as essential, are creating pandemic essentials sections in their stores that feature relevant items in one place for ease of shopping?  After all, they'll have seasonal sections … so why not an pandemic essentials section?

    •  From the New York Times:

    "In July, one infectious disease expert said Walt Disney World’s reopening was a 'terrible idea' that was 'inviting disaster.' Social media users attacked Disney as 'irresponsible' and 'clueless' for pressing forward, even as coronavirus cases surged in Florida. A few aghast onlookers turned Disney World marketing videos into parody trailers for horror films.

    "Attendance has been lower than anticipated. Travel agents say families have been postponing Christmastime plans to vacation at the Orlando-area resort, in part because of concerns about the safety of flying. In recent days, Disney World, citing continued uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic, began laying off 15,550 workers, or 20 percent of its work force.

    "As tumultuous as the three months since the reopening have been, however, public health officials and Disney World’s unions say there have been no coronavirus outbreaks among workers or guests. So far, Disney’s wide-ranging safety measures appear to be working."

    Some data from the Times story:

    "New coronavirus cases in Florida have dropped steadily since Disney World reopened in mid-July. Florida had about 11,800 new cases a day when Disney’s theme parks unlocked their gates. A month into operations, the number was about 6,400. On Friday, Florida added 2,908 cases. The Orlando area has had an even sharper decline. Disney has said Floridians have made up about 50 percent of attendance since the reopening."

    •  The Boston Globe  reports that because of concerns about Covid-19 spread, tonight's New England Patriots-Denver Broncos game has been postponed … but it is far more than just one game.

    "It takes a wrecking ball to the league’s schedule," the Globe writes.  "The domino effect of having to move just one game is maddening — a total of eight games had to be moved around, affecting six other teams.

    "Yet postponing Patriots-Broncos to next Sunday was the only decision for the NFL to make if it wanted to avoid a player revolt.

    "A noticeable whiff of rebellion has been in the air this past week. With the Titans experiencing an outbreak that infected at least 24 people and the Patriots having to fly to Kansas City to play a game just two days after a significant portion of the team was exposed to Cam Newton, NFL players are starting to question the league’s protocols and the executives making the decisions.

    "The Patriots are upset they were forced to play last Monday night against Kansas City. The Broncos are upset they practiced all last week and won’t get a true bye week. The Titans have lost faith in the testing system. The Dolphins, Jets, Jaguars, and Chargers want to know why their schedules were likely blown up by a Patriots-Broncos game that had nothing to do with them."

    Of all those teams, the Jets should just hope that the rest of their season gets cancelled.  Now.

    • The Wall Street Journal has a piece about how "several artists and theatrical producers are developing shows these days with Broadway (or off-Broadway) in mind, saying the pandemic has afforded them the luxury of time to work on these efforts. Some are projects that were in motion, with early-stage productions outside New York City, before theaters were forced to cease operations in mid-March, while others are ones that emerged during the shutdown.

    "But either way, the current period is proving to be one of unbridled creativity."  Artists seem to be thinking that when venues finally are allowed to open, there will be a need for product - and they wan t to be ready.

    Among them:  singer-songwriter Don McLean of "American Pie" fame, who has used the extended pause in his nonstop touring schedule to work on a long-planned Broadway musical.

    I love this "let's put on a show" attitude, but I must admit that I am surprised by one thing - who knew that Don McLean has a nonstop touring schedule?

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    From the Seattle Times:

    "Amazon’s turnover rate among front-line workers was at least double the industry average during the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic, reinforcing the view among some critics that the Seattle commerce giant churns through workers.

    "It also raises questions about the role of automation — a major strategy Amazon has employed in the last five years to drive speed and efficiency — in employee retention. Some researchers say increasing automation may be a driver of higher turnover rates, while also reducing companies’ turnover costs in hiring and training replacement workers."

    It is an interesting piece, and you can read it here.

    KC's View:

    We're going to see a lot of stories like this one, I think, as we move through the last quarter of the year.

    For example, CNN has a story about how some Amazon employees are concerned about warehouse conditions likely to emerge as the company launches its Prime Day promotion this week and then moves immediately into the holiday sales period.  "At one warehouse, workers expressed concerns about the ability to follow social distancing guidelines and being reprimanded if unable to do so. In others, workers were stressed in anticipation of the extra work."

    The story goes on:  "Mandatory overtime is enacted during busy periods including around Prime Day, according to the workers who spoke to CNN Business, with employees at three locations saying overtime is scheduled for this week at their facilities. That means workers will be putting in more hours and spending more time inside the warehouses, making conditions evermore important."

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    Fast Company quotes Slack Technologies CEO/co-founder Stewart Butterfield as saying that remote workforces are probably baked into the technology sector's future, even if companies want to bring people back to the office.

    The reason, he said, is market forces - otherwise known as peer pressure.

    "“If we say that everyone must return to the office, or we expect people to, and one of our competitors says you can work remotely, who wouldn’t take the second option there?” he says.  "There’s a market force at play. So I don’t know that individual companies are going to be able to opt out and say, ‘Our employees have to come into the office.'”

    The most likely model, he says, will be some sort of hybrid.

    According to the story, "Slack conducted research on pre-pandemic office use and found that 65% of staff were in the office on weekdays, with most of the rest on vacation, sick, or traveling. He predicts that Slack’s future workforce will be 20-30% will be remote, with the majority appearing at work 1-2 days per week for face time with their teams, and working remotely on the other days."

    Meanwhile, the  BBC reports that "Microsoft has told staff that they will have the option of working from home permanently with manager approval.

    "The move mimics the US tech giant's rivals Facebook and Twitter, which have also said remote work would be a permanent option."

    According to the story, "Microsoft said some roles will continue to require an in-person presence, such as those needing access to hardware, the firm added. But many staff will also be able to work from home part-time, without needing formal approval from their managers.

    'Our goal is to evolve the way we work over time with intention - guided by employee input, data, and our commitment to support individual work styles and business needs while living our culture,' a Microsoft spokesperson said of the new guidance."

    At the same time, in Minnesota the Star Tribune reports that "Target has told its Twin Cities corporate employees that the majority of them can expect to continue working virtually through at least June because of the continued threat of the coronavirus.

    "Target is the largest employer in downtown Minneapolis, with more than 8,500 workers in its corporate headquarters plus other offices … Like other major urban business districts, downtown Minneapolis is still practically a ghost town, with only about one in 10 workers regularly working in their physical offices.

    "Target executives also said the company expects to incorporate telecommuting into its future workplace plans."

    KC's View:

    I mention this trend not because retailers are going to be able to adopt broad work-from-home policies - which they can't or won't - but rather because these policies are affecting how many of their customers work and live.  Which, of course, affects how they shop.

    There's a terrific piece in the New York Times this morning about how CEOs at many companies around the country have discovered a new life experience over the past six months - the evening family dinner.  "Without in-person company meetings, chief executives have instead become regulars at a new type of meeting: the family dinner," the story says.  "For some of the busiest people in the world, the new normal has reshaped life at home."

    The story notes that "decades of research have shown the benefits of regular family meals for children across the socioeconomic spectrum. Children who eat with their parents have bigger vocabularies, receive higher grades and have lower rates of obesity.  They are also more resilient and confident, manage stress better and have lower rates of anxiety and behavioral problems."

    And, I'm guessing, the executives end up being better-adjusted, too.

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    •  From the Houston Chronicle:

    "The University of Houston debuted a cashier-less shopping system Thursday - a concept that’s the first of its kind for a U.S. college campus, university officials said.

    "The Market Next convenience store will completely transform the average on campus snack-shopping experience by removing cashiers, lines and the typical checkout process.

    "The existing convenience store in the Technology Bridge area of campus is using automated artificial intelligence and 50 to 60 cameras for the checkout-free experience."

    The technology is powered by Standard Cognition, a San Francisco startup that first opened a test store there more than two years ago.

    •  The New York Times has a story about a culture clash taking place in an agricultural region in southern France, where there is a giant Amazon distribution center being planned.

    "The weedy plot carved out for Amazon — strategically near a six-lane highway — has become a point of contention in a bigger battle between rising environmental political forces and officials who say France can hardly afford to pass up opportunities for economic development, especially during a historically deep recession brought on by the coronavirus," the Times writes.

    "The Gard, despite picture-postcard beauty, has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. To people desperate for work, the environmental push to thwart Amazon - pointing to the stream of delivery trucks it will generate - seems out of touch with the hardscrabble reality facing families in the region."

    The story goes on:  "A spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment on the Fournès project, which is being spearheaded by a French warehouse developer, Argan. But Amazon widely promotes its environmental awareness and its pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 … Meanwhile, the American online giant wants to enlarge its footprint in France as it pursues international expansion. Since it arrived in 2000, Amazon has become a favorite in France, capturing nearly half of online spending in 2019."

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    •  The Washington Post has a piece about how a number of retailers - not just Amazon, Walmart and Target - are launching major promotions this month, hoping to jumpstart their end-of-year holiday sales a month or more before they usually would begin.

    "Most large retailers are going dark on Thanksgiving Day, reversing a years-long tradition of kicking off the holiday shopping season with a rush of 'doorbuster' deals," the Post writes.  "It’s part of a larger reimagining of the retail experience because of the pandemic, one designed to accommodate social distancing and new safety protocols, and minimize long lines, crowded malls and repeat shopping trips."

    The stakes are high, the story says, since so many retailers this year have filed for bankruptcy.  Better to lock in sales early and minimize the risk that the end of the year could be a business killer because other retailers co-opted the consumer.

    Meanwhile, CNBC has a piece in which it points out that retailers not named Amazon are likely to make a big point of their curbside pickup options … which they perceive as being a strategic advantage.

    •  Hy-Vee announced that it "has joined the Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag as a Supporting Partner, alongside Founding Partners CVS Health, Target and Walmart, and joined by Dick's Sporting Goods, Kroger and Walgreens.

    "Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy launched the Consortium and it’s Beyond the Bag Initiative earlier this year with the aim of identifying, testing and implementing viable design solutions and models that more sustainably serve the purpose of the current retail bag."

    •  The Washington Post reports on a nationwide shortage of cans - the US may be 10 billion cans short of demand just in 2020.

    There are a number of factors in play - tariffs that have hurt aluminum supply, lack of manufacturing capacity, and higher demand as beer manufacturers have transitioned from bottles to cans.

    The problem is that craft beer makers are getting squeezed more than big brewers, simply because the bigger companies are seen as preferred customers because of their size and the amount of money they spend.

    •  The BBC reports that Mohsin and Zuber Issa, the billionaire brothers who last week said they would acquire, with private equity company TDR Capital, a majority stake in The Asda Group from Walmart, were listed on this year's Queen's Birthday Honours list.

    CBE, the BBC says, "stands for Commander of the Order of the British Empire."

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    Whitey Ford, who in his Hall of Fame 16-year pitching career with the New York Yankees won 11 pennants, six World Series championships, and a total of 236 games, passed away late last week.  He was 91.

    Ford's career covered a period of time when the Yankees were transitioning from the Joe DiMaggio era to the Mickey Mantle era;  he also played with the likes of Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Moose Skowron, and Billy Martin.

    KC's View:

    I remember watching Ford pitch, and thinking at the time that he always seemed amazingly confident and in control, with an easy pitching motion that was incongruous with how hard he was to hit.  It ends up that, in his later years, Ford admitted that he was expert at doctoring the baseball … which was one of the reasons he was so hard to hit.

    But my memories of Ford go back almost 60 years, and I treasure them.

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    Reacting to my continued criticisms of retailers doing business with Instacart, one MNB reader wrote:

    I previously shared your view as well - retailers handing their shoppers to Instacart is a bad idea. But I think this has tipped beyond a point of no return - retailers need to play with Instacart or be left behind. Not unlike when the Amazon marketplace tipped years ago - be where the traffic is or die.

    I don’t think it’s all bad by the way. Looking at my own IC history, there are far more grocery stores we shop now than before - we are no longer limited by what’s closest and most convenient. Further, each retailer’s identity still comes through each order via selection, in-stock and quality of fresh produce. Hence, there remains the opportunity for retailers to win - or lose - shopper loyalty in every purchase. 

    But another MNB reader wrote:

    Instacart’s rapid rise and current valuation could never have happened without the support of the retailers upon which it feeds. It’s like the Frankenstein monster of retail; Instacart will ultimately destroy those that helped to create it. And much like the classic story, the Monster continues to learn but its creators do not.

    On the subject of pandemic-related safety measures, MNB reader Dave Rutstein wrote:

    Kevin, I have been reading (and listening) to your wisdom, judgment and timely suggestions every time you publish.  I am into my third decade of doing that since I retired from Giant Food in Landover. I also have consistently been wearing masks and gloves every time-- everywhere as you seem to do. Very recently I have stopped wearing gloves having now educated myself on the science which might sound counter-intuitive but I now believe accurate.

    I've sort of backed off the gloves, too, based on what I've read.  I still keep them in the car, just in case it seems prudent to wear them … but a healthy amount of hand sanitizer and lots of hand-washing seem to be just as effective and reassuring.

    Published on: October 12, 2020

    Busy weekend in sports….

    •  In the first game of the American League Championship Series, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 2-1 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

    •  In the French Open's men's singles championship, Rafael Nadal demolished his opponent, Novak Djokovic, in three sets, winning 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 and earning his 13th French Open title.

    In the women's singles championship,  Iga Swiatek defeated Sofia Kenin 6-4, 6-1, to win her first-ever Grand Slam title.

    •  The Los Angeles Lakers, led by series MVP LeBron James, defeated the Miami Heat 106-93, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, winning the NBA championship four games-to-two.

    •  And, in Week 5 of National Football League play…

    Jaguars  14,  Texans  30

    Bengals  3,  Ravens  27

    Panthers  23,  Falcons  16

    Raiders  40,  Chiefs  24

    Cardinals  30,  Jets  10

    Eagles  29,  Steelers  38

    Rams  30,  Washington  10

    Dolphins  43,  49ers  17

    Giants  34,  Cowboys  37

    Colts  23,  Browns  32

    Vikings  26,  Seahawks  27