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    Published on: October 13, 2020

    This weekly series of Retail Tomorrow podcasts features Sterling Hawkins, co-CEO and co-founder of CART-The Center for Advancing Retail & Technology, and MNB "Content Guy" Kevin Coupe teaming up to speculate, prognosticate, and formulate visions of what tomorrow's retail landscape will look like post-coronavirus.

    Architecture and design can be seen as being at the unique juncture of art and science … and this week's guest, Matthew Rosenberg, founder of M-Rad, operates at an extraordinarily high level of both.  He has worked all over the world, on projects ranging from 275 square feet to 850,000 square feet, on public and private spaces as well as consumer products, that are designed to touch the five senses and create a sense of both inspiration and aspiration.

    In this conversation, Rosenberg addresses the evolving creative process, the shortcomings and potential of supermarkets, and the challenges of creating spaces that resonate with people.

    You can listen to the podcast here…

    …or on The Retail Tomorrow website, iTunes or Google Play.

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    Kroger yesterday announced the launching of ChefBot, which it describes as an "AI-powered Twitter recipe tool that helps users' pair the groceries in their fridge and reduce food waste by providing mealtime inspiration and personalized recommendations."

    The process of using ChefBot is simple:  The customer takes a picture of three ingredients that he or she has on hand, either in the larder or refrigerator.  The person then tweets the photo to @KrogerChefbot, where artificial intelligence "identifies ingredients and then scans thousands of unique recipes" on Kroger's website.  Within seconds, the company says, "Chefbot responds to the user's original tweet to deliver a list of personalized recipe recommendations based on the selected ingredients."

    "Last year, we launched Kroger's Fresh for Everyone brand transformation campaign to underscore our commitment and belief that everyone should have access to fresh, affordable and delicious food," said Mandy Rassi, Kroger's vice president of marketing, in a prepared statement. "Chefbot is one of the ways we're delivering on that brand promise by making it even easier for our customers to achieve their meal aspirations, especially as the majority of shoppers are eating meals prepared at home multiple times a day during the pandemic."

    ChefBot was developed in partnership with integrated creative and media agency 360i, and technology partners Coffee Labs and Clarifai.

    KC's View:

    Love this … not only does it seem technologically cool, but it also sounds like fun.

    I think Kroger ought to turn this into a contest or game - what are the three weirdest or least compatible ingredients that people put into the system?  It could become a phenomenon … and would get a lot of positive publicity.

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    In what appears to be a dramatic shift in its approach to management, Disney "is reorganizing its massive entertainment and media operations to focus on creating content for its streaming services in a major effort to accelerate its direct-to-consumer strategy," the Los Angeles Times writes.  "Under the new corporate structure, Disney’s media and entertainment units will be organized into content businesses that produce its movies, TV shows and sports in addition to an equally important and newly created group to distribute that content through traditional channels as well as its streaming services, such as Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+."

    The Times writes that Disney has been "emboldened by the success of Disney+," which launched last November and "has already exceeded 60 million global subscribers, far exceeding analyst expectations. Disney had previously set its five-year guidance at 60 million to 90 million subscribers, meaning the app is growing ahead of schedule."

    At the same time, the story notes, "The reorganization comes as Disney has been struggling to overcome the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and looking to cut expenses. The company recently said it would lay off 28,000 from its parks, experiences and products division, largely because of the continued closure of Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. Disney’s movie studio has been severely hobbled by theater closures in major markets including Los Angeles and New York."

    KC's View:

    I know this isn't specifically retail-oriented, but it strikes me as being relevant to broader business management issues.

    As I understand it, Disney had both a number of production arms, a bunch of in-house distribution arms, and a variety of distribution customers to which it sold product.  In the end, it was a morass - highly inefficient, and not necessarily focused on the ultimate consumer.

    What they're trying to do is streamline the system, break down the silos, and try to figure out a way to get more bang for the buck, but with an eye on the ultimate consumer.

    That strikes me as a worthwhile effort for every business.

    One of my favorite authors, Elmore Leonard, once did a short book entitled "10 Rules Of Writing."  Number 10 is my favorite:  "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

    Which seems like a pretty good metaphor for business - get rid of the stuff that gets in the way of creativity, and get out of the way of people who are getting the work done.

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    Interesting piece in the New York Times about how, in many companies, when top management looks to address diversity issues, it often turns to Black people to drive those efforts - even if those Black people have no experience doing so.

    "For many Black professionals, the experience of being asked - or even required - to lead or participate in a company’s diversity and inclusion work simply because of their race is an uncomfortable ritual" that often occurs simply because they may be the only Black person in the room, the Times writes.

    "As the corporate world continues its attempt to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, such requests threaten to undermine the inclusion efforts they’re supposed to promote," the Times writes.  "Bosses, managers and colleagues — well-intentioned or otherwise — often fail to recognize the emotional and professional stakes of giving Black employees D.E.I. tasks, like reviewing or writing company statements, leading anti-racism meetings or heading employee resource groups, especially when it’s not their area of expertise."

    KC's View:

    I have to be honest.  I never thought about this issue from this perspective … it never occurred to me that asking the only Black person in the room to work on diversity issues could be seen by some as a kind of tokenism.

    I also have to be honest about something else.  Other than working assiduously to make sure that there isn't one Black person in the room, I'm not exactly sure what the best approach is for companies to take.  Would someone who looks like me have any credibility on this issue?

    This is a hard one.  I'm not sure what next steps are going forward in terms of this specific issue.

    Published on: October 13, 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've now had 8,038,037 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 220,018 deaths and 5,185,986 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 38,083,379 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 1,086,044 fatalities and 28,628,473 reported recoveries.


    •  From the New York Times:

    "Case numbers are rising nationally as uncontrolled outbreaks continue to spread in the Upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains, and as the Northeast sees early signs of a resurgence.

    "In Wisconsin, a long-dormant field hospital at the state fairgrounds is being readied for patients. In New York, officials fear clusters in some neighborhoods and suburbs could spread further. And in Utah, Montana, Wyoming and other Western states, new infections have emerged at or near record levels. Still, the number of new cases nationally remains below the levels seen in late July, when the country averaged more than 66,000 per day.

    "Deaths, though still well below their peak spring levels, averaged around 700 per day in October, far more than were reported in early July."


    •  The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has a piece in which it looks to estimate the economic impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus - and the number it comes up with is more than $16 trillion, "or approximately 90% of the annual gross domestic product of the US."

    JAMA's calculation is based on a number of factors - including unemployment claims filed because of the pandemic, lost output, the cost of premature deaths, and long-term impairment of people who survive the virus."   According to the lengthy analysis, "Approximately half of this amount is the lost income from the COVID-19–induced recession; the remainder is the economic effects of shorter and less healthy life."


    •  Axios writes:

    "The weather is getting colder and the days are getting shorter — accelerating the economic and psychological damage of the coronavirus pandemic … During the summer, businesses took advantage of outdoor dining, exercise and shopping, and families and friends safely gathered outside and at a distance. As the season changes, much of what made the last several months bearable will vanish.

    "Businesses that have made it this far could start closing in droves.

    "The pandemic has already forced at least 100,000 restaurants to close indefinitely or permanently.

    "Those that have stayed open in big metros have done so by seating patrons outside. And although many cities are extending outdoor dining permits into the fall and winter, restaurateurs doubt customers will want to sit outside in the cold or the rain — unless they spend big on outdoor heaters.

    "Many other businesses — from yoga studios to music schools — have been conducting classes outside all summer. Their customers may disappear in the winter, too."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "A Nevada man became the first published case of Covid-19 reinfection in the U.S., adding to a number of examples world-wide signaling that patients who have recovered from the viral disease might still be at risk of getting it again.

    "In a paper in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, a group of authors including University of Nevada researchers recount the case of a 25-year-old who suffered two bouts of Covid-19 infection, one confirmed through testing in mid-April and the second in early June. Symptoms of the second case started in late May, a month after the patient reported his initial symptoms as having resolved.

    "The two strains of virus were genetically distinct, signaling that it is unlikely that the man simply remained unknowingly infected with the virus in one, longer bout, the authors wrote. The paper notes that the patient’s second case of Covid-19 was more severe than his first, requiring supplemental oxygen and admission to a hospital after he suffered from shortness of breath."

    The Journal writes that the Nevada case, in addition to similar cases of reinfection that have been found in other countries, suggests that herd immunity as a public health policy will have limited efficacy, and that claimed individual immunity may be fallacious.


    •  CNBC has an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in which he says that the US is "facing a whole lot of trouble" as it moves through the fall and into the winter and still registers some 40,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day.

    “That’s a bad place to be when you’re going into the cooler weather of the fall and the colder weather of the winter,” Fauci tells CNBC's Shepard Smith. “We’re in a bad place. Now we’ve got to turn this around."

    According to the story, "Fauci said there are five basic public health protocols that 'could certainly turn around the spikes that we see and can prevent new spikes from occurring.'  He said universal mask use, maintaining of physical distance, avoiding crowds, doing more things outdoors and frequently washing hands would help stop the spread of the virus.

    However, the "percent of tests coming back positive, or the test-positivity rate, is on the rise across states in the Midwest and Northwest. That figure is seen as an early indicator of a growing outbreak that will lead to 'more cases, and ultimately more hospitalizations, and ultimately more death'."

    "'I have a great deal of faith in the American people and their ability to realize what we’re facing is a significant problem,' Fauci said. 'We’re talking about using public health measures as a vehicle or a gateway to keeping the country open, to keeping the economy going. It is not an obstacle'."


    •  USA Today reports that "slightly more than half of Americans in a recent poll from Sports and Leisure Research Group say they already have or plan to stockpile food and other essentials. The chief reason: fears of a resurgent pandemic, which could lead to disruptions such as new restrictions on businesses."

    "While roughly 52% plan to stockpile this fall, about 48% said they aren’t," USAToday writes.  "Of those who are stockpiling, the majority are concerned about an increase in infection rates, but a smaller share of people say they are worried about unrest surrounding the election next month."

    The good news:  "Shoppers are unlikely to see the types of shortages experienced in March and April when states enacted stay-at-home orders and grocery shelves were emptied of essentials like toilet paper and flour. Grocery chains are stocking up on supplies ahead of the winter months to ensure they can meet demand as COVID-19 cases increase, as well as the holidays."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Johnson & Johnson said it has paused further dosing in all clinical trials of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine because a study volunteer had an unexplained illness.

    "The pause announced Monday affects all trials of J&J’s vaccine, including a large Phase 3 trial that began in September and aimed to enroll as many as 60,000 people in the U.S. and several other countries.

    "An independent data-safety monitoring board is reviewing the study subject’s illness, the company said. The company didn’t immediately disclose more information about the illness, and said it needed to respect the subject’s privacy.

    "This is the second time trials for a Covid-19 vaccine trial have been paused over a safety concern. Last month, AstraZeneca PLC paused clinical trials of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine after a participant in a U.K. study had an unexplained illness. The U.K. study resumed, but a large U.S. study is still on hold."

    The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was one of the most advanced in terms of development, the story says.

    The Journal goes on:  "Side effects often turn up during clinical trials. Sometimes, they don’t turn out to have a link to the vaccine. But if the independent experts monitoring the safety of the trial find a link, the safety issue can derail the experimental shot.

    The safety board needs to assess whether the subject’s illness was related to the vaccine or not, a person familiar with the matter said."


    •  The New York Times has a story  in which it writes that "demonstrating that a new vaccine was safe and effective in less than a year would shatter the record for speed, the result of seven-day work weeks for scientists and billions of dollars of investment by the government. Provided enough people can get one, the vaccine may slow a pandemic that has already killed a million people worldwide."

    But it is important to rein in expectations, the Times writes:

    "The first vaccines may provide only moderate protection, low enough to make it prudent to keep wearing a mask. By next spring or summer, there may be several of these so-so vaccines, without a clear sense of how to choose from among them. Because of this array of options, makers of a superior vaccine in early stages of development may struggle to finish clinical testing. And some vaccines may be abruptly withdrawn from the market because they turn out not to be safe."

    As for the potential choices, "A vaccine that showed 50 percent efficacy in one trial, for example, might actually be more protective than one showing 60 percent efficacy in a different trial."


    •  New York Times science writer Donald G. McNeil Jr., who has done great work covering the pandemic, has a piece headlined "A Dose of Optimism, as the Pandemic Rages On," in which he writes:

    "Since January, when I began covering the pandemic, I have been a consistently gloomy Cassandra, reporting on the catastrophe that experts saw coming: that the virus would go pandemic, that Americans were likely to die in large numbers, the national lockdown would last well beyond Easter and even past summer. No miracle cure was on the horizon; the record for developing a vaccine was four years.

    "Events have moved faster than I thought possible. I have become cautiously optimistic. Experts are saying, with genuine confidence, that the pandemic in the United States will be over far sooner than they expected, possibly by the middle of next year.

    "That is still some time off. Experts warn that this autumn and winter may be grim; indoor dining, in-classroom schooling, contact sports, jet travel and family holiday dinners may all drive up infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Cases are rising in most states, and some hospitals already face being overwhelmed.

    "Even if the cavalry is in sight, it is not here yet. To prevent deaths reaching 400,000, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci has warned, 'We all need to hunker down'."

    Worth reading, here.


    •  Here's one thing that has benefitted from the pandemic.

    Lasik surgery.

    Bloomberg writes that "after months of face masks fogging up their glasses and contacts drying out from all the extra Zoom meetings while working from home, Americans are fed up and are boosting demand for the corrective surgery that had waned in popularity over the past decade.

    "During the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers have cut back on activities, like overseas travel and entertainment, and for many that has left a big pot of cash to be spent elsewhere. A lot of that has been poured into home improvement and buying cars. And now consumers are shifting to upgrading themselves with procedures like Lasik and its starting price tag of about $4,500."

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal is out with its first annual list of what it is calling "The World's Most Sustainably Managed Companies," produced out of a sense that "CEOs increasingly are embracing the idea that a company’s environmental, social and governance practices will play a role in its future success. For example, a quarter of CEOs now strongly agree that investing in climate-change initiatives could lead to significant new product and service opportunities for their businesses, up from 13% in 2010, according to a 2020 survey of more than 1,500 global CEOs by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

    According to the Journal, "This ranking was produced by the Journal’s environment, social and governance research analysts, who assessed more than 5,500 publicly traded businesses based on sustainability metrics in such areas as business model and innovation, external social and product issues, employee and workplace issues, and the environment. The ranking’s methodology takes a broad view of sustainability, one which assesses a company’s leadership and governance practices for their ability to create value for shareholders over the long term."

    You can see the list here.

    KC's View:

    But don't look for any retailers on it.  There aren't any.

    Which may be because no retailers went through the process of being evaluated.  I just thought this was notable.

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    •  Walmart yesterday announced three different autumn events that it will run at stores around the country as it looks to provide customers with fun experiences that are consistent with intelligent public health policies and that could help create greater customer loyalty.

    "The first, Halloween Camp by Walmart, is an extension of the popular virtual summer camp program launched earlier in the year," the company said.  "The second is a gameday experience that puts small business and college football front-and-center, and the third is a Halloween event that’s all treats, no tricks. In total, Walmart will host more than 140 contact-free events in store parking lots across the country from now through the end of October.

    Halloween Camp by Walmart is described as offering "Halloween-themed experiences with actor Neil Patrick Harris to celebrate the holiday while safe and socially distanced. Starting now through October 31, customers can play family-friendly games, make spooky projects like Halloween masks and glow-in-the-dark slime and creepy-delicious haunted houses."  

    In the game day experience, "Walmart is bringing a farmer’s market-style event to six spirited college towns in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin. It’s a twist on the traditional tailgate, allowing customers an opportunity to dawn their gear and cheer on their teams while supporting local vendors who traditionally benefit from the hustle and bustle of a football Saturday."

    The Halloween event will, "for customers seeking less traditional Halloween haunts this year," transform "more than 100 of its store parking lots into ‘spooky street’ trick-or-treat adventures that are contact-free and socially distanced."

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Shopify's decision to expand into physical distribution of products in addition to its legacy e-commerce technology business appears to have been validated by changing consumer behavior created by the pandemic.

    According to the story, "Shopify’s second-quarter revenue nearly doubled to $714.3 million from the previous year, and the number of new stores created on its platform jumped 71% from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter."

    The Journal goes on:  "The expanded business for handling physical goods is part of the growing demand Shopify has seen for its main business providing the digital tools for retailers to reach consumers online.

    "That capability has become critically important for many merchants as the coronavirus pandemic has upended American life and the U.S. economy, triggering a rush of e-commerce orders from homebound shoppers and a scramble by smaller sellers to scale up to compete with online heavyweights such as Amazon.com Inc."

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "A man suspected of putting razor blades into fresh pizza dough sold at a Maine supermarket was arrested, officials said.  A customer at the Hannaford’s grocery story in Saco, Maine found razor blades in a Portland Pie brand pizza dough purchased on Oct. 5, authorities said.

    "Portland Pie-branded products are supplied by It’ll Be Pizza. The man arrested in Dover, New Hampshire, is a former employee of the company, police said.

    "The police investigation widened in subsequent days to include other tampering cases in Sanford, Maine, and in Dover, New Hampshire.  Hannaford on Sunday issued a recall for all Portland Pie dough and cheese products sold between Aug. 1 and Oct. 11 at its 184 stores in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine."

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman who, as  a member of the Cincinnati Reds' "Big Red Machine" helped propel the team to World Series championships in 1975 and 1976, has passed away.  He was 77, and ESPN reports that he had "struggled with various health issues in recent years, including a nerve condition, a form of polyneuropathy."

    From the ESPN obit:  "Morgan was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star and a five-time Gold Glove Award winner. He is widely regarded as one of the best second basemen in baseball history, and he gained renown for his 25-plus years as a broadcaster after his playing career … Morgan was the NL MVP in 1975 and 1976 and was named an All-Star in each of his eight seasons with the Reds. He was a .271 career hitter, with 268 home runs, 1,133 RBIs, 1,650 runs scored and 689 stolen bases, 11th in baseball history."

    "The Reds family is heartbroken. Joe was a giant in the game and was adored by the fans in this city," Reds CEO Bob Castellini said in a statement. "He had a lifelong loyalty and dedication to this organization that extended to our current team and front office staff. As a cornerstone on one of the greatest teams in baseball history, his contributions to this franchise will live forever. Our hearts ache for his Big Red Machine teammates."

    KC's View:

    It has been a tough year for baseball fans, as we've lost the likes of Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver and Al Kaline.  Which, if you are of a  certain age and you remember watching these fellows play, has the sobering effect of reminding you yet again that your youth is increasingly distant.

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    Got the following email from an MNB reader objecting, I think, to my treatment of the coronavirus pandemic.  (I'm leaving in the spelling and capitalizations so I make sure that the original intent is maintained.)

    This is why we have to be skeptical of those in the KNOW. We dont know. ITS Ok for people to say they dont know.. But dont tell us they know. Lets get some balanced journalism. Most Americans are sick of being told what NOT TO DO. And if you look on the CDC website, overall more Americans died last year than this year. IN AGGREGATE.. Why would you mention that.. it is not draconian enough. Fear sells. Like most Americans - we are sick of it.

    Let me respond to some of these points.

    I try to be fair, but make no claim to being balanced.  I have my point of view, I'm not shy about it, and I welcome people who both agree with me and disagree with me to read what I write and respond when they wish.

    It never was my perception of the health and medical experts that they were telling me what not to do.  I always believed that people like Dr. Fauci were telling me what I needed to do in order to a) stay as healthy as possible, and b) do my best to keep other people healthy.  Not only do I appreciate it, but I see it as their job as public health experts.  That's what we pay them for (and I think we've gotten more than our money's worth this year).

    I never felt like they were fear-mongering in any way, shape or form.  Their advice - informed by science, not politics - evolved with experience and knowledge.

    It may in fact be that more people died in the US last year in aggregate than have died so far in the US this year.  But more than 200,000 people have died of this disease this year, and it is projected that more than 300,000 will have died from Covid-19 before the end of 2020.   If you want to argue that making this statement, and arguing that people should wear masks all the time and be careful about assembling in large groups, especially indoors, is selling fear, well, there's probably not much I can say to persuade you otherwise.

    As for your comment about "most Americans" … well, we may have to agree to disagree.

    I think far more representative of "most Americans" is this MNB reader, who wrote:

    Working in a store, I have been in close contact to countless customers over the course of this, along with my co-workers.  We wear the masks, clean and sanitize regularly, wash our hands and use hand sanitizer.  We have managed to stay COVID free as a group.  It takes more than the provided PPE, it takes a group mindset.

    It became a cliche, but it was true - we are all in this together, and if we look out for each other, we epitomize the American spirit of compassion, belief in science, and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.


    Finally, I got this email from an MNB reader:

    Just wanted to let you know that after seeing your piece on the “World’s Best Crumb Cake,” while planning a fall getaway to Cape May, I decided I had to try it.  So last Friday, on our way  from NYC), we made a 45 minute detour to pickup our crumb cake.  I ordered it ahead since I did not want to miss out on it on this long weekend and thought it would make a nice breakfast item to have around for breakfast at our Airbnb while relaxing over the fall weekend.

    Well, I understand it’s important to set yourself apart as a business owner and be known for something, but a misinformation campaign should not be the goal.  I was sorely disappointed with the “World’s Best Crumb Cake,” as was my husband, who ate a small piece and proclaimed it dry, chalky, and tasting far too much like baking soda.  If this is the world’s best crumb cake, that bar must be sunken into the ground where it won’t cause a trip hazard, or maybe Mueller’s world is simply limited to Bay Head, NJ, which unlikely is home to another crumb cake purveyor?  By any means, after 2 days of trying to imagine it might be better warmed up (slightly), while packing up to head home, I was ordered to dispose of it.  Yes, it was truly so bland & taste-free that someone who HATES to waste food thought the best option was to throw it in a trashcan. 

    First of all, I'm sorry you didn't like it.   My father-in-law used to say, "Where taste is concerned there is no dispute."  I guess one person's paragon of crumb cake excellence is another person's disappointment.  (Some people like Brussels sprouts, liverwurst and egg salad, and I find all three to be disgusting.  Where taste is concerned…)

    One point I need to make.  Mueller's, to my knowledge, never has declared it to be the world's greatest crumb cake.  I did that … supported by numerous friends, acquaintances and family members in that judgement.  

    So please don't blame Mueller's for a disinformation campaign.  The kudos were mine, and I'll stand by them.

    Published on: October 13, 2020

    •  In the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 4-2 to take a 2-0 game lead.

    Over in the National League, the Atlanta Braves defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 to take a 1-0 game lead in their best-of-seven series.


    •  In Monday Night Football, the New Orleans Saints beat the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime by a score of 30-27.