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    Published on: November 5, 2020

    Sometimes, the universe seems to be sending a message ... in this case, about how the pandemic is giving some businesses the opportunity to reinvent themselves with new products and services that are uniquely relevant to the current environment.

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    GQ has an interesting story about Denny and Katie Culbert of Lafayette, Louisiana, who at the beginning of 2020 opened a shop called Wild Child Wines, specializing in natural wines.

    "Lafayette, the capital of Cajun Country, is one of America’s best food destinations, but not exactly a hot spot for the kind of funky, all-natural, small-producer wines that the Culberts wanted to offer," GQ writes.  "'We opened the shop because we wanted to drink these wines and nobody else was going to sell them,' says Denny, who has generally made his living as a professional photographer."

    There wasn't a big market for professional photographers during the pandemic, however, so Denny Culbert found himself engaging in the kind of "frantic improvisation" that "is emblematic of thousands of small food businesses across the country—as is their intuition that the way through the great unknown lay in simple pleasures and the leanings of their own hearts.

    "When the first shutdown orders came, Denny stayed up all night, photographing every bottle in the store. By morning, Wild Child was ready to launch an online ordering system, with a few hours for pickup scheduled each day. The store expanded its selection of cookbooks and tinned fish, adding, for a while, gulf oysters that Denny would buy by the sack from a sustainable producer in Grand Isle and sell by the dozen, preferably with one of the oyster knives Wild Child also started carrying."

    Then, Denny "found himself, like many quarantinees across America, going down a rabbit hole into the arcane and geeky art of perfecting sourdough. That soon led to the expansive sub-warren of pizza making and a quest to produce the ideal Detroit-style pie … As folks once again began to socialize, Denny’s pizzas became the perfect backyard food. He experimented with varieties from the traditional (a layer of sauce atop a crackling dome of cheese) to the outlandish (an improbably successful combination of smoked octopus and the olive salad used on New Orleans muffulettas). And when Wild Child reopened its doors, customers were enticed back with a free wedge of pie with each bottle.

    "Natural wines might require some educating, but as Denny says, 'Pizza is easy'."

    GQ goes on:

    "If all this sounds a little like the hipster artisan boom of, say, 10 years ago, in the wake of 2008’s financial crisis, well, why not? That was another time when a generation of young businesspeople decided that, in the face of the great unknown, one’s best course might be to follow simple pleasures and the leanings of their own hearts. Truth be told, Katie can take or leave pizza. She jokes, archly, that while Denny tended his sourdough starter, she was equally consumed with their two-year-old daughter, Kitt. But she’s all in on what the pandemic has taught them about how to run their business and lives. No matter what happens, she says, there’s little reason to go back to the dragnet model of being open all day, hoping for customers, instead of some hybrid that includes ordering online. And this time has been a lesson in the importance of following one’s passions and tending one’s own garden."

    Which sounds like an Eye-Opener to me.

    (By the way…that smoked octopus and olive salad pizza sounds wonderful.  And that note about Lafayette being one of the nation's best food destinations called up a great gastronomic memory for me … mouth-watering meals consumed at a place there called Cafe Vermilionville…)

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    Fox Business reports that "Amazon is planning to double the number of Black leaders in its senior ranks as the company ends the year and heads into 2021," and that the company intends to implement the initiative via "robust programs such as its $700 million commitment to 'upskilling' -- the process of teaching employees new skills that will aid them in their work.

    "There will also be smaller pilots such as the Black Employee Network Executive Leadership Development Program, which includes targeted and specialized training to build Black leaders at the Director and above level."

    An Amazon spokesperson tells Fox Business, "We are setting aggressive goals in our ongoing effort to be a top employer for Black employees," which includes "working to double the representation of Black Vice Presidents and Directors in 2020 and again in 2021" and making "increased investments and programming designed to grow Black leaders from within."

    The story says that "as of the end of last year, over 80% of Amazon's managerial roles around the world were held by either white or Asian people, while Black people accounted for just 8.3% of those positions, according to company data. Overall, Black employees made up roughly 26.5% of Amazon's entire workforce in 2019."

    KC's View:

    There's no question that lack of diversity is an enormous problem for companies that do not address it … and there's no excuse for not doing so.  Ignoring the issue does not just put a company at a competitive disadvantage, but also at risk for being painted as a company out of touch with 21st century realities and priorities.

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    Ahold Delhaize said yesterday that its Q3 online sales in the US were up 115 percent, as its overall net sales for the period were up  6.8 percent to $20.8 billion.  Same store sales were up 12.4 percent, the company said.  US same-store sales were up 12.4 percent.

    The company also said that it plans to double its US e-commerce capacity by the end of next year.

    Among the planned innovations, the company said, would be the enhancement of "subscription offerings. The Giant Company will test a new subscription offer in Q1 2021, with an annual membership fee under $100, improved value proposition and preferential delivery time slots, driving increased loyalty and engagement."

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    The BBC reports this morning that Sainsbury, responding to "lower customer demand and a desire to reduce food waste," has decided to shut down all its service meat,  seafood and deli counters, a move that coincides with the British government's announcement that the nation will lockdown in an attempt to stifle the Covid-19 pandemic.

    At the same time, the BBC reports, Sainsbury is shuttering more than 400 Argos general merchandise stores, as a response to "changing consumer habits and the growth of online shopping."  The Argos shutdowns will take place of a period of years, Sainsbury said, and should be completed by 2024.

    Sainsbury will open Argos general merchandise sections in 150 of its stores, the story says; it bought Argos four years ago for more than $1 billion (US).

    KC's View:

    I'm sure these folks know what they're doing, but I cannot help but wonder why a food store looking to differentiate the physical experience from the virtual shopping trip would want to eliminate one of the factors that you would think would serve to do so.

    Unless, of course, they were just expensive and largely non-differentiating.   Which is a whole different problem. 

    Published on: November 5, 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 9,802,374 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, with 239,842 deaths and 6,293,132 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 48,535,637 confirmed coronavirus cases, resulting in 1,232,764 fatalities and 34,773,708 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that the US reported more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases yesterday - a new single day record.

    The previous record was more than 99,000, set on October 30.

    The Journal goes on:

    "Across the country, several states reported record tallies of daily infections, including Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado and Idaho. Pennsylvania reported more than 2,800 new cases for the third day in a row on Wednesday after setting a record Tuesday.

    "Epidemiologists and public-health researchers have said a number of factors, including pandemic fatigue and people attending social gatherings, are contributing to the rise in U.S. cases. The recent increases are affecting broader swaths of the U.S. than the spring and summer surges, when outbreaks were heavily concentrated in a handful of states."

    And:

    "Similar to the surges the country saw in the spring and summer, the rising number of cases nationally has been accompanied by an uptick in hospitalizations. More than 52,000 people in the U.S. are now hospitalized due to Covid-19, the highest number since Aug. 6, which was the second day in a row the figure topped 50,000, according to the Covid Tracking project."

    •  The New York Times writes that "five states — Colorado, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota and Nebraska — set single-day case records on Wednesday. Cases were also mounting in the Mountain West and even in the Northeast, which over the summer seemed to be getting the virus under control.

    "North and South Dakota and Wisconsin have led the country for weeks in the number of new cases relative to their population. But other states have seen steep recent increases in the last 14 days.

    "Daily case reports in Minnesota, on average, have increased 102 percent over that time, while those in Indiana have risen 73 percent. For months, Maine had among the lowest levels of transmission anywhere in the country, but new cases there have more than tripled. In Wyoming, new cases are up 73 percent, while in Iowa they have more than doubled.

    "Deaths related to the coronavirus, which lag behind case reports, have increased 21 percent across the country in the last two weeks."

    At the same time, the Times writes, "Hospitals in some areas are feeling the strain of surging caseloads. More than 50,000 people are currently hospitalized with Covid-19 across the country, according to the Covid Tracking Project, an increase of roughly 64 percent since the beginning of October."

    •  The New York Times also writes that "the Italian government announced Wednesday that it would lock down a significant portion of the country, including the northern regions that are its economic engine, in an effort to stop a resurgent wave of coronavirus infections.

    "Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the measures, the most drastic since the nationwide lockdown in March, would take effect on Friday and would seal off six regions in the country’s deeply infected north and highly vulnerable, and poorer, south."

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    The Associated Press reports that "New Jersey has officially banned single-use bags and foam containers — although the ban doesn't take effect for another year and a half. 

    "Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed a bill into law that prohibits single-use plastic and paper bags and disposable food containers and cups made out of polystyrene foam as of May 2022 … Some products are exempt until 2024, including long-handled polystyrene spoons, cups of two ounces or less, meat and fish trays, any food product pre-packaged by a manufacturer, and any other foam foodservice item deemed necessary by state regulators … Single-use plastic straws will be available only upon request starting November 2021."

    The story notes that "New Jersey joins eight states to ban plastic bags. While some states impose a fee on paper bags and Hawaii has a de facto ban on bags with less than 40% recycled material, New Jersey lawmakers say it's the first state with a paper bag ban."

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    •  Here's an interesting statistic from a new report generated by Parks Associates:  "Approximately 10% of US broadband households own a video doorbell in Q2 2020, up from 7% in 2017. This device is especially popular among households that already have a smart home device—61% plan to purchase a smart video doorbell in the next 12 months."

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From CNBC:

    "Pet Valu has joined the list of retailers permanently shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.

    "The specialty retailer of pet food and supplies said Wednesday that it will wind down operations at its Pennsylvania headquarters and close all of its 358 stores and warehouses across the U.S. It said closing sales will begin in the next few days."

    The story notes that the pet boom created by the pandemic "wasn’t enough to save Pet Valu, however. With Wednesday’s announcement, it becomes the latest retailer pushed to the financial brink by the global health crisis. A growing list of companies, including J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, J.Crew, Brooks Brothers and Lucky Brand, have filed for bankruptcy protection this year. The list includes some companies that have closed their doors for good including off-price shop Stein Mart, home goods retailer Pier 1 Imports and department store Lord & Taylor."

    •  In Louisiana, WDSU-TV News reports that "Dixie Beer, New Orleans' oldest operating brewery, has announced its new name," and henceforth will be known as the Faubourg Brewing Company (pronounced "fo-burg").

    The story explains:  "According to Gayle Benson, majority owner of the beer, the new name is a tribute to the diverse neighborhoods of New Orleans, as faubourg … is a French word that’s often used interchangeably with 'neighborhood' in New Orleans … the brewery has engaged with hundreds of New Orleanians, including beer drinkers, hospitality workers, culture bearers, and local historians, among others, to participate in rebranding process, according to Benson.

    "The brewery enlisted the public’s help, receiving over 5,400 online submissions of names they believed represented the community and culture of New Orleans."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "in an effort to address economic disparity laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved several tax measures targeting property owners and big businesses with CEOs paid far higher than their average workers.

    "Under the new law, any company whose top executive earns 100 times more than their average worker will pay an extra 0.1% surcharge on its annual business tax payment. If a CEO makes 200 times more than the average employee, the surcharge increases to 0.2%; 300 times gets a 0.3% surcharge and so on.

    "Voters also agreed to sweeping business tax changes that will lead to a higher tax rate for many tech companies, and a higher transfer tax on property sales valued between $10 million and $25 million."

    We certainly can have a discussion about whether such a move will inhibit the opening and development of tech companies in San Francisco, and whether now is the right time to impose new taxes on anyone.

    Me, I would hope that if I qualified to be in this higher-tax group, I'd be gracious enough to figure that a) San Francisco is a wonderful city that is worth it, and b) it makes sense to do something to address economic disparity.  I would hope that I would not start singing, "I left My Money in San Francisco."

    There's one piece of this story that I found very amusing - the fact that one group advocating for the high-end tax, saying that it would not "shed any tears if penthouse dwellers have to cough up," was a group called The San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters.  Which is just a great name.

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    The debate continues, prompted by an offhand remark I made the other day about a story looking at the conversion of malls into senior citizen housing.  I argued for a more eclectic approach, by including things like health care facilities and community colleges.  And maybe, I suggested, housing for young people just out of college and carrying big educational loans - low rates could be negotiated based on a) how much they make in their jobs and b) how high their monthly loan payments are.  My thought was that such an approach would help them pay off those loans and become citizens who spend money on houses and cars and food and, yes, even taxes.

    One MNB reader suggested that this was simply a giveaway program to a generation that did not deserve it, a perception shared by another MNB reader, who reacted to my pointing out that when an entire generation came back from World War II, the nation saw the wisdom of providing low-cost housing that would enable them to get on their feet in a civilian world:

    Unfortunately, comparing the young people of today to my parents' generation who fought a world war and many Korea also is unfair. The greatest generation understood hard work and preferred not to take handouts.  For some reason today young people feel they ‘deserve’ to be given what my parent’s generation understood needed to be worked for.

    I'm not sure this generation thinks it "deserves" this … it was just my idea for addressing a problem that, I think, inhibits the nation's economic growth.  I just think of it as an investment.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Not to run this in the ground, but I was a little guy in the aftermath of WWII when I saw “Quonset Huts” all over the University of Wisconsin (Madison) campus built for returning veteran students, available at dirt cheap prices. Not only that, those same students were offered other GI Bill benefits which included house loans for their future. No one should question that those benefits resulted in one of the country’s most prosperous and successful economies.

    The circumstances today may be different, but maybe we can learn something from yesterday's solutions.

    On an other subject, from MNB reader Laura Siegfried:

    You’re right to point out that ‘Fair on 4’ at the Mall of America seems a bit off in times when people are discouraged from being in crowds. But what really caught my eye is that it will feature ‘cocktails, wine and more than 40 beers on tap ‘ … and AXE-THROWING. Sounds like a bad combination to me!

    MNB readerAdam Dill had a comment about Michael Sansolo's column yesterday about Burger King using predictive technology in its stores:

    As you and Michael are big movie fans, I was surprised a reference was not made to the 2002 Spielberg film Minority Report staring Tom Cruise.  The Burger King technology reminds me of the scenes in the movie when Cruise’s character would past a billboard and a personalized ad would run calling him by name.  I thought it was a little creepy.  It brings up the question of how do you let shoppers/consumers opt into these ‘personalized’ technology.  Sometimes I want to be anonymous.  The next step will be sending updates on my behalf on what I ordered from BK….not sure I need my doctor seeing that.

    Finally, this email from MNB reader Jerome Schindler:

    So I get this Walmart Circular, "Black Friday Deals Wed 11/4  7 pm ET Online."  A minute or so after 7 pm ET I go to the Walmart Website and attempt to purchase a featured Special Buy shop vacuum for $30, plus a package of LED light bulbs to reach $35 to qualify for free shipping.  At about 7:15 after entering all my info including credit card info I click to complete my order only to get the message "out of stock" on both items.  Well, Walmart covered their sorry ass with the disclaimer "quantities limited" but overall this was a total "got you again" message delivered to this consumer.  What a waste of my time.

    Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice…

    Published on: November 5, 2020

    •  In yesterday's Innovation Conversation, we briefly discussed a new documentary about social media, but we accidentally used the wrong title.  It is called The Social Dilemma, and it is available for viewing on Netflix.


    •  Due to an unforeseen technical glitch yesterday, it appears that any email sent to me between 11:30 am EST and 5 pm EST has vanished into the black hole of the internet - I can't see it, find it, post it, or respond to it.  So, if it was something you wanted me to see, please resend it.  

    Thanks, as always, for your patience.


    •  Thanks for all the texts and emails yesterday wishing me a Happy Birthday.  November is always a busy month for birthdays - Mrs. Content Guy, me, and MNB.  I'm always a little weirded out by the idea that when I started MNB almost 19 years ago, I was just 47.  Seems like yesterday…