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    Published on: November 6, 2020

    It has been a tough eight months.  Hell, it's been a tough week.  One-third of the country is angry, one third is (nervously) celebratory, and the final third is suffering from nervous exhaustion from the unending stress.

    This week, though, KC had a conversation with his daughter - an elementary school teacher - that put some of this into perspective.

    Published on: November 6, 2020

    Save Mart yesterday announced that as a response to the devastating impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry, it has developed "an innovative guest chef program to support struggling local restaurateurs and. The program will be tested at Save Mart’s innovation flagship store in Modesto (3401 Oakdale Road) on Saturday, Nov. 7 and Sunday, Nov. 8 from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

    "The Tipping Point, Save Mart’s in-store restaurant, will be turned over to one of Modesto’s most popular restaurants, Surla’s, and its much-loved chef, John Surla. Surla’s pop-up brunch menu will feature three popular items – Stuffed French Toast ($10), Eggs Benedict ($12) and Steak and Eggs ($15) – all served with country-style potatoes and fresh fruits.  100 percent of the brunch’s sales will go directly to the restaurant (less alcohol)."

    Save Mart plans to announce additional restaurant participants in the coming weeks.

    “Our intent with this pilot program is consistent with our evergreen focus on the local communities we serve and we’ve extended that approach to neighborhood restaurants impacted by the pandemic” said Hal Levitt, senior vice president of retail operations. “We developed a program to assist local chefs and their restaurants, at the same time, our guests can enjoy some of their favorite dishes, discover new ones and share in helping our local restaurants.”

    KC's View:

    Smart move on two fronts.

    First, stores are only bolstered in their communities when they act like they are members of the community.  Which Save Mart is doing here.

    Second, the restaurant industry can be an enormous source of innovation - and people -  for the supermarket industry.  It isn't like the pandemic is going to be turned off by a switch, and the restaurant biz will rebound overnight.  It is going to be a long, hard slog … and if one believes, like I do, in the concept of grocerants and restaurmarkets, then moves like Save Mart's are a reflection of a fast-approaching future.

    Published on: November 6, 2020

    The Associated Press reports this morning that "Uber’s food delivery business brought in more money during the third quarter than its signature rides business, showing just how much consumer behavior has changed — and how far the company has adapted — since the pandemic struck."

    According to the story, "Uber brought in $3.13 billion in revenue, down 18% from the same time last year. Its mobility business, which includes ride-hailing, scooters and bikes, accounted for $1.37 billion of that, down 53% from the same time last year. Despite the decline, the rides business showed improvement from the second quarter, when it brought in just $790 million."

    But, "Uber’s Eats business generated $1.45 billion in revenue, up 125% from a year ago as restaurants relied on Uber for delivery and the trend of people ordering in instead of dining out during the pandemic continued … Uber Eats continued to add restaurants to its app, and its partnerships with restaurants grew by more than 70% compared with last year. It also added a contactless payment feature to allow customers who are dining in restaurants to order or pay using their Uber Eats app.

    "Uber also expanded its grocery delivery service, which is now operating in 10 countries outside the U.S. It also launched a prescription drug delivery pilot program in Dallas and Seattle."

    KC's View:

    There's just one problem:  as the AP writes, Uber's "rides business was more profitable than delivery."

    I wonder if it might make sense for Uber to develop a delivery business that would allow its retail clients to private label it - while Instacart provides infrastructure, retailers would have a greater sense of ownership.  Could this be a way to generate greater usage, especially if they could come up with a new cost-sharing formula that would benefit both parties?

    Just wondering.

    Published on: November 6, 2020

    Good piece in the Wall Street Journal about how "supermarkets are using pandemic-driven changes in shopping behavior to accelerate the shift to e-commerce they have been seeking but have been slow to realize in recent years.  Grocers are now devoting more of their floor space to fulfill digital orders in response to customers’ increased food consumption at home and their growing reliance on online shopping."

    You can read it here.

    Published on: November 6, 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 9,926,637 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 241,026 deaths and 6,341,604 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 49,142,851 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,241,678 fatalities and 35,050,605 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "The U.S. recorded another record day of newly reported coronavirus infections Thursday, a nearly 20% increase from a day earlier … . It is the third day in a week the U.S. has set a daily record. Last Friday's tally was 99,321.

    "With 53,322 people hospitalized, a number not seen since early August, hospitals in the South and Midwest are scrambling to accommodate a surge of new patients. Face masks are once again in short supply in many parts of the country.

    "The number of people dying of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is increasing again as well. More than 1,200 deaths were reported on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins data, a figure not seen since mid-September following sharp increase in the summer."

    The story goes on:  "States in the Midwest are being hit particularly hard—with many reporting record-high infection counts on Thursday—including Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska and North Dakota. Several others have reported record-high daily figures in recent days.

    "Overall, 13 states posted record-high numbers on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins."


    •  Some more context from the Washington Post:

    "No region of the country is being spared from the onslaught: The 20 states reporting record single-day increases on Thursday span New England, the Midwest, the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest. Those witnessing the most dramatic increases over the past week include Maine, Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota and Nebraska.

    "But nowhere looked more bleak than North Dakota, which broke records for the number of new infections and fatalities reported in a single day, as well as the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients. Adjusted for its population, North Dakota has reported more new coronavirus-related deaths over the past week than any other state, and its seven-day average for both new cases and fatalities also reached new highs on Thursday."


    •  And, from the New York Times:

    "In a single day across America, the coronavirus churned through homes, workplaces, hospitals, schools and laboratories. From dawn to nightfall on Thursday, the worst day of the pandemic in terms of new cases, snapshots offered glimpses of the virus’s persistent spread and devastating fallout: In Cleveland, lab workers began another grinding day of processing coronavirus tests. In Minot, N.D., a hospital scrambled to find space for the crush of coronavirus patients who came through the doors. In Unionville, Conn., grieving relatives finalized plans for the funeral of a family’s 98-year-old matriarch, who died from the virus.

    "And in Missouri, officials interrupted the day with a jarring announcement: A person who tested positive for the coronavirus last week disregarded orders to isolate and worked as an election judge in suburban St. Louis on Tuesday. The person, whom St. Charles County officials did not identify,  has since died.

    "On Thursday morning, governors began what is now a familiar routine, pleading in front of news cameras for Americans to do their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus."


    •  The New York Times reports on a new study from Columbia University in New York suggesting that "children infected with the coronavirus produce weaker antibodies and fewer types of them than adults do, suggesting they clear their infection much faster."

    According to the story, "Other studies have suggested that an overly strong immune response may be to blame in people who get severely ill or die from Covid-19. A weaker immune response in children may paradoxically indicate that they vanquish the virus before it has had a chance to wreak havoc in the body, and may help explain why children are mostly spared severe symptoms of Covid, the disease caused by the coronavirus. It may also show why they are less likely to spread the virus to others."

    So a strong immunity system is bad?  Then again, I had to re-take biology in summer school after my sophomore year at Iona Prep, so I'm basically incapable of understanding this stuff.


    •  Some international pandemic news from the Washington Post:

    "In London, more than 100 people were arrested Thursday night during a demonstration against England’s month-long lockdown, which took effect earlier in the day. The London Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement that the majority of arrests were for breaches of the new lockdown rules, which include a 10 p.m. curfew and a ban on large gatherings.

    "In Denmark, where a coronavirus mutation has started spreading from minks to humans, authorities ordered the closure of most businesses in seven affected communities on Thursday and told residents not to venture outside the municipal boundaries, according to Politiken. All 15 million minks in the country will be killed by the country’s military and police."

    And:

    "Strict stay-at-home orders appeared to be paying off in Ireland, which last month became the first European country to enter a second national lockdown. Health officials said Thursday that case numbers appear to be declining rapidly, and the country is on track to lift some of the harshest restrictions on Dec. 1."

    Maybe the Irish once again will show us how to save civilization?


    •  While it seems to be a basic fact of life that many of us are drinking more during the pandemic, the trend "has done little to buoy turbulent wine, beer and spirits stocks," the Wall Street Journal writes.

    The reason:  "Without bar and restaurant sales, revenue in the wine industry won’t recover until a full reopening. Jon Moramarco, a wine analyst and industry veteran, projects that this year, on-premise wine sales in the U.S. will be about 50% to 60% of last year’s levels.

    "Sales to bars and restaurants make up a large portion of the companies’ sales as the establishments tend to buy large volumes of alcohol on a recurring basis. In the U.S., about 20% of alcohol sales are done via on-premise sales, said Brandy Rand, chief operating officer for the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. Without that volume being sold regularly and the number of restaurants and bars reduced for the long term, distributors are taking a hit."


    •  Vermont, apparently, has to decide if it is going to be all downhill from here.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "Vermont’s economy depends on reopening its crucial tourist industry this winter, even though that will mean letting in skiers from states still ravaged by the virus.

    "The state remains an outlier in its success combating the virus, though cases have increased in recent days. Vermont’s Covid-19 death toll remains at 58, the lowest of any state. It hasn’t recorded a death from the disease since Aug. 6, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

    "How to reopen safely is a challenge consuming government officials, ski resort managers and the scores of other businesses whose livelihoods depend on winter tourism."

    The story points out that ski resorts are going to have to reconfigure virtually every part of their operations to make sure that people are both safe and protected.  And, they have to "prepare customers for the state’s stringent health protocols. Similar to resorts in other states, ski areas will require masks indoors and outdoors, and ban sharing of lift seats with strangers."


    •  Variety reports that the pandemic has forced Disney to cancel the winter theatrical releases - Ryan Reynolds’ action comedy Free Guy and Death on the Nile, the follow-up to Kenneth Branagh’s hit The Murder on the Orient Express.

    According toi the story, "The delays are another blow to movie theaters, who have been struggling to sell tickets with the dearth of new films. As it stands, Wonder Woman 1984, the comic book sequel starring Gal Gadot, is the only potential blockbuster still scheduled for 2020. The superhero tentpole will premiere on Christmas Day."

    I wouldn't bet on it.


    •  Some heartening perspective from the Washington Post theatre critic, Peter Marks, who points out that "more than 400 years ago, as epidemics raged in London, forcing theaters and other public places to shutter, William Shakespeare was busy crafting stories of kings going mad and thanes coveting power. He was, scholars believe, in the midst of an astonishingly potent creative period, one that produced some of the most extraordinary tragedies ever written — 'King Lear' and 'Macbeth' among them."

    The question, Marks suggests, is whether history can repeat itself.

    "In perilous, isolating times, we hunger with a special zeal for great work by artists who can capture the experience for us," he writes, adding:

    "We who eagerly await the next big thing from one of the great imaginations of our time will have to contain our impatience. We have to sustain ourselves with the belief that the great work has begun. I like to imagine that some writer or composer right now is taking time to reread the plays of Henrik Ibsen — maybe 'An Enemy of the People,' his timeless drama of a doctor who is ostracized for warning his community about a pestilence in the water supply. And who knows? Maybe when we all can gather again, we’ll assemble in a big concert hall for the premiere of 'Fauci, the Opera'."

    Sign me up for tickets.  After all, in the immortal words of Shakespeare, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…"

    Published on: November 6, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that a company called GoPuff has acquired the 161-store BevMo beverage chain for $350 million.

    Never heard of GoPuff?  Here's how the Times describes it:

    "Although it is little-known in Los Angeles, GoPuff operates more than 200 micro-fulfillment centers serving more than 500 cities around the country. It specializes in quick-turnaround delivery: For a flat rate of $1.95 (there’s also a subscription option), customers can get thousands of items — cleaning supplies, food and electronics among them — delivered in 30 minutes or less. In several markets, GoPuff deliveries are available 24/7.

    "GoPuff is still figuring out how to best combine the two companies, with a target completion date of sometime next year. When that happens, GoPuff customers will be able to add BevMo products to their delivery orders."

    The story says that GoPuff "hasn’t yet decided whether to open fulfillment centers in California, or use some of the real estate in BevMo’s stores to house GoPuff products."

    I'd never heard of GoPuff before this story was posted.  But clearly what they're creating is something like a 21st century retail model - not necessarily workable everywhere or for everyone, but keyed to consumer trends that have been accelerated by the pandemic.


    •  From Axios:

    "The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday sued to block Visa's proposed $5.3 billion purchase of Plaid, a San Francisco-based provider of analytics software for accessing transaction data … Plaid lets fintech startups connect to users' bank accounts, but the DOJ argues that the merger would eliminate Plaid's potential ability to compete in the online debit market, thus giving Visa a monopoly."

    Visa reportedly plans to defend its plans for the acquisition.


    •  Reuters reports that "the husband of a former Amazon.com Inc finance manager who leaked confidential information about the online retailer's financial performance pleaded guilty on Thursday to an insider trading charge, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

    "Prosecutors said Viky Bohra, 36, of Bothell, Washington, pleaded guilty to securities fraud, admitting that from 2015 to 2018 he used tips provided by his wife Laksha to make $1.43 million of illegal profit trading Amazon stock.

    "Authorities said Laksha Bohra had taken advantage of her job as a senior manager in Amazon's tax department to provide the tips, despite repeated warnings against leaking confidential information.

    "Viky Bohra then used the tips to make successful trades ahead of Amazon earnings announcements, through accounts tied to him and his father Gotham Bohra, authorities said."

    Published on: November 6, 2020

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "weekly initial claims for jobless benefits fell by 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 751,000 in the week ended Oct. 31, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was the lowest level since mid-March, but was well above the 217,000 claims filed in late February, before economic shutdowns to control the spread of the new coronavirus began.

    "The previous week’s data were revised up by 7,000 to 758,000."

    The Journal writes that "the labor market has recouped more than half of the 22 million jobs that were lost in March and April, but the pace gains slowed in recent months.

    "Employers added 661,000 jobs in September, down from a 1.5 million gain in August."

    Published on: November 6, 2020

    In Thursday Night Football action, the Green Bay Packers defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34-17.

    Published on: November 6, 2020

    One of the bright spots of the past year's streaming television offerings was "The Mandalorian," which had an eight-episode first season that introduced us to a bounty hunter - the Mandalorian of the title - from the Star Wars universe.  Conceived, written and produced by Jon Favreau (Chef, Swingers, Iron Man), "The Mandalorian" proved that the franchise could recapture the narrative energy of the original trilogy without being tied down by the often lumbering approach to canon taken by the more recent films.

    Plus, "The Mandalorian" offered us the character popularly known as Baby Yoda - a breakout star from the show who became the stuff of considerable online speculation and frantic merchandising.

    Season two of "The Mandalorian" returned last week with a new episode that continues the story with the bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) charged with returning Baby Yoda to his people - whoever and wherever they may be.  And once again, it was loads of fun - cinematic in its approach, reasonably crisp in its storytelling, and featuring a terrific guest star turn by Timothy Olyphant ("Deadwood," "Justified") who pretty much improves anything he's in.

    Episode two drops today.  Can't wait.


    Enjoyed two wonderful pinot noirs this week - both birthday gifts that effectively communicated love and affection.

    There was the 2016 Torii Mor from Oregon's Willamette Valley, which is lush and earthy and smooth and utterly delicious.

    And, the 2018 Simple Life, from California, which is a little softer, a little lighter, but also great.


    That's it for this week.  I'll see you Monday.

    Have a great weekend … stay safe … be healthy.

    Sláinte!