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    Published on: November 10, 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.

    As many as 100,000 restaurants, or one in six in the United States, have closed, either long-term or permanently - since the beginning of the pandemic.  This isn't just a business  calculation - there also have been millions of jobs lost because of all these closures, not to mention how communities have lost vital components that often helped define their people and neighborhoods.

    In this podcast, Sterling and KC look at how this continuing problem, unlikely to get much better anytime soon, can actually help supermarkets fuel their own innovations and unhinge limitless creativity.  Through pop-up restaurants instore, food trucks, dark kitchens and expanded foodservice offerings, veterans of the restaurant business can help supermarkets achieve their goal of becoming "grocerants."  It makes sense to do so, especially because at some point new and surviving restaurants may rethink their models and embrace the notion of being "restaurmarkets."

    You can listen to the podcast here…

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

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    Interesting piece in the New York Times this morning speculating - based on interviews with a number of senior executives - that companies and corporate leaders soon may find themselves able to step back from increasingly cultural and political positions they've taken over the past four years.

    The Times writes that after the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017, "companies protested his temporary ban on all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Months later, a slew of chief executives objected to the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Soon after that, a pair of business groups advising the White House disbanded, after Mr. Trump’s equivocating response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va."

    Trump administration "policies on things as far-flung as immigration and climate change — and the ensuing outrage of employees and customers — made it nearly impossible for big corporations to avoid entering the political fray," the Times writes.  "Even if they had tried to stay on the sidelines, Mr. Trump wouldn’t let them, as he routinely called for boycotts of companies that he felt had crossed him."

    The sense among many companies, the Times writes, is that the political climate may cool a bit during a Biden administration:  "Instead of having to respond to every incendiary policy or public position from Mr. Trump, companies may soon be able to advance their interests without becoming embroiled in the hurly-burly of partisan politics."

    I've been writing for some time now that there are few companies where the senior executives wake up in the morning and look forward to engaging in political and cultural wars.  In a sharply divided country where polarization has become the rule rather than the exception, companies taking positions always run the risk of alienating a percentage - sometimes a sizable percentage - of their customer bases.

    I suspect that, as the Times suggests, some companies have become more comfortable taking positions in certain areas - like, say, climate change and social justice - that they see as having specific relevance to their business and/or their customers and employees.  But I also think they may find themselves better able to pick and choose and focus on what's good for business.

    It'll be an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    The Washington Post this morning reports that the European Union's antitrust regulators are accusing Amazon of misusing seller data from its site.

    The accusations are framed in formal charges made against Amazon by the EU today, as antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager "said that Amazon illegally harvests data from the third-party sellers in Amazon Marketplace to make decisions about the products it sells itself on its platform … Vestager also announced a new investigation into whether Amazon unfairly features products on its website whose sellers use Amazon’s warehouse and logistics services."

    Vestager says that the EUY's issue is not with Amazon's size, but rather with "very specific business conducts which appears to distort genuine competition."

    The Post writes that the charges "came a day after EU ministers approved $4 billion in tariffs on U.S. products, an unrelated decision that nevertheless foreshadowed the tense trade relations to be expected with the European Union during President-elect Joe Biden’s term in office."

    The Wall Street Journal writes:  "A decision on whether Amazon broke competition laws is expected next year. If the company is found to be in violation, the commission can force Amazon to change its business practices and fine it as much as 10% of its annual global revenue—or up to $28 billion, based on 2019 numbers.

    "Amazon can challenge any such decision in an EU court."

    KC's View:

    I'm not defending illegal behavior here, and to be clear, I am not intimately acquainted with EU antitrust law.  (Actually, I'm not even vaguely familiar with it beyond the basic outlines.)

    But … I do wonder, both here and in the US, whether big e-commerce companies are held to different standards than bricks-and-mortar retailers with legacy behaviors.  Any retailer with a robust private label business pay attention to high sales numbers of national brands to decide which ones might be worth knocking off.  And, don't most retailers give preference to some manufacturers over others, depending on how well they work together and how much flexibility they demonstrate?

    Again, I'm not defending illegal or predatory behavior.  But I do wonder how many glass houses there may be dotting the retailing landscape.

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    •  In the United States, we've now had 10,422,026 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 244,449 deaths and 6,552,764 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 51,325,746 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,270,624 fatalities and 36,133,981 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  The Wall Street Journal notes that "the U.S. reported more than 100,000 coronavirus cases for the seventh straight day … Hospitalizations have shot up nearly 25% since the beginning of the month … Daily caseloads hit record levels in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Colorado, New Mexico and Maine."

    A reminder.  Months ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that for the country to know it was moving in the right direction on the pandemic, we'd need to be down to 10,000 new cases a day.

    If we keep moving in the wrong direction, it is going to have enormous impact on retailers, employees and customers, who once again will have to consider the notion of "essential."


    •  Axios reports that US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson tested positive for Covid-19, as has David Bossie, one of President Trump's outside advisers.

    The announcement comes just days after it was reported that Mark Meadows, President Trump's chief of staff, tested positive for Covid-19.


    •  President-elect Joe Biden yesterday announced a 13-member Covid-19 task force that will advise the incoming administration on pandemic-related policy initiatives.

    The task force will be chaired by former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Dr. David Kessler, former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of the Yale University School of Medicine.

    Other members include:  Dr. Luciana Borio, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations … Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the Department of Bioethics at the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health … Dr. Celine Gounder, clinical assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine … Dr. Julie Morita, former health commissioner for the City of Chicago … Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota … Loyce Pace, executive director and president of Global Health Council … Dr. Robert Rodriguez, an expert on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of frontline workers … Dr. Eric Goosby, an expert on infectious diseases … Atul Gawande, a professor of surgery and health policy at Harvard … and vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright.


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy again tightened restrictions on restaurants and bars as cases of Covid-19 rose and hospitalizations hit their highest levels since early June.

    "Bars and restaurants must end indoor service by 10 p.m. beginning Thursday, under the new rules. Bar side seating will also be prohibited, as the state has received reports of spread among bartenders and patrons seated at bars, Mr. Murphy said. Outdoor service at bars and restaurants can remain open past 10 p.m., he said.

    "Interstate competitions and tournaments for all indoor sports will also be prohibited, including for high school sports, Mr. Murphy said. Health officials have confirmed infections linked to youth hockey activities, he said."


    •  KTTC-TV News reports that as Minnesota sees a burgeoning number of coronavirus cases - 6,000 on Sunday alone, the most the state has seen in one day - it is serving as a reminder of "how popular store items like toilet paper, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers were sold out at the beginning of the pandemic in spring."

     Dawn Buzynski, Hy-Vee Strategic Communications Director, tells the station that "our distribution centers began stockpiling supplies in the fall with an anticipation of a potential spike. So some stores are beginning to limit certain products … so that we can sustain and make sure we have all products for all of our customers and provide the best service for our customers. And to eliminate any potential hoarding."


    •  Hy-Vee also announced that it "has expanded COVID-19 testing to 12 additional Hy-Vee drive-thru pharmacy locations throughout its eight-state region and has expanded testing hours at select locations … Testing is now available at 165 Hy-Vee drive-thru pharmacy locations­. Each pharmacy location can accommodate up to 12 patients per hour."


    •  Fox Business that United has decided that it can once again sell food and alcohol in economy class on some of its flights.

    The story says that "United reportedly developed a contactless digital payment system for flyers to purchase snacks and drinks through a partnership with Cleveland Clinic. Hungry travelers who wish to buy food items must input their credit card information in United’s mobile app or website to avoid contact with flight attendants."


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that in France, teachers' unions have called for a nationwide strike, "protesting over inadequate protection against Covid-19 … Teachers in France say it is impossible for schools to enforce social distancing among pupils even after sanitation rules were tightened earlier this month. Classes are too big, and schools lack staff and equipment such as individual tables, they say."

    Meanwhile, in Italy, "the government is rolling out tough restrictions as a growing number of hospitals north and south of the peninsula struggle to cope with the influx of Covid-19 patients.

    "Parts of the country, including the region of Lombardy, have been under lockdown since Friday.

    "More regions seen as high risk will be subject to stricter rules starting Wednesday. In those regions, which include Tuscany, bars and restaurants will have to shut and high schools will revert to remote lessons. Travel in, out and within those regions will be barred."

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    The Omaha World-Herald reports that "Omaha-based Bucky’s Convenience Stores is being purchased by one of its competitors, Casey’s General Stores.

    "The $580 million cash purchase of Buchanan Energy was announced Monday. The price includes tax benefits valued at $80 million.

    "Buchanan Energy operates 94 stores and 79 dealer locations in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas."

    The story says that the intention is to convert the Bucky's stores to ther Casey's banner "over the next few years."

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    From Reuters this morning:

    "A U.S. judge on Monday approved a deal to rescue J.C. Penney Co Inc from bankruptcy proceedings precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic, averting a liquidation that would have put the beleaguered department store chain out of business and jeopardized tens of thousands of jobs.

    "The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas approved the deal, which will allow the 118-year-old retailer to emerge from bankruptcy before the upcoming holiday season, the company said in a statement. The rescue deal is expected to save approximately 60,000 jobs.

    "The transaction contains multiple parts. Lenders led by H/2 Capital Partners will forgive $1 billion in debt in exchange for 160 properties and six distribution centers. Mall operators Simon Property Group and Brookfield Property Partners will acquire the company's slimmed-down retail operations for $1.75 billion in cash and debt.

    KC's View:

    Here's the deal.  If the new post-bankruptcy owners see JCP's assets as being building blocks in some sort of new model - real estate that can be repositioned to serve customers where appropriate, repurposed to be relevant to the growing e-commerce business where applicable, and converted to multi-use functionality where possible - then maybe this makes sense.

    But if they think they can make the old JCP model relevant to a new customer base, I think they're smoking something.  

    I think that the companies with a future are the ones that break the mold, not the ones that define the mold.

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    •  From CNBC:

    "Amazon is launching a rewards program for its legions of Flex delivery drivers that gives them a leg up when it comes to the app’s competitive shift selection process.

    "The company quietly added a section to the Flex website and an app on Apple’s App Store that advertise the program, called Amazon Flex Rewards. The rewards program offers drivers a number of perks, including access to a debit card and the ability to reserve customized delivery shifts … After drivers sign up for the rewards program, they earn points for each delivery they complete. Drivers earn more points depending on their overall standing in the app, which takes into account metrics like on-time delivery rates and delivery completions.  As drivers earn more points, they’re able to 'level up' and access new perks."

    The website says that "with Amazon Flex Rewards, you can earn cash back with the Amazon Flex Debit Card, enjoy Preferred Scheduling and access thousands of discounts as well as tools to navigate things like insurance and taxes.”


    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Amazon.com Inc is launching air cargo operations in Europe, the online retailer’s first such expansion outside of the U.S. as it looks to bring more freight operations in-house.

    "Amazon Air will run a 20,000-square-meter regional air hub at Leipzig/Halle airport in Germany, with two branded Boeing Co. 737-800 freighters flown by ASL Airlines, the company said in a statement. The facility will employ 200 people.

    "Operating its own aircraft will let the world’s largest e-commerce company offer 'more flexible delivery options,' Amazon said."

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    •  Kroger-owned Home Chef, which describes itself as "the largest meal kit company serving customers online and in-stores," said that it has expanded  "its menu offerings to provide home cooks with more choices. Just in time for the cold weather, Heat & Eat Soups and Sicilian-Style Pizzas are now available at approximately 2,000 Kroger grocery stores in the U.S."

    Soup options include Broccoli Cheddar, Creamy Tomato, Chicken Noodle, Loaded Potato, Thai Style Chicken Coconut Curry, Chicken Wild Rice and Beef Chili with Beans … Home Chef’s Heat & Eat Pizzas are 10” and start at $5.99. Simply preheat your oven and bake for 15 minutes to have fresh, hot pizza. Options include Four Cheese Pepperoni, Pork Sausage Alfredo, and Margherita."


    •  United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) announced yesterday that "it has reached new long-term labor agreements with drivers at its Hudson Valley distribution center in Montgomery, New York and front-line workers in California at its distribution centers in Commerce, Stockton and Santa Fe Springs … The new contracts include compromises and language updates that provide UNFI important operating flexibility to better serve its customers while providing its valued associates highly competitive wages, strong benefits and industry-leading safety and risk management support amidst the COVID-19 pandemic."


    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that McDonald's and Beyond Meat have teamed up for the "creation of plant-based patties for the fast-food giant’s new line of substitute meat products.

    "The companies co-created the plant-based patty, which will be available as part of the new McPlant platform, Beyond Meat said. The company didn’t say whether the collaboration was ongoing or offer financial details of any partnership. McDonald’s declined to confirm the Beyond Meat news or comment on its suppliers."


    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Petco Animal Supplies Inc., the San Diego-based retail chain, said it has confidentially filed for a initial public offering.

    "The company didn’t provide further details of its listing plans in a statement, except to say the IPO would be held after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission completes a review. It said it hasn’t determined the number of shares to be offered or the price range.

    "Petco’s owners, CVC Capital Partners and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, had been exploring an IPO that would value the company at $6 billion, including debt."

    Published on: November 10, 2020

    In Monday Night Football, the New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets 30-27.