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    Published on: November 11, 2020

    The other day, the Organic Produce Network sponsored another in its series of virtual conversations with industry leaders and innovators.  This time up, I engaged with Stew Leonard Jr., CEO of the iconic food retailer Stew Leonard's, for a far-reaching discussion of the impact of the pandemic, the unique advantages of his stores' business model in challenging times, and his perspective on where the food business is going in the future.

    A note:  I've written here before that in my view, Stew Leonard's absolutely killed it during the pandemic's early days, and continues to be a model of how to be essential in tough times.  So I found this chat to be revelatory, and I think you will, too.

    You can listen to our conversation - available online today at 1 pm EST / 10 am PST - here.

    Photo Credit: Steve Hockstein

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo

    If there were a single word to describe 2020 it would be “uncertainty."   That is the reality we have been dealing with and continue to deal with. And the problem with uncertainty is that it’s impossible to plan for it.

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t get better at this and possibly even learn about managing uncertainty in strange new ways. One great example in managing unknown challenges ahead comes from Blair Braverman, a sled dog racer. In a recent essay in the New York Times, Braverman detailed key insights about sled dog racing that might serve us all in our world of uncertainty.

    She nails it right at the start of her essay by explaining that sled dogs never know how far they have to run; they are simply in the moment, running as hard as dogs always do. That’s an apt metaphor for all of us currently mushing ahead with no sense of how much longer or harder the race against Covid is going to be. We just keep going step by step, moving along.

    As the driver of her team, Braverman explains she has the one bit of knowledge that her dogs lack: she knows the destination. But the dogs bring other countless bits of knowledge and instinct. She explains that a successful sled dog team thrives on a symbiotic relationship between the musher and the dogs so they build trust and reliance on each other.

    That trust and partnership, she explains, is the only way to survive a race that is full of unexpected challenges and, for the dogs, complete uncertainty about how far they still have to go. That sounds incredibly familiar these days, doesn’t it?

    In the course of her essay, Braverman explains how she builds trust with her dogs by carefully managing against their impulse to just run like crazy. It starts by providing them plenty of rest, even when they are somewhat fresh, so that the team grows accustomed to a schedule and also learns that the musher is looking out for them by providing rest and recovery time, food and other necessities on a regular basis.

    We can learn from this. “Planning for forever is essentially impossible, which can actually be freeing,” Braverman writes. “It brings you back into the present. How long will this pandemic last? Right now, that’s irrelevant; what matters is eating a nourishing meal, telling someone you love them, walking your dog, getting enough sleep. What matters is that, to the degree you can, you make your own life sustainable every day.”

    Restraining the dogs against their impulse to run as far and as fast as possibly each day makes them stronger for the long run, making it more likely they’ll reach the finish line healthy and strong.

    Quite often in these columns I try to find metaphors and wildly divergent ideas to offer as inspiration for tackling various problems. None is necessary this week, as what Braverman offers here requires no metaphor or twisted logic. We’re in a race with an unknown finish line and so we need learn from her how to best handle each moment to position us, our families and our work teams to get to that unknown ending both healthy and strong and with our sanity.

    Maybe we old dogs can learn some new tricks. Certainly fast dogs can teach them.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    A riddle:  What has hints of violet, wood and biblichor and offers a business lesson for a pandemic age?

    In fact, do you even know what biblichor is?  KC didn't … but this story not only taught him the meaning of the word, but offered an example of out-of-the-box thinking for the Era of Covid.

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    Amazon announced this morning that it is expanding the use of Amazon One - described by the company as "a fast, convenient, contactless way for people to use their palm to enter, identify, and pay" - from the two Amazon Go stores where it has been piloted for the past few months to three more stores in the region.

    In an email this morning, Amazon said that "Today, we’re excited to confirm that Amazon One is now also available to customers as an entry option at our Amazon Go Grocery store at Overlake Regency in Redmond, WA. In the coming weeks, Amazon One will also be available in Amazon Books at University Village and Amazon 4-star at Westfield Southcenter as an option at checkout."

    KC's View:

    From the moment that I got an advance viewing of the original Amazon Go store, which allowed me to enter using an app and then exist without having to go through a checkout line (the receipt for what I bought magically appeared on my iPhone in just a few minutes), it struck me as transformational technology - there hardly has been a time since when I've been on line anywhere without thinking that it was an unnecessary step that could be eliminated through the use of Amazon's technology.

    The Amazon One tech - which essentially replaces the mobile app with my palm - is just the next step … and what makes it really interesting is the fact that Amazon has expressed its plan to license it out to other retailers, entertainment and sports venues and office buildings.  And it is an easy bet that they'll figure out a way to make it work in some way at Whole Foods.

    Amazon uses the word "contactless" - a relevant buzzword in a time of pandemic - but to me, the important and even more resonant word is "frictionless."  Amazon's clear goal is to eliminate all the parts of shopping that are irritating … and in doing so, setting the bar for how consumers will view any shopping experience.

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    Amazon-owned Whole Foods has announced that it is teaming up with Progressive Insurance to offer a kind of guarantee for people making Thanksgiving dinner this year.

    Fox Business reports that "customers who 'commit a turkey cooking fail,' will receive a $35 gift card to Whole Foods. The idea was prompted by coronavirus restrictions forcing households to host smaller gatherings and, in some cases, having inexperienced cooks prepare the stressful, multi-course meal … If it winds up overcooked, burnt, or dry, you can submit a claim with a receipt, brief explanation, and picture to a special website.

    "The promotion is limited to a 1,000 customers."

    Here's a video explaining the promotion, using a familiar face from Progressive's TV commercials:

    KC's View:

    The "first thousand customers" thing is a bit of a buzzkill, but I like the idea … it is a very smart way of ginning up some earned media.

    Published on: November 11, 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, the Covid-19 coronavirus numbers stand at 10,568,714 confirmed cases, 245,943 resulting deaths, and 6,602,517 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 51,908,157 confirmed coronavirus cases, 1,281,233 fatalities, and 36,457,449 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "The U.S. has surpassed 1 million new confirmed coronavirus cases in just the first 10 days of November, with more than 100,000 infections each day becoming the norm in a surge that shows no signs of slowing.

    "The 1 million milestone came as governors across the nation are making increasingly desperate pleas with the public to take the fight against the virus more seriously. The Wisconsin governor planned to take the unusual step of delivering a live address to the state Tuesday, urging unity and cooperation to fight COVID-19.

    "Minnesota’s governor ordered bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m., and Iowa’s governor said she will require masks at indoor gatherings of 25 or more people, inching toward more stringent measures after months of holding out.

    "The alarming wave of cases across the U.S. looks bigger and is more widespread than the surges that happened in the spring, mainly in the Northeast, and then in the summer, primarily in the Sun Belt. But experts say there are also reasons to think the nation is better able to deal with the virus this time around."

    The AP goes on:

    "Experts are increasingly alarmed about the virus’s resurgence in places like Massachusetts, which has seen a dramatic rise in cases since Labor Day, blamed largely on young people socializing.

    "Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is warning that the health care system could become overwhelmed this winter, and he recently ordered restaurants to stop table service, required many businesses to close by 9:30 p.m., and instructed residents to stay home between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m."


    "Meanwhile, political leaders in a number of newer coronavirus hot spots are doing less. In hard-hit South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem has made it clear she will not institute a mask requirement and has voiced doubt in health experts who say face coverings prevent infections from spreading.

    "Even higher case and death rates have been seen in North Dakota, where many people have refused to wear masks. Gov. Doug Burgum has pleaded with people to do so, and praised local towns and cities that have mandated masks. But he has avoided requiring masks himself."

    •  The New York Times  reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is "breaking from its tentative recommendations on mask use thus far" and now is saying that "using masks benefits wearers, which is a step beyond its previous declaration that said wearing masks would only protect those around them."

    The Times goes on:

    "The unequivocal statements are a departure from the agency’s previous language, which suggested that 'the latest science may convince' Americans to wear masks and that mask use could prevent an infected person from spreading the virus to others. 'The main protection individuals gain from masking occurs when others in their communities also wear face coverings,' it said.

    "The agency also offered an economic argument, saying that increasing the proportion of people who wear masks by 15 percent could prevent the need for lockdowns and cut associated losses of up to $1 trillion, or about 5 percent of gross domestic product."

    There will be some who will say that this change in recommendation only proves that the CDC doesn't really know what it is talking about.  But what it really demonstrates is that the CDC continues to study and learn and evolve its recommendations based on new and expanded information.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "hospitalizations, up around 30% since the beginning of the month, reached 61,964 as of Tuesday, exceeding the previous high of 59,940 reached on April 15, according to the Covid Tracking Project. A summer surge also saw hospitalizations reach just shy of 60,000 in July."

    The Journal also reports:

    "Texas became the first state in the country to surpass one million cases, according to Johns Hopkins. California now has the second-highest number of cases in the U.S., with more than 990,000.

    "Daily caseloads for Tuesday hit record levels in Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, according to Johns Hopkins. And the number of new cases on Guam also continued to rise rapidly with the U.S. territory reporting 180 new cases on Tuesday, bringing its total to 5,659."

    •  The New York Times expands on this:

    "The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus, tallied by the Covid Tracking Project, has more than doubled since September, and now exceeds the peak reached early in the pandemic, when 59,940 hospitalized patients were reported on April 15. A second peak in the summer fell just short of matching that record.

    "Those spikes in April and July lasted only a few days and quickly subsided, but as winter approaches experts do not expect that this time."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday the rising rate of positive test results for Covid-19 is worrisome, but stopped short of saying the city was in a second wave of infection.

    "The share of New York City residents who tested positive for the new coronavirus last week reached 2.31%, the highest percentage since June, according to city data. The daily positivity rate was 2.88% on Sunday, the data showed.

    "The Democratic mayor said the city still has time to drive down the rates through use of masks and social distancing … Despite the steady increase in Covid-19 cases, Mr. de Blasio encouraged parents of city public-school students enrolled in fully remote learning to switch to a hybrid model of some online instruction and in-person class time. Parents have until Sunday to opt into the hybrid curriculum and won’t have another opportunity for the rest of the academic year."

    The Journal notes that "Any restrictions and shutdowns would need the authorization of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

    New York state added nearly 4,000 Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to the governor’s office. The state’s daily positivity rate was 3.09%; the rate hasn’t hit 3% since May 26 and the state hasn’t seen this case load since May 1. On Monday, there were 32 deaths from the virus in New York."

    •  Bloomberg has a story about a new study from Northwestern University and Stanford University concluding that "the reopening of restaurants, gyms and hotels carries the highest danger of spreading Covid-19."

    The study used "mobile phone data from 98 million people to model the risks of infection at different locations … They looked at where they went, how long they stayed, how many others were there and what neighborhoods they were visiting from. They then combined that information with data on the number of cases and how the virus spreads to create infection models."

    "'We need to be thinking about strategies for reopening the economy,' said Jure Leskovec, a Stanford University computer scientist and lead author on the paper. 'This allows us to test different reopening scenarios and assess what that would mean for the spread of the virus.'

    "Without virus mitigation measures, he said, they predicted that a third of the population might be infected with the virus. When they fit their model to publicly available data for the daily number of infections, the researchers found it could predict epidemic trajectories better than other models.

    "The model also suggests just how effective lock-down measures can be in public spaces by noting infections and the use of those spaces over time as cities put lockdowns into effect."

    •  NBC News reports that "a matchup between two college football heavyweights scheduled for this weekend was postponed after players from Louisiana State University tested positive for coronavirus, school officials said.

    "The LSU Tigers, who won the College Football Playoff National Championship last year after an undefeated season, were scheduled to play the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday.

    "In a statement, LSU didn’t say how many players had tested positive for the virus. But the university’s director of athletics, Scott Woodward, said that the team didn’t have the minimum number of scholarship players required for the game.  The school said the match between the SEC titans may be rescheduled for Dec. 19."

    •  Variety reports that "indoor movie theaters in Sacramento and San Diego will have to close due to those counties being moved back into the state’s most restrictive 'purple' tier due to higher case rates of COVID-19.

    "On Tuesday, the state’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mark Ghaly, announced 10 counties that are being required to move back to more restrictive measures. No counties were moved into a less restrictive tier."

    The story notes that "counties must stay in each tier for at least three weeks before they can move to a less restrictive tier in California. They will only be eligible to move to a less restrictive tier if their numbers show improvement for at least two weeks.

    "San Diego was California’s first major market to move into the purple tier, and AMC and Regal cinema chains reopened multiplexes in early September prior to Labor Day weekend."

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    Expect to see a lot of news stories and advertising in coming weeks about how Thanksgiving will be different this year - smaller get-togethers, lots of Zoom conversations, and a recognition that the pandemic has changed much about our daily lives.

    But some things have not changed … which is the underlying point that Publix is making in this excellent commercial:

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Acosta is out with a new "Mobile-ization of Grocery" report saying that "eighty-nine percent of U.S. grocery shoppers are using a smartphone, 22% more than in 2015 … Fifty-eight percent of U.S. shoppers agreed they are comfortable using digital/online tools to assist with grocery shopping, up significantly from 35% of shoppers in 2015 … In 2020, 34% of shoppers viewed the grocery circular online, and 26% of shoppers viewed the grocery circular via a retailer app."

    •  Axios reports that "The Justice Department has cleared Uber’s acquisition of food delivery company Postmates, a source familiar with the deal told Axios Monday … The DOJ was scrutinizing the $2.65 billion all-stock deal over antitrust concerns as the food delivery sector undergoes consolidation."

    Uber reportedly has agreed to certain conditions for the deal to be allowed, including

    "removing exclusivity provisions — which require restaurants to use only Postmates as their third-party food delivery service — in several markets, including Los Angeles, Miami and El Paso," and "not entering into any agreement with those restaurants that contains an exclusivity provision for six months following closing."

    Uber recently conceded that it is generating more revenue from its food-related businesses than its original ride sharing business.  So it needed to get this deal done.

    •  In Southern California, Gelson's Market "has partnered with GetUpside to make their cash back offers available to shoppers."

    The announcement explains:  "The GetUpside mobile app that delivers these cashback offers is easy-to-use and consistently ranked in the top-10 on both the App Store and GooglePlay. Though the user interface is simple, the backend is anything but. GetUpside’s machine learning algorithms quickly comb through the anonymized transaction data grocers already have to understand how customers behave and identify the minimum offer that will motivate them to take additional action. GetUpside specifically targets infrequent, occasional, and lapsed customers to improve return rates and increase basket sizes."

    •  The Washington Post notes that Alibaba's Single Day promotion is underway in China, with "brisk sales" being reported, though it is noted that e-commerce companies there "took extra pains this year to ensure they could declare a successful Singles Day. Alibaba began Singles Day sales early on Nov. 1, stretching out the occasion into a week and a half of promotions, and making it difficult to compare directly with last year’s performance."

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    •  Walmart reportedly is teaming up with General Motors-owned autonomous vehicle company Cruise to test grocery delivery in Scottsdale, Arizona.

    TechCrunch reports that "under the pilot program, customers will be able to place an order from their local Walmart store and have it delivered via one of Cruise’s autonomous, electric Chevy Bolt cars. While the vehicles will operate autonomously, a human safety operator will always be behind the wheel.

    "The companies haven’t provided details on the size of the fleet or customer area that will be served, beyond stating it will be in Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix. The pilot program is expected to begin early next year."

    The story notes that "Walmart has also partnered with a handful of autonomous vehicle developers, including Waymo, to test out how the technology might eventually be used at a commercial scale. The retailer signed a deal in 2019 with startup Udelv to test the use of autonomous vans to deliver online grocery orders to customers in Surprise, Arizona. Autonomous delivery startup Nuro launched a pilot program with Walmart in Houston in 2020. The retail giant participated in a pilot with Postmates and Ford in the Miami-Dade area and last year the retailer tapped AV startup Gatik to deliver customer online grocery orders from Walmart’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas."

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Washington Post reports that "Ulta Beauty is opening mini-shops inside more than 100 Target locations across the country next year, bringing prestige makeup and skin care to the aisles of the big box giant.

    "The partnership announced Tuesday is the latest illustration of the ways in which the coronavirus crisis has shaken up the retail industry and shopping behavior. Ulta’s 1,000-square-foot 'shop-in-shops' will debut in Target beauty sections in 2021 and scale up to hundreds of locations over time, the companies said in a news release. As part of the deal, Ulta will train Target team members to serve as beauty experts."

    This is a smart move for both retailers - it will give Target a level of expertise in the category that it may not have enjoyed in the eyes of most consumers, and will give Ulta exposure to Target consumers, a group that has been growing during the pandemic.  It seems similar to the deal that Sephora made with JC Penney … though I suspect that Sephora would've much preferred to do business with Target, which actually is likely to be in business 18 months from now.

    Published on: November 11, 2020

    I got an email yesterday from MNB reader Joye Crosby, referring to a piece that referenced a New York Times story about how a change in administrations may affect the degree to which corporations weigh in on political and cultural issues:

    I have always enjoyed the varied grocery related information you provide in this publication.  I sometimes agree and sometimes not on your personal opinions related to your postings.  Today you crossed a line for me.  It’s been clear to me that you are not a fan of President Trump.  That’s OK.  The problem I have is that you referenced the NY Times article and every time the President was quoted you called him “Mr Trump."

    For the record whether you like it or not, Mr Trump is the sitting President Trump, of the United States, and will remain so the rest of history.  Your show of disrespect for the office and the title is unexpected and unacceptable.   If you would like to see respect for Mr Biden after his inauguration to this office, than you should afford everyone to have ever held the office the same.  You are supposed to be a journalist.....lead by example.  Maybe if the rest of Washington DC had done that the past 4 years, we would not have all of this mob drama now.

    I went back to the story with which this reader was unhappy to check … and every time that “Mr. Trump” was used, it was a quote from the New York Times story.   So I wasn’t being disrespectful - I was just quoting the Times.

    However, lest the Times be accused of being disrespectful, I believe you will find that the New York Times Stylebook calls for the President of the United States - whoever he or she is - to be called “President XXXXX” on first reference in a story, and then “Mr. XXXXXX” or “Ms. XXXXX” on second reference.  I also think you’ll find that the Times actually is more reverential than many other papers, which on references after the first one would only use the last name, without the “Mr.” or “Ms.” or whatever.

    The Times actually uses “Mr.” and “Ms.” and other similar titles for every person in its stories, while MNB style - such as it is - is to use only the last name in second and subsequent references.

    So … not only did I mean no disrespect, but in this case I showed none.

    Also on the subject of how the media operates, MNB reader Monte Stowell wrote:

    Here we go again. I was watching ABC News this morning, and they showed a short bit saying that a new wave of the Coronavirus, will create an uptick in bath tissue, towels, and cleaning supply sales, creating possible shortages again. If this creates more panic buying, retailers need to impose, immediately, a limit on purchases or we will see empty shelves again. The media needs to keep their POV to themselves and not creating another big supply issue to the consumer on these categories!!

    My daughter went to the supermarket yesterday, and found a ton of out-of-stocks … and we've talked to a number of people who were stockpiling because of concerns that Connecticut could go back into lockdown.  (Several school districts have gone to all-remote learning because of spiking coronavirus numbers.)

    Now, to be clear, I never have taken a journalism class.  (I've also never taken a business class, which some MNB readers would say explains a lot.)

    But … I'm pretty sure, based on a writing/journalism/punditry career that goes back to 1977, that shortages and outages related to the pandemic qualifies as a story.

    The industry's job is to put products on the shelves and serve its customers.  Journalists' job is to find and report stories, and put them in context whenever possible.

    Monte, I love you, but I think you are wrong about this.