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    Published on: November 25, 2020

    by Michael Sansolo



    Maybe Snoopy had it right all along. In the classic cartoon, when the intrepid beagle gets stuck preparing a Thanksgiving feast for Charlie Brown and the gang, he resorts to what he knows best and serves up popcorn, toast and jelly beans as the main dish.

    Spoiler alert: it doesn’t go well.

    The reality is that a lot of people are going to feel like Snoopy this year. Thanks to widespread lockdowns and travel restrictions many Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving very differently in 2020 - as if everything this year wasn’t different enough already.

    More than ever we’ll be gathering in fairly small groups and communicating with family through Facetime or Zoom. 

    But here’s the kicker.  The lack of large family gatherings means many people who don’t know how to cook a Thanksgiving meal are going to be front and center in the kitchen. There are reports that fire departments nationwide are on alert for subsequent problems and, as MNB previously reported, Whole Foods and Progressive Insurance have teamed up on a timely plan to reimburse families for meals gone array. (Let’s not even get into food safety issues.)

    Insurance may not be the way to go for every retailer.  But let’s learn something valuable from this holiday.

    The sad reality is that not just Thanksgiving is going to be very different this year.  There seems to be little chance that the rest of the holiday season - Christmas, New Year’s or even Super Bowl Sunday - will be any better. It’s going to be a year of smallish celebrations centered on meal preparers who may not be up to the task.

    It’s too late to work any magic for tomorrow’s big meal, but the rest of the season lies weeks ahead. The entire food industry need grab this opportunity to help inexperienced chefs through the moments with prepared dishes, recipe ideas, cooking tips, food safety advice and more. For all we know, this year could change the path forward on holiday festivities paving the way for entirely new and exciting menus.

    (This may not be good news for turkey farmers, as people consider alternative holiday meals and new traditions.  The Content Guy above talked about how his family has turned filet mignon into a Thanksgiving tradition.  In our house, we're doing chicken.  And Kevin reminded me yesterday of a 1981 Calvin Trillin column in The New Yorker many years in which the writer argued that turkey was not a good Thanksgiving choice - nobody really likes it.  Trillin suggested a traditional meal more in keeping with the celebration of the immigrant experience, not to mention a lot more delicious - spaghetti carbonara.)

    So much of what we have experienced this year has been about breaking norms and traditions and simply innovating. As to what new habits become commonplace or new traditions is unknown. It’s possible that people will never go back to life as it was or that they’ll go back with all kinds of new additions and deletions.

    None of us can know what comes next (hopefully a vaccine) and what elements of 2020 will now be permanent. But we can influence the decision.

    So once again, the challenge is to rise up to make this moment work as best as possible. If you already jumped on the Thanksgiving opportunity, congratulation and keep it going. If not, Christmas is coming fast and with it your next chance. Don’t let it pass by. As Kevin frequently says here at MNB; “compete is a verb.” Let’s add onto that: evolve and innovate are verbs as well.

    Heck, you can probably even build displays for popcorn and remind shoppers that even Snoopy started somewhere. Happy Thanksgiving and best of luck!

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    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 25, 2020

    by Kevin Coupe

    I was reading a piece in Variety yesterday about how the live theater business has been changed by Covid-19, as "the pandemic has prodded an ancient art form — and an often hidebound industry — to explore the digital potential it’s eyed so warily in the past. As the theater’s biggest commercial motor, Broadway, has languished, resourceful artists and producers are making work that incorporates video, gaming and interactivity into hybridized digital-theater forms that, rather than serving as mere stopgaps, stand poised to endure even after the return of theater as we knew it."

    The story goes on:  "It’s the digital medium’s potential to expand accessibility on multiple fronts that elicits the most consistent excitement from creators, producers and arts leaders. Greater pricing flexibility can reduce economic hurdles via lower price points and sliding payment scales. Audiences with disabilities can be better accommodated with captioning and audio description, and remote attendance broadens reach to those who are physically unable to attend shows in a traditional theater setting. And the global reach of digital means artists and theaters can cultivate audiences well beyond the typically local scope of a single production or organization."

    But it was a quote from Steve Wargo, co-founder of a production company called Resounding, that I found to be the real Eye-Opener:

    “All arts organizations are going to have to become media companies now."

    That sentence, I think, illustrates the kind of approach that every business has to bring to current realities - that they can't think in terms of traditional lanes or legacy approaches.  Rather, they need to think about broader issues of accessibility and flexibility, cultivating customers where they are as opposed to where we want them to be.

    A metaphorical Eye-Opener, indeed.

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    Yahoo Finance reports that Walmart SVP of customer product Tom Ward said yesterday that it has "created a program that routes some of the dot-com orders to be fulfilled directly from its stores instead of an e-commerce fulfillment center. The company will also use its local delivery capabilities to dispatch those orders to customers' homes."

    Ward blogged yesterday, "While our customers won't see a change in the app or a new service they need to select, they will notice that they aren't finding themselves checking for shipping updates or sweating arrival times of gifts. They simply notice their orders are arriving super-fast, even the same day, and maybe in a Walmart bag from a store rather than a Walmart box from  Walmart.com."

    KC's View:

    If you've got more than 4,700 stores, and 90 percent of the population lives near one of those stores, it'd be foolish not to look for ways to leverage them and make delivery faster … this game is all about finding ways to exceed customer expectations.

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    Kroger and robotics warehouse company Ocado yesterday "announced the continued expansion of their partnership with plans to construct an additional Customer Fulfillment Center (CFC) in the South region, while also collaborating with Ocado on in-store fulfillment (ISF) capabilities with a planned rollout across Kroger stores, beginning in 2021."

    According to the announcement, "The new facility will measure 200,000 square feet. The exact location and construction dates of the new facility will be announced soon … The newly named location will complement Kroger's previously announced CFC sites in Monroe, OH, Groveland, FL, Frederick, MD, Atlanta, GA, Dallas, TX, Pleasant Prairie, WI, Romulus, MI, Pacific Northwest and West regions. Kroger plans to open the country's first two CFC sites in Monroe, OH, a suburb of Cincinnati and Groveland, FL in early 2021. "

    And, the companies said, "As part of its accelerated growth plan, Kroger is also investing and innovating to optimize in-store fulfillment technology and processes. Through their expanding partnership, Kroger is also collaborating with Ocado to leverage their in-store fulfillment (ISF) capabilities with the best of Kroger's technology and digital solutions to support the rapid growth of pickup demand across Kroger stores nationwide. Ocado's in-store fulfillment solution includes proprietary software that supports associates' efforts to assemble orders and makes it easier and more efficient for them to find products when fulfilling customer pickup orders."

    KC's View:

    Am I wrong to think that it is entirely possible that micro-fulfillment capabilities developed for Kroger's stores could end up having greater long-term potential for the company that the giant robotics distribution centers?

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    CNBC has an interview with FreshDirect CEO David McInerney in which he says that the planned acquisition of his company by Ahold Delhaize will bring only benefits to his fresh food-centric business.

    According to the story, "McInerney said that he appreciated how Ahold Delhaize plans to preserve the e-commerce company’s brand. FreshDirect will keep its name and will still independently operate its New York City facility."

    Ahold Delhaize announced last week that it will acquire 80 percent of FreshDirect - private equity group Centerbridge Partners is in for the other 20 percent.  Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

    The story suggests that the pandemic-induced acceleration of e-grocery has made the pairing timely:  "Being that we’re on top of our game right now ... strong double digit-growth, we were naturally attractive, given where the world is in terms of adoption of online food," McInerney said.

    KC's View:

    Not to be overly blunt or cynical about this deal, but its success depends on Ahold Delhaize not screwing it up.

    FreshDirect has a very specific expertise, and it is important that Ahold Delhaize learn from it, offer synergies and efficiencies where appropriate, and not impose its own structures and strictures on FreshDirect in a way that inhibits creativity and innovation.  And they ought together look for ways to partner - maybe FreshDirect-branded prepared food sections in various Ahold Delhaize banners?

    I will say this.  The betting among industry folks to whom I have spoken is that the FreshDirect brand doesn't survive two years under the new ownership.  It is up to Ahold Delhaize to prove the naysayers wrong - and not just keep alive the name, but the culture that made it special.

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the Conference Board's monthly assessment of consumer confidence detected a souring of opinion that seems related to the soaring of coronavirus numbers.

    According to the story, the Conference Board's "index of consumer confidence fell to 96.1 this month, from a revised 101.4 in October."

    "“Consumers’ assessment of present-day conditions held steady, though consumers noted a moderation in business conditions, suggesting growth has slowed in [the fourth quarter],” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board. “Heading into 2021, consumers do not foresee the economy, nor the labor market, gaining strength. In addition, the resurgence of Covid-19 is further increasing uncertainty and exacerbating concerns about the outlook.”

    Published on: November 25, 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 12,958,805 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 265,986 deaths and 7,640,552 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 60,199,234 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,417,035 fatalities and 41,656,666 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that "the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may soon shorten the length of time it recommends that a person self-quarantine after potential exposure to the coronavirus, hoping that such a step will encourage more people to comply, a top agency official said.

    "CDC officials are finalizing recommendations for a new quarantine period that would likely be between seven and 10 days and include a test to ensure a person is negative for Covid-19 … Agency officials are discussing the exact time period and what type of test a person would be given to exit quarantine."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "the United States logged nearly 2,100 coronavirus-related fatalities on Tuesday, marking the pandemic’s deadliest day in more than six months. Record numbers of fatalities were reported in nine states — Ohio, Washington, Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Oregon, Maine, Alaska and North Dakota.

    •  From CNN:

    "More than 2,100 Covid-19 deaths were reported in the US on Tuesday -- making it the highest single day death toll the country has seen since early May.

    "The most deaths in a single day were recorded April 15 -- 2,603 people … The coming weeks are likely to continue getting worse, before a possible vaccine begins to offer some relief. But just how much worse things will get depends on the mitigation steps taken across the country -- as well as the kinds of celebrations Americans will opt to host over the coming days, experts say."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    The federal government plans to send 6.4 million doses of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to communities across the United States within 24 hours of regulatory clearance, with the expectation that shots will be administered quickly to front-line health-care workers, the top priority group, officials said Tuesday.

    •  From Axios:

    "As of September, the vast majority of Americans did not have coronavirus antibodies, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine … As the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout most of the country, most people remain vulnerable to it."

    More details from the story:  "Across the U.S., the portion of states' populations with detectable antibodies ranged from less than 1% to 23%. In most places, less than 10% of the population had them as of September.

    "The portion of people with antibodies was often lowest in older age groups — an ominous sign."

    The other problem:  "Emerging evidence suggests that antibodies wane over time. In New York - the epicenter of the spring's outbreak - the percentage of people with antibodies decreased from 23.3% in the first collection period to 17% in the final one."

    •  CNN  reports on a new survey saying that "sixty one percent of Americans have changed their Thanksgiving plans due to recent spikes in Covid-19 cases … Nearly one in 10 Americans -- 9% -- said they no longer plan to celebrate the holiday at all."

    According to the story, "The most common changes reported were seeing only immediate household members and having a smaller dinner than originally planned, according to the poll, which was based on a nationally representative sample of 1,002 US adults and conducted between November 20 and 23."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "As Americans enter a period of peak travel among their states starting with Thanksgiving, new discoveries about how Europe’s second coronavirus wave spread provide an object lesson. Many European regions had made such gains against Covid-19 as to be cited as models. Those gains proved fragile.

    "Unanticipated pockets of infection on the continent and a rush to relax rules allowed it to surge across Europe again.

    "Much of Europe’s new wave can now be traced to outbreaks among agricultural workers living in cramped conditions in Spain’s Catalonia and Aragón regions, according to researchers from Switzerland and Spain. It spread to nearby cities and across Spain, then home with tourists."

    •  From this morning's Boston Globe:

    "Early on in the pandemic, many people went grocery shopping as infrequently as possible, lining up outside stores on a mission to stock up like they were preparing for the apocalypse. Workers, meanwhile, wore protective equipment and ― in some cases — received hazard pay for their bravery.

    "Nearly nine months into the COVID-19 era, however, a sense of normalcy ― or at least routine ― has returned. Inside supermarkets and big-box stores, some of the more visible signs of the health crisis have receded. Industry observers say some stores have pulled back on physically monitoring their entrances to keep tabs on capacity. Floor arrows still indicate one-way aisles, but fewer shoppers are paying attention. And it’s not always clear whether carts have been sanitized between uses.

    "Now, large stores face a crucial test as the start of the holiday shopping season collides with a dangerous spike in COVID-19 infections. This week, it’s grocers serving customers shopping for Thanksgiving. By Friday, big-box retailers will be the main attraction … Though practices vary widely across chains and locations, companies say they remain in compliance with state public health rules."

    I've visited a number of stores this week, and it would be my perception that maybe they're a little more crowded than I'm entirely comfortable with, but that generally people are respectful of space and retailers are doing a good job keeping things moving and safe.  There are a lot of things that retailers are doing to keep things safe that are invisible to shoppers, though, and I think it would behoove businesses to tell that story more effectively … especially as the pandemic numbers go up.

    •  Albertsons announced yesterday "that it has taken another step in enhancing its safe environment by implementing a contactless temperature check and health screening solution for associates and vendors. The new technology, now being deployed across all Albertsons Companies locations, enables a safer and more reliable health screening process for those who work in their stores and facilities. "

    According to the announcement, the technology "leverages a built-in touchless body temperature scanner and a digital COVID-19 health questionnaire. The new screening solution can help to avoid potential exposure for health screeners while ensuring effective temperature screening for all associates.  The enhanced process will be implemented across all markets regardless of their COVID-19 risk state, enabling Albertsons Companies to adhere to the latest CDC recommendations and regional mandates pertaining to health screenings. Upon successful completion of the temperature screening and validation of the heath questionnaire, visible stickers are printed with 'CLEAR' and the associate’s photo, which can then be worn by those screened who are not in food production areas. For those in food production positions, the stickers will be logged in the department."

    •  The Boston Globe has a story about all the people out there who - despite wearing masks and practicing physical distancing and washing their hands frequently and avoiding crowds and people outside their "pod" - catch Covid-19 anyway.

    "Dr. Abraar Karan, an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has been hearing stories like these from his patients for months. They aren’t surprising, he said, as they’re indicative of high levels of community spread.

    "'Unless you have some major outbreak — like a super-spreading event where a lot of people are giving you the same story — it’s extremely difficult to figure out where transmission is happening, and that’s actually one of the reasons why the epidemic will probably never be fully stopped,' Karan said. 'You’ll always have a trickle of cases ongoing at small levels'."

    •  The Columbus Dispatch reports that "because of COVID-19 concerns, Ohio State has cancelled its season-opening women's basketball game against Akron that had been scheduled for Wednesday evening at Value City Arena.

    "A release from the Ohio State athletic department said the move was made in alignment with COVID-19 testing and protocols for nonconference opponents."

    •  Willamette Week reports that Pok Pok, an iconic Portland, Oregon, restaurant brand that specialized in North Thailand cuisine and long lines, has closed because of the pandemic.

    According to the story, "Owner Andy Ricker announced he will be closing the last remaining outposts of his Thai food empire, including the brand's flagship location on Southeast Division Street.

    "Ricker had previously shuttered four of his other Portland properties earlier in 2020, leaving only the original restaurant and the Pok Pok Wing in Southeast Portland, though both remained shut down due to the pandemic."

    Context:  "Ricker opened the original Pok Pok at 3226 SE Division St. in 2005, introducing Portland to the cuisine of North Thailand. It grew into one of Portland's most popular restaurants, achieving national acclaim and winning Ricker a James Beard Award in 2011. His signature Vietnamese fish sauce wings are among the city's most iconic dishes―WW named it one of the "12 Wonders of Portland Food" in 2015. 

    "Attempts to expand into New York and Los Angeles were less successful, closing after only a few years, but the Pok Pok brand became ubiquitous in Portland, spinning off into four fast-casual variations and a bar, Whiskey Soda Lounge."

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    •  NJ.comreports that "ShopRite of Hunterdon County opened its first automated micro-fulfillment center to enhance its online services on Tuesday.

    "The special warehouse-like facility, located beside the ShopRite of Flemington, is opening in response to an extraordinary growth in online shopping and the ShopRite from Home services over the past several months, according to Joe Colalillo, chairman and chief executive officer of Wakefern Food Corp. and president of his family-owned company, ShopRite of Hunterdon County."

    “This micro-fulfillment center represents an important investment in our stores and the ShopRite from Home service," Colallilo said.  "It allows us to continue to provide our customers with the outstanding quality and service they expect from ShopRite, whether shopping us in-store or online.”

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon is partnering with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center - described as part of the Department of Homeland Security that serves as a government watchdog "preventing counterfeit products from entering the U.S. supply chain" - to "conduct inspections of suspected fake goods at U.S. ports of entry, the company’s latest attempt to excise bogus products from its web store."

    According to the story, "More than half of the products for sale on Amazon’s site are listed by independent sellers. The embrace of such third-party merchants and a highly automated store mean the company is constantly playing whack-a-mole with counterfeiters. Amazon’s spotty record in controlling the scourge has turned off customers and brands that otherwise might put more of their products on the site."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Home Depot has reached a $17.5 million settlement with the attorney generals of 46 states and the District of Columbia over a 2014 data breach that exposed the payment card information of some 40 million customers.  The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office detailed the settlement in a statement Tuesday, saying Home Depot agreed under its terms to employ a full-time chief information security officer among other measures."

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama have "filed a petition with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board to form a union … The federal agency posted a notice dated Friday for a hearing to determine whether the petition meets the criteria to advance to the next step. With enough support, it’ll proceed to a vote among those working at the warehouse outside Birmingham on whether to unionize and be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The recently opened facility in Bessemer employs about 1,500 people."

    The story notes that this is "the latest sign of strife between the online retailer and its large blue-collar workforce," tensions that have been exacerbated by heightened demands placed on those employees by accelerated e-commerce sales and safety concerns created by the pandemic.

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    •  Mobile Marketer reports that "Walmart and media company Tastemade last week rolled out shoppable streaming content to give viewers more ideas on what to cook at home during the holidays. Special episodes of Tastemade's 'Struggle Meals' let audiences text an on-screen number to add suggested ingredients to a virtual Walmart shopping cart, and place an order for pickup or delivery."

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    •  Fast Casual reports that Saladworks, which has more than 100 locations in 18 states, has opened its first location inside a Kroger, in Cincinnati.

    "Much like the stand-alone locations across the country, the in-store formats focus on customization offering create-your-own salads, wraps, grain bowls as well as soup and grab 'n' go items," the story says.  "In addition to in-store orders, grocery store restaurants for Saladworks also offer shoppers the option to order online through the Saladworks website or by calling ahead for pickup."

    Fast Casual notes that "Saladworks has restaurants in seven grocery stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York, with more than 10 openings planned through Q1 of 2021."

    •  CNBC reports on Nordstrom's release of Q3 numbers, and they add up to a business that seems to be recovering from the negative impact of the pandemic.

    Nordstrom's net income fell to $53 million from $126 million a year earlier, as revenue dropped to $3.09 billion from $3.67 billion a year ago.  But while  total sales were down 40% in the first quarter and 53% in the second quarter, Q3 sales only were down 16 percent - a marked improvement.

    In addition, Nordstrom continues to show strength in its e-commerce business, which now accounts for 54 percent of its total;  in addition, the company sees its off-price store, Nordstrom Rack, as being a potential source of strength in recessionary times.

    •  The Associated Press reports that McCormick & Co. has finalized a deal to acquire hot sauce Cholula for $800 million from private equity group L Catteron.

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Bloomberg reports that "CVS Health Corp. named former Crate & Barrel Chief Executive Officer Neela Montgomery as president of its CVS Pharmacy unit … Montgomery will oversee CVS’s roughly 10,000 drugstores in the U.S. at a time when people are buying more convenience items online and the coronavirus pandemic is introducing more patients to ordering prescription medicines the same way."

    The question I would ask is whether the former CEO of Crate & Barrel will or even will want to get CVS stores focused on the categories where it should be killing it, where it should have a differential advantage.  I'm not saying she won't or won't want to.  I am saying that if she does, it'll be working against years of drift away from what ought to be the core mission.

    Published on: November 25, 2020

    MNB will be taking the Thanksgiving holiday weekend off … and will return on Monday, November 30 with all-new curated news and hand-crafted commentary.

    Be safe.  Stay healthy,  And Happy Thanksgiving!