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    Published on: December 21, 2020

    Many subscribers did not get the MNB Wake Up Call last Friday because of a technical issue with the email service.  My apologies … this rarely has happened over the past 19 years, but it makes total sense that it would while we're still in 2020.

    Today, you may receive Friday's email as well as today's …. I hope you'll be patient as we deal with these glitches.  If you want to read Friday's MNB, click here.

    We've done a little investigating, and it seems that after hacking the nation's nuclear laboratories as well as the Pentagon, Treasury and Commerce Department systems, Russia wanted to go after other vital online assets.  Naturally, MNB was high on their priority list … reportedly because Putin is a big investor in Instacart, and got tired of all the negative commentary.  

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…

    -KC

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    KC always has been skeptical about how retailers use loyalty programs ... mostly because they rarely seem to be about loyalty.  The pandemic actually created an opportunity, and he wonders how many retailers took advantage of the moment.

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the panel responsible for advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that older people and front line "essential" workers be in the next group to be vaccinated for the Covid-19 coronavirus.

    "A federal advisory panel recommended Sunday that both the nation’s oldest, most vulnerable people and front-line essential workers be offered the next place in line for Covid-19 vaccines, hoping to use limited vaccine supplies in early 2021 both to reduce hospitalizations and deaths and slow transmission of the virus," the Journal writes.

    "This next group would include people ages 75 and older, whose hospitalization and death rates are the highest of all age groups. It would also include teachers, factory workers, police and firefighters, grocery store workers and others who are considered essential to the functioning of the economy and at high risk of exposure to Covid-19.

    "A third group would follow them, comprised of people between the ages of 65 and 74, anyone age 16 or over with a medical condition that puts them at high risk of complications from Covid-19, and other essential workers. They include people who work in transportation and logistics, food service, water and wastewater, and energy sectors."

    According to the Journal, "The decision to include the oldest people in the next priority group marks a shift for the ACIP, which last month considered giving priority to essential workers over the oldest generations for vaccines in early 2021.  That position was based on the argument that, like health-care workers, essential workers are putting their lives on the line to keep the economy and society going.

    "In addition, many essential workers are older, have high-risk medical conditions, and are from racial and ethnic groups and lower-income populations that have suffered disproportionately high rates of severe illness, according to the CDC."

    Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that "companies across America — from Amazon and Uber to railroads and meatpacking plants — are lobbying states and the federal government to prioritize their workers for early immunization against the coronavirus amid limited supplies of the vaccine."

    The Post writes that "the government estimates a pool of essential workers of about 87 million spanning dozens of industries, including many people of color and many earning low wages. But the task of prioritizing within that sprawling, disparate population, verifying who is essential, and setting up equitable systems for access is triggering competition. The government’s list is so broad it includes everyone from weather forecasters to the operators of shooting ranges."

    And, the story says, "Adding to the uncertainty for business leaders is a patchwork process for emergency planning: All 50 states have the power to set their own priorities.

    "What is clear is that there won’t be enough doses to go around for months. Local officials in each state will have to make tough choices about which essential workers get their shots first."

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    The New York Times reports that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance saying that "employers can require workers to get a Covid-19 vaccine and bar them from the workplace if they refuse.

    "Public health experts see employers as playing an important role in vaccinating enough people to reach herd immunity and get a handle on a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans. Widespread coronavirus vaccinations would keep people from dying, restart the economy and usher a return to some form of normalcy, experts say."

    The story says that employers had been waiting for EEOC guidance "because requiring employees be tested for the coronavirus touches on thorny medical and privacy issues covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 … The disabilities act limits employers’ ability to require medical examinations like blood tests, breath analyses and blood-pressure screening. These are procedures or tests, often given in a medical setting, that seek information about an employee’s physical or mental conditions."

    However, "On its website, the commission said that requiring an employee to show proof of having gotten a Covid-19 vaccination would not amount to a disability-related inquiry," the Times reports.

    KC's View:

    In my view, requiring people to have vaccines if they want to participate in a reopening economy - going to work, getting on planes, dining in restaurants, going to ballgames or theaters, even going to school - is the bare minimum.  All they need to do now is create some sort of CLEAR-like system that allows for the tracking and identification of people who have been vaccinated.

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    Fast Company has the story of Zero Grocery in the San Francisco Bay Area, where, if you order groceries, "the food shows up in packages that the company wants back. Common brands, such as Honey Bunches of Oats cereal or Kettle potato chips, come in glass jars. Baby spinach comes in glass jars. Yogurt and milk come in glass jars. When the containers are empty, you leave them outside your door (along with any ice packs) for a delivery person to pick up when your next order arrives, like a modern version of a milkman."

    According to the story, "Virtually all of the 1,110-plus items that the service offers are packaged in reusable containers, with a handful of products, such as meat and fish, in compostable wrappers. Customers pay $25 a month for membership, which includes unlimited free deliveries and avoids the need to charge deposits on the glass containers."

    Zero Grocery sources the product "from manufacturers in bulk packaging meant for large orders by hotels or airlines, and then repacking the food into reusable containers."  The company now is working with some manufacturers that avoid plastics in their packaging.

    Fast Company writes that "the startup tracks each product more closely than would happen in a traditional supply chain, where there are typically several steps of distributors in the middle before food reaches a consumer. It also tracks what happens to each package … When each package is returned, it’s cleaned and sterilized before repacking."

    The story notes that "zero-waste or plastic-free grocery stores are becoming increasingly common, and it’s likely that more delivery services will follow. In Brooklyn, the startup Wally Shop also offers zero-waste delivery. Loop, a platform working with large brands, is helping manufacturers test new reusable packaging."

    KC's View:

    It is hard to imagine how this would work on a larger scale, and yet there is a part of me that thinks that it is only through figuring out not just how to scale it, but how to change human behavior to make this more acceptable and widespread, that we can have an impact on the increasingly fragile planet on which we live.

    Good for companies like this, that choose to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    Fox Business reports that Google has been hit with two more lawsuits, this time from "several private publishers" challenging the company over its "advertising and search practices."

    According to the story, "Sweepstakes Today is one of four companies that filed two private lawsuits … against Google, alleging that the tech giant has violated the Sherman Act by displaying monopolistic behavior through its digital ad sales."

    And, "In another private lawsuit, Genius Media Group, The Nation and The Progressive also accuse Google of violating the Sherman Act by quashing competitors while it rakes in hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue from its digital ad sales."

    These suits are in addition to separate antitrust complaints filed last week against Google by dozens of state Attorneys General and the Us Department of Justice.

    Fox Business notes that "Google makes up 90% of all Internet searches in the U.S.; by comparison, no other competitor, such as Bing, makes up more than 7% of U.S. Internet searches … and its ad revenue has grown 300% within the last decade."

    Google has made the point that its defense will hinge on the premise that the way it has designed its search engine is to the benefit, not the detriment, of consumers' interests.

    KC's View:

    I have no idea how this all will shake out, but I do know two things.

    First, it seems inevitable that Google - along with the other big tech companies - is going to be facing increased and very public scrutiny over practices that have been in place for quite some time.  The bottom line is likely to be that our culture is going to have to reckon with the question of what is good for consumers and what is bad for consumers … and the degree to which we are willing to allow behemoth corporations make those decisions for us.

    Second, it is a pretty good bet that whatever law firms serve as outside counsel to Google (and Amazon, Apple and Facebook) are going to have a robust 2021.

    Published on: December 21, 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 18,267,579 total confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 324,869 deaths and 10,622,082 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 77,250,310 confirmed coronavirus cases … 1,701,404 fatalities … and 54,164,036 reported recoveries.  (Source).

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized the emergency use of Moderna’s vaccine in people 18 years and older, citing the shot’s high effectiveness in preventing Covid-19 in a large clinical study.  A panel of doctors and public-health officials advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted on Saturday to recommend that people receive the Moderna vaccine."

    The story says that "immunizations using the newly authorized Covid-19 vaccine from Moderna Inc. are slated to start Monday, boosting the mass inoculation campaign that was launched just last week.

    "Drug distributor McKesson Corp. began picking up doses of the vaccine from manufacturing plants on Saturday for distribution around the country. United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. trucks started rolling out Sunday to deliver the doses to hospitals and other sites.

    "The federal government plans to distribute over the coming week a total of 7.9 million doses of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer Inc., which developed the first Covid-19 shot authorized for use in the U.S."

    •  From the Financial Times:

    "A growing number of EU countries including Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands moved over the weekend to halt travel from the UK after a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, caused in part by a more infectious new strain. Germany, Italy and the Netherlands announced on Sunday that they were stopping flights from the UK while Belgium banned air and rail travel. France said it was halting the entry of all passengers from the UK by any form of transport   … Ireland imposed sweeping curbs on passenger flights and ferries and Austria said it was preparing a blanket ban on UK travellers. Eurostar said it would be unable to “run trains between London, Brussels and Amsterdam” from Monday. Madrid said it would strengthen checks at airports and ports to ensure that people coming from the UK have negative PCR tests, although such tests are already obligatory for people coming from Britain.

    "The unilateral moves sparked calls for a more co-ordinated EU response to the UK situation as scientists also expressed concern that the more transmissible new variant had appeared in other countries including Denmark and the Netherlands…"

    • From the Los Angeles Times:

    "Supermarkets have been hit hard by the unprecedented explosion of the coronavirus in Los Angeles County, further straining an essential service that needs to remain open despite the new stay-at-home order.

    "Outbreaks are increasing at an alarming rate across industries, officials say — an unavoidable consequence of so many people falling sick in the region. But those at grocery stores and other essential retailers pose a unique challenge for officials attempting to reduce coronavirus transmission, as well as for county residents trying to pare down their activities to only what is necessary."

    The story goes on:  "County officials estimate that 1 in 80 people in the county are infectious with the coronavirus, the highest prevalence yet recorded. With so many people infected, it’s likelier than ever that a co-worker or customer could be ill, and that a single case could multiply into dozens."

    Cases have been reported at stores operated by Food 4 Less, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Sprouts Farmers Market branches "and several smaller grocery chains," the story says.  Overall, the Times writes, "L.A. County is investigating ongoing coronavirus outbreaks at 490 businesses, compared with 173 a month ago, according to county data."

    •  The New York Times reports that "the pandemic has been a boon to retail alcohol sales of all kinds. Beer sales are up, as are those of wine and vodka. Even the lowly vermouth — the anonymous mixer that blends with the name-brand spirits in martinis and Manhattans — has seen a spike in business as consumers substitute drinking at home for visits to local bars or restaurants.

    "What has also changed in the pandemic is consumers’ choice of libations: They’re drinking more expensive bottles … Sales of wines, for instance, dipped in the first quarter, before the pandemic. But they are now selling at a brisk rate, making up for the slower months, according to SipSource, which collects data from wine and spirits distributors. And sales of premium wines during the post-pandemic period have grown more than other categories."

    •  Fox News reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is saying that because of a small number of severe allergic reactions to the Covid-19 vaccine, " if a person has 'ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine,' then they "should not get that specific vaccine."

    According to the story, "Despite the new warning, adverse reactions to the vaccine have been exceedingly rare, as there have been just six allergic reactions recorded out of 272,000 shots given. 

    "All six of the allergic reactions occurred within the recommended observation window, which is 30 minutes for people with a history of severe allergic reactions, and 15 minutes for everyone else."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Italy, the first non-Asian country hit by the coronavirus pandemic early this year, once again is struggling with one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks.

    "Around 680 people are dying of Covid-19 in Italy on an average day, on par with Brazil and behind only the U.S. This year Italy has recorded about 67,900 confirmed deaths from the virus, the highest total in Europe, and fifth in the world after the U.S., Brazil, India and Mexico—which all have much bigger populations.

    "Once again, Italians are asking themselves: Why is Covid-19 killing more people here than almost anywhere else?"

    According to the story, "The answer lies partly in demographics, public health experts say. Italy has one of the world’s oldest populations, second only to Japan. Nearly one in four Italians is over 65, an age group much more likely to succumb to the disease.

    "Another factor: Multigenerational homes are especially common in Italy, potentially exposing older people to infection from their younger relatives."

    •  CNBC reports that Amazon "has closed a warehouse in northern New Jersey until Dec. 26 after it saw an uptick in asymptomatic coronavirus cases."  The company did not disclose "the total number of cases at PNE5 or whether the building will undergo additional cleaning while it’s closed … Amazon employees will be paid for any shifts that they’ll miss while the facility is shuttered."

    •  USA Today  reports that Apple has closed all of its stores in California temporarily because of surges around the state in Covid-19 cases:  "California has been the epicenter of the health crisis in recent weeks. Total cases top 1.8 million and there have been more than 22,000 deaths. Average daily cases have increased 10-fold the past seven weeks to more than 40,000."

    In addition, the story says, because of the pandemic "Apple is closing, or already has shuttered, all four of its stores in Tennessee, all three in Utah, all four in Minnesota, its two stores in Oklahoma, and outlets in Anchorage, Alaska; and Albuquerque New Mexico."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "about one in three small businesses have closed their doors in Connecticut since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a setback for a state that never fully recovered from the last recession.

    "That number puts Connecticut behind New York, New Jersey and the nation as a whole, where about one in four small businesses have closed, according to Opportunity Insights, a research and policy institute based at Harvard University that is tracking the economic damage caused by the pandemic."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that  it is expected that Legal Sea Foods - the family-owned (though sometimes acrimoniously) restaurant company that expanded from a single location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to a chain running up and down the east coast - is expected to be sold this week to PPX Hospitality Group, owner of Smith & Wollensky steakhouses.

    According to the story, "Financial terms of the sale won’t be disclosed, but PPX isn’t paying much upfront because . . . well, a restaurant business, even New England’s fish ambassador to the world, isn’t worth a premium these days. Instead, Legal will get payouts based on how well the restaurants perform down the road.

    The Berkowitz family, which started the company in 1968, will retain rights to the Legal Seafoods name for its online business.

     Roger Berkowitz, CEO of the company, said that the only reason he's selling is the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant business.

    It is a shame, but at least Legal Seafoods seems to have a viable future because of access to greater resources.  I've always was a fan of two of its Boston-area locations - the Legal Test Kitchen in the Seaport, which has been permanently closed because of the pandemic, and the one in Cambridge where Spenser creator Robert B. Parker and Joan Parker used to sit at the bar.  (There's actually a plaque on the bar saying that it is where Parker and Spenser used to drink;  I once met Joan Parker for a drink there, after RBP had passed away, and it was totally cool…)

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    From the Seattle Times:

    "When the telltale brown paper went up on windows downtown, signifying a new business coming, some passersby started wondering: Who is crazy enough to open a store at such a dicey spot for crime in the middle of a pandemic?

    "The area, near a section of downtown that police call 'The Blade,' started the year with a horrific daytime shooting, and went on to endure riots and pandemic closures to make for the toughest year in street retail since the Great Depression.

    "When the orange sign went up the other day, revealing it would be one of those Amazon Go no-cashier convenience stores, near Fourth and Pike, it was a bit like a flower -  OK, a really rich flower - had peeked up through some rubble.

    "A downtown advocacy group said they believe it’s the first new storefront spotted since the coronavirus hit about 10 months ago."

    KC's View:

    It strikes me as entirely appropriate that we have a healthy debate about Amazon's size, ubiquity and ultimate costs … but it also is important to remember that its size allows Amazon to do things that others cannot.

    My point only is that it is important for our conclusions to be nuanced rather than knee-jerk.

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    Convenience store operator Wawa on Friday opened its first drive-through location, in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, describing it as " traditional full-service format with fuel, equipped with a custom drive-thru experience of two-lanes, separate order points with digital menu boards including a QR scan menu option and one point of pay and pick up window."

    According to the company, "the team can quickly que up to 19 cars in line for breakfast, lunch and dinner … Customers can also access their Wawa favorites through mobile ordering on The Wawa App with curbside pickup and ordering or through delivery service through third-party providers including Door Dash, Grub Hub and Uber Eats."

    The company says it is on schedule to open "its first standalone drive-thru" on January 8, 2021 in Falls Township, Pennsylvania.

    KC's View:

    It isn't so much that a drive-through is so radical.  Rather, it seems to me that this signifies the fact that companies like Wawa - which always has been s trend-setter in the c-store industry - are trying to redefine what convenience means and what their role in serving consumers needs to be.

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Bloomberg reports that "two Amazon.com institutional investors are pushing the commerce giant to conduct an audit on racism and diversity. Another shareholder wants Amazon to name a worker to its board.

    "The New York State Common Retirement Fund and Vermont State Treasurers Office co-filed a shareholder resolution calling on the company to assess its impact on civil rights, racial equity, diversity and inclusion. They suggest Amazon solicit input from employees and civil-rights groups for the report and post it on the company website."

    The story notes that "America’s second-largest employer has been criticized for its treatment of workers even as the wealth of Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos has surged. The New York retirement fund and Vermont treasurer’s office cited alleged discrimination of the company’s Black and Latino workers, their low wages and exposure to dangerous working conditions, including COVID-19, as well as the air pollution from distribution facilities located in minority neighborhoods."


    •  CNBC reports that "Amazon workers at an Alabama warehouse are moving closer to holding a unionization vote, laying the groundwork to establish the first-ever labor union representation at a U.S. Amazon facility. 

    "Workers at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., located outside Birmingham, notified the National Labor Relations Board last month that they planned to hold an election to create a bargaining unit represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The NLRB on Thursday said it found 'sufficient showing' to allow for a vote, rejecting Amazon’s claims that the union hadn’t drummed up enough support. 

    "At a hearing on Friday, Amazon and the union continued to disagree over the size of the potential bargaining unit and what employees should be eligible to vote. The hearing is also meant to iron out details such as when a union vote will happen and how it will take place. It’s possible the hearing could take several days to resolve."


    •  The New York Post reports that "an Amazon delivery man was in custody early Saturday after allegedly stabbing another driver in a brawl over a parking spot in Brooklyn, police said.

    "Lancelot Forrester, 26, of Queens, has been charged with felony assault and criminal possession of a weapon for the knife, police said.

    "His victim, a 47-year-old man, is hospitalized in stable condition with a stab wound to his upper back, police said.

    "The brawl happened just after 6 p.m. on Friday at the intersection of Ainslie Street and Bushwick Avenue in East Williamsburg.

    "Forrester had just returned to his delivery vehicle when he got into an argument with the driver of another vehicle who was attempting to park, police said.

    "After some shouting, both men left their vehicles and a small crowd gathered; Forrester is maintaining that someone in the crowd hit him in the head with a baseball bat prior to the stabbing, police said.  Forrester was taken to the hospital for abrasions to his head."

    Not to make light of this - such occurrences surely are not good for Amazon's image - but it may tell us more about Queens and Brooklyn.  Anyone who has seen a Scorsese or Coppola movie cannot possibly be surprised by this.

    I'm sure that after the incident, somebody said, "Leave the gun.  Take the case of cannolis (sold to Prime members at a 45 percent discount)."

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Delish reports that starting today, McDonald's China will be selling a new Oreo x Spam burger, though it is a limited edition of 400,000.

    Yuck.  Why would you want to ruin a perfectly good Oreo that way?  You could simply dip it in a glass of milk, or make an Oreo ice cream cake.  Once again … yuck.


    •  USA Today reports that "JC Penney will close more stores in the spring after already closing 150-plus stores since filing for bankruptcy.  The retailer, which emerged from bankruptcy this month after being acquired by mall owners Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management, Inc., will close another 15 stores by the end of March."


    •  From the New York Times:

    "In the grand pantheon of salad dressings, French dressing can be easily forgotten — a sticky, sweet, carrot-colored blend overshadowed by America’s undisputed heavyweight champion of dressings, ranch.

    "But the federal government has shown great interest in the humble dressing, painstakingly regulating since 1950 the ingredients that it must contain and revising the rules at least five times since then.  Now, the government wants to get out of the French dressing business.

    "On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration said it was proposing to revoke its definition and standard of identity for French dressing — effectively erasing the government-sanctioned list of ingredients at the request of an industry group, the Association for Dressings & Sauces."

    However, Marion Nestle, a professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, told the Time that there are other motivations:" “They want to do it because they want less fat than what’s in the standard of identity, and they want to put more junk in it.  And their argument is everybody knows what these things are, and everybody knows what they’re buying.”

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    Responding to Friday's story about how Amazon's labor practices may be driving the middle class down, one MNB reader wrote:

    The issue is very simple. When Everyone enjoys paying the lowest dollar, it comes on the backs of the workers. The less benefits, less pay equals cheaper cost. Simply a race to the bottom. If you had two stores selling the same product, one is always 20% cheaper or more than the competition, but the competition offers benefits and more pay. It is a simple choice. Or is it? Who doesn't like to save money? Thats the world I work in. America shops with their wallet. 


    On the subject of the issues raised by the documentary The Social Dilemma that were raised in The Innovation Conversation last week, MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

    Watched "The Social Dilemma again last night, KC, and I can't emphasize enough how deeply disturbing it is. Ignore it at your own peril. I for one found myself using my cell phone less yesterday and today...


    Regarding the Doc Morris commercial we featured on Friday, MNB reader Steve Burbridge wrote:

    If you don't tear up, you don't have a soul.  Great commercial and maybe even more touching given the fact that people are so physically disconnected in this COVID world we live in.

    And, from another reader:

    This was a great commercial, and I'm right with you KC, as I'm identifying more with the old guy these days - tempus fugit!

    Published on: December 21, 2020

    It's week 15 of the National Football League season…

    Kansas City Chiefs  32, New Orleans Saints 29

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Atlanta Falcons 27

    San Francisco 49ers 33, Dallas Cowboys 41

    Detroit Lions 25, Tennessee Titans 46

    Houston Texans 20, Indianapolis Colts 27

    New England Patriots 12, Miami Dolphins 22

    Chicago Bears 33, Minnesota Vikings 27

    Seattle Seahawks 20, Washington 15

    Jacksonville Jaguars 14, Baltimore Ravens 40

    NY Jets 23, Los Angeles Rams 20 (not a typo)

    Philadelphia Eagles 26, Arizona Cardinals 33

    Cleveland Browns 20, NY Giants 6