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    Published on: January 4, 2021

    The Washington Post  has one of the inevitable reports on expected/predicted 2021 food trends, suggesting that unlike previous years, the focus will not be on innovation but rather on production and supply chain issues, largely because "the pandemic has uncovered gaps in distribution, packaging and sales, which have led to an increase in product shortages and stressed consumers."

    The piece points out that many manufacturers are cutting back on their SKU counts, eliminating non-core products in favor of more popular items.  Some retailers, the Post writes, are trying to bypass traditional suppliers in  categories like meat and are contracting directly with farms so they can generate more consistent in-stock positions.

    One place where innovation is taking place, the Post writes, is in products with a wellness component … which also can be attributed to pandemic-induced awareness about our own mortality.

    KC's View:

    A few thoughts about this, if I may…

    I think it is a mistake to suggest that all the focus in the food industry has been on supply chain and not innovation, because I think that at the retail level there actually has been a lot of innovation over the past nine months or so.   Many retailers have been innovating furiously, though they thought of it largely as survival, not as innovation.  (We've talked about this a lot on the Retail Tomorrow podcast - that the environment not only forced retailers to innovate in terms of things like delivery and click-and-collect, but actually allowed them to get out of their own way and not overthink it.  They just moved.  Fast.)

    I have to wonder what the impact of all these reduced SKU counts will be at retail.  If a manufacturer used to have 80 SKUs in stores, and they cut that down to 40 SKUs, doesn't that potentially create a lot of holes that will need to be filled?  And isn't it possible that this may give retailers the ability to access product from new sources … which in itself is a kind of innovation?  This could be specialty foods or private label, but I have to imagine there will be some impact.

    Also … all I keep hearing is how the pandemic's creation of more at-home cooking and eating actually got people to experiment and innovate in their own kitchens.  I suspect that this will continue for awhile, and though it may lose some steam once the pandemic has subsided to a great degree, some of the excitement and willingness to try new things will remain.

    One other thing.  When the Post talks about the idea that in 2021 we'll see food stores with reduced SKU count and direct relationships with many suppliers (especially in fresh), what they're really describing is Stew Leonard's - which created its format back in 1969 and, as I've said here numerous times in recent months, absolutely nailed it during the pandemic.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Grocery-delivery service Instacart Inc. once seemed like the perfect partner for supermarkets looking to break into e-commerce. After several years together, though, some grocers are starting to question the relationship.

    "Instacart’s technology provided a ready-made solution for grocery chains that hadn’t yet created options for customers to shop online. And it became even more attractive when delivery demand ballooned with the pandemic, providing armies of on-demand shoppers to fulfill orders in-store and deliver groceries to people’s homes.

    "But many supermarkets say they aren’t making money through Instacart, largely because the delivery company typically charges them a commission of more than 10% of each order. Some of Instacart’s retailer partners say the service holds too much control over customer interactions and expect it to take an increasing share of money that food makers spend on marketing."

    You can read the entire story here.

    KC's View:

    Gee.  Y'think?

    The argument here for quite some time has been that while Instacart's business model makes sense for Instacart, it is a lot less sensible for the retailers with which it does business - it threatens their vale proposition, brand equity, customer relationships and even their economics as it siphons off some promotional dollars from manufacturers.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    KC engages in an extended conversation with Provoke founder-CEO Steve Campbell about the nature of leadership in 2021, based on questions posed to executives by Provoke and answers formulated based on their responses.  These observations also are given a historical context - Campbell is a graduate of what KC calls the "Ron Hodge School of Leadership."  (Hodge was the longtime leader at Hannaford,  a company that during his tenure turned out such outstanding business leaders as Cathy Burns, Shelley Broader, Beth Newlands Campbell, Meg Ham, Mike Vail and Steve Smith.)

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    Several stories over the past couple of days about how the concept of a $15 minimum wage is gaining traction all over the country, even in places where such a thing seemed highly unlikely just a few years ago.

    From USA Today:

    "With the COVID-19 pandemic raging, layoffs mounting and $2,000 stimulus checks for U.S. households looking highly uncertain, there couldn’t be a better time to bump up the minimum wage for millions of low-paid Americans, worker advocacy groups say.

    "Employers argue there couldn’t be a worse time, with small businesses struggling to survive amid plunging revenue and a new round of state shutdowns aimed at curtailing the latest coronavirus spike.

    "So far, workers appear to have won the fight and will reap the benefits starting Friday.

    "Twenty states and 32 cities and counties – including many in California – are set to raise their minimum wages on or about New Year’s Day, according to a report provided exclusively to USA Today by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a worker advocacy group. About half of those localities will reach the $15 threshold championed by striking fast-food workers and deemed a pipe dream just a few years ago.

    "Since some will act later in the year, a total 24 states and 50 cities and counties – a record 74 jurisdictions – will boost their pay floors sometime in 2021, NELP figures show."

    The story goes on:  "The turnabout in views about a $15 wage base has been head-spinning. Even states with relatively low minimums, like Florida and Virginia, are poised for significant increases in 2021 and headed toward $15, or at least the strong possibility of it, by 2026."

    The New York Times sings a similar song:

    "It started in 2012 with a group of protesters outside a McDonald’s demanding a $15 minimum wage — an idea that even many liberal lawmakers considered outlandish. In the years since, their fight has gained traction across the country, including in conservative states with low union membership and generally weak labor laws … The movement’s strength — a ballot measure to increase the minimum wage in Florida to $15 by 2026 was passed in November — could put renewed pressure on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour, where it has been since 2009. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has endorsed $15 an hour at the federal level and other changes sought by labor groups, like ending the practice of a lower minimum wage for workers like restaurant workers who receive tips.

    "But even without congressional action, labor activists said they would keep pushing their campaign at the state and local levels. By 2026, 42 percent of Americans will  work in a location with a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour, according to an Economic Policy Institute estimate cited in the NELP report."

    KC's View:

    It is a fair point that the establishment of a $15 minimum wage is more complicated than just a number, especially for small businesses.

    But I do wonder about a couple of things.

    First, unless you are a student trying to make some extra money, a $7.25/hour minimum age seems completely disconnected from any sort of reality.  (If you are a student trying to earn money to pay for an education, that certainly isn't a number that makes any sense at all.)

    Second, it seems to me that especially at retail, one of the things that bricks-and-mortar businesses need to focus on is creating superior levels of customer service … and one of the ways that you do that is through superior people who feel invested in your business … which requires that you invest in them.

    In the end, however, it would appear that it may matter little what the federal minimum wage is … because states and communities are making these moves on their own and connecting the minimum wage to 2021 realities.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    USA Today has a piece about retailers for which "2021 could be a make-or-break year," and the list includes some unsurprising names such as JC Penney, Sears and Kmart, but also includes the likes of Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Rite Aid, Party City and Bed Bath & Beyond.

    "Despite the crushing shutdowns that temporarily brought physical sales to a standstill in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic across the nation," USA Today writes, "the industry's struggling retailers are now hoping that a nationwide vaccination campaign will bring them back from the brink."

    KC's View:

    There is no vaccination for lack of relevance and  resonance, unfortunately.  The problems that many of these retailers have predated the pandemic, and while Covid-19 gave them a scapegoat, the fact is that disillusionment with certain kinds of retailer or compelling competition from online venues can't be solved by a vaccine.  These retailers may indeed need a shot in the arm, but not the kind developed by Pfizer or its peers.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    Save A Lot announced last week that it has sold 51 stores in the Tampa, Florida, area to Ohio-based Fresh Encounter, one of its franchisees, which will continue to operate the stores under the banner.  The company also is selling 11 stores in the Kansas City market to a new retail partner, Value Grocers.

    The announcement, according to the company, "builds on the successful completion of a comprehensive recapitalization of the business and significant deleveraging of the Company’s balance sheet in early 2020. The sale of the Tampa stores to Fresh Encounter is part of an ongoing re-licensing program through which Save A Lot intends to transition to a wholesale model by selling more than 300 corporate-operated locations to new and existing Retail Partners who will continue to operate the stores under the Save A Lot banner."

    Save A Lot said that it will "continue to operate 21 corporate stores locally in St. Louis, where it will continue to develop and launch new innovations as a testing ground to help its retail partners succeed in their individual communities across the country."

    Scott Moses at PJ Solomon is serving as exclusive financial advisor to Save A Lot on the transaction and continues to advise the company on its ongoing re-licensing process.

    KC's View:

    This is a good thing if the operating retailers continue to innovate and differentiate at a level that makes them competitive.

    I know of companies where despite the innovations pressed at corporate, franchisees often stood in the way for a variety of reasons - cost, culture, etc…Sometimes, of course, it works the other way, and the franchisees are the innovators, and corporate doesn't move fast or far enough.  

    I hope for everyone's sake that they can find the right balance.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    Amazon may have had what by most metrics seems to have been a record-breaking 2020, but that doesn't mean that the resistance movement has given up.


    •  The New York Times has the story about how in Canada there is a new website - Not-Amazon.ca - designed "as a local list to help keep small businesses alive."

    The creator is Ali Haberstroh, the marketing manager for a social media site, who had friends who were dealing not just with competition from the online retailer but also with a pandemic that threatened to limit their options during the holidays.

    According to the story, "What began as a Google spreadsheet with more than 160 businesses collated initially from Ms. Haberstroh’s memory and research became a directory of hundreds that have a website and a high-quality photo and offer nationwide shipping, curbside pickup or delivery.

    "So far, the website has garnered more than half a million page views and grown to include 4,000 businesses across Toronto, Calgary, Halifax and Vancouver. The site is now submission-based, and thousands of businesses are awaiting Ms. Haberstroh’s approval."

    Here's the reality facing these companies:  "Small and medium-size businesses contribute more than 50 percent to Canada’s gross domestic product. But since the pandemic lockdowns, 40 percent of small businesses have reported layoffs while 20 percent have deferred rent payments, according to government data.  At the same time, Amazon and big-box retailers with more robust e-commerce platforms have far outpaced small competitors, turning online shopping from a convenience into a necessity for consumers worldwide."


    •  Meanwhile, the Times also has a piece about how some people are trying to cut Amazon out of their lives as completely as possible (while conceding that this is almost impossible considering how many entities - including, as it happens, the New York Times - depend on Amazon Web Services for their very online existence).

    An excerpt:

    "There have been countless attempts to shed Amazon since: by authors and book sellers, political activists, labor organizers … Meanwhile, Amazon has grown into a company larger and more powerful than almost any retailer in the world. It sells everything. It directly employs more than a million people. Its founder is a household name. It undergirds much of the internet. And it’s intertwined with politics by default, drawing ire from across the political spectrum. ('My anticapitalist liberal college student and her uber-capitalist conservative grandparents are both boycotting Amazon,' one Twitter user shared in December.)

    "Unlike in 1999, or even 2009, today the question of whether or not to interact with Amazon has already been answered for many people. The choice is no longer whether to enter the Everything Store. It’s about trying to locate the exit."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    •  In the United States, there now have been 21,113,528 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 360,078 deaths and 12,436,958 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 85,565,257 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 1,852,122 resultant fatalities and 60,534,754 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "The number of newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. was down from a day earlier, but the number hospitalized with the disease hit a record.

    "The nation reported more than 210,000 new cases for Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That was down from the previous day’s reported 297,491, which included data backlogs from states that didn’t report numbers for New Year’s Day. The holiday may still be affecting some reporting.

    "As of Saturday, the seven-day moving average of newly reported cases was 205,093, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins data, topping 200,000 for the first time since Christmas Day. The 14-day average was 197,321. When the seven-day average exceeds the 14-day average, it suggests cases are on the rise."


    •  From the New York Times:

    "With the coronavirus raging in many parts of the country and hospitals dangerously overstretched, public health officials warned on Sunday that more calamitous days may be ahead, as infections tied to holiday gatherings fuel a fresh spate of illness and death.

    "'It’s terrible, it’s unfortunate, but it was predictable,' Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on 'Meet the Press.'

    "This is also the first holiday period in which the new, more transmissible variant of the virus, first found in Britain, was known to be circulating in the United States.

    "Although air travel is down markedly from years past, American airports had their busiest day of the pandemic on Saturday, with 1,192,881 passengers passing through security checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Since Dec. 18, the agency has counted more than 16.3 million trips through its airport checkpoints, down from more than 35.4 million in the same period a year ago. And tens of millions more people were expected to travel by car."


    •  Also from the New York Times:

    "A top official of Operation Warp Speed floated a new idea on Sunday for stretching the limited number of Covid-19 vaccine doses in the United States: Halving the dose of each shot of Moderna’s vaccine to potentially double the number of people who could receive it.

    "Data from Moderna’s clinical trials demonstrated that people between the ages of 18 and 55 who received two 50-microgram doses showed an 'identical immune response' to the standard of two 100-microgram doses, said the official, Dr. Moncef Slaoui.

    "Dr. Slaoui said that Operation Warp Speed was in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical company Moderna over implementing the half-dose regimen. Moderna did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

    "Each vaccine would still be delivered in two, on-schedule doses four weeks apart, Dr. Slaoui said in an interview with 'CBS’s Face the Nation.'  He said it would be up to the F.D.A. to decide whether to move forward with the plan."

    Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, on "Meet The Press," argued that such an approach would not be keeping with the science as it is understood at the moment.


    •  The University of Arizona is out with new research saying that "20% of Arizona grocery store workers surveyed have experienced severe levels of mental distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the major sources of that stress: customer behavior … The findings reveal that employees are highly concerned with safety measures, particularly those related to customer behaviors. Survey participants also reported high levels of stress, anxiety and depression."

    "The mental health of these workers was much worse than we thought," said the report's lead author Brian Mayer, an associate professor in the UArizona School of Sociology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "The number of people reporting severe mental health distress is two, three times what other surveys are finding during the pandemic. Clearly, frontline essential workers' mental health is being harmed by the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic."

    The report also highlights "the financial impacts of the pandemic and the need for increased compensation for essential workers who take on additional risks for the benefit of society.

    The report includes recommendations for employers, including increasing training for supervisors and employees, developing strategies to encourage customer compliance with safety policies, and connecting employees to health care and mental health resources."


    •  The Los Angeles Times has a story about "deficiencies in the systems that are meant to prevent people from bringing the coronavirus aboard commercial flights and potentially spreading it to the people packed in around them … U.S. airlines boast layers of protocols intended to protect passengers from the virus, including the increased cleaning of plane cabins and a requirement that passengers wear face coverings except when eating or drinking. Nearly all of them also require passengers to fill out a health declaration before boarding. But the only repercussion for lying on the declaration or refusing to wear a mask on the plane is getting banned from the airline, if caught."

    In other words, it is a system without teeth, except for those created by the airlines.

    The Times cites a number of "incidents involving passengers who showed COVID-19 symptoms on flights have been reported to an aviation safety reporting database operated by NASA. The reports in the database are filed anonymously by pilots and flight attendants, with the exact dates and airlines’ names omitted to protect the tipsters’ privacy."  

    The Times continues:  "What is needed, passenger rights advocates, flight attendant unions and academics say, is for the U.S. Department of Transportation to adopt uniform standards for airline safety, including a mask mandate that is enforced with steep fines. They also call on the federal agency to put more resources into contact tracing of known cases and improved access to quick and reliable COVID-19 tests that passengers can take before a flight."


    •  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "a group of anti-mask protestors temporarily shuttered a Trader Joe's in Fresno.

    "Although scientific evidence — and guidance from local, state and federal officials — support the importance of mask-wearing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, 'Burn the Mask' protestors blocked the entrance of the grocery store on Saturday afternoon. As a result, the store chose to close early."

    The Chronicle goes on:

    "Video posted to social media shows one protestor reading a prepared list of reasons why Trader Joe's, a private business, must serve him despite his refusal to wear a mask. As he argues close up and maskless with a masked Trader Joe's employee, he's cheered on by a group of supporters, many filming on their phones.

    "The protestors then begin writing down the names of the employees based on their name tags. The man claims they will be 'legally prosecuted' for barring them from entering the store, to which an employee says, 'Alright' as he closes the door on them."

    New Year.  But, apparently, the same old ignorance on the part of people who don't want to pay attention to the science, and don't seem to care about public health or their fellow citizens.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are out with their regular publication of "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," offering "four steps" to help Americans "make every bite count."

    They are:

    •  "Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage.  At every life stage—infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy, lactation, and older adulthood—it is never too early or too late to eat healthfully."

    •  "Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations."

    •  "Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits …  The core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include:  Vegetables of all types—dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables … Fruits, especially whole fruit … Grains, at least half of which are whole grain … Dairy, including fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives … Protein foods, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products … Oils, including vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts.

    •  "Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages."

    You can check out the full report here.

    FMI – The Food Industry Association greeted the release of the guidelines with the following statement:

    "The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans are designed to provide the framework for all Americans to build family meals that meet their personal preferences, cultural traditions and budgetary goals. Food retailers and suppliers play a key role as partners for health and well-being in the communities they serve by helping to support healthy eating patterns and meet the personal needs of consumers. Retailers and suppliers will continue to provide easy, affordable and nutritious meal solutions to help Americans stay strong with family meals.

    “With growing consumer interest in the connection between food and health, there is opportunity to help shoppers make small changes to embrace these science-based recommendations while shopping, cooking and eating. We also commend the agency’s effort to incorporate food safety messaging in the guidelines."

    The United Fresh Produce Association put out the following statement:

    "During the unveiling of the Dietary Guidelines, USDA and HHS data showed the sad reality that Americans’ eating habits haven’t changed for the better, despite decades of similar guidelines. But, today’s reality facing the COVID-19 pandemic brings greater urgency than ever before. We know that diet-related conditions such as obesity and diabetes put people at greater risk of severe illness and even death. No longer are we just thinking about poor diets leading to long-term chronic disease; now, we see clearly that healthy eating is a critical defense against communicable diseases such as the coronavirus. 

    "The Dietary Guidelines mostly repeat what we already know about healthy eating. Now is the time for the political will to actually implement this critical public health advice throughout all federal food programs."

    And, the New York Times offers this assessment:

    "Rejecting the advice of its scientific advisers, the federal government has released new dietary recommendations that sound a familiar nutritional refrain, advising Americans to 'make every bite count' but dismissing experts’ specific recommendations to set new low targets for consumption of sugar and alcoholic beverages … the latest guidelines do not address the current pandemic nor, critics said, new scientific consensus about the need to adopt dietary patterns that reduce food insecurity and chronic diseases. Climate change does not figure in the advice, which does not address sustainability or greenhouse gas emissions, both intimately tied to modern food production.

    "A report issued by a scientific advisory committee last summer had recommended that the guidelines encourage Americans to make drastic cuts in their consumption of sugars added to drinks and foods to 6 percent of daily calories, from the currently recommended 10 percent."

    Here's the full New York Times story.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    During the break, I had a chance to guest on "Convenience Matters," the regular podcast from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), on which we had a conversation about how, despite its challenges, 2020 forced retailers of all stripes and venues to accelerate innovation - which resulted in positive changes quickly.

    You can listen to the podcast on the Convenience Matters website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and YouTube … or here:

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon "says it will delay raising fees it charges independent sellers to store and ship items until June, a gesture to merchants who have sometimes bristled at the rising costs of doing business with the company … Amazon typically announces changes to its fees in December, to take effect early the next year. In each of the last four years, that’s meant increased costs for many U.S. sellers who use the Seattle-based company’s storage and delivery services."

    The story says that "in a blog post to sellers, Jeff Wilke, the outgoing chief executive officer of Amazon’s retail unit, noted that other logistics companies have already announced fee increases. 'In a normal year we’d be doing the same,' he wrote. 'But this isn’t a normal year and we’ve made the decision to postpone our annual fulfillment fee adjustments and continue to absorb the costs we are incurring on your behalf'."

    Bloomberg notes that "merchants have complained to regulators in the U.S. and the European Union that they have a one-sided relationship with the world’s largest online retailer. Besides paying Amazon to handle shipping, many sellers feel compelled to buy advertising to make their products stand out on Amazon."


    •  From Variety:

    "Amazon announced that it inked a deal to acquire Wondery, a four-year-old podcast producer.

    Terms of the deal, under which the Wondery team will join the Amazon Music group, were not disclosed … The acquisition of Wondery is part of Amazon’s strategy to monetize the podcast gold rush — and keep pace with Spotify’s push into podcasting. In September, Amazon Music launched several million episodes of free podcasts and announced a slate of original podcasts being produced exclusively for Amazon Music, including shows from DJ Khaled, Becky G, Will Smith and Dan Patrick. In addition, Amazon-owned Audible recently added about 100,000 podcast shows, encompassing 5 million episodes."

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    •  The Associated Press reports on how an "estimated tens of thousands of children (work) alongside their parents in Indonesia and Malaysia, which supply 85% of the world’s most consumed vegetable oil. An Associated Press investigation found most earn little or no pay and are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals and other dangerous conditions. Some never go to school or learn to read and write. Others are smuggled across borders and left vulnerable to trafficking or sexual abuse. Many live in limbo with no citizenship and fear being swept up in police raids and thrown into detention."

    Here's the kicker:  "The AP used U.S. Customs records and the most recently published data from producers, traders and buyers to trace the fruits of their labor from the processing mills where palm kernels were crushed to the supply chains of many popular kids’ cereals, candies and ice creams sold by Nestle, Unilever, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and many other leading food companies, including Ferrero – one of the two makers of Girl Scout cookies."

    The AP writes that "in a world where more and more consumers are demanding to know the provenance of the raw materials in the products they purchase, many companies are quick to issue assurances that they are committed to 'sustainable' sourcing. But supply chains often are murky – especially in the palm oil industry – and developing countries that produce commodities in large volumes cheaply often do so by disregarding the environment and minimizing labor costs."

    You can read the entire, fascinating story here.


    •  From the Albany Times Union:

    "SNAP recipients will be able to purchase grocery items from Aldi and get them delivered to their home via the Instacart app for free for a limited time, thanks to a new partnership between the grocery store chain and the grocery delivery service.

    "The partnership means Aldi is joining Walmart, Amazon, and ShopRite in the Capital Region who are also providing grocery delivery services to SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) recipients during a pandemic which has created more barriers for those who are food insecure to get food safely."

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    •  If you are a retail executive who can claim to be "focused on modern retail, the consumer experience, and the goal of creating a sustainable and enduring J.C. Penney," hen you may want to send your resume to the company's new ownership group.  It is looking for a new CEO for ther troubled retailer.

    The group, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management, along with strategic partner Authentic Brands Group, has said that with the departure of JC Penney's CEO Jill Soltau on December 31, it is in the market for new leadership.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    Before we went on holiday, I did a commentary about how retailers use loyalty programs ... mostly because they rarely seem to be about loyalty, but rather are positioned as electronic coupon programs.    The pandemic actually created an opportunity for retailers to show uncommon loyalty toward their best shoppers, and best I could tell, almost nobody did.

    MNB reader Sandy Voit responded:

    I hope that I am not too late to offer a comment on this topic. Food Co-ops, which probably already have a loyalty buy-in from their members, often provide patronage rebates to their members - generally around 1-2% (in an industry that typically generates a net profit of 2-3%) of what they've spent during the year.

    PCC Community Markets (15 stores, about $380MM in sales) is aiming for a 2% patronage rebate to our members this year. And this is on top of monthly "surprise and delight" opportunities - free bottle of organic olive oil. bottle of organic maple syrup, free pound or organic satsumas/pears, organic chocolate bars, organic soaps, etc., plus numerous buy one, get one free offers. Our membership has grown phenomenally since we implemented both of these programs this past year - we are now approaching 90,000 members. We've had more growth in the past year, than the previous 6 years combined.

    I've long argued that traditional retailers have a lot to learn from the retailing co-op community.


    MNB took note the other day of a Wall Street Journal piece about how "the pandemic is reshaping the way Americans care for their elderly, prompting family decisions to avoid nursing homes and keep loved ones in their own homes for rehabilitation and other care."

    Leading me to comment:

    I've got a couple of years before I have to worry about getting moved to a nursing home, but I have to say that there never has anything about the experience that seemed the slightest bit desirable - and the pandemic has just made it even less so. 

    Which I did not think possible.

    Me, when I think about the ideal way to get old, I think of this lyric…

    "Now he lives in the islands...Fishes the pylons...And drinks his green label each day...He's writing his memoirs...And losing his hearing...But he don't care what most people say…"

    Prompting this email from an MNB reader:

    Another option – If I ever live to be an old man, I’m going to sail down to Martinique.  I’m gonna buy me a sweat-stained Bogart suit and an African parakeet…

    Sounds just about perfect.


    I wrote the other day about how Cliff House in San Francisco, a landmark restaurant that has been operating for more than 150 years, has fallen victim to the pandemic (though a lease squabble with the National Park Service, which owns the land on which it is situated, didn't help).  Cliff House will close at the end of the year, with the current operators planning to auction off memorabilia. It had closed for indoor dining in March, and was unable to make a take-out business work.

    The San Francisco Chronicle says that the restaurant's location, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, makes upkeep of the facility expensive, and that the costs to maintain it while closed are high.  The costs of rehabilitating it after a long period of closure may be prohibitive, the owners say.

     I commented:

    I don't remember the food being all that great, but I vividly remember than in 1973, when I went to California for the first time, my Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Tom (who lived in Livermore) took me there because of its spectacular views.  Then, maybe 25 years later when I took Mrs. Content Guy and our three kids to California on a vacation, that's where Aunt Lorraine and Uncle Tom took us all, for the same reason.

    I mention this because it is important to understand that as all these institutions close, it is not just businesses that vanish.  It also is the ability to revisit memories and traditions, which strikes me as almost incalculably sad.

    One MNB reader responded:

    I read your commentary about Cliff House and am in agreement that it is very sad indeed to have such long-term businesses close (even for those who never went but read about them in books such as Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City”). 

    However, I am struck by the tone you express because when I tried to convey this sadness one can feel about the loss of a long-term business in a “Your Thoughts” section regarding the closing of Henri Bendel’s here in NY last year, it seemed you had a much more business-oriented reaction of blaming larger macro trends. 

    While it may have been poor management on behalf of Bendel’s owners and changing tastes, and not a global pandemic (and let’s be honest, that lease dispute may have played a much bigger role), the loss of a long-term business with which community members have memories and traditions is just sad PERIOD (sometimes incalculably so), regardless of the reason for it.

    I went back to see what I wrote at the time, and here it is, from January 2018:

    Memory and nostalgia are fine … and I’m old enough to remember being taken to some of these department stores and seeing in them the notion of possibility beyond the suburban bubble of my childhood upbringing. It is good to remain connected to that past … but also not to think that it is somehow superior in nature to the present and future.

    When I go online, I can find a lot of evidence of aspiration, invention and reinvention. In fact, it may be a lot more small-d democratic, not limited to people who can go to the big city.

    Besides, as Tony Soprano once said, “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.”

    I take your point.

    What can I say?  It has been a long three years.


    Responding to the conversation that Michael Sansolo and I posted just before the holidays, MNB reader Tim Callahan wrote:

    I miss shaking hands.... whether it is a new acquaintance, an old friend, glad to meet you or good bye and we may never meet again.

    Each handshake is a unique experience.  I may not be able to give a firm handshake for a long time.

    And, from another reader:

    While sipping on great glass of wine (2016 DuMol Wester Reach Russian River Valley Pinot Noir) I watched your year-end chat and thoroughly enjoyed both your industry and personal observations.  Kevin’s observation about his limited “peeing” locations and Michael’s toiletry bag expiration dates were amusing and caused me reflect on my pandemic lifestyle. I could not help but think about how contrasting our pandemic experience has been.

    I’ve been to multiple grocery stores, Costco, the local hardware store, cleaners, golfing 2-3 times per week, dining at multiple restaurants, flying to San Jose for a 4 day family golf outing at Pebble Beach and yes… even some “Covid” dating albeit “hugless”. I’ve spent considerable time with my two sons who live locally along with selected, multiple encounters with my friends and neighbors. All these experiences were done using safe practices respecting CDC, state (CA), and local (Orange County) guidelines. Not once did I use online ordering or pickup for either grocery shopping or having restaurant food delivered to my home.

    I state this in the context of making a conscious decision as a healthy 73 year old not to forgo what I hold near and dear to me … human interaction. Covid can take away some of my most treasured experiences, but Covid can’t take way my spirit… I have listened to Jim Valvano’s courageous “Don’t give up… don’t ever give up” as my source of inspiration during this oddest of all  times.

    I’m grateful for my many blessings and saddened by the loss of life and so many other terrible effects caused by this pandemic. May 2021 help to heal the scars and allow all of us to enjoy the blessings of life. Thanks to both of you for your wonderful commentary.

    Published on: January 4, 2021

    •  In Week 17 of the National Football League…

    Washington 20, Philadelphia Eagles 14

    Las Vegas Raiders 32, Denver Broncos 31

    Tennessee Titans 41, Houston Texans 38

    Seattle Seahawks 26, San Francisco 49ers 23

    Miami Dolphins 26, Buffalo Bills 56

    Baltimore Ravens 38, Cincinnati Bengals 3

    Pittsburgh Steelers 22, Cleveland Browns 24

    Minnesota Vikings 37, Detroit Lions 35

    NY Jets 14, New England Patriots 28

    Dallas Cowboys 19, NY Giants 23

    Atlanta Falcons 27, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44

    Green Bay Packers 35, Chicago Bears 16

    Jacksonville Jaguars 14, Indianapolis Colts 28

    LA Chargers 38, Kansas City Chiefs 21

    Arizona Cardinals 7, LA Rams 18

    New Orleans Saints 33, Carolina Panthers 7


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "There’s no crying in baseball. Except in 2020. 

    "If there’s a Baseball Heaven, the team of players who died in 2020 is loaded. It features seven Hall of Famers, including four of the best pitchers of all-time and three superstars of the 1960s and ‘70s in the field. And that doesn’t include one of the most prodigious hitters of the era who hasn’t made it to Cooperstown. 

    "In a remarkably tragic year for the world, that pain of the pandemic year was acute in baseball. More than 100 former major-league players died, the most in four decades, according to Stats LLC.

    In one 42-day span alone, five Hall of Fame members passed away: New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, speedy outfielder Lou Brock, longtime St. Louis Cardinals ace Bob Gibson, New York Yankees left-hander Whitey Ford and Cincinnati Reds second baseman Joe Morgan. Detroit Tigers slugger Al Kaline died last April, and knuckleballer Phil Niekro passed away last week.

    It was a grievous run that raised a question: Was this the greatest collection of baseball players to ever die in a single year? 

    "The answer is yes—and it isn’t even close."


    •  From the Boston Globe:

    "The Red Sox are breaking new ground, hiring Bianca Smith as a minor league coach. She will be the first Black woman to serve as a professional baseball coach in the history of Major League Baseball, league officials confirmed Thursday.

    "Smith, 29, will work with the minor league players in Fort Myers, Fla., and her focus will mainly involve position players, a team official said."

    According to the story, "Smith comes with a track record: She played softball at Dartmouth College (2010-12), was director of baseball operations and a graduate assistant at Case Western Reserve (2013-17), and served as an assistant coach at the University of Dallas (2018).

    "Smith’s major league experience goes back to 2017, when she interned for the Texas Rangers in their baseball operations department. She spent time working at Major League Baseball in amateur administration before interning in the Cincinnati Reds baseball operations department.

    "Smith currently serves as assistant baseball coach and hitting coordinator at Carroll University in Wisconsin, a position she’s held since 2019."