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    Published on: January 11, 2021

    It has been almost two years since the passing of iconic Irish food retailer Feargal Quinn.  But, as a piece in yesterday's Times of London demonstrates, his wisdom lives on and influences people even outside the food industry.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    The Times-Picayune in New Orleans that Donald Rouse Sr., the co-owner of Louisiana-based Rouse's Markets, is facing criticism and boycotts "after a photo surfaced on Facebook showing him and his former human resources director in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, when a mob of Donald Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to derail a congressional vote certifying the election of Joe Biden."

    According to the story, "The ex-HR director, Steve Galtier, publicly posted the photo on his Facebook page. It showed him and Rouse, clad in facemasks and baseball caps, in a park where Trump supporters gathered near the White House … The pair were not pictured inside the Capitol, where armed rioters scaled walls, broke windows, and occupied the legislative chambers in the first breach of the building since the War of 1812."

    It didn't seem to matter, the Times-Picayune writes:  "The backlash against Rouse was immediate and intense, generating more than 4,700 posts on Twitter alone. Many social media users began circulating screenshots of the photos while imploring Louisiana residents to stop shopping at his grocery stores."

    The story says that "the Carnival organization the Krewe of Red Beans, which marches on Lundi Gras and has been hiring young musicians and artists to deliver groceries to their older counterparts, said it would return $20,000 it had received from the chain and intended to stop shopping at Rouses. 

    "The state chapter of the NAACP also said it is ending its relationship with Rouses, which has been a longtime supporter, especially of its Houma/Terrebonne branch. "

    In a statement, Rouse said that he left the rally before violence broke out at the Capitol:  "I ... was shocked and saddened to see it unfold on TV," he said.  "I condemn the actions of those who unlawfully entered and damaged our hallowed institutions and threatened our public servants."

    Rouse also said that "violence and destruction do not represent our country's values, or the values of Rouses. Our country desperately needs to come together to heal, and I will do everything I can to be a part of that process."  Rouse pointed out that he no longer is involved with the company's operations on a day-to-day basis.

    The controversy went beyond Rouses, the Times-Picayune writes, when some people on social media "began offering up the local grocery chain Breaux Mart as an alternative to Rouses. Then some started circulating screenshots of a post from an account under the name of Breaux Mart co-owner Barry Breaux which prayed for Trump’s 'enemies to stumble & fall into confusion & panic'."

    Which prompted the retailer to issue a statement saying that "one person's opinions do not collectively reflect the views of ... employees/management."

    KC's View:

    The argument that Breaux Mart is making is a little harder to swallow when the guy making his opinions known has his name on the front door.  Just saying.

    As for Donald Rouse, I have no idea if he joined the mob that invaded the Capitol last week.  I'm willing to take him at his word, but he'd better hope that no video shows up that contradicts that position.  If so, potential boycotts will be the least of his problem - he's likely to end up being visited by the FBI.

    Not only are we seeing stories from all over the country about people being arrested for being part of an invasion of the Capitol last week that is being widely described as seditious and insurrectionist, but we're also seeing stories about companies firing people who have been identified as being part of the mob.  (Ironically, many of these people have identified themselves - they went on social media and bragged about their behavior, often with pictures.  Members of the bozo fringe group QAnon, who made up some of the mob, apparently are not very good at staying anon.)

    Taking political positions is one thing.  Protesting is one thing.  Civil disobedience is one thing.  I get it - I'm a child of the late sixties and early seventies.  But what we saw last week was something else … and I suspect the repercussions will be felt for years.

    We're already seeing it in the business community.  For example, the Washington Post reports that companies such as Marriott and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association have said that they will halt all campaign contributions to any lawmaker who "voted against certifying the electoral college results of President-elect Joe Biden’s win," believing that such votes were aimed a  undermining US democracy.  

    Some major US banks, such as Citigroup, have said they are suspending all PAC donations to Republicans and Democrats for the foreseeable future, the Wall Street Journal reports.

    "The violence at the Capitol appears to have companies scrambling to figure out how to react," the Post writes, "as they increasingly realize that this is not an ordinary political dispute and the option of sitting on the sidelines grows increasingly unsatisfying."

    Which, it seems, is where companies like Rouses now find themselves, regardless of their executives' intentions.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    Online grocery platform Instacart announced last week that it has hired Nick Giovanni, as its new CFO, describing him as spending "more than 20 years at Goldman Sachs where he advised clients on hundreds of financing, strategic and investing transactions, including some of the largest financial transactions and public offerings of the last two decades for companies such as Airbnb, DoorDash, Square, Twitter, Snap, Dropbox, Yelp, Zynga, eBay, Meituan and Baidu, as well as direct listings for Spotify and Slack."

    Reuters reported a couple of months ago that "Instacart had picked Goldman Sachs to lead preparations for its IPO, which could come this year and value it at around $30 billion."

    The Wall Street Journal writes:  "Instacart didn’t make Mr. Giovanni available for an interview and declined to comment on whether it is exploring a public listing. Companies last year raised a record amount of capital through IPOs, despite uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic and the pace of the economic recovery.

    "The pandemic has been a boon for Instacart’s business as consumers purchase more food and home goods online. The venture-backed company, which was founded in 2012, doesn’t disclose financial results."

    KC's View:

    If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

    What we have here is a duck - Instacart is planning an IPO, and probably sooner rather than later since, as the Wall Street Journal reported over the holidays, after several years of working with Instacart, "some grocers are starting to question the relationship."  

    The concern among a growing number of retailers is that a) Instacart controls too much customer information while b) retailers working with it are taking at hit to their already thin margins.  The argument here 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 value proposition, brand equity, customer relationships and even their economics as it siphons off some promotional dollars from manufacturers.

    More to the point, Instacart knows all this.  If its business is a house of cards, Instacart also may know that there's a stiff wind coming … and so it makes sense to schedule the IPO as soon as possible - while the pandemic is still driving e-grocery, and before enough retailers have gotten wise to the downside to put a crimp in its plans.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    The Washington Post over the weekend had a piece about the essential grocery workers who have put their health at risk as they worked in stores that keep people fed and supplied with necessities from the earliest days of the pandemic.

    "But as pandemic fatigue has set in, appreciation for these workers’ sacrifices has waned. Some grocery chains that provided workers with hazard pay at the beginning of the pandemic have quietly allowed the wage bumps to expire, even as sales remain robust and coronavirus infection rates soar.

    "Still, these workers have returned to the front lines every day, committed to feeding their families — and their country."

    The Post offers "eight stories of grocery workers on the front lines in the Houston area< and you can see them here.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports on how companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target are using artificial intelligence to determine when it makes sense to tell consumers who want to return an item bought online that they should just keep it, and refund their money.  " For inexpensive items or large ones that would incur hefty shipping fees, it is often cheaper to refund the purchase price and let customers keep the products," the Journal writes.

    According to the story, "A Target Corp. spokeswoman said the retailer gives customers refunds and encourages them to donate or keep the item in a small number of cases in which the company deems that option is easier than returning the purchase.

    "A Walmart spokeswoman said the 'keep it' option is designed for merchandise it doesn’t plan to resell and is determined by customers’ purchase history, the value of the products and the cost of processing the returns.

    "Amazon didn’t provide a comment."

    The Journal writes that "the number of e-commerce packages that were returned in 2020 jumped 70% from 2019," and that "e-commerce returns could total as much as $70.5 billion for this past holiday season alone."

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    The New York Times this weekend had a provocative piece by Mark Bittman in which he wrote that the struggle that many people have in maintaining  a healthy weight actually is a struggle "between you and the Big Food marketers that sell you that junk — their most profitable products — and politicians who enable them."

    Bittman goes on:

    "More than half of our total calories come from ultra-processed foods, and our ancestors, no matter where they’re from, would not recognize our diet. In the last quarter of the 20th century, the number of calories consumed in snacks nearly doubled. We tend to blame fast-food restaurants for our poor eating habits, but much of what’s now consumed at home is ultra-processed food. The result has been an average weight gain for adults of more than 24 pounds between 1960 and 2002, and an epidemic of chronic disease.

    "In short, most of us are overweight, and losing that weight is so difficult because we’re set up to eat too much food that’s high in calories and bereft of nutrients. The new diet is believed to cause chronic disease, led by insulin resistance, which in turn causes Type 2 diabetes, a precursor to a variety of cardiovascular diseases."

    Bittman argues, "The playbook for much of the junk-food marketing is similar to what the tobacco industry used for decades: advertising strategies focused on young people, a shirking of responsibility for poisoning entire populations, and an emphasis on individuals’ responsibility for their own health.

    "Unfortunately, ultra-processed foods aren’t as readily condemned as tobacco."

    But maybe they should be.

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    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, we now stand at 22,917,334 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 383,275 deaths and 13,483,490 reported recoveries.

    Globally, here are the numbers:  90,755,600 confirmed coronavirus cases, 1,944,518 resultant fatalities, and 64,899,658 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases, as well as deaths and hospitalizations related to the disease, were down from recent highs, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a downward trend.

    "The nation reported more than 213,000 new cases for Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, down from 264,830 reported for Saturday and 292,521 for Friday. Newly reported cases each day tend to be lower at the beginning of the week and higher toward the end, as fewer people are tested on weekends.

    "Sunday’s case number is higher than the 209,895 reported a week earlier, according to Johns Hopkins data. Experts have warned this month of surges in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths after December’s holiday gatherings and travel."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "Lawmakers who hunkered down together for safety" during the mob assault on the US Capitol last week "may have been exposed to the coronavirus, according to the Office of Attending Physician. Experts warn that the storming of the Capitol could become its own superspreader event, given that many of the rioters were not wearing masks. While most lawmakers have received their first dose of a vaccine, it does not confer full immunity and it is unclear how many staff members were inoculated."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Just weeks into the country’s coronavirus vaccination effort, states have begun broadening access to the shots faster than planned, amid tremendous public demand and intense criticism about the pace of the rollout.

    "Some public health officials worry that doing so could bring even more chaos to the complex operation and increase the likelihood that some of the highest-risk Americans will be skipped over. But the debate over how soon to expand eligibility is intensifying as deaths from the virus continue to surge, hospitals are overwhelmed with critically ill patients and millions of vaccine doses delivered last month remain in freezers.

    "Governors are under enormous pressure from their constituents - especially older people, who vote in great numbers and face the highest risk of dying from the virus - to get the doses they receive into arms swiftly."

    •  The Seattle Times reports that "Amazon is preparing to administer on-site coronavirus vaccinations to nearly 20,000 of its workers in Washington, according to a letter from the company to Gov. Jay Inslee in which the company urged the state to prioritize its workers for vaccination.

    "An Amazon spokesperson reiterated Saturday that the company’s warehouse and grocery workers should receive the vaccine 'at the earliest appropriate time.'

    "The commerce giant said in the Dec. 21, 2020, letter that it has signed an agreement with 'a licensed third-party occupational health care provider to administer vaccines, just like we do for seasonal flu shots'."

    Amazon has not said whether it will make the vaccine mandatory for its workers.

    •  The New York Times reports that "Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Friday that their Covid vaccine is effective against one of the mutations present in the new contagious variants identified in Britain and South Africa.

    "Independent experts said the findings were good news, but cautioned that each of those coronavirus variants has several other potentially dangerous mutations that have not yet been investigated. So it’s possible that one of those mutations affects how well the vaccine works."

    •  From the BBC:

    In the UK, "online supermarket Ocado has become the first big retailer to warn of shortages of some products.

    "It told customers in an email that there may be 'an increase of missing items and substitutions over the next few weeks.'

    "Staff sickness and self-isolation means some food producers are cutting the number of product lines they offer.

    "While customers might not get their exact product choice, plenty of food should be available, Ocado said."

    •  Axios reports that "after record new cases and hospital admissions, the City of Austin announced that the Austin Convention Center will be used as an overflow site for COVID care, as it was during last summer's spike.

    "'Activating the Alternate Care Site means that we believe that it is inevitable that the healthcare system in Central Texas will exceed capacity and will soon be overwhelmed,' said Jason Pickett, deputy medical director for Austin and Travis County."

    •  In San Jose, California, the Mercury News reports that "Stanford University’s freshmen and sophomores will not be allowed on campus for the winter quarter, school officials announced a day after they said 43 students on campus had tested positive for COVID-19.  The campuswide communique sent Saturday attributed the change to the uptick in state and local COVID-19 cases and Santa Clara County’s extension of stay-at-home restrictions to help slow the recent surge of the novel coronavirus."

    The story notes that this is a change, that "Stanford had announced last month it planned to have freshmen and sophomores attending in-person classes this quarter but that their arrival would be delayed until Jan. 21-24."

    The Mercury News writes that "Stanford is not the only school dealing with COVID-19 restrictions while trying to serve students.

    "UC Berkeley is scheduled to begin the spring semester on Jan. 19 with at least two weeks of fully remote instruction, according to its website. The school plans to have limited in-person instruction starting Feb. 1 if health conditions allow it.

    "The California State College and University system that operates 23 campuses, including San Jose State and Cal State East Bay in Hayward, has previously announced most classes for the 2020-21 academic year are being held online."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports on how CES, the world's largest technology show, known for virtually taking over Las Vegas for a week in January as it served as a crossroads where global technology providers and consumers would meet, this year will be a virtual get-together that begins today, forced into this approach by a pandemic that makes a live show impossible.

    While the event is costing participants less than usual (without even counting travel and entertainment expenses), the Journal notes that it also seems to have attracted fewer exhibitors.  But, there is the possibility that by rethinking their approach, participating companies will be able to connect to attendees in a different and maybe even more intimate and effective way.  Of course, some say that the digital version is a poor substitute for what usually is a highly experiential convention.

    Organizers, the Journal writes, "acknowledge that it’s not a replacement for the in-person show. At best, it lays the foundation for a digital component to a conference they hope will be back in Vegas 12 months from now."

    •The Washington Post reports that "support for holding the Olympics in Japan this summer has plummeted, according to a new poll from Kyodo News Agency that found that roughly 80 percent of respondents felt the event should be canceled or rescheduled.

    "That figure represents a significant jump since early December, when roughly 60 percent were opposed to allowing the Tokyo Olympics to go forward as planned. In the intervening weeks, worsening coronavirus caseloads have prompted the government to declare a state of emergency for Tokyo amid fears that the surge could overwhelm hospitals.

    "The Tokyo Olympics, which were originally supposed to take place in the summer of 2020, are supposed to begin on July 23 — roughly a year later than planned. Japan’s agreement with the International Olympic Committee states that the event cannot be delayed beyond the summer 2021 (and that will still be referred to as the “Tokyo 2020″ Olympics, even if it takes place in 2021.)

    "Japanese authorities have insisted that the Tokyo Games will not be delayed again, and can be held safely. But public opinion is souring…"

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    The Cincinnati Enquirer reports on the passing of former Kroger CEO Lyle Everingham, who passed away last week at age 94, noting that it was Everingham who in the late 80s advocated for a decision not to sell the company to KKR, bur rather restructure it and remain independent.

    The Enquirer writes that "Tom Murphy, group vice president for human resources and labor relations, said the board believed it had to (consider the KKR offer) out of its obligation to shareholders. 

    "At a meeting in New York, Everingham met with the board to discuss KKR's proposal. Everingham, who was usually quiet and laid-back, gave an impromptu speech, telling them that Kroger also had a responsibility to the communities it served and to the thousands upon thousands of employees. 

    "'(It was a) moving, unplanned off-the-cuff speech, which absolutely turned those few board members who wanted to give it serious consideration,' Murphy said. '(It) changed everyone's mind in a matter of minutes, and it was something to witness to see him, not known for his eloquence, really change completely the direction of the board of directors.'

    "Instead of selling to KKR, the board chose to implement a restructuring plan. 

    "Don Dufek, former senior vice president, said the failed coup at Kroger was the first time KKR hadn't succeeded in taking over a company it wanted to acquire. Both he and Murphy attribute that success to Everingham – saying if it wasn't for his leadership, Kroger would be quite different today. "

    KC's View:

    In other words, Everingham believed in a kind of stakeholder-centric capitalism, not just shareholder-centric capitalism.  Remarkable, since it came at a time when there weren't a lot of CEOs taking that approach.  Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Everingham began his career at Kroger in 1946 as a stockboy - he knew a world beyond the c-suite.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    •  The Charlotte News & Observer reports that Kroger-owned Harris Teeter "will begin charging service fees and is adding incentives to its subscription plan for pickup and delivery orders."

    According to the story, Harris Teeter "said on its website Thursday it is offering the service for its ExpressLane Online Shopping for pickup and delivery orders … There are two subscription services available.  An annual ExpressLane subscription costs $99.95. It includes double fuel points, 5% off Harris Teeter brand items, no minimum order fee, $4.95 delivery fee and other discounts.  A monthly ExpressLane subscription costs $16.95 and includes double fuel points, 5% off Harris Teeter brand items and no minimum order fee."

    "Harris Teeter also has a new fee structure for pickup and delivery orders based on the total amount of purchases. The minimum order is $25 … The fee starts at $4.95 for orders up to $49.99, $2.95 for orders $50 to $99.99, and there is no fee for orders over $100."


    •  Amazon this morning announced a "continued investment in the metro Detroit area with five new buildings to support operations closer to customers. The sites are expected to create more than 2,000 permanent full- and part-time jobs with a minimum $15 per hour wage and comprehensive benefits starting on the employee’s first day."

    The announcement went on:  "As Amazon grows in Detroit, it is committed to contributing in a variety of ways to the local community where our teams live and work, including by supporting food banks with monetary contributions and delivery services, funding computer science education for underserved and underrepresented students, and providing in-kind donations to meet immediate and basic needs. Most recently, Amazon donated $100,000 to the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) to help the district enhance its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and expand its resources. Beyond the donation, Amazon plans to support the school’s STEM programs with hands-on learning and mentorship opportunities in the coming year."

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    •  Schnuck Markets announced that Ted Schnuck has been named the company’s vice president of fresh, and also will join the company's 10-member strategy team.

    Ted Schnuck has held various positions with the family-owned company since 2015, and before that had roles at Bain & Co., Beam Suntory and Procter & Gamble.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    •  Tommy Lasorda, who spent 71 years in the Dodgers organization as a player, scout, coach, manager, executive and advisor, has passed away at age 93.

    Lasorda not only managed the Los Angeles Dodgers to four National League pennants and two World Series titles, but also - after he retired as Dodgers manager - managed the 2000 US Olympics baseball team that won a gold medal in Sydney.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    For something a little different, let me share with you an email and video from MNB reader Jerry Jenson:

    Kevin, my wife sent this to me and it brought a BIG smile to my face.  Thought you would enjoy.  What a way to make an impact on your customers!  Thinking outside the box to bring a smile to everyone’s face.  Think these customers will be talking about this for a long time.

    Definitely filmed prior to the pandemic.

    Enjoy!

    Grazie.

    Published on: January 11, 2021

    In the National Football League Wild Card weekend…

    Cleveland Browns 48, Pittsburgh Steelers 37

    Baltimore Ravens 20, Tennessee Titans 13

    Chicago Bears 9, New Orleans Saints 21

    Indianapolis Colts 24, Buffalo Bills 27

    Los Angeles Rams 30, Seattle Seahawks 20

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Washington 23