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    Published on: January 20, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    Medical experts say there has actually been a second, somewhat unexpected medical outbreak across the US over the past year, and it has both everything and yet nothing to do with a virus.

    Apparently the number of Americans who have broken toes is at a shockingly high level. The thinking is simple: So many people are now working from home and thanks to virtual meetings, they (and I would include myself in this) now only focus on what they wear on the top half of their bodies.

    The lower half, particularly feet, are freed from usual constraints like shoes. And that in turn has led to a rash of broken toes. Go figure, there are more things to hate about covid. (And let’s be honest, toes aren’t the only thing covid has broken.)

    But the impact of the virus, the lockdown, the economic disaster and more plays out in different ways for different industries.  Podiatrists, apparently, aren’t the only ones booming, as many supermarket retailers can attest.

    However, all those extra sales haven’t come easily.  The strain on stores, the supply chain and especially store staff. It’s worth considering all the unintended consequences of the covid period, plus all the ways that this strange period has likely changed consumer expectations and thereby raised the “table stakes” for competition in the future.

    The most obvious, of course, is the warp speed explosion of online shopping for food. Whether tied to delivery services or curbside pickup, the normal pace of shopping has been shattered. It’s hard to imagine that once the virus is tamed all shoppers will simply return to old habits. Many have gladly welcomed the convenience of ordering up their groceries from the family room sofa and so it’s highly likely that the world of omni-channel shopping is here to stay.

    There was no time to strategize about this thanks to Covid-19. Rather, companies had to jump right into on-line shopping without a long opportunity to debate issues such as in-house or third-party delivery, delivery at all vs. curb side pick up, plus the myriad issues involved in creating user friendly shopping websites.

    Here’s the second part of the challenge: there is no going back. Even once covid is tamed shopper expectations are forever altered. The notion that you won’t offer on-line shopping is unthinkable and might be competitive suicide.

    Obviously, that’s not all. The level of customer expectations is growing all the time. Think about recent articles here in MNB. The arrival of intelligent shopping carts at first Amazon and now Kroger, means that shoppers very soon will wonder why their store insists on the old fashion method of front-end loading, unloading, lines and payments. New technologies always change the status quo.

    Likewise, how will shoppers think about safety for themselves and employees in the future? Dollar General’s (and a few others) incredibly sensitive move to provide incentives for staff to get the Covid vaccine could open the door to a whole new level of expectations. Ask yourself honestly, would even your most loyal shopper stick with you if they knew a competitor's entire store team was inoculated and yours wasn’t? Think about how quickly items like Plexiglas dividers and hand sanitizer stations became must haves.

    In other words, table stakes keep rising.

    In years past, increased table stakes included efforts such as more efficient supply chains, better service and prepared food departments and even, lest we forget, scanning and then self-scanning.

    In the years to come, new forms of technology, user-friendlier apps and omnichannel offerings will all be part of the new table stakes. And let’s be honest, so many more things will be coming that we can’t even imagine today.  As Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard wisely once said, “Things are only impossible until they are not.” Shortly after that, they become expected.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

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

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

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    Some companies will be faced in 2021 with the challenge of living up to investor expectations fueled by a 2020 that was unusual by many measures.  Public companies may want to cut back on investment...which KC believes could create an opportunity for privately held retailers.

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    The Cincinnati Enquirer reports this morning that Kroger has dropped from its list of charities approved for customer donations a group that has been identified as an anti-government militia.

    Kroger was alerted to the nature of the Indiana Oath Keepers when social media postings pointed it out to the company;  Kroger said it was dropping the group from its Community Rewards Program list because it is "not aligned with the company's values."  Kroger said that the group only has received "nominal" amounts from its program, but did not say exactly how much.

    The Enquirer writes:  "Indiana Oath Keepers characterizes itself as a militia of former law enforcement and military personnel, but is called an extremist anti-government group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The FBI has been looking at extremist group ties of some of the Capitol rioters arrested, including the Oath Keepers. Prosecutors say some leaders of the group helped organize the Jan. 6 attack."

    The Washington Post writes that "court documents filed Tuesday disclosed disturbing new allegations about the extremist group…  including plans to make 'citizens’ arrests' of elected officials."

    The Post goes on:  "It is unclear if any members of the Indiana Oath Keepers were involved in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol, when a mob of President Trump’s supporters stormed the building to disrupt the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

    "Yet federal authorities said in court documents Tuesday that an apparent leader of the Oath Keepers, Navy veteran Thomas Edward Caldwell, helped organize a ring of dozens who boasted they had 'stormed the castle,' communicating in real time as they breached the building and talked about hunting for lawmakers."

    The Post also makes the point that it isn't just Kroger that has some explaining to do:  Amazon Smile, a program similar to Kroger's that allows shoppers to donate a small amount of their purchases to charities, also includes the Indiana Oath Keepers on its list of approved charities.

    KC's View:

    As soon as I read this piece in the Post - which, of course, is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - I went on Amazon Smile to see if it is still there.

    It is.  Amazon needs to delete them from the list ASAP, and then do a fast, deep vetting of its list to make sure there are no more anti-government groups on there.

    As does every other retailer with some sort of charity program in this vein.  

    It is alarming the degree to which these groups have insinuated themselves into the fabric of the culture.  The Post provides some context:

    "In 2017, the Indiana Oath Keepers were granted tax-exempt status by the IRS, which classified them as a 'public safety' nonprofit.

    "They are not the only extremist, far-right group to receive this accreditation. As CBS News found last month, dozens of white supremacist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ groups are registered as tax-exempt charities, including several linked to the 2015 Charleston church massacre and the 2017 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville."

    As has been demonstrated in Louisiana - where Rouses Supermarkets has been facing a backlash because owner Donald Rouse Sr. attended the DC rally on the Ellipse (but didn't participate in the ransacking of the Capitol) - businesses have to be careful about this stuff.

    There have been numerous reports about how a number of retailers - from H-E-B to Bed Bath & Beyond - have decided to no longer carry MyPillow products after the company's CEO, Mike Lindell, was characterized as advocating for steps like invoking martial law as one way of preventing a Biden inauguration.

    (I must admit that I find it mildly amusing that it is politics causing problems for MyPillow.  The Washington Post notes that "MyPillow has an 'F' rating from the Better Business Bureau and has been fined and settled numerous lawsuits over false advertising claims related to its products.")

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    Carlisle, Pennsylvania-based The Giant Company said yesterday that it is now offering what it is calling CHOICE Pass to its Giant Direct and Martin's Direct e-commerce customers.

    According to the announcement, "CHOICE Pass represents the company’s next step in enhancing its holistic online experience while keeping its focus on helping families save time so they can find more time to gather around the table … CHOICE Pass provides unlimited free delivery and pickup for the price of $98/year, realizing a new savings of $21/year for subscribers. The previous yearly subscription price, offered through the former PodPass, was $119/year. Proving its cost effectiveness, CHOICE Pass will pay for itself with just two deliveries per month or one pick-up per week. With CHOICE Pass, it means customers can order as often as they like and never pay a delivery or pickup fee. "

    The announcement goes on:  "CHOICE Pass will continue to offer a monthly option of $12.95 for unlimited free pickup and delivery offered. For individual orders, the pick-up fee is $2.95 with a minimum order of $30 required; the delivery fee for an individual order is $7.95 with a minimum order of $60."

    KC's View:

    It is all about figuring out ways to create habits among shoppers, about creating mechanisms that encourage shoppers to turn to you as the first, often best choice for products and services that consumers need and want.

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    Interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal about how food delivery companies may be about to face serious headwinds in the form of regulations designed to protect consumers.

    "In addition to new laws boosting compensation and benefits for delivery drivers, restaurant protections such as pandemic-related commission caps have been proliferating at the city and state levels," the Journal writes.  "Consumer protections could be next … In September, U.S. congresswomen from three states sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission chairman calling for an investigation into the impact of 'highly consolidated food delivery services,' and what they deemed to be potentially unfair practices of food-delivery platforms, including 'excessive fees and commissions.'

    The Journal writes:

    "The platforms seem to be testing price elasticity wherever possible. Other fees on Uber Eats in California include the delivery charge, which depends on location, availability and priority; a service fee that can cost as much as 15% of an order’s subtotal; and, depending on the order size, a “small order fee.”

    "On DoorDash, total fees before discounts such as those associated with its loyalty program, including the recommended Dasher tip, can exceed 50% of the food’s cost itself across major suburban areas nationwide, according to consumer receipts reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. DoorDash has been transparent about hefty consumer fees: Its initial-public-offering filing charts the economics of an average marketplace order, which includes tip and consumer fees totaling nearly 40% of the cost of food."

    KC's View:

    If the deals that restaurants have made with the devil end up threatening the financial viability of their delivery businesses, it seems to me that this is white space that supermarkets ought to probe for opportunity.  Talk about how making your own meals is healthier.    Create greater context for the meals that supermarkets make possible.  Stress quality and diversity, not speed and lowest-common-denominator cuisine.  Become a trusted resource for inspiration, not just a resource for product.

    Exploit the weaknesses in the Uber Eats-DoorDash-Grubhub model.  Own the experience and the customer.

    Published on: January 20, 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've now had 24,809,841 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus … 411,520 results deaths … and 14,786,886 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 96,715,931 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,068,062 fatalities … and 69,410,770 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. rose from a day earlier, as did reported deaths, but hospitalizations decreased slightly.

    "The nation reported more than 168,000 new cases for Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, up from 141,999 cases reported for Monday but down from 225,423 reported a week earlier. The data for Tuesday was made public early Wednesday morning, and may update.

    "At least six states including Idaho, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington didn’t update their Covid-19 data dashboards for Monday, Johns Hopkins said. This could lead to a data backlog that skews numbers in the following days."

    The Journal also reports that "Tuesday’s hospitalizations were at 123,820, according to the Covid Tracking Project, down slightly from 123,848 on Monday. There were 23,029 people in intensive-care units on Tuesday, it reported."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that drugmaker Moderna is saying that it "is on track to produce enough doses of its new Covid-19 vaccine to help meet President-elect Joe Biden’s goal to administer 100 million vaccine doses in the first 100 days after he takes office … Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said Tuesday that Moderna plans to deliver 100 million doses of its shot, which requires two doses per person, for use in the U.S. by the end of March, with additional doses to follow. Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE also are supplying doses of their vaccine to the U.S."

    •  From CNBC, a report that Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is saying that "the rollout of Covid vaccines in the U.S. may eventually be slowed by not enough people wanting to receive the shot.

    "While the incoming Biden administration will initially be focused on increasing access to vaccines, Gottlieb said public-health efforts also must combat concerns held by some Americans."

    “We’ve talked about access being the real challenge right now, and now we’re talking about supply because we’re starting to get to a steady state of supply and it’s hard to increase the supply in the near term,” Gottlieb said. “At some point, demand is going to be come an issue.”

    •  From Business Insider:

    "Retail pharmacies in New York begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to elderly individuals this week. Ohio and Colorado will follow suit soon … Retailers have already been helping to roll out the coronavirus vaccine in the United States.

    "Pharmacy chains have begun vaccinating their own staffers and even assisted with inoculating individuals in nursing homes. National pharmacy chain CVS alone has administered more than one million vaccines across the country as of Thursday. 

    "But now these vaccines will be arriving in retail pharmacies across the US. If all goes according to plan, most members of the public will be receiving immunization from the virus throughout 2021. And millions of those civilians will be getting their shots via national retail chains."

    •  Reuters reports that Aldi is the latest retailer "to offer incentives for U.S. employees getting a COVID-19 vaccine, saying it would give up to four hours of pay to those who choose to receive inoculations.  The retailer, which has more than 2,000 stores in 37 U.S. states, said it would cover costs associated with vaccine administration and implement on-site vaccination clinics at its warehouse and office locations."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "the airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, plans next week to begin screening passengers for symptoms of covid-19 before they go through security, implementing a first-of-its-kind plan that was on hold for months while federal officials reviewed its funding."

    But now that the funding has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the effort will "build on efforts by airlines to try to keep sick people off flights. Airlines typically require self-declarations and mask-wearing by passengers but do not conduct professional health screenings or require coronavirus testing of domestic passengers."

    In Cedar Rapids, local medical professionals will be used to first ask travelers questions and take their temperatures;  when appropriate, a second screening will take place, including rapid testing.  People who don't pass will be referred to their airline, which will be charged with the final decision on whether or not they can travel.

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "Pizza Hut Israel is trying a new approach to make pie deliveries by drone a reality at last, but it means customers won’t get the thrill of accepting their orders from futuristic flying machines themselves.

    "Instead of flying pizzas directly to customers’ homes, the company this June plans to test sending drones to drop multiple orders at government-approved landing zones, such as designated spaces in parking lots. Delivery drivers will collect orders from these makeshift drone ports and take them on the final leg to customers."

    KC's View:

    Y'think they had to get approval from the Iron Dome folks to make this program happen?

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    •  E-grocery pure play Farmstead, which launched in San Francisco, expanded to Charlotte, North Carolina, and now is waitlisting customers for service that will being in Q1 2021 in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, has announced a fifth market where it will operate - Miami, Florida.

    The company has opened up a waitlist there that will accept 1,000 customers, with service also to begin in Q1.

    The announcement goes on:  "Farmstead’s 'dark' warehouses (built for delivery only) greatly ease entry into new geographies, reduce food waste by 3-4x and help eliminate food deserts by making fast, inexpensive delivery available with a nimble new model. With Farmstead, customers can get all of their groceries – high-quality local brands such as Floribbean, Jennifer’s Homemade and Zak the Baker; national brands such as Kraft and Nabisco; well-loved international/Latino brands; and fresh meats, dairy and produce  – from one place."

    •  From MarketWatch:

    "FedEx Corp. is adding a surcharge for its large customers delivering to residences, in an effort to provide 'the best possible service during this challenging time.'

    "Starting Feb. 15, will apply a surcharge of 30 cents per package for customers who ship more than 30,000 weekly average packages from Jan. 4 through Jan. 31. The 'Peak -- Residential Delivery Charge' will apply 'until further notice' to FedEx Express and FedEx Ground domestic residential packages in the U.S., and will exclude FedEx SmartPost and FedEx One Rate packages … The 'Peak Residential Delivery Charge' will be assessed in addition to the customer's 'Residential Delivery Charge' already in place."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Microsoft Corp. is investing in General Motors Co.'s  driverless-car startup Cruise as part of a strategic tie-up, another sign of renewed interest in the autonomous-technology space after a relatively quiet period.

    "Microsoft is among a group of companies that will invest more than $2 billion in San Francisco-based Cruise, which has been majority owned by GM since early 2016. The financing brings Cruise’s valuation to $30 billion, Cruise said Tuesday, up from an estimated $19 billion in spring 2019."

    According to the story, "Under terms of Tuesday’s deal, Cruise will use Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing service to help it roll out autonomous-vehicle services. Cruise for years has been testing driverless cars in San Francisco and plans an eventual robot-taxi service. It is also is exploring commercial delivery."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Netflix "ended last year with more than 200 million subscribers, a milestone powered by consumers left homebound by the coronavirus pandemic and rising demand in international markets where the streaming giant has a head start over many rivals.

    "Netflix on Tuesday said it added more than 8.5 million subscribers on a net basis in the fourth quarter, a gain that surpassed its forecast for the period. Overall, Netflix signed up what it said was a record 37 million subscribers in 2020 and had a total of 203.7 million users when the year finished up."

    The Journal writes that Netflix "generated $6.64 billion in fourth-quarter revenue, up from $5.45 billion for the year earlier and exceeding analysts’ forecasts. But profit decreased to $542 million, or $1.19 a share, from $587 million … Netflix also said it believes it no longer needs to raise debt going forward for day-to-day operations. The company currently anticipates 2021 cash flow at break-even, an upgrade from its earlier projection, which was minus $1 billion to break-even."

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    •  From the Chicago Tribune:

    "Walmart will pay $10 million to some Illinois employees to settle allegations it used a palm scanning device that violated their privacy rights.

    "The deal could amount to a couple hundred dollars for each person who is part of the class-action settlement, which received preliminary approval from the Cook County Circuit Court last month.

    "In a lawsuit filed in 2019, former Walmart employee  Ethan Roach  alleged the retailer required him to use a palm-scanning device when checking out and returning cash register drawers without obtaining his written permission, violating an Illinois law protecting residents’ biometric information … The settlement applies to current and former Walmart employees in Illinois who used a palm scanner to access a cash recycler system, without first providing written consent between Jan. 28, 2014 and when the retailer stopped using the scanners. Use of the scanners ended Feb. 28, 2018 at Walmart stores and April 24, 2019 at Sam’s Club stores."

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    •  From Variety:

    "The filmmakers behind Tiger and Fed Up are teaming with the producer of Jiro Dreams of Sushi on a new investigative documentary into food safety.

    "Entitled Poisoned, the film will be directed by Stephanie Soechtig and executive produced by Jeff Benedict and produced by Ross Dinerstein’s Campfire. It will be based on Benedict’s book, 'Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat'."

    Variety writes that "the film will examine consumers’ misguided faith in the modern American food supply system and the presumption that the food we purchase is 'safe.' In reality, foodborne illness is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, with an estimated 48 million Americans suffering a foodborne illness, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths."

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    •  Springfield, Massachusetts-based Big Y Foods announced that Colin M. D’Amour, the company's senior manager of procurement within Big Y’s Real Estate and Development Team, has been promoted to the role of senior director of the company's Express Gas & Convenience Stores division.

    At the same time, Christian P. D’Amour, described by the company as "a district sales and merchandising mentor for Big Y’s supermarket 15-store district within Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire Counties of Massachusetts," has been named Big Y's director of e-commerce.

    Both men are third generation leaders within the company;  they are grandsons of Big Y co-founder Gerald E. D’Amour, and sons of president-CEO Charles L. D’Amour.

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    Don Sutton, a four-time All Star pitcher who was best known for his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers - though he also pitched for the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A's and California Angels -  has passed away.  He was 75, and had been suffering from cancer.

    The Los Angeles Times writes that Sutton "made the Dodgers as a rookie in 1966 and pitched at least 200 innings in 20 of his first 21 seasons, with the strike-shortened 1981 season the only exception. Sutton never missed a start because of an injury for 22 consecutive seasons.  On the all-time lists, he ranks third in games started with 756 — trailing only Cy Young and Ryan — and seventh in innings pitched with 5,282 1/3, seventh in strikeouts with 3,574 and 10th in shutouts with 58."

    The story also points out that "the Dodgers have retired 10 uniform numbers, most recently Sutton’s No. 20 in 1998. With the deaths of Sutton and Tommy Lasorda this month, Sandy Koufax is the only living honoree among the men whose numbers the team has retired."

    The Times notes that Sutton "is the seventh Hall of Fame player to die since April: Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Joe Morgan and Whitey Ford died in 2020. In addition, Dodgers Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda died Jan. 7."

    Published on: January 20, 2021

    MNB reader Joe Axford responded to my FaceTime commentary suggesting that retailers, if they cannot or will not mandate vaccinations for their employees, ought to incentivize their employees to get inoculated:

    Couldn't agree more KC; sadly, I know a few people in the business who will not get the vaccine under any circumstances, unfortunately for the rest of us. Myself, having been out of work at a Northeast retailer since last March, due to a health condition, have to and will get the vaccine.

    Only then will my doctor sign me back in to work.

    And I can't wait! Thankfully they've held my spot for me, for which I am grateful.

    I also wrote:

    I do think there is a larger issue here - the public health apparatus, along with politicians, have to do a better job of communicating with constituents about the vaccine.  The nation's physical and economic health depend on it.

    Prompting one MNB reader to respond:

    Difficult to get behind when politicians refuse to wear masks in the chamber. Our ability to send a unified message is shot to hell. Not to mention the missteps at the beginning by the CDC and others in position to make a difference. 

    Don't get me started…

    I  did a FaceTime video yesterday in which I talked about the fact that Intel's new CEO recently derided Apple - which has stopped using its chips - as just a "lifestyle company."  My observation:  Who cares?  And doesn't that miss the point

    Is Amazon a retailer?  A tech company?  Does it matter?  I think not - these are business constructs, not customer-driven constructs.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Good point!

    Though I am terribly unhappy with Apple’s new software for my MacBook Air. They changed the look of everything I had become used to for 20 years! Not a good thing! It’s like they had a Greenhorn in charge!

    Have you found the last update disconcerting?

    I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on this one.  I'm using OS 11.1, nicknamed "Big Sur," and I love it.

    Different strokes.