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    Published on: January 22, 2021

    Costco's decision - reluctantly, it seems - to test store pickup prompted two reactions from the MNB community.  One reader thought it was way too late, while another said that it is not consistent with Costco's "treasure hunt" value proposition.  KC's opinion:  What good is a value proposition if it is out of synch with what consumers increasingly value?

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    From KARE-TV News in Minneapolis:

    "It was just an ordinary day after an extraordinary year at the Lunds & Byerlys in northeast Minneapolis.

    "The general manager called the employees into her office on Wednesday, in groups of five or six. 

    "'She explained to us that it was a gift from these people who wanted to do something nice for us,' said bakery and deli manager James Thompson.

    "The manager handed out thank-you cards to each of the 89 employees. She told them to make sure they didn't lose the card - there was $50 in each one."

    The card read:

    "We are two of your grateful customers, who wish to give you this gift as a token of our deep appreciation of the wonderful work you do every day to help us and all of your customers. There are few occupations that are more important right now than providing food to people, and the employees of Lunds and Byerlys do their often-difficult jobs with skill, good humor, and grace."

    The gesture by the customers cost an approximate $4,450.

    But it reflects something far more valuable - not just the essential-ness of what supermarket employees have been doing over the past 10 months, but also the degree to which the Lunds & Byerly's employees, empowered by leadership that has service in its DNA, are able to connect with customers in ways that can be transformational.

    Extraordinary.  And the very definition of an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    The New York Times this morning reports that in Georgia, the Gwinnett County Police Department has arrested a 19-year-old Kroger employee charged with stealing almost $1 million, which he used to buy guns, shoes, and cars, "including a Chevrolet Camaro that he totaled."

    The story says that Tre Brown, who worked in the store's fuel center, "obtained more than 40 refunds on several credit cards for merchandise that he falsely claimed had been returned to a Kroger in Duluth, Ga. … The transactions ranged in value from $75 to more than $87,000, according to the police, who said that the fraud scheme was carried out over two weeks in December and January while a supermarket compliance officer was away.

    "The fraud was later detected by corporate employees of Kroger, who the police said had contacted them. A large sum of the money was returned after Mr. Brown’s arrest on Jan. 14 on a  felony charge of theft by taking, the police said."

    KC's View:

    I feel bad for Kroger, which has ended up in the news this week for all the wrong reasons.

    I am astounded by this crime - the sheer audacity of it, the fact that this fellow was able to engineer it (it must've taken a lot of planning - it doesn't sound impulsive), and that the store was that vulnerable.

    The question is whether Kroger needs to do a Frank Abagnale/Alexander Mundy with this guy, and get him to help them figure out additional susceptibilities.

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    Bloomberg reports that Instacart is eliminating some 1,900 jobs with the company, including 10 jobs held by people who recently unionized.

    Some background from the Instacart story:

    "The grocery delivery company already classifies most of its workers as independent contractors, whose ranks have ballooned to more than 500,000 during the coronavirus pandemic. But starting in 2015, the company hired a small subset of workers as employees, who under U.S. law are entitled to protections like minimum wage and can be subject to more direction and training by their boss … Now, Instacart is moving in the other direction, eliminating 1,877 employees’ positions, including those of 10 workers in Illinois who last year became the first in the country to vote to unionize at the company. The company said it’s doing this as part of a shift toward new models, like providing its technology to retailers to have their own workers prepare customers’ orders."

    Bloomberg writes that "the United Food & Commercial Workers union, which represents the Illinois workers, condemned the move, saying it eliminates around a fifth or more of Instacart’s U.S. front-line employee positions."

    Instacart was part of a coalition - that also included Uber and Lyft - that spent more than $200 million last year to persuade California voters to approve a ballot measure exempting them from a state law that would've classified their "gig workers" as employees.

    KC's View:

    One has to believe that this is part of Instacart's laying of a foundation that will support a successful, high-value IPO.

    The question that I would continue to ask, if I were a retailer, is whether Instacart's business model and various moves supports my brand proposition and improves my connection with my shoppers?  The wrong question is whether Instacart is a low-maintenance, turnkey solution to a need for an e-commerce program, which it almost certainly is … but often at a long-term cost that retailers will have to pay.

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    Marketing Dive reports on a new Forrester study saying that "more than half (51%) of Gen Z respondents aged 18 to 23 years will always research a company to ensure it aligns with their position on corporate social responsibility before making a purchase."

    The story says that "to gain trust with Gen Z, brands must align their values with those of the cohort in real and actionable ways. The young age group expect brands to take a stance on issues, but the study warns that being seen as 'performative' is especially risky with the cohort. Forrester describes Gen Zers as 'truth barometers' that can quickly judge a brand's authenticity, with 54% of teens in the group saying they stopped using a brand because of its ethics."

    KC's View:

    Not to belabor this, but we had an MNB reader who the other day argued that ""'the culture' would benefit from companies spending more time focused on their business and less time bending over backwards to align themselves with 'the culture' as they perceive it."

    This study would suggest that at least for one generational cohort, this is not true - they want to understand the values and priorities of the companies with which they do business.  Doesn't mean all their decisions will take this into account, but it is in the mix - and companies have to keep this in mind.

    I'm not a member of Generation Z, but I know I feel that way.  Values always are in the mix.  (Maybe because I'm young at heart … though Mrs. Content Guy would posit that the right word is "immature.")

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    Southeastern Grocers, parent company to Bi-Lo, Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, announced that an IPO that will sell 8.9 million shares of the company at between $14 and $16 per share.

    The Jacksonville Business Journal explains that "the largest shareholder cashing out during the IPO will be Lone Star Funds, a Texas-based private equity firm that through LSF7 Bond Holdings Ltd. owns 5,013,891 shares, about 11.6% of the company … Osterweis Capital Management will offer the second largest number of shares, looking to sell 2,590,697 shares … The largest shareholder both before and after the IPO is funds affiliated with Fidelity Investments, the fourth largest mutual fund company. Fidelity owns 9,117,328 shares, or 21% of the company, and is selling just 53,506 shares.

    "Combined, the largest shareholders would be left with a 73.4% stake in the public company post-IPO."

    Published on: January 22, 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…

    •  The United States coronavirus numbers:  25,196,086 confirmed cases of Covid-19 … 420,285 deaths … 15,100,991 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  98,174,075 confirmed Covid-19 cases … 2,102,453 fatalities … 70,575,225 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 15.1 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 2.4 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 38 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. edged upward from a day earlier, but deaths and hospitalizations both decreased, as President Biden sought to jump-start the U.S. response to the pandemic.

    "The nation reported more than 188,000 new cases for Thursday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and posted early Friday morning … That was up from 182,695 a day earlier, but down from 235,561 a week earlier.

    "Daily deaths related to Covid-19 remain high, with more than 3,900 reported for Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins data. But the number was down from 4,377 reported a day earlier. It about matched the week-earlier 3,929.

    "Hospitalizations continued their downward trend, according to the Covid Tracking Project, with 119,927 reported for Thursday—below 120,000 for the first time since Dec. 27. There were 22,304 people in intensive-care units, also representing a downward trend.

    "The seven-day moving average of daily new cases was 194,252 as of Wednesday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins data. The 14-day average was 219,808. When the seven-day average is lower than the 14-day average, as it has been since last Friday, it suggests cases are decreasing."

    •  Good piece from Bloomberg:

    "Vaccines from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc., and others will have the power to one day end the pandemic, or at least tame it—but only after 70% or more of the world’s population gets inoculated against Covid-19. So far, the rollout has been anything but smooth: By mid-January just 13 million Americans had received a dose …  At that rate, it could take until 2022 before the country gets back to normal.

    "Big drugstores say they’re ready to come to the rescue. They won’t eliminate the need for stadiums and other mass inoculation sites, but chains such as CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. have the advantage of being everywhere. There are 60,000 pharmacies spread across the U.S., including drugstores within big-box stores such as Walmart and major grocery chains as well as independents and local chains. Many have experience providing vaccines: U.S. pharmacies gave out about a third of adult flu shots in 2018, up from just 18% in 2012."

    And not just big chains:  "Independent community pharmacies will play an important part in the rollout as well. There are 21,000 mom and pop outlets and small chains, many of them in smaller towns and rural areas. In West Virginia, which has had one of the most successful vaccine rollouts, independent drugstores have been involved from the start. And in Louisiana, about half the pharmacies administering shots are independents, according to Joseph Kanter, a state public health official."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "A surge in coronavirus cases has put "real pressure' on Japan to cancel this summer's Olympics, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday, as a report suggested the mood within Japan's ruling coalition had turned against holding the Games despite public assurances to the contrary.

    "Japan is in the grip of its most serious coronavirus wave, and Tokyo is under a state of emergency. The government has not approved a vaccine for use here, let alone begun inoculating people. Still, the country's leader and Olympics organizers say the Games are going ahead … Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said at a news conference that many sports events were already taking place globally amid pandemic precautions. Preparation for a successful Games would continue, she said, 'to bring hope to people all over the world'."

    The 2020 Summer Olympics were postponed last year until this summer because of the pandemic.

    •  The New York Times reports that Art Basil, a flagship exhibition for the international art trade that takes place in Switzerland each year, has been postponed from June until September because of continuing concerns about the pandemic and international travel restrictions.

    Damn.  I had my eye on a Picasso, and was hoping to make a play for it.

    •  The Hollywood Reporter says that the release of the new James Bond movie,No Time To Die, has been postponed yet again.  It originally was supposed to be in theaters in April 2020, and was postponed several times, with the last premier date set as April 2, 2021.  But now, as the pandemic continues o have an enormous impact on the economy and consumer behavior, the decision has been made to move it again, to October 8, 2021.

    They may have to rename  this thing Too Much Time To Die.  It better be good, or the headlines for the reviews are going to read, You Should Have Left It Dead.  Or, Kill Us Before We Have To Watch It Again.

    •  The New York Times reports that the Glastonbury festival, the UK's largest pop music event, has been canceled for the second year in a row because of the pandemic.

    “In spite of our efforts to move Heaven & Earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the Festival happen,” organizers Michael and Emily Eavis said in a joint statement. “We are so sorry to let you all down.”

    The Times writes that Glastonbury has been "held each June at the Eavis’s farm in Pilton, southwest England. About 210,000 people were meant to attend this year, camping at the site for several days. (The farm’s cows are moved off site for the event.)"

    The cancellation, the story notes, is "sparking fear that large music festivals in Europe will not go ahead this summer."

    It sounds like a fun event, but I'm not big on the whole camping out thing.  Me, I don't like to sleep anywhere that doesn't have a wine list.

    •  The Washington Post reports that the coronavirus now has been found in every county in the United States.

    The last one to fall was Hawaii's Kalawao County, which is located on the small island of Molokai, has fewer than 100 residents, and used to be a leper colony.

    "But even though it’s so isolated from the rest of the world that basic supplies have to be brought in by barge once a year," the story says, "the virus still managed to make its way there."

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    •  FreightWaves reports that "Walmart customers along the Arkansas and Missouri state line will soon be able to receive their e-commerce orders via drone delivery. The retailer and drone provider Zipline International have announced that a pilot program operating out of Walmart’s Pea Ridge, Arkansas, store will begin this summer."

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "Amazon can keep conservative-friendly social network Parler offline, a federal judge in Seattle ruled Thursday.

    "Amazon booted Parler from its cloud-computing servers Jan. 11 due to what the Seattle tech giant said was an increase in violent content on the social network, which has a primarily right-wing userbase. Parler immediately sued to restore its access to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the arm of the company that offers the digital infrastructure powering much online activity.

    "On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein said that forcing Amazon to get Parler back online goes against the public interest, given 'the kind of abusive, violent content at issue in this case, particularly in light of the recent riots at the U.S. Capitol'."

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    •  The Boston Globe writes about Massachusetts resident Dave New, who came up with a unique solution for the recycling of plastic bags, which are useful for making other things but "tend to jam up the equipment at material recovery facilities because of their flimsy shape."

    According to the story, " he designed a product called the 'Obaggo' that can create a puck-like shape out of plastic items while sitting on people’s kitchen counters. The Obaggo densifies plastic bags and packaging films into rigid pucks that can be recycled curbside with other materials. The pucks would be separated at recycling facilities, and then New would collect them to be converted into pellets, before being transformed into new products. "

    The Obaggo currently is in the crowdfunding stage, and you can check it out here.

    •  The Giant Company announced that "it has joined the GreenChill program, a voluntary U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnership with food retailers, refrigeration system manufacturers and chemical manufacturers to reduce refrigerant emissions and decrease their environmental impacts.

    "As a program partner, GreenChill provides The Giant Company and other industry stakeholders with information and assistance to transition to environmentally friendly refrigerants, reduce the amount of refrigerant they use, eliminate refrigerant leaks, implement environmental best practices, and adopt green refrigeration technologies. There are more than 12,500 GreenChill partner stores throughout the country."

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.

    •  The Washington Post reports that "President Biden is expected on Friday to significantly increase federal food assistance for millions of hungry families among executive actions intended to stabilize the deterioration of the economy weighed down by the raging coronavirus pandemic.

    "Biden is asking the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits - commonly known as food stamps - and to increase by 15 percent benefits awarded through a school meals program for low-income students started during the pandemic, according to Biden administration officials."

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    Seemed like a good time to take a deep breath.  "Your Views" will return next week.

    Published on: January 22, 2021

    One of my favorite movies of recent months is The Vast of Night, an Amazon Prime Video original that, on a relatively tiny budget of $700,000, accomplishes a ton - it is a sci-fi thriller that executes with the assurance of a much bigger movie.  Think The Last Picture Show meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Twilight Zone, which is a weird mix but as accurate as I can come up with.

    Here's the set-up.  It is New Mexico in the 1950s, and two young people - 16-year-old Fay Crocker, who runs a switchboard at night, and twenty-something radio disc jockey Everett Sloan detect a mysterious audio signal that interrupts Everett's show and calls coming through Fay's switchboard.  They do some investigation, and begin to suspect that the signal could be extraterrestrial in origin - and that the aliens may be invading their small town.

    This is director Andrew Patterson's first film, and he kills it - the film has both the assurance of a much more experienced director and the audacity of a prodigy who doesn't know what he's not supposed to know.  His cast - Sierra McCormick as Fay and Jake Horowitz as Everett - is flawless … they beautifully capture the naïveté of youth and the dawning horror of what they might've uncovered and what it might mean.

    The Vast of Night is a terrific little film - 90 minutes long, crisp, eerie, and totally worth your time.

    I must admit that when I went to see Midnight Sky, it was with a little trepidation.  I've always been an admirer of George Clooney, but his directorial efforts after his debut, Good Night, And Good Luck, have offered diminishing returns.  (I was most disappointed by Monuments Men, which should've been great but was awful.)

    The good news is that Midnight Sky, now available on Netflix, is pretty good.  It is the story of a dying scientist (played by Clooney) living alone in the Arctic Circle who may be the last man on earth because of some unidentified disaster;  when he realizes that a spaceship is returning from Jupiter and needs to figure out how to warn it that Earth no longer is habitable.

    There are a few terrific sequences in Midnight Sky, though I must admit that it occasionally suffers from being a little ponderous.  It works well enough … though a little research shows that it cost $100 million to make, and I cannot help but think that The Vast Of Night is a lot more effective for a lot less money.

    I've watched two episodes of "WandaVision" - the new series from Marvel on Disney+ - and find it hard to review because I don't yet know what it is all about.  i know that it puts two superheroes from the Avengers films into fifties-style sitcoms and there seems to be something bigger going on.  I may stick with it for another episodes or two, but there better be a payoff, and it better be good.

    I'm not confident, though, and my patience is not endless.

    I have a terrific wine to recommend to you this week - the 2018 Poggio Badiola Toscana, a beautifully rich red wine from the Chianti Classico region of Italy.  It is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Petit Verdot, and at about $13, it is an amazing deal.

    I had it the other night when I made these fresh pork meatballs with a vodka sauce - and let me tell you, the family was pretty impressed.  

    So will you be, I think.

    That's it for this week.  Have a good weekend … I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.