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    Published on: February 4, 2021

    Grocer trade associations in Washington State and California have filed lawsuits challenging legislated hazard pay mandates targeted just at the supermarket industry.

    Then Seattle Times reports that the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) are suing the city of Seattle "over the city’s new law mandating $4 an hour pay raises for grocery stores," saying that "the city’s law interferes with the collective-bargaining process between grocery stores and unions and also 'picks winners and losers' by singling out large grocery companies."

    The suit argues that "the Ordinance arbitrarily and improperly targets grocery store businesses in Seattle for disparate treatment while not requiring the same commitments from similarly situated businesses, or conferring any benefits on similarly situated employees."

    Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the California Grocers Association (CGA) "on Wednesday sued Oakland, just one day after the City Council voted to require larger food sellers to give workers a $5-an-hour pay increase as compensation for the added risks and stress of operating on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic … The trade group also filed suit Wednesday against Montebello (Los Angeles County), which enacted a similar ordinance a few days ago. The Grocers Association has a case pending against Long Beach (Los Angeles County), which in January became the first California city to mandate hazard pay for supermarket employees."

    KC's View:

    I'm not a lawyer, so I have no credibility in judging the credibility of these lawsuits.  But I hope that the law is consistent with common sense - that it is fundamentally unfair for lawmakers to target one retail segment for mandated raises and not others.  (Of course, if the cities start losing in court they could make the mandated hazard pay fraises more sweeping, which also would be a mistake since so many retailers are just hanging on these days.)

    I also hope that these cases can be heard quickly so that this situation can be quickly resolved and hopefully preempt other cities from passing similar misguided laws.

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    In California, the Woodland Daily Democrat reports that supermarket chain Raley's is working with AgStart, which mentors and nurtures agriculture and food-tech startup companies, to create the Raley’s Food Lab at The Lab@AgStart.

    The paper describes the new initiative as "a certified food facility where innovators can develop new food products, ingredients and recipes for taste testing, sampling and small-volume sales. The facility will be fully outfitted with kitchen and food preparation equipment and will be reservable for use by established and aspiring food entrepreneurs.

    "Raley’s will also provide entrepreneurs with mentorship and support to help scale their businesses to prepare to sell at retail."

    “Raley’s takes great pride operating our business in one of the richest agricultural hubs in the world,” stated Michael Teel, chairman of Raley’s. “We are excited about what this region represents for the future of food production. The Raley’s Food Lab will support food entrepreneurs, who will lead the way to a better food system.”

    KC's View:

    I love stuff like this.  I hope that when some of the products that come out of this collaboration they get their own sections in Raley's stores … it would be a great way of showing the degree to which the company is engaged with the community, and give consumers to put some skin in the game by supporting these companies.

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    Numerous stories have popped up, nor surprisingly, profiling the incoming CEO of Amazon, Andy Jassy, who will succeed Jeff Bezos in the role later this year.  Here are some excerpts…

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Few corporate successions will be watched as closely. Mr. Jassy must steer Amazon — which has mushroomed into a $1.7 trillion company with 1.3 million employees and worldwide operations in e-commerce, logistics, cloud computing, entertainment and devices — while under the watchful eye of Mr. Bezos, who remains the biggest shareholder.

    "Amazon, which has been riding a wave of growth, also faces mounting challenges. In Europe and the United States, the Seattle-based company is under scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers for its power. Its own work force has become increasingly vocal and active in dealing with the company. And with its sheer size, some investors and employees wonder whether Amazon can maintain its innovative ways without bureaucracy bogging it down.

    "Mr. Jassy has not spoken publicly about his vision for Amazon, but those who know him said what was clear was that he would continue what Mr. Bezos had built - and not make a sharp break from it. The epitome of an Amazon lifer, Mr. Jassy helped conceive and proselytize many of the company’s mechanisms and internal culture."

    The Times goes on:

    "At an AWS conference in December, Mr. Jassy offered a glimpse of how he might approach taking over one of the world’s richest tech companies. Echoing Mr. Bezos, who has long espoused how companies need to keep evolving, Mr. Jassy said the key to long-term survival was for companies to reinvent themselves while the going was good.

    "Mr. Jassy then laid out an eight-step plan for corporate reinvention and stressed the importance of being 'maniacal, relentless and tenacious.'

    "'You have to have the courage to pull the company up and force them to change and move,' he said."


    •  From Fast Company:

    "Since 2003, Jassy has devoted his full attention to web services. That might seem far afield from Amazon’s iconic success as a storefront for physical goods of every imaginable sort. But early in his Amazon career, Jassy was responsible for selling stuff to consumers. Back in 2001, when he was the company’s product director for music, he spoke with Billboard about a special promotion tied into a Ken Burns PBS series about the history of jazz. 'There are few people who are uniquely positioned to sell the CDs, the video and DVD boxed sets, and the book as well as us,' he said. Once again, he will be responsible for selling media - even if it’s more likely to be streamed than shipped in boxes - as well as every other item that Amazon would like to sell to us."

    Fast Company also notes that Jassy believes in "sweating the details," that while "groups within AWS have plenty of independence," he believes that "effective management is in part about knowing what’s going on at every level of the organization."

    "One of the mistakes that leaders make sometimes is that they get too far away from the details of the business,” he said. “And the reality is that every business is always going to have things that work and things that are not working. And that’s okay. You can fix the things that aren’t working, as long as you have visibility to them. And you can course-correct relatively quickly. But if you get so far away from the details and you don’t have the right mechanisms to inspect what’s happening, finding out about issues that are 6 to 12 months in the making makes it much harder to correct them, because the hole is deeper.”

    Published on: February 4, 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, there now have been 27,150,457 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus … 461,930 deaths … and 16,906,778 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 104,984,392 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,280,508 fatalities … and 76,733,407 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 27.5 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 6.7 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 55.9 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases and deaths rose in the U.S., while hospitalizations continued to decrease, as Indiana said it had identified more than 1,500 previously unreported deaths related to the disease … Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the deaths, including 302 since the beginning of 2021, were found during a recent year-end audit of Covid-19 deaths. The newly identified deaths will be added to the state’s current tally of some 9,700 Covid-19 deaths."

    The Journal points out that the hospitalizations decline, to 91,440 people hospitalized as of Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, "was the lowest number since Nov. 27 and the 22nd straight day of declines."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "in an appearance on NBC’s 'Today' show Wednesday, top infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci warned Americans to stay away from large Super Bowl parties and 'just lay low and cool it' - pointing out that partying with people they don’t know could expose them to the coronavirus.

    •  From the New York Times, a light at the end of the tunnel:

    "Just three months ago, as infections surged around the country and the prospect of a bleak winter loomed, it was not clear if any of the vaccines in development would pan out.

    "The picture now is very different.

    "After a sputtering start, coronavirus vaccination in the United States is speeding up. Two of the vaccines have been found to be highly effective. Three others appear to be slightly less robust, but still offer strong, and in some cases complete, protection against serious illness and death."

    But … there's always a "but."

    "But even as there are reasons for hope in the spring and summer, many public health experts remain pessimistic about the next couple of months," the Times writes. "Several warned that the world was nowhere near clear of a pandemic that has taken nearly 450,000 lives in the United States and 2.2 million in total around the globe.

    "And what progress there has been is hardly uniform.

    "Vaccinations may have accelerated in wealthy countries, but poorer countries are being left behind … Even within the United States, there are disparities. Wealthier, white residents are gaining access to the vaccine more frequently than Black and Latino people, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic."

    '

    •  The Washington Post reports that "Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted the declining numbers but pointed out that deaths were still twice what they were over the summer and warned of the proliferation of 'various variants that likely have increased transmissibility'."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shows a hint that it may reduce transmission of the virus and offers strong protection for three months on just a single dose, researchers said Wednesday in an encouraging turn in the campaign to suppress the outbreak.

    "The preliminary findings from Oxford University, a co-developer of the vaccine, could vindicate the British government’s controversial strategy of delaying the second shot for up to 12 weeks so that more people can be quickly given a first dose. Up to now, the recommended time between doses has been four weeks.

    "The research could also bring scientists closer to an answer to one of the big questions about the vaccination drive: Will the vaccines actually curb the spread of the coronavirus?"

    •  The New York Times reports that it has "been tracking vaccine eligibility rules in all 50 states" and "found that at least 24 states and Washington, D.C., are providing shots to some teachers of kindergarten through high school. Some of those states, however, consider teachers eligible for the vaccine only in certain counties.

    "As with many programs that have emerged since the pandemic began, it is a hodgepodge.

    "In West Virginia, for example, teachers are eligible for the vaccine only if they are age 50 or older.  In Montana, a limited number of teachers are allowed to get shots if they have specific medical conditions.

    "And in some states - among them Florida and Texas - officials have ordered schools to reopen for in-person learning, but teachers have not been made eligible for shots."

    CDC director Rochelle Walensky said yesterday that as long as proper mitigation measures are in place, the data suggests that there is not a lot of coronavirus transmission in the schools.  To be honest, that surprises me - kids are little germ machines in the best of years - but I'm not objective since I live with two teachers.  If I'm going to say that it is important to trust the science, that's going to have to include times when I don't agree with its conclusions.

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    The National Grocers Association (NGA) and FMI-The Food Industry Association  said yesterday that they "have issued an open letter to food retailers, grocery wholesalers, national and state associations, and nutrition incentive program providers, asking them to join together in supporting a new initiative to collaborate with POS system developers in creating retail transaction and reporting solutions for nutrition incentive programs.

    “We encourage all industry leaders to consider signing on to this call to action expressing your interest in the creation of industry-wide POS solutions for nutrition incentive transactions,” said Ted Mason,  project director for the NGA Foundation Technical Assistance Center (NGAF TAC). “We hope our leaders will step up to help educate fellow retailers, wholesalers and POS developers about nutrition incentives and the need for industry-wide POS solutions for nutrition incentive transactions.”

    “We want to ensure that SNAP retailers can offer innovative services to all their customers, including redemption options for SNAP benefits, whether in store or online,” said Hannah Walker, vice president of political affairs at FMI. “It is essential that we continue to advance technology to support all our shoppers’ health and well-being goals.”

    FMI and NGA went on:

    "Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, federal nutrition incentive programs have been gaining in popularity across the U.S. In recent years, the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) has allowed for the expansion of nutrition incentives and there has been an increased focus on programs for retailers to provide free or discounted produce to SNAP clients or low-income individuals with certain diagnosed health conditions.

    "Methodologies to conduct nutrition incentive transactions have often proved difficult and expensive to implement at the point of sale (POS), thus inhibiting expansion of programs in more retail food stores. Common POS transaction capabilities are needed rather than thousands of inefficient one-off individual solutions.

    "The federally funded National Grocers Association Foundation Technical Assistance Center (NGAF TA Center) in collaboration with the Nutrition Incentive Hub, wish to facilitate meetings whereby POS system developers, food retailers, associations and nutrition incentive program stakeholders collaborate to develop comprehensive nutrition incentive POS transaction solutions."

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    Continuing concerns about the pandemic have prompted the Global Market Development Center (GMDC)|Retail Tomorrow to announced a series of virtual events for 2021 that will build on its virtual General Merchandise (GM) Conference and Selfcare Summit events last October.

    According to GMDC, "Focused on general merchandise, selfcare, housewares and holiday seasonal categories and scheduled over several weeks, event attendees will have the flexibility to schedule strategic and discovery meetings throughout the year to more frequently engage with current and potential trading partners:

    "April 6-23: Spring GM and Selfcare Strategic Executive Connection (SEC) Meetings, in partnership with the International Housewares Association (IHA).

    "June 1-11: Summer GM and Selfcare Discovery Sessions (Buyer’s Choice)

    September 14-23: Fall GM and Selfcare Strategic Executive Connection (SEC) Meetings.

    "October 13-14: Holiday Seasonal Strategic and Discovery Sessions."

    “Last October, we shifted our legacy GM Conference and Selfcare Summit events from in-person to a virtual setting in an effort to navigate the ongoing pandemic, while continuing to deliver opportunities for our members to conduct business despite the disruption caused by COVID-19,” said Patrick Spear, president & CEO of GMDC|Retail Tomorrow. “Following our successful pivot, we gathered feedback from and listened to our members, evaluating what worked well during our virtual events and identifying where we could improve. We quickly discovered that more frequent, category-specific events better position our members to conduct business and grow in the ever-evolving COVID-19 landscape, and our unique capabilities to facilitate strategic and meaningful connections position us to fulfill this industry need.”

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    •  CNet reports that Amazon said yesterday that "the first of its new, Rivian-built electric delivery vans hit the road in Los Angeles, which marks the first of 100,000 to come. The time frame is truly remarkable as Amazon points out the van went from a few renderings in September 2019 to hitting the road for deliveries this month … While the companies prepare to unleash thousands more in the US this year across 15 more cities, Amazon's busy outfitting its buildings with charging stations to accommodate its zero-emissions delivery force. The entire fleet of electric vans will hit make their way to city streets through the end of this decade."

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Giant Eagle announced this week that it is expanding its distribution partnership with Fifth Season, a Pittsburgh-based vertical- and robotic-farming company.  Beginning immediately, the company said, "four SKUs of Fifth Season's ultra-fresh, locally grown leafy greens and ready-to-eat salads are available at more than 75 Giant Eagle and Market District locations across the Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh metro areas," an expansion from the 10 stores that previously carried the line.

    The companies note that "Fifth Season's vertical farms eliminate many of the pitfalls of conventional produce. Not only does removing the need for long-haul transportation greatly increase shelf-life, Fifth Season's produce is grown using 95 percent less water and 97 percent less land than conventional farming, making it far more environmentally friendly. Additionally, the greens are grown in a human-free grow room, creating a significantly lower risk for pathogens and other contaminants."

    •  In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "after a pause in 2020, Hy-Vee will open two full-line stores in the Twin Cities this year in Maplewood and Spring Lake Park.

    "The Spring Lake Park location that was scheduled to open in late 2019 will open this spring. The exterior shell of the 75,000-square-foot building at 8155 NE. Hwy. 65 was completed last year but has sat vacant. The Fast & Fresh convenience store and fuel station in front of the main store opened in 2019 … The new store at 2501 White Bear Av. in Maplewood's Maple Ridge Center will take over the space filled by Rainbow Foods since 1986."

    •  From USA Today:

    "More Sears and Kmart stores are set to close in the coming months.

    "Nearly two years after Transformco acquired the struggling retailers out of bankruptcy, at least 12 Sears and six Kmart stores are slated to close by mid-April. Liquidation sales are expected to end at a handful of additional stores by late February."

    According to the story, "The company has not posted a list of store closures since November 2019 when it announced 96 stores would shutter by February 2020. At that time, the company said it would operate 182 stores after the closures.

    "There have been additional closings but no large announcements have been made since 2019. A recent Forbes article estimates there will be about 30 Kmart and 36 Sears stores left after the new closings."

    This is like the longest death scene ever … 

    •  Reuters reports that a judge in Delaware has "rejected former McDonald’s Corp Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit by the fast-food chain seeking to recoup millions of dollars in severance pay because he allegedly covered up improper sexual relationships with employees."

    The story notes that "McDonald’s knew that he had engaged in one, non-physical consensual relationship with an employee when the company agreed to a severance package estimated at $41.8 million in November 2019," but when other relationships came to light, McDonald's sought to claw back some of his severance.

    The Reuters story continues:

    "The former CEO argued in his motion to dismiss that the restaurant company had evidence of his other sexual relationships with employees on its computer system so should have been aware of them."  However, the company argues that "after Easterbrook’s ouster, an anonymous tip led to the discovery of dozens of nude or sexually explicit photos of women, including three employees, that Easterbrook sent to his personal email account from his company account.

    "McDonald’s said Easterbrook deleted the emails shortly before his ouster, but they remained on a company server."

    The idea that Easterbrook is willing to go into court and, as opposed to arguing innocence, say out loud that he had the relationships but that the company should've known because all the evidence was on its computer network … well, this would argue for the fact that shame, indeed, is dead.

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    •  Acosta announced the hiring of Kelly Socia as the company's new Executive Vice President of Business Development for North America.  Most recently, Socia was Vice President, U.S. Leader for Nielsen.

    Published on: February 4, 2021

    I got the following email from an MNB reader about my criticism of Subway and suggestion that supermarkets not license out its products for sale in their stores:

    I have been involved in restaurant brands evolving into supermarket items for years and can tell you that there is a flip side to your concern that selling a Subway brand item in a supermarket encourages consumers to leave the supermarket and go to Subway.  Restaurants, particularly those operated by franchisees who are concerned that having their brand available at the supermarket takes people out of the restaurant and that is normally a huge hurdle to overcome at any restaurant brand owner.  The upside to both is that satisfying the consumer with the brand they want helps both the supermarket and the restaurant operator because it reinforces the satisfaction the consumer gets when using that brand.   It encourages consumers to go to restaurant when that is the convenient option and can be a good impulse buy for the supermarket when the consumer sees a brand there. 

    You made the assumption that Subway was looking to license the ready made sandwich, the market could be for a line of Subway sandwich sauces or breads or other items for the consumer to use when making their own sandwiches at home using products bought at the grocery and reinforcing the Subway brand even when eating at home.  Food for thought !!

    I don't much care what they're licensing out.  I'll stick by my original comment - that if supermarkets can't make a better sandwich or, for that matter sell better bread, meat and cheese, then maybe they should get out of the food business.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Supermarket subs aren’t great at all. Those deli people are so busy multitasking they don’t have the same kind of time or commitment as a sub shop that only does one thing. Plus the supermarket charges more. I used to use Subway a lot but decided five years ago to stop eating fast food.

    You're right - a lot of stores don't have the commitment.  Doesn't mean they can't have the commitment.  They just have to make the commitment to be better.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Just one point on Subway.  My son worked there while in high school and he would tell me horror stories on the quality of the ingredients.  Pressed Subway meat from ??? or Boars Head at your local supermarket or deli?  Doesn't seem like much of a question. 

    Agreed.


    Regarding the Jeff Bezos decision to step down from the CEO role at Amazon, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

    It could be as simple as a creative guy who likes to innovate, take things to new heights realizes that Amazon is finally a mature company and it's boring him. When I was in the newspaper business I was a fixer-upper publisher. I'd go to a broken newspaper, fix it and in two to three years, I'd move on. Why? I was not that good at running a mature, well-functioning paper. But I was good at getting the paper to that point and loved the excitement of that. I always made sure I had create successors, left a good management team. Maybe that's what this is about. Bezos needs a challenge. He needs to build, not maintain. 

    To your point about whether he moves on...I always told my successor at a paper not to call unless the world was about to end. I didn't share all my views of the paper, staff because I didn't want to pass on my prejudices. My message was "it's your paper now." Guess what? They didn't call....hire good people, turn them loose to learn and when you leave you don't have to look back.

    Chiming in on the discussion about mandated hazard pay, and kroger's decision to close two Southern California stores rather than absorb a $4/hour increase at units that were underperforming, one MNB reader wrote:

    As a Kroger employee in California  I can tell you Kroger does not value their employees.  Don’t just take my word for it, ask any Ralph’s /Food for Less employee). We got hazard pay for a few weeks early in the pandemic ($2.00/hr), and then nothing . They continually reduced all COVID health protocols until they didn’t follow any except masking which they didn’t particularly enforce. People got sick, spread it in the restrooms, lunch room, etc.  and they pretended nothing was happening … They still don’t care…

    Another precinct heard from.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Just wondering if the cities that are wanting to mandate “hazard pay” to grocery workers have already increased pay for their front line workers such as police, fire and EMT workers???

    Good question.