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    Published on: February 8, 2021

    Kroger announced on Friday that it will pay $100 to its employees who get the Covid-19 vaccine.

    According to the announcement, "The one-time $100 vaccine payment will be offered to all associates who receive the full manufacturer-recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and present appropriate proof of vaccination to their human resources representative. Associates who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical or religious reasons will have the option of completing an educational health and safety course to receive the payment."

    Kroger also said on Friday that "in addition to the new vaccine payment, the company also announced an additional $50 million investment to thank and reward associates across its 35-state footprint, including a $100 store credit and 1,000 fuel points for hourly frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates. Both rewards will be loaded to associates’ loyalty cards on Thursday, Feb. 11."

    KC's View:

    Kroger listed all the things it has done four its front line employees at the end of the press release, which almost certainly exhibits a certain sensitivity to the bad publicity it has been getting in some quarters for closing two California stores because of government-mandated hazard pay there.

    The supermarket industry in general has to be aware that there is going to be a bright spotlight on its practices.  The New York Times writes this morning about how "the race to distribute vaccines and the emergence of more contagious variants of Covid-19 have put a renewed spotlight on the plight of grocery workers in the United States. The industry has boomed in the past year as Americans have stayed home and avoided restaurants. But in most cases, that has not translated into extra pay for its workers. After Long Beach, Calif., mandated hazard pay for grocery workers, the grocery giant Kroger responded last week by saying it would close two locations.

    "And now, even as experts warn people to minimize time spent in grocery stores because of new coronavirus variants, the New York Times found only 13 states that had started specifically vaccinating those workers."

    A study by the Brookings Institution, which has researched retailers’ pay during the pandemic, found that "while 13 of the largest retail and grocery companies in the United States earned $17.7 billion more in the first three quarters of 2020 than they did a year earlier, most stopped offering extra compensation to their associates in the early summer. At the same time, some opted to buy back shares and gave big sums to executives."

    I've been saying this from the beginning.  It was all well and good for companies to refer to their employees as "essential."  But the real question is whether they treated their front line employees as essential before the pandemic, and how they would address their essential-ness once the pandemic has subsided.

    Published on: February 8, 2021

    As usual, last night's Super Bowl featured a panoply of commercials from companies rich enough to be able to afford the price tag.  Here are some of the Content Guy's personal favorites, which seems to have skewed toward car commercials.  (In addition to Amazon's ad for Alexa, which featured Michael B. Jordan, which we featured here last week and remained one of the best of the night.)

    There was Anheuser-Busch's "Let's Grab A Beer" spot, which connected despite the fact that the action it suggested seemed to be from another century.  (I'd love to just go grab a beer with someone.  Anyone.)

    Rocket Mortgage's commercial, featuring Tracy Morgan, made me laugh out loud and made its point.

    Cadillac's "Edgar Scissorhands" ad, which revisited Edward Scissorhands, featured Timothee Chalamet, and also Winona Ryder from the original film.  (Though I'm not sure it made any sense to anyone who hasn't seen the 31-year-old film.)

    GM's "No Way, Norway" ad, featuring Will Ferrell, had a nice payoff.  

    Indeed's"The Rising," about helping people get jobs, struck me as timely and well-produced.

    Toyota and Jeep both had terrific ads, even if I'm not sure how they're going to sell cars.  (Though watching Bruce Springsteen drive around in the middle of winter with the top down on his Jeep seemed pretty appealing.)  

    And, maybe because I like some of the people involved, the series of ads for Paramount+ struck me as funny.

    Clearly because there are so few movies coming to theaters, the studios didn't spend a lot of money promoting upcoming releases;  "upcoming" is sort of a vague term these days in the movie business.  (It was a year ago, if I remember correctly, that there was a terrific commercial for the new James Bond movie that was coming out in April 2020.  It still hasn't come out because of the pandemic.  No Bond commercial this year.)

    Two other notes…

    These ads didn't run during the Super Bowl, but they were weekend favorites of mine nonetheless.

    First, there was this ad that was crafted by - and ran during - last night's "Late Show with Stephen Colbert."  In his introduction, which you can see at about 2:05 into this clip, Colbert notes that only big companies could afford to spend the millions necessary to advertise during the game, but it was small businesses that have really been decimated by the pandemic.  And so, "The Late Show" offered a commercial for Foggy Pine Books, in Boone, North Carolina … featuring Sam Elliott's voiceover and a celebrity endorser.

    And, on a mostly mediocre "Saturday Night Live," there was this commercial for Zillow, which hit a little too close to home for a lot of people.

    Published on: February 8, 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 27,611,403 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus … resulting in 474,933 deaths … and 17,354,388 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 106,736,059 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,328,503 resultant fatalities … and 78,436,334 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 31.9 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 9.3 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 59.3 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. fell below 100,000 for the first time this year, and hospitalizations continued to decline, as vaccination rollouts picked up speed.

    "The U.S. reported just under 87,000 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and published early Monday. The data may update later. Overall, more than 27 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for Covid-19 since the pandemic began, accounting for more than a quarter of all confirmed cases world-wide, according to Johns Hopkins data.

    "Hospitalizations because of Covid-19 fell to 81,439 as of Sunday, marking the 26th consecutive daily decline, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of Covid-19 patients requiring treatment in intensive care units also fell. As of Sunday, there were 16,616 Covid-19 patients in ICUs across the country, the lowest level since Nov. 19, according to the Covid Tracking Project."

    •  The New York Times reports that "South Africa has halted use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine after evidence emerged that the vaccine did not protect clinical-trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious virus variant that was first seen in the country.

    "The findings were a devastating blow to the country’s efforts to combat the pandemic.

    "Scientists in South Africa said on Sunday that a similar problem held among people who had been infected by earlier versions of the coronavirus: The immunity they acquired naturally did not appear to protect them from mild or moderate cases when reinfected by the variant, known as B.1.351.

    "The developments, coming nearly a week after a million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in South Africa, were an enormous setback for the country, where more than 46,000 people are known to have died from the virus. And they were another sign of the dangers posed by new mutations. The B.1.351 variant has already spread to at least 32 countries, including the United States."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Vaccination drives hold out the promise of curbing Covid-19, but governments and businesses are increasingly accepting what epidemiologists have long warned: The pathogen will circulate for years, or even decades, leaving society to coexist with Covid-19 much as it does with other endemic diseases like flu, measles, and HIV.

    "The ease with which the coronavirus spreads, the emergence of new strains and poor access to vaccines in large parts of the world mean Covid-19 could shift from a pandemic disease to an endemic one, implying lasting modifications to personal and societal behavior, epidemiologists say."

    Indeed, the Journal writes, "a new and potentially lucrative Covid-19 industry is emerging quickly, as businesses invest in goods and services such as air-quality monitoring, filters, diagnostic kits and new treatments."

    Does this mean that supermarkets should begin creating permanent coronavirus sections that offer such products?  Maybe.  In fact, maybe the real question is which retailer will be the first to build this new reality into its sets.

    •  The Washington Post reports that "the coronavirus variant that shut down much of the United Kingdom is spreading rapidly across the United States, outcompeting other strains and doubling its prevalence among confirmed infections every week and a half, according to new research made public Sunday.

    "The report, posted on the preprint server MedRxiv and not yet peer-reviewed or published in a journal, comes from a collaboration of many scientists and provides the first hard data to support a forecast issued last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed the variant becoming dominant in the United States by late March.

    "The spread of the variant, officially known as B.1.1.7, and the threat of other mutant strains of the virus, have added urgency to the effort to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The variant is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus and may also be more lethal, although that is far less certain.

    "The mutations do not change the fundamental way the virus spreads, and masks and social distancing will continue to be effective in limiting infections, disease experts point out."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "nearly a year into the pandemic’s gutting of the economy, businesses across the country are increasingly charging coronavirus-related fees, ranging from a $5 disinfection charge in a hair salon to $1,200 for extra food and cleaning in a senior living center, which are often undisclosed until the customer gets a bill.

    "According to a survey by the Washington Post of attorney general offices and financial departments in 52 states and territories, U.S. consumers in 29 states have filed 510 complaints of coronavirus-related surcharges at dentist offices, senior living facilities, hair salons and restaurants.

    "Hidden fees are a legitimate concern for consumers, especially for economically vulnerable Americans or senior citizens without much income, but not every state protects consumers from them. While medical insurance law in some states requires health-care providers to offer refunds to patients who have been unfairly charged for personal protective equipment, other states allow for businesses to tack on extra fees, as long as they’re disclosed upfront.

    "It’s unclear exactly how widespread coronavirus surcharges are, as anecdotal social media posts of customer receipts and reports filed with attorneys general and state consumer protection departments are the only way to track them. But health-care providers and residential facilities are some of the worst-affected sectors."

    Some people will be able to change their behavior so they don't have to do business with companies perceived as exploiting them, but some won't have any choice … and this will lead to ever-more-public investigations by states and municipalities.  If you are a government official looking to get re-elected, you can't go wrong by being perceived as pro-consumer … especially if it means fighting off the vultures trying to pick the meat off beleaguered people's bones.

    •  Axios reports that "on the eve of Super Bowl weekend, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote President Biden to tell him that each of the league's 32 teams 'will make its stadium available for mass vaccinations of the general public' … Goodell wrote in the letter, dated Thursday, that this can be done swiftly 'because many of our clubs have offered their facilities previously as COVID testing centers as well as election sites over the past several months'."

    Published on: February 8, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From TechCrunch:

    "Boxed, the New York-based online retailer that sells and delivers bulk-sized groceries, makes its foray into Asia by partnering with Aeon, one of Asia’s largest brick-and-mortar retail operators.

    "Unlike its consumer-focused business in the U.S., which has been described as 'Costco for millennials,' Boxed is exporting its nascent software-as-a-service solution to Aeon in Malaysia. As part of the tie-up, the American startup will create an end-to-end e-commerce solution to aid Aeon’s digital transformation, which includes a storefront platform and inventory-picking software."

    •  The Dallas Morning News reports that "Amazon, which already occupies more North Texas warehouse space than any other company, is announcing six more Dallas-Fort Worth delivery stations.

    "These shipping hubs, which average between 150,000 and 250,000 square feet, are smaller than the huge regional distribution systems and are part of what the company calls its 'last mile of Amazon’s order process'."

    •  Reuters reports that Amazon "has ordered more than 700 delivery trucks that run on compressed natural gas, as it tries to reduce its carbon footprint … The trucks will be used for deliveries between warehouses and distribution centers."

    The story notes that "Amazon aims to have net-zero carbon emissions across the whole company by 2040. And it aims to have 50% of all shipments be net zero by 2030."

    •  The BBC reports that Tesco has joined with Morrisons, Asda and Waterstones to ask the government there to impose a one percent sales tax on online competitors, saying that "the current system puts retailers with large estates at a disadvantage to online firms."

    The story notes that "retailers have not had to pay property-based business rates since the start of the pandemic.  However, the tax is due to restart in April."

    The BBC writes that "the chief executives of 18 companies and groups have written to the chancellor warning that a return to the old system 'will hamper the recovery of the retail sector post-pandemic, potentially putting thousands of jobs at risk'."

    Published on: February 8, 2021

    •  Reuters reports that "a federal judge in Texas has dismissed Walmart Inc’s lawsuit against the U.S. government where the retailer was seeking clarity over the responsibilities of pharmacists in filling opioid prescriptions.

    "Walmart said on Friday it will appeal."

    Walmart's suit against the government was seen as a pre-emptive attack to blunt the impact of a suit it anticipated would be filed against it, alleging that Walmart was complicit in the opioid epidemic because of a lax approach to filling prescriptions.  The US Department of Justice filed those charges late last year.

    Published on: February 8, 2021

    •  KVOA-TV News reports that "Teamster drivers and warehouse workers at a critical Albertsons grocery distribution center have voted by 98 percent to authorize a strike to protest the company for what the Union calls a 'failure'  to address workers’ COVID-19 safety concerns and to demand that the company 'stop violating federal labor laws,' it announced in a news release Thursday.  

    "The roughly 900,000 square foot distribution center, just outside of Phoenix, services approximately 175 Albertsons, Safeway and Vons grocery stores throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada, and El Paso, Texas, according to the release."

    Albertsons has said that it regrets the strike vote, but committed to working with organized labor to resolve the issues.

    Published on: February 8, 2021

    •  George P. Shultz, one of just two people to hold four different Cabinet positions, has passed away.  He was 100, and was serving as Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

    The Washington Post writes that Shultz was at various times the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Labor Secretary, Treasury Secretary (all in the Nixon administration) and Secretary of State (in the Reagan administration). Only Elliot Richardson had held more Cabinet posts."

    Just last December, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Shultz penned an op-ed piece for the Washington Post in which he wrote about what he'd learned in his life.

    "I’ve learned much over that time," he wrote, "but looking back, I’m struck that there is one lesson I learned early and then relearned over and over: Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details."

    It was a lovely piece, and you c an read it here.

    •  Christopher Plummer, the versatile Canadian actor who played virtually every major part in the Shakespeare canon, but also could play a Klingon warrior in a Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Mike Wallace in The Insider, and Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, has passed away.  He was 91.

    Variety notes that Plummer "won an Oscar in 2012 for his supporting turn in the film Beginners, becoming the oldest actor ever to win the Academy Award for supporting actor."

    Plummer was one of those actors who simply got better with time.  This scene from his Star Trek movie is one of my favorites in the series;  he has that great line, In space, all warriors are cold warriors."  If you're not familiar with it, he's the Klingon in the patch sitting next to William Shatner.  (Bit of trivia: when Shatner was a young actor, he understudied Plummer in Henry V at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.)

    Published on: February 8, 2021

    In Super Bowl LV, 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs.  Brady earned not just the seventh championship ring of his storied career, but also the seventh Super Bowl MVP award.

    KC's View:

    For the record, I'd like to say here that I was completely wrong about the National Football League season … I never thought they'd be able to get through the season because of Covid-19, and they did.  I was wrong