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    Published on: February 16, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    Given that there are so many reasons to be depressed about life these days, it seems only fair to remind everyone to fear not: it can get worse.

    I was inspired to offer that sunny outlook from watching John Oliver’s most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, which focused on the incredible likelihood that the entire covid-19 crisis is only a precursor to worse things. As Oliver, who manages to combine sarcasm, information, profanity and humor in a unique way, explained, all the factors that likely created covid are both at play and, in many ways, are growing more significant.

    Rather than delve into his examination of the virus, let’s consider the parallels his arguments offer for business, two of which are very significant and fairly obvious.

    The first is that something new and challenging is always just beyond the horizon. Viruses are always mutating to find new paths to survival and, in the process, cause human misery. We’re already seeing that with Covid-19. 

    Similarly, competition in business is always evolving to create higher levels of consumer expectations and greater challenges to survival. That’s why even the most modest modern supermarket is in countless ways (services, technology or supply chain) far more formidable than anything that existed a generation ago. Competition simply would not allow anything less than that to survive.

    And with that in mind, we need remember that like viruses, competition will always somehow get stronger and more challenging. Amazon may be an enormous threat today, but no doubt there will be something even more innovative coming along in the near future. There’s no way of knowing what it is, but that thought needs to drive all of us to constantly search for ways to constantly improve.

    The second point Oliver made, that in many ways was his most important, also easily translates to business. Oliver argued that as covid is controlled no one should too quickly move to put this entire unhappy period in the past. Rather, he urged his viewers to use this painful moment as fuel to heighten our awareness of what has happened and to work tirelessly to never let it happen again.

    I would argue that businesses need to heed that same advice. The pandemic has created a wide range of challenges and vastly accelerated changes in business operation and rather than rush back to the way things were, we need consider the lessons of this period.

    As I have written before, I believe we will see substantial discussion about sku rationalization following the supply chain challenges created by covid. Once shopping returns to normal patterns, there’s no reason to ignore the terrible lessons of just 11 months ago.

    Likewise, there are lessons to glean from how staffers performed in this crisis to learn how we can build on what was done so valiantly. And we certainly should learn from how shoppers reacted to all of this to determine what changes could lead to permanent improvements.

    None of these ideas may be cheap or painless, but that again goes to one of Oliver’s points. As he said, the cost of pre-emption might be significant, but they pale next to the economic casualties of the covid shutdowns. An ounce of prevention, the old adage reminds us, is worth a pound of cure and in that light, the pain of the past year might help lead to some interesting long-term decision making.

    Of course, none of this is will be fast, easy or cheap, but that makes none of it less important. In fact, it could be positioned as the best possible way to lesson pain—economic or health-wise—for the future.

    After all, something new is always coming.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    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: February 16, 2021

    KC was going to talk about John Oliver's pandemic-centric comments this morning, but Michael Sansolo beat him to it.  So KC instead wants to follow up on Michael's comments with an additional thought.

    Published on: February 16, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    In a pandemic that has claimed many victims in the restaurant community, there is one format that seems to have benefitted by the change in consumer behavior.

    The pizza parlor.

    The New York Times reports that "for many Americans, pizza has been a perfect pandemic option, a comfort food for a time that is anything but comfortable. Whether a thin-crust version topped with fresh vegetables or a stuffed-crust pie piled high with sausage and pepperoni, pizza has checked many boxes during these strange times, primarily because it travels well and can easily feed — sometimes fairly inexpensively — an entire family. Over the first nine months of 2020, the combined revenue of Domino’s and Papa John’s grew so much that it was roughly equivalent to their selling about 30 million more large cheese pizzas than they had the year before."

    The Times goes on: 

    "In a year when restaurants across the country have struggled to stay afloat, with many unable to cover rent payments and pay employees because of government-mandated shutdowns, those that dished up pizza have generally fared better. Sales of pizza grew as much as 4 percent last year, according to Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. Pizza and chicken are the only foods categories expected to have grown."

    There probably are a number of reasons for this.  One is that unlike a lot of restaurants, pizza parlors were already in the take-out and delivery business … and so the effects of the pandemic were not as dramatic for them.

    At the same time, never underestimate the appeal of comfort food … and pizza is the ultimate comfort food.

    We probably eat pizza once a week, and have taken it one step farther … as often as not, we make our own pizza, which has become a nice family activity at a time when we've all been spending way too much time together.  All in all, a wonderful Eye-Opener … and the kind of thing for which retailers ought to just not just stock the raw materials, but also ought to market aggressively.

    As in many things, it is important to be more than just a source of product, but also a resource for information and inspiration.

    Published on: February 16, 2021

    The Washington Post this morning reports that "state lawmakers across the country are exploring a range of new taxes targeting Amazon, Facebook, Google and other Internet giants, seeking to capture some of Silicon Valley’s eye-popping profits and soaring share prices in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic."

    At the head of the list is Maryland, which has just implemented "a first-in-the-nation tax on online advertising on Friday" that "could raise $250 million to fund state education restructuring initiatives, its principal backers estimate."

    The legislature imposed the tax by overriding a veto by Gov. Larry Hogan, and the Post writes that it "has drawn sharp opposition from a wide array of businesses, including Amazon, Facebook and Google, which have lobbied through industry coalitions, including the Internet Association. The group and its allies have blitzed the airwaves with ads in recent months, and they are expected to support an imminent lawsuit to stop the tax from taking effect. They argue Maryland is prohibited under federal law from assessing such levies on Internet companies in the first place."

    The Post points out that a wide variety of states - from New York to Kansas to Indiana to Washington - are considering various tax proposals that would attempt to tap into the "eye-popping profits and soaring share prices" that have resulted from changed consumer behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.  "Democrats and Republicans alike have put forward a host of measures that seek to take more direct aim at Silicon Valley’s bottom line," he Post writes.  "MultiState, a government relations firm that tracks local legislatures, says it is eyeing at least 17 bills in 10 states that aim to impose taxes on tech giants, their profits, the data they collect and the services they offer."

     KC'S View:

    I'm sure there will be a lot of business people out there who ordinarily might object to higher taxes, but who will find something to like in new taxes that hit tech companies that they see as having had unfair advantages.

    But that said, if we're going to treat all companies the same, we actually have to treat all companies the same.  Though the problem is that some of these tech companies are inventing new business models and revenue streams, and so apples-to-apples comparisons are hard.

    Published on: February 16, 2021

    The Washington Post this morning reports:

    "Some of the climate impacts of a grocery store trip are obvious, like the fuel it takes to get there and the electricity that keeps its lights glowing, conveyor belts moving and scanners beeping. But then there are the invisible gases seeping out into the atmosphere when you reach for your ice cream of choice.

    "In nearly every supermarket in America, a network of pipes transports compressed refrigerants that keep perishable goods cold. Most of these chemicals are hydrofluorocarbons — greenhouse gases thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide — which often escape through cracks or systems that were not properly installed. Once they leak, they are destined to pollute the atmosphere."

    The federal government now is looking at the elimination of these chemicals as one  way of addressing "climate pollutants," and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "issued a public call last week for companies to report production and import data on HFCs."  The fact is that "under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which passed in December, the EPA must phase down the production and import of these potent greenhouse gases 85 percent over the next 15 years."

    You can read the entire story here.

    Published on: February 16, 2021

    The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it has "approved a final consent order settling charges that glue maker Chemence, Inc., and its company president, James Cooke, supplied pre-labeled and pre-packaged glues with deceptive 'Made in USA' claims to its trade customers for use in marketing the strong, fast-acting glues under retailer brand names. As part of the settlement Chemence and Cooke are required to pay $1.2 million to the FTC, the highest monetary judgment ever for a Made in USA case."

    According to the announcement, "Under the terms of the final order, Chemence and Cooke are prohibited from making unqualified U.S.-origin claims for any product, unless they can show that the product’s final assembly or processing - and all significant processing - takes place in the United States and that all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the United States. Under the order, any qualified Made in USA claims must include a clear and conspicuous disclosure about the extent to which the product contains foreign parts, ingredients, components, or processing."

    KC's View:

    That may be the highest fine ever in a Made-in-the-USA case, but there's part of me that thinks it isn't nearly enough - companies that outright lie about where their products are from (and what's in them, for that matter), ought to be hit with the toughest possible sanctions and marginalization.

    Published on: February 16, 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 28,317,703 total confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 498,203 deaths, and 18,356,625 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 109,735,851 confirmed coronavirus cases … 2,420,401 fatalities … and 84,299,843 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    It seems certain that this week, less than a year after warnings about the pandemic began to be sounded, we're going to pass a half-million Covid-19-related deaths in the US.  Who could've imagined such a thing in February 2020?


    •  The Washington Post reports this morning that "at least 38.8 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 14.3 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 70.1 million doses have been distributed."

    This means that 4.3 percent of the US population has been fully vaccinated, with 11.7 percent partially vaccinated.


    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. fell to their lowest level in nearly four months over Presidents Day weekend, and daily reported deaths declined sharply from a recent spike.

    "There were more than 52,000 new cases reported for Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, down from 64,938 a day earlier and 89,727 a week earlier … There were 65,455 people hospitalized in the U.S. on Monday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, the latest in more than a month of daily decreases."


    •  Axios reports that "CEOs - more trusted than government - want a larger role in what may be the biggest countrywide undertaking of our lifetimes: the mass rollout of coronavirus vaccines … A slew of big businesses are offering up the resources they have, including technical expertise and physical space. But there's no coordinated effort at the federal level to tap the full potential of the private sector’s muscle."

    According to the story, "Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells Axios there's an 'overwhelming desire' from businesses to help with the vaccine rollout.

    ""It extends from those already involved with logistics and production to retailers, financial services companies. They're all saying, 'What can we do to help get to the goal of getting everyone vaccinated?'"


    •  Axios reports that "the giant surge of coronavirus cases over the fall and winter hit white Americans disproportionately hard, narrowing the racial disparities in Covid deaths."  However, "when age is factored in, Americans of color still have a significantly higher death rate than white Americans, meaning people of color are dying at younger ages."

    At the same time, the story says, "Racial disparities have already appeared in the vaccination effort, with communities of color initially falling behind.  If these disparities persist, particularly as new variants of the virus become more prevalent in the U.S., the gap between different racial groups' death rate will likely widen in the coming months."


    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "last week, 21 retail chains and pharmacy networks started administering those doses, including CVS, Walgreens, Kroger and grocers in all 50 states. The government initially plans to give around a million doses a week directly to pharmacies."

    Among the retailers administering the vaccine are CVS, Publix, Kroger, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, Costco, Albertsons, Hy-Vee, Meijer, H-E-B, and Winn-Dixie.


    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines for school districts that want to reopen their buildings for in-person learning, pointing to five key mitigation strategies - requiring masks, physical distancing, handwashing, maintaining clean facilities, and contract tracing - that are necessary, but not pointing to teacher vaccinations as being a necessary component.

    CNN reports that "about 89% of children in the US live in a county considered a red zone with high levels of Covid-19 transmission under new school opening guidelines shared by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, according to a CNN analysis of federal data.

    "Red, or 'high transmission,' communities are defined by the CDC as counties where there were at least 100 new Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people or a test positivity rate of at least 10% during the past seven days.

    "When the CDC guidance was released on Friday, closer to 99% of children lived in red zones, according to CNN’s analysis. The CDC says school districts should re-assess weekly, noting that transmission levels will change over time. "


    •  The New York Times reports that "people with dementia had significantly greater risk of contracting the coronavirus, and they were much more likely to be hospitalized and die from it, than people without dementia, a new study of millions of medical records in the United States has found.

    "Their risk could not be entirely explained by characteristics common to people with dementia that are known risk factors for Covid-19: old age, living in a nursing home and having conditions like obesity, asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. After researchers adjusted for those factors, Americans with dementia were still twice as likely to have gotten Covid-19 as of late last summer."


    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Pediatricians are warning that the coronavirus pandemic’s protracted disruption of in-person schooling, sports and other activities is leading to weight gain that could have long-lasting impacts on children’s health.

    "Students are snacking more and exercising less, and nutritionists and doctors who study obesity worry the pandemic is putting children at greater risk for type-two diabetes and asthma, among other health concerns."

    Not just kids.  Oy.


    •  The New York Times reports that "doctors across the country have been seeing a striking increase in the number of young people with the condition … called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C. Even more worrisome, they say, is that more patients are now very sick than during the first wave of cases, which alarmed doctors and parents around the world last spring."

    The Times writes that "the reasons are unclear. The surge follows the overall spike of Covid cases in the United States after the winter holiday season, and more cases may simply increase chances for severe disease to emerge. So far, there’s no evidence that recent coronavirus variants are responsible, and experts say it is too early to speculate about any impact of variants on the syndrome.

    "The condition remains rare. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 2,060 cases in 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, including 30 deaths. The median age was 9, but infants to 20-year-olds have been afflicted. The data, which is complete only through mid-December, shows the rate of cases has been increasing since mid-October.

    "While most young people, even those who became seriously ill, have survived and gone home in relatively healthy condition, doctors are uncertain whether any will experience lingering heart issues or other problems."


    •  And, because one pandemic isn't enough, Fox News reports that "Guinea, the West Africa country, announced Sunday that the Ebola virus has become an epidemic after the deaths of three people and hospitalizations of four others, a report said … The last outbreak ended up killing about 11,300. The country of 12 million, which is one of the world’s poorest, is in the process of erecting treatment centers to deal with the potential of an increase in patients. The outbreak has occurred in the southeast region of the country. Health officials there believe the outbreak started at a funeral."

    Published on: February 16, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The New York Times reports that "Amazon sued New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, on Friday in an attempt to stop her from bringing charges against the company over safety concerns at two of its warehouses in New York City.

    "The company also asked the court to force Ms. James to declare that she does not have authority to regulate workplace safety during the Covid-19 pandemic or to investigate allegations of retaliation against employees who protest their working conditions.

    "In the case, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Amazon said Ms. James’s office had been investigating pandemic safety concerns raised by employees at its large fulfillment center on Staten Island and at a delivery depot in Queens. It said Ms. James had 'threatened to sue' Amazon if it did not agree to her demands, including subsidizing bus service, reducing worker productivity requirements, disgorging profits and reinstating Christian Smalls, a worker Amazon fired in the spring."


    •  The BBC reports that an advocacy group called Which? is saying that "fake reviews for products sold on Amazon's Marketplace are being sold online 'in bulk' … The consumer group found 10 websites selling fake reviews from £5 each and incentivising positive reviews in exchange for payment or free products.

    "It suggested the firm was facing an 'uphill struggle' against a 'widespread fake reviews industry'."

    Amazon's response:  "We remove fake reviews and take action against anyone involved in abuse."


    •  The Los Angeles Times reports that Walt Disney Co. said that its streaming service, Disney+, now has close to 95 million subscribers, up from the 86.8 million that it reported back in December.  This is penetration that in kits original projections Disney said would take four years to reach.

    While the pandemic has been injurious to much of Disney's business model, the streaming service has been an enormous success, and the company recently announced a major commitment to creating new and proprietary content that can be seen only on Disney+.

    "Our goal is to increasingly put the consumer in charge and let them decide when and how they want to enjoy our one-of-a-kind entertainment offerings," Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek said in a call with analysts.

    "Put the consumer in charge."  There's a sentence that ought to be front and center of every retail mission statement.

    Published on: February 16, 2021

    •  In Texas, one of the states hit hardest by the brutal winter storm making its way across the country, the Dallas Morning News reports that "Walmart closed 415 stores and Sam’s Clubs and put together an interactive map to help Texas shoppers determine if their neighborhood location was open or not … Walmart recommended customers check an interactive map it’s continuing to update before venturing out. Some closed stores continued to operate curbside pickup and delivery."

    At the same time, the story says, Amazon said it "will continue monitoring the storm’s effects in Texas, and directed customers to check order status on its app or Amazon.com … Amazon will continue to take orders, but the delivery promise date may be delayed depending on the item and location."

    Both Kroger and Albertsons made the decision to close their various stores in Texas early on Monday, with expectations that they would be able to return to regular operating hours today.


    •  Fox Business reports that "the Mexican arm of drinks company Anheuser-Busch InBev accused U.S. firm Constellation Brands  in a lawsuit filed on Monday of breaching a deal on the use of the Corona brand name by applying it to a product other than beer.

    "Constellation has used the name for its Corona Hard Seltzer, a sparkling water with alcohol and flavoring, one of several seltzer drinks that have become very popular in the United States."

    The story says that "Grupo Modelo filed its suit in the U.S. district court of the southern district of New York on Monday, according to a court filing … When AB InBev took full control of Grupo Modelo in 2013, it agreed with U.S. antitrust regulators to sell Grupo Modelo’s business in the United States to Constellation, including the Corona brand. AB InBev retained rights to Corona and other Modelo brands in Mexico and elsewhere.

    "Modelo said the licensing arrangement for Corona only extended to beer and did not include hard seltzer."


    •  USA Today reports that "the Jaguar luxury brand will transition to selling only electric vehicles in another step for the automotive industry away from gasoline.

    "Jaguar Land Rover, a British-based manufacturer owned by Indian automaker Tata Motors, announced Monday that the brand will make the shift beginning in 2025.  The company said it also expects 60% of Land Rover sales to be electric vehicles by 2030.

    "The move comes amid gradual advancements in battery technology that are making electric vehicles cheaper and enabling longer range on a charge. It also marks a response to stricter carbon emissions standards throughout the world."

    Published on: February 16, 2021

    Last week  we had a story about how a UK activist group, ShareAction, was pressuring Tesco to carry more healthy food.  This prompted an exchange with an MNB reader who objected to such efforts by the activists, believing that the it is up to consumers to decide what they want and retailers to sell it to them - and that the group was trying to prevent shoppers from taking responsibility for their own decisions and actions.

    I disagreed, writing:

    This isn't about not taking responsibility for your own actions.  It is just about trying to pressure a retailer to make more healthy food available.

    On the scale of things that are acceptable vs. unacceptable, for me this ranks low on the list of what people shouldn't do.

    But the MNB reader who made the original comment wasn't buying:

    Selling a higher percentage of “healthier food” is not the function of a political group.  It is the function of the interaction between the retailer and the consumer.  Bottom line, the retailer will sell what the consumer wants.  If the consumer wants something different, then they go to another store.  That will resonate louder than any political push.  The consumer should carry the direction of the retailer’s offerings.

    Example:   I want to buy low fat coffee creamer.  But the store I go to, does not carry low fat coffee creamer.  I then can choose to shop at a different store, or not care and buy the full fat item.  Me, the consumer is guiding the selection of that store/chain, not an advocacy group. 

    Look, all that is going to happen anyway … but that doesn't mean that activist groups aren't going to get involved.  Or shouldn't, for that matter.

    Of course food is connected to politics - in the best sense of that term, not the dysfunctional variety largely on display these days.  I have no problem with that.  Politics should be about how people work in concert to influence the decision making process both in the public and private sectors.

    Ideally, anyway.


    I prompted a discussion last week about whether smokers, since they are high-risk, should get priority treatment when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine;  I thought not, though I also think it is complicated.

    One MNB reader responded:

    Wow. Thanks for complicating my morning with your thoughts!

    How about middle of the road? I had to answer all kinds of questions about my conditions to get my first shot. Admittedly, I am 74 so I am in an approved age group but I still had to answer medical questions. If a smoker has been treated for any kind of lung issue related to smoking maybe that is the check point. Not all smokers display symptoms of lung, breathing issues etc. So, limit to those who have been tested, treated for those issues. Yeah, people could lie. But I don't think most would. 

    I made the comment that as far as I am concerned, people who sell tobacco for a living ought to go to the back of the line.  Prompting another reader to write:

    If we make the case that those "selling and marketing" tobacco products should go last for the vaccine.....does that not mean most of your viewers would fit that list?

    Retailers certainly have the option not to carry these products, but overwhelmingly do carry them, surely for the purpose of profits, ignoring the possible moral dilemma you suggest, that of selling a harmful product to the masses.  Such as Dick's Sporting Goods chose not to sell guns, grocery + C-Stores have the option of not selling tobacco products.  So where do they fit in your Covid vaccine line?

    Actually, I would argue that food retailers ought to get out of the business of selling tobacco.  A lot have - though a cynic might argue that with time, tobacco products have become a much smaller sales and profit generator.