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    Published on: February 18, 2021

    Today, we feature an extended conversation with Carl Jorgensen, the former director of thought leadership-wellness at Daymon Worldwide, who has a new mission - helping companies connect with farmers focused on sustainable organic and regenerative agriculture.  The goal is to build expanded coalitions that will drive the food industry in a healthier direction … in all the meanings of that word … and to craft a narrative that will appeal to a growing shopper segment.

    Enjoy.

    You can find out more about Carl here, or can reach him at carlwjorgen@gmail.com.

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    In Houston, Texas, where residents continued to be pummeled by a winter storm for which the state's electric grid seemed largely unprepared, there is an example of how a retailer can play a real role in community-building.

    Fox News reports on how Jim McIngvale, the owner of Gallery Furniture who is known as "Mattress Mack," has opened his furniture showroom to people in need, offering them shelter and allowing them to sleep on the couches and beds on display in the facility.

    "We’ll get through this," McIngvale says.  "We’re here to benefit the community that’s what we’ve always done and we have a responsibility for the well-being of the community, we’re trying to live up to that."   Mcingvale says "that he expects 100 or so more to come to his business over the next couple of days, with many already there enjoying free food, a reprieve from the cold, and a place to get ready before heading off to work."

    This isn't a one-time effort.  Fox News points out that McIngvale did the same thing in 2017 "when he helped Texans who were left homeless by Hurricane Harvey."

    That's what I call an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    Walmart-owned Sam's Club said yesterday that it has launched an "automated and 100% touchless associate health screening kiosk for its associates. The new health screening kiosk, currently rolling out to clubs across the country, enables a safer, quicker and more reliable COVID-19 screening procedure. The contactless kiosk is equipped with patent-pending technology including: a built-in body temperature scanner, a camera sensor able to verify identity from a distance and a digital health screening questionnaire activated by hand motion."

    Here's the interesting part:  it is proprietary technology, developed internally by a Sam's Club team.

    Ginese Colletti, Director of Software Engineering, says that "few health screening options on the market are truly touchless. We knew if we could create our own first-class screening technology and make our kiosk completely contactless, Sam’s Club would be able to lower risk of exposure for our associates, streamline the screening process and seamlessly grow the product."

    Product manager Ben Ellison says that the company believes that "the need for health screening technology will remain well after the current pandemic. By investing in foundational systems and establishing a culture of wellness now, Sam’s Club enables boundless opportunity to evolve and scale our proprietary technology in the future."

    You can see more about the technology here.

    KC's View:

    It'd be a shame if Walmart/Sam's cannot find a way to make this available outside the company … like maybe to airports and schools and other places where we depend on the health of the broader population.  I'd love to see that, and not just for employees.  Want to screen me before I get on an airplane or walk into a store?  I'm good.

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    There is a good piece in the New York Times that focuses on the labor discontent at many of Amazon's distribution centers, starting with facilities that it runs in California.  Here's the setup:

    "Nowhere in the nation is the astonishing rise of Amazon more evident than in the Inland Empire, whose two counties, San Bernardino and Riverside, are now home to 4.6 million people. The first Amazon warehouse, known as ONT2, landed there like a spaceship in 2012, with fewer than 3,000 employees. Since then, Amazon has become the largest private employer in the region, with 14 facilities and two logistics air hubs. The company’s swishy logo flashes past on vans and trucks and passes overhead on planes. In the Inland Empire, more than 40,000 people now work for Amazon warehouses as pickers, packers, sorters, unloaders and managers, as well as independent drivers, contract truckers, pilots and aircraft technicians. The company is so enmeshed in the community that it can simultaneously be a TV channel, grocery store, home security system, boss, personal data collector, high school career track, internet cloud provider and personal assistant."

    But as the pandemic swept through the state, consumers became ever more dependent on a company with "a warehouse culture hyper-optimized for efficient logistics."  But in the eyes of some employees, that same culture was not hyper-optimized for their safety:

    "As warehouse workers started getting sick, conversations online turned fearful, echoing sentiments on the ground … But something unexpected happened, too:

    "Those who might not have complained about working conditions or considered themselves activists started speaking up. Amazon had long fended off workplace organizing, holding anti-union meetings that employees were required to attend. And while Amazon has often acknowledged that workers have the right to unionize, the company has tried to persuade them that doing so would introduce an unnecessary middleman. But Covid-19 proved to be a breaking point. Some workers were no longer willing to make concessions to a company that they felt was jeopardizing their safety and potentially their lives."

    In the coming weeks, the Times writes, "roughly 6,000 Amazon workers in Alabama will begin tallying the votes on whether to form the first U.S. union of its kind in the company’s 25-year history. Even if they do, though, the question remains: Will the unprecedented unrest caused by Covid-19 turn into a durable movement inside the company?"

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    An improving US economy was reflected yesterday in U.S. Census Bureau numbers yesterday that indicated overall retail sales in January were up 5.3 percent seasonally adjusted from December and up 7.4 percent year-over-year. 

    Retail sales in December were down one percent from the previous month, though up 2.5 percent compared to a year earlier.

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) attributed the improvement to government stimulus checks that "provided a boost" and "momentum from 2020’s record holiday season."

    “January’s retail sales numbers reflect a very strong start for consumers and retailers as we look ahead to a critical year curbing the global pandemic and strengthening our economic recovery,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.

    “Consumers and the economy as a whole remain in good shape despite unprecedented adversity over the past year, and congressional action has been a lifeline for households and businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We’ve convened retail leaders and communicated directly with the White House that it is critically important for the government to work with retailers to get the vaccine into communities and administered as quickly and as safely as possible.”

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    Bloomberg has a story about how Nate Faust, described as a "former Walmart logistics expert," is rolling out "a delivery service called Olive that consolidates orders from fashion labels including Michael Kors, Coach and Stuart Weitzman. Olive will gather items from more than 100 brands at its two hubs, where boxes will be recycled while the goods are sent on to consumers at no extra charge in a reusable container."

    According to the story, Faust "acknowledges that it will take longer for buyers to receive their orders. But he’s betting that the affluent, frequent shoppers who drive the majority of online fashion purchases won’t mind waiting a few extra days to get all their purchases in one tidy package, with no boxes to slice open. Unwanted items can be returned in the same tote at their doorstep."

    The story goes on:  "Olive, which operates as both an app and a browser extension that’s layered on top of its partner websites, makes money by taking about a 10% cut of each order it consolidates from its affiliated brands, including Adidas, Everlane and Hunter. The service counts Primary Venture Partners, Invus and SignalFire among its investors.

    "Olive in turn pays its network of carriers, which handles home deliveries and returns. Shoppers tell Olive which items they don’t want, and then they leave the reusable box on their doorstep."

    KC's View:

    Olive is going to have to tell its story effectively … a lot of folks have become addicted to fast delivery, and it'll take some persuasion (putting people on a bit of a guilt trip won't hurt) to get them to act against what they see as their self-interests.

    But, if you can convince folks that self-interest can take many forms, maybe this can work.

    Published on: February 18, 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 28,453,526 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 502,544 deaths, and 18,596,497 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 110,506,240 total coronavirus cases … 2,442,742 resultant fatalities … and 85,404,402 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 41.4 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 15.7 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 72.4 million doses have been distributed."


    •  Axios reports that "the U.S. averaged roughly 82,000 new cases per day over the past week — a 24% drop from the week before. Cases have been falling at about that pace for weeks … This is the first time since early November that the U.S. has averaged fewer than 100,000 cases per day … Hospitalizations were down by 25%, and average daily deaths fell by about 5%."

    The story suggests that there probably is a combination of factors contributing to the improving numbers, including more responsible personal behavior that could be keyed to the availability of - and greater receptiveness to - vaccines.

    Of course, the improvement may not be sustained.  Coronavirus variants could throw a monkey wrench into the numbers.  In addition, "The bitter cold and ongoing power outages in Texas could force people to huddle together indoors for their own safety, which in turn could lead to new coronavirus outbreaks."

    But for the moment, at least, things seem to be headed in the right direction.


    •  The daily assessment from the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. remained under 80,000 for the fourth day in a row, while hospitalizations fell to their lowest level since Nov. 10 … Hospitalizations due to Covid-19 in the U.S. continued to decline. As of Wednesday, there were 63,398 people in hospitals because of the disease, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of Covid-19 patients requiring treatment in intensive care units also fell, to 13,103, the sixth consecutive day the total has been below 15,000, according to the Covid Tracking Project."

    The Journal also reports that that the federal government plans to "pump $1.6 billion into ramping up Covid-19 testing and sequencing the virus," which presumably would give public health officials more weapons in their battle against this pandemic.


    •  The Washington Post reports that "the two coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna appear to be highly effective against the more transmissible variant of the virus first detected in Britain, according to new reports in the New England Journal of Medicine, in a potential boost to vaccination efforts around the globe.

    "The vaccines, however, showed a decreased ability to neutralize the strain now dominant in South Africa, worrying some researchers and prompting Pfizer and BioNTech to announce they were taking necessary steps to develop a booster shot or updated vaccine."


    •  Kroger Health yesterday announced a "new vaccine scheduling tool, making it easy and efficient to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments online.

    "The new tool can manage more than 250,000 requests daily and will reflect the amount of vaccine doses confirmed within Kroger’s system while allowing visitors to check vaccine eligibility and create appointments as availability of the vaccine increases. Customers will also have the ability to book appointments for both their first and second dose at the same time. "

    Kroger said that the rollout of the platform "reflects the company’s commitment to the health and safety of its associates, customers and communities and follows the company’s three-pronged pandemic health response: testing, vaccine administration and supportive care services."


    •  From this morning's New York Times:

    "Life expectancy in the United States fell by a full year in the first six months of 2020, the federal government reported on Thursday, the largest drop since World War II and a grim measure of the deadly consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

    "Life expectancy - the average number of years that a newborn is expected to live - is the most basic measure of the health of a population, and the stark decline over such a short period is highly unusual and a signal of deep distress. The drop comes after a series of troubling smaller declines driven largely by a surge in drug overdose deaths.  A fragile recovery over the past two years has now been wiped out."

    The Times also notes that the numbers reflect "a deepening of racial and ethnic disparities: Life expectancy of the Black population declined by 2.7 years in the first half of 2020, after 20 years of gains. The gap between Black and white Americans, which had been narrowing, is now at six years, the widest since 1998."

    The Times makes the point that as the pandemic eases, life expectancy numbers can be expected to go up … though it also is possible that persistent socioeconomic issues exacerbated by the pandemic could lead to things like growing numbers of drug deaths.  And so, Covid-19's repercussions may be felt for years after the last vaccination has been administered.

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  CNBC reports that "Amazon on Wednesday announced a new program called Build It that lets consumers have a say in some of the products Amazon will produce.

    "In a Kickstarter-like effort, Amazon customers can choose to back a new product, and if it gets enough support within 30 days, Amazon will build it. Customers will get charged only if the product is developed and ships … Amazon wouldn’t say whether it plans to use this program for all of its products or if it may open it up to third-party inventors."

    The story says that "Amazon Build It kicks off with three concepts: an $89.99 smart sticky note printer, a $34.99 smart nutrition scale and a $79.99 cuckoo clock. Customers who back a product get a preorder discount. The price will increase if it Is made widely available."

    A cuckoo clock?  Really?  Of course, if the cuckoo comes out and answers to "Alexa," that'd be pretty cool.


    •  CNBC reports that "Amazon’s aircraft fleet is on pace to have doubled in size between May 2020 and June of this year, laying further groundwork for Amazon Air to rival the likes of carriers FedEx and UPS, according to a study.

    "Amazon Air now makes an average of 140 flights per day and is expanding its fleet, signaling a 'growth spurt this spring,' said the report issued Tuesday by DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development.

    "'As new airplanes are added to the fleet, we anticipate the number of flights will grow to 160+ by June 2021,' according to the report.  'If it reaches this milestone, Amazon Air will have approximately doubled in size in the 13 months between May 2020 and June 2021'."

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Chicago Sun Times reports that Procter & Gamble has opened its first ever Tide Laundromat.  

    The facility "features automatic dosing machines, meaning all detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets are built-in and included in the price of the wash. Consumers can choose from Tide and Gain detergents, Downy and Gain fabric softeners and Bounce dryer sheets … There are about four dozen touch-screen washing machines — small, medium, large and jumbo — and a similar number of dryers. Tide Laundromat boasts its machines can wash and dry loads in as little as 35 minutes. The price changes with the size of the load: Small loads cost $4.75, mediums are $7.50, larges are $9.75 and jumbos are $12.50. Each six-minute drying cycle costs a quarter."

    The Sun Times writes that "the facility is owned by Chicago laundromat operators Tony and Richard Kahan through a licensing agreement with Tide."


    •  The Oregonian reports that Kroger-owned Fred Meyer is getting some grief  after a dozen police officers stopped local folks from taking food that had been thrown away.

    "Workers at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer threw away thousands of perishable items because the store, like many others, had lost power in an outage brought on by the region’s winter storm," the story says.  "Images on social media showed mountains of packaged meat, cheese and juice, as well as whole turkeys and racks of ribs that had been tossed into two large dumpsters near the store."

    A Fred Meyer spokesman, pointing out that "the company donates more than five million pounds of food annually," responded to the online criticism  “Unfortunately, due to loss of power at this store, some perishable food was no longer safe for donation to local hunger relief agencies.  Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk food borne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologize for the confusion."

    Maybe the better solution would've been to find a way to take the food to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, rather than just throwing it out.  But sometimes, like during winter storms that create enormous stress, people make short-term decisions that they later realize might've not been the best idea.  

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, has passed away after a battle with lung cancer.  He was 70.

    Published on: February 18, 2021

    Responding to a series of stories on MNB, one reader emailed:

    The move to all electric vehicles is inevitable, however the infrastructure needed to support this is not there yet. 

    Recharging station access.  Recharging time reduction.  Battery life. Battery production. Disposal protocols for batteries.  What about the cars themselves?

    All these need to be addressed and in place before we can even think of “electric only” cars.  We are looking a total revamping of how people drive and travel.

    Then who will pay for all this?  Government subsidies?  Just like wind or solar power??  More cost to the public.

    It’s great to set a goal.  But in this case achievement of that goal requires forethought and coordination.  Both of which appear to be impossible nowadays.

    You're right - it will take time and money.  But that's why manufacturers making this shift are looking 10-20 years out in terms of total conversion.  But you have to start somewhere, and have to make the commitment.

    I'm okay with government subsidies … it is part of a government's responsibility to act as stewards for the environment.  Fossil fuels are by their very nature limited, and it has been demonstrated that their use impacts climate change.  I suspect my tax dollars have been used for a lot of other, less worthy projects over the years.  Want to help preserve the planet for my children and grandchildren?  I'm good with that.

    And if the people we elect cannot show the forethought and coordination to accept reality and make this stuff happen, then we need to elect new people.  And if we're not willing to do that, then we deserve whatever disasters we face down the road.


    Finally, responding to the John Oliver video that we embedded in Michael Sansolo's column on Tuesday, one MNB reader wrote:

    The John Oliver video should have had a NSFW warning!  Haha, the first 58 seconds of it could have gotten me fired twice if I had played it from my cubicle in The Before Times instead of from my kitchen table today.

    Ooops.

    Sorry.