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    Published on: March 3, 2021

    Good Food Holdings-owned New Seasons Market yesterday said that it is adopting a strategic growth plan that includes two new stores, as well as saying that CEO Forrest Hoffmaster plans to step down when a new CEO is hired.

    New Seasons, which also operates the New Leaf Community Market brand, said that it is "centering strategic efforts on stronger localization for each banner with focus on growing market share, creating a customer-first experience, and impacting local communities. Both grocers will build on the benefits of being part of the Good Food Holdings family of brands, including program innovation and enhancements in private label, store design and growth, food and beverage offerings, and customer experience."

    New Seasons also announced that it will open two new stores in the Portland, Oregon, metro area, in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington.

    Hoffmaster said that he "will transition from his leadership position as chief executive officer for both brands in late March 2021. A comprehensive executive search is in progress and a successor is expected to be named before Hoffmaster departs the role.

    “I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to accomplish together, navigating the pandemic and unprecedented disruption in our industry," he said, adding, "With our supportive partners at Good Food Holdings and a strong senior leadership team in place, our company is primed for a new executive to take the foundation and continue investments in growth, innovation and experience."

    KC'S View:

    Good Food Holdings CEO Neil Stern was a guest on an "MNB/In Conversation" segment that was posted earlier this week … you can check it out here.

    The Good Food Holdings family includes Bristol Farms and Lazy Acres in Southern California, and Metropolitan Markets in Seattle - all strong brands with an exceptional focus on specialty and fresh foods.  That's a strong bench, and it is a company with lots of resources - it is owned by Emart, the leading  retailer in South Korea, which has a US expansion strategy.

    I'm a New Seasons fan - I do some of my shopping there when I am in residence in Portland for my summer adjunctivities at Portland State University (which, alas, I've been unable to do since 2019 because of the pandemic).  So I look forward to continued innovation and growth.

    Published on: March 3, 2021

    Here's a number worth paying attention to - Kohl's says that it acquired two million new customers during 2020 because of its Amazon relationship that allows people to return online Amazon purchases to a Kohl's store.

    “It continues to be a key contributor to driving traffic and introducing new customers to Kohl’s,” said Kohl's CEO Michelle Gass.

    "We especially saw this with the acceleration of post-holiday traffic in January. In 2020, we can attribute at least two million new, unique customers shopping at Kohl’s as a result of the Amazon Returns program, a third of which are millennials. And while the details of the partnership are confidential, we continue to see that this is accretive to both sales and profit,” she said.

    KC's View:

    I think I was skeptical about the relationship when it was first announced, but these numbers seem to speak for themselves.

    One caveat, though.  I remember taking some Amazon returns to Kohl's in the early days of the partnership, but lately I've been dropping them off to Whole Foods, which also takes them and is closer.

    It is just important to know that Amazon is competing with Kohl's for the returns traffic.  It also suggests the degree to which Amazon returns could bring new folks into Whole Foods stores.

    Published on: March 3, 2021

    he New York Times has  apiece by Amanda Hess, its critic-at-large, that starts this way:

    "On my desk is a detailed miniature shaker of McCormick Crushed Red Pepper flakes. The bottle is small enough to pinch between my thumb and index finger; it looks as if it was made to fit the spice rack of an anthropomorphic hedgehog.

    "I keep it around for its brain-soothing properties. There is something oddly relaxing about a banal item inexplicably shrunken into a fetish object. Sometimes I unfurl a tiny paper grocery bag and place the tiny pepper bottle inside, next to a tiny tin of Spam, a tiny jar of Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter and a tiny tube of Gourmet Garden Chunky Garlic Stir-In Paste.

    "There is no tiny food in any of these tiny packages. They’re called Mini Brands, and they represent branding liberated from product. Zuru, the toy company that sells Mini Brands, has introduced dozens of household miniatures since their 2019 debut, including little Tresemmé bottles, little Babybel cheese rounds and little Wet Ones antibacterial wipes … Though Mini Brands are nominally marketed to children, they scratch a grown-up itch: for the lost pleasures of the supermarket experience."

    Furthermore, Hess writes, "If Mini Brands shrink the grocery shopping experience into the palm of your hand, 'Supermarket Sweep' supersizes it, dramatizing the errand as an orgiastic ritual."  The reboot of the game show, she writes, seems perfectly suited to a world in which "you can still go to the grocery store, but you can no longer lose yourself there."

    You can read the entire (and in my estimation, entirely weird) piece here.

    Published on: March 3, 2021

    Delish reports that Amazon is opening its first checkout-free Amazon Go store in the UK ,  in Ealing, west London.

    According to the story, "The opening of the first Amazon Go store in the UK has been a big secret up until now. But The Mail On Sunday reports that the site in Ealing is set to be up and running this week. And plans for at least another 30 Amazon Go stores in Britain are already in the works."

    KC's View:
      Amazon Go doesn't get a lot of attention these days, but I continue to believe that checkout-free technology will end up being as important to retailing as scanning.

    Published on: March 3, 2021

    •  Reuters reports that " Instacart has more than doubled its valuation in less than six months to $39 billion with a $265 million fundraising round from existing investors, as the grocery delivery company benefits from a surge in online orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "The San Francisco start-up, whose transaction volumes surged sixfold last year as doorstep delivery boomed during lockdowns, said on Tuesday it plans to use part of the new funds to increase its corporate headcount by an estimated 50% in 2021."

    •  Schnuck Markets said this week that it is launching a new initiative, offering prepared foods via the DoorDash mobile app and delivered by DoorDash from five St. Louis-area Schnuck stores.

    “To complement our Schnucks Delivers partnership with Instacart, we’re also proud to bring our customers their favorite Schnucks prepared foods items via DoorDash,” said Schnucks Vice President of Deli and Prepared Foods Geoff Wexler in a prepared statement.   “Through this new partnership, our customers can enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner from Schnucks without ever having to leave their home or business.” 

    Published on: March 3, 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 29,370,705 confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 529,214 deaths, and 19,905,322 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 115,403,435 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,562,694 resultant fatalities, and 91,197,842 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The White House yesterday announced that "ramped-up coronavirus vaccine production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end of May," two months earlier than originally predicted.

    Availability, of course, is not the same as shots administered.  But you can't administer doses you don't have.  So this is good news.

    •  The White House also said that states should "give priority to educators, school staffers and child-care workers for vaccinations, calling on states to provide at least one shot to those workers by the end of March."

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 51.8 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 26.2 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 102.4 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. were down from a day earlier, but deaths ticked higher again … While both new cases and deaths are down from January’s highs, deaths have begun to trend upward in the past week. The seven-day moving average of daily reported deaths, which smooths out irregularities in the data, was 2,046 as of Monday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins data."

    •  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced yesterday that as of next Wednesday, March 10, he is ending a statewide mask mandate and decreeing that all of the state's businesses can operate without any capacity limits - including sporting events, concerts and conventions.

    The Texas Tribune reports that Abbott made the announcement even as "the spread of the virus remains substantial across the state, with Texas averaging over 200 reported deaths a day over the last week. And while Abbott has voiced optimism that vaccinations will accelerate soon, less than 7% of Texans had been fully vaccinated as of this weekend.

    "Texans and Americans of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. More than half of the deaths due to COVID-19 have been Black or Hispanic people, and advocates have reported that these communities have fallen behind in the vaccination efforts in Texas. More than 40,000 people have died in from the virus in Texas since the pandemic began."

    The New York Times reports that Abbott "said top elected officials in each county could still impose certain restrictions locally if hospitals in their region became dangerously full, but could not jail anyone for violating them."

    The Houston Chronicle reports that Houston is the first American city that has detected within its borders every major coronavirus variant, "many of which are more contagious than the original strain."

    "The numbers of the major variants we have identified in our large sequencing study are disquieting," Dr. James Musser, who leads the team of experts at Houston Methodist Hospital behind the new finding, tells the Chronicle.  "The genome data indicate that these important variants are now geographically widely distributed in the Houston metropolitan region."

    The Wall Street Journal writes that "Abbott’s move, affecting some 29 million residents of the second-largest state, comes after some smaller states, such as Iowa, Montana and North Dakota, have removed mask mandates.

    "On Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also said he would be dropping the state’s mask mandate and all business-capacity restrictions."

    Reeves said that the restrictions were "never to prevent all possible spread of Covid-19.  It was always about protecting the integrity of our healthcare system.”

    Indeed, the new  moves are in complete contravention to recommendations by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said earlier this week that states' moves to relax or eliminate public health rules related to the pandemic mean that "we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained."

    The Texas decision especially strikes me as, at the very least misguided - just a few more months of vigilance could mean the difference between beating back the pandemic and having to deal with a national resurgence.  It isn't just Texas - if the state's position leads to a resurgence there, it is likely to spread to other states.  Which means that it will imperil the country's ability to emerge from this nightmare.  I don't think it is hyperbole to point out that it was just yesterday that the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) said that it is planning an in-person Fresh Summit in New Orleans in late October … but that's only possible if we continue to make progress.  

    It was something like 10 months ago that Dr. Anthony Fauci said that we had to work to get the number of daily new cases in the US to 20,000 or below … and we're still way higher than that.  And yet, there are people - not just in Texas - who frame the elimination of pandemic-related restrictions as some sort of declaration of independence, ignoring the very real possibility that they are putting our independence in jeopardy.

    I did enjoy the folks on the internet yesterday who pointed out that Abbott sounded a lot like another political leader:

    Yes, I know that's two Jaws references in one day.  But you can't have too many Jaws references, IMNSHO.

    •  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "indoor dining and other activities that were shuttered or severely curtailed for more than three months will resume on Wednesday in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Napa counties, which have moved into a less restrictive tier in the state’s pandemic reopening plan.

    "With Marin and San Mateo counties, five of the region’s nine counties are now in the red tier; the other four remain in the purple tier. Counties in the red tier may allow certain businesses and activities to resume - in particular, indoor operations such as gyms, movie theaters and museums, in addition to restaurants.

    "The reopenings come as cases, hospitalizations and deaths plummet across the Bay Area after a brutal winter surge. In San Francisco, Napa and Santa Clara counties, cases have dropped up to 83% from the peaks in late December. Public health officials said that with vaccinations increasing and coronavirus cases at their lowest levels since November, they feel confident about loosening some restrictions."

    The goal should be to re-open carefully … continuing to mandate vigilance in terms of masking and physical distancing … and pay attention to the numbers, with the idea being that if we do it right, we can avoid the yo-yo of closings and openings that disrupted so many communities.

    •  Some mildly encouraging news - ride-sharing company Lyft says that an increase in demand for its services means that it is likely to lose just $135 million in Q1, as opposed to the $145 million-$150 million it originally projected it would lose.

    CNBC notes that Lyft has taken a different approach than Uber, which has expanded into areas like food delivery as a way of compensating for the loss of revenue from ride-sharing.  Lyft, on the other hand, "has kept its focus on ride-sharing and looked toward a reopening of the broader economy."

    •  Singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, in her own words, got a dose of her own medicine yesterday.

    Parton famously wrote a check for $1 million last year and donated it to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which used the money to help develop the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.  Yesterday, she got her money's worth - her first vaccination.  (She reportedly had been offered it earlier, but said she wanted to wait her turn.)

    "I’m old enough to get it, and I’m smart enough to get it," she said.

    Lucky for us, it was all captured for YouTube:

    Published on: March 3, 2021

    •  Target said yesterday that its total 2020 sales increased 19.8% to $93.6 billion from $78.1 billion - a dollar sales increase that, CNN noted, "was larger than its total sales growth over the past 11 years combined."

    The company said that its 2020 same-store sales grew 19.3 percent, reflecting 7.2 percent growth in store comparable sales, and 145 percent growth in digital comparable sales.

    Target's digital sales grew by nearly $10 billion in 2020, driven by 235% growth in the company's same-day services.

    •  Publix Super Markets said yesterday that its 2020 total sales were up 17.7 percent compared to 2019, to $44.9 billion from $38.1 billion, with much of the increase attributed to the pandemic.

    Same-store sales were up 16 percent.

    Net income in 2020 totaled $4 billion, compared with $3 billion  in 2019. 

    •  The Washington Post reports that FedEx plans to announce today that "it wants to be carbon neutral by 2040 … The company plans on achieving its goal through a $2 billion investment in vehicle electrification, sustainable energy and carbon sequestration."

    According to the story, FedEx plans to convert the “entire FedEx parcel pickup and delivery fleet zero-emission electric vehicles by 2040 … The company also plans to continue to work to reduce fuel consumption in its aircraft and invest in alternative sustainable fuels. "

    •  USA Today reports that "Paper Source, which sells greeting cards, paper goods and custom invitations, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Tuesday after sales plummeted due to the pandemic … The company said it had reached a tentative deal to sell its assets as an operational business to MidCap Funding Investment XI LLC, an affiliate of MidCap Financial Trust, or a higher bidder if one emerges."

    According toi the story, "The move marks a reversal for a company that was expanding as recently as a year ago, having acquired some from its liquidating rival Papyrus right before COVID-19 hit.  It also marks another setback for the greeting card industry, which has been slumping in recent years amid the rise of digital competition."

    The company reportedly plans to close at least 11 of its 158 stores.

    Published on: March 3, 2021

    •  Mark Messier, executive vice president at Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop, announced his retirement yesterday.

    Messier started his career at Hannaford Supermarkets in 1983, and served in a variety of capacities at Food Lion, Kash n Karry, and Delhaize America before joining Stop & Shop four years ago.

    Published on: March 3, 2021

    Got the following email from an MNB reader who wanted to weigh in on the case of the Trader Joe's employee fired after writing the company's CEO for heightened health measures at his store:

    Well I have a lot to say about this.  I work for an independently owned natural food store in Northern California.  I have worked in all aspects of the industry throughout my life.  I am currently the Procurement manager and oversee all departments for both locations. 

    This pandemic has been extremely stressful on my coworkers and on grocery workers throughout the nation.  Everyone was given hazard pay and then the pay was quickly removed 3 months later and the hazard continues even more so today.  Everyone needs food, bottom line.  The folks that work in the stores did NOT sign up to be bouncers, police, and Constitutional rights experts, yet here we are.  Out store was allowing "medical" excuses at first as they tried to figure out the legality behind it all.  Allowing these people (who for the most part did not have any medical conditions) in the store was creating greater stress for the employees and other customers, a few months later they squashed it and took a hard mask no entry no excuses.

    There is a group in the central coast that has been harassing grocery store workers since the start of the pandemic they refer to themselves as "freedom fighters"  I will refrain from using every profanity in the book to describe my feelings toward this group.  I bring this up because it directly ties in to Trader Joe's.  A few weeks ago this group stormed in to a TJ's in Santa Cruz without masks and did a cash drop - basically they buy things and write their own receipt and leave cash at the register.

    It is quite clear from the employees actions and also some customers that they have had it!  Done dealing with this added stress of a few selfish individuals who refuse to wear masks.  Trader Joe's could have taken a stand and pressed charges but they refuse to step up to the plate and stand behind their workers and now that is even more apparent with the current situation with the firing of an employee who simply was asking for more stringent, safer measures for the workers and the people shopping.  People are now turning to even more troubling tactics and referring to us as "Nazis"  - the use of this term is obviously disgusting and disrespectful and has no place in this ongoing argument of to mask or not to mask.

    Grocery workers need to be protected, if you don't want to shop use Instacart.  We are tired and stressed and trying to stay healthy for ourselves and our families.  I can tell you this is only going to get worse if the employer is not going to back the employees.  The incident below is a perfect example of this.  What you don't see in the video is customers throwing baskets and mangoes at these people (which did happen)  plenty of customers also told them to F&#* off - which I would have done as well.  Also, what you didn't see in the video was a customer and father of a small child take a swing at one of these morons.  In the end I hope that people and employers will stand behind their employees and do what is right but unfortunately many of the people making these decisions don't have to work in the store and probably never had.  

    If you never have cried in a walk in cooler or a break room you have no say in what all these folks are going through.  Protect your valuable asset people, your employees are the face and culture of your company!!!  

    I find that video to be appalling.  Who the hell are these people?  Not only do they behave like ignoramuses, but they seem to be the ones who record it and put it up on social media.

    You don't like a store's policies, shop elsewhere.  You don't harass - and potentially put in danger - the poor people working there, and the other people shopping there.

    Ignoramuses seems too kind. A store can't pay employees enough money to put up with this crap.

    On the subject of retailers being able to use the data generated by people going into stores for the first time to get their Covid-19 vaccines, one MNB reader wrote:

    We went to the Walgreens site in an attempt to sign up for the vaccine shot.  We had to complete all our information and once it was completed, we were notified that no appointments are available.  Really?  Why did you not tell us that before we gave you the info.  I’ll tell you why, our phone blew up with new Walgreens notifications right after the info was completed.  Seems like a real scam.  Plus, we could not find the link to unsubscribe, so now it just goes to auto junk.  This seemed to be just an info grab under the guise of community service.

    Like I said yesterday, it is important for retailers not to abuse the data.  It'll backfire.

    I do have to say, though, that this is the rare negative vaccination experience that I've heard about.  Most of the folks I know who have been vaccinated have raved about the seamlessness of the experience - though I concede I have a limited sample size.

    On another subject, one MNB reader wrote:

    Regarding salad bars….they are back in places like Texas and Florida. We should look into the volume they are doing vs a year ago. It may not be 100% yet, but the trend would be interesting. You are right, what comes out of this pandemic will be interesting. Things will change.

    A lot of things are back in Texas, I gather.

    Reacting to my piece about how Stew Leonard's has replaced its salad bars, embracing the new reality, another MNB reader wrote:

    Interesting piece.  Stew Leonard’s has always been ahead of “the curve” when it comes to a shopping experience.

    Regarding the repositioning of space, Publix has announced that they are no longer providing the Aprons program.  Some of those areas have been turned into catering, which fits the new shopper.  It will be interesting to see how Publix chooses to repurpose this space.  Personally, I will miss the creative meal solutions / builds they provided each week.   Since we all have not been getting around much anymore, I wonder how Wegmans is approaching this, since a major portion on their stores is focused on the meal bar concept. 

    And finally, one MNB reader had a thought about another story:

    I would definitely endorse having you give giving pickleball a try.  We are playing it outdoors in Boise, Idaho all winter long.  Our local park typically hosts between 15 - 40 players most every afternoon - early evening.  We have players ranging in age from 10 to 84.  We play two games in and then rotate out and it provides for a combination of competition - camaraderie  &  socialization.  Players will even meet early to shovel the courts when necessary.  Look forward to hearing how you enjoy it!

    Sounds like fun.