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    Published on: March 16, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    There are few words that seem more appealing to shoppers these days than “local.” The simple word manages to convey freshness, community, taste and more.

    But in many ways, the notion of local can go well beyond products and focus on something as readily found in stores as produce: that is, PEOPLE.

    Years ago, baseball great Yogi Berra told us you could observe a lot by just looking around. It’s harder to do these days, but thankfully not impossible.

    I got a reminder of that last week while participating in the wonderful annual student competition run by the National Grocers Association (NGA). Students from different schools participate, offering frequently creative and out-of-the-box thinking on how to solve industry problems. (Seriously, if you are ever asked to be a judge, jump at the opportunity.)

    One student made a comment that stood out to me: as her group was discussing how a small retailer could best market local products, especially produce. The student said she prefers to have store staff select her produce because she simply isn’t good at it.

    Obviously, this was just her opinion, however, I don’t think she’s a loner. After years of watching the incredible - and frequently ridiculous - methods shoppers employ in the produce department, I’ve become convinced that many if not most, don’t know how to select produce.  (Y'think all those folks who shake cantaloupes have any idea why they're doing it?)

    As an aside, I’ve noticed that during Covid times my wife feels comfortable using on-line shopping for all kinds of packaged products, but not for perishables. We’ve discovered that our on-line shoppers frequently favor quantity or massive sizes instead of quality, which far too often results in us getting produce that’s approaching or leaving its prime.

    So basically I want to offer two suggestions for how stores can create a hyper-local and interactive experience to possibly build sales, profits, loyalty and consumer connection. Neither is an entirely new idea.  

    First, fresh departments can steal a page from the decidedly non-perishable Apple computer stores:  set up a “genius” bar of sorts or simply an area where shoppers can seek help from the department staff. Obviously they can do this today by just asking, but why not market your expertise. The “geniuses” could help by explaining to how select or serve various types of produce or other products.

    What’s more, add in-store dietitians to this service to help shoppers better understand the health benefits, nutrition or vitamin profiles of foods. 

    Secondly, let’s steal a page from the long-departed and hardly lamented video rental stores. Frequently those stores would feature movie suggestions from different staffers and shoppers quickly learned whose opinions they trusted and followed along. Imagine doing the same with on-line shopping. It would require some additional training for fresh department staff, but imagine the consumer connection of knowing my produce is being selected by someone with a name, a reputation and a level of skill. Suddenly selling local goes way beyond products and right down to those key people in the store curating my products.

    Suggestive selling is hardly a new idea, but it keeps popping up in new ways and creating opportunity. I have a sister-in-law living near Albany, NY, who gets her produce from local farms via a service called Off the Muck. The company’s website explains the flexibility shoppers have to build their orders and then features a kicker.

    Off the Muck regularly features recipe ideas and, obviously the products those recipes require, helping shoppers find interesting new menu items and a simple way to make certain the right ingredients are on hand. It builds sales and, no doubt, shopper satisfaction. My fresh product curators could do the same.

    Sounds to me like a recipe for success. 

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    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: March 16, 2021

    KC has a follow-up to yesterday's FaceTime about T-commerce - an example of how the ability to instantly buy what you see on TV would've been exceedingly welcome.  And, he has some thoughts about the cooking segment that was featured on last Friday's MNB.

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    USA Today has a story about long-term changes that ther pandemic has forced upon the nation's restaurant business, after a year in which the coronavirus was responsible for ther closure of many establishments all over the country and the loss of more than eight million jobs in the industry.

    Some of the predictions from chefs, restaurateurs and industry experts  include a continued use of people's smartphones to view menus (which will allow restaurants to be a lot more nimble in terms fo editing and customization) … outdoor dining, which will make America a lot more like Europe … continued emphasis on takeout (which has been a lifeline for industry survivors), which will continue to create a need for ghost kitchens … less crowding of patrons inside restaurants … and edited menus, which chefs focusing on a few great things rather than expansive, less specialized offerings.

    All of those seem eminently reasonable … and quite frankly, most of them play into my personal restaurant preferences.

    But there were two that surprised me - though they also seem logical.

    One is that we'll see more weddings in restaurants - that the pandemic has created an awareness that weddings don't have to be massive events, and that a simpler ceremony in a great restaurant with terrific food and wine can be more memorable and less of a financial stretch.

    The other is that alcohol-to-go will be a big draw - the National Restaurant Association (NRA) says that "since the pandemic erupted roughly 7 in 10 full-service restaurants and more than half of quick-service and fast-casual restaurants started selling liquor with takeout or delivery orders.," USA Today writes, saying that it is "a trend that Hudson Riehle of the NRA says is 'here to stay.'  It is, he points out, a real plus with millennials: more than half say they'd choose a restaurant for food delivery if they can get alcohol too. "

    Seems to me that these are all innovations that could allow restaurants to be even more competitive with supermarkets, which have grown share-of-stomach market share during the pandemic.  Now is the wrong time for supermarkets to be complacent about holding onto that business, especially because it seems possible, even likely, that emergence from the pandemic will result in a restaurant resurgence.

    How the players will choose to compete will be an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    A new national survey conducted by Ipsos and commissioned by Amazon suggests that a majority of Americans support an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

    According to Ipsos, "Eight in ten Americans (80%) say the federal minimum wage is too low. This consensus was seen across all genders, generations, education levels, races, income levels, and regions of the country.

    "Among those surveyed who hold an opinion on the federal minimum wage, two-thirds support increasing it to $15 per hour. Even when including undecided respondents on the matter, more than half (56%) support a $15 per hour minimum wage.

    "The majority of Americans also believe raising the minimum wage would have a positive impact on employees in general (70%), the country (55%), their community (54%), and the economy (54%)."

    Ipsos goes on:  "About two in five hourly, temporary, or seasonal employees say they make less than $15 an hour (37%). Those who make less than $15 an hour are significantly less likely to say they can afford basic human needs such as shopping for groceries, paying for prescription drugs, or a doctor’s visit. An unexpected event can financially derail them, and they are significantly less likely to be satisfied with all aspects of their life compared to those who earn $15 or more or are salaried employees."

    The story makes the point that "in 2018, Amazon raised its starting wage for all U.S. employees to at least $15 an hour."

    The company says that "when compared to politicians and policymakers (73%), advocacy groups (69%) and the media (51%), more Americans (80%) think large employers should play a role in raising the federal minimum wage.

    "Amazon’s 2018 decision to increase starting wages to at least $15 an hour - for all full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal employees - immediately drove a positive impact. The increase helped Amazon employees purchase cars, pay for home repairs and college tuition, and build their savings."

    KC's View:

    Commissioning this survey is a little self-serving, since not only is Amazon already doing it, but it can afford to do it.  Forcing much smaller competitors with far fewer resources to do the same could have the effect of putting them in a very difficult, potentially untenable position.

    I do think that $7.25 an hour is absurd anywhere in America, but I'm more intrigued by an increase that might go to $11 or $12 an hour, and then maybe index future increases to things like consume prices and maybe other relevant statistics.

    Let's face it - there are small businesses in some parts of America where a $15/hour mandate would put them out of business or force them to cut back on the number of employees they hire.   As a country, we have to be cognizant of those situations even as we try to establish minimums that are connected to workers' realities.  (And let's not have the specious arguments about how, if we're going to go to $15 an hour, why not go to $50 an hour … those are silly and irrelevant discussion points, and the people who advance them know it.)

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal has an interview with Mellody Hobson, the new chairwoman of Starbucks - and  the only Black chairwoman of an S&P 500 company - in which she talks about how pledges to increase workplace diversity are being realized.

    Some excerpts:

    •  "Business diversity includes all areas of corporate spending. About 2% of Fortune 500 spending right now is with minority business enterprises. Starbucks has been focusing on this for some time. Last year, we spent more than $600 million with diverse suppliers, about 8% of our spending."

    •  "The broader society is keeping score. There are consequences that exist for not living up to those commitments. It’s going to be super hard to be a Fortune 500 company without a diverse person on your board."

    Asked what grade she would give the U.S. in terms of board diversity, Hobson says, "B-minus. White men make up 30% of the U.S. population and 70% of the board seats. The reason it’s not in the 'C' category is because in the last year or so, there has been a sea change. I know how many calls I’ve gotten and how many people I’ve recommended."

    KC's View:

    My favorite line in the interview is when Hobson is asked about post-pandemic, and she says, "I want to slingshot out of this period. I don’t want to limp out of it."

    I think that's a great way to look at it.  This is a time for businesses to gain momentum in all things, not coast along waiting to see what happens next.

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    The New York Times has an extensive piece about Amazon's anti-union activity over the years, some of it unreported until now, and how it all now may be coming to a head.

    An excerpt:

    "Over two decades, as the internet retailer mushroomed from a virtual bookstore into a $1.5 trillion behemoth, it forcefully - and successfully - resisted employee efforts to organize. Some workers in recent years agitated for change in Staten Island, Chicago, Sacramento and Minnesota, but the impact was negligible.

    "The arrival of the coronavirus last year changed that. It turned Amazon into an essential resource for millions stuck at home and redefined the company’s relationship with its warehouse workers. Like many service industry employees, they were vulnerable to the virus. As society locked down, they were also less able to simply move on if they had issues with the job.

    "Now Amazon faces a union vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. - the largest and most viable U.S. labor challenge in its history. Nearly 6,000 workers have until March 29 to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. A labor victory could energize workers in other U.S. communities, where Amazon has more than 800 warehouses employing more than 500,000 people.

    You can read the piece here.

    Published on: March 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, there have been 30,138,586 total confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 548,013 deaths and 22,286,551 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 120,825,779 total coronavirus cases, with 2,673,650 resultant fatalities and 97,471,405 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 71.1 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 36.9 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 135.8 million doses have been distributed."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Connecticut plans to speed up the next age-based phase of its COVID-19 vaccination rollout by a few days and ultimately allow everyone else, age 16 and older, to begin making their appointments for a shot tentatively on April 5, Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday.

    "Meanwhile, state plans to work with health care providers and the Department of Developmental Services to accelerate access for the most medically high-risk individuals under age 45 during April."

    The story says that Connecticut is speeding up access because it has been informed by the federal government that it will see a significant increase in the number of doses shipped to the state.

    •  The New York Times reports that "Mississippi will become the second state to open Covid-19 vaccinations to all of its adult residents, following a call from President Biden for all states to do so by May 1.

    "Alaska opened its vaccination doors last week to anybody 16 or older who lives or works in the state. The change in Mississippi takes effect Tuesday … Although Mississippi lags most states in the share of its population that has been vaccinated, it is doing better than all of its neighbors except Louisiana, according to a New York Times tracker. As of Sunday, about 20 percent of Mississippians have received at least one shot, and 11 percent have been fully vaccinated."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 infections in the U.S. rose from a day earlier, as did deaths, but both remained well below levels seen at the peak of infections earlier this year … But the daily figures remain far below those registered at the peak of U.S. infections in early January, when they were around 300,000 on several days. Infection figures tend to be lower toward the beginning of the week, as fewer people are tested over the weekend."

    The story says that "according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all but five states have administered over 30,000 doses per 100,000 residents."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "across the United States, air travel is recovering more quickly from the depths of the pandemic, and it is showing up in longer airport security lines and busier traffic on airline websites.

    "The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.3 million people both Friday and Sunday, setting a new high since the coronavirus outbreak devastated travel a year ago. Airlines say they believe the numbers are heading up, with more people booking flights for spring and summer."

    However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expressed a level of concern about these numbers, worried that they could indicate complacency about the coronavirus that could create conditions leading to a resurgence of infections.

    •  The New York Times reports that "scientists in Oregon have spotted a homegrown version of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that first surfaced in Britain — but now combined with a mutation that may make the variant less susceptible to vaccines.

    "The researchers have so far found just a single case of this formidable combination, but genetic analysis suggested that the variant had been acquired in the community and did not arise in the patient … The new version that surfaced in Oregon has the same backbone, but also a mutation - E484K, or 'Eek' - seen in variants of the virus circulating in South Africa, Brazil and New York City.

    "Lab studies and clinical trials in South Africa indicate that the Eek mutation renders the current vaccines less effective by blunting the body’s immune response."

    I know that the folks there want to Keep Portland Weird.  But, come on, man…

    •  CNBC reports that "the head of Germany’s public health agency on Friday warned that a third wave of coronavirus infections has already begun.

    "It comes at a time when the country has started to gradually relax lockdown restrictions, amid a government-led effort to speed up its vaccination rollout to as many adults as possible."

    •  Axios reports that "the massive drop in recorded flu cases and deaths this season so far is one silver lining from the deadly coronavirus pandemic … Mask wearing, social distancing, personal hygiene, travel restrictions plus increased flu vaccinations are widely held as being responsible for the 2020-2021 flu season being incredibly mild so far. But some scientists wonder if there will be longer term impacts.

    "This could include the elimination of some of the many variants that normally circulate globally, making the virological picture a lot simpler."

    Or, as Axios notes, the result could be "a more virulent flu strain, like a swine flu, due to lack of viral competition."

    Do we get a vote?

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    •  The trend certainly was accelerated by the pandemic, but the number of Academy Award nominations garnered yesterday by streaming services - which, by their very nature, are challenging business orthodoxies practiced for years by those in the entertainment industry - spoke volumes about disruption.

    Netflix received 35 nominations for 16 different films, including two Best Picture candidates … Amazon got 12 nominations overall, including one for Best Picture … and even Apple, which only got into the business recently, scored a best Animated Film nomination for Wolfwalkers.

    •  Variety reports that Anheuser-Busch "plans to launch its own sports-talk show because consumers are growing wary of the commercials that have helped it capture so much attention over the decades.

    "Anheuser-Busch and Panay Films will launch 'Not A Sports Show,' a six-episode series that features host and comedian Lil Rel Howery chatting with athletes like former Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce, snowboarder Shaun White and Los Angeles Sparks WNBA player Chiney Ogwumike. The program can be watched via Ficto, a free streaming-video service. The show will not be interrupted with beer ads, but the host and his guests hash things out at a bar filled with dozens of A-B beverages, and even drink some of them as their conversations progress. New episodes of the show, produced with Stampede Entertainment, are slated to debut Thursdays in April."

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    •  The CBC reports that "Walmart Canada is closing six stores and spending $500 million to upgrade more than half its remaining locations in a bid to improve the 'look and feel' of its stores and enhance its online business."

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Seeking Alpha reports that "The Fresh Market Holdings, Inc., parent company of The Fresh Market has confidentially submitted a draft registration statement on Form S-1 with the SEC relating to the proposed initial equity offering … The number of shares and the price range for the proposed offering have not yet been determined.  Proceeds will be used for general corporate purposes, which may include the repayment of indebtedness."

    The Fresh Market is owned at the moment by Apollo Global Management, which bought it in 2016 from founders Ray and Beverly Berry.

    •  Axios reports that in Colorado, a bill is in the legislative pipeline that would "ban restaurants and retailers from using single-use plastic bags and plastic foam containers.

    "It would also give cities the power to set their own curbs — a particular pain point for opponents who argue the clause could create a confusing policy patchwork."

    The story says that "an alternative bill, backed by the American Chemistry Council, came forward Thursday that would impose fees on the packaging producers of takeout food containers rather than mandate outright bans."

    •  The Food Industry Association yesterday announced FMI’s first-ever Supply Chain Forum April 6-7, designed for mid-senior level supply chain professionals willing to learn and engage on a range of critical and timely topics across the industry. The online sessions will be brief and practical, building on a call to action to remove friction from the system while also building in additional resilience to meet future challenges head on. The timely event will also include a series of Solutions Spotlights to help attendees hear directly from solution providers with new or updated resources as well as Event Partner pages to interact directly with our event partners. "

    For more information, click here.

    •  CNet reports that "Starbucks on Monday rolled out a handful of announcements related to its accessibility efforts, including news that it'll now offer free access to Aira, a service that connects blind and low-vision people to remotely located agents who share visual information through an app. The service is available in all company-operated and licensed Starbucks stores in the US. 

    "When a customer enters a Starbucks location, they can open up the Aira app, which is free to download for iOS and Android. They'll then be connected with someone who can see their surroundings through their phone's camera and provide needed descriptions, such as what's in a pastry case or what a sign says. "

    •  CNBC reports that "Toys R Us has a new owner — again.

    "The brand management company WHP Global announced Monday it has acquired a controlling interest in Tru Kids, the parent company of the Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Geoffrey the Giraffe brands."

    “We’re in the brand business, and Toys R Us is the single most credible, trusted and beloved toy brand in the world,” says Yehuda Shmidman, chairman-CEO of WHP.  “We’re coming off a year where toys are just on fire. ... And for Toys R Us, the U.S. is really a blank canvas.”

    The goal apparently, is to start opening stores.  Anyone else feel like we've already seen this movie and we know how it ends?

    Published on: March 16, 2021

    Got the following email from MNB reader Adam Dill:

    Scrolling through the channel line-up yesterday, I happened upon the Instacart 500 NASCAR Race.  Your voice immediately popped into my head.  Why would a service that serves as an intermediary for retailers and shoppers need to spend millions of dollars on promoting itself? 

    I would think a retailer would want the shoppers to see their e-commerce shopping as an extension of their store, not a different company (i.e. Instacart).  The only reason I could come up with for what Instacart is promoting itself is if it wants to eventually become the retailer brand shoppers remember.  I think I would be nervous if I was a retail partner of Instacart that my fulfillment partner is wanting to become a retailer themselves.  Maybe I have read too many Vince Flynn novels and assume there is an evil plot being played out.  Just found it strange that Instacart was running such a brand focused marketing campaign.

    First of all, I'm sorry my voice intruded on your weekend.

    Second, I totally agree with you.  I would only differ on the word "eventually" … I think that;'s what Instacart is doing right now.

    Got another email, from MNB reader Olivier Kielwasser, about the elderly woman who got fired from her Trader Joe's job for selling alcohol to a minor to whom she happened to be related:

    In general, most people who get fired for selling alcohol to minors are people who fail a sting operation conducted by law enforcement or by the store’s loss prevention department.  Generally, both the store and the employee get cited for violating liquor laws, meaning firing the employee is legally justified, and the store pays a fine and must conduct cashier training to avoid this from reoccurring.

    In this particular instance, your article mentions that Gloria reported the sale to her employer.  While liquor laws were violated, this didn’t result in any citation to the store or to the employee.  Instead of keeping this under wraps, Trader Joe’s did the right thing in terminating the employee for violating state law and company policy.  However, considering no citation was issued, Trader Joe’s also might have the option of immediately rehiring her.  

    This is not an easy decision, because the company terminated dozens, if not hundreds of people, for selling alcohol to minors, and they were never eligible for rehire.  While we may feel sympathy for a specific individual, treating this person more favorably than all the others might be discriminatory to the others.  What would happen if they asked for these people to get their jobs back? 

    You're right.  This may be life.

    But sometimes life, when there is no room of empathy, sucks.

    Regarding the changing face of work as headquarters seem to become less important, one MNB reader wrote:

    The Headquarter store has always been perceived as the “only” place to do business. Largely in part because upper management never thought that business could be conducted efficiently from remote locations.  Now they are seeing that this is not the case, and their employees are much happier for it.  

    My thought … Take a page from history and empower the stores to make decisions at their level which would enable them to control more of what is offered and promoted.  Don’t have all the buying and promotional decisions land on the desk of one person.  I think that truly limits creativity and the base line knowledge of what happens at store level, which in turn, further perpetuates the long standing disconnect between HQ and the stores.  I know I’m off subject a bit on this but empowering your people to be involved in the business is very powerful team structure.  No one person will ever have a monopoly on all the good ideas.  When they think they do, is when they most certainly don’t. 

    I think that;'s something with which MNB fave Glen Terbeek might agree:

    KC,  The virus has tough us that “work from home” works.  Therefore in the future it would make sense to “work from stores” where the action is.  I could see “support personal” being located around the stores in different markets.  Instead of talking with each other at in headquarters, they could actually talk with customers and first line employees. 

    Wouldn't that be lovely.

    Responding to last week's story about modern vending technology, MNB reader Ken Delfeld


    I was amazed at the vending machines outside in residential alleys in Japan’s cities. The machines were always clean and never saw any thieving or damage. 

    Regarding Walmart including samples with pick-up and delivery orders, one MNB reader wrote:

    What’s old is new again.  Peapod was doing this in the early 2000s. 

    Peapod was doing a lot of things 20 years ago that a lot of the industry hasn't caught up with yet.

    From another reader:

    This isn’t anything new.  Walmart has been charging suppliers for this for a few years now on their grocery pick up orders.  You not only have the cost of the samples, but fees that are pretty high and out of reach for smaller companies.  Works well with new products if you can afford the program.  Challenge is there isn’t a lot of return measurement on it to see if you are picking up new customers. At least, I haven’t seen it yet. 

    Reacting, I suppose, to all my culture reviews, MNB reader Shawn Ravitz wrote:

    Have you seen "Outlander?"  Great show.  Based on some of the things that you like, I think this is up your alley.  Somehow I missed this when it came out... been a great binge! 

    Mrs. Content Guy loves "Outlander."  My problem is that I've seen too much "Star Trek," and when she tells me about characters going back in time and not worrying about how their actions might disrupt the the timeline.  I'd worry that with one wrong move, I'd be visited by the Department of Temporal Investigations…  

    Finally, responding to last Friday's cooking segment, MNB reader Karen Labenz wrote:

    Really enjoyed your cooking demonstration today, Kevin!  Fun for a Friday.  Thank you!

    MNB reader Jill LeBrasseur wrote:

    Loved watching you cook, KC! You should make this a once a month Friday feature!

    And, from MNB reader John Holter:

    Kevin, Unfortunately( due to an over abundance of sunshine in the Pacific Northwest ) I was not able to read/watch your 3/12 article on Tick Tok cooking until late evening. 

    Looks like I was more impressed with your cooking than your puppy dog was.   (You should watch him/her as you were giving the cooking lesson).

    I knew what he was doing.  Sometimes he doesn't much care, but sometimes he hangs out near the stove hoping for a treat.  Like last night, when I was making a bolognese:  

    As for the suggestion that I do a cooking segment once a month … I'm happy to try, but I'm not that good and I don't have that many recipes.

    But … if anyone in the MNB community would like to submit a video (not longer than 10 minutes) of them making something fun and unique in the kitchen, feel free to send it to me and I'll post it on the site.  Maybe we'll get an MNB cookbook out of it!