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    Published on: March 19, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    Last week I dedicated a FaceTime video to demonstrating one of my favorite recipes - for what I call Shrimp It's All Greek To Me, which basically contains shrimp, feta cheese, diced tomatoes, onions, and, of course, white wine.

    And I threw out the  challenge to the MNB community - if you have a favorite recipe, record yourself making it, send it to me, and I'll post it on the site.  This can be a personal favorite in your home kitchen, or, if you happen to cook for a living, you can send me video of you making something that you use in business.

    Well, I heard from  an MNB reader named Greg Taverrite, who happens to be in the Italian sausage business … and he sent me links to a couple of videos in which - not surprisingly - he uses his sausage in the recipe.    (They are a lot better than my video.)  

    One of them - for an unconventional spaghetti carbonara - is below, and I recommend you watch it.  For three reasons.  

    First, I suspect it will make you hungry and looking for an opportunity to try it.  (I can't use Greg's sausage because it doesn't look like it is sold in the northeast US.  So I'll have to make do.)

    Second, it is a great example of how T-commerce would work.  In a perfect world, I'd be able to click on a button while watching the video and immediately order all or some of the ingredients.  It'll be good for me as the customer, and good for the purveyor of the products.  This "perfect world" will be in here in the near future, so be ready.

    Which leads me to my third, broader point.  If you are in the food business and you are not producing videos like these … or are not hooking up with purveyors like Greg who are making videos like these, then you are missing an enormous opportunity.  Especially at a time when competition is intense, is only going to get more so, and people in the food business ought to be looking for every opportunity to differentiate themselves from the people who only say they are in the food business but actually are in the logistics business.

    So, enjoy.  And kudos to Greg Taverrite, of Taverrite's Italian Foods for both making a terrific video and making me hungry.

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    The Seattle Times reports this morning that U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Washington Food Industry Association (WFIA) challenging a Seattle City Council mandate requiring grocery store workers to be paid $4 an hour in "hazard pay" on top of their usual wages.

    In his opinion, the judge wrote, “Given the City’s findings that large grocery businesses have earned record profits during COVID-19 … and that grocery store employees are at significantly heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 … This is a reasonable grounds for the distinctions drawn in the Ordinance."

    The story says that "The law applies to large grocers, those with more than 500 employees worldwide and stores larger than 10,000 square feet, in Seattle. It mandates a $4-an-hour pay boost for all workers in retail locations. And that pay boost must remain in effect for as long as Seattle remains in a declared civil emergency.

    "The City Council passed the wage hike law unanimously in late January, after advocacy from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21."

    Similar hazard pay mandates have been passed by lawmakers in a variety of California communities.

    KC's View:

    Just because a judge tossed the lawsuit doesn't make the mandate smart or good public policy.  It just means the mandate isn't illegal.

    Can't imagine that the folks bringing lawsuits challenging hazard pay mandates in California are heartened by this ruling.

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    MarketWatch reports that Ocado CEO Tim Steiner, who is partnering with Kroger in the building and operation of robotic distribution centers in the US, dismissed Amazon "as a 'very small competitor' in the grocery market, saying its home delivery offering was almost at an 'unnoticeable level'."

    Steiner talked about the two Amazon grocery stores currently operating in the UK with checkout-free technology, saying, “It doesn’t mean it’s not clever tech, but it won’t have a big impact on the [grocery] market."  Steiner see

    The comments came just weeks before Kroger "opens its first automated warehouse in Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, which could transform online grocery in the US … The potential economies of this system are big, given that most supermarkets fill online orders by sending workers around stores with a shopping cart and grocery list. There are few errors and substitutions at Ocado because it only allows shoppers to pick from a list of available items it knows it has ordered on the day of delivery. It even uses AI to pick transport routes, ensuring that delivery deadlines rarely are missed."

    KC's View:

    Amazon's UK penetration levels may be small, but to dismiss its technology as almost irrelevant strikes me as the kind of hubris that often precedes a crushing collision with reality.

    The degree to which Ocado has disrupted the traditional grocery business in the UK ought to teach its leadership that competitive threats can come from any direction, and that you are only as good as you are today.  Tomorrow is a battle you have to win all over again.

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    CNBC reports that Dollar General has unveiled a capital investment plan for the new fiscal year that includes the opening of 1,050 new sites and remodeling of 1,750 more.

    Dollar General also plans to relocate some 100 stores.

    As the retailer "adds, remodels and relocates stores," the story says, "it will increase the square footage of its sales floor to make more room for coolers of produce and fresh meat, a bigger assortment of health and beauty products and additional checkout lanes."  The larger format started being tested last year, and Dollar General "found they outperformed the rest of the chain with higher sales. It already has some larger stores with a wider assortment of food and general merchandise."

    In addition to these larger stores, Dollar General also plans to ramp up the expansion of its PopShelf banner, which "sells home decor, beauty items, cleaning supplies and party goods, with almost all items costing $5 or less. Its target customer has an annual household income ranging from $50,000 to $125,000 — higher than the $35,000 to $40,000 annual household income of a typical Dollar General customer."

    The company currently is testing two of the stores in Nashville, but now plans to have as many as 50 running by the end of the year;  the original plan was for 30.

    And, the story says, "Dollar General will kick off a pilot that blends together its namesake brand and Popshelf … At 25 stores, customers will see signs for both labels at the entrance. Inside, Popshelf will be prominently featured in the center as a store-in-store."

    KC's View:

    Seems to me that it is noteworthy that Dollar General, which has an ambitious enough expansion plan that it could just be focused on a largely real estate play, also is investing in new and evolving formats that stretch the company in new directions.

    To build on something we were talking about here yesterday, it is critical to have vision in addition to resources and size.  That's certainly what the folks at Dollar General seem to have.

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    The National Football League (NFL) announced yesterday that Amazon is paying roughly $1 billion for exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football games, taking over from Fox Sports starting in 2023 and running for a decade.

    "The pact is by far Amazon’s biggest play to date in streaming TV," the Wall Street Journal writes, and "having worked its way to third place in the digital advertising business, chasing only Google and Facebook, it is a move that could help Amazon secure a commanding position in the future of TV ad sales.

    "Amazon said adding exclusive NFL games will encourage people to sample its original content. But as pandemic lockdowns turbocharge the growth of streaming TV, the heir apparent to traditional TV’s $70 billion ad market, Amazon also has been striving to expand its streaming offerings for marketers."

    The Journal goes on:  "Amazon’s streaming-TV ad sales grew faster in 2020 than its more-established ad segments such as search and display, albeit from a much smaller base, according to a person familiar with the company’s ad business. Streaming TV now comprises roughly 15% to 20% of two top ad-buying agencies’ spending with Amazon, executives at the firms said.

    "The business includes ads Amazon sells on its own streaming services, such as IMDb TV; ad inventory it sells in other apps it carries on its Fire TV platform; and ad sales rights for live sports it already carries."

     

    KC's View:

    Two things here.

    First, Amazon may be writing a check for a billion dollars, but it clearly is hoping that it is going to be able to recoup most of that through ad dollars … and it will have the unique ability to create ad bundling packages that will connect to all its other platforms.  That's going to be a powerful proposition.

    Second, the power of streaming continues to demonstrate itself.  Variety reported yesterday that "for the first time ever, subscriptions to streaming services surpassed one billion, reaching 1.1 billion globally."  

    Now, a lot of that has to do with the pandemic;  movie theater revenues plummeted during the same period.  But new habits are being created, and Amazon is a big part of that.

    Published on: March 19, 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 30,358,880 total conformed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 552,470 deaths and 22,523,799 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 122,467,550 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,704,920 resultant fatalities, and 98,726,574 reported recoveries. (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post  reports that "at least 75.5 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 39.1 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 151.1 million doses have been distributed."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Newly reported Covid-19 deaths rose in the U.S. from the day before, while daily case numbers were steady … Meanwhile, the fall in daily coronavirus cases in the country has been flattening - though numbers are substantially below the early January peak of about 300,000. Johns Hopkins data recorded just over 58,000 new cases for Thursday, slightly below Wednesday’s 58,480 cases … 

    •  The New York Times reports that "officials in at least 17 states have committed in recent days to opening coronavirus vaccine appointments to all adults in March or April, part of a fast-moving expansion as states race to meet President Biden’s goal of universal eligibility by May 1.

    "In Ohio, all adults will be allowed to seek shots starting March 29. In Connecticut, April 5. In Alaska and Mississippi, all adults are already able to book appointments. And on Thursday, officials in Illinois, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Maryland and Missouri said that all adults would be allowed in April to sign up for a shot, while Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah said universal eligibility would begin there next week."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "Much of Europe on Friday was restarting use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after the European Union’s pharmaceutical regulator declared the shot 'safe and effective.'

    "France, Germany, Italy and Spain said they would resume administering the vaccine following temporary suspensions over fears that the shot may have caused rare blood clot disorders. The European Medicines Agency said Thursday that the vaccine, jointly developed by Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, is safe but that it could not rule out a link to the small number of blood clot cases.

    "On Friday, the prime ministers of Britain and France were scheduled to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot as a way to boost confidence in the vaccine."

    •  The BBC reports that Paris "is set to go into a month-long Covid lockdown as the country fears a third wave.  Some 21 million people in 16 areas of France will be placed under the measures from midnight on Friday."

    According to the story, "France has recorded more than 35,000 new infections within the past 24 hours," with a third wave of infections seen as likely.

    "The situation in Paris is particularly worrying with 1,200 people in intensive care there, more than at the peak of the second wave in November, Health Minister Olivier Véran said."

    According to the story, "Under the new measures, non-essential businesses will be forced to close, but schools will remain open, along with hairdressers if they follow a 'particular sanitary protocol'.  Government spokesman Gabriel Attal stressed there would be differences with the two earlier lockdowns and said further details would be given of which business could stay open or would have to shut.

    "People will be allowed to exercise outdoors within 10km (6 miles) of their home and are not allowed to travel to other parts of the country unless they have a valid reason. Those in the affected areas will have to fill out a form to explain why they have left their homes."

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    •  The Seattle Times reports that Amazon has begun making deliveries in the San Francisco Bay Area using electric vans.

    "Amazon teamed up with Michigan-based Rivian, a U.S. automaker, to design, build, and deploy the fleet of electric vehicles," the story says.  "The vehicles are the first custom-tailored vans that Amazon is using.

    "The company unveiled its electric vans in October 2020. Then in February, the company initiated a delivery service using the custom-tailored electric vans in the Los Angeles area.

    "The van is a first-of-its-kind all-electric delivery vehicle that can drive up to 150 miles on a single charge."

    This development comes as National Public Radio reports that "all major delivery companies are starting to replace their gas-powered fleets with electric or low-emission vehicles, a switch that companies say will boost their bottom lines, while also fighting climate change and urban pollution.

    "UPS has placed an order for 10,000 electric delivery vehicles. Amazon is buying 100,000 from the start-up Rivian. DHL says zero-emission vehicles make up a fifth of its fleet, with more to come.

    "And FedEx just pledged to replace 100% of its pickup and delivery fleet with battery-powered vehicles by 2040."

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that Walmart "has removed rules requiring sellers on its marketplace website to be registered in the U.S. - an attempt to close the e-commerce gap with Amazon.com Inc. and tap into China’s vast network of manufacturers.

    "This month, the world’s largest retailer began opening up its third-party marketplace to foreign sellers, who no longer need a U.S. address or business tax identification. The vendors will still be carefully vetted, both locally and by Walmart’s global trust and safety team, to prevent the listing of unsavory items. The new sellers will make up just a fraction of Walmart’s total seller population, which is mainly based in the U.S."

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    •  Axios reports that the US House of Representatives "voted 247-174 on Thursday to pass a bipartisan bill that would allow an estimated 1 million undocumented farmworkers and their children to gain legal status through continued employment … Farmworkers and crop hands were designated essential workers during the pandemic. The bill would allow them to apply for legal status after working in agriculture for at least 180 days over two years."

    The story notes that 12 Republican co-sponsored the bill in the House, though its future in the Senate "is uncertain."

    Tom Stenzel, president-CEO of United Fresh Produce Association, said in a prepared statement, “Today, the House of Representatives took an important step towards reforming our agricultural labor system by passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act … The legislation will stabilize our current workforce and make improvements to ensure that a future workforce is available to meet the growing needs of the fresh produce industry.

    "The strong support for this measure would not have been possible without the leadership of Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA). Their efforts, aided by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, made today’s passage of the bill possible. Now our efforts turn to the Senate where we will work to further improve the bill and garner similar bipartisan support for this legislation."


    •  The Daily Mail reports that "the UK government is expected to lift a ban which forbids the cultivation and sale of genetically edited plants and animals, according to reports.  

    "A consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been assessing the ban on the practice and concludes tomorrow … This could potentially result in drought-resistant cattle, fatter pigs, juicier tomatoes, sweeter apples and disease-resistant crops like wheat and barley. "

    At the moment, genetic modification is prohibited on all foods sold in the UK and Europe. 

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    •  It is being reported that Shon Boney, co-founder and former CEO and chairman of Sprouts Farmers Market, has passed away at age 52 after a battle with brain cancer.

    Boney founded the company in 2002 with his father, Stan Boney;  Sprouts now has more than 360 locations across 23 states.

    The obit notes that one of Boney's avocations was using his skills as a private pilot to fly cancer patients and veterans to and from medical treatments around the country.

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    Yesterday we took note of a Bloomberg story about how "a year of Covid-19 has dramatically accelerated the transformation of big-box stores into e-commerce warehouses, causing ripple effects for hourly workers and a struggling real estate sector.

    "Shopping center mainstays Walmart Inc., Best Buy Co. and others are becoming fulfillment centers where workers assemble local deliveries and socially distanced consumers wait in parking spaces for their trunks to be filled. Space once devoted to t-shirts and TVs will now be used to pick and pack online orders or generate revenue by displaying ads for big brands like Samsung.

    "There’s no going back because consumers have embraced the web like never before during the pandemic. Stores will be smaller and integrated with digital operations, or risk becoming irrelevant."

    The question is, what comes next?  And who will live up to the challenge?

    I commented:

    There is no question that the big guys have had the resources to adapt to the pandemic world to a degree that a lot of other companies have not been able and there's every reason to believe that many of them will be able to adapt to the after-times as well.

    The  challenge, it seems to me, will be remaining customer-centric in a way that does not put process first … it will be critically important to keep focusing relentlessly on ever-evolving customer desires and to stay connected to them in intimate ways.

    "Fulfillment" ought to be the keyword - in all its permutations.

    Prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Fulfillment” is absolutely the word.

    Customer ‘fulfillment’ is analogous to ‘customer satisfaction’.  The retailers that understand that “fulfillment’ is not merely product replenishment, but the ‘fulfillment’ of their customers satisfaction...will in the end WIN.  As a well developed ecommerce consumer of both leading Ecommerce retailers, I find that I am frequently less “fulfilled’ by consistently late deliveries and less satisfying ‘product fulfillment’- even though I still pay for premium service.  Interesting. My local grocery retailer (who I still patronize several times a month) still knows me by name, bags my groceries, and has the freshest produce around....perhaps they will also ‘WIN” in the future of retail....yes- ‘Fulfillment’ is absolutely the word!

    On the subject of a federal minimum wage increase, one MNB reader wrote:

    In January we raised our entry level rate to $15 in an effort to attract more applicants. But it has not worked. Too many people are enjoying the extended benefits from unemployment and  I guess are managing ok without a job. And this week we encountered another issue … once the stimulus checks started to arrive, the sick calls increased. In order to cover shifts we are being forced to limit our hours of operation.

    Of course now our customers are inconvenienced, sales will drop, and the vicious circle begins! Lower sales means less hours for the employees. How do we attract more applicants now?

    But MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

    As an employer I followed Henry Ford’s model. I had entry level jobs but I never referred to them as minimum wage jobs. I never paid minimum wage - always at least a nickel or a dime above that. Not much, but that way I did not have to look at an applicant, tell them the job I was hiring them for was important and then say it paid minimum wage. Tell someone their worth is minimal and you increase the odds you will get minimal performance; not to mention costly turnover. Ford said if he paid the worker sweeping the shop floor a living wage he would bend over and pick up small tools and not just sweep them into the bin.

    On a grander scale, if people have more money they are more likely to participate in the economy. Ford, known as a pretty cold-blooded operator, knew that if he paid his employees at least enough to be able to purchase a Model-T he was creating a market. He said something like “a business’ employees ought to be its best customers.”

    If paying your employees a living wage (and investing in their personal and professional development) is going to cause you to go out of business, you aren’t much of a manager or business person. Take a hard look at how you operate, top to bottom.

    On the subject of the ending of mask mandates in Texas, MNB reader Mike Springer wrote:

    First of all, I’m a Texan (DFW area) who chooses to still wear a mask out in public as do most people I’ve noticed.  I honestly do it primarily out of respect for others more so than the fear of getting Covid (I do plan on getting my vaccine soon!); however, please give our state’s Legislatures a little credit for the decision IF it proves to be the right move.  You of all people understand the impact that the constraints of this pandemic has had on local businesses, mental health, quality of schooling etc…  We cannot ever remove 100% risk from the equation of life and this is just one more step in creating a new normal.  I’m proud to live in a state that recognizes and elevates individual freedoms… not recklessly but wisely (IMO)!   Apparently several thousands of Californians do as well! 

    I respect your opinion.  We're just going to have to agree to disagree about what is appropriate public health policy.

    Published on: March 19, 2021

    Sound of Metal is a fascinating film about what happens to Ruben, a punk metal drummer (played by Riz Ahmed) who begins to suffer dramatic hearing loss while touring around the country, with his singer girlfriend (Olivia Cooke) in his RV.  Ruben is a recovering addict, and the diagnosis - the only possible solution is cochlear implants, which are not covered by any sort of insurance, and Ruben has little money - threatens his life and livelihood.

    Much of the movie focuses on Ruben's stay at a rural shelter that specializes in deaf recovering addicts, run by a Vietnam vet named Joe who is a stern taskmaster, unwilling to let Ruben feel sorry for himself;  Joe believes that deafness is not a limitation but rather just a characteristic, and that's a hard premise for Ruben ton accept considering that music  has been his entire life.  Ahmed delivers a skillful performance, caught between limitations he cannot control and desires he cannot fulfill.

    The plot of the movie is engaging, but - and this may be ther first time I've ever written this - what really makes the movie is the sound design.  The way in which the film uses sound - sometimes scratchy, sometimes muted, sometimes silent - to make us feel what Ruben is going through is positively brilliant.

    Sound of Metal is an unusual piece of filmmaking, and I heartily recommend it.  (It is on Amazon Prime.)

    I'm here to admit that when ti comes to Justice League, I got it wrong.

    When the movie came out in 2017, I wrote that it was better than most comic book movie.  That was largely, I wrote, because of the contributions of Joss Whedon, who co-wrote the script and stepped in to finish the film when director Zack Snyder had to step away to deal with a family tragedy. Whedon brings necessary humor and light to the proceedings, and the film is measurably better because of it.

    Now, as almost anyone who's been paying attention knows, Justice League is back.  The original 2017 version was a financial disappointment, and in the intervening time comic book fans launched a social media campaign to have Warner Bros. release the original Zack Snyder version.

    Through a variety of machinations too complex to explain here, but at least in part because Warner Bros. has a new premium streaming service in need to fresh content, the studio gave Snyder $70 million to complete his version and even do a bit of fresh filming to make things more cohesive.

    Snyder's version is decidedly less sunny, and it also is a lot longer - four hours, compared to the original two.  What's most interesting about the film is how so many of the characters are dealing with parent issues - it actually makes the characters accessible in a strange sort of way.

    But I have to admit that Snyder's version is a lot better - it is thematically stronger and more consistent, offers stronger performances from all the actors, gives needed time to subplots that  flesh out the story, and avoids the stylistic schizophrenia of the first go-round.  What is now called Zack Snyder's Justice League won't be for everyone (I was a Superman and Batman fan when I was a little kid), but if you're up for a marathon, then go for it. 

    Also, I'm just going to say it - Ben Affleck may be my favorite Batman ever - an aging warrior, struggling to remain hopeful and fight off despair, grim but resolute.  

    One more movie to recommend.

    I read a piece the other day in Deadline about a new TV series that likely will be going to streaming, called "Monsieur Spade." It centers around writer Dashiell Hammett’s fictional detective, Sam Spade, originally played by Humphrey Bogart, now played by Clive Owen, "who has been quietly living out his golden years in the small town of Bozuls in the South of France. It’s 1963, the Algerian War has just ended, and in a very short time, so, too, will Spade’s tranquility."

    Sounds great.  It also sounds a little like "Only to Sleep," the 2018 novel by Lawrence Osborne about an aging Phillip Marlowe solving one last case, which I loved.

    But … reading about "Monsieur Spade" made me want to go back to the 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon, written and directed by John Huston and starring Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.  And so I did … and wow, was I glad.  The Maltese Falcon  crackles with smart dialogue, strong pacing, and tons of foggy San Francisco atmosphere.  

    Great stuff.  If you're in the mood for an oldie and a goodie, watch it.

    I have a couple of wines to recommend to you this week …

    There's the 2019  Les Athlètes du Vin pinot noir from Touraine, France, which I thought was a nice light and drinkable pinot.  (Mrs. Content Guy wants me to tell you that she found it too light, and prefers heartier pinots from Oregon.  What can I say?  I've trained her well.)

    And, there's the 2017 Hillersden Pinot Noir from New Zealand, which is both complex and highly drinkable.


    That's it for this week … Have a good weekend … and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.

    Sláinte!