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    Published on: March 25, 2021

    One of the things that the pandemic has taught us is that office employees don't necessarily need to be in the office to be effective.  KC wonders, however, if this actually offers a lesson on how to transcend location on the way to being more innovative.

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    The New York Times reports that while from the beginning of the pandemic there were concerns among Americans about gaining the dreaded “quarantine 15,” a year later the reality may actually be worse.

    According to the story, "a very small study using objective measures - weight measurements from Bluetooth-connected smart scales - suggests that adults under shelter-in-place orders gained more than half a pound every 10 days."  Which would translate to an almost 20-pound average weight gain since the pandemic began.

    Of course, this always has been a persistent problem in the US, which the Times notes "already has among the highest rates of overweight and obesity in the world. Some 42 percent of American adults over age 20 have obesity, as defined by body mass index, while another 32 percent of Americans are simply overweight."

    “We know that weight gain is a public health problem in the U.S. already, so anything making it worse is definitely concerning, and shelter-in-place orders are so ubiquitous that the sheer number of people affected by this makes it extremely relevant,” says Dr. Gregory M. Marcus, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

    Marcus says that actual national numbers could be a lot worse, since people using Bluetooth-connected scales probably are more health-conscious than others … which would suggest that people not using such smart scales may have gained a lot more weight during the past year.

    KC's View:

    First of all, this story is all the reason I need never to get a Bluetooth-enabled scale.  I mean, jeez.

    I do think that these numbers create an enormous opportunity for people in the food business to be newly relevant to their shoppers.  Whether through the promotion of healthier foods or the creation of programs that develop a sense of community among people trying to lose weight in the after-times, retailers ought to be jumping all over this opportunity.

    To be perfectly honest, I count myself among the folks dealing with this issue.  About three years ago I lost 40 pounds, and found myself able to keep about 35 of them off through mildly careful eating and consistent exercise - not just jogging, but also all the day-to-day exercise I'd get walking.  I love to walk.  But over the past year, I've gained about half that weight back - it was the combination of not traveling (not being in Portland, where I tend to get a ton of exercise, last summer was a killer), lazier eating, and then an injury that kept me from jogging for about four months.  (Lousy winter weather didn't help, since the gym was closed.)

    And so I'm trying to regain some discipline, especially because I've booked some live speeches for later this year;  my goal is to get down to fighting weight by the time I hit the road again.  People like me are the center of the target when it comes to marketing healthier eating habits.

    But I'm still not investing in a Bluetooth-enabled scale.

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    Bloomberg has a story about the "large cohort of U.S. 'solopreneurs' who started online retail businesses in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis … Economic necessity, combined with numerous turnkey options for launching an e-commerce business and a social-media fueled American obsession with the side hustle. have created a new generation of small businesses and solo retailers who don’t need a physical space, at least yet. That shift suggests cities may need to rethink how they court and support retail jobs and small businesses in the coming years."

    'The story points out while the pandemic was devastating for many legacy retail businesses, "amid this shellacking for storefronts, evidence suggests that small-scale e-commerce businesses may have boomed in 2020 beyond the expected growth tied to the global rise of online shopping. A February study by the Economic Innovation Group, an advocacy organization for entrepreneurs, found that business applications in the U.S. went up 24% overall in 2020, the highest on record. Applications fell off a cliff in the spring as the coronavirus arrived in the U.S., but then shot up in the summer, especially in the Southeast and in several Rust Belt states. The jump was buoyed by 77% year-over-year growth in “non-store retail” businesses, defined as companies that sell goods online or directly to clients. Shopify, one of the largest digital retail platforms, says that online store creation on its platform rose 79% in 2020 over 2019. "

    The thing is, this growth is not necessarily the kind that will reinvigorate malls and shopping centers and the communities in which they are located.  Bloomberg writes that "predictions and planning for the future of retail in cities recovering from Covid often address things like zoning reform, pop-up stores and rethinking commercial leases to promote more strategic locations and flexible terms for businesses. But the boom in online-only businesses, especially for first-time entrepreneurs, suggests that accommodating this sector must also be part of how cities make room for retail. It may mean even fewer new businesses will be looking for storefronts when the pandemic ends."

    KC's View:

    One of the things that the Bloomberg story illustrates is the degree to which these solopreneurs were highly customer-focused;  they started their businesses because they saw a specific customer need and addressed it.  (Like the woman who noticed that her engagement ring was dirty, and started an online business selling non-toxic jewelry care products.)  That's a lesson for every retailer - physical and digital.  The moment you get in trouble will be the moment you stop being relentlessly customer-centric.

    I do have one other thought, which is that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that many of these online solopreneurs may eventually find themselves considering the opening of physical locations, believing that it will help build their brands and connect them to customers in a different way.  That's what happened with companies like Warby Parker, and it could easily happen again.

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    CNN reports that "a man armed with a rifle entered an Atlanta Publix Supermarket Wednesday in Midtown at Atlantic Station, a commercial and residential area in the city, police said.

    "A witness saw the man entering "the location openly carrying a rifle and entered the bathroom" and alerted the store management and then notified police, according to a preliminary investigation," during which "officers recovered five firearms (two long guns and three pistols) and body armor."

    The 22-year old man carrying the weapons has been arrested and charged with reckless conduct.

    The incident comes just days after a mass shooting at a Boulder, Colorado, King Soopers left 10 people, including four store employees and one policeman, dead, and eight days after a series of shooting at three Atlanta-area spas.

    CNN reports that "Atlanta police also responded to a call of a suspicious package" at the same location after the arrest of the man, but it is unknown if the two incidents were related.

    KC's View:

    One has to wonder if we're going to see a move by retailers all over the country to beef up their security because of concerns that the events of the last few weeks portends terrible reality with which they all may have to deal.

    Are we going to have to walk through airport-style metal detectors in order to enter a supermarket?  Will there be the obvious presence of armed guards?  Will some of the plexiglass that became omnipresent during the pandemic be converted to bulletproof glass?  I'm not sure any of this is out of the question, especially as businesses look for ways to assure both employees and customers that their stores are safe harbors.

    One other note.  If physical stores are not perceived as being safe by shoppers, then the acceleration of e-commerce and e-grocery may in fact continue in the same way that it did as the pandemic became a fact of our lives.

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    The Associated Press reports that researchers in Bordeaux, France, are analyzing a unique and expensive bottle of Petrus Pomerol wine - as well as 320 snippets of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines - to evaluate the impact of space flight on them.

    The wine and vines just spent a year in space, the story says, on board the International Space Station, and scientists are trying to figure out how the extended period off-planet affects them.

    The conclusions, so far, are that "weightlessness didn’t ruin the wine and it seemed to energize the vines."  One expert said that the Petrus Pomerol seemed to have softer tannins and "more floral aromatics" than one that remained Earthbound.

    According to the story, "Organizers say it’s part of a longer-term effort to make plants on Earth more resilient to climate change and disease by exposing them to new stresses, and to better understand the aging process, fermentation and bubbles in wine."

    KC's View:

    I'm a little disappointed that they didn't test the impact of space on a bottle of Chateau Picard.  Maybe next time.

    The story notes that "alcohol and glass are normally prohibited on the International Space Station, so each bottle was packed inside a special steel cylinder during the journey."  Which also is disappointing - because it also might've been interesting to probe the impact of consuming alcohol while weightless.  (Though they'd probably want to do it in a way that prevented the astronaut doing the drinking from having access to the controls.)

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    The island and city of Bainbridge Island, Washington, just across Puget Sound from Seattle, has imposed a hazard pay mandate on the community's two supermarkets.

    According to a story in the Kitsap Sun, the city council was unanimous in its vote, "citing the pandemic and the risks grocery store workers face in their jobs and buoyed by the dismissal of a lawsuit challenging a similar requirement in Seattle."

    The story explains:  "The ordinance would apply to the island’s two grocery stores, Winslow Way’s Town & Country Market and a Safeway location on High School Road.

    "The measure requires grocery store employers with between 500 and 2,000 employees worldwide to pay out a hazard pay rate of $2 per hour and employers with more than 2,000 employees to pay at a rate of $4 per hour. The requirement will remain in place until the City Council repeals the ordinance."

    KC's View:

    I'm just not sure what the rationale is - are the workers in these two grocery stores really more at risk than the employees at Bay Hay & Feed, or Skookum Clothing, or the Wildernest Outdoor Store, or Salt House Mercantile, or any of the other retailers operating on Bainbridge Island?  

    I haven't seen the evidence.

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "jobless claims reached their lowest level of the pandemic last week, as the U.S. economy’s revival picks up speed.

    "Worker filings for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, fell to 684,000 last week from 781,000 a week earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday. Claims are now at the lowest point since mid-March of last year and below the pre-pandemic high of 695,000 … Widespread vaccinations, easing business restrictions and government stimulus are helping spur economic growth. Americans are spending more on in-person services such as restaurants, gyms, hotels and salons, that were battered by the coronavirus pandemic."

    Published on: March 25, 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 a total of 30,704,292 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 558,422 deaths, and 23,132,879 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there now have been 125,537,800 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,758,723 resultant fatalities, and 101,357,928 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 85.5 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 43.8 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 169.2 million doses have been distributed.

    •  From Axios:

    "The U.S. is now averaging about 53,000 new cases per day — essentially unchanged from last week’s average. Cases have been holding steady in this range for several weeks … 19 states saw their average daily cases increase over the past week, and 14 states saw their numbers fall. The biggest improvements were in Arizona and Nevada, both of which saw new cases drop by about 45%.

    "Michigan, on the other hand, took the biggest step backward, with a 50% rise in new cases."

    While "vaccinations are growing a whole lot faster than cases, and will ultimately bring about the end of this pandemic," the inevitable conclusion seems to be that it "will require non-vaccine interventions - like masks and social distancing - to avoid another wave of rising infections while vaccines continue to roll out."

    •  Axios writes that two public health experts are warning that "the U.S. needs to ramp up the use of rapid COVID-19 testing in order to curb the pandemic and prepare for reopening."  Mass vaccinations, they say, are not enough.

    " Jennifer Nuzzo of Johns Hopkins, and Michael Mina of Harvard's Kennedy School of Public Health, say mass testing will be imperative to tracking outbreaks and containing the virus in the coming months."

    "We need rapid tests that are ubiquitous, that we can use in lots of different places, and at a volume that will enable repeat testing. And we also need them to be much more inexpensive than they are right now," Nuzzo said.

    "Some of the cheapest rapid tests are about $5 each, which is extraordinarily low cost in the scheme of things, and particularly compared to laboratory testing" she added. "But there are 15 million public school children in the U.S. And so even if you were to test all of the ones, that would be a prohibitive cost."

    "[I]n the midst of a pandemic, we can switch the purpose of testing from just purely a diagnostic test to actually a test that is going to help mitigate spread at the community level....the only way to make that a reality is to get the tests away from being prescription-use only, make them smaller, simpler and tests that people could be using at home," Mina said.

    •  From USA Today:

    "A growing share of Americans would feel safe resuming activities like  dining out or flying within a few weeks of their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but 25% to 30% would wait until the nation reaches herd immunity, according to a Harris Poll survey … Their attitudes bode well for what’s expected to be a historically robust recovery from the coronavirus recession. But the sizeable share of people who prefer to wait until at least 70% of the population is immune could mean a less roaring launch to the rebound as some activity shifts to late summer and fall from midyear."

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Bloomberg reports that "Facebook and became the largest corporate lobbying spenders in Washington, D.C., the last two years, outstripping defense contractors and telecommunications providers, according to a new report from a progressive consumer advocacy group.

    "Facebook increased spending 56% to $19.7 million between 2018 and 2020, while Amazon spent 30% more to reach $18.7 million … The technology giants increased their spending as they came under unprecedented antitrust scrutiny in Washington."

    The story notes that "the figures were based on data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying disclosures."

    And here's another interesting data point from the story - that "nearly all lawmakers with oversight over privacy and antitrust matters - 94% - have received money from a corporate political action committee or a lobbyist representing a big technology company … In 2020, lawmakers received about $3.2 million in contributions."  And that doesn't even include money from trade associations that represent multiple companies.

    Best government money can buy.

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    •  Walmart said that it has invested $153 million (US) in Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce network, a move that give sit a 0.9 percent stake in the company.

    The funds will be used, Rakuten said, to "accelerate the growth" of its ecosystem and will enable "Walmart to benefit from future growth in a rapidly changing global retail environment."

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  Associated Wholesale Grocers has reported record consolidated company sales of $10.6 billion, an increase of 13.3 percent on a comparable basis over 2019, and said that it "distributed $254.4 million in year-end patronage, an increase of $40.59 million over 2019."

    According to the announcement, "AWG’s cooperative sales were $9.2 billion. The total distribution of cooperative benefits returned to shareholders, including interest, allowances, and patronage, was $615 million. Total members’ equity ended the year valued at $538.1 million."

    The past year also included "a record investment by AWG, an increase of $40 million over 2019, into promotional allowances and discounts on numerous center store and fresh products."

    “AWG set new records in every financial metric category and in patronage paid to our member stores while overcoming substantial challenges facing our business and the industry this past year,” said David Smith, president-CEO of AWG. “While keeping our teammates safe and maintaining supply to our members were top priorities, we also made significant progress on our strategic initiatives of Value Proposition, Health, Technology, and AWG Brands.”

    Full disclosure:  AWG is a longtime and valued sponsor of MorningNewsBeat.  But I would've reported this even if it weren't … 

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Facing higher logistics expenses from distribution operations roiled by the Covid-19 pandemic and severe winter weather, Dollar General Corp. plans to expand its private trucking fleet to bring more of its transportation in-house, the company’s chief operating officer said.

    "Jeff Owen, COO at the discount retail chain, says the move will help reduce shipping costs at a time when tight capacity in U.S. domestic supply chains is sending prices for trucking services soaring. Dollar General’s profit and gross margin expanded year over year in the latest quarter but higher shipping rates weighed on the bottom line, the company said.

    "The expansion comes as Dollar General is increasing its store network in the U.S. and building up its DG Fresh program."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "After years of false starts, New York state lawmakers said Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use by adults starting next year.

    "State Sen. Liz Krueger said lawmakers were finalizing a bill that would create a new state regulator for cannabis products and decriminalize the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana. New Yorkers will be allowed to cultivate marijuana for personal use and the state will study a new system for determining whether drivers are inebriated because of marijuana use, she said.

    "The bill is set to be taken up next week by the state Assembly and Senate, lawmakers said."

    Such a bill would almost certainly would be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has stated his support for recreational marijuana legalization.

    Cuomo also may be hoping that all his various scandals will vanish - or at least become imperceptible - through a haze of marijuana smoke.

    •  The New York Times has a story about an enormous changed in the fish farming industry - the fact that "farmed fish like salmon and trout had become mostly vegetarians."

    This is seen as an environmental advance, since two decades ago an alarm was sounded about how much wild fish stock was being gobbled up by fish farms, which both spread disease and caused pollution.  But both problems have been reduced as farmed fish are fed more plants, such as soy.

    This is important, the Times writes, because "aquaculture is a source of income for millions of small-scale fishers and revenue for fish-exporting countries. It is also vital if the world’s 7.75 billion people want to keep eating fish and shellfish without draining the ocean of wild fish stocks and marine biodiversity."

    Published on: March 25, 2021

    Regarding my admittedly doctrinaire (and, I'd like to think, science-based) position on dealing with the pandemic, one MNB reader wrote:

    Kevin, I have to comment on the “People who travel are foolish” comment … I am glad someone else did, because I thought the same thing when I read that.  I have been traveling back and for the from Florida to NJ the last 6 months because my Dad was sick, in Hospice, and then passed away January 2nd this year.  I am the Executor of his estate, therefore I am still traveling back and forth to get all of the affairs in order and to sell properties.  In my opinion, flying is safer than driving.  Have you ever seen the filth on a gas pump? Or the rest stop doors, bathrooms, etc.  I have witnessed the process the Airlines are taking to sanitize the planes in between flights.  The first thing you get when you board the plane is a wipe, which most passengers open immediately to wipe down their seats, tray table, air vents, seats belt, etc.  The planes also recycle the air every 2 minutes, they always have but that is a good thing.  So, before anyone can make a statement like that, they probably need to know the facts.  

    First of all, my condolences.

    Second, it sounds like what you are doing is the very definition of essential travel.

    Third … I think I'm just going to shut up when it comes to this issue, at least for a bit.  I'm not sure I'm doing anyone any good.

    Better that I go back to picking on Instacart.