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    Published on: March 30, 2021

    We're at a unique moment, when nature is offering up a vast (though at the same time, limited) supply chain.  KC has a thought about this provides both a lesson and opportunity for food retailers.

    Published on: March 30, 2021

    Albertsons and Google this morning announced what they called "a multi-year partnership to make shopping easier and more convenient for millions of customers nationwide."  The deal includes planned innovations around consumer-facing functionality such as "shoppable maps with dynamic hyperlocal features … AI-powered conversational commerce … (and) predictive grocery list building."

    In addition, the announcement says, the companies "are making it even easier for customers to get groceries for pickup and delivery, by providing helpful information about online ordering from many Albertsons Cos.’ stores directly within mobile search. This functionality is coming to Google Maps later this year."

    “Albertsons Cos. is continuing to transform into a modern retailer fit for the future, and we are leading the industry forward by providing the easiest and most exciting shopping experience for our customers,” said Chris Rupp, EVP and Chief Customer & Digital Officer at Albertsons, in a prepared statement.   “In bringing together Google’s technology expertise with our commitment to customer-centric innovation, we’re providing our customers with a superior shopping experience no matter how they choose to shop with us."

    The announcement says that "Google and Albertsons Cos. have been collaborating behind the scenes for the past year and, as part of the partnership announcement today, are debuting several new enhancements that will make the shopping experience easier and more exciting. Albertsons Cos. has engaged with numerous teams at Google, covering a wide range of technologies and services aimed at making the customer experience more efficient … Google’s partnership with Albertsons Cos. will build on projects already implemented to improve the customer experience. For example, earlier this month, Albertsons announced its use of Business Messages to help people get up-to-date information about COVID-19 vaccines at Albertsons Cos. pharmacies."

    KC's View:

    The word from within Albertsons is that there is a real commitment there to using technology to drive real innovations that will make it ever-more competitive with the likes of Walmart and Amazon.  It is a cultural shift within the company, I'm told, not cosmetic or ephemeral.

    I think there is every reason to think that while the acceleration toward e-grocery will slow down if/when the pandemic recedes, the broader acceptance of e-commerce as a way to buy food will continue … and everything Albertsons can do, in concert with relevant partners, to facilitate shifting consumer habits is critical to remaining relevant.

    It's interesting.

    The New York Times had a story the other day about how Google is approaching the e-commerce challenge, noting that it has not been nearly as successful as hoped in becoming a legitimate competitor to Amazon … and so now it is trying to get out of its own way by working to facilitate the ways in which brands connect to shoppers.

    And so Google is highly motivated to make relationships like the one with Albertsons work.

    Published on: March 30, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about how fast casual restaurant Applebee's is selling hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of wings each week - bit it is doing so not under its only brand, but as Cosmic Wings, which is only available for online sale,. delivered by Uber Eats.

    "The wings, developed with PepsiCo Inc.’s Frito-Lay division, are aimed at younger consumers who want late-night food that sounds cool," chain executives tell the Journal.

    The story goes on:

    "So-called virtual brands have mushroomed on food-delivery apps during the Covid-19 pandemic. Uber Technologies Inc.’s Eats division said it has more than 10,000 brands on its U.S. platform, up from more than 3,000 at the start of 2019 - most of them run by existing restaurants. DoorDash Inc. said it has added many online-only brands in the past year. Casual-dining chains have used them to try to attract new customers less interested in their vintage parent brands."

    Indeed, the Journal writes, "Local sandwich shops, major chains and Michelin-starred chefs are cooking up online-only brands from their kitchens, tapping existing staff, equipment and food to broaden delivery options as the health crisis brought a year of restrictions to their dining rooms. The virtual brands also provide a low-cost way for restaurants to try to boost sales without building new spaces."

    KC's View:

    One of the things that this trend reflects is how easy - and maybe easy is the wrong word - it is for nascent brands to compete with and nibble away at the market shares of legacy brands.  A lot of folks are less interested in brands with a pedigree than they are with brands with an innate relevance to how they live their lives.

    If this can happen in the fast casual segment, there's no reason to think that it cannot happen to the traditional food retail business.  In a lot of ways, the business models of companies like Instacart and Door D ash are structured to allow this to happen ... they come in under cover of night as service providers designed to help retailer clients, establish their bona fides as being relevant to the customer, eventually supplant the retailer's brand's dominance, and then are positioned to compete with their clients for the customers' loyalty.

    The battleground may be virtual, but the battle itself is anything but.

    Published on: March 30, 2021

    The New York Times reports that there are heightened anxieties "shared by retail and fast-food workers in states like Mississippi and Texas, where governments have removed mask mandates before a majority of people have been vaccinated and while troubling new variants of the coronavirus are appearing. It feels like a return to the early days of the pandemic, when businesses said customers must wear masks but there was no legal requirement and numerous shoppers simply refused. Many workers say that their stores do not enforce the requirement, and that if they do approach customers, they risk verbal or physical altercations."

    The Times goes on:  

    "For many people who work in retail, especially grocery stores and big-box chains, the mask repeals are another example of how little protection and appreciation they have received during the pandemic. While they were praised as essential workers, that rarely translated into extra pay on top of their low wages. Grocery employees were not initially given priority for vaccinations in most states, even as health experts cautioned the public to limit time in grocery stores because of the risk posed by new coronavirus variants. (Texas opened availability to everyone 16 and older on Monday.)"

    And:

    "The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents nearly 900,000 grocery workers, said this month that at least 34,700 grocery workers around the country had been infected with or exposed to Covid-19 and that at least 155 workers had died from the virus. The recent mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., has only rattled workers further and added to concerns about their own safety."

    The Times notes that "the differing state and business mandates have some workers worried about more confrontations. The retail industry was already trying to address the issue last fall, when a major trade group helped put together training to help workers manage and de-escalate conflicts with customers who resisted masks, social distancing and store capacity limits. Refusing service to people without masks, or asking them to leave, has led to incidents in the past year like a cashier’s being punched in the face, a Target employee’s breaking his arm and the fatal shooting of a Family Dollar security guard."

    KC's View:

    In my view, much about the story represents the ways in which we've approached the virus have gone off the rails.

    First of all, I'd dispute the assertion by some workers, reported by the Times, about " how little protection and appreciation they have received during the pandemic."  I'm sure there have been places where that's true, but by and large, to my knowledge, retailers have done a terrific job of trying to protect and compensate employees - from safety precautions taken in store to, in some cases, tens of millions of dollars in hazard pay and bonuses.  Again, not everywhere … but in many places.

    Rather than focusing on government-mandated hazard pay for grocery workers, lawmakers might be better off focusing on making sure that retail employees (and, importantly, their spouses/partners) have access to vaccines, and that shoppers have to wear masks when in stores.  And then, if employers want to pay out hazard pay, they can.

    Taking this approach, I think, would go a lot farther in trying to protect employees' lives and livelihoods.

    Published on: March 30, 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 31,033,801 total Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 563,206 deaths, and 23,509,220 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 128,317,896 coronavirus cases, with 2,806,154 resultant fatalities, and 103,530,069 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Washington Post reports that "at least 95 million people have received one or both doses of the vaccine in the U.S.  This includes more than 49.5 million people who have been fully vaccinated … 180.6 million doses have been distributed."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "a shrinking percentage of Americans are expressing reluctance to get a Covid-19 vaccine, a positive sign for the efforts to get shots in the arms of enough people to reach herd immunity.

    The findings come from the latest release of a large-scale survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and developed in concert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics … The survey found about 17% of adults said they would either definitely or probably not get vaccinated, down from 22% in January. The decline was almost entirely due to fewer respondents saying they probably won’t get the shot; the share saying they definitely won’t has remained essentially unchanged in the past two months."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "the U.S. vaccine drive is expanding. President Biden said Monday that the administration is more than doubling the number of pharmacies in the federal program and opening additional mass-vaccination sites. He said 90% of adults would be eligible for vaccination by April 19 and that 90% would have a vaccination site within 5 miles of their residence."

    •  Bloomberg reports that "Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. effectively prevented coronavirus infections, not just illness, with substantial protection evident two weeks after the first dose, government researchers said.

    "Two doses of the vaccines provide as much as 90 percent protection against infection, according to data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published Monday. Earlier clinical trials had established that the shots also prevent illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.

    The study adds to evidence that new vaccines made with messenger RNA technology actually reduce the spread of the virus in real-world conditions."

    Today marks two weeks since my second vaccine.  Feeling good creates a positive state of mind.

    •  However, it is not all good news on the pandemic front …

    The Washington Post reports that "new coronavirus cases in the United States continued to rise in the past week, jumping by as much as 12 percent nationwide, as senior officials implored Americans to stick to public health measures to help reverse the trend.

    "The seven-day average of new cases topped 63,000 for the first time in nearly a month … while states such as Michigan, Vermont and North Dakota reported substantial spikes in new infections. The nation appeared poised for a fourth wave of illness even as vaccine eligibility is expanding in many states.

    "Michigan led the nation in new cases with a 57 percent rise over the past week. The state, which relaxed covid-related restrictions earlier this month, also reported the largest increase in coronavirus hospitalizations, which grew by more than 47 percent."

    •  Axios reports that "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky went off script at a briefing Monday and made an emotional plea to Americans not to let up on public health measures amid fears of a fourth wave … 'I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,' Walensky said, appearing to hold back tears. 'We do not have the luxury of inaction. For the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge'."

    The Axios story points out that the White House coronavirus response team "is seeking to confront the current dichotomy in the U.S., in which immense optimism from the speed of the vaccine rollout must be balanced with continued restraint in moving forward with normalcy.

    "'The thing that’s different this time is we actually have it in our power to be done with this scale of vaccination and that will be so much slower if we have another surge to deal with as well,' Walensky said.  'I’m speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer. I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet'."

    •  The Washington Post writes that "Troubling signals abounded Monday. Daily case counts continued their trend in the wrong direction. The seven-day rolling average of infections, which is considered the most reliable measure of daily case counts, rose for the seventh consecutive day, finishing just below 64,000 … Some hospitals reported admitting younger people with more severe disease. That is evidence that vaccines are protecting people older than 65 who once were the most vulnerable but leaving the unvaccinated exposed. A new variant of the virus that is more contagious and causes more severe disease is taking hold across the country."

    Evidence of the age shift, according to the Post:  "At Connecticut’s Yale New Haven Health System … admissions of covid-19 patients ages 35 to 44 are up 41 percent in the past seven weeks, while admission of people 65 and older is down more than 70 percent. At Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, inpatients older than 65 have largely disappeared, replaced by a younger population. And among the patients in Michigan’s Henry Ford Health System, the median age has declined to 58, years younger than during previous surges of the virus."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "more than 20 heads of government and global agencies called in a commentary published Tuesday for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness that they say will protect future generations in the wake of COVID-19.

    "But there were few details to explain how such an agreement might actually compel countries to act more cooperatively.

    "World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Premier Mario Draghi of Italy and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda proposed 'a renewed collective commitment' to reinforce preparedness and response systems by leveraging the U.N. health agency’s constitution.

    "'The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next one,' Tedros said during a news conference. He said the treaty would provide 'a framework for international cooperation and solidarity' and address issues like surveillance systems and responding to outbreaks'."

    The story notes that "international regulations governing health and implemented by WHO already exist - and can be disregarded by countries with few consequences."

    Published on: March 30, 2021

    •   CNBC reports that in the UK, food delivery startup Deliveroo - which is 11.5 percent owned by Amazon - "has changed the target value for its initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange, after some investors expressed concerns over workers’ rights and the company’s share ownership structure."

    The reduction in share value reflects the fact that Deliveroo has reduced its market cap from as high as $12 billion (US) to as high as $10.7 billion.

    CNBC writes that "Deliveroo said it’s reacting to market conditions, which have taken a turn for the worse in the last week. Half of the tech IPOs in the U.S., and in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, priced in the bottom third of their announced ranges last week.

    "However, the new share price range announcement also comes amid an investor revolt. Several large investors said they plan to shun the Deliveroo IPO on April 7 over workers’ rights and the company’s share ownership structure, which gives CEO Will Shu over 50% of the voting rights."

    Published on: March 30, 2021

    •  The St. Louis Business Journal reports that Amazon is in negotiations to open one of its Amazon Fresh grocery stores in the city of Sunset Hills, Missouri, about 22 miles southwest of St. Louis.

    According to the story, "The e-commerce company is working with commercial real estate firm Sansone Group to repurpose the vacant Toys "R" Us storefront at the Shoppes at Sunset Hills, at 3600 S. Lindbergh Blvd., into an Amazon Fresh grocery store, according to several local real estate sources.

    "It would be the first Amazon Fresh in the state of Missouri. The company operates a dozen locations in California and the Chicago area, according to its website."

    Published on: March 30, 2021

    •  CNBC reports that "Bed Bath & Beyond announced two key hires for its $3 billion e-commerce business.

    "Jill Pavlovich, previously head of exclusive brands and merchandising for the online furniture retailer Wayfair, has been named senior vice president of digital commerce at Bed Bath.

    "Jake Griffith, previously a general manager for sports and fitness at the big-box retailer Walmart, has been named vice president of product management."

    Published on: March 30, 2021

    Yesterday we shared a piece from the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, in which writer Laura Deal spoke about the importance of the local King Soopers in her life and the lives of her friends and family.  It is, of course, the King Soopers where a gunman massacred 10 people.  There was no happy ending … but if you missed it, you can check it out here.  It's worth it.

    MNB reader Kari Mitchell wrote:

    Thank you for sharing a beautiful, poignant story.  I am getting my second tissue to wipe my eyes.

    I don't think that store may ever be what it was and maybe should not even try.  Many years ago there was an incident at a Sirloin Stockade restaurant in south Oklahoma City.  That store closed and eventually was leveled.  I never drive by there without remembering that restaurant even though it is not there any more.  People tried to move on and forget.

    We built a beautiful memorial in honor of those we lost in the Murrah Federal Building bombing.  It honors those lost so that we don't forget.  Hopefully the citizens of Colorado can honor those lost instead of pretending it didn't exist.

    I hope and pray that we will not need any other memorials in the future.

    Thanks again for sharing.

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    Glad you shared Boulder resident Laura Deal’s ode to King Soopers from The Boulder Daily Camera.  It has been a very tough week here.

    Yesterday, I stopped at my own King Soopers for a few things.  An armed guard greeted me as I walked in.  On the way out, I thanked her for doing what is often considered a thankless job.  She said many customers stopped to offer similar words of thanks.  I’m not sure how long King Soopers will do this, but I know here in Boulder, it made a difference this week among shoppers who are hypersensitive to the psychological change in Boulder for the worse.  Inside the store, it also appeared that they had brought in workers from the other location to work—it seemed there were employees everywhere, offering assistance and smiles.  The show must go on and King Soopers stepped up and gave it their best.