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    Published on: April 20, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    When it comes to coping with new challenges or innovations, we should never overlook the power of love. Somehow, the dating scene always manages to provide insights.

    I remember hearing a sociologist speak some years back, explaining how cars only grew in popularity once teen-agers figured out creative uses for the back seat. And until very recently the most profitable - and technologically progressive - sites on the Internet were the kinds of places we don’t often talk about here on MNB.

    So it makes sense even in Covid times to look to the world of romance for some clues on what behaviors are and are not working. (And believe me, this is going to be a very PG rated version of this topic because, basically, I don’t know anything else.)

    Back around Valentine’s Day, the Washington Post ran an interesting story about how people using dating apps were navigating covid times. As the writer - who was on the dating scene - explained, things changed really, really quickly. For businesses, the insights may help us understand what information consumers are prepared to share as topics such as “vaccine passports” start drawing more attention.

    The Post reporter found that very suddenly, many people on dating apps were changing their profile names to things like “vaccinated,” “covid vaccinated,” and “fully vaccinated.” He learned from OK Cupid, one popular site, that listings mentioning vaccination status jumped by 137 percent between just November and January. One can only guess as to how common those words are now.

    OK Cupid also reported that participants who posted a willingness to get the vaccines were making connections (getting that important right swipe) at a significantly higher rate than others.  Retailers rarely swipe left (or reject) any shoppers, but the dating apps may be something of a bellwether here. Perhaps consumers are placing more importance on this topic than some believe.

    There are countless unknowns about Covid and how people are going to respond once the virus is tamed.  Covid has forced so many changes on us in so many ways that it seems almost trivial to wonder whether salad bars will regain their popularity, but these are issues we’ll all need to consider.

    In the meantime, there are so many issues retailers need examine, simply because food stores have been central to communities in countless ways in all times, virus or not.

    For example, this year I am once again working the National Grocers Association on the annual Creative Choice awards, aimed at recognizing excellence in marketing and merchandising. Since the awards won’t be handed out until NGA’s convention (this fall, we all hope) I won’t disclose any results beyond this:

    Despite all the limitations of Covid, independent retailers found ways to build excitement in their stores with timely and relevant merchandising and marketing that frequently linked shopping to necessary efforts in local communities.  In some cases, the results were extraordinary.

    So yes, Covid has come with a nearly endless array of challenges and problems. But as retailers and people on dating apps have found, those challenges bring new opportunities when tackled with creativity.

    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: April 20, 2021

    The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is formally challenging its loss at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where employees overwhelmingly voted to reject an organization effort.

    The New York Times reports that the union is "accusing the company of corrupting the voting process by intimidating and surveilling workers," and filed "objections to the election with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the voting-by-mail process last month."

    However, the Times notes that "many workers said that the union had failed to persuade them of the benefits of organizing and that they were largely satisfied with the pay, benefits and working conditions at Amazon."

    The Times provides the following context:

    "At the heart of the union’s complaint is a mailbox that Amazon installed in the warehouse parking lot where workers could drop off their ballots. The union said Amazon had brought in the collection box without approval from the labor board. The company also used video cameras that could monitor the workers who dropped off their ballots there and encouraged them to drop the ballots in the box rather than mail them from home, the union said.

    "The union said these actions by Amazon had 'created the impression that the collection box was a polling location and that the employer had control over the conduct of the mail ballot election.'

    "The union also accused Amazon of other tactics that may have intimidated workers, such as hiring local police to patrol the parking lot area while organizers were outside and pulling possibly pro-union workers out of 'captive audience' meetings that the company held to address the organizing drive among the staff."

     Amazon said in a response, "Rather than accepting these employees’ choice, the union seems determined to continue misrepresenting the facts in order to drive its own agenda. We look forward to the next steps in the legal process."

    In the challenge is successful, the NLRB then could order another election.

    KC's View:

    This isn't just about Alabama, and it isn't even just about Amazon.

    The organized labor movement saw this election as a chance to regain momentum lost over the past decade or so, and use it as a foundation from which to organize Amazon, moving on to Walmart, and then using some of that leverage in other negotiations.  Losing was a big hit.

    Published on: April 20, 2021

    Fox News reports that "Aldi is testing out selling pasta from dispensers where shoppers could in theory buy as much as they want in an effort to cut down on plastic and packaging … The supermarket will also sell rice in a similar fashion."

    According to the story, "Under the budget supermarket’s new trial, being tested out in the U.K. to start, shoppers could buy refills of pasta or rice and pay by the weight. Shoppers will be given free, recyclable paper bags in the chain’s Cumbria, England location to browse through the offerings which will be officially named the 'Pasta and Rice refill station' …  Customers can browse through an assortment of pasta shapes like wholewheat fusilli, penne pasta, basmati rice and others. The aim, the store says, is to remove more than 21 million pieces of packaging from stores annually."

    KC's View:

    Isn't this the bulk department of old?

    Amazing what passes for new-and-innovative these days.

    That said, anything we can do as a culture to cut down on packaging makes sense.  Even if it means embracing programs from decades ago.

    Published on: April 20, 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 32,475,043 confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 581,542 deaths, and 25,043,463 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 142,819,229 coronavirus cases, with 3,046,282 resultant fatalities, and 121,353,574 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  As of this morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, 50.7 percent of the US population age 18 or older has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 33 percent is fully vaccinated.  Among those 65 or older, 80.1 percent have received at least one dose, and 64.9 percent is fully vaccinated.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that "newly reported Covid-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. rose from a day earlier, but even with all American adults now eligible for vaccines, federal health officials warned the U.S. faces a critical phase in the fight against the coronavirus.

    "There were more than 67,000 new cases reported for Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and published early Tuesday morning Eastern time … Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that the nation’s seven-day average was rising--it was 53,000 cases a day four weeks ago, she said--and that the U.S. was in a 'complicated stage' of the pandemic.

    "Public-health officials and epidemiologists say the increases in Covid-19 cases in many parts of the country can be attributed to an array of factors including loosened restrictions, pandemic fatigue and a less-vaccinated younger population that may be more social or have public-facing jobs."

    •  Axios reports that "most Americans support the pause in distribution of the J&J vaccine, and there's no evidence so far that it worsened vaccine hesitancy … Republicans were almost as likely to support the pause as Democrats, an indication this issue hasn't been politicized … 91% knew about the move — an extremely high level of awareness for a news event, showing how closely Americans follow vaccine news."

    •  CNBC reports that the CDC is saying that "fewer than 6,000 cases of Covid-19 in fully vaccinated Americans … That represents just 0.007% of the 84 million Americans with full protection against the virus."

    “This is really encouraging encouraging news," says CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.  "It demonstrates what we’ve already discussed about these vaccines. They also help prevent you from getting seriously ill."

    •  CNN reports that "the State Department announced Monday that it would begin to update its travel advisories to more closely align with those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a change that 'will result in a significant increase in the number of countries at Level 4: Do Not Travel, to approximately 80% of countries worldwide.'

    "'This does not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country, but rather reflects an adjustment in the State Department's Travel Advisory system to rely more on CDC's existing epidemiological assessments,' the department said in a media note."

    Published on: April 20, 2021

    •  The Save Mart Companies has launched a pilot program, in partnership with Simbe, to roll out the autonomous inventory robot Tally in select Save Mart, Lucky/Lucky California and FoodMaxx banners in the Modesto and East Bay areas.

    According to the announcement, "Tally robots autonomously audit store shelves to ensure products are in stock and in the correct location on the sales floor. The real-time data and inventory insights collected by Tally help retailers reduce out-of-stocks by up to 30% and enable store teams to focus on servicing customers … After validating the pilot performance, The Save Mart Companies may explore Tally’s cloud-powered software platform and APIs to gain unprecedented information on the store’s inventory insights. This inventory information may be used to improve store performance by improving in-stock conditions, maximize customer satisfaction, and increase in-store and online sales."

    Published on: April 20, 2021

    •  Raley's announced the reopening of the first of its stores that has been converted from its traditional format to its new O-N-E Market format, in the Sacramento-area community of El Dorado Hills.

    The new format features a "highly curated assortment of products that are fresh, nutritious, organic when possible, minimally processed and sustainably sourced. In every department, the items are carefully selected to exclude ingredients from the Raley’s O-N-E Market banned ingredients list, such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated fats and oils."

    “Raley’s O-N-E Market is an important part of our long-range strategy, and there will be additional conversions beyond this one,” said Keith Knopf, Raley’s President & CEO. “The pace of transformation will be guided by our purpose and aligned with customer preference. This in mind, it is our intent to be ahead of the consumer curve and inform customer choice through a commitment to education and transparency.”

    •  Fast Company reports that Patagonia has decided to get out of the business of customizing its popular fleece vests with corporate logos, saying it will no longer do so.

    According to the story, " In its official statement, the company said the policy change is out of concern for the planet, arguing that logos reduce the lifespan of a garment, since people change jobs and it’s hard to pass logo’d gear on. But couched beneath this diplomatic language is a deeper conflict, since Patagonia has been trying to disentangle itself from tech and finance companies for years."

    It was two years ago that Patagonia said it would no longer customize vests with the logos of Silicon Valley and Wall Street companies, though it would continue to do so for "mission-driven companies that prioritize the planet."  Now now the company is going further.

    I'm a big fan of Patagonia - both its products and its philosophy.  For me, the most important logo on its products is the one that makes that statement.

    Published on: April 20, 2021

    •  SpartanNash announced yesterday that it has hired Masiar Tayebi to be its new Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer.

    The company said that "Tayebi has more than 20 years of experience connecting strategy, technology and innovation to drive growth and transformational change. Prior to joining SpartanNash, Mr. Tayebi was Global Head of Corporate Strategy and Business Development at Whirlpool Corporation, as well as Chief Operating Officer of its most recent acquisition, Yummly, a leading digital food platform offering online grocery delivery to millions of users."

    •  The Consumer Brands Association (CBA) announced the hiring of  Jen Daulby, most recently the minority staff director for the Committee on House Administration, to be its new SVP, government affairs.

    Published on: April 20, 2021

    •  Walter 'Fritz" Mondale, the longtime US Senator from Minnesota who became Jimmy Carter's vice president and then lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan in a 1984 landslide, has passed away.  He was 93.

    The general consensus is that Mondale - who later in his career served as US ambassador to Japan during the Clinton administration - changed the nature of the office of the vice presidency, making it far more active than in previous administrations.  He also broke new ground when, in 1984, he named Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York as his running mate, making her the first woman to run on a major-party presidential ticket.

    Published on: April 20, 2021

    Responding to yesterday's piece about how Target is taking greater control of its delivery process, one MNB reader wrote:

    Now if Target can only pack the products that the customer ordered and not switch out to another product.. they might be successful !

    We had a piece yesterday about how a newsstand at Dallas Love Field is equipped with Amazon's Just-Walk-Out technology, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    Amazon has also partnered with OTG at Newark Airport on their “Just Walk Out” technology.  It’s a CIBO Express store.  Unfortunately, it’s past TSA security so you will need to actually travel to see it.  This store opened in August, 2020.

    Thanks.  I missed that one.  Then again, I haven't been in an airport since February 2020 (and I usually spend a lot of time at Newark…).

    We had a piece yesterday about how Amazon is going to spend close to a gazillion dollars on the first season of its new "Lord of the Rings" series.

    One MNB reader reacted:

    That’s great.  Amazon is going to do "Lord of the Rings."  I can’t wait.  Well, maybe I can.  Instead of paying per episode or per season, just wait.  It will come out and then go to your local Library, remember those, and sign out the seasons at your leisure.  We are currently watching "Yellowstone."  All 3 seasons.  Plus, it was great enjoy the smell of books again.

    Actually, not necessarily.

    Best I can tell, Amazon has been very disciplined about keeping its proprietary video content proprietary.  If you want to watch "Bosch," for example, you have to do it on Amazon.

    And, responding to my FaceTime yesterday about how it is important for a food store to actually have food that people are willing to drive 20+ miles to buy/eat - using a chicken take-out joint 22 miles from my house as an example - one MNB reader wrote:

    I would never drive 22 miles for chicken.  Maybe for a fine meal. Maybe filet mignon. But not chicken. 

    Now nothing against chicken lovers (winner winner chicken diner). I've known some who would drive that far for old school fried chicken,  and I get it.

    Of course if I go that far atmosphere should be part of any experience for that drive. Hopefully we'll get back to the atmosphere part.

    Just saying the drive, food (something I don't have often), and atmosphere should be part of the enjoyable evening.

    I've driven further than that for some food item I really love.  Crumb cake, for example.  I'd also go great distances for a fancy meal.  Doesn't much matter to me.  

    There are people who eat to live.  And there are some of us who live to eat.