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    Published on: April 23, 2021

    KC facilitated a session for the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) virtual conference the other day, and one of the subjects was an immutable fact about how these categories are set up and merchandised.  But are these facts really immutable?  Or has the future just not been invented yet?

    Published on: April 23, 2021

    It's Friday, and we all can use a nice palate cleanser … and so I'm happy to share with you the trailer for "Ted Lasso," season two … scheduled to debut on Apple TV+ on July 23.

    "Ted Lasso" was one of the delights of last year - perfect for a time when we've all been locked down because of the pandemic.  And, it was replete with business lessons, as it told its story about a college football coach hired to lead a British football/soccer team.  The lesson, overall, was that leadership is leadership … it doesn't matter how or where the lines are drawn, or what the shape of the ball happens to be.  Leadership, "Ted Lasso," argues, really is all about people.

    Enjoy the trailer.  Count the days until July 23.

    Published on: April 23, 2021

    In Brookfield, Connecticut, just north of Danbury (and just 33 miles north of MNB world headquarters), Amazon is said to be building a new Amazon Fresh full-sized grocery store that will utilize the Just-Walk-Out technology that it has employed in its much smaller Amazon Go stores.

    Bloomberg reports this morning that "planning documents for a store under construction in Brookfield, Connecticut, show a store that contains all the hallmarks of an Amazon Fresh grocery store: a two-word logo on dark gray panels above the store’s entrance, online order pickup counter and such full-service departments as a butcher. The plans also identify a dozen entry and exit gates as well as ceiling-mounted racks to run wiring to camera arrays, a setup that until now has only appeared in Amazon Go convenience stores … Amazon appears to have solved a significant technical challenge, creating a grab-and-go system that can handle scores of shoppers at once and cover large supermarkets without being prohibitively expensive to build and operate.

    "The breakthrough, if it works, would catapult Amazon ahead of rivals, which are testing similar camera-based technology developed by various startups. Executives at these companies have acknowledged that they are perhaps a year or two away from installing cashierless systems in full-sized supermarkets."

    The store, when opened, would be right in the middle of a neighborhood that already has a Stew Leonard's, a Costco, a BJ's Wholesale Club, and a ShopRite;  it is right off I-84, a major east-west highway, and just minutes from both Route 7 and I-684, both north-south thoroughfares.

    While Amazon has a dozen Amazon Fresh store up and running around then country, with more than three dozen more in development (and likely a lot more that we don't know about), "apart from a test at a Fresh store in suburban Chicago, the new chain doesn’t feature Go-style automated checkout — prompting surprise from industry watchers anticipating a less traditional approach," Bloomberg writes.

    "Instead, Amazon developed the Dash smart cart, whose sensors and cameras add up purchases as shoppers cruise the aisles. The carts stop short of a seamless, Go shopping experience. They hold only a couple of bags of food, and shoppers can’t take them outside, forcing them to transfer bags to a low-tech cart or lug their food to the parking lot."

    Amazon and the shopping center owner have not commented on the report, though the store was referred to in a local planning board meeting as having "extremely secretive" technology.

    KC's View:

    I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon has solved the problem of using its Go technology in large stores.  That seemed to be on the agenda from the beginning - Amazon was said to be testing the concept behind the scenes.  A lot of people suggested that it just isn't possible, but I think that is a philosophical formulation that the folks at Amazon don't accept.

    Remember - it was just a few days ago that Amazon said it would start using a different checkout technology - called Amazon One - at select Whole Foods stores, allowing people to use their palms to check out.

    It is all about reducing friction for the customer -  a premise that ought to be at the heart of every retailer's culture.

    Published on: April 23, 2021

    Boxed, which positions itself as an online warehouse club store, seems to be getting into the auto-replenishment business.

    Existing customers are getting emails from the company pointing out that brands they have bought are now available as a subscription under a new program called AutoSave.  The program is guaranteeing the lowest price, with an addition 10 percent savings on the first subscription order, and another five percent on every subsequent order - "on top of whatever sale price is running onsite when your order ships."

    The email makes the point that "you set up the schedule that works best for you … we deliver when you need it … so you can set it, forget it, and focus on the more fun things."

    Based on a survey of the site, there appear to be an enormous number of products on Boxed that are available for subscriptions.

    KC's View:

    Boxed does not appear to have made any announcements about its new automatic replenishment program, and is making the point in the emails that "you’re one of the first customers we’ve reached out to, so please feel free to let us know your thoughts on our latest feature."

    I know all this because Mrs. Content Guy is a big fan of Boxed, and she got one of those emails yesterday.  (She forwarded me the email with a note that said, "I think this may be good for MNB.")

    This is very smart, because it plays right into the Boxed value proposition, and its customers should be enthusiastic adopters.

    We've always made the point here on MNB that auto-replenishment - pioneered by Amazon with its Subscribe & Save program (which, for the record, was created by our own Tom Furphy and his team where they worked there) - can be a powerful tool for creating loyalty and sustaining shopper relationships.  Once a person signs onto one of these programs, it takes that shopper out of the market for whatever the product happens to be - and these are sales that are likely never to go back to the stores where they used to take place.

    This is a category that until now, Amazon has pretty much had to itself.  While I am impressed that Boxed is making this foray, I have to wonder what took it so long?  (I think Tom Furphy and I were speculating about this here on MNB years ago.)

    Next question:  What is taking everybody else so long?

    Published on: April 23, 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…

    •  Here are the Covid-19 coronavirus numbers for the US:  32,669,121 cases … 584,226 deaths … and 25,236,658 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  145,455,886 cases … 3,088,267 fatalities … and 123,465,894 recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC says that 52 percent of adults 18 years and older have received as least one dose of the vaccination , while 34.4 percent have received at least one dose.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that at the beginning of the year in Los Angeles, "hospitals were full, restaurants were empty, and three times more Covid-19 cases were being reported every day than in any other U.S. county.

    "Now Los Angeles County has one of the lowest rates of infection per capita of the nation’s 10 most populous counties. Restaurants are packed, hospitals have open beds, and researchers are studying possible reasons for one of the pandemic’s biggest turnarounds, which has occurred despite vaccination rates lower than the national average. Their theories include high immunity caused by previous spikes and a common variant in California that may be keeping out more infectious strains.


    "As case rates have fallen across the country in recent months, California has led the way. It now has the lowest per capita Covid infection rate in the continental U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thanks in large part to Los Angeles County, where a quarter of the state’s 40 million people live."

    Makes me want to sing...

    From the South Bay to the Valley ... From the West Side to the East Side ... Everybody's very happy ... 'Cause the sun is shining all the time ... Looks like another perfect day … I love LA!

    •  Reuters reports that the CDC "is investigating the death of an Oregon woman and the hospitalisation of another in Texas after receiving Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ.N) COVID-19 vaccine, state health officials said.

    "The incidents come as advisers to the CDC are set to meet on Friday to consider whether it is safe to resume injections of the single-dose vaccine, while senior health officials prepare for a green light."

    •  The Washington Post reports that Japan "said it would declare a 'short' and 'powerful' state of emergency to cover Tokyo and three western prefectures on Friday to curb a surge in coronavirus cases and the rapid spread of infectious variants … With the new measures, to cover Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, the government will require restaurants, bars and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close, and big sports events will take place without spectators, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said.

    "Department stores and other large retailers will be asked to close and companies will be encouraged to allow people to work from home.

    "The measures are the third round of emergency restrictions for Tokyo and elsewhere. They represent a significant escalation from the previous limits imposed earlier this year, under which bars and restaurants were only asked to close early, stores stayed open and spectators were allowed in reduced numbers at sports events."

    •  From CNBC:

    "India needs a brief but extensive lockdown to break the chain of coronavirus transmission and allow the medical community to recuperate, according to the national president of the Indian Medical Association.

    "The South Asian nation is going through a disastrous second wave of Covid infections. Cases began rising in February and in subsequent months, large crowds gathered for religious festivals and political rallies in various parts of the country, mostly without masks.

    "There is also growing concerns about new strains of the virus that are potentially more contagious.

    "On Friday, India reported 332,730 new cases of infections over a 24-hour period, according to government data. For the second day in a row, India reported the world’s highest single-day increase in infections."

    Published on: April 23, 2021

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "Americans filed 547,000 first-time unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, hitting a pandemic low for the second week in a row as the recovery gains steam.

    "Last week’s surprise report, which recorded 586,000 revised initial claims, coupled with news that March retail sales had notched one of the largest jumps on record, fueled hopes that the economy was rebounding as coronavirus vaccinations picked up and stimulus funds continued to hit American bank accounts."

    •  From Environmental Leader:

    "The Kroger Co. is offering customers a way to recycle flexible plastic packaging in what the grocer says is the first program of its kind. The 'Kroger Our Brands Recycling Program,' developed in partnership with TerraCycle, encourages customers to mail in flexible plastic Kroger-brands packaging. Once received, the collected packaging will be cleaned and melted into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled products, the company says."

    According to the story, "Customers are invited to collect flexible plastic packaging like bags, pouches, liners and wraps from Kroger’s 'Our Brands' products and pack them into 'any available box.'  They must then ship the box using a free prepaid shipping label available in their account they create on the program webpage. For every pound of eligible packaging, participants earn points, which can be redeemed as donations to participating charitable organizations."

    Published on: April 23, 2021

    •  Seattle's PCC Community Markets announced that Dana Montanari, the company's Vice President of Human Resources, has been promoted to Chief People Officer.

    At the same time, Darrell Vannoy, Vice President of Merchandising and Procurement, has been named Senior Vice President Merchandising & Promotion.

    •  Albertsons announced that it has hired  Danielle Crop, most recently Chief Data Officer at American Express, to be its Senior Vice President and Chief Data Officer. 

    Published on: April 23, 2021

    I've always been intrigued by the ways in which Amazon has utilized its third-party Marketplace to grow its retail footprint, using it to extend its already rather long tail to one of considerably greater scope and depth - to the point where its Marketplace represents more than half its total retail sales.

    Now, with Amazon having provided proof of concept, there are a number of companies in various stages of developing their own Marketplace offerings - Walmart, Kroger, and Albertsons among them.

    This prompts questions.  Does it make sense for other retailers to do the same?  Should size be the determining factor in whether a retailer decides to open and link to a Marketplace on its website?  And what's the ROI on such a strategic move?

    All good questions, I think … which is why I was pleased to be asked to host/moderate an online session next week on the subject of "The Business Case For An Online Marketplace."  Setting the table will be Scott Compton, Senior Analyst, Digital Commerce, with Forrester, who will lay out the challenges and opportunities.

    The session is set for next Thursday, Apr 29, 2021 at 2 pm EDT/ 11 am PDT.

    I hope you'll join us for this complimentary webinar, sponsored by VTEX.  My goal is to make sure the session is both illuminating and entertaining, while asking the questions that you'll want answered.  And if I don't - you'll be able to.

    For information about how to register for this session, click here.

    Published on: April 23, 2021

    For the first time in a long time, I've seen all of the Best Picture nominees for this year's Academy Awards, and the vast majority of the films in the other major categories - all without having been to a movie theater in, like, forever.  Streaming has been very, very good for me.

    I actually think that it largely has been a very good year for movies - the Best Picture category is incredibly strong.  So here are my choices - not who I think will win, but who I would vote for if I had a vote.  With, of course, brief explanations.

    Best Picture:  The Father

    Mrs. Content Guy disagrees with me on this one;  she would choose Nomadland, which I loved … and yet, because of the quality of all the other nominees, it wouldn't even make the top four.  I loved Judas and the Black Messiah and Promising Young Woman more, because they made me think about issues and movements in fundamentally different ways than I had before.  And I just loved The Trial of the Chicago 7 because, well, I love everything Aaron Sorkin does.  But The Father made me understand dementia in a way I never did before, by making me experience it as an audience member.

    Best Director:  Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

    Just a terrific thriller that walked a tightrope of styles and emotions and never fell off.  (And Florian Zeller, director of The Father, wasn't nominated in this category.)

    Best Actor in a Leading Role:  Anthony Hopkins, The Father

    An extraordinary performance.  Sorry, Chadwick Boseman - who was great in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, but Hopkins was transcendent.

    Best Actress in a Leading Role:  Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

    I'm torn here between Davis and Carey Mulligan from Promising Young Woman - both were fearless.  So I flipped a coin.  (Note:  I have not yet seen Andra Day in The United States v. Billie Holiday, nor Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman.  So this is an uninformed pick.

    Best Actor in a Supporting Role:  Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah 

    Beats the hell out of me.  I saw all the films in this category and loved all the performances.  But Kaluuya  may be the performances that stayed with me the longest.

    Best Actress in a Supporting Role:  Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

    Another coin flip.  I saw all the movies in this category except Hillbilly Elegy - which held no appeal to me, though Glenn Close probably win because the role just looks like Oscar bait and she's never won an Oscar.  But I thought Bakalova was great, and she won the coin toss. 

    Best Adapted Screenplay:  The Father

    Brilliant.  Everything I said above still goes.

    Best Original Screenplay:  Promising Young Woman or Judas and the Black Messiah

    I just can't make up my mind on this one, and I still have a soft spot for Aaron Sorkin's work on The Trial of the Chicago 7.

    Best Original Song:  “Speak Now," from One Night in Miami, with music and lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

    Terrific song, and besides, I have to root for Odom, with whom I once shared a stage at a Produce Marketing Association convention.  I’m guessing he won't thank me, though...

    A reminder.  This is a list of how I would vote.  My guess/prediction is that Nomadland will probably be a big winner.

    Just to elaborate on a point I made above - I was really blown away by Promising Young Woman when I watched it last weekend.  It blends so many different genres, but at heart it is a Hitchcockian thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I really recommend it.

    My wine of the week is the 2016 Griffin, from Griffin Creek, a Willamette Valley Vineyard label that comes from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon.  This is an absolutely delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot that is full-bodied and balanced … perfect with a nicely grilled steak.

    That's it for this week.  I hope you have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.