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    Published on: May 6, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    It is the kind of story that'll warm your heart.

    It starts with Noah Bryant, a four-year-old boy from Brooklyn, New York, who went on his mom's computer, found his way to Amazon, and bought $2,618.85 worth of Sponge Bob popsicles.  (That's 51 cases.)

    Which sounds funny.  Except that his mom, Jennifer Bryant, apparently is the mother of three, a student at New York University studying social work, can't afford it.  And Amazon wouldn't allow her to return them.

    That's where a friend stepped in.  Katie Schloss - who is a social work intern (and, if you check out her LinkedIn page, quite the impressive young woman) - put up a GoFundMe page drawing attention to Bryant's dilemma, hoping to raise the $2,619 needed to pay the Amazon bill.

    As of this morning, just shy of 200 people have contributed close to $6,000.

    In a note on the GoFundMe page, Jennifer Bryant notes that the extra money will be used to help pay for Noah's education; she says that he is on the autism spectrum , which creates additional expenses.

    It is an Eye-Opening story about people stepping up to do the nice thing, though I do think that there are two things that need to happen now.

    First, Amazon could step up and forgive the debt.  It can afford it.  (Jeff Bezos is aid to be building what is called a "luxury mega-yacht," plus a smaller "support yacht.")  Helping out this woman would be a good look.

    Second, Jennifer Bryant has to change the passwords on her computer.

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    David McInerney, the co-founder and CEO of e-grocery pioneer FreshDirect, which was acquired by Ahold Delhaize earlier this year, is stepping down from the company.

    “FreshDirect has been an amazing, life-changing, 20-year adventure for me,” McInerney said in a prepared statement. “I have been so fortunate to have worked alongside an incredible team of talented, dedicated people who all share the same passion for our mission: to make great fresh food easy to get. Our amazing farmers, ranchers and fishermen have inspired me every day as partners, teachers and true friends. With the commitment and support of Frans [Muller, Ahold Delhaize CEO], Farhan and the entire Ahold Delhaize team, FreshDirect is in excellent hands and well-positioned for continued success.”

    McInerney, who will remain as an advisor for several months, will be succeeded on an interim basis by Farhan Siddiqi, chief digital officer of Ahold Delhaize.  A search for a permanent successor will be conducted.

    KC's View:

    I've said from the moment that the acquisition was announced - Ahold Delhaize bought 80 percent of the company and private equity firm Centerbridge Partners got the balance, for financial terms that were not disclosed - that the key to it being successful would be Ahold Delhaize respecting the FreshDirect culture and understanding that it has at least as much to learn from the brand as it had to offer it.

    Losing such an important link to the FreshDirect's history and foundation does not make me feel more optimistic about the brand's future.

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    Fast Company has a story about a plant-based foods startup called Perfect Day, which actually "uses real milk proteins in its products - but it grows the proteins with fermentation, not cows."

    An excerpt from the story:

    "'We grew up eating everything: dairy, eggs, meat,' says Perfect Day cofounder Perumal Gandhi, who started the company with Ryan Pandya shortly after graduating from MIT in 2014.  'Like many of our friends, we gave up meat to go vegetarian when we started college, and then finally made the leap to a fully plant-based vegan diet. We realized that being vegan is actually pretty difficult, because all the alternative products that were available either didn’t taste that great, or didn’t have a lot of nutrition in them, or just cost a lot more money.'

    "The keys to better taste, they realized, were the milk proteins whey and casein, which are responsible for giving dairy a creamy texture. 'From a functionality standpoint, that stretch in your mozzarella cheese, or the ability to bind to air to give you that creamy texture in ice cream, that’s all the protein doing its magic,'  Gandhi says. By taking the genetic code that cows use to make the protein and introducing it into microorganisms, it’s possible to begin producing identical dairy proteins in bioreactors, similar to the tanks that breweries use to make beer."

    KC's View:

    This story reinforces something that I referred to in my FaceTime video this morning … that the real path to success for companies like this one is by creating products with mouth appeal for non-vegans.  Only preaching to the converted just isn't going to cut it, and it makes more sense to start with encouraging occasional usage, as opposed to the complete plant-based epiphany on the road to Damascus.

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    Axios has a piece about how new attention is being paid "to the role the food system plays in climate change.

    An excerpt:

    "It's true that if each of us were to make significant cuts in meat consumption, by, say, switching to a more plant-based diet, such emissions would decline.

    "Climate change poses significant risks to the food system in the form of drought, extreme heat events, and wild swings from one end of the temperature scale to another.

    "Yes, but: Becoming a vegetarian alone won't be enough to eliminate your carbon footprint, nor will it be sufficient to save the planet from the worst ravages of climate change. There would still be a need for massive, systemic-scale change in energy systems, the transportation sector and more."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    It was about three years ago that Neighborhood Goods opened its first store, widely praised as being the "department store of the future," a place where direct-to-consumer brands that were native to the online environment were able to establish bricks-and-mortar beachheads from which they could sell their wares, learn from the experience, and create a foundation for growth.

    There only have been three Neighborhood Goods stores opened to this point - one in Dallas, one in Manhattan, and one in Austin - and the pandemic did serve to inhibit the format's expansion plans.  Bloomberg writes that as co-founder/CEO Matt Alexander looks to regain momentum as the pandemic ends, one of the things he's doing is expanding to food brands, believing they will create "a lot of opportunity for everyone involved to really, as I say, socialize the product."

    The product socialization strategy, the story suggests, is part of a broader focus on creating in-store events that will draw in shoppers - especially at a time when it isn't necessarily easy to attract customers to physical locations.  "We'd love to at least do two or three [events] a week. In our minds, there's this real opportunity—not just for us, but for everyone—in retail," Alexander tells Bloomberg.  "We see this being a really crucial aspect of what we can offer. There's a huge amount of opportunity ahead."

    KC's View:

    Just FYI … Matt Alexander was a guest on a Retail Tomorrow podcast that I did a little over a year ago (though it seems like a decade).  It remains, I think, an illuminating conversation … though none of us had any idea how our lives and work would be upended in just weeks.  We recorded it at Google’s New York City offices during the recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Show. 

    You can access it here.

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    CNBC reports that "convenience store chain Circle K is launching a beverage subscription program, following in the footsteps of Burger King and Panera Bread … U.S. customers who pay $5.99 per month can have one tea, coffee, Froster slushy or Polar Pop fountain drink of their choosing every day.

    "Circle K’s Sip & Save program looks to build loyalty and coax people into its stores again on a regular basis. During the coronavirus pandemic, consumers made fewer trips to convenience stores."

    The story says that Circle K "has been testing the Sip & Save program over the last 90 days in more than 100 stores near Augusta, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina … data from the trial shows that customers are visiting more frequently, surpassing Circle K’s expectations.

    "Trial customers were also buying food along with their drinks."

    Published on: May 6, 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 33,321,244 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 593,148 deaths and 26,035,314 reported recoveries.

    Globally, we've had 155,944,223 coronavirus cases, with 3,258,410 resultant fatalities and 133,400,123 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 56.7 percent of adults in the US age 18 or older now have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 41.3 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "After weeks of coronavirus patients flooding emergency rooms in Michigan, the worst Covid-19 hot spot in the nation, hospitalizations are finally falling.

    "On some recent days, entire states, including Wisconsin and West Virginia, have reported zero new coronavirus deaths — a brief but promising respite from the onslaught of the past year.

    "And in New York and Chicago, officials encouraged by the recent progress have confidently vowed to fully reopen in the coming weeks, conjuring images of a vibrant summer of concerts, sporting events and packed restaurants revving cities back to life.

    "Americans have entered a new, hopeful phase of the pandemic. Buoyed by a sense that the coronavirus is waning, in part because of vaccinations, more people are shrugging off masks, venturing into restaurants and returning to their pre-pandemic routines. Mayors, governors and other local officials — once the bearers of grim news about the virus’s toll and strict rules for businesses — have joined in the newfound optimism, rapidly loosening restrictions.

    "Public health experts remain cautious, but said that while they still expect significant local and regional surges in the coming weeks, they do not think they will be as widespread or reach past peaks."

    •  The Associated Press has a slightly different take on the same story:

    "Teams of experts are projecting COVID-19′s toll on the U.S. will fall sharply by the end of July, according to research released by the government Wednesday.

    "But they also warn that a 'substantial increase' in hospitalizations and deaths is possible if unvaccinated people do not follow basic precautions such as wearing a mask and keeping their distance from others.

    "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paper included projections from six research groups. Their assignment was to predict the course of the U.S. epidemic between now and September under different scenarios, depending on how the vaccination drive proceeds and how people behave.

    "Mainly, it’s good news. Even under scenarios involving disappointing vaccination rates, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are expected to drop dramatically by the end of July and continue to fall afterward."

    •  Also from the Times this morning:

    "The American public’s willingness to get a Covid vaccine is reaching a saturation point, a new national poll suggests, one more indication that achieving widespread immunity in the United States is becoming increasingly challenging.

    "Only 9 percent of respondents said they hadn’t yet gotten the shot but intended to do so, according to the survey, published in the April edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor. And with federal authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12 through 15 expected imminently, the eagerness of parents to let their children be vaccinated is also limited, the poll found."

    •  The Wall Street Journal writes that "the Biden administration said it would back a proposal at the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to help speed up global production … WTO member states are discussing a proposal backed by over 100 developing nations that calls for a temporary waiver of intellectual-property-rights protection related to the prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19."

    According to the story, "Developing nations led by India and South Africa have been pushing for the waiver, saying it is needed to stem the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100 members of Congress also support the waiver.

    "Pharmaceutical companies and other business groups have opposed the move, saying it wouldn’t solve supply-production problems in the short term because contract producers lack certain necessary technical knowledge."

    •  Variety reports that "Broadway theaters will reopen at full capacity on Sept. 14, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced via Twitter on Wednesday. Tickets will go on sale on Thursday (though a few shows have already quietly started selling tickets) … The move is good news for a sector of the economy that has been devastated by the pandemic. Theaters have been closed in New York since March 12, 2020, leaving tens of thousands of people without work. Cinemas have been open for months at limited capacity, but Broadway theater owners and producers maintain that they cannot operate with those kind of restrictions and still make a profit."

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    •  Walgreen announced that it is launching a new delivery program that will allow consumers to order more than 24,00 items directly from the company's website or mobile application, "for Same Day Delivery in under two hours."  There will be no minimum order size, and in most markets there will be a $7.99 fee.

    Item picking will be done in-store by Walgreen employees, though delivery will be handled by "a third-party logistics carrier (that) will pick it up for contactless delivery to the customer. The entire end-to-end process is in under two hours … Logistics partners vary by market but a few examples are DoorDash, Uber, Medline and Act Fast."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Uber Technologies Inc.’s first-quarter bookings rose despite weak demand for its ride-sharing service, as sustained growth in its food-delivery business offset the slump in its core operations.

    "Uber’s bookings grew 24% year-over-year to $19.5 billion in the three months ended March, of which $12.5 billion came from its food-delivery arm. Uber Eats’ bookings more than doubled from a year earlier, while Uber’s ride business declined 38% over the same period. Bookings are used to gauge consumer demand as they represent the total value of trips or food booked using Uber’s platform. Uber earns revenue by taking a cut from these bookings."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Labor is nullifying an existing rule "that sought to make it more difficult for a gig worker, such as an Uber or DoorDash driver, to be counted as an employee under federal law. Having status as an employee, rather than a contractor, means those workers are covered by federal minimum-wage and overtime laws."

    The move "maintains the decadeslong status quo, which has largely allowed app-based services to not count drivers and other providers as employees. But Wednesday’s action removes an extra layer of assurance gig-economy companies had sought as a way, they said, to modernize labor laws."

    •  The BBC reports that "meal kit delivery firm HelloFresh has seen a big jump in customer numbers as it continues to benefit from the trend of ordering food online seen during the pandemic.

    "It said it had 7.3 million active users globally in the first three months of 2021, up 74.2% from a year earlier."

    In fact, consumer enthusiasm has reached the point where HelloFresh "has faced criticism over order delays and cancellations as it has struggled to meet demand."

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    •  The Bipartisan Policy Center has launched the Food and Nutrition Security Task Force, designed "to improve access to healthy foods and diet quality for all Americans."

    Leading this one-year effort, the announcement says, "are co-chairs former Agriculture Secretaries Dan R. Glickman and Ann M. Veneman; world renowned chef and founder of the humanitarian food relief non-profit World Central Kitchen José André; and FMI - The Food Industry Association President and CEO Leslie Sarasin."

    According to the announcement. "The goal of the task force will be to assess both legislative and administrative policy opportunities and issue recommendations that will: 1) improve food and nutrition security during COVID-19 and the economic recovery, 2) strengthen the Child Nutrition Programs, including the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and 3) enhance the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food assistance programs, including through the Farm Bill. The group will also develop ideas for public and private sector collaboration to address food and nutrition security."

    •  The Boston Globe reports that "the 70 Shaw’s truck drivers and mechanics who went on strike earlier this week returned to work on Wednesday, resuming deliveries of non-perishable food items to some 150 Shaw’s and Star Market stores across New England, including 76 in Massachusetts.

    "Shaw’s said in a statement Monday that the parties will return to the bargaining table this week.

    "Joe Piccone, a business agent for Teamsters Local 340 in South Portland, Maine, said the drivers based in Wells and mechanics based in Scarborough have been without a contract since October. Drivers at the company’s Methuen facility, who deliver fruit, vegetables, and refrigerated items did not go on strike, but Piccone said the Massachusetts-based drivers trucked to Maine to help cover the deliveries of drivers on strike there."

    •  CNBC reports that CVS Health announced Q1 revenue of $69.1 billion, up from $66.8 billion during the same period a year ago;  "same-store sales across its pharmacy and front store combined were up just 0.4% compared with growth of 9% a year earlier. Same-store sales for the front store fell 11.4%."

    Net income was $2.22 billion, up from $2.01 billion a year earlier.

    •  Fast casual chain Saladworks announced that it has "continued to expand its reach in the first quarter of 2021 with double digit new store openings, bringing (the company's) total number of locations to 217 across the U.S. and Canada. The 11 new Saladworks locations are located in Nevada, Florida, Tennessee, and Ontario, Canada and include traditional and non-traditional retail presences such as inside grocery stores, ghost kitchens and more … In addition to new store openings, Saladworks recently signed a deal with Ghost Kitchen brands to bring more than 90 new "store within a store" locations to Walmarts across the U.S. and Canada. Saladworks will continue to expand in this non-traditional vertical and sees this path as one that will outlast COVID, as guests continue to look for convenience and better-for-you options."

    •  The Dallas Morning News reports that troubled department store chain JC Penney "has cut 650 jobs in stores, field operations and corporate, or about 1.5% of its workforce of more than 50,000.  About 100 of those jobs were from Penney’s Texas-based corporate staff of 3,500 people. The cuts were made last week and included the elimination of open positions."

    The story notes that "Penney filed for bankruptcy a year ago and exited Chapter 11 in December, when the operating company was sold to its two largest landlords, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Asset Management.

    "As part of its bankruptcy reorganization last year, Penney closed more than 150 stores, eliminated distribution centers and cut back corporate staff. It entered bankruptcy with 85,000 employees and 846 stores and now has 650 stores."

    Published on: May 6, 2021

    •  Ohio-based Buehler’s Fresh Foods announced that Rich Bidinger, the company's director of operations, has been promoted to the role of vice president of construction, real estate and store operations support.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev SA appointed the head of its North American business as its new chief executive, tapping a company veteran to reinvigorate sales growth and lead it out of the pandemic.

    "The beer giant said Thursday that Michel Doukeris would take the helm on July 1, replacing longtime CEO Carlos Brito, who has built the company into the world’s largest brewer during his more than 15 years in the job."