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    Published on: May 10, 2021

    There's a new mobile app in town … Too Good To Go, which allows restaurants to create "surprise bags" for customers comprised of food that hasn't been sold to patrons but for whatever reason isn't appropriate for food banks.  Customers can subscribe - and , in fact, in the limited number of markets where it is being used hundreds of thousands of patrons and more than a thousand establishments have signed on.  KC thinks this is a terrific solution to the food waste problem and , if adapted by supermarkets, could also be a way to further cement relationships and build sales.

    The original Fast Company story is here.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    There is an interesting piece in the Washington Post that looks to put into context last Friday's jobs numbers - there reportedly were 266,000 new jobs created during April, a number universally agreed to be disappointing, though there were different perspectives about the degree to which this reflected the robustness of the nation's economic recovery.

    One of the central points in the debate is whether government subsidies provided because of the pandemic have created an entire cohort of people for whom it makes more economic sense not to work.  (I've certainly heard this from a number of MNB readers desperately seeking workers.)

    The Post writes, however, that "another way to look at this is there is a great reassessment going on in the U.S. economy. It’s happening on a lot of different levels. At the most basic level, people are still hesitant to return to work until they are fully vaccinated and their children are back in school and day care full time. For example, all the job gains in April went to men. The number of women employed or looking for work fell by 64,000, a reminder that child-care issues are still in play.

    "There is also growing evidence - both anecdotal and in surveys - that a lot of people want to do something different with their lives than they did before the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak has had a dramatic psychological effect on workers, and people are reassessing what they want to do and how they want to work, whether in an office, at home or some hybrid combination.

    "A Pew Research Center survey this year found that 66 percent of the unemployed had 'seriously considered' changing their field of work, a far greater percentage than during the Great Recession. People who used to work in restaurants or travel are finding higher-paying jobs in warehouses or real estate, for example. Or they want a job that is more stable and less likely to be exposed to the coronavirus - or any other deadly virus down the road. Consider that grocery stores shed over 49,000 workers in April and nursing care facilities lost nearly 20,000.

    "Economists describe this phenomenon as reallocation friction, the idea that the types of jobs in the economy are changing and workers are taking awhile to figure out what new jobs they want - or what skills they need for different roles."

    From my perspective - and I'm just a poor country pundit, not an economist and certainly not a politician - it seems to me that all of these scenarios may have a measure of truth … and I'd pay a lot of attention to the "reallocation friction" argument.

    My first reaction when I heard the jobs numbers was that they were disappointing, but that it probably makes sense not to make too much out of a single month and have knee-jerk reactions to one set of numbers.  If the trend persists, a stronger reaction will seem appropriate.

    I do think that there are going to be cases in which some people actually are making more money not working than working … though this may say more about how little some parts of the workforce make than anything else.  

    But I also think it would be a mistake to ignore the notion of a great reassessment taking place.  The pandemic has been a tectonic event in many people's lives, forcing many to rethink their decisions and circumstances and assumptions.  In the same way that my parents where children of the Depression, an event that changed their behavior forever (I think of my dad every time I turn off a light), it probably is a fair observation that the pandemic will have the same impact on many people.

    (Though let's be clear - for many people in the lower regions of the economy, reconsidering their circumstances is a luxury they cannot afford.  They just want to survive … and figure out child care and elder care and health care.  For them, reallocation friction is a fiction.)

    I find myself wondering if there are Eye-Opening ways in which businesses - and for the sake of this argument, I'm thinking about retailers - should be rethinking how they hire and deploy and manage their people going forward, perhaps with a greater emphasis on full-time employment and career building, and certainly with an understanding about how vulnerable these people may feel about their well-being and futures.

    I'm sure of very little in this discussion, largely because I appreciate the limitations of my own knowledge and education.  But I am pretty sure that there are a lot of moving parts, and that to assign blame to one think or accept simple solutions is a mistake.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    The Los Angeles Times reports that in Southern California, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has adopted new regulations - said to be the first in the nation - designed to cut down on pollution and reduce the health risks in communities where "massive logistics warehouses" have been built.

    With the opening of these warehouses, the Times writes, have come "increasing numbers of diesel trucks … plying routes closer to homes, schools and neighborhoods," which tend to be "disproportionately Black and Latino … already burdened with some of the dirtiest air in the nation."

    According to the piece, "Under the rules, warehouses 100,000 square feet or larger - about the size of two football fields - must take steps to cut or offset emissions associated with their operations or pay a mitigation fee to fund similar air quality improvements nearby … facilities must choose from a menu of pollution reduction and mitigation options, such as using electric or natural-gas-fueled trucks, installing charging stations, erecting rooftop solar panels or putting air filters in neighboring schools and child-care centers — a measure that some board members complained would not reduce pollution, only exposure to it."

    The Times writes that "the regulations will have the greatest effect in the Inland Empire, where relatively cheap land within a reasonable drive of the nation’s largest port complex has triggered development of massive distribution and fulfillment centers, including mega-warehouses that exceed 1 million square feet. Dubbed both 'America’s shopping cart' and 'diesel death zones,' these communities have only grown busier during the COVID-19 pandemic, as online shopping pushes the volume of cargo moving through the region to record levels."

    In its coverage, the New York Times writes that "the changes could also help spur a more rapid electrification of freight tucks, a significant step toward reducing emissions from transportation, the country’s biggest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases. The emissions are a major contributor to smog-causing nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter pollution, which are linked to health problems including respiratory conditions."

    The New York Times also reports that "large retailers like Amazon and Walmart — who have pledged to clean up the environmental effects of their supply chains, including electrifying their fleets — have largely stayed on the sidelines of the debate.

    "Walmart, which has committed to operate 100 percent zero-emission trucks by 2040, did not respond to a request for comment. Amazon said it was 'committed to finding innovative solutions to reduce emissions.' The online retailer has pledged to be net zero carbon emissions across its business, also by 2040."

    If you want to read the entire LA Times story, click here.

     

    KC's View:

    This is yet another example of the repercussions, often unseen and even unimagined, of e-commerce.

    It is such a fascinating story.  I would imagine it is possible, even likely, that these regulations could be replicated in a lot of other markets.  At the very least, we're likely to see activism pushing for such rules occurring in other places, which will create its own kind of momentum.

    One of the passages that I found most telling in the LA Times story was this one:

    A report by the Inland Empire-based People’s Collective for Environmental Justice and the University of Redlands examined e-commerce sales to find that the communities with the greatest concentrations of warehouses, such as Ontario, Fontana and San Bernardino, do the least online shopping among large cities in the Greater L.A. region.

    That's no small thing.

    There are different ways to react to this.  One is to say the hell with it, progress requires a little sacrifice and if you don’t want to live in a death zone, move out.

    Another way is to put more money into clean technology so that we don’t use diesel fuel in trucks anymore.

    The stories make clear that even if there has been no push back from the likes of Walmart and Amazon, there certainly is resistance in the business community, where some people feel that the solutions being proposed - actually, imposed - on the warehouses and the trucks that serve them are way too expensive.

    I'm not sure what "way too expensive" means, though.  The research seems to make very clear that there are entire communities being victimized by the industry … and in ways that are completely unacceptable.

    It doesn't have to be this way.  If we put a real emphasis on investing in clean technologies that will allow us to to solve these problems, it will be better for everyone in the long term.

    Two other things.

    One,I suspect that these kinds of regulations are not good for the CFC trend, which in some ways may depend on these large diesel trucks to a greater extent than the small MFCs, which may be better able to adapt to smaller and electric vehicles.  

    Second, I think these regulations have to be seen in the context of the greater Environmental, Social & Corporate Governance (ESG) movement, in which companies are prodded by various entities - ranging from social activists to investment groups - to consider these issues when shaping their business plans and strategies.

    This isn't just about trucks.  it is about something larger and far more consequential.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    The Los Angeles Times this weekend had a story about Patagonia's activism;  the piece starts this way:

    "Politics has always been a minefield for businesses. But it used to be one they could avoid.

    "Three decades ago, it was all but unheard of for a major consumer brand to stake out a position on a hot-button culture war issue. Today, they’re increasingly finding such positions thrust on them by societal upheavals too big to simply ignore and activist customer bases demanding expressions of solidarity and meaningful action.

    "The rise of conscious capitalism has bred in younger consumers, particularly, an expectation that the companies seeking their dollars should share their values.

    "Meanwhile, the hyper-partisan polarization of everything from sneakers to coffee means even 'safe' causes can turn controversial in an instant, and silence is no refuge, with companies that avoid engaging on social issues apt to be tagged as complicit.

    It’s all a little daunting for companies hoping to make sales, not headlines."

    But Patagonia, the Times writes, not only is willing to enter the minefield, but is willing to embrace the risks that accompany these moves … precisely because its leadership does not seen any risk in being true to their own values, appealing to people who share their values, and not worrying about losing customers who don't.

    You can read the piece here.

    KC's View:

    One thing that everybody needs to remember is that if you like the idea of businesses supporting causes that you believe in, you also have to accept the idea that there will be businesses that support causes with which you disagree.  Works both ways, and you have to accept that.

    Which is why this is such a dicey area for many businesses.

    The reason it works for businesses like Patagonia and, say, Ben & Jerry's, is that the activism is built in to their DNA.  The most important thing that businesses have to think about when they take a stand that could alienate some customers is authenticity.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    CNBC reports that Marc Lore - who built Quidsi and sold it to Amazon and then built Jet and sold it to Walmart, making himself hundreds of millions of dollars in the process - is getting into the food truck business.

    The story says that Lore has invested an undisclosed amount in Wonder, described as "a business that is part food truck, part ghost kitchen," where Scott Hilton, "a longtime colleague and former chief revenue officer of Walmart’s e-commerce business," is the CEO.  Lore's brother, Chad Lore, has an executive role in the business, while Marc Lore is serving as an advisor.

    Here's how CNBC describes the business:

    "The business is being piloted in the affluent town of Westfield, New Jersey, where its trucks have become ubiquitous throughout its limited delivery area and drawing heat from some residents … Its purple and black vans congregate in the parking lot of a shuttered Lord & Taylor department store and line up across the street from a Stop & Shop supermarket. Generators hum as the vans wait to head out into the surrounding neighborhood to prepare freshly cooked meals."

    Wonder's vans "are outfitted with mobile kitchens, and a trained chef travels on each truck, ingredients in tow, to finish off meals once the vehicle arrives at each house. 

    "Wonder’s goal is to deliver food that’s still piping hot when it reaches the front door. It tackles the pitfalls of takeout like limp french fries. And its salads aren’t soggy, since the vegetables were only tossed in the dressing moments before."

    CNBC writes that "Wonder is sourcing its menus from top restaurants headed by celebrity chefs from across the country. The company has partnered with these businesses to re-create their menus and license their restaurant concepts, according to the person familiar with how the business works. 

    "Offerings include Bobby Flay Steak, The Mainstay by Marc Murphy, Frankies Spuntino, JBird by Jonathan Waxman, Fred’s Meat & Bread, and Tejas Barbecue, with such options as wood-fired pizzas, handmade pastas, New York strip and rib-eye steaks, and build-your-own family taco bar."

    KC's View:

    Anybody who reads MNB knows that I'm a big fan of the food truck model, especially as it spins out of its traditional role and moves into new directions.  Just the other day we had a story about how food trucks were getting into the wedding catering business.  Earlier in the pandemic, we had a story about how food trucks, which traditionally could be found in urban outposts, were looking to expand into the suburbs as they pivoted to serve people who were working from home.  And it wasn't that long ago that we had a story about Fleat, a model that is able to use machine learning to combine a delivery model with the ability to up-sell customers with products they've bought in the past.

    I'm intrigued by the idea that Marc Lore is getting into the business, and I love the idea of an upscale model … it is a niche, to be sure, but has the potential of being a lucrative niche.

    I continue to believe that every food retailer ought to be thinking about how to use a food truck to spread the word … sell more stuff … serve more people … and bring their brands to areas they're not currently serving.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    CNN reports on a new study from Coresight Research suggesting that Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar together will account for 45 percent of all large retail store openings this year.

    It is, the story says, a "reflection of the dollar store sector's outsized growth in the retail industry as other chains close shops or stop building new ones … These openings are a continuation of dollar stores' rapid growth even before the pandemic."

    According to CNN, "Economists and retail analysts say dollar stores are expanding in part because of growing wealth inequality in the United States and the hollowing out of the middle class. The share of American adults who live in middle-income households decreased from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019, according to Pew Research Center."

    KC's View:

    Yikes.  That's an amazing percentage, and it reinforces something we've talked a lot about here on MNB - that the physical domination of the dollar store format in this country has the potential to be a major issue for many middle-of-the-road retailers going forward.  If all you are doing is depending on price as a differentiator, then dollar stores have the potential to be a major disruptor.

    It also is important to think of all this building as laying the foundation for a time when the economy goes south, in communities that feel the pain more than others.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    Delish reports that "Walmart is teaming up with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) and Higher Ground Productions to release The Hidden World of Waffles + Mochi which is based on the Netflix show and will inspire families to cook healthy foods with all sorts of ingredients.

    "The content will be accessible on any device by visiting Walmart.com/wafflesandmochi. Once you're there, you can find 20 different activities each centered around 10 ingredients. The activities will include ingredients like tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, and rice, and will show viewers how to use these foods in their everyday dishes. There will be interactive games for kids to play like Mash Me If You Can! and Corn Hole that will teach them about nutritious foods."

    Higher Ground Productions was created by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama;  the former First Lady hosts "Waffles + Mochi" on Netflix.  She released a statement:  "I’ve long said that supporting parents and helping our kids build healthy habits isn’t just a job for nonprofits or governments - the private sector has a critical role to play as well. That’s why I am proud to see Walmart continuing to lead the way with The Hidden World of Waffles + Mochi, a wonderful food adventure that not only educates families on how to make quick and easy meals at home, but also teaches kids that they can give back to their community at any age."

    KC's View:

    Anything we can do to encourage kids to eat better food and understand the pleasures of fresh products is a good thing, and in this case, I think it is terrific that Walmart, Netflix and the Obamas are teaming up to spread the word.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    The Guardian  has a story about a new "24-hour vending machine that dishes out freshly baked pizza in three minutes … Located in a booth on Via Catania, close to Piazza Bologna in Rome, Mr Go Pizza offers up four varieties, including the classic margherita invented in Naples in 1889, each costing between €4.50 and €6. Customers can watch through a small glass window as the vending machine kneads and tops the dough."

    In operation for about a month, Dough To Go reportedly has sold about 900 pies.

    The Guardian writes that "=the concept has been met with a mix of curiosity and incredulity from Roman pizza-lovers in a city filled with street food outlets serving pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice)."  The story also says that "there are three other pizza vending machines in Italy – one in Calabria, one in Sardinia and one in Marche – but they are in closed spaces, such as shopping centres, and so Mr Go Pizza is the first that operates around the clock."

    KC's View:

    My initial reaction to this story was horror - how, in Italy of all places, could a culture accept the idea of pizza, one of the world's greatest pleasures, being made by a machine.

    But I now finding myself wondering if there is an entire group of people in Italy that does not adhere to our preconceptions (and illusions?) about Italy and Italians.  Many of us think of that culture as being immersed in olive oil and wine and bread and cheese and pasta, where even the most modest kitchen is capable of producing wonderful meals.  

    Maybe that's an inaccurate view.  Maybe there's an entire group of people in Italy who make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, who prefer Diet Coke to chianti, who eat to live instead of living to eat … and who think a pizza vending machine is perfectly acceptable addition to the culture.

    I say this as someone who during the pandemic has turned making my own pizza into an almost weekly event - there's something about hanging out in the backyard, sipping a glass of wine, and waiting for a fresh pizza to come out of the grill.

    Published on: May 10, 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…

    • The United States Covid-19 coronavirus numbers to date:  33,476,781 total cases … 595,812 deaths … and 26,439,712 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  159,032,809 total cases … 3,308,358 fatalities … and 136,607,073 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  Bloomberg reports that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said yesterday that "there’s 'no doubt' the U.S. has undercounted its number of deaths from Covid-19, which now stand at over 581,000.

    However, Fauci also said "that a University of Washington analysis published May 6 that the true toll is probably over 900,000 is 'a bit more than I would have thought'."


    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 58 percent of people in the US age 18 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 43.8 percent being fully vaccinated.


    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "Early in the pandemic, there was hope that the world would one day achieve herd immunity, the point when the coronavirus lacks enough hosts to spread easily. But over a year later, the virus is crushing India with a fearsome second wave and surging in countries from Asia to Latin America.

    "Experts now say it is changing too quickly, new more contagious variants are spreading too easily and vaccinations are happening too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon.

    "That means if the virus continues to run rampant through much of the world, it  is well on its way to becoming endemic, an ever-present threat."

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    •  Amazon announced this morning that Amazon One, the company's contactless entry-and-payment system that "uses custom-built algorithms and hardware to create a person’s unique palm signature," is now available "as an entry option at the Amazon Go store at 11 W 42nd St in New York City. With this, Amazon One is now available as an option in more than a dozen locations across the Seattle area and now in New York City—including at select Amazon Go, Amazon Go Grocery, Amazon Books, Amazon 4-Star, and Amazon Pop Up stores."


    •  The Associated Press reports that "Amazon, which has been under pressure from shoppers, brands and lawmakers to crack down on counterfeits on its site, said Monday that it blocked more than 10 billion suspected phony listings last year before any of their offerings could be sold.

    "The numbers were released in Amazon’s first report on its anti-counterfeiting efforts since it announced new tools and technologies in 2019. The number of blocked phony listings last year was up about 67% from the year before.

    "The Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth said the number of counterfeiters attempting to sell on the site rose as scammers tried to take advantage of shoppers who were buying more online during the pandemic."


    •  Food & Wine has a piece about how Amazon is making "stocking your kitchen with functional and affordable gadgets a breeze. The retailer recently curated a storefront of essential kitchen tools that make preparing meals easier … The storefront includes items every kitchen needs, like knives and cutting boards, pots and pans, cooking tools, blenders, coffee or tea makers, casserole dishes, electric mixers, bakeware, Dutch ovens, and toasters."

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    •  The San Jose Mercury News reports that beginning today, Walmart is launching "its first ever online Vinyl Mania Week … with exclusive and limited editions of vinyl records for fans."

    According to the story, "The five-day event on Walmart.com/vinyl-records, will include color vinyl discs from artists such as Machine Gun Kelly, Johnny Cash, Halsey, Post Malone, Keith Urban, KISS, Frank Sinatra and John Denver.

    "More than 150 titles - ranging from pop, soul and rock to country, folk and jazz - will be available, with new selections popping up each day."

    The Mercury News notes that "vinyl record sales have grown steadily for the past 15 years. In 2020, 27.5 million LPs (albums) were sold in the U.S., a 46% increase from 2019, and a more than 30-fold increase from 2006 when the vinyl comeback began, Statistica reported."


    •  Bloomberg reports that an Amazon "warehouse worker died Thursday after collapsing at a company facility in Bessemer, Alabama, that was the site of an effort earlier this year to unionize the workforce … The worker was taken to a hospital after being found in the bathroom of the warehouse, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to discuss the situation."

    “We’re deeply saddened by the passing of a member of our team, and our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with his loved ones during this difficult time,” Amazon said Friday in an emailed statement.

    The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) currently is challenging the unionization vote that went against it in March.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  In the UK, The Mirror reports that "a supermarket chain dubbed the “Russian Lidl” is opening its first stores in the UK this summer - and it claims to be cheaper than any other store.

    "Svetofor, which was founded in Siberia in 2009 but trades under Mere in Europe, says it costs up to 30% less than other budget shops like Aldi.

    "The Russian chain has 3,200 stores internationally and opened its first European Mere store in 2018.  It now trades in Germany - where rival Aldi started - and Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine.

    "But now reports say its first UK store will open next month in Preston in a former Nisa branch."


    •  Bloomberg reports that Authentic Brands Group and  Simon Property Group - which teamed up last year to acquire Brooks Brothers and Forever 21 - are together acquiring Eddie Bauer, the troubled outdoor clothing and gear retailer.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    This seemed to be a trend … as malls went into decline, Simon apparently thought it made sense to acquire and prop up retail brands that, if they abandoned its properties, would end up having a domino effect in terms of other retailer brands bailing out.  Of course, I suspect that one of the things likely to happen once the pandemic recedes is that malls actually may get a respite from their likely demise.

    Published on: May 10, 2021

    •  Foxtrot, which describes itself as a "corner store, café and delivery retail market," announced that it has hired Mitch Madoff, formerly Vice President of Exclusive Brands at Whole Foods, to be its new Senior Vice President of Private Label.

    At the same time, Foxtrot has hired Tae Strain, most recently head chef at David Chang's Momofuku CCDC in Washington, D.C., as its new Corporate Executive Chef.