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    Published on: May 25, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    Taking note of Bob Dylan's 80th birthday yesterday, Kevin said that two of his favorite Dylan songs are "Shelter From The Storm" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."   Me, I've always been a fan of "The Times They Are A-Changin'."  Its lyrics remind us that nothing is permanent and that quite simply we’re all faced with constant change.

    So while Dylan’s lyrics still seem as relevant as when he wrote them in the early sixties, we have to remember that few things have that kind of staying power. For instance, it was somehow both shocking and expected to hear the news that Microsoft is finally retiring Internet Explorer, the software giant’s wed browsing service.

    If you’ve been on a computer for any time now the odds are that you used Internet Explorer.

    As Mint reported last week, "While Internet Explorer has lost its relevance over the years, the browser is an important part of the history of the Internet. Its story spans the first big antitrust battle between Big Tech and regulators, when Microsoft went in front of the US Department of Justice in the late 1990s. The outcome of that case is one of the reasons by almost all the web browsers today are free and led to regulations that changed the way Windows worked."

    It’s actually hard to remember a time when Microsoft’s dominance was so complete that the company easily took over web browsing from Netscape.  Internet Explorer’s tie to the then-incredibly popular version of Office led Internet Explorer to capture more than 90 percent of the market.

    But in the years since, browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari and, of course, Google Chrome, left Internet Explorer in the dust with less than one percent of the market.

    It’s another reminder to all of us that dominance in any field is only as lasting as the relevance of the products and services you offer consumers. Someone else is always looking to build a better mousetrap and unless you and your organization have a mindset of continuous replenishment, the clock is already ticking on your decline.

    Or, as Dylan put it, “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.”

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    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: May 25, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal has a story about growing private label sales, and how many retailers looking "to create a product line that looks, feels, tastes and smells premium, while undercutting on price because they aren’t stuck with the fat advertising costs of the major labels."  Which sounds to KC like a familiar refrain.  However, he also thinks there is an opportunity for retailers to use private label to expand their marketing areas and grow their customers bases beyond local neighborhoods - and he cites Dorothy Lane Market's Killer Brownies as a great example of both.

    Published on: May 25, 2021

    The New York Times has a story about how food trucks adapted to and were in some ways buoyed by the pandemic.

    "Food trucks — kitchens on wheels, essentially — are flexible by design and quickly became a substitute during the pandemic for customers who couldn’t dine indoors and coveted something different than their mainstream carryout options," the Times writes.  "That, in turn, has delivered a new client base to add on to an existing cadre of loyal followers. In a very real sense, food trucks are vehicles for equality in the post-pandemic world."

    The story makes a point that we've come back to several times over the past year on MNB - that food trucks in a variety of markets were able to adapt when their owners/operators realized that they couldn't do business in traditional ways.  They moved to the suburbs when urban markets dried up.  They used social media to publicize their routes and popularity.  They accepted credit cards instead of just cash.  They did deliveries - going to the customer instead of waiting for the customer to find them - and even allowed people to schedule food pickups.

    At the same time, many food trucks doubled down on the core value proposition that made them popular to begin with - developing menus that were inventive and quality-focused, primarily using food as a defining differential advantage.

    KC's View:

    One of my favorite comments in the story was from Luke Cypher, 34, who expanded the offerings beyond "the already eclectic selections at his Blue Sparrow food trucks in Pittsburgh."

    Cypher tells the Times that he "opted not to use delivery apps like Uber Eats or Grub Hub.  'I don’t want to hand my food off to somebody else,' he said. 'If we weren’t going to have the one-on-one conversations with our customers, we were at least going to give it to them directly'."

    Exactly.

    Lots to be learned here, methinks.

    Published on: May 25, 2021

    Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG), fresh produce supplier The Giumarra Company, and autonomous driving technology companyTuSimple have announced a new logistics project in which the so-called "middle mile" was accomplished using self-driving technology.

    According to the players, the technology actually cut 10 hours out of the shipping time.

    Here's how it played out:

    "The pick-up and delivery of the produce, commonly referred to as 'first mile' and 'last mile,' was done manually with a human driver, while the longest portion of the journey from Tucson, Arizona, to Dallas, Texas, also known as the 'middle mile,' was done autonomously using TuSimple's self-driving technology. The autonomous portion of the journey covered more than 900 miles. A human driver can complete the entire trip in 24 hours and six minutes, while TuSimple demonstrated its autonomous system can make this trip in 14 hours and six minutes, which is 42% faster."

    "Autonomous trucking technology is a real game-changer for us," said Tim Riley, President of the Giumarra Companies, in a prepared statement, "as its time and cost efficiencies provide us with an enhanced opportunity to supply fresher fruits and vegetables across the United States, particularly to food deserts and rural communities."

    Full disclosure:  AWG is a longtime and valued MNB sponsor.

    Published on: May 25, 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 a total of 33,922,937 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 604,416 deaths and 27,563,930 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 168,035,170 coronavirus cases, with 3,488,66 fatalities, and 149,377,299 reported recoveries.  (Source.)


    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is saying that 61.5 percent of the US population 18 or older has received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 49.8 percent being fully vaccinated.


    •  The New York Times this morning that "Moderna said on Tuesday that its coronavirus vaccine, authorized only for use in adults, was powerfully effective in 12- to 17-year-olds, and that it planned to apply to the Food and Drug Administration in June for authorization to use the vaccine in adolescents.

    "If approved, its vaccine would become the second Covid-19 vaccine available to U.S. adolescents. Federal regulators authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this month for 12- to 15-year-olds.

    "The Pfizer shot was initially authorized for use in people 16 and older, while Moderna’s has been available for those 18 and up."


    •  Kroger chairman-president-CEO Rodney McMullen has contributed an op-ed piece to CNN in which he writes about the company's vaccination efforts.

    An excerpt:

    "According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, businesses are among the most trusted institutions in American life.

    "Business leaders have a social responsibility to lead with facts and act with empathy. At Kroger, we've found that our associates became less hesitant about vaccinations after we offered a financial incentive of $100 and provided consistent, factual information from trusted authorities about vaccine efficacy and safety.

    "For many, receiving the vaccine may require time off work, travel time or childcare. By offering solutions with financial support, it makes the decision to get vaccinated less of a burden. To help address these practical challenges, our family of companies is awarding a $100 payment to each associate who becomes fully vaccinated.

    "Beyond rewards, education is key. There are unfortunate misconceptions and skepticism about the vaccines, so being proactive with employees and sharing the facts about the science is extremely important.

    "We also launched a content series featuring Kroger's chief medical officer, Dr. Marc Watkins, who shares his professional opinion, answers employees' questions and offers a good dose of myth-busting facts to help people make an educated vaccination decision. And our leaders are sharing their confidence in the vaccine, their personal vaccination experience and also their "why" — the often deeply personal reason they chose to get vaccinated, whether it's to spend time with aging parents, to protect a spouse who is a cancer survivor or to safeguard customers and each other."


    •  United Airlines said yesterday that members of its loyalty program "who upload their vaccination records to United’s mobile app or website through June 22 are eligible to win a round-trip flight for two 'in any class of service, to anywhere in the world United flies.'  The carrier will give away 30 pairs of tickets in June. On July 1, United will give five people a grand prize of travel for a year for themselves and a companion."

    The sweepstakes is part of a broader effort around the country by both public and private institutions to find ways to incentivize people to get the vaccine.

    I'm glad that these incentives are being offered, but you'd think that just preventing oneself from getting stock and inhibiting the spread of a pandemic - you know, being personally invested in the public health - would be enough.


    •  The Washington Post reports on how drones may be employed to get vaccines to hard-to-reach people.

    "While more than one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, there are still millions of people who have yet to receive a single dose," the Post writes.  "Reasons for not getting a shot vary — some don’t want one at all, while others say they’ll wait a bit longer to decide. And then, there are people who want to get vaccinated but are in too remote of an area to get to a typical vaccination site.

    "They include people working on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or living in rural areas miles from the nearest doctor’s office or pharmacy. Drone companies are positioning themselves to deliver refrigerated medical products to those people. If the plans don’t pan out in time to combat the coronavirus crisis, then they hope to be set up to assist swiftly in the world’s next big health scare."

    "The world's next big health scare."  It is really important to think about this - what we have learned about our public health system - the infrastructure that works, as well as the gaps that allowed for greater spread - that can be applied the next time.  Most importantly, we cannot wait until the next time to apply these lessons … we have to start the process now. (Of course, if we can't get our act together and raise our vaccination rates this time ...)

    Published on: May 25, 2021

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that an announcement could come as early as today that Amazon is acquiring MGM Holdings - the legacy film studio that has the rights to the James Bond and Rocky franchises, as well as a vast content library - for a price in the neighborhood of $9 billion.

    The deal would be Amazon's second-largest acquisition;  it bought Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion.

    A purchase of MGM, the Journal writes, would "highlight the premium that content is commanding as streaming wars force consolidation and drive bigger players to bulk up with assets that help them compete."

    In Amazon's case, better video content drives higher Prime membership numbers.  Prime members spend about twice as much on Amazon as non-Prime members.  Which would appear to be the most important part of whatever math equation Amazon is doing.

    Published on: May 25, 2021

    •  Walmart said yesterday that an "external bad actor" had created fake accounts using Walmart's email client and then used those accounts to send out emails in which a racial slur was used, provoking an outcry on social media.

    Walmart did not say how many such emails were sent out.  They apparently went to people who had signed up online for a Walmart shopping account.

    "We were shocked and appalled to see these offensive and unacceptable emails," said Walmart spokesperson Molly Blakeman.  "We're looking into our sign up process to ensure something like this doesn't happen again."

    Published on: May 25, 2021

    •  Kroger has announced that "certain associates within the Fred Meyer and QFC divisions have ratified an agreement with four local unions for the transfer of liabilities from the Sound Retirement Trust to the UFCW Consolidated Pension Plan. This new arrangement will help secure the pension benefits of more than 10,600 Kroger Family of Companies' associates and is expected to minimize the organization's exposure to market risk going forward while also reducing administrative costs."

    Published on: May 25, 2021

    •  Weis Markets announced the promotion of Terry Wallace, the company's Director of Procurement, to Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics.

    Published on: May 25, 2021

    Responding to yesterday's piece about Phil Mickelson winning the 2021 PGA Championship, making him, at age 50, the oldest player ever to win a major championship, one MNB reader wrote:

    What was more striking to me with regards to the PGA Championship other than the victor was that you couldn't find a face covering in the crowd if you tried.  I guess that they were only "recommended" meant that no one was concerned or considering others?

    This is from the PGA website:   

    Face coverings will be recommended outdoors for all spectators and volunteers (ages 2 and up). Face coverings will be required indoors and on shuttle buses. The PGA Shops and all hospitality venues on-site are considered outdoors. Please bring your own face coverings. 

    I noticed the same thing, too, especially in the crowds at the end … but I decided not to say anything because I know I'm wearing some folks out with all my commentary about masks and vaccines.  I figured that I'd let this one go.

    But thanks for making the point.  I haven't seen anything pointing out that people had to be vaccinated to get on the course or be allowed to not wear a mask … and I worry that this sort of complacency will undo all the good that has been done.


    We took note yesterday of a Seattle Times report that while it may not exactly be cooking the books, Amazon has been able to make its management diversity numbers look better by broadening the number of people it counts as management.

    One MNB reader responded:

    This story reminds me a bit of a company I used to work for.  One year it was announced that there would be no raises.  To keep this promise, they simply promoted or gave new titles to the “favored” executives.  Of course, with the new title, there was a new, increased, salary.  Technically, the company was still true to their word, but most of us could see the hypocrisy of what was happening.

    From another reader:

    When Amazon reclassified what they call executives, their far greater % jump in diversity than other large companies, shows that they actually have been doing a good job in providing opportunity for all peoples.  Hiring from within and training up through the system.  Plus, I have a really hard time swallowing the rhetoric that Amazon picks their executives based on race or gender.  I think they have a much higher weight on qualifications for the job.


    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    7-Eleven teaming up with Instacart?  Not a good move for 7-Eleven - its entire business model is based on getting people into the stores to comb through high profit, impulse items.  To take that away is not a good thing.


    Regarding fax machine usage, one MNB reader wrote:

    Hey KC, one thing about faxes I learned recently while dealing with the HR dept at my employer, a national grocery retailer.  They had asked me to have my doctor fax a note saying I was under his care, could return to work, etc.

    My doctor's office said they had sent it - twice actually. HR said they never received it.

    So I say maybe it got lost in a pile of other faxes in the office. HR says that's impossible, as they receive all faxes electronically now!

    We learn something every day, though they never did find that fax!

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    RETAIL NEWS IN CONTEXT, ANALYSIS WITH ATTITUDE
    •Sansolo Speaks: Admit That The Waters Around You Have Grown
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    And finally, from another reader:

    Those Dylan clips were phenomenal. Especially "Shelter From the Storm."  Classic. Thank you.

    My pleasure.

    One of my favorite albums - it is in the regular rotation, especially when the top is down, the road is long, and the sun is shining - is the live "Before The Flood" album, with Dylan and The Band.

    Here's another favorite of mine (though not from the album), just because one can never get too much Dylan: