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    Published on: June 4, 2021

    Retail Today, With An Eye On Tomorrow

    DALLAS - Part of the second day of the GMDC/Retail Tomorrow Mid-Year Meet-Up was devoted to visiting two local retailers that are exceptional in their segments.

    First up was an H-E-B Central Market, which continues to demonstrate an exceptional savvy about food marketing with appeal to people who live to eat (as opposed to eat to live).  We found a store that, after a year in which many of its differentiating characteristics had to be put aside because of pandemic-related concerns, seems to regaining its mojo.

    Among the things you'll see in the pics below are Central Market's typically theatrical and effective approach to produce merchandising (those ice displays are built each morning starting at 4 am, and broken down at night), some unusual produce items and packaging, service seafood and meat counters to make the mouth water, and a cafe that seems more destination than convenience.  You'll also see that service hold and cold bars are back … while masks inside the store are required.

    Then, we visited a Container Store - a great example of a company that punches way above its weight in terms of respect and influence - just 93 stores, but an outsized influence on its category.  And now, with a look to expand private label and test smaller format stores, and coming off a pandemic year in which sales and profits swelled, management is seeing a future where greater growth is part of the strategic road map.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    Maybe you heard about it.  

    How a Russian cyber-criminal group staged a ransomware attack on JBS, the world's largest meat processing company.  The breach resulted in a number of JBS's operations to be shut down, though reports are now that everything is back up and running as the FBI looks to being a group called REvil to justice.

    The attack and the resulting media coverage resulted in consumers having a lot of questions about meat supply, and whether they had anything to worry about.

    I'm a big proponent of the notion that when there's an elephant in the room, the best way to deal with it is to actually deal with it.  You can't hide from it, so you might as well go right up to it, introduce yourself, and come to grips with whatever the implications may be.

    Which is what Denver-based retailer Tony's Market - which has a reputation for having the best meat in the city - did.

    Here's the email that went out.  Direct.  Specific.  Respectful.  Clear.

    This is how you communicate.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning about how "the tight labor market is hampering new restaurant and supermarket openings, putting a potential check on growth in a food industry that is being reshaped by the pandemic.

    "Many food sellers are adding stores to capitalize on high consumer spending as Americans emerge from a year spent largely at home. But grocers and restaurants say they are struggling to hire all the workers they want for these stores. They are adding perks and bonuses to entice job seekers and in some cases delaying openings."

    According to the story, "Grocery and restaurant executives say expanded unemployment benefits and federal stimulus checks are making it harder to find people willing to work at their stores. Surveys have shown some people say they aren’t working because they worry about spreading or contracting Covid-19. Those concerns are acute in restaurants and supermarkets, where workers are indoors and interact with customers and colleagues who in many cases aren’t wearing masks, as vaccination rates climb and companies relax their rules. Some companies say potential workers are staying out of the job market for now because of concerns about the safety of working in public during the pandemic or child-care duties."

    However, the Journal writes, "the worst of the labor crunch could prove temporary. Enhanced and extended unemployment benefits end nationwide in September, and some states are stopping them sooner. Many schools and daycare centers are expected to fully reopen by fall, allowing parents to return to work, and with vaccines widely available, more Americans could feel comfortable working outside their homes."

    But, "food executives say higher costs for pay and benefits, as well as the hassle of deploying existing staff to new stores, are weighing on operations, potentially preventing them from grabbing more sales."

    KC's View:

    Retail executives like to say that we'd all be better off if increases in the minimum wage were left to the demands of the marketplace as opposed to being determined by legislative action.  In some ways, that's what happening now … though not entirely, since the extended unemployment benefits are an act of government that are having an impact on the employment situation.

    That said, we've just gone through a year in which the pandemic had a tectonic impact on the lives and careers of almost everybody.  It may take some time for things to regain a sense of balance.

    That said, it may be that in some cases, some workers are feeling a little betrayed by the companies where they worked.

    Fast Company has a story based on a preliminary report from the Economic Policy Institute, which each year reports on CEO compensation trends based on data from the 350 largest firms:

    "At the start of the pandemic, some CEOs announced, to much fanfare, that they’d give up their salaries in order to protect their companies from layoffs or closures. But those gestures did little to curb the trend of soaring CEO earnings (because salary is often just one component of CEO compensation). In 2020, what CEOs took home rose nearly 16%, according to preliminary data, while the average worker’s compensation rose just 1.8%."

    It may be that some employees are looking at that disparity and are wondering why they're being demonized by looking out for themselves and their families.

    And, by the way, these are the same employees called "essential" not too long ago.  It may be that they are demonstrating exactly how essential they really are.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    In Colorado, the Daily Camera has a story about the volunteers who are cleaning up the temporary memorial created by locals at the King Soopers store in Boulder where 10 people were killed in a March 22 mass shooting.

    Thousands of items have been placed there, but the Museum of Boulder’s is making an "effort to save and preserve the artifacts and stories behind each sign, card and piece of art … Next, the museum will sort and clean all of the items collected. The families of the 10 people who died in the shooting will have a chance to look through and take items that might be special. The rest will be stored in the museum’s collection as plans for a potential future exhibit continue to evolve.

    "Likewise, Boulder officials have said plans for a more permanent memorial are expected to take several years as the city looks to collect feedback from those directly impacted by the mass shooting and the community at large."

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    The US Department of Labor yesterday said that "worker filings for initial jobless claims have dropped by 35% since late April, slipping below 400,000 last week for the first time since the pandemic started," the Wall Street Journal writes.

    "Weekly unemployment claims, a proxy for layoffs, fell to 385,000 last week from a revised 405,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Last week’s decline in claims marked the fifth straight week that new filings fell, from 590,000 in late April, adding to signs of a healing labor market as the U.S. economy ramps up."

    And, this morning, the government reported that "employers added 559,000 jobs in May and the unemployment rate fell to 5.8%, in a pickup of the labor market’s recovery from Covid-19," the Journal reports.

    "Several factors are propelling a burst of economic activity. More Americans have become vaccinated against the coronavirus, and state and local governments have eased restrictions on businesses as Covid-19 cases have declined and as the federal government has relaxed its pandemic guidance. Those factors, along with federal pandemic aid, have prompted a pickup in spending, particularly at services businesses, which in turn is stoking labor demand.

    "Employment in April was still down by about eight million jobs compared with pre-pandemic levels, and nearly 10 million people were unemployed and potentially available to work.

    "Economists predict that the labor market won’t fully recover until next year despite signs of robust demand for workers. The Federal Reserve, other policy makers and financial markets are closely watching the pace of hiring as a key indicator of strength in the overall recovery.

    "Strong growth in U.S. job openings is a sign that employers are seeking to boost hiring, although they face challenges in filling positions."

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    While a number of companies pledged to fight racism and promote more Black employees last year when the murder of George Floyd put racial issues in the national spotlight, the Wall Street Journal reports that they now are "putting money behind those pledges by tying executive compensation to specific goals."

    For example, "Starbucks Corp. said it would give top executives more shares if the coffee chain’s managerial ranks grow more diverse over three years. McDonald’s Corp. in February gave executives annual incentives to increase the share of women and racial minorities in leadership roles by 2025. In March, Nike Inc. said it would for the first time tie some executive pay to five-year goals for improving racial and gender diversity in its workforce and leadership positions."

    “Historically, investors focused primarily on pay for performance, but performance was really measured as total shareholder return,“ says Melissa Sawyer, a partner at law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP whose work includes advising boards on corporate governance. ”This idea of performance also being measured relative to ESG - culture, diversity, social variables - that’s a newer concept that’s emerging and I think we’re going to start to see more of it over time.”

    KC's View:

    This isn't just political correctness.  In the end, investors and boards of directors are interested in return on investment, and as one expert tells the Journal, "there’s a growing body of evidence that shows that companies that have diverse teams outperform companies that are not diverse, whether they’re looking at operating performance or financial performance or innovation."

    Which makes total sense.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    From Fast Company:

    "Some day in the future, Ralph Lauren stores may not have any merchandise in them. At least that’s what chief innovation officer David Lauren envisions. Instead, you’ll chat with an in-store expert about the outfit of your dreams - a teal polo or a red linen summer dress, perhaps - and the brand will make it for you on demand …  Lauren’s goal is to let customers create the product of their dreams from scratch, a reality he believes is only a few years away. Ralph Lauren is currently piloting 'Create Your Own' garments online. Over the holidays, customers were able to design their own outerwear, mixing and matching hundreds of colors option to create down vests and jackets. And last month, Ralph Lauren unveiled the custom polo, which lets customers design their own version of the brand’s most iconic product.

    "Behind the scenes, Lauren says the company is building out the technology and infrastructure to eventually make all garments on demand. It’s a major investment, but he believes it will give the brand a competitive edge in the years to come."

    KC's View:

    One of the observations made yesterday at the GMDC/Retail Tomorrow meeting in Dallas was that "omnichannel" no longer is the priority for retailers (because if they're not omnichannel by now, they're dead or dying).  Now, the term of art is "omni-personalization," as companies in all retail channels look for ways to increasingly personalize the products and services they offer.

    GQ has a similar story about the Ralph Lauren initiative, and it offers an anecdote about the moment that inspired it:

    "Ralph Lauren executive David Lauren remembers this time, maybe 20 years ago, when a customer came into one of the brand’s stores hoping to buy their husband’s favorite polo: navy blue with the red pony logo. But an associate turned her away: sorry, they only had navy with a yellow pony logo that season. She left empty handed. 'I was like, ‘Oh, my God, we just lost a customer,' David says, looking crestfallen."

    In the food industry, there may be countless ways in which retailers and manufacturers can work to figure out personalization processes and innovations, especially if a lot of traditional center store sales move online, opening space and energy and funding for new opportunities like these.

    Published on: June 4, 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 current US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  34,174,752 total cases … 611,611 deaths … and 28,025,575 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  172,963,233 cases … 3,718,849 fatalities … and 155,691,082 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 63 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 52 percent has been fully vaccinated.

    •  Axios reports that "The U.S. averaged roughly 16,500 new cases per day over the past week, a 30% improvement over the week before. New cases declined in 43 states and held steady in the other seven.

    "The official case counts haven't been this low since Americans went into lockdown in March last year — when inadequate testing meant that cases were undercounted.  The U.S. has finally gotten the virus down to fewer than 20,000 cases per day, spread across 331.5 million people."

    The bottom line, Axios writes, is that "the vaccines work."

    From the very beginning, Dr. Fauci said the goal had to be to get the daily case level below 20,000.  That's been my benchmark as I look at and report on the daily numbers.  The sound you hear is a deep sigh of relief.

    •  The New Yorker has a piece entitled "The Age of Reopening Anxiety," which looks at the emotions experienced as people start to embrace real-world activities again.

    An excerpt:

    "For many, the transitional period has been a little bumpy. A report by the American Psychological Association, published in March, 2021, found that almost half of Americans surveyed felt 'uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction' after the pandemic. The numbers did not change among the fully vaccinated. Nearly half of adults said that they did 'not feel comfortable going back to living life like they used to before the pandemic.'

    "After a lonely year, in-person socializing feels both exciting and alien, like returning to your home town after a long while away. Will everything still be there? Will you have any friends left? Will you have anything to say? Conversation, even on a bar stool, feels creaky and unpracticed. The joints need oiling."

    You c an read the entire piece here, and it offers nsights that may be valuable as one begins to engage with co-workers and customers.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "Walmart shareholders shot down employee safety and wage initiatives on Wednesday despite a prominent civil rights activist’s insistence that the retailer has a responsibility to “uplift the voices” of employees living in poverty.

    "The Rev. William J. Barber II, noting the coronavirus outbreak’s disproportionate toll on Black Americans, pressed Walmart to create a worker-led committee on pandemic issues and raise its starting wage to $15 an hour.

    "'Perhaps thousands of your workers suffered with this disease, spread it to family members, or had to endure terrifying isolation, gasping for breath, all because they were too poor to stay home from work, too afraid of retaliation to get the time off, too beaten down by this system to be truly supported by this company and by our government in this dire hour for our nation,' said Barber, chair of the Poor People’s Campaign.

    "The pandemic committee initiative, introduced by employee Cynthia Murray, was opposed by Walmart and voted down. The company said the measure was 'unnecessary' because it had implemented ample safety and health protocols during the pandemic, including employee temperature screenings, mask requirements and as much as two weeks of paid leave for workers who need to stay home for covid-19-related reasons."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Walmart is coming out with a new app for its store workers’ phones that allows them to do a variety of tasks from digitally clocking into work to helping locate merchandise and answering customers’ questions.  It also has a push-to-talk feature to let them communicate directly with colleagues.

    "As part of the launch, the nation’s largest private employer and largest retailer says it plans to offer more than 740,000 store workers a new Samsung smartphone for free by year-end. That’s nearly half of its total U.S. workforce, according to Drew Holler, senior vice president of people operations."

    The story says that "in the next few months, the new app will allow workers to help speed up the time it takes its stockers to get items from the backroom to the sales floor. Using an augmented reality feature, workers will be able to highlight the boxes as they’re ready to go, instead of scanning each box individually."

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    •  Target said yesterday that its Target Deal Days, which it is calling the "biggest digital sale of the summer," will run from June 20-22.  

    Which happens to be concurrent with Walmart's just-announced Deals for Days, which will run from June 20-23.

    All of which are a response to Amazon's annual Prime Day promotion, which will take place June 21-22.

    •  Reuters reports that "French supermarket group Casino and U.S. e-commerce giant Amazon said on Thursday they were expanding a tie-up for grocery deliveries in an online food retail market that has become increasingly competitive … The latest partnership would affect Casino-branded stores, and involves the roll-out of new click-and-collect services for Amazon Prime members."

    The story notes that "the Casino group caused a stir in 2018 when its upmarket Monoprix stores struck a deal with Amazon, considered one of the biggest rivals to retailers trying to boost their own e-commerce operations."

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    •  Weis Markets announced yesterday that "it will offer free virtual cooking classes for preschool- and elementary-aged children and adults throughout the summer.

    "The thirty-minute classes, led by the Weis Markets’ team of Registered Dietitians, will cover one recipe per session. Registration closes 48 hours prior to the beginning of each session, and a detailed ingredient list will be provided so that participants can cook or bake along at home."

    "While many kids are home enjoying summer vacation, we’re thrilled to continue offering programs that get them more comfortable with cooking and nutritious eating. These hands-on experiences are designed to help children experience new ingredients, textures and flavors in a fun and engaging setting," said Kimberly Asman, Weis Markets In-Store Dietitian.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and United Fresh Produce Association, ahead of their January 2022 merger, have named the senior management team that will take the new, combined organization forward.

    •  "Yvonne Bull, currently chief financial officer at PMA, will continue in that role leading finance, human resources and IT functions."

    •  "Doug Bohr, currently executive director of the Center for Growing Talent at PMA, will serve as chief education and programs officer.  Bohr will lead all education and business development programs, including in-person conferences and events, and online training. He will also continue to provide leadership for the talent-focused non-profit arm."

    •  "Robert Guenther, currently senior vice president of public policy at United Fresh, will serve as chief public policy officer. In addition, the new association will invest in two new positions within Guenther’s team to increase the association’s commitment to U.S. government relations and grassroots advocacy."

    •  "Jennifer McEntire, currently senior vice president of food safety and technology at United Fresh, will serve as chief food safety and regulatory affairs officer. McEntire will lead all food-safety programs and interaction with regulatory officials globally. In addition, a new position will be created to expand the new association’s depth in microbiology."

    •  "Lauren Scott, currently chief strategy and membership officer at PMA, will serve as chief strategy officer, leading global research and insights, marketing, public relations and communications, and demand creation activities, including the consumer facing not-for-profit foundation."

    •  "Max Teplitski, currently chief science officer at PMA, will retain the same title, leading basic science, technology, sustainability and supply chain standards and traceability. In addition, the new association will invest in a new position devoted to enhancing the association’s depth in sustainability."

    •  "Miriam Wolk, currently vice president of member services at United Fresh, will serve as chief membership officer, leading all aspects of membership recruitment, retention, engagement and volunteer engagement globally."

    Future Co-CEOs Cathy Burns of PMA and Tom Stenzel of United Fresh said in a prepared statement that they "looked at where we most want to invest in maximizing member value in the new association and created a staff organizational structure to fulfill that objective."

    •  King Kullen announced that the company's executive vice president, Joseph Brown, who has been with the company for almost a half-century, has been named president-COO of the company.

    He succeeds Brian Cullen and J. Donald Kennedy, who are retiring but will remain on the company's board and executive committee.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    Got the following email from MNB reader Jim Antrup:

    Enjoyed your FaceTime this morning, I also traveled in May for the first time in 15 months, a couple of car trips and a couple of airplane trips. I would say it just felt weird to be back traveling, and it isn’t the same as we were used to prior to the Pandemic. Airplanes and airports were jammed, hotel guests seemed sparse. Mask regulations vary by state and county, peoples response to wearing masks vary widely as well (I am confident not all people not wearing masks are fully vaccinated). I also found it very interesting as I stayed in several hotels  (all Hilton brands) how different the level of service was, i.e. restaurant, breakfast, bar, etc.  the only consistent service was the lack of housecleaning service provided only on request.  Overall good travels, hope yours  finish good as well.

    Welcome back to the new normal!

    From another reader:

    I appreciate that video. For those of us who haven’t traveled for 16 months or more, it was informative and very timely.  The all day mask thing is something most of us have not had to endure. Great comments about those individuals that have had to do it as part of their careers. Stay safe.

    And from yet another reader:

    Have a safe trip KC - I have to say I'm not surprised but disappointed in my fellow man.

    Right after the flight attendant announced that we're going to disembark in an orderly fashion, the plane lands and it's a free for all.

    Really? What's wrong with people? No consideration for others, only their ignorant selves.

    Did a piece yesterday about mask anxiety on the part of retail employees, prompting - not surprisingly - a number of outraged emails, mostly because I expressed sympathy for the retailers who maintain mask mandates in order to protect the health of their workers.

    MNB reader Dayna J. Feist wrote:

    Why stop there?  Why not make it mandatory for….ever?  Why?  Because we still have rights and freedoms.

    While my freedoms and rights don’t negate yours, neither do yours.  If someone working in retail or anywhere for that matter feels safer wearing a mask, then by all means, wear it until you feel it’s no longer necessary.  But for those that don’t feel a mask is necessary, they too have the right to forego it.  We wore it when it was required and now that it’s not, those that believe in it want to enforce it longer.  I find it strange how those same people that followed the CDC’s guidelines like it was a map to a gold treasure are now questioning if it’s correct.  Going “maskless” is the new “no seatbelt/helmet” shaming that seems to be acceptable and rampant yet I’ve not seen 1 person shame a mask-wearer once.  Not once.

    MNB reader Kelly Dean Wiseman wrote:

    Continuing to require masks in our stores, in opposition to all good scientific data, is a gross disservice to our workers. On the front lines we have been cursed, insulted, lied to, physically threatened, even spit upon. All because we were "following the science" and requiring masks. So now that the efficacy of the vaccines is so powerful, and the odds of transmission from a vaccinated person to, say, a kid at home, are so very low, we must continue to "follow the science". The viral load of vaccinated people doesn't measure up to a threat. We owe it to our workers to stay true to what got us through this: CDC and local health department recommendations. Let the unvaccinated beware: you may get very, very ill and end up in the hospital on a ventilator. And the rest of will not.

    And from another reader:

    KC, am I missing something here?  There is NEVER a 100% guarantee of anything in life except death and taxes so it appears to me that those who work at retail should mask up and also get vaccinated if they are concerned.  If they do this, then according to the statistics, they are as safe as it gets save for hiding out in their homes with no human contact. My guess is we will end up with around 60-65% vaccinated population with a decent chunk of the non-vaccinated benefitting from natural immunity from getting COVID.  Combine this with the low mortality rates for every population except older and immunocompromised, it is the right time to start shelving the mask mandates. I was happy to wear a mask early on but it is time for each person to make the choice that works for them and not force their decisions on others.

    I repeat:  People who choose not to get vaccinated and not wear masks could pass on the coronavirus even to people who are fully vaccinated, who could be asymptomatic and then infect someone at their home who may be immunocompromised ar too young to have yet gotten the disease.

    That's why some workers are concerned.  Maybe we could cut them a break.  After all, they are the folks who just a few months ago were being described as "essential."  (Remember?)

    For the record, the CDC only says it is not necessary to wear a mask if you are two weeks out from being fully vaccinated.  The CDC, I trust.  My fellow citizens, to follow the CDC guidelines in a responsible way, not so much.

    Published on: June 4, 2021

    I screened the third and final season of "The Kominsky Method" on Netflix this week, and while the new six episodes reflect a kind of thematic turn from the first two seasons, it continues to feature sharp writing, excellent performances, and the welcome return of a too-little-seen actress who was one of film's bigger stars during the 1980s.

    "The Kominsky Method" started off as a kind of Odd Couple-style comedy featuring Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky, an aging acting coach too long out of the Hollywood spotlight, and Alan Arkin as Norman Newlander, his longtime friend and agent.  For two seasons, the two men navigated aging prostates, failed relationships, the death of Norman's wife, and assorted professional and personal challenges - but the main attraction was the witty dialogue crafted for the two by writer Chuck Lorre ("Two and a Half Men," "Mom").  Douglas and Arkin were terrific in their roles, but then again, they always are.

    Arkin has left the series, and they've killed off Norman … but in some ways, the departure sets up a final season and is a little more gentle, and a little more wistful about the nature of opportunity and failure.  Joining the cast at one of Sandy's ex-wives is Kathleen Turner - Douglas's co-star in Romancing The Stone, Jewel of the Nile, and War of the Roses, as well as the star of huge eighties hits like Body Heat and Prizzi's Honor - and she's back in all her husky-voiced, tart-tongued glory … totally seeing through Sandy's B.S. and able to cut through it all like a hot knife goes through butter.

    There are just six episodes in this final season, and while the series does veer into sentimentality from time to time, there is something about watching these old war horses on screen that I found enormously touching.  In other time, they were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but now they're face to face with a new and sobering reality as, in the words of the song, time goes by.

    Terrific stuff … and special kudos to Paul Reiser, unrecognizable but very funny in a supporting role.

    We're just three weeks away from the seventh and final season of "Bosch," the superb series based on the iconic Michael Connelly novels, dropping on Amazon Prime Video.  MNB readers know what a big fan I am … here's the trailer that was posted yesterday.

    That's it for this week.

    I hope you have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.