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    Published on: June 16, 2021

    The goal of "The Innovation Conversation" is to explore some facet of the fast-changing, technology-driven retail landscape and how it affects businesses and consumers. It is, we think, fertile territory ... and one that Tom Furphy - a former Amazon executive, the originator of Amazon Fresh, and currently CEO and Managing Director of Consumer Equity Partners (CEP), a venture capital and venture development firm in Seattle, WA, that works with many top retailers and manufacturers - is uniquely positioned to address.

    A Note from the Content Guy:  Tom Furphy and I recent did The Innovation Conversation at the GMDC/Retail Tomorrow Mid-Year Meet-Up in Dallas in front of a live (!) audience, which allowed us to extend the conversation beyond just the two of us and bring in various points of view on a number of subjects.  (Tom actually wasn't in the room;  a business commitment prevented him from making it to Dallas, so he "beamed" in virtually via Zoom.). We discuss whether the nature of the acceleration that took place during the pandemic was cultural or transactional … examine the big bets that some retailers making … and look at the role of customer-centric leadership in driving innovation.  This is a little longer than our usual Conversations, but we hope you enjoy it and find it useful for putting your own efforts in a broader context.

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    The New York Times has a story important to companies that depend on selling stuff to people, and that could suffer if there are fewer people to whom they can peddle their wares.

    Women are delaying pregnancy.

    "For decades, delaying parenthood was the domain of upper-middle-class Americans, especially in big, coastal cities," the Times writes.  "Highly educated women put off having a baby until their careers were on track, often until their early 30s. But over the past decade, as more women of all social classes have prioritized education and career, delaying childbearing has become a broad pattern among American women almost everywhere.

    "The result has been the slowest growth of the American population since the 1930s, and a profound change in American motherhood. Women under 30 have become much less likely to have children. Since 2007, the birthrate for women in their 20s has fallen by 28 percent, and the biggest recent declines have been among unmarried women. The only age groups in which birthrates rose over that period were women in their 30s and 40s — but even those began to decline over the past three years."

    The Times says that women that it interviewed in the subject "cited the costs of child care and housing, and sometimes student debt. Many also said they wanted to get their careers set first and expressed satisfaction that they were exerting control over their fertility — and their lives — in a way their mothers had not."

    It also may be that a lot of women look at the challenges facing the world - the climate crisis, political upheaval, and income inequality among them - and wonder if it is a place into which they want to bring children.

    And, the Times writes, there is another question still to be answered:   "Are young women delaying childbirth or forgoing it altogether?"

    The answer to that question could be an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    Axios reports that the US Senate has confirmed 69-28 the appointment of Lina Khan - an avowed big tech critic who once wrote an article for the Yale Law Journal titled "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox," - to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where she will serve as the chair.

    The story says that "Khan, an antitrust expert well-known for her ideas for applying competition law to the tech industry, is sure to spook tech platforms."  Axios writes that Khan "is a hero to critics of tech who want to see the government act more aggressively against what they see as anti-competitive behavior from companies like Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook."

    The Yale article argued that "Amazon's retail business should be separated from its selling platform."

    KC's View:

    The legal and political climate in which big tech companies find themselves is becoming increasingly problematic, though it remains to be seen whether the hostility can be translated into legislation.

    If it gets any worse, when Jeff Bezos takes his trip into space next month, he may want to keep going…

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    The National Grocers Association (NGA) yesterday offered its regular assessment of the role that its core constituency - independent food retailers - plays in the broader economy.

    The key observations:  "Independent grocers contribute more than $255 billion to the economy, or about 1.2% of the U.S. GDP … Independent community grocers are responsible for more than 1.1 million jobs earning wages approaching $39 billion. Wholesalers serving independent grocers provide more than 44,000 jobs that earn wages of nearly $3.3 billion … Independent grocers generate federal, state and local tax revenues surpassing $36 billion … Independent grocery sales rose from $131 billion to $253.6 billion between 2012 and 2020. During that same period, overall U.S. grocery store sales rose from $524 billion to $772 billion … Independent grocery sales account for 33% of total U.S. grocery sales, up from 25% a decade ago."

    However, NGA points out in a cautionary note, "Despite these gains, independent grocers  lost ground in many rural and urban areas where food deserts exist due in large part to competitive disadvantages in the marketplace that favor big-box retailers and dollar stores."

    “Not only are independent community grocers at the heart of the community, they are also at the heart of the U.S. economy, responsible for more than 1.1 American million jobs across thousands of communities,” said NGA President-CEO Greg Ferrara in a prepared statement.  “The continued strength and growth of the independent supermarket industry shows consumers are supporting local, community grocers who continue to innovate and bring value to the communities they serve.” 

    KC's View:

    The ability of the independent grocer sector to remain, as NGA puts it , at the heart of the economy and the communities they serve, depends on retailers' ability and willingness to innovate, disrupt their own business models, and challenge conventional thinking about food, format and functionality.

    Anything less will put the sector into perhaps irreversible decline.

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    The US Department of Commerce yesterday said that May's retail sales numbers were down 1.3 percent from a month earlier, reflecting a cutback in consumer spending, a shift in consumer priorities, and issues about availability.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that the shift was "from big-ticket items to goods and services related to going out amid business reopenings and higher vaccination rates."  At the same time, consumers trimmed "expenditures on autos, furniture, electronics, building materials and other items … People spent more on such items throughout the Covid-19 pandemic but are now pulling back. Supply-chain disruptions and higher prices are also crimping sales of long-lasting goods."

    The Journal points out that Americans "are spending more on services, which account for the bulk of economic output but are largely excluded from the retail-sales report. Spending on one service - restaurants and bars - rose 1.8% last month, sending food-service sales beyond pre-pandemic levels … Americans spent more on clothing and health and beauty products in May, categories of goods they had shunned for much of the pandemic but are likely turning to as they go out again. Online sales also dropped, signaling a pivot to more in-person shopping, Tuesday’s Commerce report showed."

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    CNN has a story about The Pizza Bandit, a Dayton, Ohio, pizzeria that is using Brood X cicadas as a topping.

    Not to sell, it should be pointed out.  "The restaurant did livestream a tasting panel trying out the pizza, which also featured miso hoisin sriracha sauce, mozzarella, provolone, mushrooms, cabbage, green onion, mango, cilantro and a spicy Thai sauce," CNN reports, adding that "the Spicy Thai Cicada Pie featured blanched and sautéed locally foraged cicadas and a crust adorned with cicada wings."

    CNN also cautions that "while cicadas are not toxic, the US Food and Drug Administration has warned people not to eat the insects if they are allergic to seafood. 'These insects share a family relation to shrimp and lobsters,' the FDA said."

    KC's View:

    There is part of me that is repulsed, and a part of me that is intrigued.

    I'm just not sure that I am an adventurous enough eater to try a Spicy Thai Cicada Pie.

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    Fast Company has a piece by Steve Fechheimer, CEO of New Belgium Brewing, entitled "If you don’t have a climate plan, you don’t have a business plan."

    His argument is that business leaders need to be crafting business plans specific to dealing with climate change, saying that "70% of Global Fortune 500 companies still don’t have a meaningful climate plan designed to achieve or be well on the way to net-zero emissions by 2030, when scientists say climate change could be irreversible.

    "We call it a climate crisis, but it’s also a crisis for business," Fechheimer writes, saying that is "not a political talking point … As a CEO operating in a world already facing destabilizing climate impacts, it amazes me that so many companies haven’t planned for a future that is already here. Inaction presents a direct and perilous threat to the world’s most valuable companies and their shareholders—not to mention the rest of us."

    You can read the piece here.

    KC's View:

    I wonder how many retailers and suppliers have specific plans for dealing with climate issues, and if the numbers are reflective of the broader national trend.

    I would agree with Fechheimer's climate views under any circumstances, but especially since I have a problem with any scenario that might reduce the supply of Fat Tire beer.

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    •. Axios reports that "FedEx says it will test package deliveries using autonomous vehicles under a new multi-year partnership with Nuro, a leading self-driving startup."

    According to the story, "The explosion of e-commerce has accelerated demand for reliable, autonomous transportation throughout the supply chain, FedEx says. With Nuro, it will explore different uses for AVs, including multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries … The pilot started in April in Houston, where Nuro has already been running pilots delivering groceries and pizza with Kroger, Dominos and others. But the FedEx collaboration is Nuro's first foray into parcel logistics."

    9 to 5 Google reports that Google's hardware division will open its first permanent physical location tomorrow, in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood at 15th and 9th, where shoppers will be able "to buy and experience the full range of Made by Google products, as well as accessories. Google touts demos that showcase how its 'products and services work together in a variety of immersive ways.'  How-to workshops will also be offered. Another big attraction is device support: troubleshooting an issue, fixing a cracked Pixel screen, or helping with installations."

    •  Variety reports that "Amazon Studios has put it in writing.

    "The company has formally established a policy that outlines its commitments to diversity, inclusion and equity throughout its operations. It has also created a detailed 'playbook' with hiring and purchasing guidelines for the studio’s creative collaborators.

    The policies have been in development for more than two years, shepherded by Latasha Gillespie, head of DE&I for Amazon Studios."

    Among the commitments bering made by Amazon, according to the story:  "Most productions should 'ideally include a minimum 30% women and 30% members of an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.'  The 'aspirational goal' will rise to 40% in 2022 and 50% in 2023 … On productions, seek at least three bids from vendors or suppliers, one of which must be from a female-owned business and one from a minority-owned business."

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    •   United Fresh has announced that it will bring back its in-person Annual Washington Conference this year, September 20-22 at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC.

    "After a year of virtual events, we’re thrilled to bring our industry back together in person for one of the most important events of the year – our opportunity to explain our challenges and voice our concerns with the nation’s top elected leaders," said United Fresh Chairman Danny Dumas, President of Courchesne Larose USA.  "And, with our new alignment with the Produce Marketing Association coming in 2022, we welcome all PMA members to come experience this unique event at the United Fresh member rate."

    The announcement says that the 2021 conference will once again include face-to-face Congressional meetings as permitted in September, as well as a series of online meetings following the conference … The Washington Conference also includes "a Produce Advocacy Bootcamp for those attendees new to communicating with Congress, workshops detailing the most critical public policy issues facing the industry, general sessions with top national leaders, and networking throughout as our industry’s top leaders come together in common purpose to build a stronger business climate."

    Published on: June 16, 2021

    •  Starbucks said yesterday that John Culver, a longtime company executive who most recently has been group president of international, channel development and global coffee, tea and cocoa, has been named the company's new COO and North American group president.

    He succeeds Roz Brewer, who left the company earlier this year to become CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance.

    Published on: June 16, 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, the total number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases has reached 34,352,185 cases, resulting in 615,717 deaths, and 28,578,701 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 177,469,115 cases, with 3,839,804 resultant fatalities, and  161,919,368 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 64.6 percent of the US population 18 years of age and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 54.6 percent being fully vaccinated.