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    Published on: July 19, 2021

    From the Washington Post:

    "The true cost of food is even higher than you think, a new report out Thursday says.

    "The United States spends $1.1 trillion a year on food. But when the impacts of the food system on different parts of our society — including rising health care costs, climate change and biodiversity loss — are factored in, the bill is around three times that, according to a report by the Rockefeller Foundation, a private charity that funds medical and agricultural research … The report examines 14 metrics — health, environment, biodiversity, livelihoods and more — to quantify what it calls the true cost of food, reflecting additional, externalized costs, incurred within the food system not covered by the price of food. These externalized costs are being incurred by the public sector, businesses and producers, consumers and future generations, the report argues. Across many of the areas, communities of color bear a disproportionate burden."

    According to the story, "Health impacts are the biggest hidden cost of the food system, with more than $1 trillion per year in health-related costs paid by Americans, with an estimated $604 billion of that attributable to diseases — such as hypertension, cancer and diabetes — linked to diet.

    "In calculating the financial burden of environmental problems, the researchers evaluated direct environmental impacts of farming and ranching on greenhouse gas emissions, water depletion and soil erosion. They also looked at reduced biodiversity, which lowers ecosystems’ productivity and makes food supplies more vulnerable to pests and disease. They determined the unaccounted costs of the food system on the environment and biodiversity add up to almost $900 billion per year."

    “This report is a wake-up call. The U.S. food system as it stands is adversely affecting our environment, our health and our society,” Rajiv Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, tells the Post. “To fix a problem, we need to first understand its extent. The data in this report reveals not only the negative impacts of the American food system but also what steps we can take to make it more equitable, resilient and nourishing.”

    You can read the entire story here.  Trust me - it is the very definition of an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    Market research company Edge by Ascential is out with a new study predicting that Amazon will almost double its online edible grocery sales over the next five years.

    The projections suggest that Amazon's online grocery sales will grow from about $14.5 billion this year to $26.7 billion in 2026.  This will keep Amazon's online grocery sales higher than Walmart.s which are expected to grow from $10.1 billion to $19.5 billion during the same period of time.

    However, both companies' expect ted results pale beside the expectations for China's Alibaba, which is expected to grow its online grocery sales from $20.6 billion this year to $34.2 billion in 2026.

    KC's View:

    When I read this report, I think not just about the unparalleled power that Amazon is accumulating (and these estimates don't even factor in possible acquisitions that Amazon could make that could accelerate its growth even more), but also about the aggression that other big companies like Walmart and Target will have to employ in order to remain competitive in the space.

    And then, think about the collateral damage that smaller retailers will suffer, simply because they will not have the resources with which to do battle, nor a level playing field on which to do so.

    We're quickly moving toward a world in which there are two different grocery industries, one that is empowered, ambitious and dangerous, and another that increasingly will struggle to survive.  This is a theme that we're going to return to over and over on MNB, I suspect … as the distance between the haves and the have-less and have-nots widens.

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    The New York Times reports that after a four-day trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, it took a jury three hours to find for the plaintiff, Marlo Spaeth, and award her $125 million in punitive damages and $150,000 in compensatory damages.

    The case focused on how Walmart dealt with Spaeth, who has Down syndrome and was a 16-year employee at  its store in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

    According to the pieces Spaeth worked as a sales associate, "folding towels, cleaning aisles, processing returns and greeting customers," receiving "several pay raises and positive performance reviews."

    The Times goes on:  "Ms. Spaeth’s hours suddenly shifted in November 2014, when Walmart instituted a computerized scheduling system, which the company said was based on customer traffic and was designed to ensure that enough people were working when the store was busiest.

    "Ms. Spaeth was expected to work from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., rather than her previous schedule of noon to 4 p.m., her lawyers said.

    "The abrupt change represented a significant hardship for Ms. Spaeth, who has Down syndrome and thrives on routine, her lawyers said. Ms. Spaeth repeatedly told a manager that she wanted her old schedule back, her lawyers said … But the company refused to switch Ms. Spaeth back to her old schedule at the store, which was open 24 hours a day and had more than 300 employees, her lawyers said. Walmart then took disciplinary action against Ms. Spaeth twice for absenteeism and tardiness, her lawyers said."

    They jury found that Walmart was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The suit was filed on Spaeth's behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Times writes:

    "Walmart said in a statement that the verdict would be reduced to $300,000, which is the maximum amount allowed under federal law for compensatory and punitive damages.

    "'We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and we routinely accommodate thousands of associates every year,' Walmart said. 'We often adjust associate schedules to meet our customers’ expectations and while Ms. Spaeth’s schedule was adjusted, it remained within the times she indicated she was available.'

    "The company said that it was 'sensitive to this situation and believe we could have resolved this issue with Ms. Spaeth.' It added, 'However, the E.E.O.C.’s demands were unreasonable'."

    KC's View:

    I'm not sure it is entirely fair to blame the EEOC for this problem, which is what Walmart seems to want to do.  The fact is, the store manager could have solved the problem before it became one, if he or she were empowered to do so.  Which it appears he or she was not.

    This is going to happen in any organization in which computers and algorithms made decisions and determinations that are devoid of human considerations.  It is what happened when Amazon stood credibly accused of allowing delivery people to be fired for missing their targets, even when uncontrollable factors (like traffic jams() made it impossible for them to do so.

    Want to compete with these folks? I'd start by being unfailingly kind, irrepressibly transparent, and resolutely human in dealings with employees and customers.  Turn intimacy into a differential advantage. 

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    Building Design & Construction reports the opening if a new Aldi Corner Store in North Sydney, Australia, described as "an art-infused, small-format retail model that embraces fresh food, local artist collaborations, and an elevated customer experience.

    "The goal of the new design is to interpret the traditional ALDI model into a new format for urban settings that is genuinely local. ALDI Corner Store’s layout is driven by the need to refurbish existing buildings instead of constructing new properties."

    Landini Associates, designer of the new format, says that the four new Aldi Corner Stores are about half the size of the average 13,000-square-foot  Aldi unit.

    The story goes on:  " Grocery and fresh produce are still the main offering in the store, but are supplemented by a growing range of ready to go meals and convenience-based products. A new take-away coffee and artisanal bakery offering is also included … Each Aldi Corner Store will be designed to celebrate its local community through strategic local art partnerships. Local artists will create artworks that celebrate each store’s surrounding neighborhood as well as Aldi's food proposition of high quality at low prices. The stores will feature a palette of sustainable materials including pale brick, white tiles, clockwork, terrazzo, black steel and galvanized steel mesh, timber palettes, oak, and walnut."

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    Axios has a piece about how "=face-recognition tech is coming to a store near you, if it's not there already, and that's sparking a new wave of opposition … More than three dozen advocacy groups launched a campaign late last week to pressure retailers to stop using facial recognition technologies, or to pledge not to use them."

    Among the retailers cited in the campaign:  Walmart, Kroger, Home Depot and Target.

    You can read the story here.

    Published on: July 19, 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 total US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  34,963,907 cases … 624,746 deaths … and 29,376,590 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  191,318,766 total cases … 4,108,178 fatalities … and 174,254,469 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 68.2 percent of the US population age 18 and old has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 59.4 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  The New York Times writes that US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Sunday "reiterated warnings that false stories about the vaccines had become a dangerous health hazard. 'These platforms have to recognize they’ve played a major role in the increase in speed and scale with which misinformation is spreading'."

    That followed an earlier comment by President Biden that by allowing the spread of misinformation, Facebook is "killing people."

    The Times writes that Facebook has pushed back on the accusation, and "called on the administration to stop 'finger-pointing' and laid out what it had done to encourage users to get vaccinated. The social network also detailed how it had clamped down on lies about the vaccines, which officials have said led people to refuse to be vaccinated.

    "'The Biden administration has chosen to blame a handful of American social media companies,' Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, said in the post. 'The fact is that vaccine acceptance among Facebook users in the U.S. has increased'."

    Personally, I think that accusing Facebook of trafficking in misinformation is redundant, and I find it mildly amusing and disconcertingly ironic that it has a "vice president of integrity."  I made a conscious decision some time ago that while I might use social media for business purposes, like posting headlines and links (though I am sure that some folks think I traffic in misinformation), I don't look for news there and I almost never use it to post personal information.  I don't want to be a product that Facebook sells, don't trust its leadership, and think that accuracy is far less important to the company than power and enrichment.

    •  Axios reports that as "coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are back on the rise in the U.S. as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads across the country," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky called it "a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

    In urging people to get vaccinated, Walensky also said on Friday:  “Do it for yourself, your family and for your community. And please do it to protect your young children who right now can’t get vaccinated themselves.”

    The CDC says that more than 97 percent of people currently hospitalized for severe COVID-19 infections are unvaccinated, and Axios writes that "vaccinations in the U.S. have plateaued just as the Delta variant has become the dominant strain of the virus here and around the world.

    "A small handful of states with especially low vaccination rates — Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri and Nevada — are driving a plurality of new cases. One in five new infections comes from Florida alone, Walensky said."

    The Axios story notes that "some vaccinated people can still get sick, but the risk of severe illness is far lower."

    The bottom line, as the story points out, is that while infections, hospitalizations and infections are increasing, the vast majority of these cases are preventable - if only these people had taken advantage of free vaccination programs available to them.

    An anecdote, if I may.  On Friday, I was at the Jersey Shore, and was standing on line in a bakery.  As I waited, there was a woman who was walking out of the store, talking on her cell phone, and she said, "I know.  My kids agree with your kids.  The whole vaccine thing is a scam."

    Now, she has a right to that opinion.  If she wants to be ignorant and raise ignorant kids, there's not much I can do about that.  But here's the thing - it is a pretty safe assumption that she was not vaccinated, and she wasn't wearing a mask, which is in violation of New Jersey protocols and recommendations.

    I didn't say anything, though I did wish at that moment that I was wearing a mask, even though I am fully vaccinated.  But here's the deal - if you don't want to wear a mask, then get vaccinated.  If you don't trust the vaccines, then wear a mask.  But to not get vaccinated and not wear a mask is simply irresponsible, especially because we're not yet to the point where kids under 12 can be vaccinated, and there are variants out there that still pose a threat to the population, culture, and economy.

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    •  Reuters reports that Amazon-backed electric-vehicle startup Rivian Automotive "will delay the deliveries of its debut vehicle by more than a month due to supply chain issues, according to a letter written by its CEO to customers.

    "Rivian, seen as a potential Tesla Inc. rival, said the timing for the first deliveries of its R1T pickup initially slated for July has now been pushed to September, while that of R1S SUVs have been delayed until the fall."

    "The cascading impacts of the pandemic have had a compounding effect greater than anyone anticipated," said CEO R.J. Scaringe, adding, "Everything from facility construction, to equipment installation, to vehicle component supply has been impacted."

    •  Amazon has decided to cancel its Prime Day promotion in Canada because of the continuing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

    “Based on the impact of COVID-19 in Canada and the importance we place on protecting the health and safety of our employees, we will not hold Prime Day in Canada this year,” the company said in a statement.

    • The Financial Times reports that "Ocado’s largest warehouse will be unable to fulfill the UK online supermarket’s orders for several days after a robot malfunction caused a fire. The incident at the site in south-east London is the second major blaze in the past three years at one of Ocado’s vast automated warehouses. The closure over the weekend of the Erith customer fulfillment centre, which can process 150,000 orders per week for its retail joint-venture with Marks and Spencer, caused Ocado to delay or cancel thousands of orders."

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that Walmart "is expanding its three-year-old Winemakers Selection range with five new 'premium' varieties: an Argentinian malbec, an Italian pinot grigio, a French rose, a California cabernet sauvignon and a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. The new, so-called 'Reserve Series' bottles carry a suggested price that’s double the $5 everyday wines it started selling in 2018.

    "The move is Walmart’s latest stab at capturing more finicky drinkers and getting penny-pinching shoppers to spend a bit more. The retailer, whose wine sales rose by more than 10% last year, has added more high-end alcohol to its shelves recently, including brands like Buffalo Trace whiskey and Veuve Clicquot Champagne. Walmart sells about 100 types of wine in more than 3,900 of its U.S. stores, and online where regulations allow it."

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    •  The US Department of Commerce said on Friday that retail sales in June were up 0.6 percent, which followed a small drop in May, which the New York Times writes "highlighted the unevenness of the economic recovery. Even as overall sales rose, sales of cars and car parts and spending at building materials, furniture and sporting goods stores declined … June’s sales were better than economists had forecast, but sales in coming months could be hampered by reactions to the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus, rising prices and the end of some government benefits."

    •  The US Department of Labor said last week that jobless claims fell by 26,000 last week to 360,000, putting them at the lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic.

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    Responding to last week's story about how Facebook, following Amazon's lead, has petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to require its new (and opinionated) chair, Lina Khan, to recuse her from antitrust deliberations concerning the company, one MNB reader wrote:

    The playbook is very simple. Tie it in court until: A- the government runs out of time, or change attorneys a dozen times until they give up. B- Wait till another administration is voted in that has received a pot load of money from the groups to vote the way they were paid for.

    Probably right.  The people who think we have the best government money can buy often are the ones who write the biggest checks.

    We took note last week of a Washington Post story about how "hundreds of striking Frito-Lay workers in Kansas are calling on one of the nation’s biggest snack makers to put an end to forced overtime and 84-hour workweeks brought on by a pandemic-era surge in demand.

    "Workers at the Topeka plant have been pushed to the brink as the factory revved up operations during the pandemic according to the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 218  Many of the factory’s more than 800 workers are working seven days a week and up to 12 hours per shift, with just eight hours between clocking in and clocking out."

    MNB reader Mike Moon wrote:

    If the Topeka plant is working their people 12 hour shifts, 80 hours per week, and 8 hours between shifts, my guess is that they can't find any workers. The current overtime would be horrendous, and never in the budget. They'd much rather pay straight time than overtime.

    But, if they think a 4% raise over 2 years and a 60 hour max workweek will fix the problem, I think they are mistaken. If you are gonna buy someone off, make it worthwhile...

    Regarding a story about Walmart installing robotics in a number of its warehouses, MNB reader Bob D’Amato wrote:

    Looks like the takeover by our robot overlords has started (but can they select bagged dog food?).

    Responding to my commentary last week about the All-Star Game, one MNB reader wrote:

    Baseball may be highlighted as boring, but the over-saturation of sports in general and the fact that we all lived for the most part without sports for almost a  year should have ESPN and all sports leagues shaking in their boots.  I didn't think I could live without sports until I did.  And that opened my eyes to the fact that it's marketing, and unfulfilled promises at best.  Empty promises at worst.  My dad asked me if I was going to watch the all-star game a few nights ago.  I replied, no, and that I had no idea who was even in the game with the exception of a few players who had received media attention.  The NBA playoffs?  I haven't watched a single minute. The Stanley Cup?  I did a google search to find out it ended three days prior.   In fact, during the pandemic I cancelled my cable subscription.

    After spending a year or so indoors did I really want to spend more time indoors watching sports?  No!   I understand the cycle of sports will continue with or without me.  And I'll close with that all too famous and all too accurate quote; "the bigger they are the harder they fall".  And I am of the mindset that sports on the whole is about to have a huge fall, and if lucky, a realignment (of media attention and airtime)  that is necessary and overdue.  

    I would agree with you that the major sports leagues should be concerned about losing touch with fans … but I'm can't agree about baseball, which is really the only major sport that I watch with consistency.  I tend to have games on in the evening - sometimes I'm watching carefully, and sometimes they are just in the background while I'm working.  Either way, time spent with a game often brings me back to warm summer evenings when I was a kid, when I would listen to games at night on my transistor radio, with Lindsay Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy doing Mets games, and, doing Yankees games, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Phil Rizzuto and Jerry Coleman.  All of them painting word pictures in the dark.

    That matters.  At least to me.  In the oft-quoted (at least here) words of the great Robert B. Parker, "Baseball is the most important thing that doesn't matter."

    Finally, lots of nice email about "The Bigger Picture" conversation that Michael and I did on Friday … with a couple of constructive criticisms.

    MNB reader Chris Bigall wrote:

    Enjoyed your video with Michael this morning and was delighted to learn that we love many of the same Broadway experiences.

    Just feel the need to point out, though, that "Come From Away" is set in Gander, Newfoundland & Labrador – not Nova Scotia as you stated.

    Looking forward to the baseball edition of The Bigger Picture!

    Thanks.  We realized afterward that we'd misstated where "Come From Away" takes place … but figured that this is what happens on "live television."

    I would've corrected it myself today if nobody else had.

    And from MNB reader Tracy Lape:

    Taking "Born to Run" out of the Springsteen show is like a grocer taking out Vanilla ice cream because everyone knows what it tastes like.  Vanilla ice cream calcified?

    Please, Bruce, find a different place in the show for "Born to Run" - it doesn’t have to be the end.  But Springsteen without "Born to Run" is not complete. "I’ll See you in My Dreams?"  Really- sounds like Eric Clapton.  ZZZZ

    I get your point … but I'm not sure the Eric Clapton comparison is fair.

    From Dr. Allen F. Wysocki:

    I can’t wait for "The Bigger Picture" (book)… Looking forward to your insights.

    From MNB reader Gary Harris: 

    Great spot today, guys. Can’t wait for the book!

    From another MNB reader:

    Great piece !!

    We were fortunate enough to see Come From Away not long after it had opened. It was recommended by a friend but we really had no idea what is was about. Just went on his recommendation. WOW - what a great story.

    Looking forward to baseball!

    We'll do the baseball edition of "The Bigger Picture" in the next few weeks.  I promise.

    Meanwhile, if you missed our "Bigger Picture" conversation, you can catch it here.

    Published on: July 19, 2021

    American golfer Collin Morikawa won the British Open at Royal St. Georges on Sunday, becoming the first golfer to win two different men's majors in his first attempt, as well as the second golfer - Tiger Woods was the first - to with both the Open and the PGA Championship before turning 25.