There’s no doubt that there will be many stories told about the Covid period. For the food industry a lot of those stories will involve discussions about adapting omni-channel operations. Certainly there will be much examination of skyrocketing sales in most of 2020 and then the follow up that’s unfolding in 2021.
But another story that deserves as much attention is what happens and continues to happen on the front lines. The friction between staffers and shoppers is no where near as fraught with peril as the videos we see from fights on airplanes, but it is every bit as real.
And the lasting impact will no doubt be felt by the people who staffed the front lines and felt the wrath of angry shoppers first-hand. I’m no psychologist, but I have to believe we are going to hear about an entirely new form of post-traumatic stress disorder among front line retail workers.
In addition, the entire industry might have its own PTSD as companies struggle mightily to recruit for the front lines in the coming year. What were never the most attractive jobs became significantly less so during Covid.
In the face of this strange and frequently terrible environment it’s important to remember that not every company simply turned the other cheek while workers were being abused. It’s easy to remember the video from some months ago of a store manager reminding a mob of shoppers that his cashiers were in no way responsible for the sudden shortages of cleaning supplies and toilet tissue.
Likewise, Judy Spires, the chairman/CEO of the holding company for Balducci’s and Kings in the New York area, won widespread coverage and praise for how she jumped in to defend her front line workers. Spires, you might recall from the coverage, armed the front line with special cards to hand to any shopper angrily unwilling to wear a mask during the worst of Covid. The card included Spires’ direct phone line so that she could deal with the anger first hand.
One has to believe those stories, from the single-store manager to CEO Spires, sent a very clear message.
And now there’s another example to consider, which Kevin discussed yesterday in his FaceTime video. Apt Cape Cod, a restaurant in the Massachusetts’ tourist area recently shut down for a day to make a point. As reported in the New York Times, the owners of the restaurant simply needed to make a statement to staffers, some of whom were reduced to tears by rude customers and not just over Covid issues.
Now the reality is that many supermarket owners and managers will scoff at such action and for good reason - they cannot possibly just shut down for a day. And, frankly, it’s hard to argue with them.
But those same owners and managers - whether of one store or 1,000 - need to take a lesson from this restaurant. More than ever it’s time to communicate support and sympathy for your front-line staff, who have been enduring incredibly tough times. I won’t divorce this idea from the discussions of the benefits and challenges of hazardous duty pay or temporary bonuses.
Those are important and complex issues. But the notion of expressing support and solidarity with the front lines has never been more important or simple. And frankly, that costs nothing.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Amazon founder-chairman Jeffs Bezos finally got into space this morning, as the New Shepard spacecraft designed and built by his Blue Origin company took off and safely landed … on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Joining Bezos are his younger brother, Mark Bezos … Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands … and fourth passenger is Mary Wallace Funk — she goes by Wally — who the New York Times writes is "a pilot who in the 1960s was among a group of women who passed the same rigorous criteria that NASA used for selecting astronauts," but never got the opportunity. Now, at 82, she's getting the chance.
The flight lasted about 11 minutes and got to more than 60 miles above the Earth.
CNN writes that it had the chance to ask Bezos the following question: “There have been a chorus of critics saying that these flights to space are, you know, just joyrides for the wealthy, and that you should be spending your time and your money and energy trying to solve problems here on Earth. So what do you say to those critics?”
“Well, I say they’re largely right. We have to do both. You know, we have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We’ve always done that as a species, as a civilization. We have to do both.” He said this mission is about “building a road to space for the next generations to do amazing things there, and those amazing things will solve problems here on Earth.”
I'm not sure how I feel about the whole "joyrides for the wealthy" question. I get the criticism, but I also have watched enough "Star Trek" in my life to love the romance of it all.
I will say this - when I saw the booster rocket return to Earth and land right back on the pad from which it took off, it made Amazon's ability to get packages practically anywhere in amazingly fast times seem almost pedestrian. Which is just one of the Eye-Openers.
Another one may be how the experience changes Bezos' perspectives on a lot of issues. But whether that happens remains to be seen.
The Dallas Morning News reports that "Walmart is testing an all-self-checkout Supercenter in Plano at one of its biggest local stores and one where growing families can easily pile high a grocery cart. It’s calling the process 'hosted checkout' because employees are standing by to help if customers need it."
According to the story, "Walmart opened the first all-self-checkout supercenter in Fayetteville, Ark., last summer, saying it wanted to challenge the assumption that the old ways are always better. There are now other stores in the test, but the Plano Supercenter, which quietly went to all-self-checkout in late April, is the only one in Dallas-Fort Worth."
The News goes on: "Kroger has been testing all-self-checkout at a small urban store on Cedar Springs in Dallas, but the sight of no cashier lanes in a store as big as Walmart’s Plano Supercenter stocked with more than 120,000 items and surrounded by suburban rooftops is daunting.
"Target, Kroger and Costco stores have all adopted the evolved self-checkout process with assistance but still offer the option to go through a regular cashier-staffed, conveyor-belted line."
One, this is a reflection of not just current realities about store-level labor shortages, but also the long-term desire of retailers to drive labor costs out of the system. Self-checkout, and checkout-free stores, are going to be a growing response to these trends.
There is a Whole Foods store in Greenwich, Connecticut, that has added some self-checkout lanes … and when a format that has always been service-centric moves in that direction, you know things are changing.
Two, if you happen to be an independent retailer competing with these big guys, it seems to me that taking the opposite approach - offering not just service, but people who create a sense of connection to shoppers - can be a key differentiator. That's not easy, though, because you're dealing with the same labor shortages. But one of the first things you have to do is avoid making the driving down of labor costs a high priority.
"Maine Governor Janet Mills this week signed the nation’s first extended producer responsibility (EPR) law, effectively holding the corporations accountable for the packaging waste they create. Now, nearly a dozen states, including Massachusetts, are on track to follow Maine’s lead.
"Think about it: A company that sells you a product — be it toothpaste or taco shells or dog food — determines how it’s packaged. Maybe it’s shipped in multiple boxes or sold in a plastic container that isn’t recyclable. Either way, once it’s tossed in the trash or recycling bin, it’s the responsibility of the municipal waste program to figure out where it goes next."
But soon, the Globe writes, "global giants like Amazon, Walmart, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble will be forced to track the type and amount of packaging they sell into Maine. They’ll then pay an annual fee covering the cost per ton of processing things like cardboard boxes, yogurt tubs, plastic bags, and other packaging that all end up in the waste stream. That’ll lighten the load on municipal recycling programs from Kittery to the Canadian border who today spend as much as $17.5 million a year to get rid of Maine’s packaging. Smaller businesses are exempt from the law, and some of the funds also go toward education efforts and infrastructure in the state."
Suddenly, there will be a new budget line in a lot of companies' ledgers, and it will be fascinating to see the degree to which it affects behavior and policies.
C&S Wholesale Grocers said that it has made a deal to acquire Piggly Wiggly Midwest, which "operates corporate stores and services independent franchisees under a chain-style program … As part of the acquisition, C&S will operate 11 Piggly Wiggly® Midwest corporate stores and service 14 Butera Market stores in the Chicagoland region, as well as 84 Wisconsin franchisees under the Piggly Wiggly brand. As part of this agreement, the current distribution centers and offices will continue to operate. The sale transaction is anticipated to close end of July 2021, subject to regulatory approval and other customary closing conditions."
In a prepared statement, Paul Butera Sr., president of Piggly Wiggly Midwest and founder of Butera Market, said, "Although it has been a very difficult decision, the sale of Piggly Wiggly Midwest to C&S is a natural next step for this historic brand. Piggly Wiggly is more than a supermarket, it is a family of franchise operators, employees and loyal Pig Point customers too. C&S has the experience and knowledge to ensure that this 100-year old icon continues for the next 100 years."
This is yet another example of the hard decisions that smaller retail brands are going to have to make if they are to give themselves a chance at survival in an increasingly competitive world dominated by big players with deep pockets.
Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry's said yesterday that it would no longer sell its ice cream in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Its statement read, in part: "We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners."
Boston.comm reports that "Ben & Jerry’s has licensed a factory in Israel for more than three decades, shipping ice cream from the factory to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem," but will not renew that arrangement when it expires at the end of 2022. "Israelis won’t be cut off from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for good, though," the story says. "The company noted that it will stay in Israel 'through a different arrangement' outside the OPT, and that updates will be available when they’re ready."
The Israeli government took the decision as a direct affront, with Reuters reporting that "Israel warned consumer goods giant Unilever Plc on Tuesday of 'severe consequences'" from the decision.
Unilever released its own statement:
"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very complex and sensitive situation. As a global company, Unilever’s brands are available in more than 190 countries and in all of them, our priority is to serve consumers with essential products that contribute to their health, wellbeing and enjoyment.
"We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades.
"Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. As part of the acquisition agreement, we have always recognised the right of the brand and its independent Board to take decisions about its social mission. We also welcome the fact that Ben & Jerry’s will stay in Israel."
Well, it looks like a couple of nice Jewish fellows from Long Island have managed to stir up a hornet's nest of controversy, not just in Israel, but in the US, where people with strongly held views on both sides of the issue reacted to the decision.
I give a lot of credit to Unilever for standing by its commitment to let the Ben & Jerry's brand navigate its own path, though it does seem at least possible that this situation could strain the terms of the arrangement.
"TikTok, best known for quick videos of lip-syncing teens and cute pet tricks, is now the go-to spot to find Gen-Z workers.
"Chipotle, Target, WWE and Shopify are among the companies teaming up with TikTok Resumes, a pilot program that lets job candidates submit video resumes on the social platform. The recruitment offering is yet another way for companies to connect with potential employees as the war for talent rages on."
• The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that Associated Wholesale Grocers has announced an expansion into Minnesota via "deal with Coborn's Inc. Based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Coborn's is a century-old company that operates 59 grocery stores across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin … AWG is moving into the 316,000-square-foot former Creative Memories headquarters in St. Cloud's I-94 Business Park, which will become AWG's new Upper Midwest Division, according to a news release. It will start shipping grocery products from there at the beginning of 2022.
"Later in the year, AWG plans to build another warehouse in a yet-to-be-determined location, bringing its total footprint to more than 650,000-square-feet of warehouse space in Minnesota, where it will distribute to Coborn's and other member stores throughout the region, including other parts of Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin.
"After that, AWG expects to expand once again into a single facility in Minnesota, with as much as 1 million square feet of space."
The story notes that "AWG's new Upper Midwest Division in St. Cloud will be its ninth full-line wholesale division, joining others in Kansas City, Kansas; Springfield, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Southaven, Mississippi; Goodlettsville, Tennessee; Pearl River, Louisiana; Kenosha, Wisconsin; and Norfolk, Nebraska."
Full disclosure: AWG is a valued MNB sponsor.
• KOIN-TV News reports that "Fred Meyer warehouse workers voted unanimously … to authorize a strike that could disrupt food distribution at 180 locations across the Pacific Northwest. The Teamsters Local 117 warehouse workers said contract negotiations with Fred Meyer have stalled … The union said Fred Meyer rejected a proposal to allow workers to refuse a task that would put themselves or the public in danger."
The contract with Kroger-owned Fred Meyer expired on Sunday.
“Our company will continue to pursue a fair and balanced contract that honors associates and keeps the company competitive,” a Fred Meyer spokesperson said. “Note that a strike authorization vote does not mean that there will be a strike. We do not anticipate any disruption in service and it is business as usual in our stores.”
• From Fox Business:
"Tiffany & Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. have finally reached a settlement agreement over the jewelry store's eight-year lawsuit accusing Costco of trademark infringement and counterfeiting for selling a 'Tiffany' ring setting.
"Lawyers for both companies asked for the case to be dismissed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Monday, and David Bernstein, an attorney for Costco, said in an email that the parties have 'amicably resolved their dispute.'
"The issue has been batted around in court for years after first being filed on Valentine's Day 2013. Tiffany, a 184-year-old firm, was purchased by luxury goods company Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE in January. Tiffany switched law firms on the matter a month ago, according to Reuters.
"Following a judge's determination that Costco was at fault for using the term 'Tiffany' to describe a pronged setting, a jury awarded the jewelry company $21 million in 2017. But that decision was reversed in August by a unanimous three-judge panel at the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals who threw out the claim agreeing with Costco that "Tiffany" had become a generic term."
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, we've now had a total of 35,018,600 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 624,983 deaths and 29,406,202 reported recoveries.
Globally, there have been 191,824,708 coronavirus cases, with 4,115,370 resultant fatalities, and 174,655,889 reported recoveries. (Source.)
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 68.3 percent of the US population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 59.5 percent being fully vaccinated.
• From the Wall Street Journal this morning:
"Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations across the U.S. are growing steadily higher as the infectious Delta variant takes hold and the pace of vaccination subsides from highs reached in April … The uptick in cases has touched every state and Washington, D.C., with the seven-day average of newly reported cases exceeding the 14-day average in each place for the past four days, according to the data.
"Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have also jumped, rising 35.8% between July 7 and July 13 compared with the previous seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Doctors and epidemiologists point to the Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, as a main cause. The variant, now dominant in the U.S., is estimated to be 40%-80% more infectious than the Alpha variant."
• The Washington Post this morning reports that "the nation’s leading association of pediatricians released new, highly anticipated covid-19 guidance for schools reopening this fall, recommending that everyone over the age of 2 wear masks, even if they are vaccinated against the virus — a more cautious approach than recent federal directives.
"On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for in-person learning to fully resume and said universal masking should be part of a 'layered approach to make school safe for all students, teachers and staff.'
"The organization’s updated guidelines come at a time of heightened uncertainty about the pandemic in the United States, and they have added to the ongoing debate over best practices for combating the coronavirus, which is spreading at its fastest rate in more than two months."
• The New York Times reports that a federal judge yesterday ruled that Indiana University can require students returning to campus this fall to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
According to the story, "A lawyer for eight student plaintiffs had argued that requiring the vaccine violated their right to bodily integrity and autonomy, and that the coronavirus vaccines have only emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, and should not be considered as part of the normal range of vaccinations schools require. He vowed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary."
The Times writes that "Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana said that while he recognized the students’ interest in refusing unwarranted medical treatment, such a right must be weighed against the state’s greater interest.
'The Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff,' his ruling said."
• The Associated Press reports that "Canada announced Monday it will begin letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens into Canada on Aug. 9, and those from the rest of the world on Sept. 7.
"Officials said the 14-day quarantine requirement will be waived as of Aug. 9 for eligible travelers who are currently residing in the United States and have received a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada."
• The New York Times writes that "the pandemic recession is officially over.
"In fact, it has been over for more than a year.
"The National Bureau of Economic Research, the semiofficial arbiter of U.S. business cycles, said Monday that the recession had ended in April 2020, after a mere two months. That makes it by far the shortest contraction on record — so short that by June 2020, when the bureau officially determined that a recession had begun, it had been over for two months. (The previous shortest recession on record, in 1980, lasted six months.)"
The Times notes that "the end of the recession doesn’t mean that the economy has healed. The United States has nearly seven million fewer jobs than before the pandemic, and while gross domestic product has most likely returned to its pre-pandemic level, thousands of businesses have failed, and millions of individuals are still struggling to get back on their feet."
• From USA Today:
"Costco Wholesale will continue to hold special operating hours for members 60 and older and vulnerable shoppers while the coronavirus pandemic continues. Weeks after announcing it would end the senior hours on July 26, the retailer changed course and is instead reducing them from five days a week to twice-weekly events."
We had a story yesterday about how Amazon is likely to double its e-grocery sales in the next five years, leading one MNB reader to write:
Just a short example of Amazon power. I needed a figurine light replacement. Could find it at the local Lowes for $4.19 My wife found it on Amazon for $6.99. Regular gas is $3.19/gal today. Difference in cost $2.80. I saved $.39 by using Amazon. Sad but true.
MNB reader Kevin Weaver wrote:
I am concerned about the downstream effect on the supply chain that this prediction implies. Will smaller grocers get their fair share after the Amazon and Walmart contracts are finalized?
Yesterday we took note of a story from the Washington Post, saying that "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."
One MNB reader wrote:
Interesting article. When I read something like this I wonder what the solution would be of which they only touched on it from the standpoint that (paraphrasing) the government has jump in with subsidies for the producers to assist in them producing less with the land they have. Sure that is a direction but, it is not the entire story.
Diabetes, obesity, hypertension are affects of eating poorly, not of producing too much food or not using crop rotation or insect controls or poor farming techniques. Yes, we should look at better ways to farm but, to use those listed illnesses as a reason to change how we produce food is incorrect. Why is beef production a reason that a hamburger is 250 cals with 10g of fat and 26g’s of cholesterol. It is what is done after the beef is processed. Why is potato production a reason that French fries are 378 cals and 18b of fat. Again, it is what was done after they were grown. The list goes on and on. If you want to reduce the cost of food related health issues, then change how you eat. The person with the problem is the cause. Not the producer. To me this is just another example of blaming someone else for your own problem, so you are not responsible.
The report, in my view, emphasizes the brokenness of the US food system - up and down the line, including what and how people eat (which also is influenced by marketing budgets that often are more focused on peddling unhealthy foods than the healthy variety).
The bottom line is that there are costs that go beyond what we pay for a food product, no matter how you measure them.
I did my FaceTime yesterday about rude customers. One MNB reader responded:
I totally agree with you, and this is one of your best Face Time's this year.
I could cite numerous examples, of course, because I work in a supermarket. But I'll leave you with one. People who spit cherry pits on the floor, or leave them on display tables, etc. Absolutely disgusting and uncalled for!
MNB reader George Denman wrote:
My grand mother used to quote this saying to us as kids and it is so relevant to your podcast this morning: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel”.
Yesterday, commenting on how we now seem to have a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," I wrote:
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.
MNB reader Tim Korosec wrote:
I read your piece about waiting on line to get into a bakery at the Shore when the lady walked out making a comment on her phone about vaccinations being a scam.
You are judging her intelligence level based on her opinion of a subject. If someone doesn’t agree with our view on a subject doesn’t make them ignorant. It truly is just a different opinion.
And, from another reader:
As long as you're vaccinated, it doesn't matter if someone else isn't. I just marvel at people who "always follow the science" until "the science" doesn't conform to their opinions.
I'm not going down this rabbit hole in terms of letting it play out here for days and weeks. But I will say this…
It is not an opinion that the vaccines are not a scam. It has been medically proven that they have done an enormously effective job at preventing a lot of people from getting sick and dying. Her "opinion" to the contrary is ill-informed. Which strikes me as ignorant. (She is probably getting her news on Facebook. But I'm just speculating. And digressing. And, in this case, stating an opinion.)
People can say they don't want to get a vaccine for whatever reason they choose, but if they say it is a scam (who, exactly is "scamming" them?) they're just wrong.
If those people choose not to get the vaccine, then I think they have a responsibility to wear a mask, because the odds are far greater that they are going to catch and possibly spread the disease. Again, not opinion. Not getting a vaccine and not wearing a mask is to flagrantly ignore the advice of medical professionals … and if they think that Covid-19 does not exist, well that strikes me as the very definition of ignorance. More than 600,000 members of the US population are dead because of it.
And despite the fact that I am fully vaccinated, it does matter if an unvaccinated person does not wear a mask. I can still catch it, though I am far less likely to get seriously sick or be hospitalized. I could be asymptomatic, and could then spread it to people who are not vaccinated by choice, or kids to whom the vaccines are not yet available, or people who may be immunocompromised and cannot be vaccinated.
Treating this thing seriously, it seems to me, is the very definition of compassion, decency, and patriotism as we try to put our culture and economy back on track after more than a year of disruption.
And when this anti-vaccine sensibility seeps into the nation's consciousness to the point that an entire state's health department decides to stop all adolescent vaccine outreach – not just for coronavirus, but all diseases - then I think we're going into dangerous territory. The irony is that the state happens to be the one where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place; we'll probably hear calls for a retrial any day now.
Me, I'm going to go back and watch Inherit The Wind: