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    Published on: August 2, 2021

    KC is just back from a trip that took him for. a few days to Portland, Oregon - a city where he spent every summer during the past decade, teaching at Portland State University, until Covid-19 forced classes online.  It is a city that he loves, but one that he found changed during a recent trip.  Here are some thoughts.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    There was a really interesting story in the New York Times over the weekend about how "a growing number of top women athletes, including Simone Biles and former Olympians, have been choosing to strike new types of deals with smaller activewear brands instead of traditional sponsors like Nike. Several young female runners say that smaller brands are willing to work with them in different ways, like bringing them on as employees, giving them equity or involving them in new products, and that they are paying more attention to their personal stories and Instagram accounts than their race performance.

    The Times writes that "bigger apparel companies like Nike and Adidas are established power players that can often drastically increase an athlete’s visibility through marketing. But critics say they do not always put the athletes first. Nike, for instance, has come under intense scrutiny in recent years for its treatment of pregnant athletes, accusations of bullying and restrictive contracts.

    "Runners have traditionally been paid by sponsors for achievements like completing a specified number of races per year or attaining certain rankings, medals and times. To some, it felt 'very transactional,' said Colleen Quigley, a steeplechaser who left Nike this year and is now sponsored by Lululemon. That financial incentive fueled an intense pressure to compete, even if an athlete was struggling or injured, and can have a deleterious psychological impact, she said.

    "Ms. Biles ended her sponsorship with Nike this year and moved to Athleta, telling the Wall Street Journal that with the smaller brand, 'it wasn’t just about my achievements, it’s what I stood for and how they were going to help me use my voice and also be a voice for females and kids.'  After she dropped out of the Olympic gymnastics team and all-around competitions this week, saying that the pressure she faced had adversely affected her mentally, Athleta issued a statement of support.

    "'We stand by Simone and support her well-being both in and out of competition,' Kyle Andrew, the company’s chief brand officer, said in a statement. 'Being the best also means knowing how to take care of yourself. We are inspired by her leadership today and are behind her every step of the way'."

    There are several things that interest me about this story.

    First, it seems to be that technology, especially social media, allows smaller companies to compete effectively with big companies when it comes to spreading their messages.  Sure, that 30-second Nike commercial may get a lot of attention when it first runs, but an extended and effective social media campaign may in fact be more relevant to younger people who these companies wish to influence.  That's a pretty good lesson for smaller retailers without the clout and financing of an Amazon or a Walmart.

    Second, I'm struck by the use of the word "transactional," since the move away from transactional relationships in this context reminds me of something that we've talked about a lot on MNB -how companies are better served by taking a relationship-centric approach to business rather than a transaction-based approach.

    Lots of lessons in the piece.  I hope you enjoy it, because it is an Eye-Opener.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    The Tampa Bay Business Journal has a story about the opening of Kroger's new 338,000 square foot Central Florida warehouse, which it plans to use to "aggressively court grocery shoppers" in the state while having no plans to open traditional stores there.

    In other words, Kroger is embarking on a strategy that, at least for the time being, is a pure-play e-commerce model in Florida, banking on the Groveland facility and two smaller warehouses in Tampa and Jacksonville, to deliver - literally - on the company's online value proposition.

    While Kroger will be competing with known quantities such as Publix and Walmart, the Journal quotes CEO Rodney McMullen as saying that Kroger has a high profile among the state's residents:  " Kroger's market research shows that half of Floridians are already familiar with the grocer, either from living elsewhere or visiting family that lives in a Kroger market."

    "We really felt strongly that Florida was the right place to enter with that model," McMullen said. "If you look at [the idea of Kroger] coming in with physical stores, it wasn't offering something different than was already there. By coming to Florida with this model, where we deliver to everyone's houses, it offers the customer something unique."

    KC's View:

    One thing not mentioned in the article is that Kroger should have data on many of those Floridians who know the company - for years it has had superior data analytics capabilities through its ownership position in Dunnhumby USA and its renamed successor 84.51°.  That should, theoretically, give it the ability to reach out to customers for whom it has some history and even make some targeted offers that could drive sales to its online offering.

    If we work on the premise that convenience continues to be a driving motivator for consumers, then there are few things more convenient than a van pulling into your driveway.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    Reuters has a story about how Amazon "needs to spend billions of dollars to expand its warehouse and delivery system," and how "the company is racing to meet demand even though shoppers are venturing more outside the home and it is returning to a pre-lockdown sales trajectory … Amazon plans to add 517 facilities to its global distribution infrastructure in the coming years, according to logistics consultancy MWPVL International. That is 176 million square feet on top of the 402 million it already has."

    And still, that may not be enough.

    Andrea Leigh, vice president at e-commerce optimization firm Ideoclick, tells Reuters,

    "Amazon is running out of available space.  They're also running out of labor."  She says that "last year, Amazon turned goods away from warehouses for weeks because it lacked the people and space to fulfill them safely," and "still is playing catch-up."

    The story points out that "even after the company almost doubled its warehouse and transportation network in the prior 18 months, it sees significant investment ahead, not to mention costs from hiring and training staff. A tight labor market forced Amazon to raise wages early and add signing bonuses to attract full and part-time employees, who now number 1,335,000."

    KC's View:

    Interesting that this story would pop up today, since I've actually engaged in some conversations about just this issue, with folks telling me that they think this could be a major problem for Amazon going forward.  The premise that was presented to me is that this lack of space could mean that Amazon may be be less likely than ever to take on new products, which could inhibit its growth in the long term.  Every great retailer, I was told, can trace growth to the degree to which it takes on new products.  if Amazon can't do that, does that mean at some point it won't be able to grow (at least to the extent we've grown used to)?

    I'm not sure about this.  First of all, Amazon can put new products in its Marketplace, and make vendors responsible for fulfillment until sales reach a certain point.  And second, it seems to me that Amazon will find the warehouse space it needs.  Maybe "space" is the most important word in that sentence?)

    But here's another thought - one that I'm just formulating.  Is it possible that, unlike other "great retailers," Amazon is less dependent on new SKUs on its "shelves"?  After all, its physical stores tend to stock just the items that its algorithms tell it are selling - n to new items.  Maybe its expansion into new technologies will be the engine that drives its growth, not new items?  

    Not sure about this.  But Amazon has challenged a lot of conventional thinking since it has been in business, and it seems possible that it could do so in this case, too.

    One other thing, in the interest of full disclosure.   Andrea Leigh, who is quoted in the Reuters piece, is from ideoclick … and Tom Furphy, who does The Innovation Conversation with me here on MNB, is the chairman of Ideoclick.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    The federal hourly minimum wage may be $7.25, unchanged since 2009, but the reality is that in many places around the country for at many retailers, $15 an hour has become a reality with which they have to grapple.

    The Associated Press writes that "businesses, particularly in the restaurant, retail and travel industries, have been offering a $15 wage to try to fill enough jobs to meet surging demand from consumers, millions of whom are now spending freely after a year in lockdown. And many of the unemployed, buoyed by stimulus checks and expanded jobless aid, feel able to hold out for higher pay.

    "The change since the pandemic has been swift. For years, and notably in the 2020 presidential race, labor advocates had trumpeted $15 an hour as a wage that would finally allow low-paid workers to afford basic necessities and narrow inequality. It struck many as a long-term goal.

    "Now, many staffing companies say $15 an hour is the level that many businesses must pay to fill their jobs."

    Some context from the AP story:  

    "The Fight for $15 labor movement has organized strikes by fast food workers and has lobbied states and cities for higher minimum wages. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have adopted wage floors that exceed the $7.25 federal minimum. Eleven states have passed laws that will lift their minimum wages to $15 over time. Among them is Florida, where voters last year approved a measure raising the minimum to $15 by 2026.

    "Other states on track to a $15 an hour wage floor include California, Illinois, New York and Virginia. Ben Zipperer, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, estimates that four in 10 workers live in states where the minimum is set to reach $15 in the coming years."

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    Wegmans Food Markets announced last week that it will open its second store in New York City and its first in the borough of Manhattan, taking over a just-shuttered Kmart location at Astor Place.  The unit is projected to be open by the second half of 2023.

    CNBC reports that Wegmans has taken out a 30-year lease on the 82,000 square foot location.

    Wegmans opened its first NYC location in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in October 2019.  It also has nine stores operating to the west in New Jersey, and one to the north in Westchester County.

    KC's View:

    I'm going to go out on a limb right now and suggest that this is going to be a huge success for Wegmans - it is a great neighborhood for an aspirational store like the ones it operates.

    I have to wonder, though, if they'll adjust the formula a bet - maybe go bigger on fresh food and foodservice and a little lighter on groceries.  That strikes me as more appropriate for the Greenwich Village marketplace.  But we'll have to wait two years to find out, I guess.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    Meal kit company HelloFresh announced the "launch of HelloFresh Market, an online store offering customers a range of delicious add-ons, from quick meals to pantry essentials."

    According to the announcement, "The Market gives customers a convenient way to get breakfast options, ready-to-heat meals or everyday items – such as fresh produce, snacks, desserts, sides, spice blends, grocery essentials, and more – delivered to their doorstep simply by adding them to their weekly HelloFresh order. The range of Market offerings will be rolling out to all customers across the U.S. over the coming months."

    The announcement goes on:  "The introduction of the Market is part of HelloFresh’s mid-term growth strategy, an important step towards becoming the world’s leading fully integrated food solutions group. While HelloFresh has largely provided dinnertime recipes until now, the Company also sees opportunities in other meal occasions.:

    And, the company said, "The introduction of Market in the U.S. follows a successful launch in the Benelux region, where customers can choose from over 150 add-on items to complement their weekly meal kit recipes. Within this region, HelloFresh observed a strong link between the size of the product range and the proportion of customers purchasing add-ons through the Market, which the Company will look to replicate in the U.S. As a result, HelloFresh is significantly expanding its product range across categories to provide customers with a variety of items tailored to enhance the shopping and cooking experience."

    KC's View:

    This actually strikes me as a very good idea, especially if they keep the SKU count tight and targeted.  It also seems to me that somewhere in here is the opportunity for some sort of consolidation … not sure by who, but this just feels like the kind of attention-getting move that could attract a suitor or two.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    The Seattle Times offers this assessment of Amazon's second quarter results:  "By any standard but the outsize performance of the pandemic, Amazon had a standout quarter. The company reported Thursday earnings of $7.8 billion, a 48.4% increase from the same period last year … Amazon charted its third consecutive quarter of $100-billion-plus sales, recording $113.1 billion in revenue in the three months from April to June for a 27% increase over the same period last year."

    Was everyone thrilled?  Not so much.

    "For the first time in a year, there’s an inkling that the company’s record-setting pace of growth may be slowing ever so slightly, sending Amazon shares down 7% in after-hours trading," the Times writes, adding that "discounting the effects of Prime Day, which this year spanned June 21 and 22, Amazon’s second-quarter sales growth hovered in the mid-teens, slightly weaker than historical averages, said Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky on a call with analysts."

    The story notes that "the retail giant was always going to struggle to show up last year’s blockbuster results. As shoppers stuck indoors by the pandemic embraced online ordering, Amazon earnings doubled nearly every quarter in the past year, compared to the same periods a year earlier. In the January-to-March quarter, they more than tripled."

    The Wall Street Journal put it this way:

    "Amazon Inc. reported strong financial results that showcased its dominance even as a slight slowdown in e-commerce sales highlighted the challenge of sustaining the unfettered growth it has logged during the pandemic … The results made clear the difficulty Amazon will have matching results from 2020, when an avalanche of shoppers turned to online options during lockdowns. Amazon had previously signaled that such demand was sustainable."

    KC's View:

    Haven't we seen this movie before?  Amazon disappoints the analysts, people start wondering if it indeed is human, and then it blows everybody away with amazing numbers in some future quarter.

    Perhaps less so this time than in the past because the pandemic accelerated business to an unanticipated degree, Jeff Bezos always has made the point that the company is thinking three or four quarters down the road.  Bezos may not be in the CEO office anymore, but it doesn't seem likely that this ignore-the-analysts attitude is going to change under Andy Jassy.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    Interesting piece in Fast Company about Walmart and Walgreen announcing "new banking initiatives designed to capture the mid-market consumer and monetize their most valuable asset: the loyal relationships they have with customers."

    The story notes that "Walmart and Walgreens are just the first of many non-traditional players that will be entering financial services in the coming years - and changing the very meaning of what we think of as banking. It’s easy to see why this sector is growing: the opportunities for both incumbent banks and new entrants to capture the currently two billion unbanked people around the world, as well as the estimated 169 million Americans who regularly use mobile devices for banking."

    Still, questions remain:  "Will these retailers upend the financial services industry as we know it? Or will incumbent banks evolve their mobile-first offerings enough to keep their loyal customers and remain competitive?"

    Click here to read the entire piece.

    KC's View:

    The bet here is that incumbent banks will do what they usually do in such cases - spend as much or more money ope lobbyists than they do on actually revolutionizing their services, because if you can persuade/bribe lawmakers to throw up roadblocks in front of these upstarts, it save you actually having to innovate.

    But I'm a cynic.

    Published on: August 2, 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 US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  35,768,924 total cases … 629,380 deaths … and 29,673,290 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  199,022,838 total cases … 4,240,374 fatalities … and 179,631,883 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 67.5 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 58.1 percent of that demographic group fully vaccinated.

    •  From the Associated Press:

    "Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Sunday that more “pain and suffering” is on the horizon as COVID-19 cases climb again and officials plead with unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.

    "Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, also said he doesn’t foresee additional lockdowns in the U.S. because he believes enough people are vaccinated to avoid a recurrence of last winter. However, he said not enough are inoculated to 'crush the outbreak' at this point.

    "Fauci’s warning comes days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course to recommend that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is fueling infection surges. With the switch, federal health officials have cited studies showing vaccinated people can spread the virus to others.

    "Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. So-called breakthrough infections can occur in vaccinated people, and though the vast majority of those cause mild or no symptoms, the research shows they can carry about the same amount of the coronavirus as those who did not get the shots."

    •  From the Washington Post:

    "The newly resurgent coronavirus could spark 140,000 to 300,000 cases a day in the United States come August, fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant and the widespread resumption of normal activities, disease trackers predict.

    "The nation is already reporting more than 70,000 cases a day, according to The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day average — an increase of nearly 60,000 in the daily average in less than six weeks. Cases, measured as that rolling average, have risen to levels last seen in February."

    If there is a silver lining, the Post writes, "it is this: Experts do not expect hospitalizations and deaths to rise to the levels experienced in the winter," because the people getting sick and younger and healthier.

    The Post writes that "the surge has multiple propellants. The delta variant, which transmits more easily between people, is one.

    "Another major contributor, epidemiologists said: Relaxing precautions, such as no longer wearing masks or engaging in social distancing. That probably includes behavior even among the vaccinated, Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said.

    Shaman suspects cases among vaccinated people, known as breakthrough infections, are much higher than official tallies indicate. That could be because vaccinated people are less likely to get tested. Or they may be apt to dismiss a mild case of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, as simply the sniffles."

    •  CNBC writes that the CDC has warned "that the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox, has a longer transmission window than the original Covid-19 strain and may make older people sicker, even if they’ve been fully vaccinated."

    •  The New York Times writes that "employers held off for months on making decisions about vaccine mandates, worried about the legal and political fallout. But facing renewed pandemic restrictions, and with encouragement from government leaders, a growing number of the country’s biggest companies have been embracing the idea … The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission first issued guidance in December that employers could mandate vaccines — and reiterated that message in June. But companies have been worried that mandates would bring litigation and have been fearful of employee pushback during a labor shortage."

    •  The Wall Street Journal elaborates:

    "Can employers impose vaccine mandates?

    "Legally, there is little preventing private or public employers from imposing vaccination requirements, said labor and employment lawyers. The law allows public and private employers to impose vaccination mandates, so long as they aren’t violating workplace-discrimination laws, they said.

    "Few companies outside the healthcare industry require their staff to be vaccinated against the flu or other communicable diseases as a condition of employment, yet hospital systems in several states have mandated vaccines for employees and new hires. Federal lawsuits in a handful of states have resulted in Covid-19 vaccine mandates being upheld. A federal judge in Texas ruled in June that a hospital system could require employees to be vaccinated, and Indiana University was allowed to require students, faculty and staff to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccines. Dozens of other private and public colleges and universities have adopted similar vaccine policies."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Walmart is requiring that all workers at its headquarters as well as its managers who travel within the U.S. be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4.

    "The retailer based in Bentonville, Arkansas, is also reversing its mask policy for its employees working in stores, clubs, distribution facilities and warehouses. Going forward, they will be required to wear masks in areas with high infection rates, even if they have been vaccinated.

    "The moves are part of a series of sweeping measures the nation’s largest retailer and private employer announced Friday to help curb the spread of the virus and drive more of its workers to get the shot in the arm.

    "The vaccine mandate excludes frontline workers, who the company says have a lower vaccination rate than management. But it’s hoping that managerial employees, who represent just a fraction of its 1.5 million workers, will serve as inspiration."

    According to the story, "Walmart is also encouraging customers to wear masks in stores located in areas with surging cases and will be adding back signs at the entrances. It will also bring back so-called health ambassadors who will be stationed at the entrances and hand out masks.

    "The company is also doubling to $150 the incentive it is offering to workers in stores, clubs, as well as other facilities like distribution centers, to get the vaccine. Those who already received the $75 incentive will receive another $75 in their paycheck dated Aug 19.

    "The steps come three days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges."

    Walmart also has said that "business travel should be limited to 'business-critical' travel only, at this time."

    •  Kroger released the following statement:

    "Kroger’s current mask guidance requires unvaccinated associates to wear masks and requests that unvaccinated customers wear masks when in our stores and facilities. In light of the Delta variant and updated CDC recommendations, we strongly encourage all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask when in our stores and facilities. We will continue to abide by all state and local mandates and encourage all Americans to get vaccinated, including our associates."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Supermarket chain Albertsons Cos. is preparing for a potential return of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns as the Delta variant pushes up the number of cases across the country.

    "'We’re starting to talk about it. We will be prepared,' Albertsons Chief Executive Officer Vivek Sankaran said in an interview, noting that the seven-day average of daily new cases is similar to that of a year ago. 'We should not ignore that'."

    •  CNBC reports that "Publix Super Markets, which operates more than 1,100 stores mostly across the Southeast, is now requiring employees to wear masks inside all locations regardless of their vaccination status."

    Probably makes sense, since at one point last week Florida reported a record 21,000 COVID-19 cases in single day, the highest since start of pandemic.

    •  From the Seattle Times:

    "With the highly contagious delta variant sending coronavirus cases soaring, many Seattle-area employers are rethinking everything from when to bring workers back to the office to whether masks or even vaccines should be mandated for employees. 

    "At organizations ranging from Amazon and Starbucks, to Ethan Stowell Restaurants and Rachel’s Ginger Beer, to the governments of King County and Seattle, decision makers have been reviewing pandemic rules and strategies after reports of rising case counts and new indoor mask-wearing recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

    "Amazon, which has said it is monitoring the spread of the delta variant, has rolled back coronavirus safety measures in recent months. But the company isn’t ruling out a return to stricter precautions."

    "If that means we have to wear masks again, even if vaccinated, that’s what we’ll do,” says Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky.

    •  Also from the Seattle Times:

    "At Starbucks, a source close to the company confirmed it was 'currently evaluating whether to make changes' to its existing mask policy, which allows fully vaccinated workers and customers to go without masks in Starbucks stores, unless required by state or local law."

    •  Variety reports that "The Walt Disney Company is requiring that their salaried and non-union U.S. employees get vaccinated before returning to work … Disney is the latest major company to require vaccinations for employees as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to drive a major rise in cases throughout the country. Netflix announced earlier this week that those working in Zone A of productions — actors and those who come in close proximity to them — must be vaccinated as well. Companies like Google and Facebook have announced similar measures for their employees."

    In a statement, the company says that it has "begun conversations around this topic with the unions representing our employees under collective bargaining agreements. In addition, all new hires will be required to be fully vaccinated before beginning employment. Vaccines are the best tool we all have to help control this global pandemic and protect our employees."

    Frankly, this ought to be an easy one for unions - they should be pushing hard for their members to be vaccinated, and for employers to make the vaccination process easier than it already is.  Mandating vaccinations is one way to keep employees healthy, which ought to be everybody's end goal.

    •  The New York Times reports that "The New York Times Company indefinitely postponed its planned return to the office. The company, which employs about 4,700 people, had been planning for workers to start to return, for at least three days a week, in September. Its offices will remain open for those who want to go in voluntarily, with proof of vaccination … Lyft postponed its return to office until February. Uber and Google both pushed their expected return to October and said vaccines would be required to enter the office, and Twitter shut down its San Francisco and New York offices, putting a halt to reopening plans."

    •  Axios writes, "Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, told CNN all employees and customers need to prove vaccination. 'If you really want to go unvaccinated, you can dine somewhere else, and you can also go work somewhere else.'

    "Announced today: Broadway theaters will require proof of vaccination (and a mask) to see a show."

    •  CNBC reports that "Apple will require both vaccinated and unvaccinated customers as well as staff members to wear masks in many of its U.S. retail stores starting on Thursday."

    •  The Associated Press reports that "Masks, which had started to disappear from store shelves, may be front and center again … Sales of masks rose 24% for the week ended Tuesday, compared to the prior week, reversing weekly declines since May, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index."

    The AP goes on:  "The scenario marks a shift from the past two months when masks were getting heavily discounted and were being pushed to the side on the sales floor following the CDC move to relax guidance on masks in May. Even before then, data from NielsenIQ shows that mask sales started to consistently decline weekly since early April, going from $101 million worth of masks to roughly $37 million for the week ended July 3."

    •  In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "Target is once again paying front-line employees a $200 bonus to thank them for their work over the past few months.

    "On Thursday, the Minneapolis-retailer announced the bonus will be awarded to full- and part-time team employees in Target stores and distribution centers as well as headquarters staff who support its customer and employee contact centers. The bonuses will be paid out in August.

    "This bonus, an investment of $75 million by Target, will be the sixth paid to employees during the pandemic."

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    •  The Washington Post reports that "a European privacy regulator has slapped Amazon with a record fine totaling 746 million euros ($887 million) for violating the E.U.’s data protection laws, the e-commerce giant said Friday.

    "The National Commission for Data Protection (CNPD) in Luxembourg, where Amazon’s European operations are headquartered, issued the decision on July 16, the company disclosed in a securities filing. The privacy watchdog said Amazon Europe Core’s processing of personal data for advertising did not comply with the E.U. General Data Protection Regulation, the company said in the filing."

    Amazon says it plans to appeal the fine.

    •  The Seattle Times reports that "Amazon plans to repurpose a 126,000-square-foot Renton warehouse into a facility processing same-day deliveries, permitting plans filed last month indicate.

    "Amazon facilities have been encroaching deeper into major metropolitan areas as the company seeks to drive down delivery times for commonly-purchased items.

    "Expansions of such warehouses in some places have prompted concerns about traffic congestion and emissions from vehicles shuttling packages for the retail giant. Some activists have said those harms disproportionately affect poorer communities and communities of color."  However, "the new warehouse, at 1905 Raymond Ave. S.W., is in an industrial district adjacent to two other Amazon facilities."

    •  DBbusiness reports that "this week, Amazon begins testing and training delivery drivers on how to operate and optimize a fleet of up to 100,000 electric delivery vehicles. The signature two-tone blue trucks were designed in partnership with Rivian, an EV manufacturer based in Plymouth Township."

    “From what we’ve seen, this is one of the fastest modern commercial electrification programs, and we’re incredibly proud of that,” says Ross Rachey, director of global fleet and products at Amazon.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Patch reports that the original Stew Leonard's, in Norwalk, Connecticut, is proposing.a major renovation project.

    According to the story, "the two-story expansion would eliminate the outdoor tent and seasonal sales area that has been a marquee at the building's entrance for a number of years. A new farmers market and garden center measuring 10,500 square feet are part of the proposal.

    "In all, $15 million with of upgrades are planned, according to the filings. A new check-out area is also among them, according to store officials."

    I make mention of this not just because this Stew Leonard's happens to be my store - I shop there virtually every week, and have since I moved to Connecticut in 1984.  (I must admit that my first reaction to this story was to worry about being inconvenienced by construction.  No surprise there - it is all about me.)

    No, I also mention this because, as I often have mentioned here over the past 16 months, Stew Leonard's absolutely killed it during the pandemic - its limited selection (1,500 SKUs or so), focused on fresh food and private label, and with a strong brand identity that makes clear the differential advantages of shopping there, seemed absolutely perfect for what consumers needed.  It was able to pivot to a much broader prepared foods offering, and it already had a directed traffic flow.  

    In 1969, Stew Leonard's was a small dairy store with seven employees.  Today, it has three stores in Connecticut, three in New York and one in New Jersey, annual sales in the neighborhood of a half-billion dollars, and 2,500 employees.

    Don't tell me an independent retailer cannot compete against bigger entities.  Stew Leonard's proves it is possible - if you actually do something different and unique.

    •  Bloomberg has an interview with Sysco CEO Kevin Hourican in which he talks about surging sales at the nation's restaurants.  "The surprise is how robust and how fast the recovery has been," he says. "It’s definitely exceeding the industry’s expectations. Restaurants are busy. They’re booming. They’re bouncing back in a strong way. They’re not up just over 2020, they’re up versus 2019 as well.

    "Not all markets are recovering at the same pace. Urban centers are still lagging behind the national average. Labor Day is kind of a line being drawn in the sand with more employees coming back into those cities."

    Yeah, well, I wouldn't cash that bonus check just yet.   There could be another disruption just around the corner that could have yet another dampening affect on the in-restaurant dining;  I hope these establishments didn't throw out all that plexiglass.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports today that "Square Inc. has agreed to an all-stock deal valued at around $29 billion to acquire Australia’s Afterpay Ltd., an installment-payment company that positions its service as a cheaper and more responsible alternative to a credit card.

    "Square said it plans to integrate Afterpay into its Seller and Cash App business units, which would allow more retailers to offer so-called buy now, pay later services at checkout.

    "Afterpay’s technology allows users to pay for goods in four interest-free installments, while receiving the goods immediately. Customers pay a fee only if they miss an automated payment, a transgression that also locks their account until the balance is repaid. Afterpay says this limits bad debts, particularly in a downturn when job security is shaky and household finances are stretched."

    •  USA Today reports on how, "at the beginning of next year, California will begin enforcing an animal welfare proposition approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 that requires more space for breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens and veal calves. National veal and egg producers are optimistic they can meet the new standards, but only 4% of hog operations now comply with the new rules."

    What this means:  A potential shortage of bacon.

    The paper writes that "unless the courts intervene or the state temporarily allows non-compliant meat to be sold in the state, California will lose almost all of its pork supply, much of which comes from Iowa, and pork producers will face higher costs to regain a key market."

    If none of these things happen and, indeed, California is faced with going bacon-less on January 1, I suppose we should brace ourselves for all manner of "pig out now" promotions during December.  And maybe black market bacon, sold on the dark web to recalcitrant Californians unwilling to give up this particular delicacy.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    •  Bloomberg reports that Walmart has hired John Wigneswaran, the former chief medical officer of pharmacy-benefits manager Express Scripts, to be its new Chief Medical Officer, filling a role that has been empty since March, when Tom Van Gilder left the company.

    •  United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) announced that it has hired J. Alexander (Sandy) Miller Douglas Jr., formerly president of Coca-Cola's North America division and most recently the CEO of Staples, to be its new CEO, succeeding  Steven Spinner, who is retiring.

    Published on: August 2, 2021

    Last week, I ranted about a video in which parents tricked a little kid into thinking that he had stuck his finger in a dog's rear end and licked it … which they then posted on social media for everyone to see.  This had nothing to do with business, but I was outraged by the degree to which these so-called adults were willing to humiliate their child and then put it out there for all the world to see.  I think I said something about it being a symptom of everything that is wrong with the culture … and made a quick suggestion that someone ought to call family services on these people.

    One MNB reader responded:

    That is abusive behavior, I agree with your comments on Social Services! Love the passion.

    From another reader:

    Appalling is definitely what this is. These people just basically don't think right and they may never see the "Big Picture" of what they have done.

    Extra credit for the gratuitous but always appreciated use of our book title.

    From another reader:

    Absolutely disgusting, and I'm as angry as you are KC. Did these "parents" have nothing better to do? Did they get the idea from friends? The internet? And they thought it was funny? Shame on them. Get off social media and stop trying to be a star there, like on Instagram or TikTok, and raise your child the right way. Sadly KC, this is where we are today, and it's not a good place. The worst part is I'll bet more people laughed about it than called them out on it. Rant over.

    MNB reader Julia Ann Mataras wrote:

    This quote is from a movie called Parenthood:

    “You need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car - hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they'll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.”

    Extra credit for calling out a movie quote.

    And from another reader:

    Agree 1000% Kevin. Social media companies engineer their platforms to encourage people to go to extreme lengths to get noticed, and all too often they abandon common sense and decency.

    MNB reader Maurine King wrote:

    Rant on, brother!! I agree with you 100%!!  This behavior is beyond annoying and way out of order!  The gall of some people...

    Another MNB reader wrote:

    I remember hearing about this ‘gag’ (pun not intended but it works) back in my Jr. High or High School years. One of those things kids would do to each other at a party for laughs. Jar of peanut butter instead of an orange, but the gag is still the same. And while my kids will tell you that I did pull some quirky stunts while they were growing up, trying this one out and capturing it for posterity never crossed my mind. I’d like to think it’s because I have a high standard for what qualifies as humor, but my sainted wife will tell you, “ahhhh…no.” Maybe that is the real difference with social media, that it not only gives us a platform to do and say dumb stuff, but to share it instantly. Discernment is thus relegated to being replaced with regret. Hopefully we still have enough wisdom to at least experience that.

    MNB reader Denis Duello wrote:

    I could not agree with you more and without even seeing the IG posting, I am disgusted and appalled as much as you are this morning. I also know you will get blasted from the other side of this view point and wanted to help to balance the “crazies” out, keep up the great work as I look forward to checking in every morning.

     \But another MNB reader wrote:

    Child services?  Seriously?  In bad “taste” for sure, but I think child and family services has much more pressing issues than this.  Also I’d like to know how you addressed the person who showed you the video.  Did they find it entertaining and hoped you would too?  As disgusted as you were with the video I hope you let them know that by watching and sharing they are a part of what you deem as a problem.

    Yes, I did.

    And I'll concede that the family services thing was mildly hyperbolic.

    And from another reader:

    Yeah I think the video was stupid.  Yeah I think the parents of this child are twisted.  But calling SS?  Not so much.  And I don’t think this is an example of what is wrong with our culture.  Misdirected “fun” by a parent does not equate to a cultural misgiving.  I think we have a great culture.  Unfortunately, the electronic media has made it so much easier for idiots to be seen.  They have always been around and will continue to be, they are just more visible. 

    I think a better example of a cultural issue is Simone Biles quitting at the Olympics.  She lost focus and was mentally stressed.  That is definitely an issue and will have repercussions for her well after the Olympics.  But having had the opportunity to play team and individual sports at a college level, you just don’t quit.  You let your team down.  You let your self down.  You have taken a spot away from someone who could have competed.  And you shifted the pressure you were feeling from you to your teammates who now must carry you.  Let’s recognize too, you let down your country.  All because you can’t handle the pressure at a crucial time.  The whole media behind this is saying how sad it was for her and how the mental pressure makes it ok to give up.  Really, what about her teammates??  It is not ok.  It is not right.  And DON’T tell me you are still thinking of further competition in such a dangerous state of mind, while you laugh and joke on the sidelines after you pulled yourself out.  If it is that bad, pull out and seek immediate help.  Plus, for her to step on the platform to accept the medal!  That is horse pucky.   You quit.   I wonder what her teammates truly think? 

    Talk about horse pucky …

    First of all, when you demonstrate to me that you can do a double-twisting double somersault from the balance beam, you get to criticize her decision.

    From everything I've read by people who actually seem to know what they're talking about - as opposed to other people - when Biles got what are called the "twisties," for her to continue to compete would've meant putting herself at serious risk of bodily harm.  (LiveScience writes that gymnasts describe it "as losing control of their body mid-trick and losing sense of where they are in the air. The sensation is not only disorienting, it's dangerous and can lead to serious injury.). The Olympics, IMHO, aren't even close to being worth it.

    This isn't Chuck Knoblauch having trouble making an infield throw, which is described as the "yips."  This is actually something far more serious and dangerous. 

    The fact is, when she stepped down (as I understand it), she not only made it possible for the team to win a silver medal in one event (which they might not have had she continued), but for Suni Lee to win the gold medal and other replacements to step up and win other medals.

    Really?  Simone Biles is what's wrong with the culture?  I think exactly the opposite - her willingness to step down at that moment demonstrated a willingness to do the right thing, even if that meant exposing herself to a great deal of criticism.  Seems to me a demonstration that she was raised right.

    But I'll agree that we can learn a lot about the culture from looking at the comments denigrating her and the comments supporting her.  And I know what side I'm happy to be on.

    Regarding our piece about pop-up stores, MNB reader Dennis Brown wrote:

    Pop Up stores can be a very successful business model if done right. Spirit Halloween utilizes very curated products, a unique in store experience and high traffic locations to attract customers year after year. They are usually open between August and the end of October. They are now being imitated by several retailers because of their success.

    Responding to our piece about Walmart deciding to begin offering all of its 1.5 million US employees college tuition reimbursement and free books, an investment worth close to $1 billion, one MNB reader wrote:

    Again, another example of corporate America being creative and doing something to better the lives of their employees.  This is not new to Walmart or many other companies, they have simply rebranded the idea at a time of greater company concern for their workers welfare.  I guess my only question is, why is the $1 per day original cost for this educational program prohibitive?  Seems to me that if you want to better your position in life $365 a year for 2 -4 years is not a barrier, but more of an opportunity.  I wonder how many more associates will actually take advantage of this now that it is free.  It will be interesting to see.  I hope more than what history has shown.

    I've been thinking that considering the level of cybersecurity threat that we seem to be facing in the US, the federal government ought to fund its own cybersecurity training efforts - it would train people and offer them a path to continuing education in the field, but then would require that graduates work for a federal cyber task force for a period of 2-3 years (paid, of course) as a way of paying for their education.

    To which one MNB reader responded:

    With reference to a federal program for cyber security training, here you go.

    There's a college in our area who has partnered with the Federal Government on this program and my understanding is that they have had good results.

    Good to know.

    And finally, this note from MNB reader Neil Stern, about my extended conversation last week with Scott Moses about "a tale of two grocery industries":

    Two people I really respect in a great conversation.

    Ears were burning a bit--appreciate as always the shout out of our brands.

    First of all, Neil, thanks … but I just ask the questions.  Scott Moses is the smart one.

    And second … that's because your Good Food Holdings has some of the best retail brands in the business:  Bristol Farms.  Metropolitan Markets.  New Seasons.  In a tale of two grocery industries, it is differentiated brands like those that I'd bet on to write extended and effective chapters.