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    Published on: August 4, 2021

    Content Guy's Note:  Two previous MNB stories led to this conversation…

    First, there was a piece about a new Neighborhood Delivery Microhub in Seattle, which is serving as a home to cargo bikes, electric vehicles and pallets, retailer, pickup lockers, and food trucks - the idea is that if you congregate various partners and bring them closer to the customer, you can make the delivery process both more efficient and potentially less impactful on the environment

    Second, we had an interview with Beth Flippo, Chief Technology Officer at Drone Express, which is providing drone delivery services to Kroger, in which she talked about the broad applicability of that technology.

    That's when I became aware of Coaster Cycles, which is one of the participants in the Seattle Microhub experiment - and, as it ends up, is working on a similar projects around the country and outside the US.  Ben Morris is the founder-CEO of Coaster Cycles, and I wanted to talk to him about a technology that may not seem as futuristic as drones, but could have as big or bigger impact.  Did you know, for example, that the last 50 feet of delivery accounts for between 25 and 50 percent off transportation supply costs?  And that bicycles have the potential for dramatically cutting down on those costs?

    I hope you enjoy our conversation, which you can watch below, or can listen to as a podcast by downloading the audio file below.

    (One note: there are moments in our conversation that may be a bit garbled because of the internet connection.  Please be patient with us … I think it is worth hanging in and getting past those moments.)

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    CNBC reports that Kroger is teaming up with  ghost kitchen start-up Kitchen United to expand the building of in-store facilities specifically designed to prepare meals for pick-up and delivery.

    According two the announcement, "The off-premise restaurant kitchen powered by Kitchen United at participating Kroger locations will feature up to six local, regional or national restaurant brands. When placing an order using the Kitchen United website or app or on-site via ordering kiosks, customers can select items from each on-site restaurant to create a customized order on a single receipt. Restaurant staff will prepare the orders and delivery service fees will be determined by third-party providers."

    The companies said that "the first kitchen center is expected to open this fall at a Ralphs store in Los Angeles, with additional locations expected later this year."

    "As we continue to define Kroger as a food destination, this collaboration creates another seamless way for our customers to order lunch or dinner for pick up while they shop for groceries or for delivery to their location of choice," said Craig Gauden, Kroger's director of partnership development.

    "Kitchen United recognizes the significant value of Kroger as a strategic partner. Our work together provides participating restaurants access to millions of Kroger customers and the ability to better address off-premise demand in a convenient supermarket format – a frequent destination for most consumers," said Michael Montagano, CEO of Kitchen United. "We've worked collaboratively with the Kroger team to curate a mix of popular restaurant brands, and we see a great opportunity to introduce our partnership in cities across the country."

    CNBC notes that retail partnerships have proven to be a fertile ground for ghost kitchen companies:  "Earlier this year, Westfield Valley Fair mall in California said it would use Kitchen United’s technology to help it facilitate to-go orders. Other malls have also turned to ghost kitchens as a way to raise foot traffic and boost restaurant sales. In 2020, mall operator Simon Property and Accor, the hotelier, teamed up to launch C3, a virtual kitchen company."

    KC's View:

    I've believed for some time that we're about to see enormous competition in the food retailing business, especially because the sectors that were hit hard by the pandemic are going to be looking for ways to a) regain lost ground, and b) diversify their models in a way that could be more sustainable when the next pandemic comes.

    Which means that it is very smart for Kroger to move in this direction.

    What I really want to see is Kroger deciding to invest in ghost kitchens down in Florida, where it already is launching a pure-play e-commerce model.  The results of such a test could tells us a lot about how the traditional supermarket industry is going to evolve going forward as they look to meet consumer needs.

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    TechCrunch has a story about how Amazon, which introduced biometric palm scanners called Amazon One last year to various retail stores, now is offering a $10 promotional credit to persuade shoppers to share their palm prints.

    According to the story, "The retail and cloud giant says its palm scanning hardware 'captures the minute characteristics of your palm - both surface-area details like lines and ridges as well as subcutaneous features such as vein patterns - to create your palm signature,' which is then stored in the cloud and used to confirm your identity when you’re in one of its stores.

    "What’s Amazon doing with this data exactly? Your palm print on its own might not do much — though Amazon says it uses an unspecified 'subset' of anonymous palm data to improve the technology. But by linking it to your Amazon account, Amazon can use the data it collects, like shopping history, to target ads, offers and recommendations to you over time … While the idea of contactlessly scanning your palm print to pay for goods during a pandemic might seem like a novel idea, it’s one to be met with caution and skepticism given Amazon’s past efforts in developing biometric technology. Amazon’s controversial facial recognition technology, which it historically sold to police and law enforcement, was the subject of lawsuits that allege the company violated state laws that bar the use of personal biometric data without permission."

    TechCrunch writes that  Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, had the following observation about the technology:

    "“The dystopian future of science fiction is now. It’s horrifying that Amazon is asking people to sell their bodies, but it’s even worse that people are doing it for such a low price … Biometric data is one of the only ways that companies and governments can track us permanently. You can change your name, you can change your Social Security number, but you can’t change your palm print. The more we normalize these tactics, the harder they will be to escape. If we don’t [draw a] line in the sand here, I am very fearful what our future will look like."

    The story notes that the palm scanners are being in used in a number of Amazon's physical formats in places that range from Washington State, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Texas.

    KC's View:

    This is sort of a new twist on the saying, "If you are not paying for the product, you are the product."

    In this case, you're being paid to be the product … and not a whole helluva lot, either.

    I must admit to being a little conflicted about this.  I'm susceptible to the "dystopian-future-of-science-fiction-is-now" argument;  I've watched way too much science fiction over the years, and am halfway sure that there is a real-life Skynet out there somewhere that will result in the demise of the human race.

    But, I also use Clear to get through airports quickly, and probably would use Amazon One if it were available to me.  So, does that mean I am willing to enable to ultimate destruction of the human race if it means that my life will be a little more convenient in the short term?

    Yeah.  Probably. 

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    United Natural Food Inc. (UNFI) announced this week that it has closed its Centralia, Washington, distribution center after more than 100 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus were discovered among workers there.

    “We certainly would prefer to have been here today to talk to you about we being one of the largest employers in the county, the economic impact that we deliver, hiring more associates to support growth,” said spokesperson Jeff Swanson. “But unfortunately … we’re dealing with an increase in positive COVID cases amongst associates and third party contractors who work in the facility.” 

    The Chronicle reports that "the facility serves 825 grocery stores in the region, plus a large military operation."

    It is expected that the warehouse can be opened on or about August 7.

    The story says that this is the first time since the pandemic began that UNFI had to close a warehouse for cleaning purposes, and that UNFI has committed to continue paying employees during the closure.

    KC's View:

    This probably is a hard thing for the folks at UNFI to deal with, and not just because the coronavirus is complicating many people's lives and businesses at the moment.  The thing is, conversations I've had with a number of retailers have reflected a certain dissatisfaction with the level of service they've been getting from UNFI and Supervalu.

    In fact, I cannot remember a conversation that I've had lately in which the company's efforts have been described in a positive light.  Lots of grumbling out there, and this isn't going to help.

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    The Consortium to Reinvent the Retail Bag has announced the launch of a series of tests and multi-retailer pilots  designed to "advance sustainable alternatives to the single-use plastic bag and accelerate their potential to scale."

    Companies identified as having viable approaches to replacing the traditional shopping bag are slated to "begin pilots across a total of nine stores of the Consortium's Founding Partners - CVS Health, Target and Walmart - in Northern California. The solutions being tested include multiple reusable bag models, alongside enabling technologies, which help serve customers' needs, extend the useful life of retail bags and provide visibility into the full lifecycle of a bag. Across the select stores, customers can sign up and try these new solutions, whether it's to borrow, incentivize or receive reminders to use a reusable bag. The partnership among leading retailers' different stores sets an exciting precedent; collaboration will help accelerate pathways to scale and help address the systemic challenge of plastic bag waste."

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    Random and illustrative stories about the global pandemic and how businesses and various business sectors are trying to recover from it, with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Covid-19 coronavirus numbers for the US now are 36,049,015 total cases, resulting in 630,497 and 29,756,586 reported recoveries.

    Globally there have been 200,390,879 total cases, with 4,262,394 resultant fatalities and 180,635,606 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 70.1 percent of the US population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 60.6 percent being fully vaccinated;  67.7 percent of the population age 12 and older has gotten at least one vaccine, with 58.2 percent of that group being fully vaccinated. 

    •  The New York Times reports that "with a new surge of coronavirus infections ripping through much of the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has accelerated its timetable to fully approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, aiming to complete the process by the start of next month, people familiar with the effort said … Giving final approval to the Pfizer vaccine — rather than relying on the emergency authorization granted late last year by the F.D.A. — could help increase inoculation rates at a moment when the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus is sharply driving up the number of new cases.

    "A number of universities and hospitals, the Defense Department and at least one major city, San Francisco, are expected to mandate inoculation once a vaccine is fully approved. Final approval could also help mute misinformation about the safety of vaccines and clarify legal issues about mandates."

    •  The National Retail Federation (NRF)'s chief economist, Jack Kleinhenz, said yesterday that while the economy has been heating up, with momentum created by "government money, and fiscal policies and, more importantly, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations," concerns about new variants are "likely weighing on confidence."

    “Vaccination is the key to further economic recovery, reopening and rebuilding,” Kleinhenz said. “With the outlook for the global economy continuing to hinge on public health, vaccine numbers are extremely important, not just for the United States but for the whole world.”

    •  Axios reports that "New York City will require proof of vaccination to participate in indoor activities, including visiting gyms and restaurants, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday … The mandate is the first of its kind for a major U.S. city, according to de Blasio. France and Italy announced similar requirements last month.

    Last month, de Blasio announced that all city workers would be required to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing."

    According to the piece, "New York City will create a health pass called the 'Key to NYC Pass' for New Yorkers to provide proof of vaccination for gyms, indoor dining, and live performances and entertainment."

    •  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "San Francisco residents who received Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine against the coronavirus are now able to get a supplemental mRNA dose at city-run clinics.

    "Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s health director, confirmed Tuesday that the additional shot would be an option for those who have consulted with a physician. He stressed that San Francisco’s health department does not currently recommend that people who received Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine get an mRNA booster — a stance in line with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    "At the same time, there is no harm seen in it."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that Tyson Foods says that it will "require Covid-19 vaccinations for its U.S. workforce of about 120,000, aiming for total vaccination of the meat giant’s employees by Nov. 1.

    "The Arkansas-based company’s target, which includes both processing plant and corporate office workers, is partly subject to discussions with labor unions that represent around one-third of the company’s hourly workers, Tyson officials said. The company said it would offer a $200 bonus to its front-line workers as an incentive.

    "Chief Executive Donnie King said the effort is the best way to protect the health of Tyson’s workforce as more contagious and deadly variants of Covid-19 drive infections higher across the country."

    •  Add Microsoft to the list of companies with new coronavirus-related mandates.  The New York Times reports that the company, "which employs roughly 100,000 people in the United States, said it would require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to gain access to its offices."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Physicians working in Covid hot spots across the nation say that the patients in their hospitals are not like the patients they saw last year. Almost always unvaccinated, the new arrivals tend to be younger, many in their 20s or 30s. And they seem sicker than younger patients were last year, deteriorating more rapidly.

    "Doctors have coined a new phrase to describe them: “younger, sicker, quicker.” Many physicians treating them suspect that the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which now accounts for more than 80 percent of new infections nationwide, is playing a role.

    Studies done in a handful of other countries suggest that the variant may cause more severe disease, but there is no definitive data showing that the new variant is somehow worse for young adults.

    "Some experts believe the shift in patient demographics is strictly a result of lower vaccination rates in this group."

    •  The New York Times has a piece about how the economic implications of such a large percentage of the population that remains unvaccinated, framing the argument this way:

    "Getting hospitalized with Covid-19 in the United States typically generates huge bills. Those submitted by Covid patients to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Bill of the Month project include a $17,000 bill for a brief hospital stay in Marietta, Ga. (reduced to about $4,000 for an uninsured patient under a charity-care policy); a $104,000 bill for a 14-day hospitalization in Miami for an uninsured person; possibly hundreds of thousands for a two-week hospital stay — some of it on a ventilator — for a foreign tourist in Hawaii whose travel health insurance contained a pandemic exclusion.

    "Even though insurance companies negotiate lower prices and cover much of the cost of care, a more than $1,000 out-of-pocket bill for a deductible — plus more for copays and possibly some out-of-network care — should be a pretty scary incentive" for someone to get vaccinated and avoid such crushing bills."

    Now, the piece says, insurers are beginning to cut back on coverage for unvaccinated people:

    "In 2020, before there were Covid-19 vaccines, most major private insurers waived patient payments — from coinsurance to deductibles — for Covid treatment. But many, if not most, have allowed that policy to lapse. Aetna, for example, ended that policy on Feb. 28; UnitedHealthcare began rolling back its waivers late last year and discontinued them by the end of March.

    "More than 97 percent of hospitalized patients last month were unvaccinated. Though the vaccines will not necessarily prevent you from catching the coronavirus, they are highly effective at ensuring you will have a milder case and are kept out of the hospital.

    "For this reason, there’s logic behind insurers’ waiver rollback: Why should patients be kept financially unharmed from what is now a preventable hospitalization, thanks to a vaccine that the government paid for and made available for free?"

    The piece goes on:

    "The logic behind the policies is that the offenders’ behavior can hurt others and costs society a lot of money. If people decide not to get vaccinated and contract bad cases of Covid, they are not only exposing others in their workplace or neighborhoods; the tens or hundreds of thousands spent on their care could mean higher premiums for others as well in their insurance plans next year. What’s more, outbreaks in low-vaccination regions could help breed more vaccine-resistant variants that affect everyone."

    I am completely in favor of this approach.  If you had access to vaccines and qualified to get them, and didn't, there's no reason that your insurance company should have to pick up those bills.  I prefer carrots to sticks, but maybe we've gotten to the point that sticks are necessary.

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    •  Walmart announced yesterday that it "has contracted with Nexamp as an anchor tenant to support 129 Megawatts of community solar projects, in one of the biggest deals of its kind. The retailer is subscribing to a share of each of 23 Nexamp solar farms across New York and will receive energy credits, equivalent to approximately 50 Megawatts of the entire portfolio. Walmart has 32 stores, 4 Sam's Clubs, and one Distribution Center participating in the program across the state.

    "Walmart is subscribing to 23 Nexamp community solar projects in New York, supporting the growth of clean energy."

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    •  Hy-Vee has announced the launch of what it is calling "Hy-Vee Medicare Aisle, an agency dedicated to serving Medicare beneficiaries across its eight-state region. Hy-Vee Medicare Aisle is the newest offering to Hy-Vee Financial Services, fueled by Midwest Heritage, Hy-Vee’s banking, insurance and investments subsidiary."

    According to the company, "Hy-Vee Medicare Aisle customers can select from coverage plans including Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D and Medicare Supplement Plans, offered by a number of national and regional health insurance carriers … On Oct. 1, Hy-Vee Medicare Aisle will launch a digital quoting and enrollment tool to further assist customers in their enrollment process."

    •  Reuters reports that PepsiCo is selling its juice brands, including Tropicana, for $3.3 billion to a French private equity group called PAI Partners.  PepsiCo will keep a 39 percent stake in the company, as well as a exclusive distribution rights for the brands.

    •  MarketWatch reports that Molson Coors "is eliminating 11 'economy' brands and discontinuing about 100 SKUs in an effort to streamline its U.S. portfolio and focus on higher-end brands in its lineup.

    "The eliminated brands are: Milwaukee’s Best Premium, Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve, Keystone Ice, Hamm’s Special Light, Keylightful, Icehouse Edge, Magnum, Mickey’s Ice, High Life Light, Steel Reserve 211 and Olde English HG 8000."

    “Premiumization is here to stay at Molson Coors,” said CEO Gavin Hattersley.

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    •  Dollar General announced that Sanja Krajnovic, a division vice president with the company, has been promoted to the role of senior VP of store operations, responsible for roughly half the stores in the company's fleet.  Krajnovic joined Dollar General in 2020;  before that, she was a longtime Target executive, holding jobs that included Group Vice President, Global Supply Chain and Logistics.

    Published on: August 4, 2021

    Yesterday we reported that an official with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is recommending the nullification of the unionization vote at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse in which the tally went against organized labor.  The rationale for the recommendation is that Amazon intimidated employees during the voting process.

    MNB reader Jim Leimkuhler responded:

    We went through a union decertification process a number of years ago.  I learned then that the NLRB is totally corrupt and one sided with the unions   We got accused of so many falsehoods it became funny after awhile   But the process is so flawed and works totally against the employers.  Amazon will have their work cut out for them if this continues.  By the way, the union members at our company voted ultimately to decertify after being a union company for 49 years.  Being non-union has allowed us to grow faster and to promote our culture deeper into the organization.

    And, reacting to our ongoing pandemic coverage, one MNB reader wrote:

    My church is now requiring masks again for everyone during service.  So, I got curious about any data out there enlightening the public on how often the fully vaccinated contract Covid-19.

    To my surprise, I found the answer at the VA Department of Health website.  In the state of VA, from Jan through July 30, 2021 there have been 4.6 million full vaccinated people in the state.

    Of the 4.6 million fully vaccinated:  1,566 have gotten breakthrough cases or 0.034% … Of those, 145 required hospitalization or 0.0032% … Of those, 42 died or 0.0009%.

    This may be a snapshot, and it may be from only one state, but these numbers were hard to find.  If these numbers hold true, and with a nearly 5M sample size I’m not sure why they wouldn’t, I’m comfortable with a 0.0032% risk.

    As for my attendance at church, I don’t see the need for the fully vaccinated to put on a mask over a 0.0032% chance of hospitalization.

    It seems possible that your pastor did not explain that the reason you're being asked to wear a mask is not about you.  It is about protecting your fellow churchgoers.

    The way I understand it, as public health officials learn more about the coronavirus and grapple with the implications of the Delta Variant, they believe that even those of us who have been fully vaccinated can contract Covid-19.  We may be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, but we can still transmit the disease to others.  Like, in your case, maybe to that nice person next to you in the pew who may be immunocompromised and can't get vaccinated.  Or that child one pew ahead of you, who for the moment is too young to be vaccinated.  You know, those people who could end being among those who currently are filling up emergency room and intensive care units around the country.

    Now, I'm no Biblical scholar, but it seems to me that Matthew 25:40 says,  "'Whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me,' says the Lord Jesus."   I wonder if that might be applicable here, and a way to think about your church's requirement.

    I know that for many people, mask and vaccine mandates sound like oppression.  But freedom from oppression does not mean freedom from responsibility.

    Sounds to me like your church is not just trying to save a few souls, but maybe even a few lives.  To which I say, Amen.