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    Published on: September 21, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    Thanks to the realities of time zones, there’s a very good chance that as you are reading this column I am on stage at the National Grocers’ Association (NGA) convention in Las Vegas talking about this very same topic. And it’s one I think we need really to consider.

    As I have for the past six or seven years, I am moderating NGA’s Creative Choice competition highlighting excellence in marketing and merchandising. In years past I have written about the event to applaud operators for finding new ways to build excitement despite, in many cases, severely limited budgets.

    But this year the contest, the educational session and the entries themselves demonstrate something completely different.

    Obviously, the entries in Creative Choice this year center on activities done in the past 12 months, otherwise known as Covid-time, which means everything is and was different and possibly a little counter-intuitive. But I would argue all these activities were also possibly as necessary as ever.

    Take marketing, which usually focuses on different methods retailers (and their wholesaler partners) use to drive shoppers to stores. Except for most of Covid-time, that wasn’t a huge problem. In fact, supermarkets were largely inundated with shoppers buying everything in sight early in the pandemic. And at other times, shoppers seemed, if anything, wary of going into stores that were too busy.

    Yet marketing was as essential as ever to help stores remind shoppers of everything they had going on. In fact, some of the Creative Choice winners used their marketing communications to stay linked to their very stressed communities and to demonstrate how they were trying to help shoppers, associates and even, in some cases, local restaurants that were struggling to stay afloat.

    Things were no less complicated when it came to merchandising, which usually focuses on building in-store excitement around products, services and specials. Here too, the retailers honored in Creative Choice found ways to build merchandising excitement and linked it in many cases to Covid protocols so that shoppers could experience both excitement and safety at the same time.

    The lesson from this complex period, I think, is that creativity is always important. There’s never a time to stop marketing and merchandising even when consumers are buying every last item you have on the shelves. Good marketing and merchandising reminds them constantly that you are different, you are special and that you are looking for ways to inject excitement, new ideas and more into their shopping trip.

    Most outstanding, perhaps, were the retailers who had the courage to open and remodel stores during covid and found ways to celebrate these moments again with an eye to safety.

    The odds are that most of you reading this column aren’t in the convention hall awaiting the presentation in Las Vegas. But either way, let’s use this celebration of marketing and merchandising as a call to everyone to find a way to keep making life special even when everything about it seems so unusual and out of tune.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    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.

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    An exchange of views at a Monday morning session moderated by KC at the National Grocers Association (NGA) show in Las Vegas prompted him to think about the consequential, sometimes impossible choices that independent retailers have to make in their businesses.

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    Instacart announced yesterday that it is "introducing 24/7 delivery, unlocking the ability to shop anytime is best for you. 24/7 delivery will be available from select retail partners who are open at all hours, including select locations at stores like 7-Eleven, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, and Safeway. We’re also extending our hours for retailers who may not be open 24/7, but are open later at night or early in the morning."

    The company said in its announcement that "many of these batches will be smaller, convenience-type orders, from folks who are craving a late-night snack, need a quick diaper run, or are missing a crucial ingredient for breakfast."

    To its contract shoppers, Instacart said that "you get to choose the batches you want to shop — so if you’d rather not shop at night, you never have to. In addition to standard safety precautions like wearing brightly colored clothing and making sure your car is fully functional, we have several safety resources available for you in the Shopper app. Some of these include emergency services calling that can connect you with 911."

    KC's View:

    It was interesting to read this announcement - and let's admit it, the move reflects some one-upmanship on Amazon and other delivery concerns - at the same time as I read a piece in Mashable about how a group of Instacart contractors "published an open letter Monday asking for customers to immediately delete the app. At issue, according to the non-profit Gig Workers Collective, are longstanding pay and safety concerns."

    The letter says, in part:  "Over the last 5 years, Instacart has been relentlessly gutting shoppers' wages, exploiting its improperly classified workforce, and outright stealing shoppers' wages and tips on its path to its highly anticipated public offering."

    Betcha they're not going to be thrilled with the whole 24-hour thing.  

    By the way, if I were retailer in business with Instacart, I might be a little concerned that my brand is being represented out in the marketplace by such discontented contract employees.  Not exactly great for the brand image, methinks.

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    The Verge reports that "Amazon has now permanently banned over 600 Chinese brands across 3,000 different seller accounts" after a five-month probe, saying that they were being penalized "for knowingly, repeatedly and significantly violating Amazon’s policies, especially the ones around review abuse."

    The text of Amazon's statement:

    "Amazon works hard to build a great experience in our store so that customers can shop with confidence and sellers have the opportunity to grow their business amid healthy competition. Customers rely on the accuracy and authenticity of product reviews to make informed purchasing decisions and we have clear policies for both reviewers and selling partners that prohibit abuse of our community features. We suspend, ban, and take legal action against those who violate these policies, wherever they are in the world.

    "We will continue to improve abuse detection and take enforcement action against bad actors, including those that knowingly engage in multiple and repeated policy violations, including review abuse. We are confident that the steps we take are in the best interests of our customers as well as the honest businesses that make up the vast majority of our global selling community."

    KC's View:

    I think a lot of folks would say that it is about time, and I would argue that this has to be just the beginning - I think Amazon ought to be a lot more focused not just on the legitimacy of online reviews, but also on clearly establishing the actual provenance of the products it sells.  As a customer, I think that this is the retailer's responsibility, and Amazon certainly has the resources to deliver on it.

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    The Washington Post reports that the rate of mergers and acquisitions, especially by giant technology companies such as Amazon, has increased to the point that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) actually is unable to keep up with it.

    An excerpt:

    "Already this year, companies across all industries have sought to buy or merge with others worth at least $92 million almost 3,000 times — roughly 40 percent more than before the pandemic in 2019 — according to federal data. Regulators at the Federal Trade Commission, charged with upholding competition laws alongside the Justice Department, are warning they are unable to adequately review this magnitude of activity.

    "Regulators and antitrust advocates are particularly worried about acquisitions by Silicon Valley giants. While big acquisitions, like Amazon’s plans to purchase MGM, are the subject of press scrutiny and regulatory attention, hundreds of other purchases fly under the radar because of financial market guidelines and antitrust laws, which only require companies to disclose their largest deals. As they seek to take on tech titans’ power, regulators are increasingly paying attention to how tech companies gobble up smaller potential competitors before they have a chance to develop enough to provide consumers with serious alternatives."

    Another passage worth noting:

    "The FTC requires companies to report every acquisition worth more than $92 million. In a study released Wednesday, the FTC said Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon together made 616 acquisitions from 2010 to 2019 that fell below that reporting threshold but were worth at least $1 million. Many of those acquisitions likely were never disclosed at all."

    KC's View:

    Fascinating, and one of those things that I'm guessing most people don't know.

    I'm not sure I understand all the rationales behind how the rules are written, but it seems to me that every acquisition by a public company ought to be public knowledge.  No exceptions.  And the FTC has to have the resources with which to be able to study all this M&A activity.  (If someone wants to enlighten me on why I'm wrong about this, I'm happy to be educated.)

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    Interesting piece in The New Yorker about the booming market for non-alcoholic beverages, entitled, "An Ex-Drinker’s Search for a Sober Buzz."

    An excerpt:

    "For the North American non-alcoholic-beer drinker, who was until recently shut out of the craft-beer revolution of the past twenty years, these are hoppy times. Back in 2016, you’d be lucky to find an O’Doul’s—the non-alcoholic swill brewed by Anheuser-Busch—in the far back corner of the deli beer fridge. Five years later, the Total Wine & More chain of superstores carries biscuity stouts and hops-forward I.P.A.s from more than a dozen N.A. craft brewers across the continent, including Athletic, Partake, Bravus, Surreal, WellBeing, and Brooklyn’s Special Effects.

    "Although the N.A.-beer market in the U.S. is still tiny, at around two hundred and seventy million dollars, compared with Europe’s multibillion-dollar industry, it has grown by a third in the past year. American disdain for the liquid called “near-beer”—a derisive tag that is a hangover from Prohibition days, when non-alcoholic beer, defined by the 1919 Volstead Act as beer containing up to 0.5 per cent alcohol by volume (A.B.V.), was the only beer Americans could legally drink—appears to be finally lifting. (That 1919 definition of non-alcoholic beer remains the standard today.)"

    You can read the entire story here.

    Published on: September 21, 2021

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

    •  In the United States, there now have been 43,107,628 total Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 694,619 deaths and 32,675,982 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 229,842,453 coronavirus cases, with 4,713,807 resultant fatalities and 206,514,980 reported recoveries. (Source.)

    •  The Financial Times reports that "the number of Americans who have died from Covid-19 has surpassed the death toll from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as the US struggles to respond to a resurgence of the virus.

    "The grim milestone coincides with a new wave of severe illness and hospitalisations among largely unvaccinated people in southern and mid-western US states. This has driven the seven-day rolling average of daily Covid-19 deaths to about 1,900 — levels not seen since last winter’s deadly surge.

    "Experts warn the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant is pushing health systems in the worst-affected states into crisis and threatening the economic recovery in the US."

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 74.7 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 64 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  From the New York Times:

    "The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine has been shown to be safe and highly effective in young children aged 5 to 11 years, the companies announced early Monday morning. The news sets the stage for authorization of the vaccine for younger children, possibly before the end of October.

    "The need is urgent: Children now account for more than one in five new cases, and the highly contagious Delta variant has sent more children into hospitals and intensive care units in the past few weeks than at any other time in the pandemic.

    "Pfizer and BioNTech plan to apply to the Food and Drug Administration by the end of September for authorization to use the vaccine in these children. If the regulatory review goes as smoothly as it did for older children and adults — it took roughly a month — millions of elementary school students could begin to receive shots around Halloween.

    Trial results for children younger than 5 are not expected till the fourth quarter of this year at the earliest."

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    • reports that DoorDash has "added alcohol on-demand to its marketplace," saying that "customers across 20 states and the District of Columbia can now order wine, beer, or spirits for on-demand delivery or pickup from thousands of restaurants, grocery stores, and retailers."

    According to the story, "DoorDash said it has built an alcohol catalogue for purchase across retailers and restaurants. Additionally, with the recent roll out of DoubleDash, customers in select markets will now be able to bundle alcohol with their restaurant meal on certain orders, the company said."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "shipping rates are going up faster than they have in nearly a decade, increasing pressure on merchants to raise prices or find other ways to offset higher costs.

    "FedEx Corp. on Monday said shipping rates would go up an average of 5.9% next year across most of its services, the first time in eight years that it or rival United Parcel Service Inc. has strayed above annual increases of 4.9%.

    "UPS is expected to release its rate increase for 2022 in the coming weeks. The two carriers have moved in lockstep with their annual price increases since at least 2010, according to Transportation Insight LLC, a supply-chain management and logistics firm."

    The story notes that the higher-than-usual increase reflects how shipping companies are dealing with a moment in which demand for their services has soared, plus the impact of inflation.

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    •  The National Grocers Association (NGA) yesterday presented Gerry Kettler, director of consumer affairs at Niemann Foods, with the Thomas F. Wenning Pinnacle PAC Award.  The award, established in 2014, honors Thomas Wenning, NGA’s former executive vice president and general counsel, for his 40 years of service to NGA and the independent supermarket industry.

    At the same time, NGA awarded its annual Industry Service Award to Dennis Belcastro, vice president of industry affairs and consumer development at Kimberly-Clark North America.

    NGA also presented the annual Peter J. Larkin Community Service Award to the entire independent retailer community, saying that "considering the herculean efforts displayed by the independent grocery industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, we could not choose just one company for this honor. The entire industry stepped up to the plate, not only providing food and other necessary products, but continuing to participate in countless community service initiatives."

    The awards were presented during NGA’s two-day Executive Conference, Sept. 18-19, 2021, at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

    •  Also at the NGA Show, Ben Miller from Iowa grocery retailer Hy-Vee defeated nine other grocery baggers in the Best Bagger Championship, sponsored by PepsiCo.  Justin Kizilos, from Minnesota’s Kowalski’s Market, came in second place, winning a $5,000 cash prize. Rounding out the five finalists were Fenging Liu from Ohio’s Dorothy Lane Market, Kennedy Kartchner from Utah’s Harmons Grocery, and Alexa Sobsey from California’s Nugget Market. 

    •  CNBC reports that "CVS Health said on Monday it would fill as many as 25,000 clinical and retail jobs ahead of the flu season and as the United States prepares to administer booster Covid-19 vaccine shots.

    "The company said most of the available jobs were for full-time, part-time, and temporary licensed pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and nurses, adding that it was also looking for employees to help manage its retail stores."

    •  Bloomberg reports that Amazon founder-chairman Jeff Bezos has "revealed that $1 billion of his $10 billion Earth Fund pledge to fight climate change will be directed to conservation efforts, principally targeting key areas for biodiversity and carbon stocks.

    The first of the grants will be released this year with a focus on the Congo Basin, tropical Andes and tropical Pacific Ocean."

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    …will return.

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    For the first time in quite a while, I'm looking forward to being on the road and having the opportunity to spend time (taking all appropriate pandemic-related precautions, of course) with members of the MNB community - always one of my favorite things to do over the past two decades.

    Today, at The NGA Show, I will be facilitating the e-commerce education track that will take place starting at 1:15 pm, with speakers talking about issues that include auto-replenishment and micro-fulfillment centers.

    I hope you'll come say hello.  It has been way too long…

    Published on: September 21, 2021

    In Monday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Detroit Lions 35-17.