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    Published on: September 24, 2021

    A recent trip to Northern California resulted in KC hanging out in a winery with Oregon roots, which was only part of the reason he was reminded of the delight and surprise that businesses can offer, some of which has been lost to the realities of the pandemic.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    Six months after a Kroger-owned King Soopers store in Boulder, Colorado, suffered a mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of 10 people, there was another mass shooting at a Kroger store in Collierville, Tennessee, that resulted in the death of one victim and at least a dozen injuries.

    In the case of the Tennessee shooting, which occurred about 20 miles east of Memphis, the shooter also is dead, of what was reported to be suicide.

    According to Fox News, "The Collierville Police Department originally received a call regarding an active shooter at Kroger at around 1:30 p.m., authorities said. Kroger employee Brignetta Dickerson said she was working the cash register Thursday when shots rang out … Police said 44 employees were in the store at the time of the shooting, though it was unclear how many customers were inside."

    Collierville police Chief Dale Lane called it "the most horrific event" in the town's history.

    Kroger is said to have "initiated counseling services for its employees. The store will remain closed during the police investigation."

    The Commercial Appeal reports that "witnesses described a chaotic, terrifying scene where Kroger workers hid in freezers and hunkered down in locked offices. One Kroger employee was rescued from the roof."

    The New York Times reports that "a spokeswoman for the town of Collierville, Jennifer Casey, said the gunman had been employed by a 'third-party vendor of Kroger' but she declined to share the name of the vendor."

    No motive for the shootings has been established.

    KC's View:

    Beyond the fact that this is a tragedy that reflects a growing trend in America - according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 517 mass shootings in the US this year (a mass shooting is one in which a minimum of four people have been shot) - it seems to me that this is an area in which retailers are going to be increasingly  vulnerable to lawsuits brought by victims and their families.

    At the National Grocers Association (NGA) show this week, there was an exhibitor who was actually selling armed violent intruder training programs.  The pitch is that if retailers and their employees are not sufficiently trained and adequate precautions not put in place to prevent attempted mass murders, then they could be found liable for damages.  There has to be policy, but there also have to be procedures, training, and repeated drills.

    I'm not sure what all this means.  Metal detectors in stores?  More armed, trained security guards?  A total ban on customers carrying weapons into stores?  Personally, I am comfortable with all of this, but I know that these kinds of  rules would be politically and culturally untenable in places around the country where I do not live.

    At a time when retailers already are dealing with supply chain issues, labor shortages, and debates about mask and vaccine mandates, the discussion about what to do about mass shootings in America's retailers has to be a high priority.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    Fox Business reports that Target "is looking to fill 100,000 seasonal positions across the country, down from the 130,000 positions that had been available in years past. 

    "Instead, the company said it's providing 5 million more hours for its existing team members, which will equate to more than $75 million in additional pay, according to Target."

    KC's View:

    Fedex wants to hire 90,000, UPS wants 100,000 and Amazon 125,000 more workers for the holidays.  One expert told National Public Radio's Marketplace, “I don’t know where all those people are gonna come from."

    Based both on the broad labor shortage and the fact that there are a lot of other companies looking to hire tens of thousands of people, it seems to me that Target's current employees may be getting even more overtime than anticipated.  

    The broader issue - too many jobs and not enough available employees - is one that puts even greater pressure on businesses to improve their pay and benefits and, ion they are smart, work even harder to develop "caring cultures" that seem attractive to workers.

    I feel like I'm singing the same song that I've been warbling here for almost 20 years - if businesses want workers to feel invested in their companies (and they should), they need to invest in employees and make sure that they feel like assets, not costs.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    The New York Times reports that the New York City Council took "aggressive steps" to improve the working conditions and wages of delivery workers there.

    Context from the story:

    "On Thursday, the city became the first in the nation to take aggressive steps to improve those employees’ working conditions, approving a groundbreaking package of legislation that will set minimum pay and address the plight of couriers employed by app-based food delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.

    "The legislation, which has the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, is the latest and most broad example of the city’s efforts to regulate the multibillion dollar industry. While other cities have taken steps to restrict the food delivery apps, no city has gone as far as New York, which is home to the largest and most competitive food delivery market in the country.

    "The vote comes at a time when the food delivery industry has exploded as restaurants have relied increasingly on delivery services to survive during the pandemic. The number of delivery workers, most of them immigrants, has risen to over 80,000, according to the city, yet their working conditions remain difficult at best and horrendous at worst."

    According to the story, "The package of bills … falls short in a variety of ways, representatives of the workers said. The delivery workers, for example, would still be classified as independent contractors who are ineligible for workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits."

    The Times writes that "a survey of 500 app food delivery workers by the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Workers Justice Project found that 42 percent of workers had experienced being underpaid or not paid at all. Nearly half said they had crashed while delivering food and 75 percent of those said they used their own money to pay for their medical care. Fifty-four percent reported being robbed and 30 percent said they were assaulted during the robbery."

    KC's View:

    Will this result in higher rates and charges?  Sure.

    But to be honest, there's nothing really wrong with that.

    I've been making the argument here on MNB for a long time that in this country, nobody really knows what things cost.  It is all sort of hidden, obscured by promotions and sales and clutter.   Maybe customers who want the convenience of having food delivered ought to pay for the privilege … it is simply not fair that one group of people should be able to enjoy one standard of living at the expense of another.

    "Free delivery" has become a cost of doing business, but it isn't really free, is it?  Somebody has to pay.  Probably shouldn't be the people doing the actual work.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece about Amazon's plans for a department store format that it believes could redefine the concept.

    According to the story, it "will aim to boost its apparel sales by offering shoppers a chance to try on clothes from its own private-label brands in technology-fueled dressing rooms, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "The department stores, which the online shopping company could open next year, will primarily function as a place for Amazon to sell T-shirts, jeans and other items from its own labels, as well as a mix of outside brands that sell clothing on its website, the people said. Amazon wants to see if the potential department stores can improve the brand recognition of its apparel while addressing some of the irritants of both online and bricks-and-mortar clothes shopping, they said.

    "One idea that has been tested is for customers to scan QR codes of items they want to try on by using a smartphone app and for associates in the store to gather the items and place them in fitting rooms, the people said … Once there, customers could ask for more items using a touch screen, which might be capable of recommending additional clothing based on the pieces shoppers liked. The rooms could use sliding doors for associates to bring more clothes without seeing shoppers, the people said. Robots or other forms of automation could eventually be deployed in the stores, one of the people said."

    The first editions of the proposed stores are expected to open near San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio.

    KC's View:

    Mark me down as "undecided" about whether this is a good idea, though I could be persuaded if these "department stores" also serve as MFCs that are closer to shoppers than a regular distribution center might be.

    That said, Amazon might know something that I don't know.  

    Published on: September 24, 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:  43,532,306 total cases … 702,978 deaths … and 33,033,525 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  231,471,170 total cases … 4,744,170 fatalities … and 208,151,224 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 74.9 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 64.3 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  The New York Times reports that the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices yesterday recommended that booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be made available to a wide range of Americans, including those older than 65 and younger people at high risk for the disease because of medical conditions.

    However, the committee did not follow a recommendation made by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which suggested that booster shots also be available to all adults in occupations where they could be at high risk of contracting the disease.

    In what the Times described as "a highly unusual decision," CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky overruled the advisory committee "and endorsed additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for health care workers, teachers and other workers at risk."

    This move only applies to people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.  Deliberations continues about booster shots for people who have received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

    •  The New York Times reports that "Delta Air Lines is urging airlines to respond to the extraordinary surge in unruly behavior in the skies by creating a national 'no fly' list of barred customers, according to a memo sent to flight attendants on Wednesday.

    "Delta already has more than 1,600 people on its own 'no fly' list, according to the memo."

    As far as I am concerned, airline passengers who decide to be unruly because they disagree with mask mandates are lucky if they're only put on a no-fly list.  Flying is stressful enough these days, and they probably ought to be tossed out an airlock.

    •  Zeta Global is out with a new Covid-related study concluding that 73.26% of respondents are not planning to travel during holiday weekends … 51.06% of are not planning to attend indoor activities this fall … and 42.65% of responders are more likely to attend indoor events if there is a vaccination requirement.

    The company said that 73 percent of the people surveyed were vaccinated.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    •  CBS News reports that "Walmart will no longer offer items on layaway this holiday shopping season.

    "The retailer said consumer shopping habits have changed.  'Last holiday season, we removed seasonal layaway from most of our stores with the exception of select jewelry items at select stores, and based on what we learned, we are confident that our payment options provide the right solutions for our customers,' a Walmart spokesperson said."

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    •  Weis Markets and DoorDash yesterday announced "a new partnership to offer on-demand grocery delivery from over 170 Weis Markets stores across seven states including New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware."

    According to the announcement, "DoorDash will offer more than 47,000 items from Weis Markets including fresh meat and seafood, produce, dairy, snacks, and more grocery staples. Whether shopping for a week’s worth of groceries or simply stocking up on last minute ingredients for a new recipe, consumers can now shop for their favorite Weis Markets products on the DoorDash marketplace app and website, with average delivery in an hour … Weis Markets is available on DashPass, DoorDash's membership program that offers members unlimited $0 delivery fees and reduced service fees from thousands of restaurants, grocery, and convenience stores nationwide. DashPass members can enjoy these benefits on all eligible orders of $25 or more from Weis Markets.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Associated Press reports that "the number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week for a second straight week to 351,000, a sign that the Delta variant of the coronavirus may be disrupting the job market’s recovery, at least temporarily.

    "Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims rose by 16,000 from the previous week. As the job market has strengthened, unemployment aid applications, which generally track layoffs, have tumbled since topping 900,000 early this year, reflecting the economy’s reopening after the pandemic recession. The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week swings, registered its sixth straight drop — to a pandemic low of 336,000.

    "Jobless claims still remain somewhat elevated: Before the virus tore through the economy in March 2020, they generally numbered about 220,000 a week."

    •  Ahold Delhaize this week announced that it has opened its new one million-square foot distribution center in Manchester, Connecticut, which it said is a major step in its goal of becoming 85 percent self-distributing by the end of next year.

    The facility is primed to handle about 1.7 million cases of groceries a week and supply more than 450 Stop & Shop stores.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    Yesterday we took note of a Fast Company story about Stitch Fix, which has built a $1.7 billion business with 4.1 million active users out of a styling service model that uses "a combination of data and human stylists to send customers boxes of personalized products from dozens of brands."

    Now, the story says, Stitch Fix is launching "a new platform called Freestyle that creates a customized store for every shopper. It’s designed to mimic the discovery process of a traditional department store, where brands and styles are showcased together, rather than a typical e-commerce site, where you have to search for exactly what you want. This new approach to shopping has the potential to grow Stitch Fix’s business beyond its subscription model - and also transform the way we shop online."

    MNB reader Kathleen Ottaviano responded:

    I tried Stitch Fix several years ago, pre-pandemic.  While I did buy a few items, overall I wasn't impressed with the clothes they suggested for me.  I feel that it's more data driven than really using a 'human' stylist and as such, I didn't fit neatly into an algorithm. 

    For me, an appointment with a Nordstrom stylist is the way to go.  You actually work with an actual human being who listens to what you're looking for and what budget you want to work with.  You walk into a fitting room with all these options to try on.   Something doesn't fit?  She'll get the size for me on the spot.  No returning items and waiting.   I end up buying items I never would have tried on if not for the suggestion of the stylist.  

    Nordstrom also offers a subscription-like service, Truck Club, that friends rave about.  

    No other on-line or b&m retailer beats Nordstrom in this arena.  

    I have a stylist, too.  His name is LL Bean.  

    We had a piece the other day about how the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that Kroger-owned Fred Meyer and QFC stores violated federal labor law last fall when they barred employees from wearing Black Lives Matter buttons at work.

    One MNB reader responded, in part:

    Are people OK with this Soviet/Cuban style law? WOW we are rotting from inside out like all great empires have done.

    I pointed out:

    I'm guessing that the Soviet and Cuban authorities would be more likely to tell people not to wear such buttons as opposed to saying that people should be allowed to wear them.

    MNB reader Jeff Gartner agreed:

    Kevin, I don't understand one reader's comments on the NLRB's ruling. The government is NOT saying which political related pins or apparel a person can wear or not wear. Instead, they're saying your employer cannot stipulate this as well. It seems that the NLRB ruled in favor of freedom of speech, not against it as the  commenter misperceived.

    I'm not sure employee free speech was exactly the issue the reader was really concerned about.

    Regarding the robotic coffee kiosk at San Francisco International that I showed yesterday on video, one MNB reader wrote:

    While we all need to get used to more automation in many segments of our lives, part of the appeal of coffee shops has been the interaction with the barista, the whirring and aroma from the grinding equipment, the customization of various beverages, and the general theater of the espresso beverage creation. I was additionally surprised to see Intelligentsia Coffee as the product being served, as Intelligentsia, since its inception, has prided themselves on the in-store experience, barista interaction, open viewing of their espresso tamping and beverage production, and became one of the early benchmarks for this experience. They are now served by a nameless robotic arm at SFO.  Shame!      

    MNB focused yesterday on a Los Angeles Times story about how California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law legislation that "gives Amazon and other warehouse workers new power to fight quotas, which critics say have fostered dangerous conditions by pressuring workers to skip bathroom breaks and skirt safety measures."

    One MNB reader replied:

    I realize this is primarily aimed at Amazon/Door Dash etc., but technically affects all CA Grocery and Foodservice warehouses too.  There may be a good reason in certain circumstances to address grievances - which the NLRB, Dept of Labor & OHSA, is staffed and equipped to handle.  However this strikes me as broadly anti-business, and generally divisive to labor/management working relations - at a time when staffing is stretched thin, which does affect products getting to retail stores.  The net effect may be lower in-stock conditions, and consumers moving to On-line - thus more pressure on Amazon & others (ironically) to deliver more with their reduced capacity.  I say let's have another law, and agency - to fix these unintended consequences.

    We reported yesterday that the Specialty Food Association (SFA) announced that it is relocating its 2022 Winter Fancy Food Show from Moscone Center in San Francisco to the Las Vegas Convention Center, on February 6-8.

    I commented:

    It is possible that San Francisco - even though California's current Covid numbers are low - simply was not equipped to handle the show in 2022, though having just spend a few days in Vegas, I'm dubious that the city's safety protocols will be sufficient.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    Have you been to San Francisco lately?

    And from another reader:

    Just maybe the SFA decision to depart San Francisco had more to do with the (literally) fetid and lawless conditions of this once great city.  It’s not ALL about Covid KC …


    I'll get to that in a second.

    First, a comment from MNB reader Stewart Sundholm:

    Really - Vegas? The whole joy of attending the show in SF (and NYC) is being able to visit the myriad of specialty retailers in each city devoted to curating unique and "Special" offerings.

    No offense to Sin City - but I don't recall a robust indie/specialty food retailing scene last time I was there.

    What's next - Summer Fancy Food show in Atlantic City?

    I think it is entirely fair to observe that San Francisco, like a lot of cities, has been suffering from a lot of issues that are the result of the pandemic that created upheaval throughout the country and the world.

    But San Francisco remains one of the great cities in the country and the world.  Dealing with some tough issues now (true - not all of them created by the pandemic), but at its core a place of great sophistication, a terrific baseball team, not to mention fantastic food and wine - which is what made it such a great location for the Fancy Food Show.

    I hope that Las Vegas is just a temporary solution, and that when San Francisco has had a chance to catch its collective breath and get past some of its current troubles, the show will return there.

    Finally…The Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) announced this week that its annual trade show, originally scheduled for November 14-16, 2021, now will take place January 30-February 1, 2022.  The location is the same - the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Chicago.

    I commented:

    I admire PLMA's optimism about the new year, though it seems a little overly so considering that pandemic numbers generally get worse during the winter months, not better.  And it isn't like PLMA will be able to have outside events - it will be late January in Chicago.  In fact, weather could end up being a bigger problem than Covid.

    One MNB reader responded, in one of my favorite emails of the year:

    Obviously, the decision to move the dates to January/February in Chicago was made at a bar in Miami.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    In Thursday Night Football, the Carolina Panthers beat the Houston Texans 24-9.

    Published on: September 24, 2021

    …will return next week.

    That's it for this week.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    Stay safe.  Be healthy.