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    Published on: September 29, 2021

    Content Guy's Note:  Section 204 of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) requires the FDA to designate foods for which additional record-keeping requirements are appropriate and necessary to protect public health, and to establish those record-keeping requirements.  This isn't just bureaucratic hooptedoodle … it is the foundation for traceability regulations that will begin being enforced late next year, and that will require food companies up and down the supply chain to provide specific information to the FDA pretty much on demand.

    A sizable percentage of the food industry is not prepared to deliver that information to FDA - not because the information does not exist, but because it often is not shared, accessible or consistent.  But now, there is concerted effort to address this problem, to convert the challenge into an opportunity - the creation of the Food Traceability Leadership Consortium, which specifically focuses on creating a Traceability Network that meets the demands of an FDA that is newly activist in its enforcement of rules that go back years.

    I recently had the opportunity to speak with members of the Consortium:  Chris Gindorff, Senior Manager Food Safety and Quality at Lund Food Holdings … Jennifer Crandall, CEO of Safe Food En Route … and Randy Fields, Chairman and CEO of  ReposiTrak, which has engineered the technology that powers the Traceability Network.

    Full disclosure:  ReposiTrak has been an MNB sponsor, but it struck me that this was a lousy reason not to do an editorial piece about an issue that, if not addressed, represents a potential existential threat to the food supply chain.

    I hope you find our conversation illuminating and actionable.

    You can find out more about the Traceability Network here.

    Click below if you'd like to listen or download this conversation as an audio podcast.

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    Ahold Delhaize-owned The Giant Company of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, announced yesterday the "the launch of GIANT Instant Delivery and MARTIN’S Instant Delivery, providing customers with convenience delivery chainwide. With convenience as one of the most popular categories on Instacart, GIANT Instant Delivery provides customers with fresh groceries, convenience items, and household essentials from early morning to late at night in as fast as 30 minutes."

    The offering appears to be similar to that made by Kroger just two weeks ago, when it said that it was launching Kroger Delivery Now, a collaboration with Instacart that it said would allow it to deliver online orders in 30 minutes.

    Both offerings are being powered by what is being called Instacart’s Convenience Hub, described as "a new product feature that streamlines the convenience shopping experience for customers."

    KC's View:

    When I went back to look at the Kroger Delivery Now story, I noticed this quote from Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen:

    "Kroger Delivery Now is a differentiated solution in the e-commerce industry, not just the grocery sector."

    Maybe not so differentiated, huh?

    Giant, despite the fact that its parent company's ownership of Peapod actually did give it a differentiated e-commerce offering, has been in business with Instacart since 2017.

    Give Instacart credit.  It keeps making inroads in terms of getting bigger and bigger pieces of its retail clients' business, and somehow manages to persuade them that this will be good for them long-term.

    And those clients keep handing over pieces of their business to Instacart, along with customer information, and giving up important elements of the customer experience while diluting their ability to differentiate themselves.

    I think 30-minute delivery is a smart offering, especially because it raises the stakes in the battle against Amazon at a time when that company's Whole Foods division is raising the price on deliveries.

    But at what cost?

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    National Public Radio's Marketplace has a story about how unionization efforts seem to be getting some traction in the restaurant industry.

    Some context from the piece:

    "The food-and-beverage industry has one of the lowest unionization rates in the U.S. — 3.4% of workers last year, compared to the overall rate of nearly 10.8%. But workers from some high-profile shops hope to narrow that gap and have tried to organize at San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing; Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon; and, most recently, a group of Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York."

    This isn't entirely new;  unionization in the restaurant business started at the end of the 19th century.  But union representation in the industry declined even as it also dropped overall in the US.

    But … "in recent years, though, momentum to organize has grown. Public support for unions is at the highest level in almost two decades, with two-thirds of Americans approving of them, according to a recent Gallup poll," at least in part because of all the pandemic-related stress being felt among front line workers.

    KC's View:

    One has to wonder if this trend will bleed over into other kinds of retailing, especially if front line workers continue to feel that they are not being taken care of to an appropriate degree.

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    CNBC reports on Amazon's fall product event that occurred yesterday, which included the unveiling of its first smart thermostat … the Echo Show 15, which is big enough to hang on a wall (like a flat-screen TV) … a partnership with Disney that resulted in a 'Hey, Disney' Echo Show … Amazon Glow, "a video calling device that projects games that kids can play with other people" … a flying indoor surveillance drone  … a "new Halo View fitness tracker and Halo Fitness and Halo Nutrition service" … and a new Amazon Astro home robot (pictured below).

    In its coverage of the event, the Washington Post writes, "Amazon failed to make a viable smartphone so it can’t compete with Google and Apple on their own turf. Instead, the company wants to dominate the home and is throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, literally … the company showed a number of other new products and services that all monitor you in some way to figure out what you want, when you want it and maybe if it’s something Amazon can sell you for it."

    The Post notes that "at the heart of almost all its new products is some form of surveillance. Some of it is traditional, in the form of Ring cameras and security services meant to protect a home or family from crime or other danger."  But some of the offerings push the envelope on what is viable or even acceptable to and for consumers.

    KC's View:

    This just illustrates the point we've been making here on MNB for a long time - that Amazon's vision of its future has less to do with e-commerce and more to do with being intertwined in every facet of people's lives.

    While there is something disquieting about the degree to which it could be in our homes and lives, it is hard to argue with the proposition that its platforms can serve as an organizing principle, bringing together all these different elements that can make our live easier.  The questions are, a) will people actually buy into this vision, and b) how many of these products will prove to be viable in the long-term?  

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    The Conference Board is out with its monthly assessment of consumer confidence, saying that "confidence among U.S. consumers fell in September for the third consecutive month, as the Delta variant of Covid-19 and concerns about inflation weighed on households’ moods," the Wall Street Journal reports, adding, "The consumer-confidence index fell to 109.3 in September from a revised 115.2 in August, according to data released Tuesday."

    The story goes on:  "In September, concerns about the state of the economy and short-term growth prospects deepened, while spending intentions for homes, autos and major appliances all retreated again, Ms. Franco said. Short-term inflation concerns eased somewhat but remained elevated, she said."

    The Journal notes that "another consumer-sentiment survey carried out by the University of Michigan showed that Americans’ sentiment stabilized in September at subdued levels. The University of Michigan survey is more focused on consumers’ attitudes toward buying conditions, while the Conference Board survey focuses more on labor-market conditions."

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    The New Yorker, as usual, offers a nuanced look at the supply chain issues that are contributing to product shortages in so many categories.

    To be sure, the story says, "Americans are not facing Soviet-style empty shelves, or having to scrap for the basics. In aggregate, we are hardly in a condition of scarcity. Still, supply-chain trouble suggests that something is off with the way we’re operating in the world, and that we don’t yet know the extent of our vulnerabilities. The issues can also be a serious impediment to a broader economic recovery."

    You can read the entire story here.

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    CBS Mornings this week featured a story about descendants of Procter & Gamble co-founder James Gamble, who are pushing the company to be more conscious about the impact its products and packaging are having on the environment, especially because of growing climate change concerns.

    Interesting piece, reflective of deepening passions about this issue, and you can watch it here:

    KC's View:

    There seems to have been a sea-change - pun intended - in the degree of broad public consciousness about climate change and environmental issues, and both retailers and suppliers need to be thinking about it and factoring it into their strategies and tactics.  You just can't ignore it, lest you find yourself being targeted by activists in very public forums.

    Published on: September 29, 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 US, there now have been 44,054,825 total coronavirus cases, resulting in 711,222 deaths and 33,520,958 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 233,644,163 total coronavirus cases, with 4,781,097 resultant fatalities and 210,457,637 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.3 percent of the US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 64.9 percent being fully vaccinated.

    •  The New York Times reports that "Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Tuesday that they had submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration that the companies said showed their coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective in children ages 5 to 11.

    "The companies said they would submit a formal request to regulators to allow a pediatric dose of their vaccine to be administered in the United States in the coming weeks. Similar requests will be filed with European regulators and in other countries.

    "The announcement, coming as U.S. schools have resumed amid a ferocious wave of the highly contagious Delta variant, brings many parents another step closer to the likelihood of a coronavirus vaccine for their children."

    •  The Washington Post reports that United Airlines is saying that almost all its employees now have been vaccinated for the coronavirus, and that it "it has begun the process of terminating 593 employees who declined to be vaccinated and did not apply for a health or religious exemption. The company said less than 3 percent of its roughly 67,000 workforce applied for exemptions, while 1 percent didn’t comply."

    “This is a historic achievement for our airline and our employees as well as for the customers and communities we serve,” chief executive Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart wrote in a memo to employees. “Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s U.S.-based employees was simple — to keep our people safe — and the truth is this: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work.”

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "Harvard Business School has moved most of its M.B.A. classes online following a spate of breakthrough Covid-19 infections among its students.

    "The move to remote instruction for all first-year courses and some second-year courses will run until at least Oct. 3, the school said, and comes about a month after the start of classes. It is one of the first instances of a major university halting some in-person instruction this fall and signifies the challenges that schools, which have traditionally attracted students with their in-person teaching and socializing, face as they bring students back."

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    •  MediaPost reports that "DoorDash is extending its restaurant delivery reach in a partnership with Los Angeles-online ordering platform Dylish, which serves some 300 eateries … Launched at the outset of the pandemic in April 2020, Dylish offers restaurants a three-tiered, monthly subscription service that provides customized apps and a range of logistical and marketing assets."

    According to the story, "the news comes about a week after DoorDash began to offer delivery of beer, spirits and wine in 20 states and launched an extensive partnership with Bed Bath & Beyond."

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    •  Yesterday, MNB pointed out stories saying that an increasingly popular option for consumers is buy-now-pay-later, which some retailers - such as Walmart - are using in place of traditional layaway programs.

    Today, the New York Times reports that Mastercard is cutting itself in on the action, announcing plans "for a new pay-later offering that it said would enable banks, financial technology companies, digital wallets and other lenders to provide a variety of installment payment options to their customers, whether they are making purchases online or in a store.

    "Given Mastercard’s infrastructure that processes credit and debit payments, the program has the potential to ramp up competition in a segment dominated by upstarts like Afterpay, Sezzle, Klarna and Zip … Mastercard’s program will provide consumer protections commonly associated with credit cards, including zero-liability fraud protection and the ability to challenge unrecognized charges, the company said."

    Published on: September 29, 2021

    Yesterday we wrote about the new edition of the dunnhumby Consumer Pulse Survey, which found that "64% of U.S. consumers reported that grocery stores are not doing a good job with COVID-19, compared to February 2021 when 50% of respondents reported grocers were doing a good job. Furthermore, 83% reported that the government isn’t doing a good job either, marking the lowest point of confidence in the government’s handling of the crisis, and the second-lowest globally."

    MNB reader Dave Parker responded:

    Survey says 84% of people think the government is not doing a good job managing COVID? Government is “we, the people.” As long as “we, the people” are not fully vaccinated against COVID, it will not be possible for the “government” to do a good job.


    I commented that many of the issues with which customers take issue with stores are actually beyond the retailers' control, prompting one MNB reader to write:

    You are correct! So much is out of the stores control. The cost of goods, availability of goods, the covid issues for our companies that supply us, the availability of transportation, all before it gets to the stores. Then we deal with short staffing, teammates call in sick, they are out a minimum of 3 days because of the restraints applied by our company, which increases the short staffing. Then for customers to hold stores accountable because other customers are not vaccinated? (Which is an assumption on their part.)

    Putting store personnel in that firing line (poor choice of words in light of recent news) would be horrible. My team is working long hours and many days in a row. Now to add the shot mandate or weekly testing creates another level of conflict store management has to contend with. Full disclosure, I'm vaccinated, many of my team isn't. The days of running a grocery store like we did pre-corona? Long gone. They want normal? Hell we all do. But what will be the new normal? Who knows. All I do know, I have a great team that shows up everyday, and gives their best to service our customers. I can't ask any more of them than that. I love the business, but not what it has become.

    Reacting to Michael Sansolo's column yesterday, which pointed out the degree to which QR codes can make it easy for retailers and restaurants to communicate information to patrons, MNB reader Rich Heiland wrote:

    Totally agree with Michael, but again there is an assumption that everyone has a cell phone and is savvy when it comes to food and drink menus. Most restaurants in our town have gone this route. The other night my wife and I walked down the street (we live in downtown and it is cool!) for beers and a snack. We didn't take our phone, wondering how it would be to sit and look at each other, have conversations. Oops. No menus. Fortunately they had backup paper. I will take the phone next time and discipline myself to keep it in my pocket except for ordering. I think I know how that will go. 🙂

    Finally, I posted an email yesterday that read:

    Over a month ago (August 18th to be exact) you had reported that 70.1% of the US population had at least 1 dose (if not fully vaccinated) of the COVID vaccine. Here we are about 40 days later, and one would expect that would be the % fully vaccinated.  Instead today there are slightly less than 65% fully vaccinated.

    What happened to the other 5%? Are people just not taking the second shot, or is reporting running that far behind?

    I said I'd try to figure it out, but then MNB reader Art Ruder did my work for me:

    I went back in the archives and found on August 18th you wrote:

    "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 70.1 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 59.5 percent being fully vaccinated."

    On September 27th you wrote:

    "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 75.2 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 64.7 percent being fully vaccinated."

    It appears that the 5% that the reader referred to didn't go anywhere.  In one case (Aug 18th) the reader cited the percentage of the population age 12 and over that has received at least one dose and in the other (Sept 27th) referenced the percentage that is fully vaccinated.

    Thanks for that.  I was afraid that my dyscalculia was raising its ugly head.