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    Published on: October 14, 2021

    Marketing expert Seth Godin has some thoughts about the future of retailing and how some retailers, "in their eagerness to compete on price and their focus on selling things that everyone else is selling," end up not standing for anything.  KC thinks that sound sort of familiar.

    Published on: October 14, 2021

    by Kevin Coupe

    I could not help but be touched yesterday by the comments made by actor William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame when he returned from a brief trip to the edge of space in a rocket built by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space travel company.

    Shatner, 90, became the oldest person ever to go into space, and he seemed overwhelmed by emotion upon his return.

    "“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine,” Shatner told Bezos, adding that the line that exists between the earth and the darkness of space seemed "immeasurably small … this air which is keeping us alive is thinner than your skin."

    ""I hope I never recover, that I can maintain what I feel now,"Shatner said, as he was moved to tears.  "I don't want to lose it. It's so much larger than me and life." 

    Shatner said, "It was unbelievable … To see the blue cover go whoop by. And now you’re staring into blackness. That’s the thing. The covering of blue, this sheet, this blanket, this comforter of blue that we have around us. We say, ‘Oh that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it and all of a sudden, like you whip the sheet off you when you’re asleep, you’re looking into blackness … You look down, there’s the blue down there, and the black up there. There is Mother and Earth and comfort and there is … Is there death? I don’t know. Was that death? Is that the way death is? Whoop and it’s gone. Jesus. It was so moving to me."

    (Shatner probably equated the darkness of space and "death" perhaps more than Bezos would've preferred, but that may be more a function of his age and an awareness that he does not have that much time left.  If nothing else, his comments seemed raw and visceral.)

    I was touched in part by what appeared to be honest emotion and also, to be fair, by my lifelong affection for "Star Trek" and Shatner;  it has been more than a half-century since the original series in which he starred was cancelled, and yet it never has lost its grip on many people's imagination and dreams about a better world and universe.  Including mine.

    But … sometimes imagination gives way to reality. 

    As the New Shepard spacecraft took off from its West Texas home for its 10-plus minute trip into space (Shatner was one of four passengers - one was a Blue Origin executive and the other two were paying customers as $250,000 a pop), the company and Bezos are under fire for the creation of a toxic workplace culture.  To be fair, Blue Origin has disputed the allegations, but the fact that Amazon, the behemoth also founded by Bezos, often is accused of paying less attention than it should to workplace culture (especially in its supply chain operations), would seem to give the accusations some credence.

    I'm not one of those people who believes that all these rich folks investing in space flight (Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk are Bezos' rivals/brethren in looking to the skies for opportunities and inspiration) is a waste of time, money and resources.  This often is how industries are created, and it seems to me that there is nothing wrong with acting on one's dreams if one has the money and the compulsion.  (Within reason, of course.)  What are Amazon and Tesla if not the realization of dreams?

    It is not like these folks are not investing in more earthbound realities with real-world implications.  Can Bezos do better?  Sure.  I've argued here for some time that if he brought as much inspiration to creating a 21st century workplace throughout the company as he has brought to creating a 21st century business model, Amazon might be truly amazing on a wide variety of levels.

    The launch of Blue Origin strikes me as a symbol of what is possible.  On Earth and beyond.  I'm glad that they sent up Shatner, who could bring attention to Bezos' enterprise and give some measure of poetry to the experience.  I hope that in the future, Bezos continues to offer a seat or two on each flight to people from a wide variety of disciplines.  Maybe a politician or two (though, depending on who they are, people may root for them to just keep going).  Maybe a real poet (Amanda Gorman comes to mind) or playwright (Lin-Manuel Miranda?).  

    People who could go through this Eye-Opening experience and gain a new perspective, and then offer one.  

    Published on: October 14, 2021

    The Fairfield Citizen reports that Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop has signed a deal with Instacart "for what it calls Stop & Shop Express: shoppers with an Instacart Express membership, along with a $10 minimum order and a $2.99 delivery fee, can get Stop & Shop orders delivered in as fast as 30 minutes

    "There is no limit on the amount of groceries consumers can order via Stop & Shop Express. And they also can shop from the more than 30,000 convenience items including prepared foods, snacks, beverages, paper goods, cleaners and baby products when ordering via Stop & Shop Express."  The service will be available seven days a week, the story says, at any hour of the day that local Stop & Shop stores are open.

    Gordon Reid, president of Stop & Shop. said “customers’ lives are busier than ever, and this service will help make things easier for them.”

    KC's View:

    What he neglects to say is that isn't exactly an original idea.  Twice in the past few weeks, virtually the same announcement has been made - first for Kroger, and then for The Giant Company of Carlisle, Pennsylvania (also owned by Ahold Delhaize).

    In other words, this isn't a differentiated idea because Instacart seems to be out there peddling it to everybody.

    Now, one might argue that Stop & Shop doesn't compete with Kroger, so does it really matter?  But let's remember that it was just a couple of days ago that Kroger announced that it is coming to the northeastern US with a pure-play e-commerce model, which potentially puts it in direct competition with Stop & Shop.

    So much for being differentiated.

    Let me reiterate something I said when the Giant 30-minute deal was announced.

    Stop & Shop did have a differentiated offering.  Peapod.  And yet, it continues to do business with Instacart in what appears to be an ongoing effort to commoditize its own e-commerce option.

    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: October 14, 2021

    The September Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey is out, concluding that "the U.S. online grocery market generated $8.0 billion in sales during September, driven by $6.4 billion from the pickup/delivery segment and $1.7 billion from ship-to-home … During September, 64.1 million, essentially one out of two U.S. households, bought groceries online, a 16% increase versus August 2020."

    For the same period, the survey says, "pickup/delivery’s combined monthly active user (MAU) base grew more than 33% while the ship-to-home user base contracted by over 12%.

    "Since January 2021, the average number of orders placed by MAUs has consistently ranged between 2.66 and 2.83, and September 2021 continued this trend with MAUs placing an average of 2.76 orders. In contrast, pre-pandemic, the average number of online orders was significantly lower at just 2.03 (August 2019)."

    Published on: October 14, 2021

    Axios reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday issued new guidance that asks the makers of "processed, packaged, and prepared foods" to reduce the amount of sodium in their products … The FDA says the goal is to get people to voluntarily reduce their sodium consumption to 3,000 milligrams daily over the next two and a half years, compared to the 3,400 milligrams a day that Americans consume on average.

    "That is still more than the official recommendation of 2,300 milligrams a day, but the agency says that the '2.5-year goals are intended to balance the need for broad and gradual reductions in sodium and what is publicly known about technical and market constraints on sodium reduction and reformulation'."

    The story says that more than 70 percent of sodium intake in the US can be traced to 

    "sodium added during food manufacturing and commercial food preparation."\

     "We need to get to a place as a nation where we not only react to health scares but work hard to prevent them. That requires thinking about the food we eat — or, better put, the food we don’t. With FDA’s new recommendations, we get one step closer to improving health outcomes," said Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  "The human and economic costs of diet-related diseases are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of Americans die each year from chronic disease related to poor nutrition, and by some estimates, the total economic costs range upwards to a trillion dollars per year."

    KC's View:

    Official recommendations are exactly that.  

    Published on: October 14, 2021

    NBC News reports that the White House  is saying that "three of the largest U.S. goods carriers, Walmart, FedEx and UPS, will up their efforts to address supply chain issues, after retailers have already begun warning that some products may not make on shelves before the holidays … The carriers 'will make commitments towards moving to 24/7 working during off-peak hours' at key ports in Southern California, senior administration officials said on a call Tuesday evening."

    Federal officials called it a "90-day sprint" to address the supply chain issues.

    "The federal government will be a strong and willing partner in this effort in the near term but also in rebuilding a better system for the 21st century," federal officials tell NBC News. "We'll be working with stakeholders across the supply chain for a 90-day sprint to the end of the year to troubleshoot and alleviate many of the bottlenecks we can quickly address."

    The story notes that "logistical backups at shipping ports, driven in part by worker shortages and Covid outbreaks, have doubled the time it takes for some products to make their way from Asia to the U.S.  The delays, which have persisted for months, have sent retailers scrambling to address the bottlenecks, including by chartering their own private cargo vessels to get around the congestion, before the holiday shopping season."

    KC's View:

    The New York Times points out that there are both economic and political components to the initiative:

    "Consumer prices jumped more than expected last month, with rent, food and furniture costs surging as a limited supply of housing and a shortage of goods stemming from supply chain troubles combined to fuel rapid inflation.

    "The Consumer Price Index climbed 5.4 percent in September from a year earlier, faster than its 5.3 percent increase through August and above economists’ forecasts. Monthly price gains also exceeded predictions, with the index rising 0.4 percent from August to September.

    "The figures raise the stakes for both the Federal Reserve and the White House, which are facing a longer period of rapid inflation than they had expected and may soon come under pressure to act to ensure the price gains don’t become a permanent fixture."

    Published on: October 14, 2021

    The Washington Post has a fascinating story about a new kind of wheat called kernza, described as "a grain that is fundamentally unlike all other wheat humans grow."

    Here's some context:

    "Most commercial crops are annual. They provide only one harvest and must be replanted every year. Growing these foods on an industrial scale usually takes huge amounts of water, fertilizer and energy, making agriculture a major source of carbon and other pollutants. Scientists say this style of farming has imperiled Earth’s soils, destroyed vital habitats and contributed to the dangerous warming of our world.

    "But Kernza — a domesticated form of wheatgrass developed by scientists at the nonprofit Land Institute — is perennial. A single seed will grow into a plant that provides grain year after year after year. It forms deep roots that store carbon in the soil and prevent erosion. It can be planted alongside other crops to reduce the need for fertilizer and provide habitat for wildlife.

    "In short, proponents say, it can mimic the way a natural ecosystem works — potentially transforming farming from a cause of environmental degradation into a solution to the planet’s biggest crises."

    You can read the entire story here.

    KC's View:

    As I often say here, one of the reasons I love doing MNB is that I learn something every day.  For example, here's something I didn't know:  "More than half of all calories consumed by people come from grains, and no one has ever domesticated a grain that lived beyond a year."

    I had no idea.  But, as the Post points out, it may provide "a recipe for fighting climate change and feeding the world."  Which sounds like some needed good news at a time when the natural world seems to be going to hell.

    Published on: October 14, 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. total of 45,547,920 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 739,778 deaths and 35,107,452 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 240,066,102 total cases, with 4,891,970 resultant fatalities and 217,388,255 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 76.7 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 66.2 percent being fully vaccinated.

    The CDC says that 12.3 percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a vaccine booster shot.

    The Washington Post this morning reports that "approximately 90,000 covid-19 deaths could have been avoided over four months of this year if more U.S. adults had chosen to be vaccinated, a new study finds, as the disease caused by the coronavirus became the second-leading cause of death in the United States.

    "The estimate from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation focused on deaths of U.S. adults from June 2021 — when the report says coronavirus vaccines became widely available to the general public — through September.

    "Around half of the deaths it deemed preventable occurred in September, due to the spread of the more contagious delta variant, the easing of social distancing rules and the lower vaccination rate among younger adults, the study says. That month, covid-19 was the leading cause of death for adults between ages 35 and 54, superseding heart disease and cancer."

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "A booster of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine showed signs of significantly bolstering the immune defenses of study subjects, federal health regulators said Wednesday.

    "The regulators cautioned, however, that data was limited and that they had to rely on J&J’s own analysis for some of the study findings, rather than conducting their own.

    "The Food and Drug Administration staff gave their assessment of the J&J booster data as part of the agency’s review of the company’s request for authorization of the second dose.

    "After authorizing boosters for seniors and certain high-risk people who got the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, the FDA is now considering whether to clear extra doses of the shots from J&J and Moderna Inc. It is also weighing whether doses could be mixed among different vaccines."

    •  Bloomberg writes that "Mixing COVID vaccines produces as much or more antibodies as using the same shot as a booster, according to preliminary results of a widely awaited US government-sponsored trial.

    "The trial is the first major U.S. study to compare the effects of using different vaccines as boosters from the initial shot or shots. The complicated, 9-arm trial involved over 450 people and measured the effects from giving a booster shot of the Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines to those who had originally gotten a different vaccine.

    "Overall, the results found that mixing-and-matching resulted in comparable or higher levels of neutralizing antibodies compared to same-vaccine boosting, the researchers said in the preprint posted on Rates of adverse events were similar across all the different booster groups, the study found."

    Published on: October 14, 2021

    •  The Boston Globe reports this morning that "Uber Technologies completed its $1.1 billion acquisition of Boston-based alcohol delivery service Drizly on Wednesday … As part of the acquisition, Drizly will be featured on the Uber Eats app, but it will keep a separate app and website presence. Uber Eats is known for connecting consumers to local restaurants, but during the pandemic it quickly expanded into alcohol, convenience, grocery, and retail products."

    •  CNBC reports on how Target-owned Shipt "is using customer relationships to retain both the families who order from the service and the gig workers who shop for it — and ultimately, to increase sales."

    “Our shoppers matter. ... They’re our secret sauce,” Shipt CEO Kelly Caruso tells CNBC. “They’re what sets us apart from the competition.”

    "Since August," the story says, "customers have had the option when placing an order to request the same shopper who picked out their items before. Shipt also added a feature that flags customers’ dietary restrictions, such as a gluten-free diet. Over time, that shopper gets to know a person’s preferences, too. This means shoppers can recommend an appealing substitution when an item is out of stock, reach out for last-minute shopping list additions or even suggest items to add to a basket."

    The story goes on:  "Shipt is one of the reasons Target has captured additional market share during the pandemic, said Karen Short, an equity research analyst for Barclays.  She describes it as a 'sleeping giant,' since it is both an underappreciated growth driver for Target and a formidable competitor in the world of delivery.

    "Shipt delivers orders for more than 130 retailers, ranging from regional grocers such as H-E-B and Publix to Petco and CVS Health. It covers roughly 80% of U.S. households in about 5,000 cities. Yet it has plenty of room to run, Short said, if it can sign on more retailers, attract additional customers and expand to new regions. Instacart, one of Shipt’s best-known competitors, serves more than 600 retailers."