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    Published on: October 26, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    The arc of history constantly reminds us that Hemingway had it right, change happens two ways: Gradually at first, and then really, really fast.

    With that in mind, let’s consider some recent news articles about how things are changing in the post-covid environment in ways that alter our workers, our shoppers and pretty much everything else you can imagine.

    Kevin reported recently on two interesting trends. The first was the resurgent popularity of vinyl records, decades after the format seemed passé. The second, and far more important to the food retail industry, is the continued decline in marital rates, leading to the strange statistic that married couples are now a minority group.

    Incredibly there is more. The New York Times had a recent article on how home ownership is changing with a fast growing number of young adults opting for rental properties and an entirely new market springing up to serve that need. 

    Or consider another Times article about the generational divide on returning to the workplace. More than half of millennials told a recent Conference Board survey that they have doubts about returning to their offices, compared to about a third of Boomers saying the same. And the vast majority of those same millennials are concerned about the lack of connection to colleagues in this new world, yet they still aren’t ready to return to what used to pass as normal.

    All businesspeople need consider these shifts and the implications of each. For example, if fewer people are getting married and raising children (another outcome so far from Covid) that means the attraction of large family-sized packaging will decline as well. Likewise, the decline of home ownership apparently doesn’t mean a widespread move to small living spaces, but it’s hard to imagine that such a change won’t be coming. That too could lead to a change in shopping patterns if in-house pantries shrink.

    And the reluctance of Millennials to return to their offices and other workplaces, could mean vast changes in commuting, mealtime and countless other things we  used to call routine. Not to mention how these attitudes might be hampering efforts to get front-line staffing back up to regular levels.

    But these post-covid changes need not all be bad. Perhaps many simply provide incentive for rethinking business models and finding ways to pivot and possibly improve.

    Take, for example, Rolling Stone magazine, long an iconic brand. As the Washington Post recently reported, the magazine is changing its tone to stay relevant in an entirely new age. That includes, horrors of horrors, taking a more unbiased tone in how it reports on rock stars without the reverence of the past. As the article makes clear, Eric Clapton may not like the change, but young readers might find a more measured voice necessary. To paraphrase an old car ad, it’s not your parent’s Rolling Stone anymore.

    For a simpler - and far less costly pivot - consider what I experienced recently while attending (for the first time in 19 months) a classical music concert. To start with, the usual printed programs were gone, replaced with QR-code enabled downloads.  As I’ve written before, I’m good with that. But even better, a member of the orchestra preceded every musical piece with a short presentation about how the piece was written, what the composer was trying to convey and giving us hints on what would be coming. 

    In short, those announcements made the concert user-friendlier, an especially attractive change for the vast population of people (like me) who don’t really know a  lot about classical music. (Frankly, if my son weren’t performing in that concert, I would not have been there.) But that kind of simple, extra customer service is not just repeatable, but may be essential in a world where everything is seemingly changing.

    And it’s changing fast, so get thinking and acting!

    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: October 26, 2021

    The Boston Globe has a story about what it calls "seven jobs that will never be the same after the pandemic … jobs that have markedly declined in popularity over the last year and a half, why they may never be the same again, and what that might mean for consumers."

    Among them:

    •  Supermarket/retail cashiers … "Stores are starting to put more emphasis on self-checkout and curbside pickup. They also are closing traditional checkout aisles during hours when staffing is short, resulting in longer waits that could drive more consumers to online shopping."

    •  Restaurant workers … "A National Restaurant Association survey conducted in September found that nearly 80 percent of restaurants said they are understaffed," which means that at least some restaurants "are adapting to dealing with a leaner workforce. In some cases, that means expanding kitchen areas so that there is more room for to-go and delivery orders and less space for customers to sit. For others, it means investing in technology, such as QR codes to replace the role of servers, or in the case of Sweetgreen, buying robots from MIT that will make the chain’s signature salads."

    •  Baristas … "The days of a barista knowing your name may be waning. The two largest coffee chains operating in Massachusetts are replacing some human interaction with tech, perhaps making the process of getting a cup of coffee more efficient, but no doubt less personable. Dunkin’ just opened a 'Dunkin’ Digital' store on Beacon Street in Boston where customers order through a touchscreen kiosk or an app. And Starbucks is planning to open a pick-up and delivery-only store in Cambridge."

    KC's View:

    None of this should be a surprise.  The fact is that we're moving toward a system in which jobs that can be automated will be automated.  Part of this is how technology has advanced, and part of it is workers' desire for more fulfilling work.

    It is true that in some cases, there could be a loss of human connections between shoppers and workers.  And that could be a net negative for businesses, providing an advantage for companies that prioritize those connections.

    I wonder how many senior management executives, or even store managers, think about how they can make jobs more fulfilling for the people who work for them.  Is that even on their radar?  If not, it should be … because fulfillment at that level could end up being a differential advantage for the companies that invest in it.

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    Acosta is out with its fifth annual "The Why? Behind the Dine" report, looking specifically at changes that have taken place in the restaurant industry.

    Among the conclusions:

    •  Fifty-three percent of consumers are dining in restaurants less.

    •  Twenty-seven percent of consumers are ordering carry-out more.

    •  Twenty-three percent of consumers are eating drive thru more.

    •  About half of consumers say they feel more comfortable eating out now that vaccines are readily available, but as COVID-19 infections continue to rise nearly 50% of shoppers say they will either stop going out to eat entirely or switch to carry-out or delivery.

    •  Twenty-three percent of shoppers say they will dine out regardless.

    Over half of consumers (51%) say they go out to eat when they do not feel like cooking.  Most of those eating out do so at least twice a month (60-70%).

    •  Eighty-two percent of consumers say they are looking for restaurants that offer a wide variety of menu items when eating out.

    •  Eighty-two percent of consumers say they are interested in trying new items when eating out.

    •  Eighty-one percent of consumers say they often choose items that are on special when eating out.

    •  Twenty-eight percent of shoppers say they have recently ordered from a food truck.

    •. Twenty-three percent of shoppers say they have recently ordered from a pop-up restaurant.

    •  Nineteen percent of shoppers say they have recently ordered from a ghost kitchen.

    KC's View:

    It was just a few years ago that I recall people talking about how we'd become a society in which we ate out or ordered in for our daily meals, and then would cook at home for special occasions - which was the opposite of how it used to be.  Clearly the pendulum has moved back, but it is up to food retailers to maintain that momentum, making it more palatable - in all the mean wings of that word - for people to continue to do more cooking and eating at home.

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    Alexa, apparently, is getting a medical degree.

    Fast Company reports that Amazon's Alexa-powered devices are "moving into hospitals," with the company saying "that it will now support scaled launches of its devices inside both healthcare systems and senior living facilities."

    In a year-long pilot leading up to this moment, "Doctors used Alexa’s intercom-like feature to communicate with patients without having to go into their rooms and to conduct check-ins. Using Alexa to conduct rounds meant nurses and doctors could more judiciously use protective gear when it was in short supply."

    In addition, "the devices allows patients to send messages and requests to the nursing staff, rather than hitting the call button every time they need something. It also enables nurses and doctors to communicate with patients through its 'Drop In' feature.

    "Hospitals can also build their own Alexa skills for their specific needs. For instance, the hospital may develop an Alexa skill for communicating discharge plans to a patient. Alternatively, the hospital might develop an Alexa skill for conducting digital rounds."

    The story also notes that Alexa devices are being tested in senior living facilities, where they can be used to remind people to take their medicine, choose from meal options, or even make phone calls. 

    "The push into hospitals and assisted living is yet another extension of the ways in which Amazon is slowly worming its way into the healthcare system. Amazon Web Services supports hospital networks, such as Children’s Health Orange County, and the U.K.’s National Health Service. As Moody’s senior retail analyst Charlie O’Shea told Fast Company earlier this year, the next big move for Amazon will be creating new products that help hospitals become more efficient and effective. It seems that Alexa is just that latest service layer."

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    From the Boston Globe:

    "For nearly a decade, the local nonprofit About Fresh has navigated its Fresh Truck throughout Greater Boston, bringing a mobile grocery store to communities that struggle to access healthy food. On Monday, the organization launched an ambitious new food prescription program that goes far beyond what a retrofitted school bus can do.

    "The program is called Fresh Connect, and it’s a new prepaid debit card that health care providers can prescribe to patients who are food insecure. Its goal is to help people access healthy food and help prevent many of the chronic illnesses that drive up the cost of health care."

    KC's View:

    An excellent idea, and one that ought to be expanded if it works.

    If we all agree that our health is affected by how we eat, I think it is entirely fair to say that people who are on public assistance because of health issues ought to use that assistance to buy healthy foods, not unhealthy products.

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    The Wall Street Journal reports that over the past year, Kellogg's has been ht with three different lawsuits claiming that its strawberry Pop-Tarts don't have enough strawberries in them to qualify for that name.

    According to the story, "The latest suit, filed in the Southern District of New York last week and focused on Pop-Tart’s 'Whole Grain Frosted Strawberry' flavor, alleges that the products contain more pears and apples than strawberries. The case asks for $5 million in relief.

    "A separate complaint filed in federal court in Illinois in August raised similar concerns over 'Frosted Strawberry' Pop-Tarts.  'The Product’s common or usual name of ‘Whole Grain Frosted Strawberry Toaster Pastries,’ is false, deceptive, and misleading, because it contains mostly non-strawberry fruit ingredients,' according to the latest Pop-Tart complaint … The lawsuit focusing on the Whole Grain Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tart claims the product’s labeling violates state consumer fraud laws, and leads consumers to believe it’s a higher-quality product. The 19-page complaint cites similar frosted strawberry toaster pastry products from other companies that include notes on the packaging denoting that those products are 'Naturally & Artificially Flavored'."

    The Journal goes on:  "The lawsuits, all filed by a Great Neck, N.Y.-based lawyer named Spencer Sheehan, take aim at a food brand that has survived decades’ worth of shifting consumer tastes and dietary trends. Sales of Pop-Tarts have climbed for decades, their convenience and nostalgia factor helping the crinkly foil-wrapped pastries thrive despite other sugary breakfast products falling by the wayside.

    "Mr. Sheehan said one goal of the lawsuits, which are seeking class-action status, is to push Kellogg to modify its labeling."

    Kellogg's has not commented on the pending lawsuits.

    KC's View:

    With apologies to my friends at Kellogg's, I must admit that I am completely sympathetic to these suits.  There are so many cases of products that are labeled as one thing, and when you look at the labels, you see that they have none of the so-called featured ingredient, or so little as to be irrelevant.

    I'm not sure I'd use the word fraud, but I certainly think it is misleading, and reflect policies and practices that ought to be changed.

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    From the New York Times:

    Thanksgiving 2021 could be the most expensive meal in the history of the holiday … Nearly every component of the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, from the disposable aluminum turkey roasting pan to the coffee and pie, will cost more this year, according to agricultural economists, farmers and grocery executives. Major food companies like Nestlé and Procter & Gamble have already warned consumers to brace for more price increases.

    "Granted, last year the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 was the lowest it had been since 2010, according to the American Farm Bureau, whose annual survey of large dinners will be released Nov. 18. But because of the pandemic, fewer people bought for big gatherings, and turkey prices were kept low to entice shoppers. This year, turkey prices are likely to hit record highs, and the cost of many foods has jumped sharply.

    "There is no single culprit. The nation’s food supply has been battered by a knotted supply chain, high transportation expenses, labor shortages, trade policies and bad weather. Inflation is at play, too. In September, the Consumer Price Index for food was up 4.6 percent from a year ago. Prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs soared 10.5 percent."

    KC's View:

    No doubt that any discussion at America's tables about the cost of the meal will devolve into a political discussion about the causes and effects, which will then inevitably lead to family schisms and people not talking to each other.

    So, Happy freakin' Thanksgiving.

    But seriously, if Thanksgiving turkeys are more expensive this year, maybe this will finally persuade retailers that this is not the time to give them away as a promotion … since Thanksgiving is the only time of year when you can actually sell the damned things.

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    Fast Company has a piece that serves as "a complete guide to Amazon’s staggeringly large and ever-mutating domain, most of which you can’t even see," and all of which helps to create a competitive behemoth.  You can read it here.

    Published on: October 26, 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 a total of 46,417,525 Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 757,849 deaths and 36,271,327 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 244,969,132 total Covid-19 cases, with 4,973465 resultant fatalities, and 222,073,375 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.7 percent of the US population age 12 and older has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 67.2 percent being fully vaccinated.  The CDC also says that 17.7 percent of the US population age 65 and older has received a booster dose of vaccine.

    •  From The Hill:

    "A key Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expert advisory panel on Tuesday could pave the way for children as young as 5 to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

    "The panel is poised to weigh the evidence and provide the FDA with a recommendation to inform its decision on whether to authorize the vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for children. An estimated 28 million children would be eligible to receive the vaccine. 

    "Extending vaccine eligibility to children younger than 12 has been a major goal of public health officials and eagerly awaited by many pediatricians and families. The FDA has been under pressure for months to move quickly to authorize vaccines for younger children, one of the final barriers to overcome in the country's historic vaccination campaign.  

    "Pfizer's vaccine is already authorized for adolescents over 12 years old, and approved for anyone over 18, but many parents have been waiting anxiously for the ability to protect younger children, especially as the delta variant has proved far more contagious and dangerous for them."

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    •  Reuters reports that employees at an Amazon warehouse on New York's Staten Island have filed a petition to form a union with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which the story notes is "the second time that U.S. staffers for the world's biggest online retailer have aimed to unionize this year, following a failed effort at an Alabama facility in April. Though Amazon has long resisted such efforts, some employees are advocating for more protections and benefits in light of a COVID-19 pandemic that put their safety at risk."

    However, Amazon immediately questioned whether there were enough "legitimate" signatures to qualify for a union election.

    An Amazon spokesperson tells Reuters, that "We're skeptical that a sufficient number of legitimate employee signatures has been secured to warrant an election. If there is an election, we want the voice of our employees to be heard and look forward to it. Our focus remains on listening directly to our employees and continuously improving on their behalf."

    The New York Times writes that "the labor board determined that the submission represents at least 30 percent of the proposed bargaining unit, according to Kayla Blado, the press secretary for the labor board. In the coming days, Amazon must notify workers at the facilities via text notifications and signage of the union petition, and the agency will hold a hearing in mid-November, where Amazon can contest which jobs should be included in the bargaining unit and the terms of the election."

    •  CNBC reports that "Amazon on Monday reassured shoppers and industry watchers that it’s well-prepared to avoid supply-chain challenges during the holiday season.

    "In a blog post, Amazon said a combination of planes, trucks, ships and delivery vans, along with staffed-up warehouses, has put it in a good position to 'get customers what they want, when they want it, wherever they are this holiday season' … Amazon said it’s invested more in inventory planning and partnerships with suppliers so it has enough goods on hand while making sure it can route items to where they’re urgently needed.

    "It has also doubled its shipping container processing capacity by increasing ports of entry and partnered with more ocean freight carriers to secure space in 'critical ports'."

    •  CNBC reports that Amazon is launching a new program called Local Selling, which is described as a "suite of services that allow small- and medium-sized businesses who sell products on Amazon to offer in-store pickup and fast delivery to shoppers who live near their physical retail stores.

    "The features could help Amazon keep shoppers on its site instead of going elsewhere, like retailers’ own online stores or competitors’ marketplaces.  On eligible items, shoppers will be able to select in-store pickup when placing their order, then retrieve their package the same day. Amazon said in-store pickup will not cost extra.

    "For local delivery, sellers will use their own trucks and vans to transport items to shoppers’ doorsteps. Sellers can also choose to bundle other services on top of delivery, like product assembly or installation.  It’s up to sellers to decide the delivery speed and shipping cost, but Amazon said many merchants are able to ensure one- to two-day local delivery at no extra cost."

    •  CNBC reports that "Uber is taking on Europe’s buzzy grocery delivery start-ups with a service in Paris that ships essential items to shoppers’ doors in as little as 15 minutes.

    "The U.S. ride-hailing and food delivery company said it has expanded a partnership with French supermarket chain Carrefour to debut the service, which is called Carrefour Sprint. It will be available on the Uber Eats app from Tuesday.  Rather than sending couriers to Carrefour stores, Uber is relying on a network of so-called dark stores — small warehouses where pickers and packers prepare orders for delivery — operated by French start-up Cajoo.

    "Carrefour partnered with Cajoo earlier this year to help it offer its own rapid delivery service. The retail group is also a minority shareholder in Cajoo."

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    •  Reuters reports that "British coffee and sandwich chain Pret A  Manger has teamed up with JDE Peet’s to trial self-service coffee machines, further evolving its business model after sales were hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "Pret has suffered as many of its just under 400 UK stores are located on high streets, at transport hubs and close to offices that have seen reduced occupancy during the crisis.

    "Pret, owned by investment group JAB and founder Sinclair Beecham, said on Friday its 'Pret Express' machines will be introduced into convenience shops, petrol station forecourts, universities, healthcare facilities and workplaces.

    "The machines offer the same coffees and teas available in Pret shops."

    •  CNBC reports that "salad chain Sweetgreen filed Monday to go public on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker SG, aiming to become the latest restaurant company to hit the public markets this year … Sweetgreen operates 140 restaurants across 13 states and Washington. In the prospectus, Sweetgreen said it plans to double its footprint over the next 3 to 5 years."

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    •  BJ's Wholesale Club announced that it has hired Rachael Vegas, most recently the Senior Vice President, Ecommerce Merchandising at H-E-B, to be its new Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer.

    BJ's also said that Tim Morningstar, the company's Senior Vice President, Membership Acquisition and Loyalty, has been promoted to the role of Executive Vice President, Chief Membership Officer.

    And, Monica Schwartz, BJ's Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, will now be the company's Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer.

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    Yesterday, an MNB reader suggested in an email that unions add nothing but expenses to the companies where they provide worker representation.  I disagreed with that assessment, as did another MNB reader:

    Unions add nothing but expense? What's more damaging, those multi-million dollar golden parachutes offered to "C" class execs for mismanaging a business into the dumpster or an extra dollar an hour for line workers?

    A fair point.  

    And, weighing in on my continuing rants against retailers doing business with Instacart, one MNB reader wrote:

    In retrospect, when our supermarket was pondering instacart versus other e-commerce solutions, and we were considering the perceived advantages of Instacart when it came to having just about every aspect of the transaction taken care of, it would have been like selling our soul to the devil.  Our soul being the mission, vision, and culture of our store.  Partnering with ShopHero, as we decided, preserved all three, and enabled us to maximize our effectiveness with providing superior service, selecting items, especially produce, that were of the highest quality, and then making any/all customer concerns and problems "right".  And, we chose to have the same exact pricing model online as anyone would experience in our aisles.

    Talk about omni-channel!  It's synced as a store could be all the way from the ordering platform to the van arriving at the destination or the Berry Picker, as we call them, joyfully delivering the groceries to the specially reserved parking places at the front of the store.  We are grateful every single day that we did not align with Instacart.  It's no wonder they are having struggles.  It's not easy to stay on top of an online platform and rise to the level of customer expectation day in and day out.  Especially when the Team Members are not your Team Members and are not invested in your mission, vision, and culture.  

    Published on: October 26, 2021

    In Monday Night Football action, the New Orleans Saints defeated the Seattle Seahawks 13-10.