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    Published on: November 23, 2021

    Today, our "MorningNewsBeat @ 20" conversation is with longtime industry executive Judy Spires, who shares lessons from her career and perspectives on having run companies as different as Acme and Balducci's and King's.  And, Judy and KC bond over the passion KC's late father felt for Balducci's tomatoes.


    If you'd like to download and listen to this conversation as a podcast, click below:

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    by Michael Sansolo

    We all know the old saying about how failing to study history will only lead to repeating it.  While a style from the past can suddenly be hip again (consider vinyl records!), other past trends should serve as a warning rather than an encouragement.

    Take, for example, the sudden resurgence of inflation, which is rearing its head again after nearly 30 years of quiet.

    One of the benefits of being around a long time (hopefully you saw the retrospective video Kevin and I did last Friday on MNB) is you have personal memory of what happened before and those memories may actually provide some insights. So in hopes of separating past problems from nostalgia, here are some thoughts on the current state of the economy.

    When I joined Progressive Grocer in 1983, it was just a few years after the onslaught of double digit inflation and the double whammy of rising prices and slowing economic growth, painfully known then as stagflation.

    Interestingly enough, back then industry executives responding to our research surveys actually favored an annual inflation rate of 5 or 6 percent (pretty much what we have now minus the labor shortage and supply chain crimps). The reason was simple: some measure of price inflation pretty much guaranteed a gentle - if illusory - boost in annual sales, which would help give company annual reports a nice appearance of growth.

    But to everyone’s surprise, inflation remained at stunningly low levels from the 1980s until covid-time, creating an era of slow growth and price stability. And now inflation is back (with completely different causes than in the late 1970s), which makes it an apt time to revisit some of the lessons and strategies, many of which are best avoided.

    One of the most visible, memorable and mocked price cutting efforts of the stagflation era was the advent of plain labeled, generic products that were widely mocked for spotty quality and their comically simple appearance. In the 40 years since, store brands have taken on an entirely new profile in terms of quality and differentiation. Today store brands are frequently featured in many tiers ranging from bargain level to highest quality.

    Clearly retailers will look for tools to help shoppers combat rising prices, but we have to hope the revival of generics isn’t among them. After all, not everything retro is a good idea.

    The wild inflation of the late 1970s also triggered massive shifts in industry buying efforts and supplier pricing plans, as companies looked for any ways possible to first cope with government mandated price controls and then to obtain lower cost goods and potential competitive advantage. It’s instructive that the focus on forward buying to load up on temporary price cuts, diverting goods between different regions and complex deals, produced some short-term gains, but also led to widespread inefficiency in the industry.

    That inefficiency in turn left the industry vulnerable to incursions from more efficient competitors such as Walmart and Costco, which at lightning speed went from non-factors to industry dominance, as companies that had been dominant -  A&P is the prime example - collapsed.

    Needless to say, there were many other efforts made during that period to help shoppers stretch their budgets and it remains to be seen if the age of double and triple coupons are coming back. History is always an important teacher and perhaps this time the lessons of an inflationary spiral not that long ago could help companies chart a more creative and hopefully successful path to surviving these challenges.

    Remember, those who don’t consider history usually end up repeating it. Forty years, really isn’t all that long ago, but hopefully the lessons from the last bout of inflation won’t be forgotten.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com.

    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: November 23, 2021

    Reuters reports that three US Senators and two members of the House of Representatives - four Democrats and one Republican - are calling for "federal consumer-privacy legislation after a Reuters report published Friday revealed how Amazon.com Inc has led an under-the-radar campaign to gut privacy protections in 25 states while amassing a valuable trove of personal data on American consumers.

    "Amazon shamefully launched a campaign to squash privacy legislation while its devices listen to and watch our lives," says Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). "This is now the classic Big Tech move: deploy money and armies of lobbyists to fight meaningful reforms in the shadows but claim to support them publicly."

    Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said that Congress "needs to … pass legislation that finally stops massive corporations from abusing and exploiting our personal data."

    Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) also said that there is a "need for federal action to protect consumers."

    The original Reuters story framed the issue like this:

    "In recent years, Amazon.com Inc has killed or undermined privacy protections in more than three dozen bills across 25 states, as the e-commerce giant amassed a lucrative trove of personal data on millions of American consumers.

    "Amazon executives and staffers detail these lobbying victories in confidential documents reviewed by Reuters.

    "In Virginia, the company boosted political donations tenfold over four years before persuading lawmakers this year to pass an industry-friendly privacy bill that Amazon itself drafted. In California, the company stifled proposed restrictions on the industry’s collection and sharing of consumer voice recordings gathered by tech devices. And in its home state of Washington, Amazon won so many exemptions and amendments to a bill regulating biometric data, such as voice recordings or facial scans, that the resulting 2017 law had 'little, if any' impact on its practices, according to an internal Amazon document."

    Reuters also writes that, "Asked for comment, Amazon did not directly address the lawmaker criticisms of its lobbying campaign against privacy protections. The company reiterated its statement for the previous Reuters report, saying it prefers federal privacy legislation to a 'patchwork' of state regulations. The company said it wants one federal privacy law that 'requires transparency about data practices, prohibits the sale of personal data without consent, and ensures that consumers have the right to request access to and deletion of their personal information'."

    KC's View:

    It's interesting … over the years, I've never really felt that Amazon violated my privacy.  But then again, the Reuters story makes the compelling argument that I really have no idea how and whether it is doing so.  Which is disquieting.

    I do know one thing - this story reinforces my general distaste for lobbying, and my opinion that every dollar spent on lobbying and political donations ought to be utterly transparent.  No exceptions, no dark money, not ever.

    I think it was a fellow named Jeff Bezos that once said - and contributed the phrase as a  new motto for a newspaper he owns - that "democracy dies in darkness."

    Ironic, huh?

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    Bloomberg reports that Walmart its working with DroneUp - a startup company in which it invested earlier this year - "to offer aerial deliveries to homes, joining with startup DroneUp LLC  to began dropping off items ranging from cans of tuna to children’s thermometers.

    "The flights are limited for the moment to 1 nautical mile (1.15 miles or 1.85 kilometers) from a base outside a Walmart store in Farmington, Arkansas. But the service will be offered in the coming months at additional Arkansas locations in Rogers and Bentonville, where Walmart has its headquarters, the companies said in a statement on Monday. 

    "The goal is to eventually provide service over longer distances."

    The Bloomberg story goes on:

    "While routine, widespread product deliveries conducted by robotic drones are still years away, the Walmart announcement shows how serious the retail industry is about the potential for this new form of deliveries amid the rise of online shopping.

    "Alphabet Inc.’s Wing LLC subsidiary last month announced plans to begin using its small aircraft to deliver goods from a Walgreens in suburban Dallas. Amazon.com Inc. is developing what it calls Prime Air and United Parcel Service Inc. has also begun pilot drone delivery programs."

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    Axios reports that Target CEO has decreed that the company's stores will not just be closed on Thanksgiving Day this year, but on all Thanksgivings in the future.

    "What started as a temporary measure driven by the pandemic is now our new standard - one that recognizes our ability to deliver on our guests’ holiday wishes both within and well beyond store hours,” Cornell wrote in a note to employees, adding, "You don’t have to wonder whether this is the last Thanksgiving you’ll spend with family and friends for a while, because Thanksgiving store hours are one thing we won’t ‘get back to’ when the pandemic finally subsides."

    KC's View:

    The Axios story notes that "this reflects heightened pushback against unfriendly labor practices and that the pandemic has taught most U.S. consumers how to shop for everything online."

    The fact is that retailers - and other businesses - will have to embrace new ways of doing business and being employee-centric if they are going to be employers of choice.

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    Business Insider reports that at Amazon's all-hands meeting last week, CEO Andy Jassy said he "believes that the press and politicians are nitpicking when they criticize the retail giant, overlooking how the company is doing far more good than bad to society at large."

    Jassy said:

    "So we haven't gotten everything right. However, simply because reporters or politicians find it more interesting and salacious to point out things that they think we could be doing better doesn't necessarily mean that that's the norm versus the edge or the rarity … We have over 1.2 million employees, which is almost like a small country. And so with a company that big, you could always find a bunch of anecdotes that support whatever point of view that you want to make. But it doesn't mean that that is the norm. Those typically are either real rarities or edge cases. We've learned from them. Every time we hear something that we think could be wrong, we go away and look at them and investigate them and look at how we could be doing better. However, it doesn't mean that that's necessarily the norm."

    KC's View:

    I was curious, just from a statistical point of view, if Jassy was right - that Amazon actually is the size of a small country.  Turns out he is - there apparently are something like 76 countries in the world with smaller populations than Amazon's workforce.  (And, for the record, more than 150 countries with larger populations.  The smallest country in the world is the Holy See, with 801 residents.  But I digress…)

    Here's what I think:  It isn't a good look for Jassy to be running a company that is credibly accused of some - certainly not all - questionable practices, and that also is aiming for world domination, and then complain about "reporters or politicians (who) find it more interesting and salacious to point out things that they think we could be doing better."

    For the record, that's our freakin' job.  It isn't like you don't get attention for doing things right, and it isn't like your company is the only one being analyzed.

    The founder of your company happens to own one of the newspapers that has been most aggressive in its journalism about your company's actions and inactions.

    Maybe, instead of whining about the coverage, it makes more sense for a guy who earlier this year was awarded $200 million in Amazon stock (what is that, like five shares?) and who is running a company that has annual profits in excess of $20 billion, to simply say, "the bigger we are, the more important it is for us to do things right.  And when we get things wrong, it is even more important that we do everything we can to make things better, even ideal, for our employees, our customers, and our stakeholders.  Amazon's size and success is more than a right and/or privilege.  Most of all, it is a responsibility."

    He hinted at some of that in his statement, but I think the "salacious" crack is absurd.  Who has he been getting communications advice from, Mark Zuckerberg?

    (One other thing.  If youn want to see a terrific movie about a really, really small country, watch The Mouse Thats Roared, with Peter Sellers in three roles.  Outstanding.)

    Published on: November 23, 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 48,748,557 Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 794,864 deaths and 38,633,890 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 258,569,307 total cases, with 5,178,463 resultant fatalities, and 234,061,347 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  Data compiled by the federal government and analyzed by Johns Hopkins University researchers indicate that more people have died from cause related to Covid-19 in 2021 than died in 2020.

    The Wall Street Journal writes that "the 2021 U.S. death toll caught some doctors by surprise. They had expected vaccinations and precautionary measures like social distancing and scaled-down public events to curb the spread of infections and minimize severe cases. But lower-than-expected immunization rates as well as fatigue with precautionary measures like masks allowed the highly contagious Delta variant to spread, largely among the unvaccinated, epidemiologists say."

    The Journal goes on:

    "The spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates in some communities were important factors, infectious-disease experts said. The milestone comes as Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations move higher again in places such as New England and the upper Midwest, with the seven-day average for new cases recently closer to 90,000 a day after it neared 70,000 last month.

    "Covid-19 has proven to be an enduring threat even in some of the most vaccinated places, many of which are confronting outbreaks again now, as the world prepares to live with and manage the disease for the long term. In Europe, parts of Austria, Germany and the Netherlands have imposed new restrictions in recent days after Covid-19 cases rose and hospitals came under strain."



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 80.3 percent of the US population age 12 and older and 69.5 percent of the total population, has received at least one dose of vaccine, while 69.2 percent of the 12-and-under demographic and 59.2 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 41.1 percent of the US population age 65 and older, and 19.6 percent of the total US population, has received the vaccine booster dose.



    •  From the Washington Post:

    "All American adults became eligible for coronavirus vaccine boosters on Friday, ending months of confusion over complicated guidelines that had slowed their uptake and prompted unilateral moves by governors from Maine to California to make the shots available more broadly.

    "Federal health officials hope a straightforward boosters-for-all policy will prompt millions more people to get the shots before they travel or gather with friends and family over the holidays. Many are concerned about the worsening picture as winter approaches."



    •  The New York Times this morning reports that "coronavirus cases in children in the United States have risen by 32 percent from about two weeks ago, a spike that comes as the country rushes to inoculate children ahead of the winter holiday season, pediatricians said.

    "More than 140,000 children tested positive for the coronavirus between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18, up from 107,000 in the week ending Nov. 4, according to a statement on Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

    "These cases accounted for about a quarter of the country’s caseload for the week, the statement said. Children under 18 make up about 22 percent of the U.S. population."

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    •  From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Holiday shoppers are giving package carriers an early gift.

    "FedEx Corp., United Parcel Service Inc. and the U.S. Postal Service may wind up having a much easier time dealing with the holiday crunch than some forecasters predicted. They say it is partly due to an uptick in people buying gifts in stores and doing their shopping early because of concerns about the global supply chain.

    "Those factors - along with added capacity, an extra shipping day between Thanksgiving and Christmas and Covid-19 vaccines available for workers - have shipping executives and consultants saying the peak shipping season may not be as bad as they thought."



    •  The New York Post reports that "four big unions, including the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters, urged the US Federal Trade Commission on Monday to oppose Amazon’s plan to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, saying it would reduce competition in the streaming video market … The unions, in a report by an entity they support called the Strategic Organizing Center, argued that the deal would bring Amazon’s industry-leading streaming library to more than 55,000 titles, with more under development, which would give the company greater incentive to discriminate against rivals. Netflix has the second-greatest number of titles at just under 20,000, the letter said."

    Amazon announced its plans to acquire MGM - which is home to movie franchises such as James Bond and Rocky - for $8.45 billion earlier this year, in what is generally seen as a move designed to help it compete not just against Netflix, but also against services such as Disney+, Paramount+ HBO Max, and all the other streaming services that seem to be cropping up these days.

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    •  CNBC reports that "Walmart is adding another tool to its arsenal this holiday season to drum up online sales: More than 30 livestreaming events, including one with musician Jason Derulo that kicks off Cyber Week.

    "Over the past year, the retail giant has tested the shoppable events on different social media platforms. It hosted its first livestream last December, when it had a holiday shop-along. It enlisted influencers to host a spring beauty event on TikTok. It featured celebrity chef Ree Drummond to talk about her Pioneer Woman line of cookware and more on Facebook. In total, it has had 15 events so far.

    "Now, Chief Marketing Officer William White said the live events will become a bigger piece of Walmart’s digital strategy … White, an alumnus of big-box competitor Target, said he sees the events as a way to strengthen Walmart’s brand, build an emotional connection with shoppers and 'shorten the distance between inspiration and purchase'."

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    •  The Democrat & Chronicle reports that "Wegmans Food Markets has installed a security system to prevent shopping-cart thefts at its Auburn, Cayuga County, store, and it could be added to other locations in the 106-store chain.

    "Last week, the Rochester-based company activated a Gatekeeper security system at the Auburn store … Most such systems work via a buried cable around a property’s perimeter. When a cart crosses over the cable, a signal is sent to a central transmitter, locking the cart’s wheels (which employees can unlock to bring the cart back into service)."

    Published on: November 23, 2021

    In Monday Night Football action, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the New York Giants 30-10.