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    Published on: January 3, 2022

    There will be plenty to rant about in 2022 (or, as some trepidatious folks already are calling it, 2020-too), but KC decided to end the old year and start off the new one on a positive note.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    by Kevin Coupe

    Here are two stories that popped up while I was taking some time off that grabbed my attention because they reflected the degree to which the world continues to change…

    •  CNN reports that starting tomorrow, BlackBerry "will stop running support for its classic devices running BlackBerry 10, 7.1 OS and earlier. This means all of its older devices not running on Android software will no longer be able to use data, send text messages, access the internet or make calls, even to 911."

    The story notes that "while most mobile users have moved on from BlackBerry -- the last version of its operating system launched in 2013 -- the move to discontinue support for its phones represents the end of what was once considered bleeding-edge technology."

    Important to remember that at one time, BlackBerry both defined and dominated the mobile device market … and now, it is virtually irrelevant, largely because the folks in charge seemed more interested in managing the brand rather than exerting leadership and taking risks.  BlackBerry is yet another example of a brand that simply managed itself into obsolescence.


    •  Yahoo Finance has a piece about how a fellow named Christopher Allman, identified as the chief investment officer for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), said during an interview that he was concerned that "Exxon Mobil Corp. has failed to embrace new, climate-conscious directors and is in danger of going the way of Eastman Kodak Co. and Blockbuster Video if it sits out the transition away from fossil fuels."

    Here's the line that I thought was an Eye-Opener:

    "If these companies want to survive and not be Eastman Kodak or Blockbuster Video, darn it, they better get their act together and become energy companies, not just oil and gas firms.”

    Eastman Kodak.  Blockbuster. And, for all practical purposes, BlackBerry.  Companies that did not understand their roles, nor their potential.  

    It seems to me that food retailers need to avoid this mistake - they need to avoid thinking that they are in the "supermarket business," but rather thinking of themselves as being in the business of feeding people.  Which is both different and also filled with far greater promise and potential.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    Hy-Vee announced the other day that it is creating what is being called the Hy-Vee Retail Security team, which eventually will see officers deployed in all of its retail stores during operating hours "to ensure the health and safety of both its customers and employees."

    According to the announcement, "These officers, many of whom come from a law enforcement background, are specially trained to defuse situations and equipped to protect the safety of both Hy-Vee customers and employees. The officers have been through training designed by Hy-Vee retail security leaders alongside law enforcement partners."

    Some stores already have the security officers in place, with remaining stores scheduled to get them as the force gets staffed up.

    KC's View:

    Other than than the run of the mill security concerns with which every retailer has to concern itself, it seems there are a couple of timely issues that would make the deployment of this force appropriate.  First, there is the growing problem in some markets with smash-and-grab theft, committed by roving bands of criminals.  I've not seen any cases where markets in which Hy-Vee operates have been plagued by the problem in any sort of major way, but it has to be a concern going forward.

    Second - and I can practically guarantee that this will be a continuing concern - there is the issue of pandemic-related safety.  If it becomes necessary for stores to require people to wear masks, these folks can be a way to enforce the requirement without putting front line retail workers in the proverbial and - one hopes, metaphorical - line of fire.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    The Washington Post reports that on New Year;'s Day, the US Department of Agriculture's new labeling rules for genetically modified foods went into effect - the big change being that "GMO" is out, and “bioengineered" is in.

    It actually is a little more complex than that:

    "The goal was to get rid of the patchwork of different labels for foods and ingredients that have been scientifically tinkered with, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the move also puts a greater burden on consumers to do their homework to understand what the labels mean, food advocates say.

    "Foods that previously were labeled as containing 'genetically engineered' (GE) ingredients or 'genetically modified organisms' (GMOs) will now be labeled as 'bioengineered,' or come with a phone number or QR code guiding consumers to more information online.

    "The changes are part of the USDA’s new rules on controversial modified crops and ingredients. Previous labeling requirements were governed differently on a state-by-state basis. By providing a uniform, national standard for labeling bioengineered foods, 'it avoids a patchwork of state labeling regulations,' a USDA spokeswoman said in a statement."

    This being a regulator effort by the government, there are, of course, loopholes:

    The Post writes:

    "Under the new rule, a food does not contain genetic material if the genetic material is not 'detectable.' If one or more of a food’s ingredients comes from a modified plant but the ingredients themselves contain no DNA from that plant, the label may carry a 'derived from bioengineering' disclosure. But that’s voluntary. So, starches, oils and sweeteners made from bioengineered plants, but are so highly processed that no DNA remains, may not be labeled.

    "And the USDA has built in some wiggle room, setting a threshold at 5 percent for the 'unintended' presence of genetically engineered ingredients, so highly processed foods made from genetically engineered crops — like sodas, candies and cooking oils — would be exempt from the rules, if they fit under that 5 percent threshold. The European Union’s standard is about five times lower, at 0.9 percent."

    KC's View:

    Needless to say, reactions to the new regulations are anything but consistent - except that they actually are consistent with what I'd expect from the various sides.

    Food safety groups that are pro-bioengineered food have a problem with any sort of labeling, arguing that since there is no proof that they do any harm why do they have to be labeled at all?  Business groups such as the Consumer Brands Association say they support "a uniform framework for the disclosure of modified foods," they don't really like this framework and would prefer a pause while something more palatable to membership is crafted.

    Advocacy groups that have traditionally opposed GMOs in food believe that the regulations don't go far enough, and that there are way too many loopholes for comfort.

    My position over the years, I think, has generally been consistent, though, to be honest, I've been writing about this for so damned long I'm not even sure what I was saying at the beginning.

    I like labels. I think the more transparency, the better,  I think information in the hands of consumers, properly and contextually communicated, can be a powerful and positive thing.  I generally think that loopholes end up being black holes of disinformation and deception, because the people and companies that exploit them usually have the means and motivation to avoid transparency.

    And I think that about pretty much everything, not just bioengineered foods.  I'll acknowledge that there are exceptions, like national security.  But making sure that people understand what they are eating and where it came from?  That ought to be low-hanging fruit (whether it is organic, bioengineered or some other kind).

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    Publix Super Markets has announced that it will begin offering paid parental leave to both full-time and part-time employees, allowing them to take off at least two weeks during the first year after a child's birth or adoption, with the worker paid based on average weekly hours, as well as length of service whether they are paid hourly or on salary.

    According to the Florida Politics website, "The maximum pay period in Publix’s new benefit covers half of the unpaid time off guaranteed under federal law.

    "Compared to the maximum, six-week benefit Publix offers, the Family and Medical Leave Act stipulates new parents are entitled to take up to 12 workweeks of leave within a 12-month period, but does not require employers to compensate for the time off. Paid leave for new parents is the norm in 120 other countries, however, with an average of 18 weeks of paid leave among member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, based in Paris."

    The Associated Press writes that "the new benefits come as retailers across the U.S. are facing a worker shortage, and some are offering new benefits to attract or retain workers."

    KC's View:

    Let's be clear.  If retailers are going to be employers-of-choice, they're going to have to define and implement programs that both distinguish them from others and that represent a real investment in their workers.  And the good news, it seems to me, is that when the pendulum swings the other way, it will be virtually impossible for companies that make these changes to reverse course.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    Good piece in the New York Times over the weekend about how, "in normal times, there are few words that C.E.O.s like more than 'certainty.' Certainty allows executives to issue sales forecasts with oracle-like conviction. Certainty instills leaders with the confidence they need to invest $500 million in a new factory, or spend $20 billion buying a competitor. Certainty gives them the verve they need to preside over virtual town hall meetings with their employees and discuss race relations, furloughs, remote work and more.

    "But at companies large and small, new and old, public and private, 2021 was a year that played havoc with expectations. Through it all, C.E.O.s swapped some of their favorite tropes — timelines, confidence, strategic plans — for something new: saying 'I don’t know.' Or even:  'I changed my mind'."

    In the retailer community - which was being roiled by change even before the pandemic -  the challenges were especially great, as front line employees found themselves on the front lines of a public health challenge like nothing the nation had faced in over a century.

    KC's View:

    The uncertainty, of course, originated with the pandemic … but now business leaders are faced with a range of issues and degrees of uncertainty that have fallen like dominoes  - supply chain problems, labor shortages, labor demands, remote work environments, and so on.  And with every passing day, and every new headline and public health recommendation, these C-level executives are having to make things up as they go along.  Which is hard.

    Seems to me that one of the things that this moment of time demands is greater understanding from the stakeholder community - the people who shop and work at these retailers have to be more accepting of problems being created by this uncertainty.  I'm a big proponent of retailers taking care of their front line employees because they are the real, tangible connection to the shopper.  But I also think that, while labor has found this to be a moment at which workers can push for higher wages and benefits, this also is the time to find common ground and some level of appreciation for what the other side is going through.  It is, of course, a two-way street.  But comity would be a nice change.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    From the Wall Street Journal this weekend:

    "Nearly two years after the coronavirus pandemic brought much of the U.S. economy to a halt, public companies are recording some of their best ever financial results.

    "Profit growth is strong. Most companies’ sales are higher than where they were before Covid-19 - often well above. The liquidity crunch many feared in 2020 never materialized, leaving companies with sizable cash cushions. The stock market ended 2021 near record highs and far fewer public companies filed for bankruptcy in 2021 than in the years before the pandemic."

    The story goes on:

    "The rebound is real for smaller companies, but it is the biggest companies that have fared the best, a Wall Street Journal analysis of corporate financial data shows. For large-capitalization companies in the S&P 500 index, profits and revenue were hurt less by the pandemic’s initial economic slowdown. The biggest companies also rebounded more quickly than smaller ones, even as uncertainty deepened over Covid-19 infection rates and the spread of variants, rising inflation and supply-chain woes."

    As it happens, Bloomberg has a story sounding the same themes, albeit with a more retail-centric approach:

    "When Covid-19 erupted 21 months ago and upended retailers around the world, it looked like just another chapter in the sad story of an industry’s decline.

    "The reality of the pandemic era, however, hasn’t played out that way.

    "Yes, there was a shakeout with thousands of stores, and some chains, closing for good. A wave of retail workers lost their jobs, some permanently, and an unknown number got sick. But Covid’s shock to the system also brought overdue changes that will fortify the sector for years to come, including big investments in technology, the creation of new methods to connect with consumers and speeding online delivery.

    "For all the human misery the coronavirus has brought, it’s not hard to make the case that the pandemic will ultimately strengthen the global retailers who made it through. It’s a startling turnaround from the doom-and-gloom predictions for the industry in mid-2020."

    KC's View:

    The argument here, almost from the first weeks of the pandemic, was that the smart companies were going to come out of it having made some fundamental changes in how they operate and how they view the world.  Everybody's businesses got pressure-tested.  It reminds me of the Ernest Hemingway line from "A Farewell To Arms:"

    “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    In a weekend story about food forecasting, the New York Times writes that 2022 "is starting with a surge of a highly contagious variant of Covid-19 that is only adding to the economic uncertainty. Social-justice concerns remain top of mind for many, as does pressure from a fast-changing climate. All of it will affect how food is grown, cooked and packaged.

    "But don’t despair. 'Constraint breeds innovation,' said Anna Fabrega, a former Amazon executive who recently took over as the chief executive at the meal subscription service Freshly. She and other food industry leaders in the United States say 2022 will be another pragmatic, roll-up-your sleeves kind of year, shaped by the needs of people working from home and by the culinarily-astute-but-fickle Gen Z, whose members want food with sustainable ingredients and a strong cultural back story, prepared without exploitation and delivered in a carbon-neutral way — within 30 minutes."

    The Times suggests, based on interviews with food forecasters, that among the trends we'll see this year are:  "Mushrooms have landed on many prediction lists, in almost every form, from psilocybin mushrooms (part of the renewed interest in psychedelics) to thick coins of king oyster mushrooms as a stand-in for scallops" … "1980s drinks you can barely remember (for obvious reasons) … Look for Blue Lagoons, Tequila Sunrises, Long Island iced tea and amaretto sours re-engineered with fresh juices, less sugar and better spirits" … "Kelp grows fast, has a stand-up nutritional profile and removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and nitrogen from the ocean. As a result, farmed kelp will move beyond dashi and the menus at some high-end restaurants and into everyday foods like pasta and salsa" … Because climate change is threatening coffee production and driving prices up, "Enter robusta, the bitter, heavily caffeinated workhorse that is less expensive and easier to cultivate" … and "the even money is on hibiscus, which is adding its crimson hue and tart, earthy flavor to everything from cocktails and sodas to crudos and yogurt."

    KC's View

    And finally, the Times offers a bit of hopefully prognostication that I fear may just be wishful thinking:  "With the supply chain in tatters and restaurant staffs stretched nearly to the breaking point, demanding shoppers and diners are out, and patience is in. A growing interest in the historical and cultural nature of food and its impact on the climate will only add to what forecasters (optimistically) say will be a new emphasis on kindness and understanding."

    Isn't it pretty to think so.  (I'm on a bit of a Hemingway jag this morning, apparently.)

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    CES 2022, which is scheduled to begin today in Las Vegas with in-person press events, announced that the live show itself will end on Friday, January 7, instead of Saturday, January 8, as a safety precaution because of Covid-19.

    The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which runs the show, has said that it expects up to 75,000 attendees and over 2,200 exhibitors, though a number of big name companies - including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Lenovo, Intel, T-Mobile, AT&T, Meta, TikTok, and Pinterest - have said they will not attend, and a number of speeches have shifted to being virtual rather than live, and some have been canceled altogether.

    Last time CES was live, two years ago, about 170,000 people attended.  The 2021 CES was entirely virtual.

    KC's View:

    CES and the National Retail Federation (NRF), I think, have the bad luck to be scheduled in January, when most public health experts believe that we'll be feeling the biggest impact of the Omicron surge.  A month from now, things may look very different - we'll still be wearing masks, vaccinations and boosters will still be important, but life will continue and live meetings will go on.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    The Boston Globe has a story about a new mobile app called To Good To Go, described as one that "connects consumers with surplus from restaurants, bakeries, cafes and grocery stores at the end of each business day, ensuring that unsold food doesn’t go to waste. The app, which already operates in Boston, just launched in the Providence market."

    Co-founder Lucie Basch tells the Globe that "consumers download the app, browse participating locations nearby, reserve and pay for a 'Surprise Bag' to pick up. Then, they’ll head to the store during the pick-up window, based on each location’s choosing and closing time. The contents of each 'Surprise Bag' vary daily and app users can expect to get a range of products at one-third of the retail value - from a bag of fresh fruit and vegetables, three pizza slices or a couple of extra sushi rolls, to a pint of gelato or an assortment of pastries."

    Her rationale behind the site:  "[About] 40 percent of edible food is wasted in the US, and as highlighted in the latest IPCC report, food waste contributes to 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US. The need to connect the dots between food waste and climate change is crucial, now more than ever."

    To Good To Go reportedly has partnered with more than 50 food businesses to this point, with more being recruited actively.

    KC's View:

    Great idea.  I hope we see these kinds of programs rolling out on a national basis.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    Bloomberg has a fascinating piece about Shopify and its founder Tobi Lütke, who has positioned the company as the anti-Amazon.  An excerpt:

    "In a sense, Lütke and his colleagues are the opposite of Jeff Bezos’ army of techno-capitalists. Amazon, which has enjoyed its own Covid-fueled boom, celebrates the almighty customer. It will happily risk alienating small businesses by knocking off their products or soliciting new competition, if it means lowering prices and accelerating shipping times. Shopify, on the other hand, has a romantic view of the merchant - its executives rapturously extol the virtues of 'democratizing commerce' and 'making entrepreneurship cool.'  If Amazon’s devotion to customers and an infinite selection earned it the nickname 'the everything store,' Shopify … wants to be the everywhere store."

    Since its founding 15 years ago, the story says, Shopify "has sold software that allows about 2 million merchants worldwide to run websites—free from the complicated embrace of Shopify’s chief rival, Amazon.com Inc. For $30 to $2,000 a month, Shopify offers sellers more than a dozen services to run an online store, from the actual e-commerce website to inventory management to payment processing.

    "Its technology now undergirds the websites of giant retail chains such as Staples Inc. and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.; recently ordained public companies that grew up on the platform, including shoemaker Allbirds Inc. and medical scrubs maker Figs; and the retail side-hustles of Kylie Jenner, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and other celebrities. But the company’s biggest impact has been at the smaller end of the scale, in the vast constellation of mom and pops, venture-capital-backed startups, influencer mini-moguls, twee entrepreneurs, merch heads, and more obscure outfits, like Offlimits - a two-person New York City startup trying to reinvent, of all things, breakfast cereal."

    You can read the entire story here.

    KC's View:

    It may be unfair - because, to be honest, I have no idea how Tobi Lütke spent the holidays - but after I saw this story from Bloomberg a piece popped up on my news feed about Jeff Bezos cavorting shirtless on an 88-foot super yacht in the Caribbean.  And while Bezos no longer is Amazon's CEO, the juxtaposition - unfair though it may be - made me wonder if in some ways the folks at Amazon may be growing out of touch with Main Street issues.

    Just a thought.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    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 56,142,175 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 847,408 deaths and 41,543,060 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 290,759,134 total cases, with 5,462,030 resultant fatalities and 254,668,218 reported recoveries.  (Source.)



    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 78 percent of the US population age five and older and 73.3 percent of the total population has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 65.9 percent of the five-and-older group and 62 percent of the total population being fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that just 36.3 percent of the US population age 18 and older, and 33.4 percent of the total population has received a vaccine booster dose.



    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Almost twice as many people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past seven days as the pandemic’s previous weekly record thanks to a tsunami of omicron that has swamped every aspect of daily life in many parts of the globe.

    "The highly mutated and infectious variant drove cases to a record 10 million in the seven days through Sunday, almost double the previous record of 5.7 million seen during in a week in late April. The surging number of infections, at a time when many people have given up on testing or are using at-home kits with results that aren’t reported to local authorities, has led to canceled flights, closed offices and strangled production facilities and supply chains."

    There is a silver lining, Bloomberg suggests:  "Weekly Covid deaths are still on a downward trajectory, falling to their lowest level in more than a year. The outlook for 2022 depends on whether the death toll follows cases and picks up in the weeks to come, or if early evidence suggesting the omicron wave will be less severe holds up as more real-world data emerges."



    •  From the New York Times this morning, a story about how "many people with compromised immune systems in the U.S. who have sidestepped government guidelines and received unauthorized fourth or fifth shots.

    "The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in charge of determining when additional doses should be administered, but some patients and their doctors feel that federal agencies have acted too slowly to protect the most vulnerable.

    "Israel has already begun rolling out fourth shots — Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday that the country would offer additional shots to people age 60 and over, as well as to medical workers, becoming the first country to roll out an additional booster so broadly.

    "By comparison, the C.D.C. updated their guidelines in late October to say that immunocompromised groups would be eligible for a fourth dose six months after a third. For those who followed the rules, the earliest eligibility for a fourth would be in late February.  

    "But as new variants like Omicron arise and vaccination rates continue to be sluggish in many areas, worrying those with weak immune systems,  many of them are getting extra shots without being certain of whether they are safe or effective."



    •  The Wall Street Journal writes today about how "the rapid spread of Covid-19’s Omicron variant is weighing on U.S. businesses, keeping more workers home sick or quarantined and leading some companies to cut services and reduce hours.

    "The rise of U.S. Covid-19 infections to record levels in recent days has driven thousands of canceled flights, prompted retailers to train available employees on new jobs, and closed some stores altogether, companies said. The rapidly spreading Omicron variant is hitting businesses at a time when consumers’ demand for products and services has surged, and many companies already are struggling with staffing and supply-chain challenges."



    •  The New York Times reports that business owners are confused and little frustrated with new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said over the holiday that it was cutting in half, to five days, "the recommended isolation period for those without symptoms and those without fevers whose other symptoms are resolving. Those leaving isolation should wear masks around others for an additional five days under the new guidelines … While a briefer isolation could help people get back on the job more quickly, some owners also worry about how to determine when someone is healthy enough to return."

    And, to be fair, there are employees out there who feel that they will be pressured by their bosses to return to work because of the new guidelines, even if they're not feeling well enough to go back on the job.



    •  Variety reports that "the Sundance Film Festival is planning to offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to eligible in-person attendees, multiple sources told Variety.

    "Following last week’s festival mandate requiring all participants in screenings and official events to show proof of three vaccination shots, Sundance is putting resources into offering boosters on the ground in Park City, Utah. Over a series of filmmaker calls this week, international artists and producing teams were informed of the offer, two individuals familiar with the matter said.

    "While the initiative has not yet been formally announced, the CDC’s guidelines for booster eligibility say individuals must have received their second COVID vaccination at least six months prior to a booster shot. Boosters are also only available for those age 18 and older. Sundance is scheduled to run from Jan. 20 to 30 and will also mount a hybrid virtual edition."

    Love this idea.  More conferences and festivals ought to adopt it.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    •  The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Amazon "intends to open a warehouse in Northwest Arkansas, according to publicly available documents.

    "It would be the global technology, streaming and retail company's first foray into the backyard of Walmart Inc., one of its chief competitors, and the fastest growing part of the state … The address is the location of a 24.7-acre property owned since 2015 by Rogers Warehouse Development LLC, according to the Benton County assessor's office. It is about 12 miles from Walmart's headquarters in Bentonville."

    The story goes on to point out that the property currently "holds a 100,000-square-foot warehouse with nine 'dock-high doors,' three 'drive-in doors' and 6 acres of 'yard space' that was built in 2004. It had been listed on several commercial real estate databases since July 2020. However, those listings have been pulled.

    "The size of the warehouse suggests it is being positioned as a 'last-mile' delivery center. Fulfillment centers prepare customer orders, which are then delivered in bulk to the 'last-mile' delivery center. There, the orders are picked up by small delivery vans to make the final deliveries to customer doorsteps."



    •  The Washington Post has a story about how Amazon "has been heavily expanding into areas that the government designates for special tax incentives, according to a new analysis that comes amid growing regulatory scrutiny of the e-commerce giant … Amazon has opened 153 facilities in these zones since 2018, accounting for more than 15 percent of the warehouses that it has opened in that time period … And 18 more facilities are scheduled to open in these areas in 2022 and 2023."

    The Post writes that the tax initiative had "bipartisan backing and was intended to incentivize investment in some of the most economically distressed regions of the country. But critics of the program have raised concerns that such programs further enrich wealthy investors and corporations for projects that would have happened without government assistance. And because there aren’t requirements that investors and corporations publicly report how they are using the tax breaks, it’s difficult to measure impact. Experts say it’s impossible to know if the program is having the intended effect of creating jobs and affordable housing — or simply exacerbating economic divides."



    •  The Washington Post reports that Amazon has reached an agreement with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that is supposed to make it easier for warehouse employees to organize.

    According to the story, Amazon "must allow employees who are done with their shifts but working on union activities to access nonwork areas of the facilities, such as break rooms, if other off-duty workers are also allowed there … Workers had filed complaints with the agency, saying that Amazon did not allow them to be on-site outside 15 minutes on either side of their shifts, making it difficult to organize.

    "The agreement also protects workers who are participating in union activities outside the facilities, such as in the parking lots, from getting kicked off the premises … Amazon must send notices informing workers of their rights to current and past warehouse workers who were employed at the company since March 22, encompassing hundreds of thousands of workers."

    The agreement between Amazon and the NLRB comes as a second unionization election is on the horizon at a Bessemer, Alabama, facility where a first attempt to unionize failed but Amazon was found by the NLRB to have improperly interfered in the process.



    •  CNBC reports that "a labor group seeking to organize Amazon warehouse workers on New York’s Staten Island has refiled a union petition with the National Labor Relations Board … The group, known as the Amazon Labor Union, first filed its request for a union vote in late October with signatures from more than 2,000 employees. But last month the petition was withdrawn after the NLRB determined they needed wider support to spur a vote.

    "NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado confirmed the Amazon Labor Union is in the process of submitting the paperwork to file for a union election. The group has submitted the initial petition to kick off that process, but has yet to file two remaining documents, including a showing of interest, which indicates it has met the required threshold for employee signatures, the NLRB said.

    "The group, led by former Amazon employee Christian Smalls, is seeking to organize workers at four Amazon warehouses in the New York City borough."



    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. rebuffed a request from federal transportation officials to delay the launch of new 5G wireless services but offered a counterproposal that would allow limited deployments to move forward this week.

    "The cellphone carriers said Sunday in a letter reviewed by the Wall Street Journal that they could further dim the power of their new 5G service for six months to match limits imposed by regulators in France, giving U.S. authorities more time to study more powerful signals’ effect on air traffic. The plan from the companies, which have said they plan to start service Wednesday, could prolong a standoff between the telecom and aviation industries over how to proceed."

    The rollout of 5G wireless services in the US has created some anxiety among airlines and transportation officials because of concerns that the 5G signals could create interference between ground-aircraft communications.  However, as the Journal notes, "Telecom-industry officials have pointed to dozens of countries, including France, that have already allowed cellular service over the frequencies in question, known as C-band. France is among the countries that have imposed wireless limits near airports while regulators study their effect on aircraft."

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    •  CNBC reports that "one in every four dollars that Americans spent on online purchases retrieved through either curbside pickup or inside of stores this year went to Walmart, according to Insider Intelligence.

    "The big box giant drove 25.4% of all click-and-collect orders in 2021— the largest market share of any U.S. retailer, according to recent estimates by the market research firm formerly called eMarketer. That translates to an estimated $20.4 billion in sales.

    Click-and-collect sales are expected to jump by about 21% to $101 billion in 2022, according to the data tracker. They’re expected to grow by nearly 20% the following year to an estimated $120.15 billion in 2023."

    The story notes that "Walmart’s click-and-collect sales have nearly tripled over the past two years, soaring from an estimated $7.21 billion in 2019 to $20.4 billion in 2021. Its market share has grown, too, up from 20.6% in 2019. Its U.S. e-commerce business has yet to turn a profit, despite expanding 79% in the previous fiscal year, which ended Jan. 31, 2021."

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    •  Kroger announced the other day that its board of directors has "authorized a new $1 billion share repurchase program, replacing the current authorization, which had approximately $157 million remaining as of December 29, 2021 … Under the repurchase program, Kroger is authorized to repurchase its outstanding common shares from time to time in open market or privately-negotiated transactions, including accelerated share repurchase transactions, block trades, or pursuant to trading plans intended to comply with SEC Rule 10b5-1. The share repurchase program has no expiration date but may be suspended or terminated by the Board of Directors at any time."

    "We are customer obsessed and focused on leading with fresh and accelerating with digital, which is building momentum in our business and will drive Kroger's long-term success," said Rodney McMullen, Kroger's chairman-CEO. "Kroger's share repurchase authorization reflects our Board of Directors' confidence in the strength of our free cash flow and our ability to deliver consistently strong and attractive total shareholder returns."



    •  The Washington Post reports that the White House this morning "announced it will devote $1 billion to aiding independent meat and poultry producers, aiming to undercut the four powerful meat producers the Biden administration has alleged are responsible for surging consumer prices.

    "Facing immense political pressure over inflation, the White House has responded in recent weeks by criticizing large corporations and arguing that breaking up monopolies will foster competition and drive down prices. In November, President Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether oil and gas companies were improperly pushing up energy prices … The stakes are particularly high in the beef industry, where prices in November rose by a staggering 21 percent relative to last year, according to federal data. Food prices have also increased more broadly — by a significant 6.4 percent — with the index for meat, poultry, fish and eggs jumping 13 percent."



    •  The BBC reports on new laws in France that went into effect on January 1, banning "plastic packaging on most fruit and vegetables … Cucumbers, lemons and oranges are among the 30 varieties banned from being wrapped in plastic."

    According to the story, "President Emmanuel Macron called the ban 'a real revolution' and said it showed the country's commitment to phase out single use plastics by 2040."

    The BBC writes that "more than a third of fruit and vegetable products in France are thought to be sold in plastic wrapping, and government officials believe that the ban could prevent a billion items of single use plastics being used every year."

    At the same time, the Wall Street Journal reports on a "$600-million project, the first new paperboard production line built in the U.S. in decades, (that) represents an enormous bet by owner Graphic Packaging Holding Co. on a future without foam cups, plastic clamshell containers or six-pack rings.

    "Graphic wants to be able to offer more environmentally friendly packaging so that the consumer-goods companies that buy its products can tout a cleaner supply chain to their own investors and consumers. Once Graphic shuts down four smaller and less-efficient machines, including one at its Kalamazoo complex that is 100 years old, it will use a lot less water and electricity, it says, and emit 20% less greenhouse gases."



    •  Bloomberg reports that "private equity firm Bain Capital recently approached Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. about a potential purchase of its U.K. drugstore chain Boots … Bain is positioning itself as a front-runner for an upcoming auction of the unit … Boots only owns about a quarter of its stores and may be worth 6 billion pounds ($8.1 billion) to 7 billion pounds."

    Bain has not commented on the report.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    Numerous prominent people passed away over the past 10 days, but for the moment, let's focus on two of them…

    •  John Madden, the legendary football coach and broadcaster, passed away three days after Christmas.  He was 85.

    In the various pieces about Madden, he was described as a natural teacher who changed the way people saw the sport he loved, either through his descriptions of the games he was broadcasting  or his contributions to the video game series that bore his name.    As the New York Times put it, "Madden’s influence, steeped in Everyman sensibilities and studded with wild gesticulations and paroxysms of onomatopoeia — wham! doink! whoosh! — made the N.F.L. more interesting, more relevant and more fun for over 40 years."

    When Madden moved from coaching to broadcasting, experts agreed, he changed the game by simultaneously taking viewers (and booth partners) inside the game's strategies and tactics while simultaneously making it more accessible to even the casual viewer.  in other words, a teacher.

    From the Times appreciation:  "Fastidious in his preparation, Madden introduced what is now a standard exercise in the craft — observing practices, studying game film and interviewing coaches and players on Fridays and Saturdays. Come Sundays, he would distill that information into bursts of animated, cogent and often prescient analysis, diagraming plays with a Telestrator, an electronic stylus (whose scribbles and squiggles reflected its handler’s often rumpled appearance) that showed why which players went where."



    •  Betty White, who in more than 70 years on television gave us two indelible characters - Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Rose Nylund on "The Golden Girls" - passed away on New Year's Eve at age 99, just days before her 100th birthday.

    White's legacy may be mostly one of endurance and indefatigability - she always seemed happy and willing to poke fun at herself in a way that might give much younger performers pause.  And she became a bigger star even as she aged, which almost never happens.

    It also ends up that she had an ethical spine that was hidden behind the dimples.  One of the stories that has gotten a lot of publicity over the past few days has been about how White had a variety series, "The Betty White Show," back in the fifties, and one of the regulars was a tap dancer named Arthur Duncan.  A Black tap dancer.

    "This was in 1954," the Washington Post notes.  "As in, the year the Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education decision banning segregated schools. As in, before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Little Rock Nine and the Greensboro, N.C., lunch-counter sit-ins."

    There was backlash.  Stations in the south threatened to stop carrying the show unless Duncan was fired.  

    White's reported reaction:  "He stays.  Live with it."

    By the way … here's a clip from "MTM" that, while it hasn't aged particularly well, is hysterical and typical.

    Published on: January 3, 2022

    In Week 17, the penultimate week of National Football League regular season play…

    Atlanta Falcons 15, Buffalo Bills 29

    New York Giants 3, Chicago Bears 29

    Kansas City Chiefs 31, Cincinnati Bengals 34

    Miami Dolphins 3, Tennessee Titans 34

    Las Vegas Raiders 23, Indianapolis Colts 20

    Jacksonville Jaguars 10, New England Patriots 50

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28, New York Jets 24

    Philadelphia Eagles 20, Washington 16

    Los Angeles Rams 20, Baltimore Ravens 19

    Denver Broncos 13, Los Angeles Chargers 34

    Houston Texans 7, San Francisco 49ers 23

    Arizona Cardinals 25, Dallas Cowboys 22

    Carolina Panthers 10, New Orleans Saints 18

    Detroit Lions 29, Seattle Seahawks 51

    Minnesota Vikings 10, Green Bay Packers 37