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    Published on: January 10, 2022

    Kroger-owned Ralphs announced on Friday the opening of a new kitchen center, offering foodservice menus from a variety of formats, inside its Westwood store in Los Angeles.

    The Los Angeles location is the first collaboration between Kroger and Kitchen United, which describes itself as "the future of takeout & delivery," and the nation's first “Multi-Restaurant Ordering” to-go experience.

    Additional locations in Texas are anticipated to open later in the month.  The Dallas Morning News reports that these sites include locations in Dallas, Frisco, Plano and Houston.

    Here's how the companies describe the concept:

    "The kitchen center will enable customers to place an order digitally using Kitchen United's proprietary MIX platform via web, mobile, or an in-person ordering kiosk. Customers can then pick up their meal onsite or have it delivered. Restaurant staff will prepare the orders and delivery service fees will be determined by third-party providers."

    Dan De La Rosa, Group Vice President of Fresh Merchandising for Kroger, describes the concept as "one more innovative example of how Kroger is fulfilling its commitment to anything, anywhere, anytime."

    Dan De La Rosa, Group Vice President of Fresh Merchandising for Kroger. "The Kitchen United collaboration provides the fresh, on-demand meals our customers crave. It is one more innovative example of how Kroger is fulfilling its commitment to anything, anywhere, anytime."

    Kitchen United's Chief Business Officer Atul Sood tells the Los Angeles Business Journal that "the industry term that we have fallen into is ghost kitchen, but this is very much not ghostly.  It’s front and center, visible in the store, and we’re very proud of the design and architecture that’s gone into it. We even have a conveyor belt where customers can see their food after its prepared and packaged make its way to the front-of-house pickup center."

    KC's View:

    One of the smartest things about this concept is the location - it is virtually across the street from UCLA.  One can imagine that if the food quality is good and the operations are efficient, this will end up being a kind of de facto cafeteria for folks over there.

    Here's the question I would ask - does this collaboration give Kroger the ability to open ghost kitchen operations even in places where it does not have physical stores?  Seems to me that it does;  the company already is making moves in this direction by creating an e-grocery business in Florida, serving markets where it has no physical presence.

    All of which points to new business models available to retailers, as they mix and match formats and concepts, with the ability to defy retailing orthodoxy when and where it seems to makes sense.

    P.S.  I love that Kroger seems to be putting food at the center of this value proposition.

    Published on: January 10, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Deliveroo, a UK food delivery business that is backed by Amazon, has decided to open a pizza parlor in London’s Swiss Cottage neighborhood.

    The restaurant, which will be called Pizza Paradise, reportedly will have "outdoor and indoor seating, a front-of-house pizza oven, a back-of-house kitchen and an interior waiting bench."  The goal, the Journal writes, is to allow "Deliveroo staff to learn how to manage a restaurant that offers dine-in and delivery, working out how best to balance the needs of both types of diners at peak times," which will then allow the company to be more effective at serving the needs of its client businesses.

    The story points out that Deliveroo and its clients have encountered familiar issues:  "Helmet-clad drivers and cyclists form knots at restaurants as they wait to pick up orders, doors bang open and closed as they come and go, and kitchen staff scramble to keep up with parallel streams of orders from on-site diners and those at home."  Deliveroo is trying to figure out new best practices to alleviate at least some of these problems.

    The Journal writes that "Deliveroo has experience running food-service operations. The company in 2016 began opening Deliveroo Editions, locations known as 'dark kitchens' or 'ghost kitchens,' where multiple restaurant brands operate kitchens exclusively for delivery in one central space. It now operates nearly 300 such kitchens globally, in markets including the U.K., United Arab Emirates, France and Hong Kong."

    But an eat-in restaurant would be a "novel concept for a technology business," the story says.

    KC's View:

    I think this is a really interesting idea, but my own bias would be that Deliveroo needs to have an appreciation for more than how to smoothly integrate a take-out component into a restaurant operation;  for me, it would be just as important to serve really good pizza and whatever other dishes it happens to make.

    It makes me crazy when businesses that are in the food business don't make food their highest priority, when they don't tap into the visceral, emotional, aspirational nature of food as a potential differential advantage.  

    Published on: January 10, 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 a total of 61,263,030 Covid-19 coronavirus cases, resulting in 859,356 deaths and 42,257,508 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 308,071,477 total cases, with 5,507,480 resultant fatalities and 259,661,219 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 74.3 percent of the total US population, and 79 percent of the population age five and older, have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 62.5 percent of the total population and 66.5 percent of the five-and-olde group have been fully vaccinated.

    The CDC also says that 36.3 percent of the total US population has received a vaccine booster shot.

    •  From the Boston Globe over the weekend:

    "As Omicron whips through the workforce, caregiving agencies are turning away new patients. Restaurants are shutting down. Construction jobs are being delayed. Retailers, including Macy’s, are limiting hours.

    "The colossally contagious COVID-19 variant emerged at the worst possible time for employers, as workers — many of them vaccinated and eager to socialize — were gathering with family members over the holidays. Infections flattened entire families at once in some cases. And for organizations that don’t have the luxury of allowing people to work remotely, the surge in positive cases is exacerbating a long-simmering staffing crisis that has grown even more urgent in recent months as record numbers of people quit their jobs."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Just as the Covid-19 crisis made amateur epidemiologists of people trying to go about their daily lives, it also forced H.R. professionals, especially those at small and midsize businesses, into a new focus on public health. As companies weighed when to return to the office, whether to require coronavirus vaccines and what sort of exemptions from those rules to allow, it was often H.R. directors who were asked to lead those efforts. It was no longer sufficient for these professionals to manage the job satisfaction and career development of their colleagues. Suddenly, they were also charged with monitoring their health, safety and views on immunization.

    "The added dimensions of H.R. jobs are coming into sharper focus now, as more organizations put vaccine mandates into effect. About 17 percent of American employers were requiring vaccinations or negative Covid tests for employees returning to the office, according to a Gallagher survey of more than 500 employers conducted between August and October.

    "Hovering over company conversations about vaccines is the additional consideration of whether to mandate booster shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not updated its definition of 'fully vaccinated' but said that being 'up to date' on vaccination includes a booster."

    •  UPI reports that "Amazon is changing its policy and shortening the COVID-19 isolation period for its employees from 10 days to seven days, the company announced.

    "The decision was made Friday based on new guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month."

    Walmart made a similar announcement last week … and this seems to be where everyone is going.

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "rising numbers of nurses and other critical healthcare workers are calling in sick across the U.S. due to Covid-19, forcing hospitals to cut capacity just as the Omicron variant sends them more patients, industry officials say.

    "The hospitals are leaving beds empty because the facilities don’t have enough staffers to safely care for the patients, and a tight labor market has made finding replacements difficult."

    •  The New York Times reports that "Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star, moved one step closer to competing for his record 21st Grand Slam title after an Australian judge ordered his release from immigration detention on Monday, ending a five-day saga over his refusal to be vaccinated for Covid-19.

    "The judge, Anthony Kelly, found that Djokovic had been treated unfairly after his arrival at a Melbourne airport for the Australian Open, where he had been cleared to play with a vaccination exemption. After detaining Djokovic, the border authorities promised to let him speak with tournament organizers and his lawyers early Thursday morning, only to cancel his visa before he was given a chance.

    "Restoring the visa does not, however, guarantee that Djokovic will be able to vie for his 10th Open title when the tournament begins next Monday. In court, the government’s lawyers warned that the immigration minister could still cancel his visa, which would lead to an automatic three-year ban."

    Published on: January 10, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Denver Gazette reports that Kroger is asking the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to use a federal mediator in its dispute with the company's King Soopers division.

    According to the story, "Sean Hammond, the senior director of labor relations for the Kroger Company, sent a letter to union president Kim Cordova requesting the use of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on Saturday.

    "In the letter, Hammond claims that Kroger has presented 'an offer to the union with unprecedented economic benefits and what we believe are otherwise excellent terms and conditions of employment.'  Hammond expressed Kroger’s desire to meet with union representatives and bargain immediately regarding a comprehensive proposal the union sent Thursday."

    •  Bloomberg reports that lawyers for Amazon-owned Whole Foods are arguing that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has violated the company's copyright and Constitutional rights in ruling that it must allow companies to wear “Black Lives Matter” masks at work.

    The NLRB said in mid-December that in banning the masks, Whole Foods was interfering with employee rights.

    Bloomberg writes that Whole Foods is countering that "it’s the one whose rights are being violated. The company’s filing, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, accuses the labor board’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, of trying to unconstitutionally 'compel' speech by Whole Foods in violation of its First Amendment rights. The upscale grocer also accuses her of 'unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting WFM’s protected trademarks' by trying to mandate that it allow the display of a 'political message in conjunction with' its trademarked uniforms and logos."

    I said it before and I'll say it again - I think businesses (especially customer-facing businesses) ought to have the ability to put some limits on the messages being communicated to consumers by front line employees.  Now, they have to be consistent - if you ban BLM masks, you also have to ban MAGA masks.  If you allow one, you have to allow the other.  

    •  CNN reports that "Coca-Cola is tapping into the canned cocktail craze with a boozy version of its Fresca soda.

    "In a partnership between Corona brewer Constellation Brands and Coke, the companies will launch Fresca Mixed, a spirit-based cocktail, later this year.

    "Fresca is the second non-alcoholic drink owned by Coke to be turned into a spiked version. In 2020, it successfully launched Topo Chico hard seltzer. Imagery and nutritional information for Fresca Mixed hasn't yet been released."

    Published on: January 10, 2022

    Sidney Poitier, who became the nation's first major Black movie star with notable performances in films like "To Sir With Love,” “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner," and who was the first Black person to win the Best Actor Oscar for "Lillies of the Field," has passed away.  He was 94.

    Variety assess his career this way:

    "To any American film fan who lived through the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and ’60s, the importance of Sidney Poitier’s career can’t be overstated. Poitier’s the guy who proved the stupidity of racism in movie after movie — from the early 1950s film 'No Way Out' to his role in a string of popular 1970s comedies — in theaters and drive-ins across America.

    "Sure, Brando redefined the craft, along with Dean and Clift. Chaplin expanded the artistic boundaries and the Duke personified John Ford’s mythical West, but Sidney Poitier redefined America and personified the truth about Black America’s quest for equality.

    "His gravitas and grandeur, his humanity and his humility, his ceaseless striving for dignity all had an enormous impact on America, changing American society and its film industry forever — and for better."

    And, Variety goes on:

    "Remarkably, given the pressures on Poitier to be 'the Jackie Robinson of the movie business,' he didn’t fold under that impossible mantle. He didn’t turn bilious and strident as did many of his contemporaries, who, given the brutal circumstances of those times, can be forgiven for not matching Poitier’s inner strength. Where so many grew bitter, Poitier became wise and generous. As an accomplished film director and producer, he provided vehicles for a new generation of Black actors and filmmakers to prove their creativity and business chops."

    Published on: January 10, 2022

    On Friday, MNB reported that the US Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments over two of the Biden administration's most controversial Covid-19 policies -  a rule set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) saying that companies with 100 or more employees must have vaccine-or-test procedures in place, and another saying that health care workers at facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds must be vaccinated.

    A ruling by the Supreme Court is seen as critical in setting the tone for the nation's response to the pandemic, which has gotten more complicated in recent weeks because of the Omicron variant, which while seeming to be less serious in nature also seems to be more infectious - fewer people are dying, but the stresses on the health care system remain enormous.

    Opponents of the federal rules say that they are an example of federal overreach and an abridgment of personal freedoms.  Proponents say that the rules are both legal and necessary in order to get the nation back to some level of normality.

    One MNB reader weighed in:

    I am vaccinated and boosted and pro-mask when necessary, however I am not in favor of this mandate given the current climate surrounding labor shortages.  A business with a 100 employees is small!!  I work for a family owned natural food store with two locations and we are just at the 100 employee mark.  We are having an incredibly challenging time finding people to work which means the people that are working are maxed out.  If we forced people into vaccinating we would lose at least 25% of our workforce which would not be replaceable given the current labor shortages and high cost of living in California.

    I’m also confused as to why the business owners have to take on the expense when it is the employee refusing to get vaccinated?  Why not put the expense on the employee, they are the ones not getting the shot?  Perhaps if the testing costs were put on the employee it might make them rethink getting vaccinated.  At this point I have such fatigue over this topic I don’t really care if people are not vaccinated because those individuals are most likely not going to change their mind.  The majority of people in the hospital with serious illness are the unvaccinated, good luck with that!  I know I’m not going to end up with serious illness so at this point I don’t care or feel sorry for those who are choosing their fate.  I guess once all the unvaccinated get sick and die then the pandemic will be over.  Geez, do you hear the fatigue in this email?!

    From another reader:

    It seems to me that you are not speaking to the huge cost and burden the new OSHA rules will have on large businesses, during a time when we are already facing increasing costs and a very challenging environment for staying fully staffed.

    This requirement puts the onus on businesses to:

    -keep a record of very single employee’s vaccination status and be able to produce it upon request.

    -provide for a way for all unvaccinated employees to be tested weekly in a “proctored test”, and maintain those records, again, so that federal investigators can review upon request.

    This will be extremely expensive, and yet there is no reimbursement federally for this added cost. …And the fines will be egregious if a company messes this up.

    It’s hard enough for large retailers like Kroger and Wal-mart to do this.  How does an independent retailer or a COOP go about figuring out how to do this to avoid the fines?

    I personally believe all should have the vaccine, and I agree with you (and Kroger) that insurance should cost more for the unvaccinated, but I think adding massive regulation that forces retailers to bear the burden of the complete administration of this policy, with the threat of huge fines, in indeed an over-reach.

    And from another reader:

    Here’s an interesting side note about the affect of Covid-19.  Both my wife and I have Covid-19 this week.  We are vaccinated and boosted so our symptoms are not too bad.  My lovely wife manages a public library, so she has to stay home from work for 10 days.  I work in CPG trade sales, but work entirely from home.  I have not had to miss a minute of work, even including several meetings.  Welcome to the “new normal.”

    And from another:

    I am going to try to live my life the best I can as well. For those that refuse to mask up I will evacuate their area because it should be classified as their area because they should be the only one in their area, which means if in a retail store their area is empty of food to buy and consume they can starve. For those that do mask but infringe my 6 foot circumference without polite warning or simply asking I will do the two step the best I can to get out of their way, if not allowed the two step I will simply snarl and make comments to them in an appropriate way(not printable).

    People, it is simple - slow down be respectful and don't touch me or your fellow shoppers, hold the dairy door open for the person behind you if they are respecting your space, if not slam it on their fingers. Thank you end of rant.

    Regarding new labeling requirements that, among other things, eliminate the term "GMO" and replace it with "bioengineered," one MNB reader wrote:

    Did you happen to read the whole regulation? All the pages? 

    The implementation is byzantine and honestly a terrible, watered down mess. As someone that works for a small, local grocery chain, it’s going to take a lot of time and cost for our company just to make it more confusing to shoppers. These are not transparent labels, they ignore some products that consumers would really like to know about  - like eggs. Additionally, it will be really hard for small scale farms to certify their products because of the cost and complexity of record keeping. 

    Consumers will not know about restaurant foods, or restaurant style foods. As grocery retailers move more and more into prepared foods, consumers will know less and less about what is in them unless the a retailer chooses transparency. 

    Also, who and how will this be monitored? Who is checking and auditing to make sure the labels are correct? 

    It’s a joke and obviously something that passed with a Perdue at the helm. But I will say it works well for the poultry industry. 

    Also, the seal/logo is a great piece of cheery, lil farm propaganda. 

    Please know, I’m not against all GMO’s and I agree consumers should have the right to know but this regulation is a hot mess. 

    We had a story about a new Dunkin' format store the other day that prompted me to comment that nowhere in the original coverage and press materials was there anything about the smell of fresh doughnuts, probably because the company seems to have entirely moved to centralized baking, with no in-store doughnut making anymore.  I said that to my mind, this always was one of Dunkin's charms, and it is missed … which led one MNB reader to write:

    I agree with you that it seems Dunkin has lost a step.  Combining with C-stores, centralizing manufacturing has taken the aromatic sensation away from their operation.  Sadly, it appears they decided long ago to go for quantity verses quality.  I guess “it’s time to make the donuts” is no longer. 

    I'm old-fashioned.  I still miss the doughnut they used to make that had a handle baked onto it.  These guys have no respect for tradition.

    I commented the other day that in the coming year I think we're going to see an attempt at union organizing somewhere within Walmart, which prompted this email from an MNB reader:

    Unions in Walmart?  They don’t have enough workers in the stores now.  Can see this scenario playing out.  Hey honey I voted for the union and got a raise.  Yeah!  Oh, and by the way my last day is Friday.

    I don't necessarily think they'll be successful in organizing, but I think that the unions have to thinking that in any year where they've gotten union representation into Starbucks and continue to be working on getting it into Amazon, leadership has to be thinking about Walmart.  And I'd guess that Walmart's management is being vigilant about it.

    Regarding Alexa-based technology from Amazon being embedded into cars, one MNB reader wrote:

    All this new tech. is really scary.  You can’t have a conversation around Alexa or Siri without a text or email popping up about something in your discussion.  Now with all the distractions for drivers, most of which are against the law to use while driving, companies are pushing for more.  I say beware.  We all should take note of what happened to Dave (in 2001).  Or more recently, Del Spooner. 

    Regarding allegations that New Balance is misleading about its Made-in-USA claims, one MNB reader wrote:

    Actually the fact is not that NB’s internal definition of MIA is misleading.  The true fact, is that the FTC definition is “all or virtually all” materials must be manufactured in America.  Which leaves vagueness.  How much is virtually?  If the shoes are assembled in America, are they actually made here?  Seems to me like a frivolous waste of time and money.  Another attempt at money grabbing and adding additional cost into an already stressed economy.

    On another subject, from an MNB reader:

    About your reader’s response to Biden supporting small meat processors: He wrote “This is a free market or at least suppose to be.  I seriously doubt that the 4 large meat producers are manipulating the market and “causing” the cost of meat to go up.”

    Yes, it is supposed to be but it is not a free market. It is owned and managed by 4 large companies at the expense of the producer. They are capable of playing (“fixing?”) prices and the data shows they are exercising that capability.

    I had a story on Friday with the headline, "Do Delivery Businesses Dream Of Electric Vans?"

    Which, thankfully, prompted MNB reader Bob D’Amato to write:

    Good Philip K. Dick reference.


    And finally, this note about my encore posting of a column about the passing - and, more importantly, the life - of my friend Vic Magnotta:

    Touching article and tribute to your friend. I can tell what a profound affect he had on your life. Nice of you to share his story with us.

    And, from MNB reader Joe Axford:

    Thank you for sharing this story again, KC.  Vic sounds like a great guy who lived life to the fullest, and I hope you keep sharing this story. It really makes me appreciate life, and how quickly things can change. 

    Published on: January 10, 2022

    •  In week 18, the final week of National Football League regular season play…

    Cincinnati Bengals 16, Cleveland Browns 21

    Green Bay Packers 30, Detroit Lions 37

    Chicago Bears 17, Minnesota Vikings 31

    Washington 22, New York Giants 7

    Indianapolis Colts 11, Jacksonville Jaguars 26

    Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Baltimore Ravens 13

    Tennessee Titans 28, Houston Texans 25

    New Orleans Saints 30, Atlanta Falcons 20

    New York Jets 10, Buffalo Bills 27

    San Francisco 49ers 27, Los Angeles Rams 24

    New England Patriots 24, Miami Dolphins 33

    Seattle Seahawks 38, Arizona Cardinals 30

    Carolina Panthers 17, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41

    Kansas City Chiefs 28, Denver Broncos 24

    Dallas Cowboys 51, Philadelphia Eagles 26

    Los Angeles Chargers 32, Las Vegas Raiders 35

    •  The Athletic reports that the New York Yankees have hired Rachel Balkovec to manage the Low-A Tampa Tarpons next season, making her "the first female manager in affiliated professional baseball."

    Some context from the story:

    "Balkovec started her pro baseball career as a strength and conditioning coach with a St. Louis Cardinals minor-league affiliate in 2012. She went on to become the Houston Astros' Latin American strength and conditioning coordinator, also becoming the first woman to hold that position, before moving into the same role with the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks.

    "After taking time away from American baseball to pursue an additional master's degree in the Netherlands, Balkovec did a fellowship with Driveline Baseball, the Washington-based player development organization. She was then hired by the Yankees as a minor-league hitting coach."

    The story notes that Balkovec "was a catcher for the softball teams at Creighton and the University of New Mexico. Her appointment comes after a recent run of history-making moves for women in baseball, including Kim Ng's hiring as general manager of the Miami Marlins in 2020 and Bianca Smith becoming the first Black woman to coach in pro baseball last year."