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    Published on: January 13, 2022

    The pandemic has changed a lot of things, including the products that people search for on Google.  The results, KC suggests, tell us something about the difference between sustainable trends and fads, not to mention moments that are best forgotten.

    Published on: January 13, 2022

    Walmart, which recently announced the expansion of its InHome program, allowing its workers to enter people's homes to deliver groceries and even stock their refrigerators, will team with HomeValet for a new offering that will allow Walmart to up its delivery game while avoiding the issue of letting strangers into one's house.

    According to the announcement, HomeValet is making its Smart Box and app available for pre-order, saying it will "first be offered to eligible Walmart InHome customers in select participating regions this January, with wider consumer availability announced in early 2022 … Following a successful consumer pilot conducted with Walmart customers in May 2021, early delivery and a special introductory price will be available to select Walmart InHome customers in January 2022. Verified Walmart InHome customers serviced by participating Florida stores will be the first to experience the fully automated and seamless grocery delivery enabled by HomeValet."

    According to the announcement, "Offering a secure, temperature-controlled and internet-connected outdoor receptacle, HomeValet's Smart Box enables seamless unattended delivery of fresh groceries and packages directly to consumers' front door steps every time. Through HomeValet's mobile app and subscription service, consumers will be able to conveniently customize, manage, monitor, and remotely control their Smart Boxes - for delivery fit to their lives, not the other way around."

    Here is a YouTube video posted by HomeValet:

    KC's View:

    From all reports the Walmart-HomeValet test was a smashing success, and I would expect that Walmart will play a huge role in the HomeValet rollout.

    We're likely to see a numb er of innovations around this space in the near future, as companies look for ways to reduce or eliminate friction at the delivery point.  (There's still plenty of work to do elsewhere in the delivery chain, but that's another story.)

    For example, there is was a story from Axios the other day about an Indiana company called Dronedek that "has developed a patented, sensor-equipped receptacle it hopes will one day be as ubiquitous as today's letter box … It's about 4 feet tall and 2 feet square, with a lid that automatically opens when the drone arrives to drop off — or retrieve — a package.  The secure door is heated and motorized for easy access, and there's a cushioned landing pad inside to prevent damage to packages.

    Individual compartments can be heated or cooled, and UV lights can disinfect parcels if needed.  There's even a letter slot for traditional mail."

    Here's a YouTube video about Dronedek:

    (My favorite p[art of the video is the text that says it is "compatible with humans, drones and robots."  Welcome to the new world.)

    The levels of technology required for these various innovations will be all over the place, and I'm sure we'll see some notable successes and failures.  Having Walmart in its camp certainly gives HomeValet a leg up on the competition, and I think this move probably will set the table for a number of alliances between the various players looking for an advantage.

    Here's a question I would ask:  Is it likely that a company like Instacart and/or DoorDash will either invest in one or more of these options, or maybe even acquire one, as a way of exerting even greater control over the delivery chain?  I'd think this certainly is a possibility.  And I think that retailers are going to have to consider their options for competing in this segment, or competing with this segment.

    Published on: January 13, 2022

    Kroger yesterday announced an expanded collaboration with Nuro "with the introduction of Nuro's third-generation autonomous delivery vehicle," which it will use to grow its offerings in Houston, Texas.

    The move, Kroger says, builds "on its commitment to anything, anytime, anywhere. Grocery delivery through autonomous vehicles is a leading-edge e-commerce solution that offers customer-focused convenience – regardless of basket size."

    "Our expanded collaboration with Nuro supports Kroger's commitment to provide fresh food, at a great value – all without asking our customers to compromise," said Yael Cosset, Kroger's Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer. "The role of autonomous vehicles in our seamless ecosystem continues to increase, contributing to meeting our customers in the context of their day without compromising on the quality or value, while contributing to our long-term growth and sustainability goals."

    Here is Nuro's announcement of the third-generation technology on YouTube:

    KC'S View:

    This is an example of how companies like Kroger are playing the cards they've been dealt - smartly, I think, as they collaborate with tech companies that can enable transformational visions …. and appear to be able to achieve necessary scale.

    I must admit to one small thing that I notice about videos like the one posted by Nuro.  Whenever they show the autonomous vehicle traversing various neighborhoods, they are largely in bucolic settings - not a lot of traffic, well-kept roads, hardly even anybody parked along the curb.  I keep waiting for a video that shows an autonomous vehicle trying to make its way through the Bronx, dodging potholes, being harassed by cab drivers, avoiding jaywalking pedestrians, competing for space with FedEx, UPS and Amazon trucks, and generally trying to navigate the human morass that typifies big city traffic.

    Here's an idea for such a video:  A speaker on top of the autonomous vehicle that shouts at others, "Hey, I'm driving here!  Get the &#@*% out of my way!"

    (Actually, that sounds like a potential SNL bit…)

    Published on: January 13, 2022

    The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) and FMI - The Food Industry Association (FMI) yesterday announced that they are canceling the 2022 Annual Meat Conference  "out of respect for the health of our communities and due to the attention and consideration our respective members are putting into their operations."

    The conference had been scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, from February 7-9.

    “The purpose of AMC is to bring together retailers and the meat and poultry industry,” said NAMI President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “Like the meat and poultry industry, many of our partners in retail are experiencing significant operational and supply chain challenges. At this time, attending an in-person conference is difficult which diminishes the value of the event for all participants."

    While the in-person event is canceled, NAMI and FMI said that in partnership with Sealed Air, they "will host a virtual discussion series regarding The Power of Meat analysis. The kickoff to this three-part series will be hosted beginning February 7."

    KC's View:

    FMI is having a tough week - it was just few days ago that it had to cancel its annual Midwinter Executive Conference, slated to take place in late January, because of Covid-related issues.

    As I said then, a lot of this is bad timing.  The consensus seems to be that after a couple of bad weeks in January, we're likely to see the Omicron surge subside considerably by mid-February.  But that's too late for some of these conferences.  At the same time, the meat industry has gotten a fair amount of criticism for what some have described as insufficient safety measures during the pandemic, and the optics of hosting a conference in the middle of the Omicron surge weren't great.

    That said, organizations with meetings scheduled for just a few weeks later seem confident about their ability to go on with their shows.

    The National Grocers Association (NGA), which is scheduled to have its show in Las Vegas from February 27-March 1, is so confident about its ability to host the event that it announced this week that it has booked Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey and a potential competitor for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, to be its opening keynote speaker.

    And, Diversified Communications announced that the 40th edition of its Seafood Expo North America/Seafood Processing North America will take place as planned from March 13 through March 15, 2022 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC).

    Now, obviously a lot can change.  But once we get past this particularly contagious moment, the betting seems to be that people want to get back to living their lives and conducting commerce, and that as long as people are vaccinated and/or tested and behave in a safe and responsible manner, we can get back to business.  Not business as usual, of course, but business nonetheless.

    Published on: January 13, 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 64,359,409 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus - up almost three million from yesterday -  resulting in 866,891 deaths and 42,805,090 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 317,933,760 total cases, with 5,533,176 resultant fatalities and 263,135,745 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 74.6 percent of the total US population and 79.3 percent of the population that is age five and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, with 62.7 percent of the total population and 66.7 percent of the five-and-older population being fully vaccinated.  The CDC says that 37 percent of the total US population have received the vaccine booster shot.

    •  The Associated Press reports that "scientists are seeing signals that COVID-19′s alarming omicron wave may have peaked in Britain and is about to do the same in the U.S., at which point cases may start dropping off dramatically … The variant has proved so wildly contagious that it may already be running out of people to infect, just a month and a half after it was first detected in South Africa."

    The AP writes that "at the same time, experts warn that much is still uncertain about how the next phase of the pandemic might unfold. The plateauing or ebbing in the two countries is not happening everywhere at the same time or at the same pace. And weeks or months of misery still lie ahead for patients and overwhelmed hospitals even if the drop-off comes to pass."

    • From the Wall Street Journal this morning:

    "Public-school attendance across the U.S. has dropped to unusually low levels, complicating efforts to keep schools open, as districts also contend with major staff shortages.

    "Many students in kindergarten through 12th grade are out sick because of Covid-19 or are being kept home by anxious parents, as the Omicron variant surges, officials say. Remote learning often isn’t being offered anymore for students who are home. Empty desks create a quandary for teachers, who must decide whether to push ahead with lesson plans knowing a large number of their students will need to catch up.

    "New York City, the nation’s largest school district, saw its overall attendance rate fall below 70% when classes resumed after the winter holidays, far beneath the district’s pre-pandemic average of over 91% students at school each day. Many students missed class because of fears of contracting the virus or because they or a family member had tested positive, teachers said."

    The Journal also writes that "the Biden administration plans to distribute millions of free Covid-19 tests to schools around the country, part of the federal government’s effort to keep schools open amid a surge in coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron variant.

    "Later this month, the administration will begin shipping five million rapid Covid-19 tests to K-12 schools each month, White House officials said. States will have to apply to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to receive the tests. The administration has previously distributed $10 billion in resources to states for testing at schools. That funding was included in the coronavirus response legislation signed into law last year, according to the White House … The rapid tests for schools are in addition to the 500 million rapid tests the administration plans to begin distributing to the public for free in the coming weeks, a White House official said. The administration has faced criticism for testing shortages around the country that led to long lines and empty shelves at the start of the Omicron surge."

    Published on: January 13, 2022

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "For years, white-collar employees at Inc. have accused the company of using opaque 'rank-and-yank' performance reviews to periodically cull its workforce. Now a proposed law in Amazon’s home state of Washington could make it harder for companies to terminate workers without explaining why.

    "Employees in Washington state currently have a right to their personnel records, but the existing law doesn’t clearly specify what needs to be disclosed, and there are no consequences for ignoring requests. The proposed legislation aims to more clearly define employee files and impose penalties on companies that fail to hand them over.

    "The potential effect of the proposed legislation extends beyond terminations. Workers also need access to their employment records to apply for unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation or pursue discrimination claims."

    The story notes that "rank-and-yank performance evaluations have long been controversial. Popularized in the 1980s by Jack Welch at General Electric Co., the practice entails grading employees against one another and eliminating those deemed poor performers … Amazon denies 'stack ranking' employees, but internal documents cited by the Seattle Times describe a practice called 'unregretted attrition' that aims to remove the bottom-performing 6% of the workforce each year. Yahoo and Facebook have also been criticized for their own versions of stack ranking."

    Published on: January 13, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  From the New York Times this morning:

    "In Europe, the mild, smooth and nutty cheese called gruyère must have a slightly damp texture, with average spring and low crumble. It must be in the shape of a wheel, weighing between 55 and 88 pounds. Fruity notes must dominate.

    "Perhaps most importantly, according to Swiss guidelines, gruyère must be made in the region around Gruyères, Switzerland, which has produced the cheese since the 12th century.

    "In the United States, however, gruyère can be made anywhere, according to a federal court ruling that was made public last week. It was the latest development in a long-running legal tangle between American cheese producers and producers in Switzerland and France over what makes gruyère gruyère.

    "In the ruling last month in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge T.S. Ellis III wrote, 'Although the term gruyère may once have been understood to indicate an area of cheese production, the factual record makes it abundantly clear that the term gruyère has now, over time, become generic to cheese purchasers in the United States.'  Under U.S. law, trademarks cannot be given to generic terms.

    "Gruyère producers in Switzerland and France, however, say that their cheese is anything but generic and that they will appeal the decision."

    I must say that I hope the Gruyère producers in Switzerland and France win their appeal.  I believe in tradition, I believe in labeling accuracy, and I believe that the implications of rulings like these result in the dumbing down of not just our taste buds, but also our understanding of where food comes from and the traditions associated with such products.

    Published on: January 13, 2022

    •  Gelson's Market announced that it has hired veteran retail executive Clare Bogle, most recently CFO at Valley Fruit and Produce Company, to be its new Chief Financial Officer.

    At the same time, Gelson's said that John Bagan, the company's Chief Merchandising Officer, has been promoted to the role of Chief Operating Officer and Ron Johnson, VP, Information Technology, has been promoted to Chief Information Officer.

    •  Retail Business Services, the services company of Ahold Delhaize USA, has announced that Teresa K. White - most recently Director, Financial Planning & Analysis – Global Supply Chain and Logistics for Target - has joined the company as Vice President, Financial Planning & Analysis.

    Published on: January 13, 2022

    From MNB reader Julia Ann Mataras:

    I have to weigh in on the pig heart transplant.

    My husband received a kidney transplant 11 years ago after being on the transplant list (and dialysis) for 4+ years.  Our lives stopped for those years.  He would not take a kidney from anyone in the family (including his 3 sons) and insisted on waiting on the list.  The average life for a transplanted kidney from a dead person is 12 years.  My husband is currently 67 years old. 

    With covid, our travel/vacation plans have been greatly curtailed- and he looks at it like a death sentence.  He just sees the fact that his kidney will be gone in another year or so - and he will be back on dialysis.  He does not want to get another kidney transplant- although I am working on changing his attitude about that. 

    I am very hopeful about the pig transplant.  And can only pray that it becomes “mainstream” quickly.

    Thanks for sharing your story, which illustrates so vividly that pieces like the one about the pig heart transplant aren't just interesting and aren't just about some abstract notion of life and death.  They are about something deeply personal that affects people's lives, and when those people are part of the MNB community, I take it personally.

    On another subject, MNB reader David Carlson wrote:

    When I have my merchant hat on, I fully agree with your comments about there being no excuse for sending an Orthodox Jew an ad for pork chops, etc. – none of us have the time and resources to waste on ineffective ads.  With my consumer hat on, however, I’m comforted (and often amused) that retailers don’t know too much about me.

    Fair point.  Though ideally, the customer wouldn't even be aware of the editing process … he or she would just see ads and promotions that are relevant.

    We had an MNB reader the other day who wrote:

    Regarding the rise in covid cases:  A friend of mine put it quite succinctly.   Obviously with more testing more people are positive with covid.  If we had more IQ tests we'd have more idiots, too.              

    Prompting another MNB reader to write:

    Brilliant comment, must be a MBA graduate … too bad the CDC can't cure stupidity.

    On a serious note, what we need is to be told after folks get tested and found to be positive, if they tested positive for the delta or the omicron. Since there are big differences in both and thankfully Pfizer’s is working on a vaccine for the omicron today.

    While more are getting sick, i.e. testing positive, fewer are dying. Seem those that are dying are still the unvaccinated, the 30 percenters. Interesting to see that the same states that have been in the bottom for testing, vaccinations, non-mask mandates are still there and are asking for the National Guard to come and help.

    I'm not sure who you are being tougher on - the unvaccinated, or people with MBA degrees.

    Another reader wrote:

    I don’t know about you, but I believe that it is simply prudent to stay away from COVIDIOTS.

    No question who you are being tough on.

    From another reader:

    I am a front line worker as well for a large Northeast chain, in Exeter NH, and the problem I have is when any fellow workers get Covid it is a big secret, we aren't told about it, only through whispers and the grapevine. I am immunocompromised, and fully vaccinated, but still don't want to get Covid, for many reasons. I feel like my company is dropping the ball here, my guess is that it's a HIPPA issue?

    Also got an email on the subject from MNB reader (and MNB fave) Rich Heiland:

    In reading through your comments, and feedback in "Your Views" concerning vaccines...particularly one comment that if vaccines don't prevent us from getting it or passing it one, what's the point?

    I am 75 years old, have both Pfizer shots and the booster. Last week I spent a week on a consulting trip to Colorado - airports, airplanes, hotels, restaurants, a team retreat with an optometry practice.

    I would not be surprised if I get COVID. The vaccines make no guarantees I won't. But, they do make it likely I will not get as sick. As for transmission, if I transmit to someone who has their shots they are less likely to get seriously ill, be hospitalized or face death. However, if I pass it one to someone who is not vaccinated they could face serious consequences.

    This may sound strange, but it bothers me that I could pass something on to an unvaccinated person that could kill them, even if they have chosen not to get the shots. 


    The discussion - indeed, the world in which we live - reminds me of a passage from Robert Bolt's "A Man For All Seasons" that I have quoted here from time to time over the past 20 years, in which Sir Thomas More says:

    “If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we'd live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all... why then perhaps we must stand fast a little --even at the risk of being heroes."