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    Published on: March 11, 2022

    The Paramus, New Jersey, Stew Leonard's store is the perfect example of what independent food retailers need to do in order to thrive in a cutthroat marketplace - go big, go imaginative, and do what the competition cannot or will not do.  KC explores and explains.

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    The Houston Chronicle reports that 65 major US companies, through print and online ads, are urging Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to reverse an order "requiring the state's child welfare agency to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender youth as a form of child abuse by their parents."

    The ad reads:  "The recent attempt to criminalize a parent for helping their transgender child access medically necessary, age-appropriate health care in the state of Texas goes against the values of our companies.  This policy creates fear for employees and their families, especially those with transgender children, who might now be faced with choosing to provide the best possible medical care for their children but risk having those children removed by child protective services for doing so.”

    The Chronicle reports that "so far, there are nine new CPS investigations statewide involving parents who are supporting their children’s medical care, said Patrick Crimmins, spokesperson for the state Department of Families and Protective Services. But advocates and lawyers say even just the fear of an investigation is putting immense stress on Texas families with transgender children."  The paper notes that "a Travis County judge is scheduled to hold a hearing in a lawsuit challenging the policy change on Friday morning and consider whether to block it statewide while the case is being heard."

    Joni Madison of the Human Rights Campaign tells the Chronicle that Texas parents are being put in the position where they have to “decide between abandoning their lives, quitting their jobs, and leaving the state or fostering a safe, inclusive environment for their child.”

    The Chronicle also lists the companies that signed the ad:

    Akamai Technologies, Amalgamated Bank, Apple, BASF Corporation, Ben and Jerry's Homemade, Inc, Bottle Rocket, Bounteous, Box, Inc., Capital One, Cisco, Corning Incorporated, Creative Artists Agency, CREDO Mobile, Curology, Dow, Dropbox, Edelman, Electronic Arts, Emerson, Fastly, Folx Health, Gap Inc., Gearbox, Google, GSD&M, H&M US, IBM, ICM Partners, IKEA U.S., Included Health, Johnson & Johnson, Juniper Networks, Levi Strauss & Co., LinkedIn, Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, Macy's, Inc., MassMutual, Match Group, Meta, Microsoft Corporation, Momentive, Neiman Marcus, Patagonia, Patreon, PayPal, Phillips Murrah P.C., Pinterest, Plume, Range Media Partners, REI Co-op, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Inc., Shutterstock, State Street, Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, SXSW, Talon Labs, Taxa Outdoors, Texas LGBT Chambers of Commerce, Trillium Asset Management, LLC, Unilever United States, VMLY&R, VMware, Yahoo, Yelp.

    KC's View:

    Not Amazon.  Not Walmart.  Not Kroger.  Not Albertsons.  Not Coke.  Not Pepsi.  

    Not H-E-B.

    Make of that what you will.

    I know this.  I do not have a trans child, but if I did, I would move heaven and earth to make sure that my child would have whatever was needed to feel nurtured, safe, fulfilled, and free to figure out a way forward in a life that almost certainly would be challenging.  That strikes me as the very essence of being a parent.  It strikes me as the very definition of love.

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that "Target has introduced a new initiative to help its customers reduce waste.

    "Target has started to mark products with a Target Zero icon in stores and online to show that the products and packaging are designed to be refillable, reusable or compostable, or made from recycled materials or content that reduce the use of plastic.

    "Customers were able to first find marked Target Zero items in Target's beauty, personal care and household essentials categories in late February. More products will be added in the future."

    The story notes that "Target Zero is one of Target's first steps involving its vendor partners as part of its sustainability strategy it calls Target Forward.  As part of those goals, Target aims to have all of its private brands' plastic packaging be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025."

    The new Target Zero icon makes it easy to identify products designed to reduce waste

    KC's View:

    Good for Target.  There are a lot of competing constituencies these days, but it is important to be able to keep a lot of plates spinning at the same time.  Sustainability may seem less important to some at the moment, but this needs to be a long-term priority that continues to get attention.

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    Walmart has announced that it is launching "BetterUp for Caregivers, which "provides caregivers access to live group coaching circles led by a professional BetterUp coach, and includes customized tools and a community for support as they navigate daily challenges. Today, over 50 million Americans are caregivers, up from 43 million in 2015."

    BetterUp, the announcement notes, "is a human transformation company that helps people grow personally and professionally through coaching."

    At the same time, Walmart said that it is working with Easy Vitamin Plan "to offer its personalized vitamin subscription plan to Walmart customers. Easy Vitamin Plan makes customized nutrition accessible and more affordable for Walmart customers by offering subscribers a 28-day supply of vitamins that meets their specific needs at an everyday low price."

    Walmart said that the moves are a reflection of the company's commitment "to making wellness more accessible for our customers by offering a wide range of essential products and services at an incredible value. As a trusted health and wellness destination, we have worked hard to expand our assortment and services to ensure we’re meeting customers’ evolving needs."

    KC's View:

    Not just a source of product, but a resource for customers.


    Think of this in terms of the opportunity that we laid out last week - hospitals concerned that people going home after surgery won't eat right, retailers that can pro-actively address that concern, working with companies like Replenium (to make sure that the food is replenished on an appropriate basis) and Sifter (to make sure the food is appropriate to what the person's health needs are).

    Companies like Walmart are looking to dominate, even monopolize this conversation.  Retailers have to find their own way in, but they need to do it now … not put it off for weeks or months or years.

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a Washington Post story saying that "Russia has effectively legalized patent theft from anyone affiliated with countries 'unfriendly' to it, declaring that unauthorized use will not be compensated."

    Today, the New York Times reports that Russia is advancing the treat one step further: "President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday opened the door to nationalizing the assets of Western companies pulling out of Russia and exhorted senior officials to 'act decisively' to preserve jobs."

    Some context from the Times:

    "With Russia in danger of defaulting on its sovereign debt and facing a sharp contraction in its economy, the West is betting that the looming, generation-defining economic crisis could make Russians turn on their president. It is also possible, however, that the crisis could end up strengthening Mr. Putin, validating his narrative that the West is determined to destroy Russia.

    "'I have no doubt that these sanctions would have been implemented no matter what,' Mr. Putin said in televised remarks on Thursday, arguing that his intervention in Ukraine served merely as a pretext for the West to try to wreck Russia’s economy. 'Just as we overcame these difficulties in years past, we will overcome them now, too.'

    "But the sanctions imposed in the two weeks since the invasion — combined with multinational companies that employ tens of thousands of Russians voluntarily deciding to withdraw amid the global outrage — dwarf any other economic pressure that Russia has faced under Mr. Putin."

    Published on: March 11, 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…

    •  The US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  81,108,786 total cases … 991,260 deaths … and 55,600,175 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  453,968,537 total cases … 6,052,927 fatalities … and 388,269,900 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 76.6 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 65.2 percent is fully vaccinated … and 44.2 percent has received a vaccine booster dose.

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Travelers in the U.S. will have to continue wearing masks on airplanes, buses and other forms of transit through April 18 under a federal mandate that the Biden administration is extending, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Transportation Security Administration said Thursday.

    "The TSA’s directive requiring masks on public transit was set to expire after March 18, but it will remain in effect for another month at the CDC’s recommendation—a move industry officials had widely expected.

    "During that time, the CDC will work to revise its framework around when masks should be required on forms of transportation, basing its assessment on Covid-19 case levels, new variant risks and other data, the agencies said.

    "U.S. travelers and commuters have been required to wear masks covering their mouths and noses on nearly all forms of public transportation and inside transportation hubs for over a year. That mandate has been extended twice before.

    "The latest extension comes as Covid-19 case rates have declined and people have been allowed to forgo masks in many other public settings. All 50 states have dropped indoor mask mandates or announced plans to do so, and the CDC has eased its masking guidance for communities."

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    •  From Bloomberg:

    "Ocado Group Plc won a trade case lodged by AutoStore Holdings Ltd. that threatened its plans to expand its robotic warehouses into the U.S.

    "AutoStore said it plans to appeal the International Trade Commission’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Ocado shares rose as much as 11% in London Friday, while AutoStore dropped as much as 8.6% in Oslo.

    "The ITC affirmed with modifications a judge’s findings that three AutoStore patents are invalid and that Ocado doesn’t infringe a fourth. AutoStore asked the full commission to review the findings 'to correct multiple legal mistakes.'

    "The two companies are seen as having the best chances for growth in the fast-developing market for automated warehouse robots. It’s led to a global battle over who has the rights to the underlying technology, with cases in Germany, the U.K. and the European Patent Office.

    "While the trade case isn’t the only dispute between the two in the U.S., it’s the one that has the greatest potential to disrupt Ocado’s plans in the world’s largest market. A London court is expected to rule on another legal dispute between the companies in coming weeks, Ocado said."

    •  TechCrunch reports that "Mara, a São Paulo-based startup that aims to 'reinvent' the grocery shopping experience for the underserved in Latin America, has raised $6 million in a funding round co-led by Canary and Caffeinated Capital."

    The story describes Mara as having a "noble" mission - "to help the people who need it the most get better pricing on their grocery products … Mara wants to offer supermarket items at a wholesale price, with free next-day deliveries at a pickup point close to a user’s home. Its aim is to expand access to quality grocery products at wholesale prices in the region, starting with its home city of São Paulo. Because much of this population is of a lower-income demographic, downloading an app can be cost-prohibitive and difficult. So, Mara does not require users to download one, and rather offers them the ability to purchase products via a website, choose a delivery point and even pay when they pick up since many do not have a way to make online payments."

    TechCrunch  writes that Mara is"teaming up with local merchants, who not only serve as a pickup point, but help provide awareness about Mara’s service.  The idea is that any purchase can be picked up the following day within a maximum of 500 meters away from the user’s home, in commercial establishments such as bakeries, grocery stores and butcher shops."

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    •  From Axios:

    "Inflation continued its relentless surge in February, driving the rate of consumer price increases to a new generational high … The Consumer Price Index rose 0.8% in February, and was up 7.9% over a year earlier, the steepest 12-month rise since 1982.

    Excluding volatile food and energy — so-called core inflation — the numbers were still high, at 0.5% for the month and 6.4% year-over-year.

    "Over the last three months, core inflation rose at a 6.8% annual rate while total inflation increased at an 8.4% rate. Those numbers point to an acceleration of inflation this winter, not a deceleration … The steepest price gains were for gasoline (+6.6%) and fuel oil (+7.7%). But there were price surges for many non-energy items as well, including air fare (+5.2%) and fruits and vegetables (+2.3%)."

    •  From the Associated Press

    "Slightly more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but layoffs have settled to the low, pre-pandemic levels seen before the coronavirus recession in 2020.

    "Jobless claims rose by 11,000 to 227,000 for the week ending March 5, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The previous week’s number was 216,000. First-time applications for jobless aid generally track the pace of layoffs."

    •  The Los Angeles Daily News reports that "after weeks of fruitless negotiations, some 43,000 Southern California grocery workers employed by Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions have scheduled strike-authorization votes that could signal a potential walkout at the supermarket chains.

    "The employees, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, saw their contract expire Sunday March 6. They have scheduled strike votes for the week of March 21.

    "They haven’t indicated when a strike might occur."

    The story notes that "UFCW Local 770 said it filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions for surveilling, intimidating and interfering with employees for engaging in union activity.

    "UFCW-represented workers with Stater Bros. and Gelson’s are also in active labor negotiations with their employers. Local 770 also filed unfair labor practice charges against Stater Bros. for circulating surveys with questions about bargaining and for delaying negotiations."

    •  From the Boston Globe:

    "Russia no longer runs on Dunkin’.

    "The Canton-based coffee and doughnut company is halting 'all current development and investment in Russia,' amidst that country’s invasion of Ukraine, a Dunkin’ spokesperson said in a Thursday afternoon e-mail.

    "The company’s 'approximately 20' locations in Russia will not necessarily close, as they are owned and operated by “a local, independent franchise owner,” the spokesman said. But the company, which is owned by Atlanta-based Inspire Brands, will withdraw corporate support and halt any future growth.

    "The coffee conglomerate’s decision comes two days after competitors Starbucks and McDonalds announced that they would be suspending operations in Russia, joining the over 330 other companies that have pulled their business out of the country … Dunkin’ was facing mounting pressure to shut its stores after earning a spot on Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld’s list of companies still operating in Russia during its invasion of Ukraine."

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    I talked approvingly yesterday of Barnes & Noble's decision to address the book bans taking place in some communities around the country by featuring displays of banned books in its stores and on its website.  I argued that "it is more important for a retailer to be true to its core values … and that the banning of books is antithetical to selling them."

    MNB reader Rich Heiland responded:

    All in with you on the Barnes & Noble commentary....I grew up in a small town on Library Avenue. Our house was at one of the street, the local library at the other. When I was 10 or 11 I wanted to check out a book and the librarian wouldn't let me. When I got home I mentioned it to Dad. My father was an actor, director, college English teacher. He was not happy.

    He took me back to the library, got the book from the shelf and went to the checkout desk. He told me to check it out. When the librarian protested he said "my son is to be allowed to check out any book he wants and if you will not allow him to, I will check it out for him." From then on, I checked out any book I wanted and my world was wider and better for it.

    Good for your dad.

    I do have a question:  Do you remember what the book was?

    Reacting to the passing of Charles Entenmann, one MNB reader wrote:

    I was fortunate to have worked for Entenmann's Bakery back in the early 90’s when Warner Lambert sold to Kraft General Mills.  I met William and Robert Entenmann on a few occasions.  They still came to the Bakery in Bayshore, LI to “Score” the cake as it came out of the ovens.  They were obsessed with Quality and only used the best of the best raw ingredients; Smuckers Jelly, Domino Sugar, Chiquita bananas, etc.  While others used off brand ingredients to save money.  The Entenmann Brothers are why the Brand is still the highest quality boxed cake in the business!  

    Our piece yesterday about Russia effectively legalizing "patent theft from anyone affiliated with countries 'unfriendly' to it, declaring that unauthorized use will not be compensated," prompted the following response:

    Russia always had a weak record on enforcing trademarks.  But the companies that will be hurt if a decree on trademarks is declared will be the companies that have a strong mark in Russia.  McDonald’s and Nike come to mind.  But the decree is only good in Russia.  Russia would be unable to export branded products to other countries without legal action being taken against the importers of the products.  And we can guess where the products would be manufactured. 

    And regarding Dollar General's new financial services offerings, one MNB reader wrote:

    While I’m not a fan of dollar stores in general, I think this is a good fit. Dollar stores fill a niche in many underserved areas, and as many as 10% of US adults don’t use any bank and 25% are “underbanked”. Tying a banking service to the store may help build loyalty (or at least frequency).

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    •  From ESPN:

    "The MLB lockout is over.

    "It took more than three months -- and multiple deadlines for delaying the regular season -- before Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association ended their stalemate and came to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement."

    According to the story, "Opening Day moves to April 7 and a full 162-game schedule will be played … Spring training camps open with a March 11 voluntary report date and March 13 mandatory date … Spring training games start March 17 … Free agency to begin immediately once CBA is ratified … Playoffs expand to 12 teams, beginning this season … The National League adopts the designated hitter starting this season."

    KC's View:

    I'm happy about this, obviously.  But at the moment, the fighting between baseball owners and players seems utterly insignificant in the context of the state of the world right now.

    Robert B. Parker said that "baseball is the most important thing that doesn't matter."  That may still be true, but the powers that be apparently want to test that thesis.  Not very smart.

    Published on: March 11, 2022

    If you've not seen it, I highly recommend "We Need to Talk About Cosby," the Showtime documentary produced by comic W. Kamau Bell that is as good a consideration as I've seen of an oft-asked question:  "Is it possible to separate the artist from the art?"

    The subject, of course, is Bill Cosby, the actor and comedian who for several decades may have been the most influential Black cultural figure in the country - between his TV series and his standup, his commercials and his movies, his books and his advocacy for education, Cosby was everywhere.  And profoundly respected.

    What we didn't know was that at the same time, Cosby was a serial sex offender.  He's been accused by some 60 women of drugging and raping them, and in 2018 was convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, though they were thrown out later on a technicality.

    Bell uses four episodes to effectively play out the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of Cosby's personality, using the first half of each segment to lay out his achievements - which were considerable and noteworthy - during a specific time frame, and the second half to explain what really was going on, with narration provided by many of the women, as well as other members of the community with unique cultural takes on Cosby's contributions and eventual fall from grace.

    It is a fascinating piece of work, deeply upsetting in many ways, and the question is one worth considering:  "Is it possible to separate the artist from the art?"  It ends up being a personal question, and the fact is that I just can't watch Cosby;'s work anymore, just like I can't watch Woody Allen or Kevin Spacey movies.

    That's just the way it is.

    Thrilled to tell you that "Bosch: Legacy" - the sequel series to "Bosch," which had seven successful seasons on Amazon Prime Video - has a premier date:  May 6, on IMDb TV.

    The first 4 episodes will be streaming on May 6, followed by 2 episodes each on the following 3 Fridays.  I'm jazzed - I love the Michael Connelly books on which the series have been based, I loved the TV treatment, and this looks terrific.

    Here's the just-dropped trailer:

    I know there are Wordle clones everywhere, but I've decided I'm sticking with the original.  Part of the charm of Wordle is that I can only play it once a day, which means that I can't get addicted and go on for hours.  (Which is sort of a problem when I play Word Search.)

    Some of the clones are beyond me.  I was reading about one the other day called Heardle:  "Rather than type in the names of artists or songs, you listen to short clips of an intro then try to guess the answer.  You get six attempts, with each one extending the length of the clip you get to hear."

    No way.  I'm the guy who was terrific playing Trivial Pursuit until we got to the music category, at which point I would crash and burn.

    Had a lovely red wine the other night, the 2014 Cairanne 'La Cigalette, which has a nice smoky thing going for it that made it perfect for barbecue.

    Also two new beers that I'd never had before, which were excellent - Redland Lager from Maryland's 7 Locks Brewery, and Boats & Hose, a limited release "Caribbean-style" lager from Maryland's Jailbreak Brewery.  Great stuff!

    That's it for this week.  Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.