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    Published on: March 14, 2022

    This week, Michael Sansolo joins KC to visit the new Whole Foods in Washington, DC, that uses Amazon Go-style, Just-Walk-Out, checkout-free technology, comparing it not just to the Go stores, but also to the Amazon Fresh format.  They conclude that Amazon appears to have reached the point where it is no longer prohibitive - economically or scientifically - to apply this technology to full-scale supermarkets.  Not only that, they say, on many levels the store really works.

    Here are some pictures…

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "CVS Health Corp. Chief Executive Karen Lynch has removed several executives following an internal investigation into how they handled sexual-harassment complaints and is overhauling how the company handles such matters, according to people familiar with the matter.

    "Ms. Lynch, who took over as CEO a year ago, in December became aware of complaints made by at least two female employees alleging that a New Jersey-based regional store manager had either harassed or inappropriately touched them at work, the people said.

    "Ms. Lynch oversaw an investigation, carried out by a professional investigator, that culminated in January in the dismissal of the manager, who oversaw hundreds of stores, and the departure of senior executives who supervised him, these people said.

    "The probe and leadership exits haven’t previously been disclosed."

    Last week, Lynch laid out the "substantiated" events to some 450 company "leaders," and said the company would be creating "an office designed to give employees a confidential channel" through which they could make complaints about sexual harassment.

    “I want to be crystal clear: this company does not tolerate harassment or hostile, abusive or discriminatory behaviors of any kind from any employee —regardless of position,” Lynch wrote in a memo. “We also will not tolerate inaction from leaders who are responsible for escalating concerns or allegations raised by our colleagues.”

    KC's View:

    Good for Lynch.

    It needs to be made clear to everyone in the company - and, by the way, every person in every company - that not only will actions of this sort be met with serious, non-negotiable consequences, but so will inactions by people who have as part of their responsibilities assuring a safe workplace for everyone.

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    Forbes has an excellent profile of Mike McNamara, Target's CIO, who came to the company in 2015 after "a distinguished tenure as the CIO of Tesco in the UK," and saw in Target enormous untapped digital potential.

    "'The downside when you looked at it was that there was a business that lacked confidence in itself, but the upside was that you have this phenomenal brand, and you had a business that was brilliantly run financially, so a balance sheet to die for,' said McNamara. 'Then they had a tremendous body of highly capable people.'  He reconned that this was a case of a company that had slightly lost its way, but the ingredients for a remarkable rebirth were there, given its human and financial resources."

    The story goes on:  "Like so many companies in the middle of last decade, Target had outsourced significant parts of its IT. 'When I began at Target, 70% of the team was outsourced… [First, we had to ensure that] we were only doing work that was of value strategically to the organization. Second, we [had to] build up our own engineering capability in-house with a focus on the team. Then third, [we had to modernize] our architecture.'  McNamara underscored this last point noting that architecture was the key to his vision. 'The reality is nobody can predict the future,' he noted. 'I couldn't predict what was going to happen over the ensuing six years when I joined and clearly, a lot of things did happen, including the pandemic, which nobody saw coming. What was important was to start building an architecture that would be scalable, stable, secure, but agile, [giving the company] speed'."

    Forbes writes that "this began a journey that would take the IT team from being 70% outsourced to 93% insourced today. By developing a strong stable of technical talent, he had a much stronger foundation upon which to build. That included investing in data and analytics to a much greater degree. The journey that was created led to talent being attracted to join for the next phases. His team now boasts having roughly 400 engineers dedicated to data science, and another roughly 200 mathematicians. These talented technologists have been among the keys to Target’s success across the past six plus years."

    The Forbes piece is available here.

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    The Kitchn has a piece about "Ziscuit, a Black-founded startup, gives its users the opportunity to enter their grocery list online and find the cheapest total for their bill. Aimed largely at food desert areas, Ziscuit uses the same search engine technology as Honey, Kayak, or The Zebra to give its users big savings and deals on groceries.

    "Ziscuit will not only take into account your typical grocery stores such as Publix or Food Lion, but stores like Dollar General and Walmart are also included in the search.

    "Initial rollouts for the new platform can be found in zip codes where food insecurity is more prevalent — like areas surrounding Atlanta, Georgia. For many shoppers, this innovative new platform could not come at a better time as the costs of food and gas continue to rise."

    KC's View:

    On its site, Ziscuit lists the kinds of activities to which it serves as an alternative:  "Spending 2+ Hours Clipping Coupons? … Running Out Of Gas Making Multiple Stops? … Spending 2+ Hours Reviewing Store Flyers? … Spending $100s to Feed Adult Kids & Grandkids?… Tracking Recipe Ingredients Feels Like Herding Cats?"

    At a time of raging inflation, sites like Ziscuit may find new popularity as people try to stretch their grocery dollars. This is very interesting ... as MNB reader Craig Espelien explained it to me, it is "a way for a retailer in a specific geography better serve the under-served."

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    Axios reports that "lobster prices have soared so much that restaurants are either giving their customers sticker shock or taking lobster off the menu entirely … this means $100 for a 2-pound lobster at D.C. steakhouse The Prime Rib.

    "The Salt Line restaurant has cut lobster rolls from the menu and replaced them with shrimp and clam rolls."  A partner in the restaurant said "it is almost embarrassing" to charge so much money for lobster rolls.

    Axios writes that "the lobster price shock is both a supply problem and a demand problem — a microcosm of the U.S. economy … Maine lobstermen were able to sell their catch straight off the boat for $6.71 a pound in 2021, up 59% over the pandemic-depressed 2020 level — and up 39% over 2019."

    KC's View:

    It seems like yesterday - though it probably was pre-pandemic, in the "Before Times" - that everybody was worried about crashing lobster price, with the price so low that folks were. concerned that lobstermen wouldn't be able to make a living.

    My favorite lobster roll place, Lobster Shack in Clinton, CT, is charging $24.95 apiece.  I now am faced with a dilemma, because on Tuesday I will be driving past Clinton on I-95.  Here's the question - is a lobster roll worth five gallons of gasoline?

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    The New York Times reports that "the salad days of Facebook’s lavish employee perks may be coming to an end.

    "Meta, the parent company of Facebook, told employees on Friday that it was cutting back or eliminating free services like laundry and dry cleaning and was pushing back the dinner bell for a free meal from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., according to seven company employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    "The new dinner time is an inconvenience because the last of the company’s shuttles that take employees to and from their homes typically leaves the office at 6 p.m. It will also make it more difficult for workers to stock up on hefty to-go boxes of food and bring them to their refrigerators at home.

    "The moves are a reflection of changing workplace culture in Silicon Valley. Tech companies, which often offer lifestyle perks in return for employees spending long hours in the office, are preparing to adjust to a new hybrid work model … The changes could be a warning shot for employees at other companies that are preparing to return to the office after two years of the coronavirus pandemic. Google, Meta and others have long offered creature comforts like on-site medical attention, sushi buffets, candy stores and beanbag chairs to lure and retain top talent, which remains at a premium in the tech industry."

    The Times writes that "many workers were quick to gripe in the comment section underneath the post announcing the change, according to several employees who viewed the post. Just minutes after the changes were announced, employees asked whether the company was planning to compensate them in new ways and if Meta had undertaken an employee survey to evaluate how the changes would impact the staff … In a tone several employees described as combative, Meta’s chief technology officer, Andrew Bosworth, assertively defended some of the changes and chafed at the perceived sense of entitlement on display in the comments, according to the employees who saw the thread. Mike Schroepfer, the outgoing chief technology officer, also wrote in the comments in support of the changes."

    KC's View:

    I must admit that I was amused by the irony of the Times headline:  "Facebook’s Parent Company Will Make Employees Do Their Own Laundry."   Because one of the first things a good parent does, as soon as children reach a certain age, is teach them to do their own laundry.

    Published on: March 14, 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 81,174,677 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 993,811 deaths and 56,071,103 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 458,727,034 cases, with 6,067,369 resultant fatalities and 392,160,914 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 76.7 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine, with 65.3 percent being fully vaccinated, and that 44.3 percent has received a vaccine booster dose.

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    •  From NBC News:

    "Uber is adding a surcharge on fares and deliveries in the U.S. and Canada in response to surging gas prices, the company said Friday.

    "Riders taking Uber trips will pay a fee of $0.45 to $0.55 per trip, and Uber Eats deliveries will include a $0.35 to $0.45 surcharge, the company said. The fees are temporary and will last for at least two months.

    "The company said the fees will go to drivers, who are responsible for paying for gas they use … The surcharges can vary based on trip distance and gas prices in each state. They won’t apply in New York City because drivers already received a 5.3 percent pay increase on March 1, accounting for the increase in gas costs, Uber said."

    •  From Advertising Age:

    "Professor of marketing at NYU and outspoken provocateur Scott Galloway took the stage on the first day of SXSW to outline his top predictions for the next one to three years … Galloway does not think the company formerly known as Facebook will succeed in building out its vision for the metaverse. He said, with a heavy dose of mockery, that Meta rebranded to distract from the host of issues affecting its company, has done a poor job in diversifying its revenue (which is mostly advertising) and that its major loss in market cap is a bad sign for its future endeavors.

    "He also cited a lack of confidence in Meta’s wearable products like the Oculus headset, which he calls 'the tech hardware failure of the last decade'."

    Galloway also argued that Apple is winning the metaverse, a prediction that "may come as a surprise considering Apple has not actually announced any vision for the metaverse. But Galloway said that its App Store is the closest approximation to a metaverse, with easy interoperability between spaces and mass adoption.

    "AirPods are also the only wearable that has succeeded, he said, and provide a portal into an audio-focused metaverse. Along with the iPhone, which acts as a kind of central server, this technology has already proved its value to the public - a far cry from the lack of success so far seen by Meta’s Oculus."

    •  From the New York Times:

    "Ready to watch Major League Baseball before lunch?

    "That will be an option if NBCUniversal completes a deal with the league to carry 18 games on its Peacock streaming service, some starting as early as 11:30 a.m. Eastern time and others just after noon, a person with knowledge of the deal said on Friday.

    The games would be available exclusively to subscribers to Peacock, which costs up to $9.99 a month … Under the proposal, the games — likely to be played on the East Coast, given the early start time — would start airing on the streaming service in May."

    The story notes that "M.L.B. reached a deal with Apple this week to stream Friday night games on Apple TV+ — another exclusive deal that is likely to buoy interest in a streaming service but could prove a challenge to baseball fans used to having access to games as part of their TV package."

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    •  From Axios:

    "Morale among Americans in early March dropped to an 11-year low in the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index released Friday — the bleakest reading since September 2011.

    "Why it matters: Inflation worries have eclipsed other indicators, which show a pretty strong U.S. economy — with unemployment at just 3.8%."

    •  Fortune reports that "Kmart’s famous blue light is getting really, really dim.

    "The once omnipresent retailer will see its number of U.S. locations drop to three next month, with the closing of the Avenel, N.J., store. That’s scheduled to occur on April 17, which will leave Kmart with just three locations nationwide—in Westwood, N.J., Long Island, N.Y., and Miami.

    "At the company’s peak, there were 2,400 Kmarts in operation, with over 350,000 employees. The chain had revenues of $37 billion and owned brands including the Borders bookstore and Sports Authority. (Both of those businesses have since been acquired by former competitors.)"

    •  From the Wall Street Journal:

    "Several top executives are leaving Chobani Inc. as the yogurt maker puts plans for its initial public offering on hold.

    "President and Chief Operating Officer Peter McGuinness told employees last week that he is leaving the company effective Friday to pursue other opportunities, according to people familiar with the matter. Chobani’s Chief People Officer Grace Zuncic, Chief Strategy Officer Michelle Brooks and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Cristina Alesci also are leaving the company, the people said.

    "Norwich, N.Y.-based Chobani previously had planned to go forward with an IPO in the fall of 2021, and then in January of this year, according to people close to the company.

    It initially targeted a valuation of as much as $7 billion to $10 billion, the Wall Street Journal previously reported. The company now plans to wait until at least the second half of 2022 or even 2023, according to people familiar with the company, amid an especially volatile market for IPOs in recent months."

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    •  The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) saids that Mary Emma Young has been named the organization's Vice President of Communications.   Prior to joining AFFI, Mary Emma served as Senior Director of Communications and Strategic Planning at the Pet Food Institute. She also served as Director of Communications & Marketing at CropLife America.

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    William Hurt, who was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s with standout performances in films like Body Heat, The Big Chill, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Broadcast News, and Children of a Lesser God, has passed away after a long battle with cancer.  He was 71.

    Hurt, later in his career, moved into supporting roles in films like A History of Violence, as well as a number of turns in the Marvel universe, in The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Black Widow.

    KC's View:

    One of my favorite William Hurt performances was in 1980's Altered States, a trip of a movie that seared itself on my consciousness.  And then there was his Off-Broadway turn in Lanford Wilson's "Fifth of July."  An actor capable of amazing things … and, if you look at his IMDb page, one who worked and worked and worked.

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    On Friday we took note of a Houston Chronicle report 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."

    We listed the companies, and I commented:

    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.

    MNB reader Jesse Sowell wrote:

    I've seen both up close and personal with close friends, and from afar with public figures, the internal struggles that come with being transgendered. Those are multiplied when family and society rejection are added on. Alienation, anxiety, depression, and suicide are all too common. Ideally, society and government would join the effort when supportive families seek to help their transgendered children. At the very least, society and especially government should get out of the way. Using vulnerable children for political gain is unconscionable, and I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for politicians who do so.

    Regarding Target's new Target Zero icon, which is being used 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, one MNB reader wrote:

    I think Target is doing o good thing, but they still use plastic bags for the customers and many of their employees put too few items in the bags. They should eliminate the plastic bags and send a real statement. 

    Consistency and authenticity are important words, I think, when you are trying to communicate values in addition to value.

    Writing about my video tour of the Stew Leonard's in Paramus, New Jersey, one MNB reader wrote:

    Looks like a field trip is in order! I think Stew has it right, it's all about fresh foods. The big chains need to pay attention. Center store should be shrinking at some point, and the focus has to be on fresh. Everyone sells groceries, and I think Stew Leonard's will more than hold their own when Wegman's comes to Norwalk, Connecticut.

    I think so, too.

    MNB reader George Denman wrote:

    Enjoyed your piece on Stew’s newest store in NJ and it took me back to my time living in New Fairfield in the early 90’s when I first joined Dannon. My kids loved shopping the store in Danbury and begged to go every week-end just to enjoy the free samples and of course popcorn. I remember walking the eggs department and watching the animatronic of hens laying eggs. Our choices in western CT were not that great back then between a small Grand Union store, an ancient and dirty Stop ‘n Shop and this beautiful new Stew Leonard’s.

    Now that I am retired after 12 years at Graeter’s and living just north of Cincinnati I have two incredible independents that I love to shop frequently - Dorothy Lane Market and Jungle Jim’s. Both are very different from each other and clearly in size as well. I love the bakery department at DLM and stop every week-end on in the summer on way to the summer house to pick up fresh Killer Brownie’s and asiago cheese flutes. Their meat department is the best in the area and you kind find some of the best looking porterhouse steaks and filets anywhere.

    Jungle Jim’s have one of the largest wine and spirits section for any grocer in the state and if you can’t find a bourbon there, it “ain’t “available!  Of course looking back to my Graeter’s days, Jungle Jim’s has the largest Graeter’s section in the US with four in-line doors, two additional upright freezers and two bunkers. Plus a wonderful museum piece of a historic Graeter’s French pot dating back to the 70’s. I learned to love Belgian chocolate as an exchange student there in 1973 and can always find my favorite Cote d’Or at Jungle Jim’s.

    Sounds like an embarrassment of riches to me.

    (Stew's doesn't carry Graeter's.  But it should.)

    I mentioned last week that one of the things I like most about Wordle is that I can only play it once a day, which means that I can't get addicted and go on for hours.

    MNB reader Duane Eaton responded:

    I enjoy the original Wordle for the same reason.  Lately, thanks to my daughter, I have also been playing Worldle (Worldle), which gives you the image of a country or territory and you try to guess what it is.  When you guess it tells you how far it is between the capitol of the country you guessed and the capitol of the correct answer.  Also, what direction you need to look to find the answer.  I like it because it has made me look at a world map and realize just how much geography has changed since I was certified to teach it in the early-70s.  It’s rekindled a long-dormant interest in the subject.

    I wrote last week about 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 agreed with me, and told the story of not being allowed to take a book out of the local library, and his dad going back with him to the library to stand up for his right to take out anything he wanted.

    I asked, rhetorically, if Rich remembered the book in question and he responded:

    I don't recall the book. I don't think it was about sex. I dimly recall it was some kind of adventure book and I think the librarian thought it was too thick, too over my 10 or 11-year-old head. Being raised by a college English prof in a house where dinner table discussions included young kids, it was not. I don't know that our small town library in 1956 really would have had any smutty books or even controversial ones. 

    I wasn't thinking it was about sex.  I was just curious.  When I was 10 or 11, I was immersed in the Hardy Boys, I think.

    And, reacting to Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association ending their stalemate and coming to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, one MNB reader wrote:

    It's a sad sad day that the NL has adopted the Designated Hitter. IMHO, 70% of the strategy of the game has been removed with this alteration. Who knows maybe next they will eliminate the pitcher and we'll just have tee ball. 

    I feel your pain, but I gave up on the idea that the National League would be able to avoid the DH.  The good news is that extra innings and double header rules are going back to what they used to be.  There is some solace in that.

    Of course, the resumption of baseball gives me the excuse to offer this:

    Published on: March 14, 2022

    ESPN reports:

    "Tom Brady's retirement lasted 40 days.

    "Brady said Sunday he is returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his 23rd season in the NFL. The seven-time Super Bowl champion announced his decision on Twitter and Instagram, saying he has 'unfinished business.''

    "'These past two months I've realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,'' Brady wrote. 'That time will come. But it's not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I'm coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa'."

    ESPN goes on:

    "Brady's return comes on the eve of NFL free agency in which the Bucs will face tough odds to return all of their free agents. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, center Ryan Jensen, right guard Alex Cappa, cornerback Carlton Davis, running back Leonard Fournette, safety Jordan Whitehead, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul are set to become unrestricted free agents with the Bucs currently $11 million over the salary cap … The Buccaneers saw their odds to win the Super Bowl at Caesars Sportsbook drop from 20-1 entering Sunday to 10-1 following the news of Brady's return."