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    Published on: May 13, 2022

    H-E-B has signed on with Looma, a shopper education company, to use a network of smart tablets to tell stories about beer and wine products in a way that will inform purchase decision and connect customers to the people behind the products.  Which I found great, though I did have two additional thoughts about a) the technology, and b) the department where it is being used.  Let me explain…

    Published on: May 13, 2022

    Bloomberg reports that fast grocery delivery company Jokr "will roll out a media platform to sell targeted advertising, in a bid to boost sales and get closer to profitability at a time when food delivery companies are under pressure from investors to stem losses … The New York-based company will use its trove of customer purchase data to attract brands, whose enthusiasm for advertising on platforms like Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook is waning."

    The platform, according to the story, will "allow advertisers to reach consumers both on the company’s mobile application and off-line through placements such as stickers on couriers’ bags or in deliveries."

    Jokr's value proposition is built on micro-hubs, which TechCrunch describes as "really just various storefronts on side streets in denser areas. The company uses data to forecast what customers will want, when, and where, to strategically organize these micro-fulfillment centers for speed."

    TechCrunch goes on:

    "For end users, there are no order minimums and no delivery fees.

    "Data is the key ingredient to identify what customers need and put an emphasis not only on what they need, but also when they need it. And what point of time, which day, which week, which month, whether it’s in the morning or in the evening, and build a dynamic inventory and catalog management system that is able to rotate inventory, provide inventory and pre-forecast suggestions for customers, those type of consumer goods, and the corresponding time.

    "Jokr procures the goods sold on the app directly from brands, manufacturers and wholesalers. In other words, you can think of the service as a sort of ghost kitchen for groceries and everyday items."

    KC's View:

    So, I look at Jokr's business model - delivery in 15 minutes or less, with no order minimums, from all these microhubs - and I wonder to myself why it took them so long to come to the conclusion that they were going to need ad support to reach profitability.

    Of course data was going to be a key ingredient if it is going to have any sort of success - both in terms of merchandise stocked and attracting targeted ad support.

    Even with targeted ads, I continue to question the viability of a 15-minute delivery window.  Disappointed customers seem to be a likely byproduct of this promise, which won't be good for Jokr, and wont' be good for its advertisers.

    In the end, this move sounds to me like Jokr is looking for a lifeline.

    Published on: May 13, 2022

    The select committee in the US House of Representatives has concluded that "the country’s largest meatpackers successfully lobbied the Trump administration in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic to keep processing plants open despite knowing the health risks to their workers," essentially "prioritizing production over the health of their workers."

    The New York Times story says that the report "describes the extent of the meat industry’s influence on the administration’s response to the pandemic: Companies stoked 'baseless' fears of an imminent meat shortage in an effort to prevent plant closures. The legal department of Tyson Foods drafted the initial version of an executive order President Donald J. Trump issued in April 2020 declaring processing plants as 'critical infrastructure.'  And industry concerns prompted the government to adjust its federal recommendations on worker safety at a meatpacking plant."

    The Washington Post covers it this way:

    "The report alleges the nation’s largest meatpackers and industry trade groups repeatedly misled the public when they warned that a slowdown in their operations posed an imminent threat to the nation’s meat supplies. But 'these fears were baseless,' investigators wrote.

    "The report from the bipartisan House select subcommittee is based on review of 151,000 pages of documents, more than a dozen survey calls with meatpacking workers union representatives, former Agriculture Department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials, and state and local health authorities. The subcommittee also held a staff briefing with OSHA and USDA.

    "Internal industry documents showed that 'despite awareness of the high risks of coronavirus spread in their plants, meatpacking companies engaged in a concerted effort with Trump Administration political officials to insulate themselves from coronavirus-related oversight, to force workers to continue working in dangerous conditions, and to shield themselves from legal liability for any resulting worker illness or death,” the report states."

    KC's View:

    I have several reactions to this.

    First, I'm not sure that it is entirely fair to criticize meatpackers for pushing the government to label their plants to be critical infrastructure.  If plants had to slow down production because of as reduction of workers because of pandemic concerns, it might've inflamed an American public that already was on edge because of changes being forced on them by Covid-19.

    We are a culture that does not do well with shortages, because a) we're not used to them, and b) we can, in general, act like entitled babies.  There is very little sense in some circles of the big picture and the broader influences that can affect prices and supply;  rather, we seem to be really good at a) whining and b) assigning blame.

    In my view, it would've been a more mature and nuanced reaction to the pandemic for the broader culture - as well as meatpackers and politicians - to accept the notion that for a time, in order to assure worker safety, we might have to accept shortages as being an inevitable and temporary condition.  But the reality is that nobody ever increased quarterly sales or got elected by being nuanced and mature.

    My other reaction is that it always is distressing when business groups draft legislation, which happens no matter who happens to be in power at the moment.  I have no problem with organizations having input and making recommendations, but there ought to be a line.  There isn't one, but there ought to be.

    Published on: May 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…

    •  The current US Covid-19 coronavirus numbers:  84,066,379 total cases … 1,026,109 deaths … and 81,163,689 reported recoveries.

    The global numbers:  519,878,857 total cases … 6,284,866 fatalities … and 474,619,207 reported recoveries.  (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.6 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 66.4 percent are fully vaccinated … and 46.3 percent of fully vaccinated people have received a vaccine booster dose.  The CDC also says that 49.4 percent of the eligible US population has not received a vaccine booster dose.

    Published on: May 13, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  The Washington Post reports that Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colorado) has introduced "the Digital Platform Commission Act, legislation to establish a new five-person commission responsible for protecting consumers in the age of Big Tech. According to the bill … the agency would have the power to interrogate the algorithms powering major tech platforms, and to set new rules to ensure the biggest companies are transparent about how they handle thorny decisions around content moderation on their platforms."

    The Post goes on:

    "Regulators’ current focus on competition problems in tech does not address many of the industry’s most pressing problems, according to Bennet, such as foreign disinformation, children’s safety and the potentially radicalizing effect of platform and product designs.

    "The bill represents a growing awareness that the federal government is consistently outmatched in resources and tech skills when examining massive Silicon Valley companies. The Federal Trade Commission, which currently does much of the oversight of the tech industry, and the Justice Department, which has brought a major antitrust case against Google, have traditionally taken a more reactive approach to abuses in the tech industry — sometimes at a far slower pace than the industry moves. FTC Chair Lina Khan has said that the agency’s staff and resources are strained under a crush of merger filings and has asked Congress for more funding."

    I'm all in favor of ensuring transparency in the marketplace, especially when it comes to matters of big tech and algorithms that affect both discourse and commerce - as citizens and consumers, we have an enormous stake in both.  But there is a rich irony in the idea that politicians and governmental officials, who are fully capable of resisting transparency that is not in their favor, are the ones requiring it of others.

    •  MarketWatch reports that "Boxed Inc. said Thursday that FedEx Corp. will now deliver most of its customer shipments through a new multi-year collaboration.

    "The e-commerce company said the mutually agreed upon increase in shipment volume will allow it to reduce the amount it spends on transportation across all its fulfillment centers, which it will reinvest in better pricing for customers and more promotions. Additionally, more Boxed customers will have access to full-week service, the company said … Boxed Chief Executive Chieh Huang said in prepared remarks that the alliance with FedEx provides his company with new ways to counter rising costs and provide the best service to customers in a challenging supply chain environment."

    Published on: May 13, 2022

    •  The Associated Press reports that "the number of Americans applying for jobless aid ticked up slightly last week but the total number of Americans collecting benefits remained at its lowest level in more than five decades.

    "Applications for unemployment benefits rose by 1,000 to 203,000 for the week ending May 7, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications generally track the number of layoffs.

    "The four-week average for claims, which evens out some of the weekly ups and downs, rose 4,250 from the previous week to 192,750.

    "The total number of Americans collecting jobless benefits for the week ending April 30 fell by 44,000 from the previous week to 1,343,000. That’s the fewest since January 3, 1970."

    •  Virginia Business reports that Publix Super Markets continues it march northward, as it announced that it will open its first store in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.  No timeline has been set for construction and opening of the planned 45,000 square foot unit.

    •  Advantage Solutions announced yesterday that it has acquired Brandshare, described as "a leading provider of omnichannel brand experiences through product sampling and digital engagement," from private equity investors Aperion Management, Leeds Novamark Capital and Ocean Avenue Capital Partners.  Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    The announcement notes that "Brandshare partners with consumer packaged goods manufacturers, retailers and others to bring to life e-commerce, venue-based and event-based sampling; digital marketing campaigns; and consumer engagement initiatives, such as reward bags."

    Published on: May 13, 2022

    •  Dollar Tree announced that John Flanigan, previously the Executive Vice President, Global Supply Chain for Dollar General, has joined the company as Chief Supply Chain Officer.

    At the same time, the company said that Larry Gatta has joined as Chief Merchandising Officer for the Family Dollar banner; Gatta most recently was Senior Vice President and General Merchandise Manager for Consumables at Dollar General.

    Published on: May 13, 2022

    "All The Old Knives," on Amazon Prime Video, is an old-fashioned spy thriller - and I mean that in the most complimentary way.

    Chris Pine plays Henry Pelham, a CIA agent, is tasked by his boss (played with taciturn authority by Laurence Fishburne) to conduct an investigation into the events that led to  a terrorist attack eight years earlier.  New information suggests that there was a leak from the Vienna station where Pelham worked at the time, with two major suspects - Bill Compton, an analyst played by Jonathan Pryce, and Celia Harrison, a fellow agent and Henry's lover, played by Thandiwe Newton.

    Much of the film plays in a spectacular restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, as Henry questions Celia about her actions;   the rest of the plot plays out largely in flashbacks, as director Janus Metz Pedersen and writer Olen Steinhauer craftily assemble, disassemble and then reassemble the puzzle.

    Watching Pine and Newton sip wine and engage in repartee, one can imagine that 50 years ago, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman could've acted in a similar script (though, to be fair, there is a lovemaking scene that I cannot quite imagine Grant and Bergman making).  I mostly just enjoyed the fact that this was a grownup movie about grownups, with very little in the way of special effects - the film's juice largely comes from really good actors putting it all out there onscreen.

    I have a very good wine to recommend this week … the 2020 Ceptembre Sauvignon Blanc, from France.  It's tropical, a little grapefruity … but it balances out after just a few minutes in the glass.

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