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    Published on: May 17, 2022

    by Michael Sansolo

    A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law passed away about three months after her 100th birthday. However, this isn’t meant to be an obituary to her long and mostly wonderful life, nor anything else sentimental. (She knew me well and wouldn’t have expected that at all.)

    Rather it’s meant to offer another angle to something KC talked about last week: the ability of people of all ages to adapt to new technologies. So I offer this story to show how today’s technological tools can both help and become quickly trusted and well-used among even the most elderly and infirm, and to provide a stark reminder about how technology is changing the consumer experience - not just for millennials.

    My mother-in-law suffered from severe vision loss caused by macular degeneration among other optical issues. But as she moved through her late 90s she learned to cope with the limits of her world thanks to some new friends.

    Imagine for a second that you lost your vision.  Think of the simple things you could no longer easily do. No longer could you check the time by simply looking at a clock or check the weather by staring out a window.  My mother-in-law overcame both those issues thanks to her new friends: Siri, from Apple, and Alexa, from Amazon. She’d simply ask them for the time, the weather, the news or whatever else she wanted and quickly got an answer.

    My wife and her siblings learned an entirely new way of contacting her, as she could no longer find and swipe her phone to answer. They would call and let her phone ring once before hanging up. My mother-in-law would then ask Siri who called and upon getting the answer would ask her to call back.  Mission accomplished.

    I offer her story for two reasons. First, I want to bring awareness to the importance of eye health and to tell you about Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a malady that impacts people who lose their vision and start seeing all manner of visual disturbances or hallucinations. It can be confused with dementia, but is quite different and, from experience we learned, very upsetting.

    And secondly, I think my mother-in-law’s experience is a reminder to all of us that technology can succeed with any age group provided the technology offers a solution and a benefit. Whether it’s new in-store technologies or even social media remember that your shoppers will use and appreciate these efforts provided they bring clear benefits and values.

    I’d argue that age isn’t the hurdle we have to clear, but rather identifying the problem that’s being solved and clearly demonstrating how whatever we do will help solve or mitigate that problem. That’s a winning strategy for anything whether it’s a meal solution or a high tech method of eliminating checkout lines.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at

    His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

    And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    During a trip to Texas for a speaking engagement, I had a chance to swing through Forney, a community about 20 miles east of downtown Dallas, where I visited a remodeled Walmart Supercenter that is part of a broader positioning effort to compete with H-E-B as it brings its eponymous stores to the area.

    Sure, as you can see below, the aisles are wider … the graphics are bolder … but I must admit that I found the broader experience - especially as it concerns fresh food - to be remarkably underwhelming.  It may be big, but when it comes to fresh food, it is not, in my view, super.   (Though, to be fair, it does appear to be doing big business...)

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    The Boston Globe reports that "employees at a Trader Joe’s store in Western Massachusetts are looking to become the first unionized location of the cult favorite grocery chain.

    "A majority of workers at a Trader Joe’s in Hadley support forming an independent union under the name Trader Joe’s United, the union’s organizing committee said in a letter to company chief executive Dan Bane on Saturday. The committee called the union a 'necessary next step' and asked Bane to allow a union vote without interference."

    “We’ve come to the conclusion that, in fact, a union is the only way to protect and improve our pay and benefits,” the letter states. “The company’s actions have made this clear.”

    According to the story, "Trader Joe’s declined to comment at this time, instead forwarding a letter the company posted for crew members in the Hadley store that was written by the location’s captain, or manager.  The letter states that the company welcomes 'a fair vote if more than 30% of the Crew wants one,' and promises that Trader Joe’s will not delay the voting process 'in any way.'

    "'I believe our store is a great place to work and our compensation, benefits and working conditions are the best in the grocery business,' the letter continued. 'But what really matters is what you believe. Whether or not to sign a petition to unionize or vote in favor of a union is your decision to make'."

    KC's View:

    It sounds as if Dan Bane has decided to avoid the lousy optics that have accompanied how Amazon and Starbucks have been dealing with unionization efforts.  Let's see if the Trader Joe's move gets the same kind of chain-wide traction that has happened at Starbucks.

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    H-E-B announced that it is expanding its H-E-B Wellness initiative into the Austin market, offering ""full service primary care for all individuals age 12 and up, operating in coordination with registered dietitians with a food first philosophy rooted in science. In addition to primary care, services will include physical therapy, health/nutrition coaching, clinical pharmacists, specialty referrals, and labs to create a coordinated approach to healthcare under one roof.   These clinics are staffed by board-certified physicians, nurses, and other licensed medical professionals. H-E-B plans on rapidly expanding throughout Texas with both Primary Care and Nutrition Services over the next few years. H-E-B Wellness– Caring for Texans the H-E-B way.

    "The clinics provide high quality, patient centered care with affordable individual visit pricing and the option of monthly subscriptions, removing the frustration of surprise medical billing and enabling clinicians to focus on each patient, taking the time that is necessary to support them on their wellness journey.  Our clinics accept cash, credit, and Flexible Spending Account payments."

    H-E-B's Wellness clinics already are operating in Houston and San Antonio.

    KC's View:

    I do love the way that H-E-B characterizes its Wellness clinics:

    "Imagine a future where Texans have a health and wellness trusted partner to guide them along every step of their journey.  H-E-B Wellness strives to be that trusted partner. H-E-B Wellness Primary Care board-certified doctors will spend the time to better understand their patients and help them stay healthy or manage chronic illnesses by working with registered dietitians with a holistic, food-first philosophy.  Dietitians provide personalized consultations, virtual and in-store walks and friendly pharmacists are available to answer medication questions and have prescriptions filled when customers pick up their grocery order.  H-E-B has provided these services to their Partners and their families for many years and is now striving to be Texans’ one stop health and wellness destination."

    It is the very definition of something that we've talked about a lot here on MNB over the years - being more than just a source of product for shoppers, but rather a resource that can transform their lives.

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    The Spartanburg Herald-Journal reports that US Foods Holding Corp. is bringing its "warehouse-style grocery store" to the west side of the city.

    Chef'sStore, as the format is called, "is meant to be a 'one-stop shop' … The store will offer everything restaurant operators, chefs, community groups and families could need for their kitchens … Chef'sStore carries more than 4,000 restaurant-quality products, including groceries like fresh meat, produce, dairy, and deli items. It also has beverages and frozen seafood; pantry staples for baking, and restaurant essentials including janitorial supplies."  

    The 33,000- square-foot facility will be the fourth Chef'sStore location in South Carolina, joining other stores in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Columbia."  Spartanburg was chosen, the company said, because of its "vibrant restaurant and culinary scene."

    KC's View:

    I've not been to a Chef'sStore, but it does sound like it might have some similarities to Smart & Final.  I do like the positioning, though … when you think about it, every food store has the potential to be a chef's store.  Which is not to say that every food store lives up to its potential.

    The big lesson is that done right, food can make a retailer a category killer.  Done right.

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    The Wall Street Journal reports that "US health regulators took steps to allow more foreign baby formula on American shelves, easing rules that had effectively prevented shipments from many overseas manufacturers.

    "The Food and Drug Administration on Monday said it encouraged the overseas manufacturers to apply to ship their formula to the US.

    "Government officials said the moves will allow more formula products to enter the U.S. baby market, which is dominated by Abbott Laboratories, Reckitt Benckiser Group, and Nestlé SA’s Gerber business."

    At the same time, Axios reports, "Abbott Nutrition said Monday it has reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to reopen its infant formula plant, paving the way for increased baby formula supply amid the ongoing shortage … Abbott said in a statement Monday that it can restart operating the site in two weeks. It will take another six to eight weeks before the baby formula can make its way onto shelves.

    Abbott said that an investigation between the FDA, Abbott and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 'no conclusive evidence to link Abbott's formulas to these infant illnesses'."

    The story notes that "the US has faced a massive baby formula shortage because of supply chain issues compounded by the closure of Abbott's facility in Sturgis, Michigan due to an FDA recall."

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    Three former Walmart and executives announced this week that they are launching Sustain.Life, described as a "platform empowering small- and medium-sized enterprises to take impactful climate action," having "raised $16 million in seed funding."

    According to the announcement, "Sustain.Life democratizes sustainability by making it easier and more affordable to measure, manage and report carbon emissions and environmental impact. It empowers teams without expertise to start measuring environmental impact from internal operations, and scales across large organizations and global supply chains - replacing spreadsheets and turning black box estimates into auditable and verifiable data. Sustain.Life offers businesses the tools they need to ensure compliance with evolving reporting frameworks, as regulations making auditable tracking a legal necessity - such as the recently announced SEC climate disclosure rule  - take shape across the US and Europe."

    Leading the project are Mike Hanrahan, Sustain.Life’s co-founder, CEO Annalee Bloomfield, and CTO Patrick Campagnano, who "co-founded the company after their time at Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab, where Hanrahan served as CEO; Bloomfield served as Senior Director, Head of Product & Customer Experience; and Campagnano served as Head of Engineering."

    KC's View:

    I was interested to see this press release at the same time as I saw the announcement from Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry's that it is "making a bold commitment to bring greenhouse gas emissions on 15 dairy farms to half the industry average by the end of 2024. Once proven, pilot project initiatives will be expanded to farms across Ben & Jerry’s global dairy supply chain … Dairy ingredients account for more than 50% of Ben & Jerry’s total greenhouse gas emissions, so the company is focusing on dairy farms as the best opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint."

    It strikes me that Sustain.Life has a very good idea.  As sustainability becomes ever more important (and it will), it'll be important for smaller companies with fewer resources to have a place to turn.

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    Business Insider reports on how "retailers are gunning for advertising dollars.

    "Retail ad is predicted to grow 31% to $41 billion this year, and, Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, and others are building ad businesses to get a piece of it.

    "They're betting on the growth of e-commerce and the hope of offsetting retail's thin margins by pitching advertisers on their shopper data. They're also making big hires to support these ambitions."

    In a similar story, the Wall Street Journal points out that "net ad revenues for retail media advertising in the U.S. will grow to more than $60 billion in 2024 from $41 billion this year, according to research firm Insider Intelligence. But the space will continue to be dominated by Inc., which is expected to nab 77% of the spend this year."

    The Business Insider story notes that everybody is looking to grab share from someone else.  Amazon is pushing "to steal ad dollars from Facebook and Google … Walmart, Instacart, Walgreens and other retailers are also building their own platforms to grab a slice of the ad pie.  They're taking a page from Amazon by pitching their shopper data, which could benefit small brands that often struggle to outbid big advertisers on Amazon."

    There is a complication, though:  "Each retailer has different ways of selling and measuring ads, making it hard for advertisers to manage campaigns across all of them."

    And, there are other retailers engaged as well:  "Specialty chains like Michaels and gig companies like Uber and Shopify are also getting into the retail media business.

    "Shopify, which lets merchants sell products online, has plans to roll out a tool called Shopify Audiences, and let advertisers target ads on Facebook and Google, said sources familiar with its plans. Ulta Beauty is rolling out an effort to sell ads on its own platform, publisher sites, and social networks."

    And, it isn't just retailers.  The Journal reports that "Marriott International Inc. is introducing a media network this month with Yahoo Inc. that will help advertisers target consumers, in part by using the hotel chain’s data on its guests, to bring them ads on places such as the hotel’s websites and, eventually, on the TV sets in their rooms … A media network in the hotel category presents marketers with a different array of opportunities, the companies said. On the road, travelers need things like ground transportation, personal items they forgot to pack and entertainment during their stay, said Chris Norton, senior vice president of marketing channels and optimization at Marriott International."

    Published on: May 17, 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 United States now has had a total of 84,357,607 total cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, resulting in 1,026,899 deaths and 81,327,131 reported recoveries.

    Globally, there have been 523,246,578 total cases, with 6,290,706 resultant fatalities and 493,271,643 reported recoveries.   (Source.)

    •  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 77.7 percent of the total US population has received at least one dose of vaccine … 66.4 percent are fully vaccinated … and 46.4 percent of fully vaccinated people have received a vaccine booster dose.

    •  The New York Times has a story about how "the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

    "Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long COVID."

    The Times writes that "it’s difficult to quantify how frequently people are reinfected, in part because many infections are now going unreported."  Of course, this "is not how it was supposed to be. Earlier in the pandemic, experts thought that immunity from vaccination or previous infection would forestall reinfections.

    "The omicron variant dashed those hopes. Unlike previous variants, omicron and its many descendants seem to have evolved to partially dodge immunity. That leaves everyone - even those who have been vaccinated multiple times - vulnerable to multiple infections."

    •  Fascinating piece in the New York Times about how and why "the United States and Australia share similar demographics, but their pandemic death rates point to very different cultures of trust."

    The Times points out that there are at least two reasons for the differences.

    For one thing, "Australia restricted travel and personal interaction until vaccinations were widely available, then maximized vaccine uptake, prioritizing people who were most vulnerable before gradually opening up the country again."

    But perhaps even more important, it was a matter of trust.  People there trusted the medical and scientific establishment's research, conclusions, and recommendations to a degree that a sizable percentage of people in the US did not.  And, people there trusted each other to do the right - which is to say, the responsible - thing in terms of masking, keeping appropriate physical distancing, and getting vaccinated.

    Here's how the Times offers some context:

    "If the United States had the same Covid death rate as Australia, about 900,000 lives would have been saved. The Texas grandmother who made the perfect pumpkin pie might still be baking. The Red Sox-loving husband who ran marathons before Covid might still be cheering at Fenway Park.

    "For many Americans, imagining what might have been will be painful. But especially now, at the milestone of one million deaths in the United States, the nations that did a better job of keeping people alive show what Americans could have done differently and what might still need to change.

    "Many places provide insight. Japan. Kenya. Norway. But Australia offers perhaps the sharpest comparisons with the American experience. Both countries are English-speaking democracies with similar demographic profiles. In Australia and in the United States, the median age is 38. Roughly 86 percent of Australians live in urban areas, compared with 83 percent of Americans.

    "Yet Australia’s Covid death rate sits at one-tenth of America’s, putting the nation of 25 million people (with around 7,500 deaths) near the top of global rankings in the protection of life.

    "Australia’s location in the distant Pacific is often cited as the cause for its relative Covid success. That, however, does not fully explain the difference in outcomes between the two countries, since Australia has long been, like the United States, highly connected to the world through trade, tourism and immigration. In 2019, 9.5 million international tourists came to Australia. Sydney and Melbourne could just as easily have become as overrun with Covid as New York or any other American city."

    The entire story can be accessed here.

    The lack of trust pointed to by the story isn't just of the scientists and doctors who look out for the public health.  It is, in fact, of virtually every institution.  Sometimes, unfortunately, American exceptionalism just doesn't sound all that exceptional.

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    •  TechCrunch reports that "Uber Eats is launching two autonomous delivery pilots in Los Angeles on Monday with Serve Robotics, a robotic sidewalk delivery startup, and Motional, an autonomous vehicle technology company.

    "The new programs are a part of a range of new products Uber is launching across its ride-hail and delivery platforms."  The test "marks the first time Uber is partnering with an AV fleet provider, as well as the first time Motional is trying its hand at autonomous delivery … Uber told TechCrunch the company is looking at partnering with more than one player in the space, and that the public might start to see more partnerships in the future."

    •  From The Verge:

    "While you may buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, most people don’t do their weekly grocery shopping with the retail giant (unless Whole Foods is your local store). Amazon is therefore missing a big chunk of your shopping habits, and now, it's offering an incentive for you to hand over that data: grocery coupons.

    "Alexa Shopping List Savings, which launched this month, is a new feature for the digital assistant that lets you clip coupons in the Alexa app for items you’ve added to your shopping list. The savings are added up, and the cashback is put on your digital Amazon gift card within a few days. The US-only service is now available to all customers and works exclusively with the Alexa app’s pre-installed shopping list."

    The story goes on:

    "While it wasn’t completely clear until recently that what you say to your smart speaker can be used by Amazon to serve ads to you, with this service, Amazon is more forthright. It states prominently on the Amazon Shopping List Savings page that data from any information you upload and the offers you activate 'may be shared with Amazon’s service providers'."

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

    •  USA Today reports that "Starbucks on Monday announced it will cover travel expenses for U.S. employees seeking abortions and gender-confirmation procedures but who do not have access within 100 miles of their home.

    "The announcement comes after the leak of a draft opinion from the Supreme Court arguing for overturning its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion … Starbucks joins a group of companies that have assured workers they will help pay for travel to seek an abortion or help workers leave states over abortion laws, including Salesforce, Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla and other employers.

    "A Starbucks spokesperson confirmed to USA TODAY that the travel benefit will be available to employees who take part in the company's health care plan, regardless of whether the employee works in a store that has voted to unionize."

    •  The Wall Street Journal reports that "McDonald’s Corp. said it would quit Russia and sell its business there, ending more than three decades in the country over its invasion of Ukraine.

    "In deciding to sell up, the fast-food giant joins a raft of Western companies, from auto makers to brewers, in exiting Russia having initially opted to pause its operations in the country.

    "McDonald’s had in March said it would temporarily close its 847 restaurants in Russia while continuing to pay the 62,000 people it employs there. Since then, pressure has mounted on Western companies - particularly from the Ukrainian government - to pull the plug on their Russian operations. Moscow has also pressured companies, threatening legislation to nationalize assets and compel executives to resist Western sanctions.

    "The departure of McDonald’s from Russia is particularly notable given its arrival was emblematic of a rush among Western companies in the 1990s to enter the country, seeking to profit from its move from communism to capitalism. McDonald’s opened its first Russian location in Moscow’s Pushkin Square in 1990, when thousands of locals lined up to get their first taste of the American chain’s burgers and fries."

    It would appear that New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention," first advanced in 1996, has not aged as well as one would like;  it states that "no two countries that both have a McDonald's have ever fought a war against each other," arguing essentially that once a country gets a McDonald's, it avoids armed conflict because it is not seen as in its economic interest.  Ukraine have several dozen McDonald's, so there's one more thing that we used to be able to count on that the war criminal Putin as put asunder.

    I suspect that Russians won't have to go without their Big Macs and fries, though - one thing that McDonald''s probably will be unable to protect from some Putin-enabled oligarch looking to get into the fast food business will be its trademarks and patents.  Though one can only hope that said oligarch chokes on his special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and sesame seed bun.

    Published on: May 17, 2022

    Got several reactions to yesterday's FaceTime video about Chicken N Pickle,  a new fast casual forma that combines a strong food orientation with a sports bar vibe and lots of sports/entertainment options - including 11 pickleball courts. One MNB reader wrote:

    I live in Kansas City and have become a Pickle Ball fan.  As you know, Chicken & Pickle started in Kansas City.

    One of the interesting strategies the owners use is to participate in the community.  In your Texas visit, if you order a beverage and spent a few more coins you would get a green Chicken and Pickle plastic drinking cup.  These few more coins, a believe an extra $1, go to a local organization.  The benefitting organizations rotate.  Just a good value added strategy.

    The owners also do several tournaments for both the novice and competitive levels with a local organization as a benefactor.

    Been a fan of Morning News Beat for several years.   Thank you for what you and your team do.

    The team and I thank you.

    And, from MNB reader Gerry Lopez:

    KC, this in indeed a fantastic concept!  I’ve not been to the one in Grand Prairie, but  have been (often) to the original (in north KC) and the 4th one (in Overland Park, KS)  - great idea & even better execution.  Full disclosure: the genius behind this is Dave Johnson, a born entrepreneur and good friend from my days in Kansas City.  He listens to his customers and pays close attention to his team’s insights.  Winning formula, as you know.  

    I just want to thank the MNB readers who proved yesterday that I was right when, writing about the mass shooting in a Buffalo, New York, Tops store, I said:

    If history is any indication, there will be thoughts and prayers, and then everybody will retreat to their philosophical corners, debating why this happens and whose fault it really is, and never finding a way to meet in the middle to address these issues with any sort of meaningful solution.  Thoughts and prayers, at this point, as far as I am concerned, have been proven damned ineffective in addressing the problem of way too many guns ending up in the hands of deeply disturbed people who ought to be labeled and treated as the domestic terrorists they are.

    Well, to a great degree, that's what happened - people retreated to their philosophical corners.  (Not everybody.  I got some folks who agreed that thoughts and prayers are not enough.)  But some folks hit me with emails explaining in detail why it is the people on the other side of the political aisle who really are at fault.

    I'm not going to run the emails.   This simply is not the place for this debate to take place.  Though I do hope and pray that maybe someday knee jerk reactions won't always be the first impulse.