business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, when pointing out the current statistics related to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, I wrote:

To put this into context, the US now has more than four times the number of cases as Spain, which is second … or about as many cases as Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the UK and Turkey combined.  (Those are the second-through-seventh countries in terms of cases.)

Prompting one MNB reader to respond:

I suggest you put it in real context… the total population of the listed countries combined is 325 million and the population of the US is 331 million so the number of cases per capita looks very similar.

There has never been an effort or a system to administer and  process the number of a single test that the US has processed in the short amount of time,  so it is no wonder that trying to give a test over 5 million people in 6 weeks has been a struggle.  Dr. Birx answered questions about our testing by showing the US has tested 17 per 100,000 people;  South Korea has tested 11 per hundred thousand people.  There are plenty of labs, and actually plenty of test kits but matching the test kits to the labs and getting the tests sent to the high capacity labs has had the normal amount of confusion and now seems to be lined up to test over 2 million people per week.  Great to see the biggest companies (Walmart, Kroger, Walgreen’s, CVS) in our industry stepping up to make a difference to bring more testing to the people. 

It is great to see that.  But two months into this pandemic, there are a lot of people far smarter than I who feel that the US has done done what it needs to do in terms of mass testing, and was unprepared for this crisis.  You're right that it never has been done before.  But in this country, that's not supposed to be an impediment.  Just the next challenge.

Another MNB reader wrote:

We are in an economic crisis, not a health crisis.  At the expense of our liberty and millions of jobs, we have yielded to governments around the world to shut down many of our lives.  Hold this response until later this year when it will be proven that this is the greatest economic disaster to ever hit the U.S. and the rest of the world.  How many lives will be lost because of this economic disaster? 

I'm not sure, to be honest, what you are suggesting … except that it sounds like you think we are over-reacting to the pandemic.

The thing is, I'm intrigued by your statement that this is an economic crisis, not a health crisis.  I was under the impression that we were in a health crisis, and that once it is resolved to some degree, the economic problems will subside.  (Though, to be fair, that may not be true if this lasts another six, 12 or 18 months.)

From another reader:

Not to get all political, but do you suppose the # of US cases of coronavirus has anything to do with the lack of universal healthcare? I'm actually quite surprised that I'm not reading more opinions to bring the discussion back to the table.  It's probably no surprise that I'm a fan of universal healthcare. I can't help wondering if things would be different if we all felt that our health was a priority and not an economic decision.

We got several emails responding to Michael Sansolo's video commentary yesterday about the Giant - and giant - produce he got via an e-grocery order.

One MNB reader wrote:

Michael, do you think your selection at Giant was more to do with the surplus on goods associated with the change in eating habits of consumer from restaurants to in home? I would tend to think the produce selection you received had more to do with a surplus of selected product which was raised to a specification required to supply a different audience than the typical household.  I would venture to guess Giant may not have known they were getting this type of produce when they ordered, or they may of even gotten it at a discount, which I assume you did not see.  The trick will be will they keep this selection when the “new normal” sets in and will they do so at the same prices?  Or, will they disappoint you by providing you something you expect, which may change your shopping habits only to later let you later? 

Consistency is the name of the game in capturing and maintaining a customer in todays environment.  Time will tell, by I am betting on the later.

Another MNB reader reacted to the large produce this way:

Waste of food. Bigger is not better. Sell by pound so customer can choose size they need. And ethnic groups like different sizes- Asian vs Hispanic etc. Wish you guys had worked in the industry.

I asked Michael Sansolo to respond:

So Bigger isn't always better and I agree. What was so positive about this, is obviously the staffer who assembled our order couldn't know our exact wants when it came to ripeness and flavor of all those items. But he or she found a way to delight us by providing exceptional value with large items that were all in good shape and frankly are keeping well. 

As for food waste, ordinarily that would be more of an issue, but given today's realities we are throwing away very little. That onion, for example, has already contributed to multiple dinners and lunch and even a couple of omelets. As my daughter jokes, we are becoming like the hunter gatherers of centuries past, using every part of everything we have one way or another. 

A "wow" moment is anytime you provide the unexpected and hopefully delightful moment to the shopper. That's what happened to us.

The discussion of the degree to which changing consumer habits will be locked in included a comment from one expert saying that new habits are formed in 30 days, prompting MNB reader Jerry Sheldon to write:

The reality is from 18 to 254 days to form habits and research found that we form a habit more quickly for something that we want to do versus things we have to do. Think how well we do on a new diet for example. A lot of the changes we’re experiencing are driven by self-preservation, not “want to,” so while we’ll definitely have changes, wholesale changes to shopping patterns will be tempered by the human psyche and constraint of choices more so that fundamental patterns that are permanently changed I think.

MNB reader Joe Axford wrote:

I think a lot of the shopping experience will change or disappear.  Salad bars? Hot bars? Soup stations?  Probably gone, can't have hands touching tongs and putting the tongs back on top of loose salad greens, like before.  And getting customers to glove up is wishful thinking at best.

We had a story yesterday about all the extraordinary steps that a restaurant in Galveston, Texas, is taking to serve its customers and employees.  Prompting one MNB reader to write:

That's not unique to Galveston (though kudos to the owners) - in Smithtown, New York La Famiglia - a family owned restaurant has been handing out free meals to first responders and those in need for weeks now - to the point where the local police have had to handle traffic for them. Not only does it support the community but it allows them to keep most if not all of their staff employed. 

Responding to the suggestion that restaurants, when reopening, should consider using throwaway menus, single-service condiments, and disposable forks, knives, spoons, and dishes, one MNB reader wrote:

The downfall of all these suggestions is the waste we’re creating for the illusion of safety. Dishes can be washed, menus wiped down. The biggest risk will be staff and other diners breathing. 

Reacting to our picture of a crowded Huntington Beach last weekend in California, one MNB reader wrote:

Huntington Beach, a pic is worth a thousand words, or maybe just four - you can't fix stupid!

On a related subject, from an MNB reader:

Supermarkets have made many significant changes due to the pandemic. Most to promote a healthy shopping environment and should be applauded.

However, there is one rule being implemented that appears to be of self-interest. One Way Aisles. The science actually proves that passing another customer going the same direction is more of a risk as the two intersect the forbidden 6 foot zone for a longer period of time and distance.

Since the CDC and others are recommending less frequent visits, using a shopping list and buying a little extra, retailers are seeing the expected results - fewer visits and smaller baskets.

Someone had a great idea. Like having milk at the furthest point from the main entrance, let’s have one way aisles. Customers will be forced to go one way even if they don’t want to. If the item they want is at the far end of a Do Not Enter aisle, then they would be forced to go down an aisle not intended to pick up the item and then continue  down the aisle to the end. Clearly they will see other items they forgot and will add them to their purchase of the day!

Please, I don’t need to spend more time in the store!

If retailers were really concerned about safety then them would have all employees wear masks. Or at least have all employees and vendors abide by the same one way rules as the customer.

This is just a tactic to change traffic slow and increase sales short term. And hopefully, long term, to get customers to venture down an aisle never visited before and finding a treasure found when they didn’t know it was lost.

Regarding Disney's early release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for streaming two months earlier than originally planned to satisfy an audience largely sheltered at home, MNB reader Mary Schroeder wrote:

Wondering why you didn’t reference the opening day mentioned below as Star Wars Day.  Really, the only day to open.  May the Fourth be with you…

Probably because I'm far less a Star Wars fan than I am a Star Trek fan.  (I know that April 5, for example, is First Contact Day.)

And, from MNB reader Peter Talbott:

Hi Kevin, sending thanks to your long-time recommendation of "Bosch" on Amazon Prime.  This has been our ‘quarantine theater’ every evening for the past few weeks, and we just finished season that’s about 30 nights (we do have some 2-episode nights)...with 2 more seasons still to go!  And a special bonus game of “spot the Mad Men actor” almost every time.