The Brand Move Roundup – October 9, 2020

We’re tracking the notable brand moves & highlighting the companies who are tackling this challenge successfully.

In early March we began reporting daily on how brands were dealing with Covid-19. But it’s become clear that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption, so we decided to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal is to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

Review site Yelp has instituted a new consumer alert, warning you that a business has been “accused of racist behavior.” “Recently, someone associated with this business was accused of racist behavior, resulting in an influx of people posting their views to this page,” the warning says. There has been a substantial increase in the number of reviews mentioning Black-owned businesses, Yelp said in a news release Thursday. This summer, Yelp saw a 617% rise in such reviews compared with last year. “While searches for Black-owned businesses surged on Yelp, so did the volume of reviews warning users of racist behavior at businesses,” the company said. In the interest of the company’s “zero tolerance policy to racism,” it will now place a consumer alert on a business’s page “to caution people about businesses that may be associated with overtly racist actions.”

Waymo said Thursday that it is opening its fully driverless ride-hailing service in suburban Phoenix, Arizona to the public. Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car unit began ferrying a select group of a few hundred customers, known as “early riders,” in vehicles without safety drivers in the summer of 2019. After receiving feedback from those riders, who were bound by non-disclosure agreements not to discuss their experiences publicly, the company is making driverless rides in its Chrysler Pacifica minivans available to all users in the Phoenix area. “It’s a really, really big deal, we think, for us, and for the world,” said Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik. Waymo plans to reintroduce safety drivers for some rides as it expands its Phoenix service area but is not allowing passengers in vehicles with safety drivers until it finishes installing barriers between the front and back rows. “For the next several weeks, perhaps a month or more, every ride, 100% of our rides with Waymo One will be fully driverless,” said Krafcik.  He declined to say when Waymo planned to introduce robo-taxis in other cities, but did hint at where it might go next: “We’d love the opportunity to bring the Waymo One driver to our home state of California.”

The Church of England Pensions Board has sold all its holdings of Exxon Mobil Corp. because the oil giant failed to set goals to reduce emissions produced by its customers.

The divestment was completed this week. The proceeds went to an index that aligns with the objectives of the Paris climate agreement, said a spokesperson for the board. “Exxon failed to meet the index criteria which embeds the latest assessment by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), and as a result the board is disinvested from Exxon,” said a spokesperson for the Church of England Pensions Board, which manages funds in excess of 2.8 billion pounds ($3.6 billion) for retired clergy and others who have worked or served for the church. The Church of England Pensions Board has worked with FTSE Russell and the TPI at the London School of Economics Grantham Research Institute to develop the FTSE TPI Climate Transition Index. The index, introduced in January, uses forward-looking climate data from TPI to identify companies that are aligned with United Nations climate goals and it significantly underweights or excludes those companies that don’t. The board has invested 600 million pounds in the index this year.

The Singapore government has given approval for cruises to nowhere in a bid to help a tourism sector battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Residents of the city-state will from November be allowed to board the cruises, during which they will be confined to the ships for the entire time. The Singapore Tourism Board on Thursday announced that Genting Cruise Lines’ World Dream would be the first ship to welcome passengers aboard on 6 November. Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas will begin sailing in December. The ships launching from Singapore will only be allowed to carry half their full capacity, with extra cleaning schedules and mandatory masks “at all times”. The cruise industry has been among the hardest hit during the pandemic, after outbreaks on multiple ships among staff and passengers sharing enclosed spaces for days. Keith Tan, the Singapore Tourism Board’s chief executive, said the scheme would allow cruise lines to “regain the confidence of passengers”.

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. and second largest food retailer, is expanding into the ghost kitchen category, going up against a field of startups and delivery service providers including DoorDash. The company today announced the launch of two on-premises kitchens at locations in Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio, in partnership with ClusterTruck, a tech startup that operates delivery and in-store pickup restaurants. Kroger is carving out about 1,000 square feet at each of the stores for ClusterTruck staff to prepare meals. The ghost kitchen, a term used to describe professional cooking facilities built for delivery-only meals, will provide a variety of on-demand menu items with no delivery or service fees. Customers can order from a menu offering more than 80 meals. ClusterTruck is building a software system that creates custom algorithms to optimize kitchen and delivery operations while removing the “pain points” of third-party delivery to ensure all meals are delivered to customers within seven minutes of their preparation and, on average, less than 30 minutes of ordering.

As of August, about three-quarters of the top 50 store-based retailers in the United States offered curbside pickup, according to Coresight Research, an advisory and research firm that specializes in retail and technology. Target said its curbside sales grew more than 700 percent in the last quarter, while Best Buy reported nearly $5 billion in online revenue in the second quarter, a company record, and said 41 percent of that had come from curbside or in-store pickup. The rising popularity of curbside coincided with Amazon’s struggles with its vaunted supply chain and usually seamless home delivery system in the early months of the pandemic. As people rushed to place orders for everything from toilet paper to backyard swimming pools, Amazon dealt with out-of-stock items, price gouging and delayed or inaccurate shipments. That was a boon for chains like Dick’s, Best Buy, Target and Walmart, which harnessed the merchandise in their thousands of stores to new effect especially as summer began. “Amazon struggled a bit at the beginning like everybody did, because, boom, when the demand came, it was so great it hit the whole system and kind of overwhelmed it,” said Walter Robb, a former co-chief executive of Whole Foods and executive-in-residence at S2G Ventures, a venture fund focused on food. “Those that have been able to be agile on their feet with these digital offerings have made some gains.”

But nowhere is the shift more significant than at big-box chains that also sell groceries. The 700 percent growth in Target’s Drive Up offering has spurred the chain to add fresh and frozen groceries to the service and create up to 12 additional parking spaces for pickup at stores. It has announced plans to double the number of store employees dedicated to in-store and curbside pickup services during this holiday season.

A group of Black Atlanta businessmen, politicians and entertainers, including former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, the entertainer Michael Render (better known as Killer Mike) and Bounce TV founder Ryan Glover, have launched a new digital bank focused on developing and promoting local communities and cultivating Black and Latinx entrepreneurs and small businesses. Named Greenwood in an homage to the thriving Tulsa, Oklahoma, business community known as “Black Wall Street” that was destroyed by white rioters in 1921, the digital bank has several features designed to promote social causes and organizations for the Black and Latinx community. For every sign-up to the bank, Greenwood will donate the equivalent of five free meals to an organization addressing food insecurity. And every time a customer uses a Greenwood debit card, the bank will make a donation to either the United Negro College Fund, Goodr (an organization that addresses food insecurity) or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In addition, each month the bank will provide a $10,000 grant to a Black or Latinx small business owner that uses the company’s financial services. For Render, the decision to launch a new digital bank alongside Young and Glover was a way to link Atlanta’s well-established, centuries-old Black business community with the technologies that are redefining wealth and creating new opportunities in the twenty-first century. It was also a way to equip a new generation with financial tools that could empower them instead of undermine them. “What I have learned about capitalism is that you’re either going to be a participant in it or a victim of it,” said Render. “The ultimate protest is focusing your dollar like a weapon.”