Grocery giant Albertsons is partnering with software startup Tortoise to launch remote-controlled food delivery robots

FILE PHOTO: Customers leave an Albertsons grocery store with their purchases in Burbank, California, U.S., July 17, 2012.  REUTERS/Fred Prouser
Customers leave an Albertsons grocery store with their purchases in Burbank.

Albertson Companies, the company that owns Safeway and Jewel-Osco, has partnered with Silicon Valley software startup, Tortoise, to launch a pilot program that uses remote-controlled delivery robots, as reported by TechCrunch.

The test will start at two Safeway locations in northern California. 

According to the report, Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of Tortoise, said that if the operation is successful, he expected the pilot to scale up to other shops within the state and perhaps the west coast.

The Safeway-stamped delivery carriages installed with Tortoise’s software will be able to make food deliveries for its customers who live as far as three miles from the store location, said TechCrunch. The delivery carts will be tele-controlled by long-distance operators to guide the cart on its journey. When the carts reach their destination, customers will be told to collect their order via text message, according to the outlet.

Other large companies, including Ford, are becoming more reliant on delivery robots.  The pandemic has also bolstered the growth of smaller robotic-delivery companies, such as Starship Technologies, which hit 1 million sales in February.

AP reported that Albertson’s EVP, and chief customer and digital officer, Chris Rupp, said in a statement: “Our team is obsessed with trying new and disruptive technologies that can bring more convenience for our customers.”

He added: “We are willing to quickly test, learn and implement winning innovations that ensure we are offering the easiest and most convenient shopping experience in the entire industry.”

The partnership is an example of smart technologies transforming all types of industries to improve the customer experience at a time when social interaction has become increasingly difficult.

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Trader Joe’s rehired the employee who was fired after asking for increased COVID-19 protections

Trader Joe's.
Trader Joe’s.

  • Trader Joe’s rehired an employee who said he was fired after asking for more COVID-19 protections.
  • Bonnema’s letter to the CEO was shared widely on Twitter and inspired a boycott.
  • Retail workers tasked with enforcing mask rules have risked dangerous confrontations in the last year.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Trader Joe’s on Wednesday rehired an employee who said he was fired in February after requesting increased COVID-19 safety protections in a letter to the company’s CEO, The Daily Beast first reported.

Ben Bonnema’s account of his firing from a New York City Trader Joe’s store led to calls for a boycott of the grocer’s more than 500 US locations. Scientists cited in Bonnema’s letter also came to his defense as news of his firing made waves online. 

“It’s been a stressful week since then, but it makes sense that they offered to reinstate because it was a completely unlawful termination,” Bonnema told The Daily Beast Thursday following his reinstatement.

Trader Joe’s did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

In his letter to CEO Dan Bane, Bonnema outlined several changes he wanted the store to enact to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect workers, including increased ventilation and limited store capacity based on air quality. At the time, Trader Joe’s told Insider Bonnema’s account of his firing was “misinformation.”

“Store leadership terminated this Crew Member’s employment because of the disrespect he showed toward our customers,” Trader Joe’s said.

Bonnema shared his letter on Twitter in February, and it quickly went viral.

 “We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work,” Bonnema wrote. “Please, show up for us by adopting these policies.” He said he was fired for the letter, and shared his termination letter on Twitter. The letter he posted said he did not share the grocery chain’s core values.

“While we are pleased that Mr. Bonnema has been rightfully reinstated, we will continue to take all necessary legal action to repair his reputation that has been disparaged by the company through false accusations that my client engaged in misconduct,” Bonnema’s lawyer Ben Dictor told The Daily Beast. “We are also committed to ensuring that no essential workers of Trader Joe’s face any further retaliation for raising concerns about their working conditions.”

Now, Bonnema says that he is waiting to hear from OSHA about his concerns, and plans to be back at work on Monday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, US retail workers have been tasked with the job of enforcing piecemeal mask policies. Employees were left in the difficult position of not having official mask policies, or not being allowed to ask customers to mask up.

Some customers have refused to wear masks for political reasons, and some encounters have turned violent, with workers shot or assaulted for asking customers to wear masks. Of stores that did not let employees enforce mask rules, spokespeople cited concerns for employee safety. Despite being hailed as heroes, protections for retail employees remain weak in the US, and activists are urging governments and companies to do more.

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A Trader Joe’s employee says he was fired after he asked the company’s CEO to enhance its COVID-19 protections

Trader Joe's
Trader Joe’s

  • A New York man said he was fired by Trader Joe’s after he requested the company make changes to better protect workers.
  • Ben Bonnema said on Twitter he was fired after sending a letter to the company’s CEO.
  • In the termination letter he shared, the company said he did not share the grocery chain’s “core Values.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A New York City man said he was fired by Trader Joe’s after he sent a letter to the company’s CEO requesting the company make several changes he said would more thoroughly protect the grocery chain’s employees from COVID-19. 

In a tweet Friday evening, Ben Bonnema said he was fired from the Trader Joe’s location on New York City’s Upper West Side after he sent a letter to Dan Bane, the CEO of Trader Joe’s. Bonnema outlined changes he believed the company should implement to further protect staff from the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus.

Bonnema did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment Saturday. Trader Joe’s also did not immediately comment about Bonnema’s employment or the company’s response to his letter. 

In the letter, which Bonnema shared on Twitter, Bonnema asked for five changes in his Trader Joe’s store, including enhancements to the store’s HVAC system, an occupancy limit based on the level of CO2 in the store, more stringent face mask requirements for customers, and a three-strike policy for customers who refuse to follow COVID-19 protocol. 

“Unfortunately, ASHRAE and the CDC and OSHA have downplayed the dangers of aerosols since the pandemic’s origins, so saying that Trader Joe’s ‘exceeds their standards’ isn’t good enough,” he wrote in the letter.

 

“We should be following the guidelines of scientists who study respiratory transmission,” he added, including a link to a February 17 article from The New York Times that reported a group of 13 scientists had called on the Biden administration to release rules to limit airborne transmissions of the virus in places like meat-packing plants and prisons.

“We put our lives on the line every day by showing up to work,” he wrote. “Please, show up for us by adopting these policies.” 

But Bonnema said Trader Joe’s terminated him after sending the letter on behalf of his coworkers and shared his termination letter, dated Friday, February 26, on Twitter.

“In a recent email, you suggest adopting a ‘3 strike’ policy against customers and a policy enforcing the same accommodation for every customer with a medical condition that precludes them from wearing a mask,” the termination letter read.

In Bonnema’s letter to the CEO, he had called for the company to enforce mask usage – even in the cases of medical exemptions, which are often illegitimate, writing that Trader Joe’s employees can accommodate such people by shopping on their behalf.

“These suggestions are not in line with our core Values,” the termination letter continued. “In addition, you state that Trader Joe’s is not ‘showing up for us’ without adopting your policies.”

“It is clear that you do not understand our Values. As a result, we are no longer comfortable having you work for Trader Joe’s,” the letter concluded.

A group of Trader Joe’s workers promoting a workers union for the grocery store voiced support for Bonnema on Twitter. “We’ve spoken with @BenBonnema and are extending unequivocal support and solidarity. We will not be providing comment outside what Ben decides to share, but are supporting him in every way possible in this fight,” Crew for a Trader Joe’s Union said. 

Retail and grocery workers were hailed as heroes early in the pandemic, as they worked to keep essential businesses operational during the lockdown. But protections for retail employees remain weak in the United States, and many workers and labor activists have called for companies to do more.

Bonnema’s claims would not be the first time employees of Trader Joe’s complained about their safety during the pandemic. In November 2020, employees of the grocery chain told Gothamist they were in a “state of terror” and claimed the company was not properly protecting workers from the spread of the disease.

Employees of several New York City Trader Joe’s locations, including the one on the Upper West Side, told Gothamist last year they were fearful of punishment from management should they voice concerns.

In a press release earlier in February, Trader Joe’s outlined how it said it was protecting employees and customers from COVID-19, including requiring face masks for most customers (and providing accommodations for individuals who were medically unable), providing masks and gloves to staff, health screenings for employees, and increased cleaning at its stores. 

“The safety and wellbeing of our Crew Members and customers is, and always will be, top of mind,” a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told Gothamist last year.  

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Kroger says some HR data and pharmacy records were possibly compromised in data breach

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  • The data breach was caused by a vulnerability in the Accellion file-sharing system that Kroger used.
  • Kroger discontinued using Accellion and reported the incident to federal law enforcement.
  • Certain HR data, money service records, and pharmacy records were affected.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Kroger was among the companies affected by a data breach caused by a weakness in a product offered by Accellion, a third-party company that the retailer used for secure file transfer services, according to a company press release.

The breach didn’t affect Kroger’s IT system, the store systems, debit or credit card information, and no customer data was misused, the retailer said, but it did impact certain HR data, money service records, and pharmacy records.

“At this time, based on the information provided by Accellion and its own investigation, Kroger believes that less than 1% of its customers, specifically customers of Kroger Health and Money Services, have been impacted,” the company said in Friday’s press release. 

The supermarket chain, which has nearly 3,000 stores accross the country, discontinued using the product and reported the data breach to federal law enforcement after being informed of the incident on January 23, Kroger said Friday. 

Accellion informed Kroger that an unauthorized person gained access to Kroger files through a weakness in Accellion’s file transfer service, Kroger said.

Kroger also initiated its own investigation to determine the impact of the incident. The company is in the process of contacting potentially harmed customers and offering free credit monitoring. 

Accellion did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Accellion’s customers have been using the company’s product called File Transfer Appliance (FTA) which offers secure file-sharing services for sensitive files that are too large for email attachments. The product was used by law firms, including Jones Day, Insider previously reported.

Earlier this month, Accellion announced that it is retiring its FTA systems and encouraged its customers to upgrade from the 20-year-old system to its newer product Kiteworks that “never reported” an external vulnerability in the four years it has been in the marketplace.

The company will not allow renewals to its FTA product after April 30, according to its website.

In January, Accellion said that it released a patch within 72 hours to less than 50 of its customers who have been impacted by the breach. The string of data breaches affected large organizations and companies around the world.

Among those affected was New Zealand’s Reserve Bank that became aware of the data breach in January. “Following this malicious attack, the software application was secured and closed,” the bank said in its statement on February 15.

The data breach that the bank experienced on December 25 impacted some files that contained personal email addresses, birthdates, credit information, the bank said. The bank also added that it is working directly with stakeholders to determine the number of individuals affected.

Singtel, Singapore’s telecommunications company, also experienced a data breach of its FTA Accellion system and said on Wednesday that it is working with the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore about the incident.

The company completed its investigation and concluded that 23 enterprises were affected and Singtel’s data logs, test data, reports, and emails were leaked, according to its statement. Exfiltrated data also included personal information such as birthdates and names of 129,000 customers and bank account details of 28 former Singtel employees, the company added.

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People are boycotting Publix because a member of its founding family gave $300,000 to the Trump rally that led to the January 6 Capitol riots

trump us capitol siege
Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.

  • People are boycotting Publix after heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli was unmasked as a top donor to the January 6 Trump rally.
  • Fancelli is not a Publix employee but is set to inherit from the $8.8 billion founding family’s fortune.
  • Fancelli contributed most of the roughly $500,000 total raised for the “Stop the Steal” rally, the WSJ reported.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

People are calling for a boycott of Publix after the Wall Street Journal unmasked an heiress to the Southern grocery empire as the top donor to the Trump rally that led to the Capitol riots on January 6.

Julie Jenkins Fancelli, an heiress to the Publix founding family’s nearly $9 billion fortune, has previously donated millions to Republican causes and candidates. On January 30, the WSJ reported Fancelli as having contributed $300,000 out of the roughly $500,000 total raised for Trump’s now-infamous “Stop the Steal” rally.

Publix has a dedicated fanbase, but Fancelli’s contribution to the rally was the last straw for many loyal customers, The Guardian reported Monday. On Monday, the hashtag #BoycottPublix was trending on Twitter, with many users expressing outrage and claiming betrayal over Fancelli’s donation.

Fancelli’s donation was facilitated by far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who himself donated $50,000 to the rally that led to the deaths of five people, the Journal reported.

After the riots, corporations raced to cut ties with former president Trump and to end donations to political candidates that supported Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.

After the publication of the WSJ article, Publix rapidly distanced itself from Fancelli in a Twitter statement, and said it did not employ her.

Fancelli is still president of the George Jenkins Foundation, Inc., Publix founder George Jenkins’s charity, which is not affiliated with the grocery chain. Since posting the statement on January 30, the Publix Twitter account – which previously posted around once a day – has been uncharacteristically silent.

This isn’t the first time Publix has courted controversy over its political donations. It came under fire after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded the chain an exclusive vaccine distribution contract. This followed the Publix PAC donating $100,000 donation to his campaign – a spokeswoman for DeSantis said any implication that the contract was a reward for the donation was “baseless and ridiculous,” per the Lakeland Ledger.

Leaders from predominantly Black communities throughout the state also criticized the contract, saying it deprived many Black Floridians of the chance to get vaccinated.

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Someone in Michigan purchased a Mega Millions ticket worth $1 billion

mega millions
A Mega Millions lottery ticket,

Someone in Michigan bought the winning ticket for the $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot, which was the third-largest lottery prize in U.S. history.

The winning numbers for Friday night’s drawing were 4, 26, 42, 50 and 60, with a Mega Ball of 24. The winning ticket was purchased at a Kroger store in the Detroit suburb of Novi, the Michigan Lottery said.

“Someone in Michigan woke up to life-changing news this morning, and Kroger Michigan congratulates the newest Michigan multimillionaire,” said Rachel Hurst, a regional spokeswoman for the grocery chain. She declined to comment further.

Read more: The first thing lottery winners purchased after hitting the jackpot 

The Mega Millions top prize had been growing since Sept. 15, when a winning ticket was sold in Wisconsin. The lottery’s next estimated jackpot is $20 million.

Friday night’s drawing came just two days after a ticket sold in Maryland matched all six numbers drawn and won a $731.1 million Powerball jackpot.

Only two lottery prizes in the U.S. have been larger than Friday’s jackpot. Three tickets for a $1.586 billion Powerball jackpot were sold in January 2016, and one winning ticket sold for a $1.537 billion Mega Millions jackpot in October 2018.

The jackpot figures refer to amounts if a winner opts for an annuity, paid in 30 annual installments. Most winners choose a cash prize, which for the Mega Millions estimated jackpot would be $739.6 million before taxes.

In Grosse Ile, a suburb south of Detroit, 126 people bought more than 600 tickets for the Friday drawing but didn’t win the jackpot. They hoped to win enough money to replace a publicly owned bridge on their island in the Detroit River that has been closed indefinitely for major repairs. The only other transportation option for the island’s 10,000 residents is a privately owned toll bridge.

“We used this to lift our spirits and dream a little bit,” said organizer Kyle de Beausset. “Of course we’re open to any help with the bridge, but I can’t imagine the winner would want to finance it.”

The odds of winning a Mega Millions jackpot were incredibly steep, at one in 302.5 million.

The game is played in 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Kroger is seeing success from premium customers looking for joy in giant packages of blueberries and betting on its four ‘competitive moats’ for continuing profits post-pandemic

kroger pickup store
  • Kroger CEO and chairman Rodney McMullen spoke about his company’s “four competitive moats” during the grocery giant’s Thursday earnings call.
  • According to McMullen, the advantages of fresh foods, Kroger brands, personalized data capabilities, and seamless fulfillment help the company stand out.
  • “We are fulfilling our customer’s growing demand for  premium products, as they seek joy and elevated experiences,” McMullen said
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

During the coronavirus pandemic, happiness can be derived from the simplest pleasures. Even a seamless online order of fresh blueberries could be enough to chase away the COVID-19 blues, according to Kroger chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen.

McMullen addressed his company’s pandemic-era strategies on the company’s Thursday earnings call, during which Kroger announced that it beat Wall Street expectations and saw soaring digital sales. He spoke specifically about how his company is “merchandising in new ways to both meet that demand and  inspire our customers to trade up” to premium products.

“We are fulfilling our customer’s growing demand for premium products, as they seek joy and elevated experiences,” McMullen said. “We’re merchandising in new ways to both meet that demand and inspire our customers to trade up to items like premium jumbo blueberries and larger sized packages of strawberries, raspberries, and grapes.”

McMullen centered his comments around the company’s four “competitive moats,” which the company describes as Fresh, Our Brands, Data & Personalization, and Seamless.”

According to the CEO, those four moats have helped Kroger succeed and bring “joy” to customers during the pandemic, at a time when the grocer has been seeing “increased basket  sizes and fewer customer visits.”

The company’s strategy around fresh prominently features its partnership with Home Chef, a meal kit and food delivery business that Kroger acquired for $200 million in 2018.

“Our efforts are also driving strong market share growth in packaged produce, fresh prepared foods and specialty cheese,” McMullen said. 

For the company’s “Our Brands” moat, McMullen said that Kroger’s brand capabilities grew 8.6% in the third quarter, with a 17% spurt in Private Selection and around 15% growth in Simple Truth. The company introduced 250 new products in the third quarter, a record for Kroger.

On the “Personalization” front, McMullen said that the company’s “customer email open rate” is 18% higher than the industry average.

McMullen also called out Kroger’s “Seamless” capabilities. The CEO said that the company began by leveraging its physical stores to fulfill orders, opened up “various-sized facilities optimized based on volume, demand profile, and density,” and embracing automation and scale. Kroger currently has established 2,200 pickup and 2,450 delivery locations throughout the United States, reaching 98% of the company’s customer base.

“The investments made to enhance our competitive moats are paying off and as a result, we are growing market share,” McMullen said.

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