Super Bowl weekend is finally here. And while I have no vested interest in the game, I am certainly looking forward it. And from the sounds of it, more people are looking forward to it this year than last year. Maybe it’s because Tom Brady isn’t playing. Maybe it’s because people want to see an underdog bring victory to Cincinnati. Or maybe it’s just because people want to return to some sense of normalcy and have a good old-fashioned Super Bowl party. According to the annual National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics Super Bowl survey, 184.5 million US adults said they planned to tune into the big game. And, despite the ongoing impact of the pandemic, consumers are feeling more comfortable bringing back some game-day traditions. This year, 90 million people are planning to throw or attend a party, up from 62.8 million last year, and another 13.7 million adults plan to watch the game at a bar or restaurant. Total spending on food, drinks, apparel, decorations, and other purchases for the day is expected to reach $14.6 billion. So, whether you are in it for the game, the commercials, or the half-time show, which is a throw-back to a great era of rap, enjoy the big game. And now on to this week’s logistics news.
The alternative meat supply chain and market has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few years. This includes more fast food and fast casual restaurants adding plant-based alternatives to their menus, as well as more sales in grocery stores around the globe. Ikea is now jumping into the market as well. While the company does not have a full grocery department, it does offer a variety of foods and drinks in its Swedish Market. The company is almost as famous for its Swedish meatballs as it is for its furniture. This week, Ikea US has announced their latest plant-based product and it’s called Världsklok. The chain describes the new item — which is made from pea protein — as “a shapeable meat substitute that can be used to make burgers, ‘meatballs,’ ‘meat’ sauces and more.” Ikea points out that Världsklok plant-based mince joins a range of meat alternatives sold at Ikea that also includes items such as Huvudroll plant balls and Korvmoj veggie dogs, all part of the brand’s plan to “provide more climate friendly food alternatives.”
Earlier this week, Steve Banker and I published an article about the next revolution in 3D printing, looking at the role of additive manufacturing for large industrial products. Relativity Space, a rocket startup founded in 2015, plans to build fairly small rockets that can blast satellites into orbit cheaply and quickly. Relativity plans to 3D print almost every single component of its 200-foot-tall orbital rockets, called Terran 1. Co-founder Tim Ellis says this is why investors are so intrigued, which enabled the company to raise $1.2 billion in eight months. According to Ellis, Relativity’s methods will allow them to build a rocket in less than a month, while labor-driven rocket manufacturing can take months to more than a year. Using robots will also allow Relativity to quickly integrate small changes into its rockets’ design, potentially allowing the company to develop a far better product in less time. Because it hasn’t launched, it’s not yet clear if 3D printing really can prove to be an effective alternative to the traditional rocket-building method. But it will certainly be interesting to follow.
As more and more ships continue to queue up outside of major ports, some of the world’s biggest ocean shipping lines are buying cargo planes. Liners like Danish giant A.P. Moller-Maersk and France’s CMA CGM SA, which together operate more than 1,000 ships, are buying their own fleets of cargo planes and adding airlifts for big clients willing to pay extra to get around supply-chain snarls at sea resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The two companies say they are not looking to compete directly with airfreight giants like FedEx and UPS, which deliver millions of packages across the world. Instead, they are looking at innovative ways to alleviate the current supply chain backlogs that are slowing shipments. Company executives say they plan to use the planes to supplement their core ocean freight business, while also looking to expand beyond their boats into end-to-end logistics providers.
During the peak of the 2021 holiday season, there was a lot of concern that popular toys would not make it to consumers on time. While this problem was mostly avoided, Hasbro is warning that continued supply chain woes could be a problem going forward. In the fourth quarter, the toy maker found it took three times longer than normal for toys in transit from China to get to retailers. The company expects more “challenges with freight costs and input costs for the better part of this year.” As a result, Hasbro will raise prices in the second quarter in a bid to offset the higher shipping expenses. Hasbro’s stock has fallen more than 10 percent this year as investors are concerned about the company losing the rights to the Disney Princess and Frozen franchises to rival Mattel, which will begin selling those toys again in 2023.
The US Postal Service said it could buy more electric vehicles if more funding were available. This comes after the Biden administration criticized the agency’s plan to replace its fleet mainly with gas-powered delivery trucks. The Postal Service plan includes an initial order for 5,000 electric vehicles and flexibility for more “should additional funding become available.” The Postal Service last year awarded a 10-year contract to Oshkosh Corp. for as many as 165,000 delivery vehicles. Those would get better mileage than existing delivery vans and include safety measures such as automatic braking and a driver air bag. The Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality last week said they are pushing for more electric vehicles to reduce the carbon footprint of one of the world’s largest government fleets. The US House plans to vote on a Postal Service reform act in the coming days.
Canadian lawmakers expressed increasing worry about the economic effects of disruptive demonstrations after the busiest border crossing between the US and Canada became partially blocked by truckers protesting vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions. Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, a “vital trade artery.” It carries 25 percent of trade between the countries. The daily demonstrations staged by the so-called Freedom Truck Convoy began in Ottawa, where demonstrators have used hundreds of parked trucks to paralyze parts of the capital for more than 10 days. The auto industry is already feeling the pinch from the demonstrations, and as the protests continue, the partial blockade of the Ambassador Bridge threatens to derail the normal handoff from one factory to the next. A lengthy impasse would be likely to send layoffs rippling through factories in both countries.
Consumers in the Boston area who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can now use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (ETB) cards to buy groceries online through the nonprofit grocer Daily Table. The Mayor’s Office of Food Access allocated $93,000 in funds from the American Rescue Plan to support the effort, which began last week. Users of the federal nutrition assistance program can place their orders on Daily Table’s website or app. The nonprofit grocery chain, the only locally-owned nonprofit grocery taking part in this initiative, will fulfill orders for delivery or pickup at one of its locations in the communities of Roxbury, Dorchester and Cambridge. Delivery is free for Daily Table customers who reside within a two-mile radius of a Daily Table store.
Disability inclusion programs are helping warehouses hire overlooked talent and fill the employment gap. Retail and logistics companies are accelerating their commitments to workers with disabilities as a labor crunch hampers operations. The difficulty filling warehouse jobs amid historic levels of e-commerce volumes is increasingly opening doors to people with disabilities. More companies are adopting inclusion programs as part of their labor strategy. Advance Auto, for example, is accelerating efforts to hire people with disabilities as many employers struggle to fill jobs in warehouses, distribution centers and other facets of their supply chains. About three years in, the company has hired more than 360 workers with autism or who are deaf or hard-of-hearing through the program, which is in place at 16 of its 44 distribution centers. The company is planning to expand the initiative this year.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend, the Super Bowl, and the song of the week, Still D.R.E., by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg.