April 7, 2020

Piles and piles of potential food waste

April 7, 2020
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If you thought the “tiger caught the coronavirus” story was the surest sign yet that we’re doomed, take heart. A theme park and zoo in Hong Kong brings us a ray of light. Two giant pandas at Ocean Park successfully mated naturally — a rare feat for pandas in captivity — after 9 years of trying. If Ying Ying and Le Le can persevere, surely we can too, right?

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The Corona-Conomy

The pandemic has farmers dealing with piles of potential food waste

Toilet paper and pantry staples are hard to come by, but the nation’s fresh-food purveyors are dealing with an entirely different checkout-line challenge.

They’ve got mountains of produce and oceans of milk — and nowhere for them to go.

That’s because the food supply chain is getting twisted

Normally, the produce pipeline feeds 2 different types of customers: regular Janes and Joes (who shop 6 feet apart at the grocery store), and restaurants.

  • In 2018, USDA data showed Americans actually spent more on restaurant food (~$678B) than they spent at groceries and warehouse clubs (~$627B).

But restaurant demand wilted on the vine overnight. That’s led to a “tsunami of demand shift from foodservice to food retail,” one expert told Politico.

The sudden change means LOTS of crops could go rotten:

  • The VP of the DiMare tomato company estimates that 10m pounds of tomatoes will go unpicked.
  • At R.C. Hatton, a farm in Florida, 1m pounds of green beans and 4m pounds of cabbage were churned into mulch within a few days — with potentially more crop destruction to come. 
  • In the Netherlands, a potato farmer is selling spuds at a fraction of their usual price because the market for fried patat went soggy.

Nonprofit groups that run food pantries are taking huge donations of produce, but the extra veggies may overwhelm that system, too.

Restaurants are carving new outlets for fresh food

And they go beyond pivots to delivery. Some eateries have reinvented themselves as full-on groceries. A nonprofit group in NYC is offering grants to restaurants that make heavily subsidized meals from others’ surplus ingredients. 

If all else fails, nothing beats free food: An oyster house in Philadelphia gave away its unshucked bivalves before it was forced to close.

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A PSA that might cheer up the kids:

Against the Odds

Gambling is down, but casinos aren’t folding yet

As the nation shelters in place, it seems the cards are stacked against casinos. But if the house always wins, could there be an ace tucked in the industry’s sleeve?

This should have been a banner year for sports betting

It’s been almost 2 years since the Supreme Court gave the OK for states to legalize and regulate sports betting, and it’s taken off in a big way — sports gambling is now legal in at least 21 states and DC. 

Even the stodgy NCAA came around: It abandoned rules keeping championships out of states allowing single-game wagers. March Madness was supposed to mean mucho money for some states.

  • Since it became legal in Iowa last August, bettors there have wagered $327m+ on sports.
  • Ameristar spent about $750k renovating space in the city of Council Bluffs, in anticipation of wagers bringing in millions.

But the basketball tournament was canceled and casinos — deemed nonessential — closed.

The gambling world is now in a world of hurt

According to the American Gaming Association, 987 of 989 US casinos had closed by early April. 

  • In Las Vegas, ~206k casino workers have lost jobs. 
  • The week after the Vegas closings, 92k+ Nevadans filed for unemployment — the most in the state’s history. 

With fewer people venturing into convenience stores, even lottery ticket sales have taken a hit. To compensate, jackpots are getting smaller.

But the internet could sweeten the pot

Facing pressure to find new sources of tax revenue, more states might be amenable to allowing casinos to take games like poker, slots, and roulette online

Last year in New Jersey — 1 of only 6 states to legalize online casino gambling — Atlantic City casinos and their partners raked in $483m from online games.

If you’d rather not wait for the sports world to start spinning again, you can still wager on Russian table tennis — or “Top Chef.”

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Coping With Coronavirus

A tutoring service gives away its tech to campus centers closed by the pandemic

We asked readers to tell us about how their businesses are coping with the coronavirus. We’re featuring highlights of those conversations here.

The coronavirus pandemic hit just as Knack was getting into a groove. 

The founders of the peer-to-peer tutoring service were recently awarded Forbes “30 Under 30” honors. Their company was on a roll picking up users and campus partnerships.

But unlike other businesses, Knack wasn’t forced into an overnight hackathon to create a video chatting feature. They already had one. 

They’re using it to deliver value to their current clients and college students — and to give institutions affected by the pandemic a chance to try their product.

Knack’s coronavirus initiative gives any university or tutoring center the ability to move their tutoring service online while their in-person centers are closed. 

Knack is also providing a financial lifeline for its top-performing students — they can become paid tutors in a contract role. 

More students than ever are using the platform. Samyr Qureshi, one of the co-founders, told us that user engagement recently grew by 50%.

Trends subscribers get access to the whole story — and much more. Start your trial today.

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They’re hiring

Job alert: This state really needs some experts in arcane coding

New Jersey is throwing up the bat signal for the 60+ programmer crowd. 

Mammoth job losses have short-circuited unemployment systems across the country. In New Jersey, dealing with the influx of filings is a major pain because of one culprit — a prehistoric programming language called COBOL.

You might know COBOL from its greatest hits: powering payroll for government agencies in the 1960s. And becoming the most widely used computer language in the world in… 1970.

For some reason, it still forms the basis for New Jersey’s rickety unemployment system. It’s so critical that the state is pleading: If you’re a member of the COBOL cabal, please, please help us. 

It’s the zombie language that just won’t go away

When you run a search for COBOL, Google serves up a delightful FAQ: “Will Cobol ever die?” (The answer, per Quora: “Cobol will die, but not in the very near future.”) Few coding courses still teach it, but it hangs around anyway.

To this day, it powers some banking systems, a few corners of the federal government, and a whole lot of ATM swipes.

COBOL is hard to quit. When an Australian bank recently tried to replace its COBOL code, the transition took 5 years.

The long-lingering system has even jump-started a mini economy of programmers-for-hire who were active in the bad old days of early IBM. Because COBOL’s heyday was so long ago, many experts are seniors.

Governments and financial institutions now call up people like 75-year-old Bill Hinshaw, founder of a company called COBOL Cowboys, to supply the cavalry in an emergency. 

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Snippets

📺 Today in crazy corona-spiracy theories: YouTube is trying to stop the spread of false claims that connect 5G tech and the coronavirus pandemic, after cell phone towers in the UK were set on fire.

🥗 Google Maps is making it easier for you to find restaurants that offer takeout and delivery.

💰So many cars have been taken off the roads by stay-at-home orders that some insurance companies are issuing coronavirus refunds.

🐭 Jeff Reitz visited Disneyland for almost 3k consecutive days. Then the pandemic happened. Here’s how he’s getting along now.

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