‘Graph Theory’ & Food & Retail Innovation

The Wall Street Journal: “Every creative cook faces the challenge of choosing ingredients that combine deliciously. This is mostly a matter of culinary experience, intuition and imagination, plus a lot of trial and error. But Big Data can help, too … Enter the food scientist and trained chef Michael Nestrud … Dr. Nestrud uses an arcane branch of mathematics called graph theory, the same sort of analysis used to pick out ‘cliques’ of Facebook friends, in which every member of the group is friends with every other member.”

“More recently, he has applied the technique to produce more harmonious combinations of snacks, main courses, side dishes and desserts in U.S. Army field rations, based on soldiers’ pairwise preferences. He also has used it to determine which snack foods should sit next to one another on convenience-store shelves, based on which items consumers tend to think of together In his current job with Ocean Spray … Dr. Nestrud searches through Twitter’s daily archives to find every tweet that mentions certain flavor-related words.”

“By seeing what else people talk about when they talk about cranberries, both during and after the holiday season, he hopes to learn more about the other flavors that consumers associate with cranberries, which may lead to novel flavor combinations for his company’s products. Data miners have an even richer treasure trove available in the form of online recipe archives. Every recipe testifies that someone, at some point, thought a particular combination of ingredients was tasty. Scientists are now using these archives to test a controversial idea about flavor pairing.”


Amazon Unboxed: Gotta Move Those Refrigerators

The New York Times: Amazon “is exploring the idea of creating stores to sell furniture and home appliances, like refrigerators — the kinds of products that shoppers are reluctant to buy over the internet sight unseen … The stores would serve as showcases where people could view the items in person, with orders being delivered to their homes. These would not be your average Home Depots: Amazon has considered using forms of augmented or virtual reality to allow people to see how couches, stoves and credenzas will look in their homes.”

“Amazon is also kicking around an electronics-store concept similar to Apple’s retail emporiums … These shops would have a heavy emphasis on Amazon devices and services such as the company’s Echo smart home speaker and Prime Video streaming service. And in groceries … the company has opened a convenience store that does not need cashiers, and it is close to opening two stores where drivers can quickly pick up groceries without leaving their cars, all in Seattle. It has explored another grocery store concept that could serve walk-in customers and act as a hub for home deliveries.”

“But a group within Amazon has explored another larger grocery store format … The store could stock fresh produce, meats and other items in a public area of the store, while keeping frozen foods, cereals and other items traditionally found in the center of a grocery store behind a wall, in what would be a kind of small Amazon warehouse. Workers behind the wall, not robots, could quickly package orders for customers.”


Luxury of Silence: Cheapo Cars Mask Muffles

Wired: “In your cheapo car … blowing wind, humming tires, high-revving engines, and a hundred random vibrations conspire to make conversation a chore, exhaust the driver, and strain audio systems cranked up to mask the racket. That’s because the standard silencers—sound-absorbing insulation, pricey engineering, aerodynamic tricks, and sheer weight (heavier cars tend to be quieter)—are hard to move down market.”

“But in recent years, automakers catering to the road-going hoi polloi have found new ways to lower the volume, particularly for hybrid and electric vehicles that don’t have the benefit of an engine to mask other vehicle noises. The result: Economy cars now carry things like side mirrors that maneuver airflow away from your windows, suspensions that dial out road noise, expanding tape that plugs gaps, and frames to maneuver sound away from the car’s occupants—all developed with the help of mannequins with mics in their ears and giant spherical cameras that can ‘see’ sound.”

“It’s a perk you can neither see nor hear, but one you’ll appreciate, no matter how much you paid for your car.”


Match & Miles: Fidelity vs. Loyalty

The Wall Street Journal: “Travelers fell in love with an offer of 150 points from British Airways for every dollar spent by U.S. customers on new subscriptions to Match.com. U.S. members of the BA loyalty program could also get 130 Avios points, as they’re called, per dollar with eHarmony. A $215 annual Match subscription earned 32,250 points, enough to make hearts flutter among mileage fanatics.”

“But the attraction was so strong that the dating services quickly called it off after a couple of days in early March, canceling new subscriptions, refunding fees paid and pulling back points awarded. Match.com says it ordered up the quickie divorce because an affiliated promoter launched the come-on without authorization. eHarmony says the relationship soured when some married travelers signed up and others created multiple profiles, violating terms and conditions.”

“Frequent flier Dylan Schiemann didn’t sign up because he figured there was a line he shouldn’t cross with his wife.” He explains: “It seemed like a good offer, but I decided pretty quickly not to go with it. No matter how open you are, you just don’t go on a dating site if you’re married.”


REI: A Community of Customers

The Atlantic: “REI is a retail cooperative, meaning it’s owned by its members. The company has created somewhat of a community by offering memberships, offering its over 6 million active members a dividend for future purchases at REI and one vote in an annual board of directors election for $20. That might seem innovative, but perhaps what’s more surprising is that, in many ways, REI is just practicing old-school retail wisdom.”

CEO Jerry Stritzke comments: I would say it’s a compelling competitive advantage, and as we look to the future, I think that idea of having a community organized around a shared passion—in this case a love of a life lived outside—is really important. That aspect of the co-op is a big thing. We gave away over $9 million dollars to a number of nonprofits partners. That’s playing a central role in advocating for what we’re passionate about, and being in that community.”

And: “The last thing is it’s a long-term perspective … To really be able to look out and ask, what does it mean to be vibrant, to be compelling over a three-, five-, 10-year horizon? That’s phenomenally important.”


Escape Rooms ‘Pop Up’ As Brand Experiences

The Verge: “The SXSW conference has a history of being home to some of the most elaborate marketing events imaginable. Whether it’s a chance to stay over at the Bates Motel, visit the restaurant from Breaking Bad, or see Kanye and Jay Z perform (courtesy of Samsung), it’s as much a part of the show as technology talks and movies. But this year, a new style of tie-in swept the festival: the escape room.”

“Disney launched a pop-up escape experience tied to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Fox took over the ‘Prison Break’ room at The Escape Game Austin to promote the new season of, yes, Prison Break. And HBO had a multi-room installation in place to promote Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley … It’s marketing sleight of hand, circumventing audience exhaustion over endless advertising by offering up free experiences that many would pay for if given the option.”

“And with audiences happy to share their own participation, these real-world marketing experiences form a self-sustaining cycle of hype: fans take part and take photos, which they then share on social media, which inspires more people to come, and the entire thing starts all over again.”


Adidas Pops Up With DIY Design

Reuters: “Adidas has been testing a store where shoppers can design a sweater, have a body scan to determine fit and get it knitted by a state-of-the-art machine within hours, as the German company looks at ways to respond more quickly to customer demands … At a pop-up Adidas store in a mall in Berlin, customers designed their own merino wool sweaters for 200 euros ($215) each and then had them knitted in the store, finished by hand, washed and dried, all within four hours.”

“Shoppers first entered a darkened room where swirling camouflage and spider web patterns were projected onto their chests, with options to shift the light using hand gestures picked up by sensors, like in an interactive video game. Dozens of possible options were recorded and the customers picked their favorite ones on a computer screen, where they could also experiment with different color combinations. Customers chose standard sizes or stripped down to their underwear for laser body scans. Then the personalized pattern was sent to an industrial knitting machines in the store.”

“Adidas wants 50 percent of its products to be made in a faster time frame by 2020, double the rate in 2016, which it expects will increase the proportion of products sold at full price to 70 percent from less than half now.”


Greats Sneakers: Where ‘Timeless’ is ‘Trendy’

Business Insider: “Many startups innovate by thinking of the future. Greats, a sneaker company born in Brooklyn, New York, decided to do the opposite. Its inspiration is the past … The brand takes vintage silhouettes — think retro runners like the Onitsuka Tiger or Adidas Stan Smith along with other “greats” — strips them down to the company’s minimal style, and sells them at what the founder calls an ‘approachable’ price.”

Founder Ryan Babenzien explains: “We’re not a trendy company … The company is based around the thought that there are a handful of classic silhouettes that are evergreen in the sneaker market, and they may ebb and flow, but these core palettes of silhouettes are what dominate the sneaker industry, period.”


Cava Mezze & The ROI of ‘Experience’

Fast Company: Cava Mezze, a chain of 24 Mediterranean restaurants, is using “a system of sensors … to monitor everything from customer wait times to food-safety practices … to boost Cava’s ROI of experience.” Chief data scientist Josh Patchus “trains motion sensors (stationed in select restaurants) on customers as they’re waiting to order. What he found: Lines tend to bunch up near the menu board and while people are selecting ingredients at the serving station … Rather than limit customers’ options, he redesigned the menu boards so that customers know what to expect when they reach the serving station. The change has helped lines move 10% faster and hold 12% more people.”

“Sensors in the restaurants’ seating areas show that customers in urban locations often stay only long enough to eat, but in the suburbs they prefer to linger … Patchus suggested increasing seating at the suburban outposts by 30%, allowing them to accommodate large groups. Those parties boosted revenue in the redesigned stores by 20% per square foot … Patchus uses the sensors to monitor back-of-house operations. Walk-in refrigerators can now tell managers how long they’ve been left open, and if there have been any temperature or humidity spikes … food-quality complaints from customers have dropped 28%.”

“If the cash register is too close to the serving station, customers have to shout their choices, and it can be hard for them to hear the server’s response. Sensors track decibel levels in the ordering area; if they’re high, Patchus suggests a remodel.” Patchus comments: “To understand our customers, we have to be around our customers.”


4 Ways Ulta Changed Its Retail Experience

Fast Company: “Ulta’s engaging in-store experience helped boost company revenue by more than 20% last year. Here are four ways the company changed its retail formula.”

1) “Recognizing that salon guests spend almost three times as much as other customers, Dillon moved the Benefit Brow Bar, a station for eyebrow shaping, to the front of some stores so that shoppers see services when they enter. Salon sales were up 15% in the first nine months of 2016.” 2) “In a bid to lure shoppers into stores, Ulta offers samples for a wide range of products, inviting people to try on not just prestige makeup lines such as Estée Lauder and Nars, but also drugstore brands including Maybelline and CoverGirl.”

3) “Many of the electronics the store sells, such as the new Dyson Supersonic hair dryer, are plugged in to encourage play.” 4) “As they browse the store’s seemingly unlimited supply of eye shadows, lotions, and nail polishes, shoppers can use the Ulta app to scan any product’s bar code. From there, they can read customer reviews, see similar merchandise, and save items as favorites.”