Seaweed Cups: Food as Packaging

The New York Times: “A growing number of entrepreneurs and researchers are working to turn foods like mushrooms, kelp, milk and tomato peels into edible — if not always palatable — replacements for plastics, coatings and other packaging materials.” For example: “The United States Department of Agriculture … has developed a material from milk protein that can be used to line pizza boxes, encase cheese or create, say, soluble soup packets that can simply be dropped in hot water. The product could even serve as a substitute for the sugar used to coat cereal flakes to prevent them from going soggy too fast.”

“Over the past several years, governments have quietly bankrolled efforts to develop packaging from food. The European Union, which underwrote a project to develop coatings from whey and potato proteins from 2011 to 2015, estimates that the global market for so-called bioplastics is growing by as much as 30 percent each year.”
However: “Nestlé says it wouldn’t want its demand for packaging to reduce the food supply, given widespread hunger … Few, however, are begging to eat the peels left after tomatoes are processed. A group of researchers in Italy has used them to develop a lining for cans.”

“A British start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab is taking matters into its own hands. The company has developed a packaging it calls Ohoo from edible seaweed, and is building a machine to produce containers from Ohoo to hold water, juices, cosmetics and other liquids on the spot. A juice bar, for instance, could create a container with each order.”

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Financial Writers Bank on Dr Seuss

Business Insider: “Staff at the Bank of England studied the writing style of Dr. Seuss as part of a push to make its communications more easily understood by the general public. The central bank analysed the children’s author after finding that just one in five people could read and understand its inflation report.”

Minouche Shafik, the former deputy governor for markets at the central bank, comments: “Dr. Seuss was a master at using simple language, at getting children to read.”

“Shafik said that economists often fail to engage with politicians and the public because of their dry, logical manner, and should do more to tell stories.”

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Ikea Incubator: Flat-Pack Food?

Quartz: “IKEA announced it is starting an innovation incubator program, in which it has invited start-up companies to apply to spend three months in one of the company’s labs in Sweden. The benefits? Companies will get €20,000 ($22,400), three months of free housing, and access to IKEA’s prototype shop, a test lab, and hands-on access to the expertise of scientists working in the lab.”

“The Swedish maker of at-home-assembly furniture wants to focus the resources of its incubator on eight key areas: Food innovation, disruptive technologies, customer experience, disruptive design, sustainability, manufacturing, the supply chain, and analytics.”

“For food, in particular, the company is eager to work with startups looking to make waves in urban farming, using virtual reality to do food tastings, the invention of new ingredients, sustainable sourcing, conservation efforts, and healthier eating.”

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Not from Ikea: Flat-Pack Pasta

Fast Company: “Researchers at the MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group have managed to make pasta, the world’s greatest food, even better: by giving it shape-shifting properties. Lining Yao, the lead researcher, and former Media Lab grad student, and Wen Wang, a researcher at the Media Lab, created flat sheets made of gelatin and starch that transform into 3D shapes when they’re submerged in water … When submerged in hot liquid, spaghetti can divide into smaller noodles and discs can wrap around pieces of caviar to create something like cannoli.”

“Why would you want to do this? Because such technology could be used to package pasta more efficiently. The researchers found that the volume of packaging for macaroni is 67% air. If pasta were packed flat and then erupted into shapes when you dumped it in a pot, you could save money.”

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How Best Buy Engages Shoppers

The Wall Street Journal: “Best Buy, the electronics giant left for dead a few years ago, is bucking America’s retail slump by turning its cavernous stores from a potential drag on its business into a way to fend off Amazon.com Inc.”

“To fend off digital competition, Best Buy gave up efforts to charge consumers more in stores than online. It promised in 2013 to match online competitors’ prices and brought its prices in line with Amazon’s—a move that has paid dividends now that shoppers can instantly check prices on their smartphones … The price guarantee made a loyal shopper out of Anton Robinson, a 34-year-old lawyer in New York City. He buys his music equipment from Best Buy because he prefers to test products in person and doesn’t have to compare prices.”

“Best Buy also found a way to get more out of its giant stores. The company eliminated much of the floorspace once dedicated to DVDs and other media and has given it to brands such as Samsung, Verizon and Microsoft , which both pay rent and provide staff with expertise … Best Buy plans a nationwide rollout of in-home advisory services, in which consultants will visit consumers to field technology questions. Says CEO Hubert Joly: “Having these conversations in the home unlocks all sorts of discussions with the customers. There’s some needs that people never talk about in the stores.”

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Kishore Biyani: Quote of the Day

“One has to understand that at the end of the day, e-commerce is also a place where one is buying a product and a brand. In the long term, it’s all about who does it efficiently and what the customer prefers. Even after 20 years of e-commerce in the US, physical is 90% of retail. You can’t get out of physical. You have to use airports, roads, bridges—you can’t have digital or virtual transportation.” – Kishore Biyani, CEO of Future Group, one of India’s largest retailers, quote in Quartz.

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Visual Noise: The Open-Office Downside

The Wall Street Journal: “After taking down walls to create open offices and foster lots of interaction and collaboration, some companies are finding they’ve done the job too well. All of this social engineering has created endless distractions that draw employees’ eyes away from their own screens. Visual noise, the activity or movement around the edges of an employee’s field of vision, can erode concentration and disrupt analytical thinking or creativity.”

“A loss of visual privacy is the No. 2 complaint from employees in offices with low or no partitions between desks, after noise, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology of 42,764 workers in 303 U.S. office buildings.”

“Some employers are dealing with such distractions by giving employees a lot of choices, allowing them to leave their desks and relocate to other kinds of workspaces over the course of a day … AT&T has installed about 20 Steelcase Brody workstations at its San Ramon, Calif., offices. They have privacy screens on three sides to block distractions … The company also has 66 ‘focus rooms,’ small rooms with a single desk. These are popular among employees because they allow them to close the door, turn away from the window and work facing a wall.”

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Flowlight: Giving The Busy Signal

The Wall Street Journal: “Interruptions are the bane of workers in open-plan offices, with some resorting to headphones, busy lights and other paraphernalia to ward off chatty co-workers … Academic researchers and collaborators at ABB have developed an automated solution: a light that turns red, green or yellow to indicate when interruptions are OK and when they aren’t. The team says that the system, known as FlowLight, reduced interruptions by 46% for 36 users who reliably logged such intrusions.”

“To avoid making red lights into status symbols, they were at first limited to going on for 18% of the workday … Not all interruptions are bad. Ill-timed or trivial ones tend to hurt productivity, but many interruptions lead to valuable discussions that can benefit a firm … So the idea isn’t to do away with them but to channel them between periods of intense concentration.”

“The researchers were also surprised by the extent to which FlowLight became a useful feedback system to encourage concentration by professionals whose jobs offer considerable opportunities for distraction. One user told the researchers, ‘If I see the red light, I sense I am in the flow, and I keep working’.”

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‘Amazon Charts’ Re-Define ‘Best Seller’

The New York Times: Amazon now tracks “not only the top-selling digital and print books on Amazon, but the ones that customers spend the most time reading … With its lists, Amazon aims to redefine the notion of a best seller, expanding it to include books that are ‘borrowed’ from its e-book subscription service, and ones that are streamed on Audible. As a result, the lists give increased visibility to books that might not typically appear on other best-seller lists.”

“All of Amazon’s acquisitions and new features are having a cumulative effect, allowing the company to draw on its vast customer base and troves of data to discover what is popular, and return that information to customers, creating a lucrative feedback loop … Crowdsourcing and data mining are also driving the company’s approach to its bookstores, which act as showcases for books popular with customers on the site. While the stores have traditional categories, like fiction, nonfiction and travel, the most eye-catching shelves feature categories culled from Amazon’s customer data.”

“The first thing customers see when they walk into the store is a large display table, labeled Highly Rated, which includes books with an average rating of 4.8 stars or higher on a scale of 5 … Another display case, labeled Page-Turners, features books that people finish reading on their Kindle in fewer than three days … Another section features the most ‘wished for’ books from Amazon’s website … The books are all displayed face out. Under each book is a card with the average customer rating, the number of reviews and a featured review from an Amazon reader. Displaying the full cover of each book mimics the visual look of Amazon’s website, and might lure customers to unfamiliar titles.”

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Google Eyes: Watch While You Shop

The Washington Post: “Google executives say they are using complex, patent-pending mathematical formulas to protect the privacy of consumers when they match a Google user with a shopper who makes a purchase in a brick-and-mortar store. The mathematical formulas convert people’s names and other personal information into anonymous strings of numbers.”

“The formulas make it impossible for Google to know the identity of the real-world shoppers, and for the retailers to know the identities of Google’s users, Google executives said. The companies know only that a match has been made. In addition, Google does not get a detailed description of the individual transactions, just the amount spent.”

“Google would not say how merchants had obtained consent from consumers to pass along their credit card information. In the past, both Google and Facebook have obtained purchase data for a more limited set of consumers who participate in loyalty programs. Consumers that participate in loyalty programs are more heavily tracked by retailers, and often give consent to share their data with third parties as a condition of signing up. (Not all consumers may realize they have given such consent, according to the digital privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation).”

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