Hot Chocolate: Lap Up Luxury

The Wall Street Journal: “Gotham Bar and Grill is celebrated for its fancy fare, from foie gras to Dover sole. Starting this weekend, the Michelin-starred restaurant will spotlight a childhood treat: hot chocolate. The Manhattan restaurant will offer a $14 cup of steaming cocoa made with a chocolate sourced from Costa Rica … Dozens of restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops throughout New York City are offering gourmet versions of hot chocolate. And they say they are seeing strong demand.”

“At Tetsu, the new Tribeca restaurant from sushi chef Masa Takayama of Masa fame, the $8 hot chocolate is flavored with a spices, including cardamom, cloves and star anise, and topped with a ‘toasted rice’ whipped cream. Customers can add a shot of exotic booze—chili-pepper liqueur, anyone?—for $4-$6.”

“By most accounts, the current New York City craze for gourmet hot chocolate was sparked by City Bakery, a fixture in the Union Square area that began offering a high-end version of the beverage when it opened in the early ‘90s, at the then seemingly outrageous price of $2.50 a cup … Restaurant-industry insiders and observers say the hot-chocolate trend speaks to a growing fascination with retro comfort foods done with a contemporary nod: Think artisanal mac ‘n’ cheese. It also dovetails with the gourmet-coffee movement that shows no signs of stopping.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Depachikas: Department Store Sushi?

Business Insider: “The best place to find and sample Japanese food in Japan is actually in Tokyo’s department stores. Stores like Tokyu, Mitsukoshi, and Nihonbashi Takashimaya are like miniature cities unto themselves, spanning five or more floors and selling everything you can possibly imagine. But it’s in the basement where the real magic happens. There you will find Japan’s depachikas, sprawling fancy food halls with all kinds of Japanese and international cuisine.”

“Depachika is a portmanteau of the words for department store (depato) and basement (chika). Most department stores in Japan have them … The depachika is seen as a way to draw in hungry travelers and convince them to shop in the store’s upper floors, otherwise known as the “the Fountain Effect.” They offer just about every type of cuisine someone might want. Some depachika offer as many as 30,000 products.”

“Some depachika have sit-down sushi restaurants inside the food hall. But the grab-and-go sushi is usually very high quality … Depachikas are often attached to train stations to attract harried commuters. They can be a great place to grab a quick bento box before getting on the shinkansen (bullet train).”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When Whole Foods Shelves are Half Empty

Business Insider: “Whole Foods is facing a crush of food shortages in stores that’s leading to empty shelves, furious customers, and frustrated employees. Many customers are blaming Amazon, which bought Whole Foods in August for $13.7 billion. Analysts have speculated that the shortages could be due to a spike in shopper traffic in the wake of the acquisition. But Whole Foods employees say the problems began before the acquisition. They blame the shortages on a buying system called order-to-shelf that Whole Foods implemented across its stores early last year.”

“Order-to-shelf, or OTS, is a tightly controlled system designed to streamline and track product purchases, displays, storage, and sales. Under OTS, employees largely bypass stock rooms and carry products directly from delivery trucks to store shelves. It is meant to help Whole Foods cut costs, better manage inventory, reduce waste, and clear out storage. But its strict procedures are leading to storewide stocking issues, according to several employees. Angry responses from customers are crushing morale, they say.”

“Whole Foods gets stores to comply with OTS by instructing managers to regularly walk through store aisles and storage rooms with checklists to make sure every item is in its right place and there is no excess stock. If anything is amiss, or if there is too much inventory in storage, the manager in charge of that area of the store is written up. After three write-ups, they can lose their job … Whole Foods has called it a cost-saving approach and says it has improved stocking issues … The company has also said OTS frees up employees to focus on customer service … Some Whole Foods customers who have noticed stocking problems say they are looking to shop elsewhere.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Should iPhone ‘Addiction’ Be ‘Cured’?

Farhad Manjoo: “Tech ‘addiction’ is a topic of rising national concern. I put the A-word in quotes because the precise pull that our phones exert over us isn’t the same as that of drugs or alcohol. The issue isn’t really new, either; researchers who study how we use digital technology have for years been warning of its potential negative effects on our cognition, psyche and well-being.”

“With a single update to its operating system and its app store, Apple could curb some of the worst excesses in how apps monitor and notify you to keep you hooked (as it has done, for instance, by allowing ad blockers in its mobile devices). And because other smartphone makers tend to copy Apple’s best inventions, whatever it did to curb our dependence on our phones would be widely emulated … For starters, Apple could give people a lot more feedback about how they’re using their devices. Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week.”

“Another idea is to let you impose more fine-grained controls over notifications. Today, when you let an app send you mobile alerts, it’s usually an all-or-nothing proposition — you say yes to letting it buzz you, and suddenly it’s buzzing you all the time … Done right, a full-fledged campaign pushing the benefits of a more deliberative approach to tech wouldn’t come off as self-interest, but in keeping with Apple’s best vision of itself — as a company that looks out for the interests of humanity in an otherwise cold and sometimes inhumane industry.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Fast Shopping: Making Convenience ‘Better for You’

The Washington Post: “As sales of gas, cigarettes and soda plummet, many stores are vying for consumers with fresh produce and other ‘better-for-you’ products that would have once looked out of place in the land of Big Gulps … That could make a difference in the diets of millions, experts say, especially those who rely on convenience stores as a primary source of food.”

“At 7-Eleven, the world’s largest convenience store chain, with 10,500 U.S. locations, the company has aggressively developed ‘better-for-you’ products under the Go!Smart banner, pushing low-sugar herbal teas, fruit-and-nut bars and rice crackers. At Kwik Trip, the Midwestern chain seen by many in the industry as the leader of the healthy stores movement, executives hired an in-house dietitian, Erica Flint, to help introduce new products and reformulate old ones.”

“In the past year and a half, four of the country’s largest convenience store distributors have committed to initiatives with Partnership for a Healthier America, which is allied with former first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! project. With PHA, the companies have promised to make it easier for convenience stores to source produce and other healthy foods — and to market those products.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

B8TA: When Retail is Not About Sales

Axios: “Two years ago, B8TA launched as a physical outlet for tech gadgets otherwise sold only online, but it’s now being embraced by traditional chains. Its secret sauce: introducing consumers to new product concepts, and not necessarily selling them anything. CEO Vibhu Norby’s approach makes B8TA look as much a media company as a retailer, something he sees as a long-term trend.”

“Norby hatched the idea for B8TA — a creative spelling for “Beta” — while working for Nest Labs, the maker of Internet-enabled devices like thermostats and security cameras … he and his colleagues quickly learned that their faith in the omnipotence of e-commerce was unfounded.” He explains: “Nest wasn’t Nest without physical retail. We used it as a way to get in front of the 95% of Americans who shop in physical stores. We used it as a place to teach customers about and get hands-on demonstration of products. And furthermore, it was the dominant sales channel, even for a hot tech company who had a massive team of engineers working on e-commerce.”

“Norby believes that while traditional retail will survive for those who need to buy everyday items on demand, most specialty retailers will eventually adopt his model. Ten years from now, he predicts that, in cities like Palo Alto, ‘20% to 30% of retail outlets will be filled by direct-to-consumer brands using it primarily for advertising’.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When is a Kmart a Tourist Attraction?

The Wall Street Journal: “Guam is the closest U.S. outpost to Asia, making its Kmart a mecca for tourists seeking an authentic American shopping experience. About 1.5 million tourists visit Guam yearly, according to a spokeswoman for Macy’s, which has a department store on the island that also benefits from the visitors.”

“Gilbert Grimm returned home to Munnsville, N.Y., last week from a Guam holiday and brought back a store T-shirt.” He comments: “The local Kmarts in this area of New York have all shut down. I remember Kmart from when I was a little kid back in the early ’60s so it was a nice souvenir to have.”

“Rodrigo Verano-Torres, of Detroit, visited the Guam Kmart last year and said he had to leave because of the crowds.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When is a Car a Tiger Crossed With an Iguana?

The New York Times: “When Volkswagen developed a smallish S.U.V. to meet the segment’s growing demand, it faced a challenge: The truck had no name … VW sought the public’s input — a tricky proposition. Its unorthodox approach included a poll, which produced a stunning response. About 350,000 readers of the German magazine Auto Bild cast votes. Among the names on the ballot: Namib, Rockton, Samun and Nanuk. The winner was Tiguan, a mélange of ‘tiger’ and ‘iguana.’ Sexy? Perhaps not. But it stuck, and the Tiguan has stuck around.”

“In 2003, the Canadian division of General Motors was about to introduce a Buick model it had christened the LaCrosse. It became apparent shortly before launch that in Québécois youth culture, LaCrosse is slang for masturbation. The name was changed.”

“When it comes to signing the deal on the showroom floor, however, the car name isn’t necessarily what pushes the buyer’s buttons.” Branding consultant Robert Pyrah comments: “The product has to be king. At the end of the day, I tell clients that as long as the name isn’t bad, you can get away with most things.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Sam’s Club: Ardent Shoppers Feel Jilted

The New York Times: “Walmart’s quiet shuttering of 63 Sam’s Club stores on Thursday — hours after trumpeting its plans to raise wages — sent shock waves through the ardent customer base of the membership-only chain. Patrons protested with unusual passion not granted to the thousands of closings recently announced by other retailers.”

“On social media, some shoppers reminisced about sharing frozen yogurt with their great-grandmother at the local Sam’s Club, while others fretted about remote areas losing a primary source of supplies or a reliable place to pick up prescriptions.”

Bethany Pope Hopp, a mother of five, comments: “Having a store like Sam’s Club is absolutely a necessity for some of us rural, smaller communities. That and Walmart are all we have — we don’t live in an area where there’s a Costco or a Target on every corner.” Dharmendra Singh, whose Sam’s Club was among those closed, laments: “It’s like a long-term girlfriend leaving you and not even giving you a call.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail