Drinkfinity: A Portable Soda Fountain

Fast Company: Pepsi’s “newest venture is centered on a 20-ounce reusable water bottle that comes with sets of flavor pods … The new product line, called Drinkfinity, is a clear reaction to consumers drinking less soda … The name is meant to indicate that there are infinite combinations of drinks you could make with the bottle and the flavor pods. The Drinkfinity team’s ultimate aspiration is that consumers go online, choose all the ingredients they want, and have personalized pods shipped to their door–a vision that reacts to several consumer trends, including on-demand services and healthy living.”

“For now, the brand … is debuting 12 different types of pods … To make yourself a White Peach Chill or a Mandarin Orange Charge, you fill up your Drinkfinity water bottle, unpeel a pod’s label, remove your bottle’s cap, and push the cap of the lid through a pointed plastic structure. This ruptures the dry storage area in the pod and releases the concentrated liquid, which pours into the container. Then you shake and drink. The bottle itself has a magnetic spot on its side to hold down the cap so it doesn’t hit you in the face as you guzzle.”

“To create Drinkfinity, PepsiCo had to rethink the supply chain, manufacturing, shipping, and even recycling. That resulted in the full life cycle of a single pod producing 40% fewer carbon emissions than the typical 20-ounce drink housed in a plastic bottle you’d buy at the supermarket. The pods also use 65% less plastic than these 20-ounce bottles … The Drinkfinity team likens the product to the new soda fountain: a platform for people to choose what they want to drink, except you can carry it in your bag.”

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Fast Fun: The New Fashion in Toys

The Wall Street Journal: “Hasbro Inc., Mattel Inc. and other companies are rushing to collapse production times and capitalize on fast-moving trends such as slime-making kits, and viral videos that can spawn new games and toys. The goal is to spot ideas and get products in stores in a matter of months instead of the following Christmas. Toy companies need rapid turnaround times if they are to profit from these trends, which spike and dissipate quickly. Copycats, usually smaller manufacturers, also can quickly crowd the market.”

“In a sense, the companies are lifting from the playbooks of fast-fashion retailers such as Zara and Forever 21, which can churn out new coats in just 25 days … Mattel has carved out a team of fewer than 10 executives, including toy designers and manufacturing experts, to develop toys that match up with larger trends in the industry. Mattel Chief Executive Margo Georgiadis said in an interview Friday that she gave the team three months and a ‘next to nothing’ budget to create a few ideas to pitch at a January toy fair. Those items, including a plush toy, are expected to be sold later this year.”

“Hasbro last year established a similar team, called ‘Quick Strike,’ hoping to turn social-media trends into marketable products. The maker of Monopoly and Nerf guns has come up with several games inspired by viral videos.”

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Nordstrom Doubles Down on Bricks

The Wall Street Journal: “Many retailers, beset by online competition and shifting consumer tastes, are slashing costs and closing hundreds of stores. Nordstrom Inc. is doing the opposite … It is revamping some of its 122 department stores and spending more than $500 million to gain a toehold in Manhattan. It has snapped up e-commerce companies including flash-sale website HauteLook and subscription service Trunk Club. And it has launched new concepts, including a store in Los Angeles called Nordstrom Local that doesn’t stock any clothes. So far, those efforts have failed to pay off in rising profits.”

“Nordstrom says it is different from its peers. It has fewer locations than rivals, and most are in the nation’s top malls, which continue to draw shoppers … While other department stores are retrenching, Nordstrom has shown a willingness to take risks. It is jumping into the competitive New York City market with a men’s store opening in April followed by a women’s store next year … At a store in Irvine, Calif., Nordstrom recently completed a test of a showroom that carried samples of 19 brands such as Rag & Bone and Veronica Beard in every size and color; they could be tried on but had to be ordered online. For shoppers, it solved the problem of visiting a store only to find their size sold out.”

“Other changes meant to appeal to customers are smaller. In November, the company unlocked the fitting rooms in its department stores … Although theft has increased slightly since Nordstrom made the change, executives say, the retailer is sticking with the new policy. ‘Analysts don’t like it,’ Jamie Nordstrom said. ‘But I’m thinking about the next 50 years, not the next quarter’.”

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Holy Guacamole: America Worships The Avocado

Bee Wilson: “In the U.S., demand for avocados is now so frenzied that it threatens to outstrip supply. The average American consumes 7 pounds of avocado a year, up from 1 pound in 1974. By 2016, annual retail sales of avocados in the U.S. had reached $1.6 billion, according to the Hass Avocado Board. Many factors have contributed to the avocado’s runaway success. In the late 1990s, the U.S. government lifted an 83-year-old ban on avocado imports from Mexico. California growers had feared pest invasions—and competition—from Mexican fruit. The lifting of the ban created a year-round supply of reliably creamy Hass avocados.”

“Our avocado-love has also been driven by cultural changes, large and small: the popularity of tacos, the rise of the hipster cafe, the rehabilitation of fat as a health food. Meanwhile, a marketing push by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, starting in the early 1990s, convinced America that Super Bowl Sunday couldn’t be celebrated without guacamole. Last year, on that single Sunday, Americans ate an estimated 104 million pounds of avocado.”

“In the 1980s, at the height of low-fat orthodoxy, avocado was regarded as dangerously fattening, and the wholesale price plummeted to 10 cents a pound. In 1982, California avocado growers had so much of the fruit that they considered marketing it as a food for dogs … Avocado is one of the few modern foods that manages to straddle our ideas of both comfort and health. Some may mock the trendiness and expense of avocado toast: $9 for a piece of sourdough smeared with green fat! But as long as the current demand holds up, the rest of us will have our mouths too full of avocado to complain.”

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Word of the Day: Convenience

Tim Wu: “Convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today … In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value.”

“Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. To resist convenience — not to own a cellphone, not to use Google — has come to require a special kind of dedication that is often taken for eccentricity, if not fanaticism.”

“For all its influence as a shaper of individual decisions, the greater power of convenience may arise from decisions made in aggregate, where it is doing so much to structure the modern economy. Particularly in tech-related industries, the battle for convenience is the battle for industry dominance … The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.”

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Food Labels: A ‘Natural’ Disaster?

The New York Times: “Consumers, increasingly wary of products that are overly processed or full of manufactured chemicals, are paying premium prices for natural goods, from fruit juices and cereals to shampoos and baby wipes. But as a spate of lawsuits and consumer advocacy efforts show, one person’s ‘natural’ is another person’s methylisothiazolinone. The problem, consumer groups and even some manufacturers say, is that there is no legal or regulatory definition of what ‘natural’ is.”

“Among the brands that have faced legal challenges are several that have long promoted their use of natural ingredients: Tom’s of Maine antiperspirants and toothpastes, the Honest Company’s laundry detergent and dish soap, Annie’s Homegrown salad dressings, Breyers and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Aveeno face moisturizers and Seventh Generation dish soap.”

“A number of more recent cases involve allegations that products labeled natural were misleading because they contained small amounts of materials linked to genetically modified organisms. In December, a New York federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming that Dannon yogurt was falsely labeled natural because the cows might have been given genetically modified feed … Stuck in the middle of this natural-or-not morass are consumers. Unable to trust the labels lining store shelves, shoppers are left with little choice but to examine the small type on the back of the box and try to decipher terms like methylisothiazolinone, a synthetic preservative found in some personal- and skin-care products.”

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What Makes Mexican Malls Thrive?

The Wall Street Journal: “While U.S. malls are dying a slow, painful death, malls in Mexico are thriving … Part of the reason is simple supply and demand. The U.S. is vastly over-retailed … What’s more, a growing middle class in Mexico is gravitating toward more formal retail—shops and malls instead of the urban outdoor markets … Meanwhile, online shopping has barely penetrated here, as low credit-card usage and challenging shipping logistics keep the Amazon.com effect at bay.”

“Perhaps most important, Mexican mall developers learned long ago—partly by watching the struggles in the U.S.—that shopping centers do better with a diverse mix of tenants. Instead of relying on department store anchors to drive foot traffic to smaller apparel shops, a shopping mall should also have a grocery store, play areas for children, sit-down restaurants, and yes, even roller-coasters.”

“Another major factor in malls’ appeal is cultural: Mexicans see malls as community gathering places, especially in cities with public security problems like those along the U.S. border. Last year was the deadliest in at least two decades here, as violence related to drug-trafficking escalated and more than 25,000 people were murdered. Many Mexican families spend hours at the mall every weekend, eating, shopping and socializing in the safe, well-maintained spaces.”

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Is Gucci Today’s Most Innovative Brand?

From a Wall Street Journal interview with Imran Amed, founder of Business of Fashion: “Without a doubt, the single most innovative brand of the moment is Gucci … Gucci has completely overhauled their e-commerce strategy and changed the way they communicate about the brand. They’ve embraced new channels like Instagram but also done beautiful events and interesting advertising campaigns.”

“They’re not doing any discounting on their main runway collection … We’ve kind of trained the consumer to wait for things to go on sale. Gucci’s stopped that. Fifty percent of their customers are millennials. Millennials are the drivers of success for the fashion industry now. Without engaging them, you can’t really operate a successful business today. Gucci has found ways of engaging with that consumer.”

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Valentine Hearts Take Flight on Chicken Wings

The Wall Street Journal: “Somehow, chicken wings are elbowing their way to a spot alongside flowers, chocolate and champagne on America’s Valentine’s Day menu … Restaurant orders of chicken wings—1.1 billion in the U.S. last year—are 14% higher on Feb. 14 compared with other days of the month, excluding Super Bowl Sunday, of course, according to Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst for NPD Group, a market-research firm.”

Marivel Guerrero, who plans to give her new boyfriend a chicken-wing bouquet wrapped in a red bow, explains: “When you’re eating wings you’re really getting to know that other person. Will they pick at them with their fingers? Will they dive in and eat right off the bone?” Charlie Morrison, of Wingstop, “a chicken-wing chain of about 1,100 restaurants,” says sharing wings means “you’re ready to be vulnerable with someone, because there’s going to be food on your face.”

“Duffy’s Irish Pub in Washington, D.C., will offer chicken-wing combinations or ‘flights’ on Valentine’s Day in different flavors … The nine-wing combos require a couple to negotiate over the last piece, says co-owner Casey Callister. The back-and-forth could spark new intimacy.” He comments: “Sharing a partially eaten wing is like sharing a toothbrush.”

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Efficiency Is No Cure for Phony Baloney

The Wall Street Journal: “Over the past 2½ years, thousands of workers lost their jobs, and iconic Kraft buildings, including the original Oscar Mayer headquarters in Madison, Wis., have been shuttered and sold. The cost-cutting project is now wrapping up, giving Kraft Heinz Co. the highest operating profit margin among its peers in the U.S. food industry.”

Troy Shannan, Kraft Heinz’s head of North America supply chain, comments: “We look at pretty much any opportunity we have to drive efficiency. And we use the savings from those efficiencies to reinvest in our brands and our businesses and back into our supply chain.”

“Still, Kraft Heinz is grappling with a problem that can’t be solved by increasing efficiency: U.S. sales of cold cuts and other processed meats slipped to $21.3 billion last year, from $21.9 billion in 2015. Oscar Mayer’s market share dropped to 17.5% from 18% five years ago, according to Euromonitor. Natural and organic brands, as well as small labels buying from local farms, have nibbled away at sales. ‘Consumers are looking for something they think is handmade or looks handmade,’ said Chris Fuller, a consultant to meat processors.”

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