How Mushrooms Battle Dirty Laundry

The New York Times: Scientists from a “Danish biotechnology company … Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay … Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures.”

“Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities.”

“Novozymes and its rivals have developed a catalog of enzymes over the years, supplying them to consumer goods giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble … In 2009, Novozymes scientists teamed up with Procter & Gamble to develop an enzyme that could be used in liquid detergents for cold-water washes.” Phil Souter of P&G comments: “We knew this was something that consumers would want. I think this is a very tangible and practical way people can make a difference in their everyday lives.”

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Stinky Cremes: The Odor of Authenticity

The New York Times: “Among skin-care enthusiasts, Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 has a formidable reputation for its exfoliating powers — and an extremely stinky aroma. Formulated decades ago, the French toner contains a hyperspecific blend of lactic acid, onion extract and plankton that loyalists swear will clear up acne and render your skin silky smooth. If you can withstand the assault on your nose, that is.” Danuta Mieloch of Rescue Spas comments: “It’s highly addictive because it helps to achieve healthy, glowing skin. You sort of can’t live without it …Women go to extremes to maintain their skin. A little smell — it’s a small price to pay.”

“P50 is not the only classic beauty product causing a (literal) stink. SkinCeutical’s brightening and firming C E Ferulic serum has a noticeable ‘metallic smell,’ says the New York dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman. ‘One of my patients told me it smells like dirty hot dog water’ … The phenomenon represents a sharp departure from fragranced creams and serums from other luxury purveyors … that leave behind a richly perfumed trail with every application. Yet not masking the au naturale aroma of ingredients lends a certain air of authenticity.”

Dr. Amy Wechsler, a New York dermatologist and psychiatrist, comments: “The thinking is that if something stings and smells bad, then it must be doing something … People associate medicine with a bad smell and bitter taste; so with skin care, they think there must be some really active ingredients in there … it’s like, ‘Oooh it’s supposed to smell bad,’ and it feels even more secret and special.”

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Crypto Pop: The Future of Music?

BBC: “The year is 2018. Music is changing fast, but can the humans keep up? Here’s a handful of possible outcomes. 1) Your favourite singer is not real: … One of Japan’s biggest pop stars Hatsune Miku is not a real person. But that small detail didn’t prevent the humanoid singer from releasing another new music video last week.” Roy Orbison “died in 1988 but now his 3D hologram world tour will come to life, alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, on 8 April in Cardiff.”

“2) The live parameters have shifted: Ben Robinson of Bluedot Festival comments: “Now people can experience being on the stage with the artists. Or the gig could move off the stage.” 3) “The recording studio is in your laptop: Noel Gallagher … never actually met the bass player on his new album Who Built The Moon?” He comments: “Here I am at two in the afternoon talking to a guy on an iPad and for him it’s four in the morning and I can hear the song coming through his speakers and he’s saying ‘What do you think of this? Maybe if I do that?’ And I’m like ‘this is so far out it’s unbelievable’.”

“4) There’s a direct line between you and your favourite act: Jack White’s Third Man Records reward their subscribers with deliveries of exclusive limited edition pressings. DJ Gramatik went a step further last week by becoming the first artist to ‘tokenise’ himself, meaning fans who buy the token using the cryptocurrency Ether can potentially share in his future revenue … 5) But new music technology will not be for everyone:Bass player Peter O’Hanlon says: ‘Our fresh approach will be that we just come and play the gig! Everybody else is flying across the stage and we just stand in front of you and play’.”

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Why Do Shoppers De-Value Digital Goods?

Harvard Business Review: “Despite the many advantages of … digital goods, companies find again and again that people value and are willing to pay considerably more for … their physical counterparts … experiments suggest that the key driver of this value loss is not the resale value of the good, or how much it costs to make, or how long it can be used, or whether it’s unique or popular. We find that the key difference is that digital goods do not facilitate the same feeling of ownership that physical goods do.”

“Because we cannot touch, and hold, and control digital goods in the way that we interact with physical goods, we feel an impaired sense of ownership for digital goods. They never quite feel like they are ours, and when we feel that we own a thing, we psychologically inflate its value. As a result, digital goods don’t enjoy this premium we extend to things that we own.”

“Ownership may be achieved by increasing users’ feeling of control through touch interfaces, and customization opportunities that involve users in the production or design of the product … people may devalue autonomous devices that require little or none of their input … those devices will not benefit from the value premium extended to goods for which people feel psychological ownership … Because perceived ownership is impaired for digital goods, people may not feel that their piracy causes the same harm to their owners as does the comparable theft of physical goods.”

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Bookstores are ‘Houses of Seduction’

The Globe and Mail: “Unless you’re just about to board, bookshop browsing can be a deeper and more untethered exercise than other kinds of shopping. Just opening a book and reading a few lines can draw you partly into another world, one you might not have planned to visit. According to Vancouver publishing consultant Thad McIlroy, only 40 per cent of bookstore purchases are premeditated. All the rest are decided on impulse.”

“Knowing this, booksellers and publishers think carefully about how to design the space and arrange the stock … a good bookshop is a house of seduction, created to lure the book lover and keep him or her circulating in the aisles. The sumptuous beauty of shops such as El Ateneo Grand Splendid, in Buenos Aires, is part of the game. Systems for displaying the wares may follow a wonderful, idiosyncratic logic. Altair, a travel bookshop in Barcelona, arranges even its fiction and poetry titles geographically.”

“In the online trade, only the books circulate, while the readers stay at home in front of their screens. Algorithms make robotic suggestions, following a practice launched by the London bookshop Hatchards (established in 1797), where live, professional readers still select and ship books to subscribers. Hard-copy books are still published by the thousands; it’s the transactions that have become ethereal.”

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Perfumarie: The Nose Knows Retail

The New York Times: Mindy Yang’s Perfumarie in SoHo “specializes in blind perfume shopping, allowing customers to smell fragrances with all the branding removed … In her quest to encourage consumers to trust their noses, Ms. Yang decided to put perfumes on tap, labeling them only by number. She installed 32 identical fragrance spouts along the minimalist back wall of the space, removing any hints of branding, packaging or price information. Underneath each tap is a small gray stone tagine containing a white paper swan soaked in the mystery perfume”

“Customers are encouraged to sniff in numerical order, taking notes on a clipboard about the scents that set their synapses ablaze. The scents begin light, with airy and citrusy notes, and get progressively stronger. Ms. Yang likens this to beginning with white wine and graduating to a full-bodied cabernet. Shoppers are not permitted to know the name of the perfume they’ve selected. Instead, the vials are labeled with numbers, looking a bit like prototypes stolen from a chemistry lab … At the end of every month, Ms. Yang hosts a cocktail party to unveil the tap selections. She also posts the full list online so that customers can discover the truth about the perfumes they took home.”

“When customers pay for their first blind smelling, they have the option to become a Perfumarie Explorer’s Club member. Their scent notes are scanned into a database and saved for future reference … Ms. Yang hopes that by offering membership and stressing the community aspect of the store, customers will return month after month. She wants them to treat their past smelling notes like a library, learning how their taste evolves over time … she hopes it will be equally attractive to the industry as a street-level test lab.” She comments: “I am no longer interested in traditional retail. People need to learn how to be empowered to have a point of view and choose what they like for themselves.”

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Returns: The New Retail Battleground

The Wall Street Journal: “This year traditional and online retailers have expanded the number of locations and routes consumers can use to return merchandise, from in-store kiosks and lockers to the mall concierge, grocery stores, parcel shipping locations and at-home pickup … Online retailer Amazon.com Inc. said it has expanded options for in-person returns this year, with a network of 2,000 ‘locker’ locations, including 400 at Whole Foods stores, where customers can drop off items to be returned. Amazon also partnered with Kohl’s Corp. stores in Chicago and Los Angeles, which are accepting returns of Amazon goods bought online.”

“Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is touting its Mobile Express Returns kiosks, located in its stores, where it says customers can complete the return process in less than five minutes and receive a refund within a day or so. Returns to Target Corp. and Wal-Mart are free—customers can either bring the items back to the store or print a shipping label online and drop off merchandise at a designated shipping location. Kohl’s and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. have similar policies, but don’t cover the cost of return shipping.”

Meanwhile: “Returns have become a ‘battleground’ among online retailers trying to attract and retain customers, said Tobin Moore, chief executive of Optoro Inc., a logistics provider that helps companies like Target and Best Buy Co. to take back and resell returned merchandise … Mr. Moore of Optoro estimates that goods purchased online are three times more likely to be returned as goods purchased in a physical store. In total, Mr. Moore said roughly $90 billion in holiday merchandise—purchased either in stores or online this season—will be returned over the next few weeks, with more than a third of it coming back before the new year.”

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What’s Small is Big Again in Retail

The Washington Post: “Across the country, retailers such as Walmart, Target, Macy’s and Nordstrom are experimenting with ways to distill their inventory into smaller, more-focused locations. The shift comes, analysts say, as Americans flock from the suburbs to city centers, where space is at a premium. Big-box stores on the outskirts of town are no longer convenient nor practical for millennials with tiny apartments and no car. Target alone is opening 30 smaller stores by the end of the year, doubling its presence near urban areas and college campuses.”

Mike Paglia of Kantar Retail comments: “That big weekly stock-up where you fill up the back of the car? That’s very much boomer mentality that millennials aren’t buying into.”

“Sales at smaller-format stores are projected to grow 3.9 percent annually until 2022, outpacing 0.8 percent sales growth for their big-box counterparts, according to recent projections from Kantar Retail. Stores smaller than 20,000 square feet account for $612 billion in annual sales, with that figure slated to grow 21 percent to $741 billion in the next five years.”

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City Girl Coffee: The Experience is the Message

The New York Times: “City Girl is bold and risky, from its bright-pink logo and packaging to its business plan’s central tenet: fighting gender inequity in the coffee industry. On average, according to the International Trade Center, women do 70 percent of the work in getting coffee to market but regularly cede or are barred from financial control, so City Girl gets its beans exclusively from farms and cooperatives that are owned or managed by women. In addition, the company donates 5 percent of all profit to organizations that support women in the industry.”

“Sales — principally through City Girl’s online store and in the Twin Cities’ high-end retailers, including Kowalski’s Markets and Lunds & Byerlys — are up 300 percent year over year. City Girl aims to break into other Midwest markets, including Chicago, St. Louis and Des Moines, and then to select cities on the East Coast … chief competitors have argued that City Girl’s female-empowerment message is little more than a marketing ploy.” However, founder Alyza Bohbot says “in this day and age, you can’t have a good product without having a good marketing story.”

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Fang Gourmet Tea: Steeped in Obsession

The New York Times: Fang Gourmet Tea: “For 15 years, it has been the de facto gathering place for the New York region’s most serious tea enthusiasts. And this season brings its premier event, for connoisseurs and novices alike: the annual Tea Tasting Expo. For the expo, which began in 2009 and runs this year from Dec. 9 through Jan. 7, the normally serene shop bustles as the staff trots out limited releases of Chinese and Taiwanese teas and teaware that draw drinkers from as far as California.”

“The costly teas and pottery are often unobtainable anywhere else in the United States, even for seasoned drinkers with connections of their own … But the expo is more than an opportunity to share rare and newly available teas. It also gives tea devotees, many of whom see one another only once a year, a space to obsess together … the expo is more about education and community than about profit. The shop is not a big moneymaker.”

“And unlike blockbuster conventions like the World Tea Expo (to be held next June in Las Vegas) and the Coffee & Tea Festival NYC (scheduled for March at the Brooklyn Expo Center), the Fang gathering is deliberately intimate. There are no keynote addresses, swag bags or sponsors … What brings drinkers back year after year is the promise of exceptional teas and conversation with kindred spirits.”

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