Redbro Chickens: Slow Growth, Better Taste

The New York Times: “Perdue Farms, one of the country’s largest chicken producers, has been raising what are known as slow-growth chickens side by side with the breeds that have made the company so successful. The new birds, a variety known as Redbro, take 25 percent longer, on average, to mature than their conventional cousins, and so are more expensive to raise.”

“Perdue is trying to find just the right slow-growth breed, and it has a strong incentive: A fast-growing cohort of companies that buy vast quantities of poultry, including Whole Foods Market and Panera Bread, are demanding meat from slow-growth chickens, contending that giving birds more time to grow before slaughter will give them a healthier, happier life — and produce better-tasting meat.”

“Consumers would … have to accept some trade-offs: While the new chickens have a fuller flavor, their meat tends to be distributed differently over the body, with more generous thighs and smaller breasts than the chicken most Americans are used to … In marketing slow-growth chickens, Perdue and others will have to make consumers understand why they are paying a higher price … the suggested retail price of a Sonoma Red (from Perdue’s Petaluma Poultry) that weighs four pounds is $16.”

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IKEA Asks: Do You Speak Human?

The Verge: ‘If you put an AI in charge of your house — letting it control the lights, the alarms, the temperature, and so on — how would you want it to act? Should it be ‘autonomous and challenging’ or ‘obedient and assisting’? Would you prefer if it sounded male, female, or if it was gender neutral? Should it be religious? These are just some of the questions Ikea is asking its customers in a new survey titled: Do you speak human?”

“With this new survey, Ikea is focused on computer personality, looking to find out what sort of AI people would be happiest to interact with. This is a question that preoccupies the big tech companies, too — that’s why they’re hiring novelists and comedians to finesse the personality of their digital assistants.”

“Ikea is updating the results of the survey as it goes; so far it’s saying that 41 percent of people want their AI to be ‘obedient and assisting,’ 42 percent want it to be ‘gender neutral’ (as opposed to 35 percent for male, 24 percent for female), and 87 percent say they want their AI to ‘detect and react to emotions.’ There’s bound to be some self-selecting bias at work here, as the people who answer this survey are more likely to be interested in technology in general, but it’s still a very intriguing project.”

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New HQs Capture Corporate Culture

The Economist: “Throughout San Francisco and Silicon Valley, cash-rich technology firms have built or are erecting bold, futuristic headquarters that convey their brands to employees and customers … The exteriors of the new buildings will attract most attention, but it is their interiors that should be watched more closely … The big idea championed by the industry is the concept of working in various spaces around an office rather than at a fixed workstation.”

“A fluid working environment is meant to allow for more chance encounters, which could spur new ideas and spark unexpected collaborations … Young workers are thought to be more productive in these varied environments, which are reminiscent of the way people study and live at university. One drawback, however, is that finding colleagues can be difficult. Employees need to locate each other through text messages and messaging apps.”

“The data that firms can collect on their employees’ whereabouts and activities are bound to become ever more detailed … it is not hard to imagine how such data could create a culture of surveillance, where employees feel constantly monitored … A less controversial trend is for unusual office interiors. These can distinguish companies in the minds of their employees, act as a recruiting tool and also give staff a reason to come into the office rather than work from home … The effect of all this is that the typical office at a technology firm is becoming a prosperous, self-contained village. Employees have fewer reasons than ever to leave.”

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YamChops: Veggie Butchers Let it Bleed

The Wall Street Journal: Michael Abramson, “a 62-year-old vegan, is the proprietor of YamChops, a faux meat market where every patty, link, and fillet is made from edible plants. To entice “veg curious’ meat eaters as well as vegetarians, he takes great pains to make sure his substitutes look as much like the real thing as possible … So his ground beet burger—actually a medley of beets, carrots, turnips, and zucchini bonded with brown rice and mashed potatoes—doesn’t just resemble a beef burger. It oozes a reddish-pink juice, to appeal to those who like it when their burger ‘bleeds a little bit,’ he says.”

“Mr. Abramson is part of a small but growing community of ‘vegetable butchers’ opening shop from Northern California to Sydney to The Hague, hoping to wow discerning diners with substitute lox crafted from carrots and jerky fashioned from wheat gluten … Some staunch vegans and vegetarians say the word butcher should be verboten because it describes the killing of animals. Some traditional butchers and meat lovers meanwhile are rankled by the co-opting of a term they view as theirs. Many are just confused about the point of it all.”

Consultant Michael Whiteman comments: “Why do soldiers in the anti-meat brigade want food that looks like a hot dog and tastes like a hot dog and smells like a hot dog, but isn’t a hot dog? The answer is, of course, they like hot dogs!”

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Vegas Shuffle: Invasion of the Drink Bots

The Wall Street Journal: “As Las Vegas has transformed into one of the world’s most-visited tourist destinations, casino operators are re-examining the perks that historically lured gamblers. Over the past year, casinos have started charging for parking at resorts on the Strip … Now operators have started scrutinizing complimentary drinks, introducing new technology at bars that track how much someone has gambled—and rewards them accordingly with alcohol.”

“It’s a shift from decades of more-informal interplay between bartenders and gamblers … On a recent night at a bar inside the Paris Las Vegas casino, Jamie Balazs and her father were getting used to the new drink-monitoring system. They had just been instructed on how much they needed to put into the machine to allow booze to flow. A bartender told her to push the “max bet” button four times, she said. She said she understood the desire to weed out freeloaders who aren’t gambling but found the instructions off-putting.”

“Her father, Jim Fletcher, was in town with a group to celebrate his 70th birthday. As a top-tier member in Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s rewards program, he felt the new system was ‘insulting’ … Bartender James Tanner said the system has made his job easier because he can avoid awkward debates with customers who were lingering at machines but not really playing.”

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How To Kick Out Your Customers

The Wall Street Journal: “Letting guests linger as long they please could cost an extra $30,000 a year. Getting folks out is a tricky task for nearly every type of businesses. Jonathan Greenstein, owner of J. Greenstein & Co., a Cedarhurst, N.Y., auction house for antique Judaica, says some people linger past viewing hours at the pre-auction exhibition, but never appear at the auction itself … Still, it’s impossible to identify the big spenders, so he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

“The bigger the venue, the more massive the operation, of course. At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, an army of guards warn guests 45 minutes before closing, starting in the center of the 52-acre spread to ensure visitors farthest from the exits reach the gates in time. At Macy’s in Manhattan’s Herald Square, about 15 minutes before the posted closing time clerks fan through all 1.2 million square feet of retail space, offering help with final transactions and checking all 850 fitting rooms.”

“Of course, if patrons really want to stay, why not let them? The American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, which warns guests of closing time in several different languages, gave in to demand a few years ago and started offering adult sleepovers. For $350, patrons can camp overnight under the famous blue whale. Such events have sold out within a day, the museum says.”

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Must to Avoid: Loser Experience Design

Matt LeMay: “Yes, in the short-term, people may engage with a product for an abstract reward such as ‘points’ or ‘coins.’ But watch what happens as your users see themselves fall to the bottom of that ‘leaderboard’ or fail to get any real value out of the time they’ve invested in earning those shiny trinkets. Competing for something only to realize that it’s worthless is embarrassing, frustrating, and makes you feel like a huge loser. Gratuitous ‘gamification’ is one of the most odious and lazy patterns of bad loser experience design — and in the long term, it doesn’t work.”

“While bad loser experience design can significantly harm a product, good loser experience design can help foster a broad, engaged, and self-sustaining user base … When platforms focus on shared interests and social bonds over ‘likes’ and ‘favorites,’ they help everybody find a place where they belong. Instagram has done a great job doing this with their discovery features, consistently surfacing people who are adjacent to your people, not people with the most likes or followers.”

“Finally … break out of the design and testing patterns that lead to equating ‘power users’ with ‘good users.’ Over-reliance on internal ‘dogfooding,’ where new products and features are tested primarily with a company’s own employees, is a one-way ticket to bad loser experience design. Dismissing user testing candidates who are not over the moon for your product is another surefire road to bad loser experience design. Think through the needs and behaviors of casual users as extensively as you think through those of power users — and ask yourself, ‘if I only use this product a few times a week, will it make me feel like a loser?'”

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Facebook Chatbots Test ‘Conversational Commerce’

The Washington Post: Mastercard “has partnered with Subway and two other major merchants to launch ‘chatbots,’ which are robots that simulate human conversation. The Subway iteration allows you to order a custom sandwich for pickup, something of a digital version of walking down the chain’s sandwich assembly line.” Cheesecake Factory “allows shoppers to purchase and send out gift cards.” FreshDirect lets shoppers “place orders for groceries and meal kits. The bots will be found within Facebook’s popular Messenger app, and will be powered by Masterpass, the credit card giant’s digital wallet.”

“The debut of the bots will provide a fresh test of shoppers’ appetite for what the industry has dubbed ‘conversational commerce,’ the idea of making a purchase or other customer service transaction through A.I.-powered messaging … Consumers are spending more time online, and yet they are concentrating those minutes in a very limited number of apps. Retailers … are realizing that the best way to snare your interest online might not be with a killer app of their own, but by creating bots that live in the apps that you already use.”

“Facebook has said that more than 33,000 bots have been created for its Messenger app so far. This latest batch demonstrates how differently businesses are approaching the technology at this early stage of the game.”

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Where Does Coke Taste So Good?

The New York Times: “The latest television commercials for McDonald’s, featuring the actress Mindy Kaling, do not appear on the company’s YouTube channel, Facebook page or Twitter account. In fact, they don’t mention McDonald’s at all — though they do mention Coca-Cola and Google.”

“The ads are part of the chain’s first unbranded marketing campaign, in which it is coyly asking people to search Google for ‘that place where Coke tastes so good.’ The query, meant to capitalize on millions of search engine results that favor the fast-food chain, is central to the ads where association with the brand is limited to placing Ms. Kaling in a bright yellow dress against a red backdrop.”

“The notion that Coke tastes differently at McDonald’s has been a topic of fascination for some time. The New York Times, as part of a 2014 article on the business relationship between McDonald’s and Coke, which dates back to 1955, reported that Coke has a special system for transporting and producing the beverage at the fast-food chain. Part of that includes delivering its syrup in stainless steel tanks versus plastic bags. McDonald’s also says it pre-chills the water and the syrup before it enters its fountain dispensers, and offers a slightly wider straw.”

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Whole Foods: Now Just Another Big Box?

The Wall Street Journal: “Whole Foods Market Inc. wants to cut prices without sacrificing the local products that define its healthy image … Some smaller suppliers and industry consultants say the shift to a more centralized distribution structure and other changes risk compromising Whole Foods’ ability to keep stocked with the latest foodie trends and hot local brands.”

“Many of the changes are being spearheaded by Don Clark, a former Target Corp. executive … The data analytics, centralized purchasing and strict shelf management he brought from Target could save money that Whole Foods can use to lower its relatively high prices … Whole Foods has long divided its 462 stores into 11 regions, each with distinct product offerings like local maple syrup and gourmet pickles. A quarter of Whole Foods shoppers that visited the chain in the past month did so for items they couldn’t find elsewhere, according to a survey by Kantar Retail.”

“Whole Foods co-founder and Chief Executive John Mackey said … his new strategy strikes a balance between the remaining autonomy of regional executives and an easier process for national brands to pitch their products just once at Whole Foods’ Austin, Texas, headquarters. That streamlining will lead to lower prices, he said … But smaller brands and people who work with them say they have less incentive to put up with a more impersonal Whole Foods … And some big brands say Whole Foods’ regionalized approach made it tough to negotiate a nationwide strategy for their brands.”

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