Foodies & The Single Cow

The Wall Street Journal: “Retailers including Whole Foods Market Inc., FreshDirect, and Amazon.com Inc. are building farm-to-store meat operations that sate some consumers’ desires to trace their burger or bacon all the way back to an individual animal … Other retailers, like Honest Beef Co., are supplying cuts directly to consumers, cutting out the meatpacking middlemen and grocery chains in a foodie twist on traditional mail-order businesses like Omaha Steaks International Inc.”

“Setting up a single-cow supply chain is costly and complex … Customers must be willing to pay princely sums for these cuts. In addition to its minimum order size, Honest Beef charges around $8.50 a pound for dry-age ground beef. Elsewhere, ground beef prices in August averaged $4.25 a pound nationwide … most burgers are made from a combination of lean and fatty scraps left over after higher-value cuts like the T-bone are carved up. That means a 1-pound package of store-bought ground beef could contain meat from hundreds of animals.”

“When officials at online grocer FreshDirect began traveling to Pennsylvania and upstate New York to pitch farmers on ‘disrupting the grocery supply chain,’ the idea was met with skepticism … Today, the skeptics are falling away. Demand for a cut of a cow offered in its ‘hyper, hyper local’ beef, which the Long Island City, N.Y., company can identify down to the group of steers it bought from a particular farm, has been strong since it made its debut last year.”

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A Texas State of Brand

The New York Times: “You can eat waffles shaped like Texas at the Vickery Cafe in Fort Worth and the Texan Diner in Haslet, and you can dive into the Texas-shaped Texas Pool in Plano, as long as you wait 30 minutes after eating the waffles. It wasn’t the pictures of Texas-shaped guitars, tequila bottles, coffee mugs and carving boards that surprised on the Pinterest account called Things Shaped Like Texas. It was the Texas-shaped sinks.”

“The shape of Texas is the Rorschach test deep in the heart of the Texas psyche: the singular, curiously drawn image that somehow encapsulates, with a few right angles and big bends, a state of 27 million people … A few states identify with their shapes, but not many … Maybe Texas is so big that it needed one easy symbol, and a ‘T’ or a cowboy boot or a chicken-fried steak didn’t quite sum it up. Maybe its obsession with its shape is one of many age-old ways that Texas likes to separate itself from the rest of the states.”

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Lord & Taylor’s ‘Fast Fashion’ Play

The Wall Street Journal: Lord & Taylor is taking a page from Zara. This summer, when an Isaac Mizrahi off-the-shoulder top nearly sold out days after hitting its stores, the department-store chain had the blouse back in stock in six weeks. It used to take nine months.”

“The quick turnaround was the result of a partnership with New York-based Xcel Brands Inc., which owns the IMNYC Isaac Mizrahi brand among other labels and is trying to make a business selling fast-fashion tricks to traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Here is what it looks like: Xcel keeps stockpiles of unfinished fabric, so it is available quickly to be dyed, cut and sewn into the latest trend.”

“Lord & Taylor is able to procure the goods at a lower price by eliminating intermediaries and buying directly from the factories. That helps to offset the higher cost of shipping some items by air. Xcel, meanwhile, collects a royalty fee from Lord & Taylor based on retail sales.”

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Tycho: Vinyl, Digital & Musical Culture

The New York Times: “In the age of the surprise digital album, what about the vinyl fans? … Scott Hansen, who records spacey electronic rock under the name Tycho, has come up with one solution. Tycho’s new album, ‘Epoch,’ was released online on Friday … Tycho’s record label, Ghostly International, will be offering a custom slipmat — the felt pad that sits on a turntable — to customers who place advance orders for the vinyl record at their local record store. The slipmat will become available in about two weeks, and physical versions of the album, on both vinyl and CD, will come out in January.”

“The staggered timing lets Mr. Hansen and Ghostly release the music quickly — Mr. Hansen said he put the finishing touches on the recording just two weeks ago — while also giving a tangible dimension to what is otherwise digital ephemera.” He comments: “We’ve always been really concerned with the physical experience. A lot of people want the vinyl so that they feel that this music is real, it’s not just a digital file.”

“For fans of major acts, a surprise online release can create a communal moment, with reactions that ricochet across social media. Sam Valenti IV, the founder of Ghostly, described the slipmat as a ‘passport stamp’ for fans, a way to seize on the release of new music yet still have a keepsake in physical form to function as a placeholder until the final product comes out.” He says: “Streaming music is fantastic, but record stores still have a place as the physical manifestation of music culture. How to balance those things is a beautiful tension right now.”

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Walmart & The Nexus of Hi-Tech and Hi-Touch

Walmart CIO Karenann Terrell: “We’ve observed that online customers have a very, very high level of satisfaction—above 90%—while for those shopping in the store, it isn’t nearly at that high level. We wanted to dig underneath and find out why. The convenience of online ordering, coupled with the special treatment online customers get when they come in person to pick up their orders, leads to a more satisfying experience.”

“We’ve hired dedicated personal shoppers to pick these online grocery orders for customers. They see these customers regularly and know their preferences and begin to know them personally. That has been a huge learning for us in how we will manage stores. One associate wrote a Happy Mother’s Day card to a single mom who visits every week and has a son with Down syndrome.”

“I’m so fascinated with the Internet of Things. It could make a huge difference operationally and with the improvement of the experience for customers … It’s real-time data about goods on the shelf at the time that the customer shops. On-shelf availability means what the customer wants is fully available to them. They don’t say, ‘I wanted Crest Pro Health toothpaste but they were out.’ The Internet of Things is going to rock the world of operational effectiveness.”

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Terms of Service: Ownership Not Included

Quartz: “When you purchase an ebook you must agree to the Terms of Service (TOS) that tell you what you can do with it … An overwhelming majority of internet users agree to them without reading them. In one experiment 98% of users failed to notice a clause requiring them to give up their first-born as payment.”

“Using contracts to make an end-run around property law predates the web … Licensing contracts provided software businesses with a tool to control what the buyer did with their software, without the overhead of negotiating terms with each customer … Licensing agreements have been supplemented by far more pervasive TOS contracts, which extend similar protections to websites and other services. Consumer protections have, if anything, gotten weaker. People who were once owners have been transformed into mere users.”

“Despite tremendous erosion of property rights, most consumers transitioning to digital media have so far avoided the pain of losing anything they really cared about. Few have had a favorite ebook deleted or been embroiled in a legal argument over their digital inheritance. The attitudes of young adults make ownership seem positively passé. Rates of homeownership are down, the ‘sharing economy’ is up, and everything that can be streamed will be streamed … However, it may also be that most people simply haven’t yet realized that they’ve given anything up.”

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You Don’t Have to be Weird to be Weird

Slate: “About 15 years ago, an independent bookseller in Texas went to battle against the specter of mega-bookstore invasion. His weapon of choice was something a purveyor of books knew best: a word. And the word was weird … He printed 5,000 bumper stickers urging citizens to KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD … The stickers flew off the shelves. And the Borders bookstore was never built in downtown Austin.”

“Weird campaigns have spread to communities in more than a dozen states. What do they all have in common? The cities have fewer than 1 million people, but most are growing. Many are state capitals or county seats and most have a vibrant arts scene. They all seem to have a strong sense of what makes them unique, and a grassroots urge to stay that way.”

“Despite its countercultural bona fides, weird has economic power. From indie booksellers to microbrews and real estate, leveraging quirkiness is good for business. Weird isn’t just a way of being, it’s an economic strategy, one that has the rough-hewn, indie-rock air of an anti-strategy … Underneath it all, the affinity for weirdness harkens back to the oldest origins of wyrd, which conjured mastery over the fates.”

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Handle With Care: The Flatscreen Solution

The Verge: “Dutch bicycle manufacturer VanMoof found that it had a problem. As it shipped its products to customers, it found that they were arriving to customers damaged. The company came up with a genius solution: print a graphic of a flatscreen television on the side of the box.”

“By making its shippers think that they were transporting flatscreen televisions” damage to its bikes was reduced by “70-80 percent.” Bex Rad of VanMoof comments: “Your covetable products, your frictionless website, your killer brand — they all count for nothing when your delivery partner drops the ball.”

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Lucky Charms Finds ‘Natural’ Flavors Elusive

Business Insider: “General Mills scientists still haven’t figured out how to phase out artificial flavors and colors in Lucky Charms without ruining the iconic cereal.” Mills “already pulled it off with Trix, at least in part. In that case, they used mixtures of radish, carrot, blueberry, tumeric, and annatto seed to create red, yellow, orange, and purple corn puffs. Part of the challenge is that each of those natural colors brings in some flavor too. The team abandoned the green and blue puffs after deciding they couldn’t reach those hues without ruining the taste.”

“Lucky Charms, a cereal that includes with colorful marshmallows, has proven more difficult. First, it’s easier to distort the flavor of a marshmallow than a corn puff … Second, Lucky Charms already have a subtler flavor than bold, fruity Trix. It’s so subtle, consumers struggle to define it.”

“Lucky Charms also supposedly trigger powerful feelings of nostalgia … Steve Witherly, PhD writes in “Why Humans Love Junk Food” that the vanilla aroma of marshmallows is one of the few flavors that the brain doesn’t get bored of. Moreover, it ‘may be imprinted soon after birth’ since vanilla is the main flavor of breast milk and infant formula.”

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Chase Sapphire Reserve & Millennials

Quartz: By one estimate, 63% of millennials don’t have credit cards, so it’s curious they’re suddenly fawning over a new, perhaps viral, card on the market. The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been a hit since it was revealed in late August … The Sapphire Reserve, which is embedded with metal making it heavier than typical credit cards, proved so popular that Chase actually ran out, leading it to issue temporary plastic cards.”

“Banks have had a hard time courting millennials, but Chase believes it’s cracked the code by tapping into their wanderlust. The perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve include lounge access at airports, a $300 annual travel credit, a $100 credit toward an application for TSA Global Entry or Pre-Check (both programs expedite airport screening), and three points for every dollar spent on travel and dining.”

“These perks were carefully calculated by the bank to lure millennials. At a conference held by Barclays this month, JP Morgan’s head of consumer banking, Gordon Smith, gave a presentation that said ‘millennials spend more of their wallet on experiences than other generations,’ according to a deck obtained by Quartz. It defines “experiences” as travel, entertainment, and dining.”

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