Toblerone’s ‘Treasonous’ Triangle

The New York Times: “The maker of Toblerone, the Swiss chocolate bar, has reconfigured the unique appearance of two of its milk-chocolate versions, with narrower triangles and a larger gap between peaks … the changes to the smaller one … were so pronounced that Toblerone’s Facebook page was filled with outrage from aggrieved consumers, even though only a relatively small number were likely to be affected.”

“The change, which was announced on the Toblerone Facebook page last month, is in keeping with a common strategy for companies trying to avoid price increases by reducing the contents of a product without changing the packaging. Most consumers are unaware of the changes because the product usually looks and is priced the same — there is simply less of it — but the newer, gappier Toblerone bar felt treasonous to the brand’s loyal consumers.”

“The triangular milk chocolate bar, sold in a yellow package with red letters, has been around since 1908. The founder, Theodor Tobler, combined his family name with ‘torrone,’ the Italian word for nougat, and patented his recipe of chocolate mixed with milk and honey … Mondelez International noted that while the overall look of the bar is different, the recipe remains the same and the chocolate is still made in Switzerland.”

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Halo Top: Lo-Cal ‘Wonder’ Dessert

Bloomberg Businessweek: “If you’re a committed ice cream adherent, you may have already heard of Halo Top, the wonder dessert with as many calories per pint (240 to 280; $5.99) as a single half-cup serving of most ice creams. It also has just 5 grams of sugar, as much protein as a 3-ounce serving of beef (24g), and only 8g of fat. Compared with a pint of Chunky Monkey (1,200 calories, 112g sugar, 16g protein, 72g fat), or even Breyer’s fat-free (360 calories, 52g sugar, 8g protein), Halo Top looks like a flat-out miracle.”

“Like many great inventions, Halo Top was the result of trial and error. In traditional ice cream, not only does sugar provide flavor, but it also lowers the melting point so the frozen product doesn’t get rock hard. Fat, meanwhile, helps create a scoopable consistency. Remove both of those components, and you’re left with what amounts to flavored ice.” Halo Top founder Justin Woolverton “landed on a no-calorie sugar alcohol called erythritol (not the kind of alcohol that would get you drunk) along with the all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener Stevia for sweetness, milk protein to make up for the lost fat, plant fiber to help with meltability, and extra egg white for overall consistency.”

Halo Top “appeals to two seemingly opposed groups: those seeking low-calorie ice cream alternatives, and others seduced by a dessert that can help them bulk up … Halo Top’s success has enabled it to experiment in an unexpected way: with higher-calorie versions. In October the company introduced 10 flavors, including red velvet and peanut butter cup … At 360 calories a pint, it’s still a sweet deal.”

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Trader Joe’s: A Toxic Culture of Coercion?

The New York Times: “A number of workers, known at Trader Joe’s as ‘crew members,’ complain of harsh and arbitrary treatment at the hands of managers, of chronic safety lapses and of an atmosphere of surveillance. Above all, some employees say they are pressured to appear happy with customers and co-workers, even when that appearance is starkly at odds with what is happening at the store.”

“Tensions have been heightened, according to several employees, by the pressure to remain upbeat and create a ‘Wow customer experience,’ which is defined in the company handbook as ‘the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us’… with more than 400 stores generating over $10 billion in sales, according to estimates, the company culture appears to have evolved from an aspiration that could be nurtured organically to a tool that can be used to enforce discipline and stifle criticism.”

Gammy Alvarez, an employee at a Trader Joe’s store in Manhattan, comments: “The environment in this job is toxic, but they’re trying to create this whole false idea that everything is cheery and bubbly. I think they want us to be not real people.”

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Marriott Installs ‘Like’ Buttons in Hotel

Quartz: “Marriott International has turned its 446-room hotel in the city center of Charlotte, North Carolina, into a lodging laboratory where the company will test new amenities, designs and procedures out on guests. Around the hotel, Marriott installed 19 black and red ‘like’ buttons about the size of hockey pucks, so that guests can press one when they are pleased with facilities such as the fitness center, restaurant, and rooms.”

“Instead of poring over spreadsheets and conducting focus groups, the guest feedback from Marriott’s new technique is a shortcut for Marriott executives to get a sense of what delights fickle guests, particularly lucrative business travelers, these days.”

“There isn’t a lower room rate for providing feedback, the hotel said. Rooms at the hotel go for about $300 a night. The guinea pig guests might have one early suggestion: a lower rate for testers.”

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CEO Rides The Tide at Procter & Gamble

The Wall Street Journal: Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor “eschews talk of reinvention. He aims to keep P&G on top by playing to its historic strengths … Mr. Taylor said he is confident that P&G’s best prospects remain rooted in fundamentals. That means selling to the masses by way of big retailers on the strength of meticulously collected consumer research, a massive research-and-development operation and the world’s biggest advertising budget. P&G, he says, needs to learn to do these things faster and more effectively.”

“Executives say they are seeing results. Take the company’s new environmentally friendly laundry soap, Tide Purclean. It was conceived and brought to market in nine months … A big time saver was a new process in which leaders from different areas work concurrently. So instead of completing the chemistry of the product and handing off to the team that makes the bottles, those parts of the business work side by side.”

“At one point Mr. Taylor intervened to head off what could have turned into a long deliberation: determining the color of the bottle cap. The team worried a cap the color of Tide’s signature orange would distract from the environmental message. But they wanted to be sure the detergent was still recognizable to customers. Mr. Taylor told the team to go with orange.”

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30,000 Feet: The Ascent of Bad Behavior

The Wall Street Journal: “A lot of things happen on airplanes that don’t regularly occur at the mall, theater, ballpark or neighbor’s house. The thin air and high stress, plus attitudes toward airlines and their employees, seem to foment rude, even violent behavior—not to mention all the disgusting things your mother told you never to do at home.”

“The International Air Transport Association, a Geneva-based airline trade association, says unruly passenger incidents are growing at a rapid clip world-wide. Airlines reported 10,854 unruly passenger incidents to IATA in 2015, up nearly 17% from the prior year. That’s about 30 incidents a day … “’t does seem the issue is getting worse,’ says Chris Goater, IATA spokesman in Geneva.”

“Asked whether air-travel conditions—high load factors, cramped seating, baggage fees and space shortages, delays and long lines—play a role, Mr. Goater of the IATA says airlines don’t think there’s evidence.”

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Robo-Shop: Not an Automatic Win

The Economist: “The idea is that a combination of smart gadgets and predictive data analytics could decide exactly what goods are delivered when, to which household. The most advanced version might resemble Spotify, a music-streaming service, but for stuff. This future is inching closer, thanks to initiatives from Amazon, lots of startup firms and also from big consumer companies such as Procter & Gamble.”

“Buying experiments so far fall into two categories. The first is exploratory. A service helps a shopper try new things, choosing products on his or her behalf … The second category of automated consumption is more functional. A service automates the purchase of an item that is bought frequently … If a shopper automates the delivery of a particular item, the theory is that he is likely to be more loyal.”

“But neither Amazon nor the big product brands should celebrate a new era of shopping just yet … One problem may be the e-commerce giant’s prices, which fluctuate often. Another report … found that far more British consumers would prefer a smart device that ordered the cheapest item in a category to one that summoned up the same brand each time. That suggests that automated shopping, as it expands, might make life harder for big brands, not prop them up.”

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Chick-fil-A & Arby’s: With Sugar on Top

Business Insider: “Chick-fil-A leads the industry in customer satisfaction, regularly topping the American Customer Service Index’s annual ranking. Compared to employees at 15 chains, employees at Chick-fil-A are the most likely to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and to smile at drive-thru customers, according to QSR Magazine’s annual drive-thru report.”

“In this area, Chick-fil-A has a leg up on the competition due to its structure. Each franchisee operates just one location, allowing for more hands-on training. Typically, franchised chains like Arby’s, KFC, and McDonald’s don’t have a set limit on how many locations a franchisee can open, with franchisees operating up to hundreds of restaurants.”

“Realizing the difficulties in achieving consistent quality across 3,300 locations worldwide, Arby’s began prioritizing customer service a few years ago in an effort to catch up to chains like Chick-fil-A. In 2014, the chain began requiring all employees to attend an annual Brand Champ training. The training attempts to both help employees understand why Arby’s operates the way it does and assist workers in achieving their own goals, in and out of Arby’s.”

“One of the biggest distinguishing points between the chains that are thriving and those that are struggling is customer service. Customers return to and become loyal to chains where they can expect accuracy, friendliness, and a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.”

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Secret Sauce: From Condiment to Cliché

Ben Zimmer: “These days, ‘special sauce’ (or sometimes ‘secret sauce’) inevitably comes up whenever someone is describing a closely guarded feature that is regarded as crucial to the success of a product or service … But ‘special sauce’ didn’t become truly special until McDonald’s added the Big Mac to its national menu in 1968, after months of secret experiments in its food labs and extensive field testing … Those who came of age in the 1970s can still recite the Big Mac ingredient list by heart: ‘two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame-seed bun’.”

“As a mnemonic and earworm, the jingle was extremely effective, and it also helped launch a more figurative meaning of ‘special sauce,’ for key ingredients beyond the world of burgers … Meanwhile, it turns out that the Big Mac special sauce isn’t such a closely guarded secret after all: A 2012 YouTube video by a McDonald’s executive chef revealed that the sauce could be made at home with mayonnaise, pickle relish, mustard and a few other condiments.”

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Abercrombie & Fitch Tries ‘Inclusion’

The Wall Street Journal: “Abercrombie & Fitch, once the mean girl at the mall, wants shoppers to know it has grown up. The brand that drew teen fans to its stores with shirtless male models, dim lights and heavy perfume is cleaning up its image amid a sharp drop in sales. With a new marketing campaign, and a redesigned logo and website … Abercrombie hopes millennials who knew the brand in high school will give it another chance.”

“What was cool in Abercrombie’s heyday is decidedly out of fashion now. Today’s teens embrace diversity and reject anything that resembles bullying … like a teen culling her Instagram posts after a breakup, Abercrombie is deleting all existing pictures on its website and social-media channels.”

“New pictures will feature brighter lighting, looser styling and a more optimistic mood … Abercrombie plans a new store prototype for 2017; meanwhile, it’s making changes at existing locations … Shoppers can expect more variety within the brand’s jeans, jackets and sweaters” … Abercrombie’s Fran Horowitz comments: “We are a positive, inclusive brand, with a nice sensibility, very different from what they encountered in the past.”

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