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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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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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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Unilever to Weed Out ‘Fake News’ Ad Support

The Wall Street Journal: “Unilever PLC is threatening to pull back its advertising from popular tech platforms, including YouTube and Facebook Inc., if they don’t do more to combat the spread of fake news, hate speech and divisive content.” In prepared remarks, Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed said: “Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate … We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

“Unilever has been among the more outspoken advertisers pushing for the online ad industry to clean up the ad fraud that exists on the web and offer up stronger measurement standards to ensure that advertisers are buying ads that can be seen by real people. While the company continues to push for those initiatives, Mr. Weed said that consumers don’t care about online advertising measurement issues. They do care about ‘fake news’ and ‘Russians influencing the U.S. election,’ he added. Rather than issue a public list of demands, Mr. Weed said he wants to work privately with the tech companies to come up with solutions.”

“Mr. Weed said that advertisers need to be outspoken about issues on tech platforms, since they are almost entirely supported by billions of ad dollars. ‘One can start by not putting ads on content we do not want to encourage,’ he said.”

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Snack Dinners: Bite-Sized Meals

The Wall Street Journal: “Snacks aren’t just for snacking anymore. Now, a handful of chips with the right staging—say, alongside carrots and hummus—can count as a meal. Families with picky young palates, busy millennials and people living alone all are making a habit of this irresistible eating option: the snack dinner … The popularity stems in part from the changing definition of a meal. Diners in their 20s and 30s are consuming more snack foods during meals, and for some, a combination of snacks equals dinner … Fresh fruit and corn or potato chips are the most popular snacks to have as part of dinner, appearing about 22 percent of the time.”

A ‘snack dinner’ can range from chips and salsa in front of the TV to a full-blown, restaurant-style array of tastes and textures. The lineups—often veggies, dips, chips or smoked meats—seldom require much effort or cooking beyond a moment in the microwave. A plate of carefully arranged snacks allows younger consumers to elevate the dinner experience, says Jeanine Bassett, vice president of global consumer insights at General Mills … The company’s Totino’s frozen pizza rolls, which take about a minute to warm up in the microwave, are one of the most popular snacks for dinner, she says.”

“Clare Langan, a personal chef in New York City, makes sure each plate in a snack dinner has crunchy, creamy, salty, sweet and fresh offerings. Ms. Langan turns to fresh fruit and veggies, dips, crackers and cheese with a long shelf life, such as Parmesan or feta. The solo dinners she assembles are reminiscent of a restaurant meat-and-cheese appetizer.” She comments: “It’s taking the idea of an epic cheese board and making it work for a Tuesday.”

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Instant-Pot Anxiety: A Culinary Conundrum

The Wall Street Journal: “The Instant Pot—billed as an all-in-one device that sautés, steams, slow-cooks, pressure-cooks and makes yogurt, rice, cakes and preserves—was one of the biggest sellers of the holiday season, buoyed by enthusiasts known among themselves as PotHeads … Missing from the enclosed manual and recipe book is how to fix Instant Pot anxiety.”

“Debbie Rochester, an elementary-school teacher in Atlanta, bought an Instant Pot months ago but returned it unopened. It was too scary, too complicated,’ she says. ‘The front of the thing has so many buttons’ … Double Insight Inc., the company that makes Instant Pot, says common mishaps include overfilling the machine or releasing the pressure too quickly when cooking foods that expand. Instant Pot has 10 safety mechanisms to protect users, the company says.”

“On a chilly January day, Sharon Gebauer of San Diego set out to make beef and barley soup. ‘I filled it up, started it pressure cooking, and then I started to think, what happens when the barley expands?’ she says. ‘I just said a prayer and stayed the hell away.’ When Ms. Gebauer turned the quick-release valve, soup shot across her kitchen, hitting the cupboards, curtains and window. The mishap persuaded Ms. Gebauer to return her Instant Pot. ‘I’m retired,’ she says. ‘A pressure cooker cooks it fast, but what’s my hurry?'”

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