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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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?'”


Why Do Pizza Chains Attract Republicans?

Morning Consult: “Large pizza chains accounted for 36.5% of sales in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016, compared to 23% of sales in states that voted for Hillary Clinton … Pizza industry experts suggest the popularity of major chains in traditionally conservative states — and to some extent, price and the level of more premium toppings — could be reasons for the political divide.”

A theory: “While pizza was plentiful in Italian immigrants’ urban communities along the East Coast around the turn of the 20th century, it was sparse elsewhere in the United States. It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when companies like Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Little Caesars cropped up in the Midwest, that pizza was brought to the wider American public. During the industry’s early years, when chains were starting, companies focused their marketing on lower-income neighborhoods and presented pizza as an inexpensive dinner option in those Midwestern hubs.”

Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, comments: “If we think about this in culinary terms, the emphasis is on cost, reliability, standardization and efficiency … Food historians might label these culinary values conservative, in the sense that the consumer wants the same product, and qualities like fast delivery matter more than particular ingredients or the overall taste.”


Schmidt’s Toothpaste: For Fresh, Charcoal-y Breath

Fast Company: “Unilever recently acquired Schmidt’s Naturals for its millennial-friendly natural deodorants, and now the Portland-based startup is taking on another bathroom shelf staple: Toothpaste … Much like the company’s popular deodorant line, which comes in unconventional scents like rose vanilla and lavender sage, the toothpaste collection reimagines the flavors we swish and spit. Think activated charcoal with mint, vanilla chai, and coconut with lime in bright, modern tubes that starkly differ from more hippie-esque natural brands.”

“Schmidt’s Naturals cofounder and CEO Michael Cammarata tells Fast Company he saw a ripe opportunity to translate modern consumer scent preferences for personal care products. While customers adamantly want oral care that leaves them feeling fresh, the company’s research found that could also extend into citrus and floral flavors.”

“It remains to be seen whether consumers will be drawn to the product for its main selling point: Health. Schmidt’s Naturals is free of potentially harmful ingredients, and its packaging proudly touts vitamin and superfood extracts … Cammarata is confident that the health-conscious tide is growing, and with that, so will society’s view of what they put on and in their body. Indeed, a recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that consumer complaints of adverse health events related to personal care products more than doubled last year.”


Hot Chocolate: Lap Up Luxury

The Wall Street Journal: “Gotham Bar and Grill is celebrated for its fancy fare, from foie gras to Dover sole. Starting this weekend, the Michelin-starred restaurant will spotlight a childhood treat: hot chocolate. The Manhattan restaurant will offer a $14 cup of steaming cocoa made with a chocolate sourced from Costa Rica … Dozens of restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops throughout New York City are offering gourmet versions of hot chocolate. And they say they are seeing strong demand.”

“At Tetsu, the new Tribeca restaurant from sushi chef Masa Takayama of Masa fame, the $8 hot chocolate is flavored with a spices, including cardamom, cloves and star anise, and topped with a ‘toasted rice’ whipped cream. Customers can add a shot of exotic booze—chili-pepper liqueur, anyone?—for $4-$6.”

“By most accounts, the current New York City craze for gourmet hot chocolate was sparked by City Bakery, a fixture in the Union Square area that began offering a high-end version of the beverage when it opened in the early ‘90s, at the then seemingly outrageous price of $2.50 a cup … Restaurant-industry insiders and observers say the hot-chocolate trend speaks to a growing fascination with retro comfort foods done with a contemporary nod: Think artisanal mac ‘n’ cheese. It also dovetails with the gourmet-coffee movement that shows no signs of stopping.”