Amy’s Drive-Thru: Meat-Free Fast Food

Fast Company: “Amy’s Drive Thru is America’s first vegetarian, organic, gluten-free-optional fast-food restaurant, and much to the surprise of the owners, it’s doing more than holding its own against its greasy competitors … Business has been so booming at Amy’s Drive Thru in its two years of operation that it’s beginning a chain.”

“For 29 years, the Petaluma, California-based Amy’s Kitchen has gained a cult following as a purveyor of family-style, vegetarian frozen meals, from macaroni and cheese to burritos, all handmade fresh in three operating facilities across California, Oregon, and Idaho, and shipped nationwide … The drive-through is powered by solar panels, and the tableware is recyclable. Using mostly organic and local produce for ingredients is more expensive, but it’s what customers expect from the company.”

“Whereas a standard fast-food restaurant has around 15 employees per outpost, Amy’s Drive Thru employs over 90 because it takes many more people to prepare the food … A true cross-country empire of Amy’s locations is still far off … The company wants to expand slowly, to ensure that they can partner with local farmers and producers around each location … and to understand where the drive-throughs could have the greatest effect in breaking up health-food deserts.”

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Driverless Cars To Deliver Domino’s Pizza

The New York Times: “The Domino’s pizza chain this week plans to start testing deliveries using a self-driving Ford Fusion sedan outfitted with enough sensors, electronics and software to find its way to customers’ homes or offices in a section of this city 40 miles west of Detroit.” Dennis Maloney, chief digital officer at Domino’s, comments: “It’s going to be a real learning experience. No one really knows what’s going to happen when customers walk out to the car. They’re faced with a car. There’s no human interaction. What happens if they approach the car from the wrong direction? Will people mind coming out of their house? We want to understand all that.”

“For the Domino’s trial, Ford is providing a self-driving Fusion that scans the road with radar and cameras. It also uses lidar – a kind of radar based on laser beams – that can be found in a rooftop unit featuring distinctive spinning canisters. The images collected are compared instantaneously with highly detailed digital maps to ensure that the car knows precisely where it is on the road and how to reach its destination.”

“Because there is no delivery person to bring pizzas to the door, customers will have to walk outside the retrieve their order. They will be alerted by text when the car is nearing their home and when it arrives. A red arrow on the car’s rear, passenger-side window tells customers to ‘start here’ and directs them to a touch screen. Keying in the last four digits of the customer’s phone number causes the window to open, revealing an insulated compartment large enough to hold five pizzas and four side orders. One customer advantage of taking delivery from a self-driving car: If there’s no driver, there’s no tip.”

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Dominos Delivers Its Promise: Gross Bro-Food

Fast Company: “In the age of Instagram, food is no longer designed to just be food … Yet in this new wave of food-as-influencer, there is a single, curmudgeonly brand that insists on photographing its dishes on conference room tables, under fluorescent lighting, and from all sorts of unflattering angles. It’s a brand that looks art directed by your 65-year-old parents who bought some no-name Android smartphone, hired based upon their portfolio of blurry photos on Facebook. It’s Domino’s.”

Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief digital officer, comments: “In this space, we actually are finding that less than perfect is sometimes actually perfect. A lot of customers are out photographing their food. They know, depending where you take it and the light you’re under, food looks different. It feels much more honest and transparent when the images are imperfect … Even if it is a little bit gooey, greasy, the packaging isn’t perfect, and there’s a bit of a burnt spot, that’s the pizza you get. And that makes you think how good it was last time you had it.”

“But let us be clear about something when it comes to Domino’s social feeds. It’s not just full of realistic photography without a food stylist on the set. It’s often downright gross bro-food, like what you might see waking up at 5 a.m. on the floor of a frat house. We’re talking about grease-stained boxes, mozzarella cheese that has a white balance set to the color of earwax (17,000 likes) … We’re talking about congealed chicken wings sitting in a pool of lukewarm buffalo sauce (8,000 likes) … In theory, Domino’s will only drive more loyalty with every person who sees a deflated pile of cheese sticks on its feed and orders them in real life, because Domino’s is delivering on its promise.”

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Dark UX: The Art of Online Addiction

Quartz: “Designing to encourage addictive behavior is a studied skill. Legions of designers are now learning the psychology of persuasion and use these tactics to make sites and apps ‘stickier.’ One of these schools is the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab. Spearheaded by behavior scientist BJ Fogg, the lab teaches students about the tenets of ‘captology’ the study of computers as persuasive technologies.”

“Addictive, well-designed interfaces mean that UX designers are doing their jobs. And micro visual cues like a bigger ‘Buy Now’ button, or flashy testimonials, can be just as much value-neutral tools of the trade as they are tactics in the battle for your attention.”

“Dark UX is an industry term for sly design tricks that benefit the client’s bottom line. It ranges from creating defaults, such as a pre-checked opt-in email subscription or pre-selecting the most expensive options. It can also manifest in the form of interfaces requiring clients to supply their personal information before being allowed to look at the products on a website.”

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Augmented Reality Retail: Last Jedi ‘Treasure Hunt’

The New York Times: “Disney is billing a new entertainment experience as a free ‘treasure hunt’ for ‘Star Wars’ fans … Some 20,000 stores in 30 countries will offer an augmented reality event that will allow participants to uncover ‘Last Jedi’ characters.”

“You download the ‘Star Wars’ smartphone app and head to the mall. Participating stores … will have a placard on display that says ‘Find the Force.’ Point your phone at the placard with the ‘Star Wars’ app open. One of 15 ‘Last Jedi’ characters, including two never before seen, will appear in the room. They might even talk. If you come back the next day, the same display will reveal a different character.”

“The app allows you to take photos of the characters, record videos and share the experience on social media. Anyone who does so via Twitter or Instagram … is entered in a sweepstakes. The grand prize is attending the ‘Last Jedi’ premiere … The effort illustrates what it now takes to generate excitement at traditional retail outlets, many of which have been struggling as online shopping continues to soar.”

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How Netflix Creates ‘Taste Communities’

Wired: “The Defenders provides Netflix with a unique case study. Instead of merely allowing it to find out if someone who likes, say, House of Cards also will like Daredevil (yes, BTW), it tells them which of the people who landed on Daredevil because of House of Cards will make the jump to The Defenders.”

“Wildly different programs lead people to The Defenders’ standalone shows. The top lead-in show for Luke Cage? Narcos. But for Iron Fist, it’s a Dave Chappelle special. Someone who watches Jones probably will watch Cage, but beyond that the groups of people—Netflix calls them ‘taste communities’—gravitating toward those shows enjoy very different programming.”

“Every Netflix user belongs to three or four taste communities. It’s easy to say that this influences what appears in your recommendations, but it’s not quite that simple. Membership in those communities does more than dictate the top 10 comedies appearing in a row of your queue, it determines whether comedies appear there at all … Each time you open Netflix it exposes you to 40 or 50 titles. Netflix considers it a win if you choose one of them.”

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Pizza Al Taglio Doesn’t Cut Corners

The Wall Street Journal: “A number of New York pizza makers are now offering the classic treat with different geometry: Their ‘pies’ aren’t pie-shaped. Instead, they are based on a rectangular-shaped style, known as pizza al taglio, that is popular in Rome. Further distinguishing this version: Slices are often served at room temperature. And when it comes to cutting the pizza, forget about the traditional wheel-style cutter. This is a pizza best divided with a scissors.”

“To some extent, the interest in pizza al taglio speaks to the appetite New Yorkers have for a broadening array of pizza styles, circular or rectangular-shaped. The city has seen restaurants offering everything including Detroit-style pizza and the classic Chicago deep-dish version. And that is not to mention the Sicilian pie, another rectangular style, that has been a mainstay at New York pizzerias for decades.”

“Moreover, other Roman styles are also finding their way to the city. Pinsa Lab, which opened earlier this year in Brooklyn, specializes in an crispy circular style, known as pinsa, that is said to date back to ancient times … But pizza al taglio has special appeal for a host of reasons, say fans. Some like the fanciful toppings that are often used: At Fornino, for example, the pizza al taglio comes in versions with everything from heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese to radicchio and figs.”

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Novo Oh-No: ‘New & Improved’ Doesn’t Sell

The Wall Street Journal: “Danish drug giant Novo Nordisk is living through a corporate nightmare that any CEO might recognize from business school. After the company concentrated on making essentially one product better and better—and charging more and more—customers have suddenly stopped paying for all that improvement. The established versions are, well, good enough.”

“Doctors, health-plan managers and insurers all have balked at paying for Novo Nordisk’s newest version of its insulin. Clinical trials show it works as promised in controlling diabetes and delivers significant side benefits compared with its predecessors. But for many customers, all that isn’t enough to warrant paying more—because the older drugs on the market already work pretty well, too.”

“Common, deadly ailments, such as asthma, high cholesterol and heart disease, were the focus of the pharmaceutical industry during a golden age of drug launches in the 1990s. Now, building on those advances has proven costlier and more complex, and usually results in smaller gains. Incrementally improved medicines are harder to sell at the prices needed to cover their development costs.”

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Applebees: What Is (not) Hip

Quartz: “It turns out, Applebee’s perhaps isn’t cut out to be a sophisticated, modern bar with a menu that sports chicken-wonton tacos and Sriracha lime sauce shrimp. Since the beginning of the year, the company’s stock price has plummeted by nearly 50%. It’s currently sitting at its lowest point in more than five years.”

“In a recent conversation with investors, Applebee’s executives were blunt about what went wrong. They called out the brand’s overt attempt at attracting a younger, affluent crowd as a strategic misstep that wound up alienating boomers and Gen-X consumers. Even worse, the rebrand never succeeded in luring younger diners.”

“By contrast, Texas Roadhouse made a conscious decision to avoid a rebrand and found success. It stuck to its straightforward menu, designed for those who enjoy the routine of sticking to the same dishes.”

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Brands Go Local To Beat Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “As Amazon.com Inc.tightens its grip on retail sales, a growing number of brands are pushing back by championing local retailers. Some manufacturers are enforcing minimum advertised prices to make it harder for online sellers to undercut local merchants, while others give local stores first dibs on new products or funnel customers from their own websites to local outlets.” For example: “Luxottica Group SpA last year launched a minimum advertised pricing program that restricts the price at which its Ray-Ban and Oakley sunglasses can be advertised … The average discount on Ray-Ban sunglasses on Amazon has shrunk to about 3% as of this month from 37% in April 2016, according to Luxottica.”

“Free stroller tuneups are one way UPPAbaby, a Hingham, Mass.-based maker of baby strollers and car seats, draws customers back to local retailers carrying its products after they buy one of its strollers, which cost up to $900 … Running gear maker Brooks is testing a new app that uses an iPad connected to a treadmill to help local retailers determine which Brooks shoe best suits a runner’s biomechanics … Orb has a program designed to encourage local retailers to try out new products without worrying they might be saddled with excess inventory. At the end of each quarter, local stores can donate slow-selling items to a favorite charity. Orb then replaces the donated goods with new items selected by the retailer at no extra charge.”

“Arc’teryx salespeople use e-commerce sales data to help merchants determine which styles of clothing, shoes and backpacks are best sellers in their local market … If Simms Fishing Products had its way, the company’s waders and other fishing gear would never show up on Amazon’s website. The Bozeman, Mont., company doesn’t sell directly to Amazon, and its dealer policy specifically prohibits sales on third-party platforms … Simms employees visit local independent retailers and use computer-assisted design software to create customized Simms shops within each store.”

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