Is Alcohol a Creative Juicer?

Pacific Standard: “A new study “reports that, while moderate inebriation doesn’t boost your ability to generate innovative ideas, it can help you avoid one major barrier to creative breakthroughs: getting stuck in a mental rut … The study featured 70 young adults between the ages of 19 and 32. They began the experiment by taking one test measuring executive function, and two measuring creative potential: the Remote Associates Test, and the Alternative Uses Task.”

“For the first, they were presented with three unrelated words (such as cottage, blue, and cake) and asked to come up with a fourth word “that provides an unexpected connection between them” (such as cheese). They tried their hand at 10 such sets of words. For the second test, they were given two and a half minutes to come up with creative uses for specific common objects, such as an umbrella or shoe … The key result: Solution rates on the Remote Associates Test were higher among those who had been drinking. There were no significant differences on the Alternative Uses Task.”

“The researchers offer one likely explanation for the divergent results. They note that, in creative problem solving, ‘initial solution attempts (often) get on the wrong track.’ Unable to see or acknowledge that we’ve gotten off course, we often get stuck at this point, fixated on making our initial idea work rather than searching in more productive places. ‘Alcohol may reduce fixation effects by loosening the focus of attention,’ Benedek and his colleagues write.”

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How Big is the ‘Store Brand’ Threat?

The Wall Street Journal: “Supermarkets’ ‘private label’ goods have historically been less important in the U.S. than in other mature markets … But now the big European discounters are expanding in the U.S.Lidl launched on June 15 with six stores in North Carolina, just a few days after its key rival, Aldi, unveiled a five-year, $5 billion U.S. expansion plan. These expansion efforts themselves don’t need to succeed. The threat alone will hasten the shift of U.S. grocery toward private label.”

“The more upscale team of Amazon and Whole Foods will speed the push into private label. The tech giant has been plowing resources into its AmazonBasics range; the Whole Foods equivalent, 365 Everyday Value, anchors the grocer’s new, compact store format, 365. Ever attuned to millennial trends, Silicon Valley has even thrown up an online retailer called Brandless that sells $3 health-conscious, private-label goods.”

“Some companies look less exposed than others. Those with big overseas operations, such as Nestlé, Unilever UL or Mondelez, or must-have brands, like Kraft Heinz, stand a better chance of seeing off the new competition than those with U.S.-centric portfolios or lots of third or fourth-placed brands. Bernstein thinks Campbell’s, Conagra, General Mills, Kellogg and Smucker’s are all at risk.”

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Brandless: When The Brand is No Brand

Quartz: “E-commerce company Brandless launched last week, but it is already billing itself as the ‘Procter and Gamble of millennials.’ The startup sells a variety of Brandless-branded foods and household goods, supplied by its proprietary partner manufacturers, and all priced at $3 … The company promises to keep prices low by eliminating the BrandTax, a phrase it requested a trademark for last November, and which it defines as the ‘hidden costs you pay for a national brand.’ Its simple white labeling was designed by a team of product and marketing experts and food scientists.”

According to CEO Tina Sharkey: “The Brandless movement is the ‘democratization of goodness.’ It’s that everyone ‘deserves better, and better shouldn’t cost more.’ The $3 price point is designed to make it ‘very freeing when you shop on brandless.com.’ Brandless wants people to ‘live more and brand less,’ to ‘tell their own stories,’ and to drop the ‘false narratives’ sold by Madison Avenue. ”

“In the meantime Brandless is crafting its own narrative. On its website, the company claims the average person pays a 40% or greater BrandTax markup on products ‘of comparable quality as ours.’ This seems likely true of Brandless organic extra virgin olive oil ($3 for 8.5 oz, or about 35 cents an ounce) but perhaps less so for its organic taco seasoning mix ($3 for a pair of 1 oz packets).”

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Tony Chocolonely: Slave-Free Chocolate Bars

Fast Company: “Since hitting U.S. shelves last fall, a new kind of chocolate bar company is trying a different tactic: Making ‘100% slave-free’ its central selling point. Amsterdam-based Tony’s Chocolonely features a wrapper with the brand’s name spelled out in large, cartoonish lettering. Inside, the chunky squares are divided unevenly to represent the inequality within the industry.”

“To meet that promise, company leader Henk Jan Beltman … had to rethink nearly everything about how traditional supply and production works. Rather than contract with international traders, the company deals directly with independent in-country farming cooperatives, which sometimes receive NGO support. All participants not only share practices to grow better crops, but agree to be monitored, ensuring instances of child labor are spotted and addressed.”

Tony’s Chocolonely “was originally started by a Dutch journalist named Teun ‘Tony’ van de Keuken who, after investigating how slave-based beans were mixed up and melted down with everything else, originally decided to make an absurdist documentary about the injustice in 2004. Van de Keuken bought and ate some off-the-shelf bars and then turned himself in to the police, citing his behavior as helping finance criminal operations. Theatric aside, he wasn’t convicted, so he launched a chocolate company to prove there was another way to ethically manufacture.” Says Beltman: “It’s the lonely battle of Tony to change the chocolate industry from the inside out.”

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Tea House: How ‘Pure Leaf’ Tells Its Story

The Wall Street Journal: At the Pure Leaf Tea House, fans of the beverage can enjoy it in various ways. The emporium, which opened in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in late June, offers everything from iced chai to a Japanese-style hot ‘popcorn’ tea … the airy, 3,000-square-foot space essentially is a promotional vehicle for Pure Leaf itself, a tea brand created in partnership by PepsiCo and Unilever.”

“Brands say they are going the open-your-own-store route as a way to tell their stories—rather than relying on other retailers to do it for them. ‘You can’t do this in the grocery’ store, said Pure Leaf senior marketing director Laraine Miller, speaking of the tea house’s elaborate setup. The shop incorporates museum-style installations featuring the history and uses of tea. Company-branded stores also afford the opportunity to test-market new products and showcase tried-and-true favorites in unusual ways.”

“Retail experts say the approach can pay off in terms of creating buzz for a brand, especially given New York’s reputation as a taste-making city. And the stores can become profitable, providing a brand with another income stream.” Ms. Miller says: “In terms of return on investment, that’s not how we’re measuring it.”

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Hamburger Helpless: Packaged Goods Plight

The Wall Street Journal: “The plight of the packaged-goods companies is a classic business tale. An industry creates winning products, carves out strong market positions and enjoys reliable, sustained revenue—only to be too slow to adapt to changes that threaten those cash cows … Many big brands didn’t move fast enough to remove artificial ingredients and haven’t been able to shed the negative perception of processed food, said several food executives and others close to the industry.”

Meanwhile: “The web and social media gave smaller food companies a direct path to consumers’ hearts, minds and stomachs. They gained traction through blogs and Facebook with little marketing spending, selling food online via Amazon.com Inc. or their own websites long before they would have been able to get it in stores … Big brands can no longer control perceptions about food with television advertisements and shelf placement.”

“Kellogg Co., General Mills and others have directly invested in food startups through venture-capital funds that they say will give them insight as to how to respond better to evolving trends.”

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Instagram Oreos: The New Flavorites

The New York Times: “Oreo makes a lot of cookies — 40 billion of them in 18 countries each year — enough to make it the world’s best-selling cookie. Most of them are the familiar sandwich that’s over 100 years old: white cream nestled between two chocolate wafers. But the company has increasingly been experimenting with limited-edition flavors that seemed designed as much for an Instagram feed as they are to be eaten.”

“This year, the company released limited-edition flavors like Jelly Donut, Mississippi Mud Pie and Firework. They joined a packed shelf that has recently included flavors like Cookie Dough, Birthday Cake, Mint, S’Mores and Red Velvet, which proved so popular as a limited edition that the company upgraded it to everyday flavor status.”

“The company is using the hashtag #MyOreoCreation to collect suggested flavors. The top flavors, as determined by Oreo, will be produced and available nationwide next year for the public to vote on. And here’s where things get, comparatively, weird. Some contenders so far have included English Breakfast Tea (it tastes like tea), Peach Melba (has the flavor of a gummi peach), Mermaid (a sort of lime cream), and at least three doughnut-adjacent flavors to complement the Jelly Donut already in mass production … (The winning flavor may return for a limited-edition run or even as a permanent flavor, but that will be up to Oreo to decide.)”

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Patel Brothers & The Soul of a Supermarket

Quartz: “Patel Brothers is a store that exists at the juncture of pragmatism and fantasy; the store has realized a possibility for pluralist cultural exchange without sacrificing its Indian DNA. Patel Brothers has spawned a subgenre of Indian grocery stores … yet it towers over this ecosystem like a citadel of the Indian-American grocery chain … A visit to Patel Brothers can feel like emerging from a plane: Your sense of the world becomes radically slower, the activity of grocery shopping gaining a more leisurely glean than the frantic stress that can ordinarily accompany a trip to the supermarket.”

“We go to the supermarket to get what we need. But our needs are determined by who we are and how we feed our obsessions. At the grocery store, everything we’d ever want is presented to us matter-of-factly, and we are forced to confront the extent of our desires. Our needs are not simply material. These are selfish, soulful wants, and they come from pits deeper than our stomachs.”

“It’s terrifying to imagine a world where this store does not exist. Here is a business venture born out of one man’s hankering for home and his family’s willingness to ease it. How comforting that they were brave enough to wield these desires openly, so that the rest of us could satisfy the hungers we don’t always realize we have.”

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French Twist: How Yoplait Manufactures Authenticity

The New York Times: “Thick, sour Greek yogurts with names like Chobani, Fage and Oikos were surging in popularity. Sales of runny, sugary Yoplait were oozing off a cliff. So Yoplait executives ran to their test kitchens and developed a Greek yogurt of their own … They called it Yoplait Greek. It tanked almost immediately. And so has almost every other Greek yogurt product that Yoplait has put on shelves.”

“So now, Yoplait is opening a new front in the cultured-milk battles … They’re calling it Oui by Yoplait, in homage to the company’s French roots … if, as you are shopping, you happen to pick up a small glass pot of Oui and are momentarily transported to the French countryside, you’ll know that the company has finally figured out how to look beyond the data and embrace the narrative. Yoplait may have figured out how to fake authenticity as craftily as everyone else.”

“Yoplait began scouring its own history and ultimately found a tale that seemed to resonate: For centuries (or so the story goes), French farmers have made yogurt by putting milk, fruit and cultures into glass jars and then setting them aside. So Yoplait tweaked its recipe and began buying glass jars … It has a creamy texture and sweet flavor. And if this product is a success — if years from now someone tells the heartwarming story of how the Greek hordes were defeated by simple French pots — then we’ll know that Yoplait’s number crunchers finally figured out the formula for authenticity, and have reclaimed their crown.”

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Future Sausage: Fruit Salami?

Quartz: “Swiss product designer Carolien Niebling was not a sausage fan, at least not until she spent three years tasting 50 to 70 different types of sausages from all over the world. She took everything she learned to create what she calls ‘the future sausage.’ Among her futuristic sausage collection, you can find the fruit salami, a dried sausage made of berries, dates and almonds. Or there’s insect pâté, a sausage made with insect flour and a tonka-bean infusion.”

“Niebling’s goal is not only to create new types of sausages with less meat in them, but also to use her designs as a message to encourage people to expand their palates. She believes the rise of supermarkets has distanced people from the natural production of food. As a result, the only food many consider ‘edible’ is the food they see on a supermarket shelf.”

“Though Niebling used substitutes to reduce the meat content of her future sausages, she says she’s not interested in using vegetables to mimic the taste of meat. On the contrary, she hates the idea of faking meat.” She comments: “What I’m trying to say with my design is that changing your diet doesn’t have to be, ‘instead of meat, you eat carrots.’ There’s so much else out there. There are hundreds of different grains, there are so many plants and flowers that we haven’t fully explored yet.”

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