Fashionably Moo: The Rise of the Microdairy

“Add milk to the long list of traditional foods that are being rediscovered by young entrepreneurs and reintroduced in small-batch — and often high-priced — form,” reports The New York Times. “As historically low milk prices leave many mom-and-pop farmers struggling, some are choosing to ride the wave of the nation’s new food awareness … bottling their own milk (and ice cream and yogurt) and selling it directly to customers. And they are heralding the various ways it may be different from conventional milk — whether unhomogenized, organic, from grass-fed cows or locally produced.”

“Now many restaurant menus cite the provenance of their dairy products in the same way they boast of grass-fed rib-eyes and hydroponic tomatoes. And consumers are willing to spend more for boutique milk at farmers’ markets and upscale grocers … Manhattan Milk, a small distributor in New York City, evokes the days of the milkman, delivering glass bottles of grass-fed, organic milk from dairies in the region to doorsteps as far away as Greenwich, Conn … Customers of 1871 Dairy, in Wisconsin, “want more than the word organic slapped on a label; they want the satisfaction of knowing the milk was made close to home, in small batches rather than industrial vats.”

“Customers want to learn the story behind the food to see if it’s the values they hold,” says Joe Miller, the marketing director at Trickling Springs Creamery, a small dairy in Chambersburg, Pa. “The more you open the door for them to see behind the scenes, the more comfortable they feel with your product.”

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Philz Coffee: The Value is in The Experience

A San Francisco coffee house called Philz plans to challenge Starbucks with a different kind of experience, Forbes reports. “At Philz you won’t find the fancy brewing equipment of an artisanal coffeehouse. Beans are ground to order and then splashed with 205-degree water in pour-over funnel brewers. The coffee is good, but it is not cheap–a small coffee costs almost twice as much as Starbucks’ equivalent. Philz proponents say the value lies as much in the experience, or in what (founder Phil Jaber and his son Jacob) call ‘Grandma’s House,’ as it does in the coffee.”

“Unlike the corporate uniformity of Starbucks or the manicured hipster haunts like Blue Bottle, Philz has an informal charm that can be found in the mismatched couches at its original location and in the cup-by-cup approach of its baristas, who load drinks with heavy cream and brown sugar to each customer’s preference. ‘Taste it and make sure it’s perfect,’ a barista says before handing over a beverage. Details like that foster ‘an emotional connection’ for customers, says Jacob, 29, the CEO. ‘We think of ourselves as more in the people business than the coffee business.'”

“This year Philz plans to open at least two locations in Washington, D.C., the first true test of whether the company’s service-oriented approach can succeed outside California. Ultimately Jacob has visions of expanding into New York and Boston, with 1,000 stores nationwide, and “disrupting” the coffee industry … So far the company has interviewed more than 300 people, and Jacob has hired 30 … All will go through the company’s Apple-influenced Philz University training program, where they’ll be taught not to ask for customer names the way Starbucks does when taking orders. Doing so, Jacob says, is impersonal, because it suggests you’ve never met, and there’s a chance you’ll get it wrong.”

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Sam Adams: The Craft Beer Revolution Comes To a Head

The Wall Street Journal: “The volume shipped by Boston Beer Co., which makes Sam Adams, last year grew just 3.6% after back-to-back years of more-than-20% gains. The company’s shares have plunged 32% over the past year as investors lose confidence in a quick turnaround. The problem? Sam Adams has gotten too big and familiar to be considered an authentic craft by elitist beer connoisseurs, yet it isn’t hefty enough to have the cost advantages of big brewers.”

“There are more than 4,200 craft breweries now—up from 1,564 in 1999—and together they outsell Boston Beer’s offerings. Plus, over the past year, AB InBev acquired Arizona’s Four Peaks and Los Angeles’ Golden Road breweries, MillerCoors scooped up San Diego’s Saint Archer, and Heineken invested in California’s Lagunitas Brewing Co.”

In response, Boston Beer “is concocting new variations of Sam Adams such as last year’s Sam Adams Rebel Rouser IPA and Grapefruit IPA. This year’s mix includes Rebel Raw, a double India pale ale loaded with bitter hops, and brews infused with nitrogen for creaminess like Nitro Coffee Stout. But even with new recipes, Boston Beer expects beer volume to decline in 2016.”

Founder Jim Koch says he’s been hearing that Sam Adams is no longer new or local since 1985. “I’m excited to see the success of this revolution I helped start,” he says. “I want to continue to drive that success.”

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Oh To Live On Sugar Mountain

“The goal for soda companies is to spritz up fizzling soft-drink sales. The appeal: Sugar is natural,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi: “If you had asked me a few years ago, people were moving to diet sodas. Now they view real sugar as good for you. “They are willing to go to organic non-GMO products even if it has high salt, high sugar, high fat.”

“PepsiCo says the formula of its new line, called 1893, is inspired by the cola created by Pepsi founder Caleb Bradham. The company says it is made with premium kola nut extract … cane sugar and ‘a touch of aromatic bitters.’ Pepsi Made with Real Sugar launched in 2014 … Last summer, it introduced a line of fountain drinks called Stubborn soda, sweetened with sugar, for restaurants.”

“Nutritionists caution that more-natural ingredients don’t necessarily mean they are health foods. Some types of sugar may promote vitamins or minerals. That doesn’t mean consumers should reach for them to get those nutrients, says Sara Haas, a dietitian based in Chicago and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.”

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A New Blue Ribbon For Pabst

The New York Times: Eugene Kashper, who “made a fortune reviving several all-but-moribund Eastern European breweries … bought Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in 2014 with the private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners for a reported $700 million … Mr. Kashper says he saw a big opportunity. ‘Beer, you know, it’s just fun,’ he said.”

“Now chief executive, he is pushing an aggressive effort to leverage the company’s distribution network, a part of the business that had been built up under previous owners, and dusting off old beer recipes and brands to capitalize on consumer desire for local products. Pabst will soon start producing Rainier Pale Mountain Ale at a brewery in Washington State … using a recipe derived from the one for a Rainier beer that was last brewed in the 1930s and 1940s. Other brands include Lone Star, Schlitz, Olympia, National Bohemian, Colt 45, Schmidt and Pearl.”

Says Kashper: “We’re ideally suited for the whole locavore thing … We can take advantage of the heritage embedded in our brands … We don’t have to spend money convincing consumers our brands are authentic — they already know they are.” He has already “found one hit to pump through the system right after buying Pabst, in Not Your Father’s Root Beer, a ‘hard’ or alcoholic soda made by Small Town Brewery that became the beer industry’s sleeper success story of 2015. The product helped raise Pabst’s overall sales in 2015 by 20 percent and pushed its market share up by a percentage point — even as sales of its main brand declined.”

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Introducing the Meat-O-Mat!

The Wall Street Journal: “Attached to a laboratory-like plant in this upstate community is a neon-lit vending machine dubbed the Meat-O-Mat, where customers can buy locally raised meat whenever they like. If Joshua Applestone has his way, carnivores will flock to it the way that banking customers visit the ATM. His invention is stocked with pork chops, dry-aged burger patties, bratwurst meatballs and his beloved pork roll, a deli meat native to New Jersey. Customers swipe their credit cards, push a button, slide the door open and retrieve their hormone- and antibiotic-free selection.”

“Mr. Applestone and his partners at Applestone Meat Co., the attached plant, are attempting to develop a new, meat-centric business model. For the past two years, they have been exploring ways of making high-quality cuts available at lower prices by slashing labor costs and considering offbeat distribution methods like the Meat-O-Mat. ‘We’re going for a highway-roadside-attraction type of approach,’ said Samantha Gloffke, the company’s general manager and a part owner. ‘The goal is to make sustainability really exciting.'”

Mr. Applestone envisions them stationed at supermarkets, football stadiums and picnic sites, places where you might welcome the convenience of buying something to toss on the grill. ‘Think about it at any music festival,’ he said. ‘Anywhere someone brings a cooler, you no longer have to bring fresh meat. How much is peace of mind worth?'”

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Wafu Chuka: Probably Not The Next Ramen Noodles

The New York Times: The restaurant Saburi has been an unassuming presence on a quiet street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Kips Bay for 10 years … From evening until 3 a.m., Saburi becomes a lively canteen filled with Japanese businessmen, Japanese expatriates and American enthusiasts of Japanese culture … The cuisine is called wafu chuka and is, simply put, Japanese-style Chinese food, or rather, Chinese dishes modified for Japanese sensibilities. It involves putting a Japanese spin on Chinese cuisine by using fewer spices and oils and adding fresh Japanese ingredients.”

Wafu Chuka “emerged in the early 1900s during the Meiji Restoration period, when Japan was opened up to international trade. It originated in cities including Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokohama … and is eaten throughout Japan … At the restaurant, female bartenders wear short Chinese dresses. Shadow puppets, the paper-thin figurines used in the ancient Chinese storytelling form, are framed on walls … And customers can store unfinished bottles of shochu, a Japanese liquor, behind the bar for future consumption — a tradition in pubs in the island nation.”

Sadly, Saburi is closing because of “lease difficulties” and its husband-and-wife owners, Jun Cui (who is Chinese) and Mika Saburi (who is Japanese) “desire to move back to Japan.” Kiara Phillips, a regular, comments: “The problem is it’s not like the ramen boom. Everyone is crazy for ramen now. And the wafu chuka style never quite took off that way. But is that a bad thing? It means people didn’t take it over and start doing it wrong,” she said. “No one else is trying to make it the best. No one is trying to make it something it’s not. The way it is here is just the way it is done.”

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MIT & Target Take Aim at Truth in Produce

The Washington Post: Imagine a scanner the size of a grain of rice, built into your phone. You go to the grocery store and point it at something you want to buy. If it’s an apple, the scanner will tell you what variety it is, how much vitamin C it has and how long it has been in cold storage. If it’s a fish, you’ll learn whether it’s really orange roughy or just tilapia being passed off as something more expensive. If it’s a muffin, the device will tell you whether there’s gluten in it.”

“Although you won’t be able to do it tomorrow, this isn’t some kind of distant Jetsonian vision of the future … TellSpec and SCiO, are working on handheld scanners designed for consumer use … Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers, is collaborating with MIT and business design firm Ideo in a venture called Food + Future coLab, based in Cambridge, Mass., which has the broad mission of helping consumers better understand their food.”

Target “is putting industrial-strength scanners in its distribution centers … According to Casey Carl, Target’s chief strategy and innovation officer, ‘We’ll deliver better freshness, quality and shelf life,’ because produce that’s old or inferior — or not what the label promises — will never make it to the floor.”

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Go Cubes: Technology As a Lifestyle Brand

“This year SXSW … feels like a story of how the tech ethos has escaped the bounds of hardware and software,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Tech is turning into a culture and a style, one that has spread into new foods and clothing, and all other kinds of nonelectronic goods. Tech has become a lifestyle brand. … physical products that aren’t so much dominated by new technology, but instead informed by the theories and practices that have ruled the tech business.”

For example: “Go Cubes, the caffeine-infused gummy snacks that have been compared to candied nuggets of cocaine,” from a company called Nootrobox, makers of “supplements that the founders say enhance human cognitive capabilities … The company grew out of an online movement of ‘biohackers’ — people who congregate on sites like Reddit to discuss how a variety of foods and other chemicals, from caffeine to street drugs to Alzheimer’s medicine from Russia, alter their focus, memory and other cognitive abilities. Nootrobox aims to find the most effective of these compounds — and only the ones deemed legal and safe for use in the United States — and turn them into consumer products.”

“Traditional coffee is an inconsistent product, they argue — each cup may have significantly more or less caffeine than the last — and it can have undesirable side effects, like jitteriness. Go Cubes … are meant to address these shortcomings. The cubes are more portable than coffee, they offer a precise measure of caffeine, and because they include some ingredients meant to modulate caffeine’s sharpest effects, they produce a more focused high. The cubes run about $1.70 for the price of two that are meant to equate to a cup of coffee.”

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