Toblerone & Trademark Triangulation

The New York Times: “When the makers of the distinctive Swiss confection Toblerone reconfigured their triangular treat last year to slim down its hallmark summits and widen the valleys between them, a potential rival — Britain’s Poundland discount chain — saw a niche in the market … while the classic Toblerone bars had become lighter in weight in the reconfiguring — though their price remained the same — Poundland’s bar would be chunkier and cheaper, at one pound, or about $1.35, each.”

“Not, of course, that this was some crude copycat. If, as some contend, Toblerone was modeled on the soaring pyramid of a mountain — the Matterhorn on the Italian-Swiss border, which is about 14,690 feet high — Poundland’s bar was said to have been inspired by two less vertiginous hills in the English county of Shropshire near the border with Wales — the Ercall, at 460 feet, and the Wrekin, at 1,335 feet. Hence the shape of the Poundland bar, with a double set of summits between each valley. And hence its name: Twin Peaks, with what Poundland called ‘a distinctive British flavor compared to Toblerone’s Swiss chocolate nougat’.”

After some legal wrangling, Poundland “was permitted to begin selling in its nearly 900 stores the 500,000 bars already in production — provided it changed the background color of their wrappers from gold to blue. And the lettering was changed: to gold, from the original red. Once the initial 500,000 bars have been sold, Poundland said in a news release, it will ‘revise the shape’ so that the bar ‘better represents the outline of the Wrekin and Ercall hills’.”

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AC Store: The World’s Priciest Grocery?

Boing-Boing: “Barrow, Alaska (pop. 4,335) sits on the northernmost tip of the state. Because of its remote location, groceries are expensive — really expensive … A bag of Tostitos tortilla chips here are ‘on sale’ for $10.74. A single roll of toilet paper is $2.60. A box of Froot Loops is $9.73 …”

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Dollar General & Rural Retail: Ka-Ching!

The Wall Street Journal: “Dollar General is expanding because rural America is struggling. With its convenient locations for frugal shoppers, it has become one of the most profitable retailers in the U.S. and a lifeline for lower-income customers bypassed by other major chains.Dollar General Corp.’s 14,000 stores yielded more than double the profit of Macy’s Inc. on less revenue during its most recent fiscal year. And its $22 billion market value eclipses the largest U.S. grocery chain, Kroger Co., which has five times the revenue.”

“While many large retailers are closing locations, Dollar General executives said they planned to build thousands more stores, mostly in small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery … This lower-end market is better protected from Amazon and competitors that target wealthier shoppers.”

“For decades, Dollar General prices have been marked in 5-cent increments, making it easier for shoppers to estimate the total price of their purchases … Many popular brands are packaged in small quantities to keep prices under $10—generally yielding higher profits per item than bulk goods at such warehouse chains as Costco … The founders of Dollar General lived in small-town Kentucky and started the company there in 1955, making the store’s rural locations a natural fit. When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. grew past 3,000 stores in the early 2000s, a strategy surfaced: ‘We went where they ain’t,’ said David Perdue, Dollar General’s chief executive from 2003 to 2007.”

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Gyms at Malls: From Pariah to Savior

The Wall Street Journal: “Retailers have closed hundreds of stores across the country amid increasing competition from online shopping, leaving mall owners to grapple with declining foot traffic and rising vacancies. At the same time, fitness centers have boomed and diversified, and a proliferation of smaller, boutique gyms that draw higher-end customers have created more attractive tenants that are easier to accommodate. The result is that health clubs that were once pariahs at malls are helping transform them into hubs of living, working and playing.”

“Many of the new tenants at shopping centers are gyms and specialty fitness studios that in some cases are barely bigger than a Starbucks store. But owners of regional malls also are welcoming sprawling, full-service health clubs as anchor tenants, sometimes replacing the stores that once excluded them … Gyms fit into a broader push by mall owners to reinvent themselves as centers of entertainment at a time when so much of apparel sales have moved online. Landlords are adding restaurants, ice-skating rinks, pools and other recreational options to boost sagging foot traffic.”

“Owners of grocery-anchored shopping centers see fitness as a way to fend off competition from Amazon … Christa Pelc says she often jumps on an elliptical machine at Anytime Fitness in Hoffman Estates, Ill., then picks up dinner ingredients at Mariano’s, a natural-foods grocery store next door … A SoulCycle studio is scheduled to open early next year at Westfield’s UTC outdoor mall in San Diego. It will nestle beside two restaurants that serve organic and locally sourced foods, and a short walk from several cosmetics stores—also hot-sellers.” David Ruddick of Westfield comments: “We’re thinking of this as an ecosystem. It’s not just a workout.”

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Gucci Gobble: The $300 Turkey

The Wall Street Journal: “When it comes to this year’s holiday bird, New Yorkers aren’t afraid to break out their wallets. A number of gourmet markets and high-end butchers throughout the city are selling specialty turkeys for Thanksgiving that run $200-$300-plus. And in most cases, that doesn’t include sides. At Eli’s Market on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, options start at $6 per pound for a free-range, all-natural turkey, but can go as high as $11 a pound for a ‘heritage’ breed variety.”

“Purveyors of these pricey birds say they have no problem finding customers. Le Coq Rico, a restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron District that specializes in poultry, says it has sold out of its allotment of heritage turkeys for to-go orders, priced at $280 each with sides. The restaurant is offering a variety sourced from a Kansas farm, where, according to Le Coq Rico manager Patricia Grunler Westermann, the birds have plenty of pasture to explore. The result, she says, is one tasty turkey. ‘You really feel how they live’ with every mouthful, she said.”

“Still, some food experts remain skeptical, noting that turkey isn’t very flavorful—no matter where it is sourced or how it is raised. Hence, the reason the Thanksgiving meal is so much about the side dishes. ‘Unless a turkey can get up, turn on the oven and put itself in the roasting pan, it is rarely worth much more than a dollar a pound,’ said Allen Salkin, a New York-based food writer.”

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Wegmansmania: Bigger than the Beatles?

The Wall Street Journal: “Across the U.S., grand openings of specialty grocery chains such as Whole Foods Market, Stew Leonard’s and Wegmans Food Markets Inc. are attracting customer hordes … By 7 a.m., roughly 2,000 people had swarmed a shopping center in Hanover, N.J., to mark the arrival one Sunday this summer of a Wegmans and its exotic cheeses and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.” Robin W. Dente, community-affairs coordinator for the township comments: “It reminded me of when the Beatles came to America.”

“Wegmans, which has drawn lines of loyal ‘Wegmaniacs’ to opening days since at least the 1950s, doesn’t give out freebies to woo shoppers at dawn, according to the company.” However: “As part of its multibillion-dollar expansion, the German discount grocer Aldi Inc. is running multiday openings with tastings of chocolate truffles and imported brie—and a chance to win produce for a year.” Meanwhile: Stew Leonard’s, a Connecticut-based chain known for holding Christie Brinkley wine tastings and other celebrity events, has dialed down a bit.”

“Before it entered Long Island last year, it hit local media and attended a village pumpkin festival and other events, handing out 100,000 $5-off coupons. Then, more than 20,000 people showed up at its Farmingdale store the first day, and the crush clogged the aisles … The company reassessed its approach. For the debut of a second Long Island store in August, it invited local politicians for a party but kept the grand opening pared down, said Stew Leonard Jr., the chain’s CEO,” who says: “We’ve gone from a thunder to a rain philosophy.”

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Outside the Box: Walmart Podcasts its Values

Fast Company: “Walmart has a podcast called Outside the Box that “looks at business issues like sustainability, American manufacturing, the workforce of the future, and more through a collection of entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought leaders. Senior Walmart staffers are seamlessly woven in among them … Outside the Box is an interesting and engaging podcast, even when it does have company folks involved because they include those we’d actually want to hear from, like chief sustainability officer Kathleen McLaughlin. It’s about as far from a sales pitch as possible.”

“Walmart says the podcast is about stories that align with the brand’s values, and so far, discussions have unfolded from a business perspective, not a Saturday shopper’s. Walmart’s senior director of digital communications Chad Mitchell comments: “A key tenet of our strategy is reaching people where they’re naturally consuming content, and all signs point to podcasts these days.”

“Mitchell says the idea was to give people a better sense of what was happening within the walls of Walmart today and what Walmart stands for.”

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Robo Ocado: The Grocery Without a Store

Fast Company: “Ocado, a British online-only supermarket that delivers orders to customers straight from its warehouses … sells everything you can find in a brick-and-mortar supermarket–from meat, dairy, and produce to its own brand of home products, third-party goods, and even flowers, toys, and magazines … While other companies rely on human workers to find and buy all of the items on an online customer’s shopping list, Ocado is using a new kind of robot–or, more specifically, a swarm of them.”

“At an Ocado warehouse in the English town of Andover, a swarm of 1,000 robots races over a grid the size of a soccer field, filling orders and replacing stock. The new system, which went live earlier this year, can fulfill a 50-item order in under five minutes–something that used to take about two hours at human-only facilities. It’s been so successful that Ocado is now building a new warehouse that’s three times larger in Erith, southeast of London. When it comes online, it will be the world’s largest automated warehouse for grocery shopping.”

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Amazon-Whole Foods Yields Instacart Boomlet

Forbes: “As the obits piled up, Apoorva Mehta couldn’t help but shake his head. It wasn’t his death that the press was heralding, but that of his startup, Instacart, a five-year-old grocery and retail delivery service valued at $3.4 billion. That morning in mid-June, Amazon stunned the world by announcing its purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. As shares of grocery chains plunged, many in the tech press noted that few had more to lose than Instacart.”

Yes, but: “As Whole Foods executives broke the deal news to Mehta and Instacart’s chief business officer, Nilam Ganenthiran, in a 6 a.m. call, the two messaged each other with thumbs-up emojis. As if on cue, Mehta’s and Ganenthiran’s phones began ringing and lighting up with text messages shortly after–and they didn’t stop all day. It was execs from grocery chains, including some of the ones whose stocks were cratering, calling to talk business.”

“Within months, Costco announced that it was deepening its partnership with Instacart and would offer delivery directly from the Costco.com website. After discussions that spanned four years, grocery giant Kroger inked a deal for Instacart to deliver from its Ralphs subsidiary. Several smaller chains also signed up, bringing Instacart’s partner count to more than 165.” Mehta comments: “It really was like a thermonuclear bomb against the entire grocery industry.When we look back, that may have been a turning point for Instacart.”

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Fake Meat: Growing Bloody Fast

Business Insider: “Fake meat is a fast-rising food category that could change the way we eat. It replaces animal products with alternatives made from plants that look and taste like meat, with the goal of reducing the global dependence on animal agriculture.”

“The substitute meat market is expected to grow 8.4% annually over the next three years, reaching $5.2 billion globally by 2020, according to Allied Market Research … Companies that produce fake meat and seafood, ranging from ‘bloody’ burgers to sushi made from tomatoes, have targeted college campuses as testing grounds for their creations … In October, startup Impossible Foods announced it will expand distribution of its vegan burger, which sizzles on the grill and bleeds juices like real beef, to universities and company cafes.”

“Impossible Foods opened its first large-scale production facility in September, which will allow it to produce at least four million meatless burgers a month by year’s end … New Wave Foods, which manufactures an algae-based shrimp alternative, and Ocean Hugger Foods, which is working on plant-based seafood — including a raw tuna substitute made from tomatoes — have also set their sights on food-service companies as a path for distribution.”

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