Bar Moxy Debuts Soft-Serve Vending Machine

The Wall Street Journal: “Make way for soft-serve vending machines … Bar Moxy, an all-day dining and drinking spot located in Midtown’s Moxy Times Square hotel, is unveiling such a machine this week—the first of its kind in New York City, according to the hospitality company Tao Group, which manages the hotel’s food and beverage operations.”

“The vending machine, which accepts credit cards, cash and Apple Pay, offers two flavors: vanilla with a spicy boost from Mike’s Hot Honey, a chile-infused sweetener, and dairy-free chocolate … The technology for dispensing soft-serve from a vending machine is fairly straightforward: Users make their selections from a video display, then wait less than a minute for the order to be processed and delivered through a small opening at the front of the machine. A spoon pops out of another opening.”

“Tao Group managing partner Matt Strauss won’t say how much the company spent for the ice-cream machine. But Rich Koehl, vice president of Stoelting Foodservice, the device’s Wisconsin-based manufacturer, said its list price is $68,000 .. Tao Group must sell a few hundred servings each month to cover costs, including for the ice cream, which it makes using its own recipe, Mr. Strauss said. The machine’s real value, he added, could come from the buzz it generates, potentially driving more customer traffic to Bar Moxy as a result.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lego is Letting Go of Plastics

The New York Times: “Lego faces a more complex problem than other consumer businesses — for this Danish company, plastics are not the packaging, they are the product …. Lego emits about a million tons of carbon dioxide each year, about three-quarters of which comes from the raw materials that go into its factories, according to Tim Brooks, the company’s vice president for environmental responsibility.”

“Lego is taking a two-pronged approach to reducing the amount of pollution it causes. For one, it wants to keep all of its packaging out of landfills by 2025 by eliminating things like plastic bags inside its cardboard packaging … It is also pushing for the plastic in its toys to come from sources like plant fibers or recycled bottles by 2030. The problem with that target, though, is that virtually all of the plastic used worldwide — including that molded by Lego into toy bricks — is created from petroleum.”

“Company researchers have already experimented with around 200 alternatives … Most test materials, both bio-based and recycled, have so far fallen short. Some bricks made with the new materials have broken, leaving sharp edges that could injure a child, or have popped out with ugly, muddied colors. Others have on occasion produced misshapen or pockmarked bricks … The search for a substitute for petroleum-based plastic could yet take years of work … Still, executives argue that, as a company that models itself as a de facto educator as much as a profitable enterprise, it has little option but to keep trying.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Applestone ‘Butchers’ The Vending Machine

Quartz: “It’s midnight and you need a steak. What do you do? If you live near Stone Ridge or Accord, New York, you just head to the nearest Applestone Meat Co. 24-hour butcher shop. You won’t find a bleary-eyed staff of overnight shifters working though. A row of vending machines, organized by type of meat—beef, pork, lamb, sausages, and ground meat—stand ready, stocked with steaks, chops, and burgers-to-be.”

“Applestone … envisioned the system as way to reach more customers, and make the shopping process more seamless. It’s more for busy families, less about the ability to get grass-fed burgers in the middle of the night—though that would be an excellent use of them, as well … That said, anyone who wants a smile with their ribeye can purchase meat from a customer service window at the Stone Ridge store from 11am to 6pm daily. Customer service, it turns out, isn’t totally dead.”

“Vending machines are a national obsession in Japan, where they sell pretty much everything imaginable, and ramen dispensers popped up in San Francisco earlier this year. And the French have oyster vending machines.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Wigle Room: ‘Terroirist’ Whiskey

The New York Times: Wigle Whiskey is “a craft distillery with a reputation for off-the-wall experimentation. On a recent afternoon, Meredith Meyer Grelli, one of its owners, showed off its latest offering: three small flasks of rye whiskey, identical save for the words Saskatchewan, Minnesota or Pennsylvania — the sources of the grain used to make it.”

“Other than the grains, each whiskey is made the same way. And yet each tastes subtly different: The Saskatchewan whiskey is smooth and nutty, the Minnesota a bit earthy, the Pennsylvania fiery and fruity. Initial chemical analysis, Ms. Grelli said, supports those impressions: The Pennsylvania rye, for example, had elevated levels of ethyl acetate, which imparts flavors like pear and bananas. Those differences, Ms. Grelli said, indicate that spirits like whiskey can have something that the distilling world has long dismissed: a sense of place, drawn from the soil and climate where the grains grow and the whiskey is made — in other words, terroir.”

“Wigle’s whiskey trio, called the Terroir Project, goes on sale this fall in select markets and is among the first in a wave of place-specific spirits — whiskey, vodka, rum and others — coming out over the next few years. The producers range from small, regional distillers to global names like Belvedere, the Polish vodka owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The new spirits are part of an international movement by distillers, plant breeders and academic researchers to return distilling to what they see as its locally grounded, agricultural roots.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Puy du Fou: Something to ‘Crow’ About

The New York Times: “Puy du Fou, a historical theme park in the Loire region about four hours from Paris, has trained six crows to pick up cigarette butts and bits of trash and dump them in a box … The theme park’s owners would rather have humans properly dispose of their own candy wrappers and cigarettes. The crows are part of an educational campaign to prompt the ecologically minded to take their rubbish with them. ‘We want to educate people not to throw their garbage on the ground,’ said Nicolas de Villiers, the president of Puy du Fou.”

“Christophe Gaborit, who manages the theme park’s Academy of Falconry, trained the six rooks, which are members of the crow family and were raised at Puy du Fou, the second-largest theme park in France. (Disneyland Paris is No. 1.) … Each morning, he brings his crows and a set of wooden boxes to the park’s entrance so visitors can see the feathered creatures in action, Mr. de Villiers said. The crow’s task is simple. Each box has two compartments, and when a crow deposits a piece of paper or trash in a slot, a drawer is opened to reveal a treat — bird food, mostly.”

“But while it may seem like work to humans, the birds are at play. Crows are intelligent and need mental puzzles to stay alert and well adjusted, said John Marzluff, a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington … the experiment at Puy du Fou raises the question: Could Mr. de Villiers’s staff of 40 falconers teach pigeons to tidy up Paris and New York? No, he said. ‘Pigeons are not very smart’.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Craft Beer Lightens Up

The Wall Street Journal: “While mega breweries flaunt puny carb counts, microbrew fans tend to assume that ‘lite’ means flavorless. Lately, however, craft brewing has been quietly losing weight, squeezing into macro-brew territory with beers as low in alcohol and calories as mass-made lagers—only deceptively, defiantly flavorful. Small-scale breweries have, historically, produced big, bold brews … But a strange thing happened in 2007 when Dogfish Head Brewery released Festina Peche, a slightly sour, peach-infused wheat that barely tipped the scales at 4.5% ABV and 8 IBUs (International Bittering Units): It sold.”

“While Dogfish still sells truckloads of crushers such as 120 Minute IPA, the brewery’s SeaQuench Ale, a 4.9% gose released in 2016, has been the fastest-growing beer in the company’s history … Lagunitas and other breweries like them are retooling accordingly. Yes, Lagunitas, makers of boozy bruisers like aptly named Maximus (8.1% ABV) and Hop Stoopid (8% ABV) is releasing light beer … Tuning down their brews shifted Dogfish Head‘s source of inspiration, too, from American hop fields to the European grain belt.”

For “Dogfish Head’s latest light beer, Grisette About It! (3.5% ABV and under 100 calories) … the brewers chose grisette, an old-timey French wheat-beer style. To emphasize its grainy character without carb-loading, they used a low-sugar, 17th-century oat variety from Columbia, S.C., granary Anson Mills, along with malted wheat and a little honey.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Study: Inclusion Begets Innovation

The Wall Street Journal: “Companies that welcome ideas from all employees have better growth prospects than those with a less-inclusive approach to innovation, a new study finds … Employees were asked how often they were included in larger, strategic decisions, whether they felt management was interested in their ideas and whether they were encouraged to try new approaches to their work. It found that companies where more people said they felt their ideas were sought out and valued tended to yield more revenue growth and employee productivity.”

“The analysis—which split companies into three tiers based on how many employees said they got opportunities to innovate—found workers at firms in the most inclusive group were 14% more likely to say they want to stay at their company long term than those in the least inclusive group. Those employees were also 32% more likely to describe themselves as willing to put extra effort into work, compared with the least-inclusive group.”

“At Quicken Loans Inc. … employees are given four hours each week of focused “bullet time.” During those hours, they are able to step away from day-to-day responsibilities and explore new skills and parts of the company’s business not directly related to their own work, said Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner … Wegmans Food Markets Inc., a family-owned regional grocery chain with 48,000 employees, says it has ‘innovation teams’ made up of frontline workers in Wegmans grocery stores and employees in the company’s main office. These teams come up with new programs and improvements that are tested at select stores with the prospect of being applied companywide.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When Small Grocers Get Big Ideas

The New York Times: “DMG Foods, a bright, 7,000-square-foot, nonprofit grocery store … is one of a growing number of experimental grocery stores that have emerged as traditional supermarkets confront a crisis that industry analysts say could surpass the retail apocalypse that pounded shopping malls a decade ago … some of the most radical reinvention is happening at the local level, in both cities and small towns, where a new breed of small community stores use the grocery aisles to fill cultural niches and address social needs.”

“At Nada, everything, including toothpaste and chocolate, is sold package-free. Shoppers can buy scoops of frozen berries, a handful of crackers and just one egg, if that’s all they need. There’s no plastic wrap or paper at the deli counter. Customers bring their own containers, buy reusable ones at the store or take some from a stack that have been cleaned and sanitized, using a digital scale to weigh and tag them before they start shopping … There’s a similar store, Zero Market, in Denver, and one called the Fillery planned for Brooklyn. No-waste stores are already popular in parts of Europe, and are popping up in other Canadian cities.”

“Two thousand miles away in New Prague, Minn., population around 7,600, Kendra and Paul Rasmusson have been inundated with inquiries from people equally enamored with their grocery concept: a store that is largely unstaffed … inspired by a nearby 24-hour fitness center, they had an idea: Why not create a store that didn’t need staff, for shoppers who wanted organic ketchup, gluten-free crackers and vegetables from local farmers? Members pay $99 a year and use a key card to open the door. They can shop anytime they want. Lights are motion-activated, and checkout is done on an iPad. Members can use a space upstairs for community meetings, or hold classes on making kombucha or Spanish for children.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

16 Handles: Frozen Yogurt Gone Wild

The Wall Street Journal: “At the New York-based frozen-yogurt chain 16 Handles, the main draw has always been the self-serve aspect: Customers are free to mix and match flavors and toppings at will, paying a per-ounce price, varying by store, for their creations. But this summer, patrons at the 10-year-old chain’s East Village location may be surprised to find a soft-serve machine positioned behind the counter. It is reserved for a special new line of frozen treats, dubbed Sugalips, that employees are charged with making.”

“Included in the offerings: an outer space-inspired Galaxy Cone, priced at $8.95, that combines frozen yogurt, cotton candy and rock candy, a colorful dessert designed with the food-on-social-media era in mind … it comes as 16 Handles has seen its same-store sales decline in each of the past three years, following an initial period of consistent growth.”

“For starters, the concept of self-serve frozen yogurt is no longer seen as novel. But even more important: Frozen yogurt isn’t the trendy dessert it once was. Artisan ice-cream companies, offering a wave of creative and even vegan flavors, are commanding increased attention. So, too, are makers of multicultural frozen treats, such as Thai-style rolled ice cream … While such changes might help bring frozen-yogurt chains a broader clientele, experts warn there is a risk of alienating the regular customer base if a company goes too far.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Meal Kits: The Complexity of Simplicity

The Wall Street Journal: “Meal kits may make cooking easier, but getting a box of pre-portioned ingredients and instructions to a customer’s door is one of the most complicated logistics riddles in the food business. Companies have poured millions of dollars into solving such questions as how to stack fish and fennel in boxes. They’re also investing in systems to reroute shipments during snowstorms and algorithms to predict what customers want to eat during the summer months.”

“Meal-kit spending by consumers has grown three times as fast as spending in established food sectors such as restaurants and grocery stores since 2015, according to Nielsen … But companies that sprang up in garages or test kitchens are getting a close look at just how expensive and complicated it can be to deliver millions of boxes a month to customers’ homes or to supermarkets. Startups have had to devise workarounds for everything from heavy weather to diverting trucks around highway accidents, and company founders have lots of war stories, especially from the early days of their operations.”

“To help keep a lid on costs, Sun Basket, whose meal kits target health-conscious consumers, has gone so far as to set up a Midwestern distribution center in a converted limestone cave—a cheaper way to keep its products cold than spending millions to convert a conventional warehouse in the region for refrigeration. The temperature inside the underground facility remains stable regardless of whether it’s hot or cold outside, so the company spends less on electricity.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail