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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Seaweed Cups: Food as Packaging

The New York Times: “A growing number of entrepreneurs and researchers are working to turn foods like mushrooms, kelp, milk and tomato peels into edible — if not always palatable — replacements for plastics, coatings and other packaging materials.” For example: “The United States Department of Agriculture … has developed a material from milk protein that can be used to line pizza boxes, encase cheese or create, say, soluble soup packets that can simply be dropped in hot water. The product could even serve as a substitute for the sugar used to coat cereal flakes to prevent them from going soggy too fast.”

“Over the past several years, governments have quietly bankrolled efforts to develop packaging from food. The European Union, which underwrote a project to develop coatings from whey and potato proteins from 2011 to 2015, estimates that the global market for so-called bioplastics is growing by as much as 30 percent each year.”
However: “Nestlé says it wouldn’t want its demand for packaging to reduce the food supply, given widespread hunger … Few, however, are begging to eat the peels left after tomatoes are processed. A group of researchers in Italy has used them to develop a lining for cans.”

“A British start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab is taking matters into its own hands. The company has developed a packaging it calls Ohoo from edible seaweed, and is building a machine to produce containers from Ohoo to hold water, juices, cosmetics and other liquids on the spot. A juice bar, for instance, could create a container with each order.”

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Ikea Incubator: Flat-Pack Food?

Quartz: “IKEA announced it is starting an innovation incubator program, in which it has invited start-up companies to apply to spend three months in one of the company’s labs in Sweden. The benefits? Companies will get €20,000 ($22,400), three months of free housing, and access to IKEA’s prototype shop, a test lab, and hands-on access to the expertise of scientists working in the lab.”

“The Swedish maker of at-home-assembly furniture wants to focus the resources of its incubator on eight key areas: Food innovation, disruptive technologies, customer experience, disruptive design, sustainability, manufacturing, the supply chain, and analytics.”

“For food, in particular, the company is eager to work with startups looking to make waves in urban farming, using virtual reality to do food tastings, the invention of new ingredients, sustainable sourcing, conservation efforts, and healthier eating.”

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Not from Ikea: Flat-Pack Pasta

Fast Company: “Researchers at the MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group have managed to make pasta, the world’s greatest food, even better: by giving it shape-shifting properties. Lining Yao, the lead researcher, and former Media Lab grad student, and Wen Wang, a researcher at the Media Lab, created flat sheets made of gelatin and starch that transform into 3D shapes when they’re submerged in water … When submerged in hot liquid, spaghetti can divide into smaller noodles and discs can wrap around pieces of caviar to create something like cannoli.”

“Why would you want to do this? Because such technology could be used to package pasta more efficiently. The researchers found that the volume of packaging for macaroni is 67% air. If pasta were packed flat and then erupted into shapes when you dumped it in a pot, you could save money.”

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Nanometer 555: The World’s Most Visible Color

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Fast Company: “Vollebak, the same company that brought us a pink hoodie designed for maximum relaxation, is launching something new: The Nano Meter 555 Midlayer, which features two details that hack human perception to make you, theoretically, as noticeable as possible … The jacket is green, but not just any green. It’s a green that reflects with a 555-nanometer wavelength, which, according to the U.K. National Physics Laboratory, is the point at which the greatest number of cones of your eye are stimulated the most.”

“The second perceptual optimization? Reflective dots that, when applied to the jacket, work much the same way a motion capture system digitizes human movement … The reflective dots allow a human figure to be spotted, in otherwise total darkness, in a quarter of a second.”

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Redbro Chickens: Slow Growth, Better Taste

The New York Times: “Perdue Farms, one of the country’s largest chicken producers, has been raising what are known as slow-growth chickens side by side with the breeds that have made the company so successful. The new birds, a variety known as Redbro, take 25 percent longer, on average, to mature than their conventional cousins, and so are more expensive to raise.”

“Perdue is trying to find just the right slow-growth breed, and it has a strong incentive: A fast-growing cohort of companies that buy vast quantities of poultry, including Whole Foods Market and Panera Bread, are demanding meat from slow-growth chickens, contending that giving birds more time to grow before slaughter will give them a healthier, happier life — and produce better-tasting meat.”

“Consumers would … have to accept some trade-offs: While the new chickens have a fuller flavor, their meat tends to be distributed differently over the body, with more generous thighs and smaller breasts than the chicken most Americans are used to … In marketing slow-growth chickens, Perdue and others will have to make consumers understand why they are paying a higher price … the suggested retail price of a Sonoma Red (from Perdue’s Petaluma Poultry) that weighs four pounds is $16.”

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IKEA Asks: Do You Speak Human?

The Verge: ‘If you put an AI in charge of your house — letting it control the lights, the alarms, the temperature, and so on — how would you want it to act? Should it be ‘autonomous and challenging’ or ‘obedient and assisting’? Would you prefer if it sounded male, female, or if it was gender neutral? Should it be religious? These are just some of the questions Ikea is asking its customers in a new survey titled: Do you speak human?”

“With this new survey, Ikea is focused on computer personality, looking to find out what sort of AI people would be happiest to interact with. This is a question that preoccupies the big tech companies, too — that’s why they’re hiring novelists and comedians to finesse the personality of their digital assistants.”

“Ikea is updating the results of the survey as it goes; so far it’s saying that 41 percent of people want their AI to be ‘obedient and assisting,’ 42 percent want it to be ‘gender neutral’ (as opposed to 35 percent for male, 24 percent for female), and 87 percent say they want their AI to ‘detect and react to emotions.’ There’s bound to be some self-selecting bias at work here, as the people who answer this survey are more likely to be interested in technology in general, but it’s still a very intriguing project.”

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YamChops: Veggie Butchers Let it Bleed

The Wall Street Journal: Michael Abramson, “a 62-year-old vegan, is the proprietor of YamChops, a faux meat market where every patty, link, and fillet is made from edible plants. To entice “veg curious’ meat eaters as well as vegetarians, he takes great pains to make sure his substitutes look as much like the real thing as possible … So his ground beet burger—actually a medley of beets, carrots, turnips, and zucchini bonded with brown rice and mashed potatoes—doesn’t just resemble a beef burger. It oozes a reddish-pink juice, to appeal to those who like it when their burger ‘bleeds a little bit,’ he says.”

“Mr. Abramson is part of a small but growing community of ‘vegetable butchers’ opening shop from Northern California to Sydney to The Hague, hoping to wow discerning diners with substitute lox crafted from carrots and jerky fashioned from wheat gluten … Some staunch vegans and vegetarians say the word butcher should be verboten because it describes the killing of animals. Some traditional butchers and meat lovers meanwhile are rankled by the co-opting of a term they view as theirs. Many are just confused about the point of it all.”

Consultant Michael Whiteman comments: “Why do soldiers in the anti-meat brigade want food that looks like a hot dog and tastes like a hot dog and smells like a hot dog, but isn’t a hot dog? The answer is, of course, they like hot dogs!”

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Must to Avoid: Loser Experience Design

Matt LeMay: “Yes, in the short-term, people may engage with a product for an abstract reward such as ‘points’ or ‘coins.’ But watch what happens as your users see themselves fall to the bottom of that ‘leaderboard’ or fail to get any real value out of the time they’ve invested in earning those shiny trinkets. Competing for something only to realize that it’s worthless is embarrassing, frustrating, and makes you feel like a huge loser. Gratuitous ‘gamification’ is one of the most odious and lazy patterns of bad loser experience design — and in the long term, it doesn’t work.”

“While bad loser experience design can significantly harm a product, good loser experience design can help foster a broad, engaged, and self-sustaining user base … When platforms focus on shared interests and social bonds over ‘likes’ and ‘favorites,’ they help everybody find a place where they belong. Instagram has done a great job doing this with their discovery features, consistently surfacing people who are adjacent to your people, not people with the most likes or followers.”

“Finally … break out of the design and testing patterns that lead to equating ‘power users’ with ‘good users.’ Over-reliance on internal ‘dogfooding,’ where new products and features are tested primarily with a company’s own employees, is a one-way ticket to bad loser experience design. Dismissing user testing candidates who are not over the moon for your product is another surefire road to bad loser experience design. Think through the needs and behaviors of casual users as extensively as you think through those of power users — and ask yourself, ‘if I only use this product a few times a week, will it make me feel like a loser?'”

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