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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Fisher-Price Designs Chic Toys for Stylish Parents

“Mattel Inc. is bringing in designer Jonathan Adler as creative director for its Fisher-Price baby gear and infant toys, as it seeks to reverse a prolonged sales slump at the brand,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Mr. Adler, a ceramicist turned interior designer who has produced collections for Barneys New York and other retailers, has reached a three-year partnership with the company.”

“Mr. Adler has designed a premium priced collection of Fisher-Price baby furniture, gear and apparel that will start selling in September. His design influence also will be applied to everyday Fisher-Price products that will be widely available in early 2017, which will be priced in line with current Fisher-Price items. ‘Your kid’s stuff is going to be in your life and your living room all the time. It’s the landscape of your house … It needs to look chic,'” Mr. Adler said.

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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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Sharp’s Quirky Culture is Innovation Key

The Wall Street Journal: “With a nearly $6 billion takeover up in the air, Sharp Corp. this week highlighted its latest lineup of quirky consumer products … Among the offerings: the Plasmacluster, an ionic air purifier that also captures mosquitoes … Consumers in Japan are now awaiting the RoboHon—a mobile phone and pet robot … With the market for smartphones nearing saturation, Sharp hopes the robotcum-phone will represent the next step in mobile communication.”

“One secret to Sharp’s innovation is its laid-back culture … product planning and design were always freewheeling, reflecting a taste of its home base in Osaka, Japan’s comedy mecca … Sharp’s quirkiness isn’t limited to product design. Its official Twitter account features irreverent, self-deprecating humor, even about its products’ sometimes-limited appeal.” Sample Tweet: “We also have earphones, which won’t cap earholes and are very rare. You won’t see them around because many retail stores won’t carry them.”

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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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Echo: Amazon’s Next Billion Dollar Baby?

“A bit more than a year after its release, Amazon’s Echo has morphed from a gimmicky experiment into a device that brims with profound possibility,” writes Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. “Here is a small, stationary machine that you set somewhere in your house, which you address as Alexa, which performs a variety of tasks — playing music, reading the news and weather, keeping a shopping list — that you can already do on your phone.”

“But the Echo has a way of sneaking into your routines. When Alexa reorders popcorn for you, or calls an Uber car for you, when your children start asking Alexa to add Popsicles to the grocery list, you start to want pretty much everything else in life to be Alexa-enabled, too. In this way, Amazon has found a surreptitious way to bypass Apple and Google — the reigning monarchs in the smartphone world — with a gadget that has the potential to become a dominant force in the most intimate of environments: our homes.”

“Many in the industry have long looked to the smartphone as the remote control for your world. But the phone has limitations. A lot of times fiddling with a screen is just too much work. By perfecting an interface that is much better suited to home use — the determined yell! — Amazon seems on the verge of building something like Iron Man’s Jarvis, the artificial-intelligence brain at the center of all your household activities.”

“Scot Wingo, the chairman of ChannelAdvisor, an e-commerce consulting firm, said the early signs suggested that the Echo was on a path to become Amazon’s next $1 billion business.”

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Beds-in-a-Box: The Big Mattress

The Wall Street Journal: “Mattresses were long considered immune to the e-commerce boom. For decades, they have been sold in showrooms full of dozens of styles with dizzying discounts and high-pressure salespeople. But a new breed of upstarts with slick websites has cracked into the $14 billion U.S. mattress industry. The online sellers offer just a few varieties at fixed prices—and ship free to customers’ doors a foam mattress that is compressed into a box the size of a large suitcase.”

“In place of the chance to try out a $5,000 Tempur-Pedic with adjustable base or lie down on a $2,500 Serta iComfort with gel memory foam, they promise free shipping, 100-day guarantees and free returns. It is a process aimed at the often wealthier, younger and busy shoppers who care less about kicking the tires and more about convenience … Compressed mattresses promise high margins because they are cheaper to ship than inner spring mattresses that can’t be compressed … Because of how carriers like FedEx and UPS charge, delivering a 90-pound compressed mattress is less expensive than home delivery with a regular truck.”

“Returns, however, are a challenge.” As Scott Thompson, CEO of Tempur Sealy, explains: “Getting the bed back in the box, that’s a little bit of a problem.” Other online mattress sellers include Casper Sleep, Leesa Sleep and Yogabed.

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A Revolution in Toothbrush Design

Gizmodo: “Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a virtual brushing simulator that promises to revolutionize how toothbrushes are designed and tested … The size, shape, and elasticity of a toothbrush’s bristles can be precisely modified and tested in the simulator, but so can the size, shape, and quantity of the abrasive particles in a toothpaste.”

“Highly controlled experiments can be conducted in the simulator allowing toothbrush designers to almost instantly determine how effective a new bristle design is at removing dirt while still preserving tooth enamel … So in the future when a commercial for a new toothbrush promises it to be effective at battling plaque and gingivitis, hopefully its creators will be able to show the simulated results backing up their claims before you make the upgrade.”

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Sugru: The Play-Doh of Glue

The New York Times: “Sugru is a moldable glue. It looks like Play-Doh, can be shaped around any object, sticks to almost any material, is waterproof, is heat-resistant and dries to a silicone rubbery finish in 24 hours. Its ability to bond to virtually any surface — wood, glass, metals and ceramics among others — and its moldable nature make it unusual in the world of adhesives, sealants and glues.”

“I wanted to design something that was so easy and so fun to use that more people would consider fixing things again,” said Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, the Irish entrepreneur behind Sugru.

“Ms. Ni Dhulchaointigh said Sugru could withstand temperatures as high as 356 degrees and as low as minus 58 degrees, making it durable indoors and out. It will not melt, freeze, soften or harden. It can be thrown into a washing machine or dishwasher, and even soaked in seawater. If a user makes a mistake, a sharp knife can be used to cut through Sugru’s rubbery surface, removing it without damaging the surface of the repaired item.”

“Sales topped $5.5 million in 2015, up from $3.4 million in 2014 and $250,000 in its first year in 2010. Ms. Ni Dhulchaointigh expects sales to exceed $10 million this year and $60 million by 2020. It is now sold online to more than 160 countries and through 19 brick-and-mortar retailers in 6,050 stores in four countries. In the United States, 10 retailers carry the product in 4,500 stores.”

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