Skura: A Sponge That’s Both Smart & Beautiful

Skura Style: “With clean Scandinavian design, bold colors and resealable packaging, this sponge looks so good you’ll want to show it off … Ugly and smelly no more. Skura’s antimicrobial and fade-to-change technologies ensure that brilliant clean we all crave … Skura’s subscription service is an easy, accessible and innovative way to maintain good sponge etiquette and keep your kitchen super fresh.” (Hat tip to Bill Agee).


How Big Data Disrupts Big Brands

The Washington Post: “Launched in 2015, ZX Ventures is charged with ‘disrupting’ the beer industry by developing and investing in businesses that will provide value and improve user experiences — and make more money for AB InBev — somewhere down the road. They’ve invested in e-commerce delivery systems, beer-rating applications and home-brew suppliers, all of which provide data points that can tell them about trends and help them get ahead of the market.”

“According to its mission statement, ‘ZX Ventures is hopelessly dedicated to creating and analyzing the data necessary for determining our ideal strategies, products and technologies. We believe that the more we know and learn about our consumers and products, the better chance we have of anticipating their needs in the future.’ Translation: They want to know everything about purchasing patterns and decisions. What are customers looking for? What are influencers thinking? How can they make it easier to get AB InBev’s products into the hands of people who might want beer?”

“The ZX Ventures team is interested in access to a large number of data points: The most popular and trending beers, styles and search terms in any region around the world. Are more people giving high ratings to saisons in London than Los Angeles? Are Bavarians searching for IPAs available to them? What are the most highly rated beer bars in the Southeast? Which beer styles have grown the most in the last year, in terms of average ratings or the number of searches, and where? If certain cities are rating sour beers higher than the norm, for example, Elysian’s sour pineapple seasonal or a new wild saison from Wicked Weed could be given extra promotional play in those markets.”


How ‘Ankle-Biters’ Nip Big Brands

The Wall Street Journal: “Consumers in rich countries once embraced the consistency, convenience and affordability of their offerings, from disposable razors to ready-to-boil ravioli. In other parts of the world, a growing middle class clamored for many of the same trusted, Western brands.”

“Today, that isn’t good enough. Shoppers have gravitated in droves toward smaller, niche or locally made products. In many cases, they are seeking out healthy alternatives and more natural ingredients. Manufacturing costs have fallen, allowing small players to seize quickly on trends. Social media and e-commerce have made marketing and distribution easier.”

RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones comments: “We think big incumbents—however well managed—are going to continue to struggle against the depredations of the ‘ankle-biters’.”


How Mushrooms Battle Dirty Laundry

The New York Times: Scientists from a “Danish biotechnology company … Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay … Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures.”

“Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities.”

“Novozymes and its rivals have developed a catalog of enzymes over the years, supplying them to consumer goods giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble … In 2009, Novozymes scientists teamed up with Procter & Gamble to develop an enzyme that could be used in liquid detergents for cold-water washes.” Phil Souter of P&G comments: “We knew this was something that consumers would want. I think this is a very tangible and practical way people can make a difference in their everyday lives.”


City Girl Coffee: The Experience is the Message

The New York Times: “City Girl is bold and risky, from its bright-pink logo and packaging to its business plan’s central tenet: fighting gender inequity in the coffee industry. On average, according to the International Trade Center, women do 70 percent of the work in getting coffee to market but regularly cede or are barred from financial control, so City Girl gets its beans exclusively from farms and cooperatives that are owned or managed by women. In addition, the company donates 5 percent of all profit to organizations that support women in the industry.”

“Sales — principally through City Girl’s online store and in the Twin Cities’ high-end retailers, including Kowalski’s Markets and Lunds & Byerlys — are up 300 percent year over year. City Girl aims to break into other Midwest markets, including Chicago, St. Louis and Des Moines, and then to select cities on the East Coast … chief competitors have argued that City Girl’s female-empowerment message is little more than a marketing ploy.” However, founder Alyza Bohbot says “in this day and age, you can’t have a good product without having a good marketing story.”


‘Potheads’ Inhale The Instant Pot

The New York Times: Instant Pot is “a new breed of 21st-century start-up — a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth … devotees — they call themselves ‘Potheads’ — use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget’s praises to the unconverted.”

Company founder Robert Wang “listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device’s pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat. Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.”

“At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot’s sales came through Amazon.” Mr. Wang also revealed a secret: in every official photograph of an Instant Pot, the unit’s timer is set to 5:20 — a series of numbers that, when spoken aloud, sounds like ‘I love you’ in his native Mandarin. ‘It’s a subliminal message,’ he said. ‘It shows how much we care about our customers’.” He adds: “We know we really make a difference in people’s lives. It’s really gratifying.”


KitKat: Just Plain Weird in Japan

Los Angeles Times: “Two years ago, KitKat’s marketing manager in Japan won an internal corporate award. His prize: a golden trophy shaped like one of the iconic chocolate bars. Today, the manager, Ryoji Maki, doesn’t remember why he won the award. But he’s immensely proud of what it inspired. ‘That’s how I came up with creating a gold leaf-covered KitKat,’ he said. Before long, the chocolate wafer bars were on sale in Tokyo for about $18. ‘They were like an edible golden trophy’.”

“Maki’s creation joined a long, and ever growing, list of distinctive, fun or just plain weird KitKats found only in Japan. The country is a KitKat-lover’s paradise, with so many unique varieties — an estimated 300 — that some travelers visit Japan just to try them. Many flavors are alien to the American palate, and they go far beyond Japanese staples — such as sake, wasabi and green tea — and into uncharted territory: ‘French salt,’ ‘college tater’ and ‘Muscat of Alexandria’.”

“The candy with the European pedigree went on to conquer Japan thanks to constant invention — blueberry cheesecake, cherry blossom and melon — and a linguistic coincidence that makes KitKats here a harbinger of good luck … the chocolate bar’s English name is a cognate — it sounds like kitto kattsu, which means ‘you will surely win,’ a sort of good luck blessing. Nestle leveraged the association into huge sales.”


Fingerlings: Too Much Monkey Business?

The New York Times: The Fingerling is “a five-inch monkey that grips your finger with its legs and arms, as it babbles, blows kisses and blinks its eyes. Cradle a Fingerling in your hand and it drifts off to sleep. Press the Fingerling’s head and it passes gas. Created by the Canadian company WowWee, the Fingerling has been anointed one of this year’s hot toys for the holidays, a designation that most toymakers only dream of achieving.”

“How the Fingerling reached this tipping point — when suddenly millions of children cannot do without a $15 farting monkey — is the story of a promising idea’s going viral on social media, a large retailer’s savvy pricing strategy and the science of managing scarcity … This past week, Fingerlings were out of stock on Walmart’s website, while parents complained that they had been snookered into buying counterfeits … WowWee says it did not intentionally create the shortage. But whether by design or happenstance, there is no question that scarcity fuels a toy’s mystique.”

“WowWee had originally planned on selling the Fingerling for $20, but the giant retailer was insistent: About $15 was the magic number … When Fingerlings hit stores across the United States in August, Maya Vallee-Wagner, 7, was overcome with emotion … Her father … shot a video of his daughter’s reaction in the toy aisle of a local Target and sent it to WowWee … (which) posted it on the company’s Facebook page, and it went viral … The video was a marketing coup, just as WowWee was launching its social media push — an effort that in many ways resembled the rollout of a Hollywood movie. Gone are the days when a toy company could simply blitz Saturday morning cartoons with ads.”


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’.”


‘Unboxing’ is the Holiday’s Hottest ‘Toy’

The Wall Street Journal: “Taking a cue from the YouTube phenomenon known as unboxing—viral videos in which people theatrically unpack hot new products— companies are churning out tiny charms, stickers and golf-ball-size critters, all tucked away inside layers of plastic. The mystery objects have become one of the hottest categories of toys this season.”

“Unboxing videos, also big with technology and fashion reviewers, have become a key way children learn about new toys, and their popularity has grown exponentially in recent years. A recent search for “toy unboxing” on YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, brought up more than 12 million results.”

“Australia-based Moose Toys, maker of the popular Shopkins grocery-store figurines, launched its Pikmi Pops in September. The toy, a plastic lollipop-shaped container, hides ‘mystery items’ such as stickers, lanyards and charms … Each of Spin Master Corp.’s Hatchimals Surprise, released in October, holds plush twin critters in a single egg that cracks open after being cuddled.”