Supermarket Future? Not Plastics!

The New York Times: “A supermarket in the Netherlands wants to make it easier on the planet and easier for its customers to avoid adding to the mountains of plastic waste generated every day … the supermarket, Ekoplaza, an upmarket chain, introduced what it billed as the world’s first plastic-free aisle in a store in Amsterdam. There, shoppers found groceries, snacks and other sundries — but not an ounce of plastic. The items are packaged in compostable materials or in glass, metal or cardboard.”

“Sian Sutherland, co-founder of A Plastic Planet, an advocacy group that has pushed the concept, said the initiative was ‘a landmark moment for the global fight against plastic pollution.’ The plastic-free aisle contains about 700 items, including meats, sauces, cereals, yogurt and chocolate. The opening of the supermarket aisle comes as the idea of banning plastic, or at least making more of it recyclable, gains supporters around the world.”

“In the Netherlands, free plastic bags were banned two years ago, after a European Union directive was passed in 2015 to phase them out. At the time, the country of about 17 million used around three billion bags each year, most of which ended up in the trash. Ekoplaza has promised to expand the plastic-free idea to all of its 74 stores by the end of the year.” Ms. Sutherland comments: “There is absolutely no logic in wrapping something as fleeting as food in something as indestructible as plastic.”


Drinkfinity: A Portable Soda Fountain

Fast Company: Pepsi’s “newest venture is centered on a 20-ounce reusable water bottle that comes with sets of flavor pods … The new product line, called Drinkfinity, is a clear reaction to consumers drinking less soda … The name is meant to indicate that there are infinite combinations of drinks you could make with the bottle and the flavor pods. The Drinkfinity team’s ultimate aspiration is that consumers go online, choose all the ingredients they want, and have personalized pods shipped to their door–a vision that reacts to several consumer trends, including on-demand services and healthy living.”

“For now, the brand … is debuting 12 different types of pods … To make yourself a White Peach Chill or a Mandarin Orange Charge, you fill up your Drinkfinity water bottle, unpeel a pod’s label, remove your bottle’s cap, and push the cap of the lid through a pointed plastic structure. This ruptures the dry storage area in the pod and releases the concentrated liquid, which pours into the container. Then you shake and drink. The bottle itself has a magnetic spot on its side to hold down the cap so it doesn’t hit you in the face as you guzzle.”

“To create Drinkfinity, PepsiCo had to rethink the supply chain, manufacturing, shipping, and even recycling. That resulted in the full life cycle of a single pod producing 40% fewer carbon emissions than the typical 20-ounce drink housed in a plastic bottle you’d buy at the supermarket. The pods also use 65% less plastic than these 20-ounce bottles … The Drinkfinity team likens the product to the new soda fountain: a platform for people to choose what they want to drink, except you can carry it in your bag.”


Word of the Day: Convenience

Tim Wu: “Convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today … In the developed nations of the 21st century, convenience — that is, more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks — has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies. This is particularly true in America, where, despite all the paeans to freedom and individuality, one sometimes wonders whether convenience is in fact the supreme value.”

“Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. To resist convenience — not to own a cellphone, not to use Google — has come to require a special kind of dedication that is often taken for eccentricity, if not fanaticism.”

“For all its influence as a shaper of individual decisions, the greater power of convenience may arise from decisions made in aggregate, where it is doing so much to structure the modern economy. Particularly in tech-related industries, the battle for convenience is the battle for industry dominance … The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.”


Schmidt’s Toothpaste: For Fresh, Charcoal-y Breath

Fast Company: “Unilever recently acquired Schmidt’s Naturals for its millennial-friendly natural deodorants, and now the Portland-based startup is taking on another bathroom shelf staple: Toothpaste … Much like the company’s popular deodorant line, which comes in unconventional scents like rose vanilla and lavender sage, the toothpaste collection reimagines the flavors we swish and spit. Think activated charcoal with mint, vanilla chai, and coconut with lime in bright, modern tubes that starkly differ from more hippie-esque natural brands.”

“Schmidt’s Naturals cofounder and CEO Michael Cammarata tells Fast Company he saw a ripe opportunity to translate modern consumer scent preferences for personal care products. While customers adamantly want oral care that leaves them feeling fresh, the company’s research found that could also extend into citrus and floral flavors.”

“It remains to be seen whether consumers will be drawn to the product for its main selling point: Health. Schmidt’s Naturals is free of potentially harmful ingredients, and its packaging proudly touts vitamin and superfood extracts … Cammarata is confident that the health-conscious tide is growing, and with that, so will society’s view of what they put on and in their body. Indeed, a recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that consumer complaints of adverse health events related to personal care products more than doubled last year.”


Adidas Kicks are a Ticket to Ride

City Lab: “Starting January 16, Berlin transit authority BVG will release its own limited edition line of sneakers, a project that’s the first of its kind anywhere in the world. A collaboration with Adidas Originals, the sneakers’ tie-in with the subway will be immediately apparent to any Berliner: the heel counters feature the unmistakable seat upholstery pattern featured on the city’s public transit fleet.”

“The sneaker’s tongue will include a feature that’s arguably more striking—a fabric version of the annual BVG season ticket. That means the wearer gets free travel on subways, trams, buses, and ferries anywhere within Berlin public transit zones A and B— which cover almost all of the city—from January 31st to the end of the year.”

“Then there’s the price, which is a snip at €180 ($215) a pair. That makes them more expensive than the average sneaker, but much cheaper than a traditional annual transit pass, currently €728 ($869) for the same zones.”


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).


Chickens Rule The Retail Roost

The Wall Street Journal: Rotisserie chickens “emerged as a supermarket staple in the 1990s, paving the way for the array of prepared foods that grocery stores sell today. Now they are many grocery stores’ best-selling hot food item and a rare bright spot in an industry struggling to adapt to a shift away from packaged foods … To continue selling them for $5 to $7 each, executives are working to trim supply-chain costs, cook chickens more efficiently and throw fewer of them away unsold.”

“One reason executives say it is so important to hold down rotisserie prices is that shoppers often buy higher-margin side dishes and beverages to round out a meal … Grocers also are tweaking their marketing strategy to make their chickens stand out. Some have introduced lemon pepper and barbecue flavors, as well as organic and antibiotic-free chickens. Others are placing stocked chicken warmers in checkout aisles to inspire last-minute purchases.”

“While Kroger and Mariano’s display their chickens near the front of the store, Costco puts them at the back, hoping people will add to their carts on their way to getting a chicken. Costco has sold rotisserie chickens for $4.99 since 2009. When a bird flu outbreak prompted higher prices for ready-to-cook chickens in 2015, Costco took a $30 million to $40 million profit hit to keep its rotisserie prices steady … Some stores sell deboned rotisserie-chicken meat at a higher price.”


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’.”


Perfumarie: The Nose Knows Retail

The New York Times: Mindy Yang’s Perfumarie in SoHo “specializes in blind perfume shopping, allowing customers to smell fragrances with all the branding removed … In her quest to encourage consumers to trust their noses, Ms. Yang decided to put perfumes on tap, labeling them only by number. She installed 32 identical fragrance spouts along the minimalist back wall of the space, removing any hints of branding, packaging or price information. Underneath each tap is a small gray stone tagine containing a white paper swan soaked in the mystery perfume”

“Customers are encouraged to sniff in numerical order, taking notes on a clipboard about the scents that set their synapses ablaze. The scents begin light, with airy and citrusy notes, and get progressively stronger. Ms. Yang likens this to beginning with white wine and graduating to a full-bodied cabernet. Shoppers are not permitted to know the name of the perfume they’ve selected. Instead, the vials are labeled with numbers, looking a bit like prototypes stolen from a chemistry lab … At the end of every month, Ms. Yang hosts a cocktail party to unveil the tap selections. She also posts the full list online so that customers can discover the truth about the perfumes they took home.”

“When customers pay for their first blind smelling, they have the option to become a Perfumarie Explorer’s Club member. Their scent notes are scanned into a database and saved for future reference … Ms. Yang hopes that by offering membership and stressing the community aspect of the store, customers will return month after month. She wants them to treat their past smelling notes like a library, learning how their taste evolves over time … she hopes it will be equally attractive to the industry as a street-level test lab.” She comments: “I am no longer interested in traditional retail. People need to learn how to be empowered to have a point of view and choose what they like for themselves.”