Amazon’s Secret: 19 Phantom Brands

Quartz: “Amazon is selling products across a wide array of categories, using a host of brands that do not exist outside the confines of amazon.com and do not make it clear that they are Amazon-made products. Trawling through over 800 trademarks that Amazon has either been awarded or applied for through the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Quartz identified 19 brands that are owned by Amazon and sell products or have product pages on amazon.com.”

The Amazon brands include: Arabella (Lingerie); Beauty Bar (Cosmetics); Denali (Tools); Franklin & Freeman (Men’s shoes); Happy Belly (Fresh food); James & Erin (Women’s clothing); Lark & Ro (Women’s clothing); Mae (Underwear); Mama Bear (Baby products); Myhabit (Consumer goods); North Eleven(Women’s clothing); NuPro (Tech accessories); Pike Street (Linen); Scout + Ro (Kid’s clothing); Single Cow Burger (Frozen food); Small Parts (Spare parts); Smart is Beautiful (Clothing); Strathwood (Furniture).

“The only indication that any of these other brands might have an affiliation with Amazon is the fact that their company pages … say that their products are ‘exclusively for Prime members.’ It’s not clear that they’re exclusive because they are Amazon products, rather than products from companies that have struck deals with Amazon … It’s possible Amazon has other brands on its site that it hasn’t yet trademarked.”

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How Big is the ‘Store Brand’ Threat?

The Wall Street Journal: “Supermarkets’ ‘private label’ goods have historically been less important in the U.S. than in other mature markets … But now the big European discounters are expanding in the U.S.Lidl launched on June 15 with six stores in North Carolina, just a few days after its key rival, Aldi, unveiled a five-year, $5 billion U.S. expansion plan. These expansion efforts themselves don’t need to succeed. The threat alone will hasten the shift of U.S. grocery toward private label.”

“The more upscale team of Amazon and Whole Foods will speed the push into private label. The tech giant has been plowing resources into its AmazonBasics range; the Whole Foods equivalent, 365 Everyday Value, anchors the grocer’s new, compact store format, 365. Ever attuned to millennial trends, Silicon Valley has even thrown up an online retailer called Brandless that sells $3 health-conscious, private-label goods.”

“Some companies look less exposed than others. Those with big overseas operations, such as Nestlé, Unilever UL or Mondelez, or must-have brands, like Kraft Heinz, stand a better chance of seeing off the new competition than those with U.S.-centric portfolios or lots of third or fourth-placed brands. Bernstein thinks Campbell’s, Conagra, General Mills, Kellogg and Smucker’s are all at risk.”

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Brandless: When The Brand is No Brand

Quartz: “E-commerce company Brandless launched last week, but it is already billing itself as the ‘Procter and Gamble of millennials.’ The startup sells a variety of Brandless-branded foods and household goods, supplied by its proprietary partner manufacturers, and all priced at $3 … The company promises to keep prices low by eliminating the BrandTax, a phrase it requested a trademark for last November, and which it defines as the ‘hidden costs you pay for a national brand.’ Its simple white labeling was designed by a team of product and marketing experts and food scientists.”

According to CEO Tina Sharkey: “The Brandless movement is the ‘democratization of goodness.’ It’s that everyone ‘deserves better, and better shouldn’t cost more.’ The $3 price point is designed to make it ‘very freeing when you shop on brandless.com.’ Brandless wants people to ‘live more and brand less,’ to ‘tell their own stories,’ and to drop the ‘false narratives’ sold by Madison Avenue. ”

“In the meantime Brandless is crafting its own narrative. On its website, the company claims the average person pays a 40% or greater BrandTax markup on products ‘of comparable quality as ours.’ This seems likely true of Brandless organic extra virgin olive oil ($3 for 8.5 oz, or about 35 cents an ounce) but perhaps less so for its organic taco seasoning mix ($3 for a pair of 1 oz packets).”

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Tony Chocolonely: Slave-Free Chocolate Bars

Fast Company: “Since hitting U.S. shelves last fall, a new kind of chocolate bar company is trying a different tactic: Making ‘100% slave-free’ its central selling point. Amsterdam-based Tony’s Chocolonely features a wrapper with the brand’s name spelled out in large, cartoonish lettering. Inside, the chunky squares are divided unevenly to represent the inequality within the industry.”

“To meet that promise, company leader Henk Jan Beltman … had to rethink nearly everything about how traditional supply and production works. Rather than contract with international traders, the company deals directly with independent in-country farming cooperatives, which sometimes receive NGO support. All participants not only share practices to grow better crops, but agree to be monitored, ensuring instances of child labor are spotted and addressed.”

Tony’s Chocolonely “was originally started by a Dutch journalist named Teun ‘Tony’ van de Keuken who, after investigating how slave-based beans were mixed up and melted down with everything else, originally decided to make an absurdist documentary about the injustice in 2004. Van de Keuken bought and ate some off-the-shelf bars and then turned himself in to the police, citing his behavior as helping finance criminal operations. Theatric aside, he wasn’t convicted, so he launched a chocolate company to prove there was another way to ethically manufacture.” Says Beltman: “It’s the lonely battle of Tony to change the chocolate industry from the inside out.”

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Blind-Date Books: Novel Mysteries

The Wall Street Journal: “Booksellers across the country are enticing readers to take a chance on a surprise selected by store staff. To set up these ‘blind dates,’ the stores wrap the book to hide the cover and offer a few clues to give a sense of the hidden work’s genre and tone. ‘It’s been the most successful table we’ve ever put together,’ says Cari Quartuccio of the blind-date offerings at a location of Book Culture, where she is the store manager.”

“For customers, trusting the staff at their local store is part of the fun. The clues allow readers to select a gift for themselves. (And then, of course, immortalize unwrapping the mystery volume on Instagram.) At Book Culture, blind-date offerings are wrapped in brown paper and bear a note advising ‘Read me if you liked’ and a list of three books staff members think customers are likely to have read.”

“Book Culture’s Ms. Quartuccio says customers seldom are lukewarm about the notion of blind-date books. Fans often make repeat purchases, with some even buying stacks as gifts. Other customers are perplexed by the idea. Finally, she says, there are those ‘who get really upset when we won’t tell them the title of the book. Mystery isn’t for them, but they still want to take part in it’.”

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Hamburger Helpless: Packaged Goods Plight

The Wall Street Journal: “The plight of the packaged-goods companies is a classic business tale. An industry creates winning products, carves out strong market positions and enjoys reliable, sustained revenue—only to be too slow to adapt to changes that threaten those cash cows … Many big brands didn’t move fast enough to remove artificial ingredients and haven’t been able to shed the negative perception of processed food, said several food executives and others close to the industry.”

Meanwhile: “The web and social media gave smaller food companies a direct path to consumers’ hearts, minds and stomachs. They gained traction through blogs and Facebook with little marketing spending, selling food online via Amazon.com Inc. or their own websites long before they would have been able to get it in stores … Big brands can no longer control perceptions about food with television advertisements and shelf placement.”

“Kellogg Co., General Mills and others have directly invested in food startups through venture-capital funds that they say will give them insight as to how to respond better to evolving trends.”

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Instagram Oreos: The New Flavorites

The New York Times: “Oreo makes a lot of cookies — 40 billion of them in 18 countries each year — enough to make it the world’s best-selling cookie. Most of them are the familiar sandwich that’s over 100 years old: white cream nestled between two chocolate wafers. But the company has increasingly been experimenting with limited-edition flavors that seemed designed as much for an Instagram feed as they are to be eaten.”

“This year, the company released limited-edition flavors like Jelly Donut, Mississippi Mud Pie and Firework. They joined a packed shelf that has recently included flavors like Cookie Dough, Birthday Cake, Mint, S’Mores and Red Velvet, which proved so popular as a limited edition that the company upgraded it to everyday flavor status.”

“The company is using the hashtag #MyOreoCreation to collect suggested flavors. The top flavors, as determined by Oreo, will be produced and available nationwide next year for the public to vote on. And here’s where things get, comparatively, weird. Some contenders so far have included English Breakfast Tea (it tastes like tea), Peach Melba (has the flavor of a gummi peach), Mermaid (a sort of lime cream), and at least three doughnut-adjacent flavors to complement the Jelly Donut already in mass production … (The winning flavor may return for a limited-edition run or even as a permanent flavor, but that will be up to Oreo to decide.)”

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Algorithmania: Nutella Prints 7 Million Unique Labels

Hyperallergic: “Nutella’s manufacturer, Ferrero, recently partnered with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Italia to make Nutella even more endearing and its consumption more exciting by presenting Nutella Unica, an algorithm designed to create a series of unique labels for (almost) every Nutella jar in Italy. The algorithm pulls from a database of dozens of patterns and colors to create seven million different versions of the Nutella label — pink and green, striped and polka-dotted, Pop Art-inspired and minimal.”

“Advertising for Nutella Unica compares the individuality of each jar to the people of Italy themselves (there are about 60 million people in Italy, so about 11% of them can get a jar all their own — actually quite a feat). When these exceptionally delicious artworks hit shelves in Italy in February 2017, they sold out in barely a month. Can you imagine the shopping possibilities — buying multiples, or maybe trying to find an attractive pair?”

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From Baking Powder & Cardboard to Amazon

The Washington Post: “A&P Baking Powder was an important product in the history of retailing,” Marc Levinson wrote in The Great A&P, a history of the company and grocery stores. “With it, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, and many of its competitors, began a transition from being tea merchants to being grocers. It was a transition that would dramatically change Americans’ daily lives.”

“The branding of baking powder was important because most merchants back then were just essentially selling, as Levinson wrote, ‘generic products indistinguishable from what was for sale down the street.’ And in selling their powder in a tin, the owners were ahead in another important way — packaging.”

“The invention of the cardboard box changed everything. The company could now make, brand and sell its own condensed milk, butter, spices — just about any staple of the kitchen … There was difficult, transformative work ahead. The company needed to upend an entire culture of shopping built around neighborhood stores … A&P’s business model began to sound a lot like the one pursued by its retail descendants — Walmart and Amazon … Amazon’s tea was books. Then it diversified.”

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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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