Lego is Letting Go of Plastics

The New York Times: “Lego faces a more complex problem than other consumer businesses — for this Danish company, plastics are not the packaging, they are the product …. Lego emits about a million tons of carbon dioxide each year, about three-quarters of which comes from the raw materials that go into its factories, according to Tim Brooks, the company’s vice president for environmental responsibility.”

“Lego is taking a two-pronged approach to reducing the amount of pollution it causes. For one, it wants to keep all of its packaging out of landfills by 2025 by eliminating things like plastic bags inside its cardboard packaging … It is also pushing for the plastic in its toys to come from sources like plant fibers or recycled bottles by 2030. The problem with that target, though, is that virtually all of the plastic used worldwide — including that molded by Lego into toy bricks — is created from petroleum.”

“Company researchers have already experimented with around 200 alternatives … Most test materials, both bio-based and recycled, have so far fallen short. Some bricks made with the new materials have broken, leaving sharp edges that could injure a child, or have popped out with ugly, muddied colors. Others have on occasion produced misshapen or pockmarked bricks … The search for a substitute for petroleum-based plastic could yet take years of work … Still, executives argue that, as a company that models itself as a de facto educator as much as a profitable enterprise, it has little option but to keep trying.”

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The Price is Right — Or is It?

The Wall Street Journal: “A simple mathematical error leads shoppers to make mistakes when evaluating offers that promise to save them money. Sometimes they inadvertently pick the priciest option. Sometimes they overestimate the benefit of a bargain. And sometimes they don’t recognize that competing promotions offer identical savings. The problem involves percentages.”

“Instead of comparing unit prices, shoppers tend to judge offers based on the size of the benefit. Getting 50% more of a product must be better than knocking 33% off its cost, right? Wrong. The savings are identical, but on the fly, even savvy shoppers make mistakes … Consider a pound of coffee beans that normally costs $15. If a shopper receives 50% more free, the price is $5 for each half-pound. A discount of 33% reduces the original cost to $10, which is also $5 per half-pound.”

“One of the most common ploys used to sway consumers is the double discount. A 40% discount on a $1,000 suit drops the price to $600. Marking the suit down twice, first by 20% and then by an additional 25% decreases the cost to $800 before shrinking it to $600. The deals are identical, but the double discount feels more generous … To test responses to offers of discounts or bonuses along with shoppers’ ability (or willingness) to calculate percentage change, .. several experiments revealed that consumers generally favor product bonuses over price discounts, reduced quantities over increased prices and double discounts over single discounts.”

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Yes, The Cow Had a Name: Dinner

The Wall Street Journal: “The menu at chef José Andrés’s Bazaar Meat in Las Vegas notes that its Vaca Vieja steak is made from a “hand-selected working cow.” The beef comes from a meat company called Mindful Meats, where, on the cow’s ‘final day,’ employees ‘look each cow in the eye and say thank you as they load onto the trailer,’ its website explains. Welcome to the final frontier in the discussion about transparency in food: meat … The challenge for restaurants and food providers is to give information without turning stomachs.”

“It’s a fine line between transparency and oversharing. At Blackbelly Restaurant in Boulder, Colo., servers are coached to let customers take the lead in discussing the provenance of the meat, says chef and owner Hosea Rosenberg. On a typical evening, about one-third of customers will want to order without much discussion, says Mr. Rosenberg. Another third is interested in more specifics—like cuts of meat, or particular breeds of animals—before their eyes glaze over, he says. The last third is interested in even more details, such as types of grasses or grains the cow was fed, what it weighed, and what farm it was from. Sometimes they ask if it had a name. (‘We named it Dinner,’ he says).”

“Randy Golding, a retired chemical engineer in Cedar City, Utah, orders steaks, chicken and ground beef every three months from Firefly Farms in North Stonington, Conn. He says he has spoken directly with the farm manager, Dugan Tillman-Brown, for at least an hour, asking questions such as how the animals were treated (‘They have names. They have personalities,’ says Mr. Tillman-Brown) to how they are slaughtered (a quick shot to the head with a steel bolt) … Mr. Golding says those details help him and his wife, Lisa, feel better about eating meat knowing the animal wasn’t mistreated. “

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Meal Kits: The Complexity of Simplicity

The Wall Street Journal: “Meal kits may make cooking easier, but getting a box of pre-portioned ingredients and instructions to a customer’s door is one of the most complicated logistics riddles in the food business. Companies have poured millions of dollars into solving such questions as how to stack fish and fennel in boxes. They’re also investing in systems to reroute shipments during snowstorms and algorithms to predict what customers want to eat during the summer months.”

“Meal-kit spending by consumers has grown three times as fast as spending in established food sectors such as restaurants and grocery stores since 2015, according to Nielsen … But companies that sprang up in garages or test kitchens are getting a close look at just how expensive and complicated it can be to deliver millions of boxes a month to customers’ homes or to supermarkets. Startups have had to devise workarounds for everything from heavy weather to diverting trucks around highway accidents, and company founders have lots of war stories, especially from the early days of their operations.”

“To help keep a lid on costs, Sun Basket, whose meal kits target health-conscious consumers, has gone so far as to set up a Midwestern distribution center in a converted limestone cave—a cheaper way to keep its products cold than spending millions to convert a conventional warehouse in the region for refrigeration. The temperature inside the underground facility remains stable regardless of whether it’s hot or cold outside, so the company spends less on electricity.”

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Bowl Food: Comfort in Troubled Times?

The Wall Street Journal: “A good rule for modern eating seems to be: When in doubt, put it in a bowl. Gone are the days when bowls were used only for soup or cereal. These days, we put all manner of things in bowls that once had no place there, from poached eggs to smoothies. Even Prince Harry and Megan Markle chose to offer breakfast food to guests at their wedding in bowls rather than on plates … Capacious bowls feel like the right container for the Asian-oriented dishes that many of us now prefer, not to mention pasta.”

“A ‘wellness bowl,’ also known as a Buddha bowl, reassures the eater that they have all their nutritional bases covered. The ingredients are all visible, one after another, like bullet points on a to-do list: tofu, green vegetables, quinoa, some kind of obscure seeds … Our abandonment of plates for bowls suggests that we are reverting to the simpler times of one-pot cookery, liberating ourselves once and for all from fork anxiety. Today, the thing that we are most short of in the kitchen is not necessarily money but time. Sales of bowls have climbed in tandem with the rise of the Instant Pot and the pressure cooker, time-saving gadgets that produce tasty dishes too sloppy for a plate.”

“Both bowls and spoons have always been associated with children; spoons are the most benign utensils, lacking the sharp edges of a knife or the spikes of a fork. It is from a bowl that most of us take our first gummy mouthfuls of solid food. The rise of the bowl in our lives suggests that many eaters are in a permanently fragile state, treating every meal as comfort food. In a world of alarming news, maybe we all need something to cradle.”

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Step Right Up: Hot Dog Water

Global News: Thousands of people packed Vancouver’s Main Street on Sunday to take in the annual Car Free Day festival. And among the food vendors, merchant stands and music was one stall that stood out, inviting the public to enjoy a chilled, refreshing, healthful glass of Hot Dog Water … The drink’s impressive marketing advertises it as gluten-free, Keto diet-compatible, rich in sodium and a source of electrolytes. It also promises to help the drinker lose weight, increase brain function and look younger.”

“A bottle of Hot Dog water would set the adventurous water fan back $37.99, while a Father’s Day special’ will get you the bargain price of $75 for two. Hot Dog Water lip balm, breath spray and body fragrance were also for sale.”

“Tucked into the fine print at the bottom of the Hot Dog Water sales pitch is this: Hot Dog Water in its absurdity hopes to encourage critical thinking related to product marketing and the significant role it can play in our purchasing choices.”

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Ikea Future: (Not) Plastics!

Fast Company: “By 2020, if you order ‘Nordic fruit water’ with your vegetarian meatballs at one of Ikea’s in-store restaurants, you’ll no longer be able to drink it with a plastic straw. The company will stop using single-use plastic including straws, cutlery, and drink stirrers in its cafes … It will also remove single-use plastic products, like garbage bags and 200-packs of straws, from the shelves of the store.”

“It’s a small part of the company’s sustainability strategy. Ikea is already planning to phase out virgin oil-based plastic in its products, moving to either plastic made from renewable materials or recycled plastic. It was the first major retailer to stop using plastic bags, in 2007. It invested in a plastic recycling plant in 2017 to help with that goal.”

Sander Defruyt, who leads the New Plastics Economy initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, comments: “I think the approach of Ikea is interesting in that they take a full-systems perspective. They recognize the need to eliminate some of the most problematic or unnecessary plastics where possible, and at the same time, also make sure that they decouple the plastics they do use from virgin fossil fuel plastics by using recycled plastic as much as possible and for the remainder switch to renewables. It’s a nuanced and quite comprehensive strategy.”

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Heaven’s Door Whiskey: Don’t Knock It

The New York Times: “In late 2015, an unexpected name popped up in the liquor industry press: Bob Dylan. A trademark application for the term ‘bootleg whiskey’ had been filed under Mr. Dylan’s name. Among those who noticed the news was Marc Bushala, 52, a lifelong fan and a liquor entrepreneur … So he reached out, and after being vetted by Mr. Dylan’s representatives, Mr. Bushala … talked to Mr. Dylan by phone, and proposed working together on a portfolio of small-batch whiskeys.”

“Next month, he and Mr. Dylan will introduce Heaven’s Door, a collection of three whiskeys — a straight rye, a straight bourbon and a “double-barreled” whiskey. They are Mr. Dylan’s entry into the booming celebrity-branded spirits market, the latest career twist for an artist who has spent five decades confounding expectations … Heaven’s Door is meant to conjure a broader idea of Mr. Dylan that is part Renaissance man, part nighthawk. The label design is derived from his ironwork sculptures, with rural iconography — crows, wagon wheels — in silhouette. And in promotional photos lighted like classic movie stills, a tuxedo-clad Mr. Dylan, 76, gazes off in a dark cocktail lounge or lonely diner, glass in hand.”

“Mr. Bushala and Ryan Perry, the chief operating officer, struggled to interpret Mr. Dylan’s wishes. Often they came in the form of enigmatic comments or simply glances … He and Mr. Perry recalled Mr. Dylan’s tasting a sample of the double-barreled whiskey and saying that something was missing. ‘It should feel like being in a wood structure,’ he said … Months later, the men returned with a sample that they felt embodied ‘that sweet, musty smell of a barn,’ Mr. Bushala said, and presented it to Mr. Dylan, who commented approvingly.”

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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.”

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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.”

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