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.”

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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).

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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.”

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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’.”

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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.”

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Chock Full O’What? Yes We Have No Nuts

The New York Times: “It is almost as familiar a part of New York lore as a taxi or King Kong or the building that he climbed — a can of Chock full o’Nuts coffee. But then it became a New York export. And as the quintessentially recognizable can crossed the Mississippi River in a push to go national, concerns arose about one word on the label that might not play well in Omaha or Oklahoma City — nuts. So Chock full o’Nuts has put what amounts to a giant disclaimer on the can: ‘No nuts’.”

“Do people really think that Chock full o’Nuts cans are chock-full of nuts?Apparently so. Convincing consumers that there are no nuts in Chock full o’Nuts is, well, a tough marketing nut to crack.” Marketing chief Dennis Crawford comments: “Every time we’ve done consumer research on why some people do not purchase the product, the No. 1 thing that comes back to us is there’s something in the coffee. Most of the people in New York — we’ve been there forever and they get it, but if you’re in Omaha and suddenly we’re on the shelf and you see the brand for the first time, there’s confusion.”

“The ‘no nuts’ panel on Chock full o’Nuts cans summarizes the history of Chock full o’Nuts. ‘1920s — we sold nuts. 1930s — we sold nuts and coffee. Now — we don’t sell nuts. We just sell coffee. But we like our name’.”

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LaCroix: The Essence of Effervescence

The Wall Street Journal: “The makers of LaCroix sparkling water go to great lengths to explain what isn’t used to create the beverage’s 20 flavors. There are no calories, no sugars, no artificial ingredients, no castoreum, no genetically modified organisms and no added phosphoric acid, according to the company. LaCroix nutritional labels contain only zeros. LaCroix is less forthcoming about what is actually inside its ubiquitous neon cans. The company says the flavors, such as peach-pear and pomme bayá, are derived from ‘natural essence oils’.”

“Essence is, essentially, the mystery behind a billion-dollar brand. As cases of LaCroix pile up to the ceiling of grocery stores across the U.S., die-hard fans admit they don’t have a clue what’s inside—and don’t care, either … Ask LaCroix executives for a definition of essence and you may receive something short of a clear response. ‘Essence is our picture word,’ LaCroix spokesman Rod Liddle said in a written response to questions.” He added: “Essence is—FEELINGS and Sensory Effects!”

“Essence isn’t defined in U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, an FDA spokeswoman said … Essence is created by heating at high temperatures the skin, rinds or broken down remnants of fruits or vegetables. Alcohol is sometimes added to the mixture. The vapors that rise off the stew are captured, condensed and eventually sold by the 55-gallon barrel … The LaCroix spokesman didn’t pour cold water on that interpretation, but wouldn’t provide cut-and-dried details of its manufacturing process.”

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Truth to Power: Tesla Flips The Switch

Quartz: “In 2016, Tesla sold two different versions of their Model S and X electric cars. One version had a 60 kilowatt per hour battery, and another a 75. The 75-kilowatt version cost $9,000 more. Prior to Irma’s landfall, Tesla announced that it would flip the proverbial switch, and allow the 60-kilowatt cars to become 75-kilowatt cars. This enabled the 60-kilowatt vehicles to go 230 miles per charge, rather than 200 … Tesla was able to upgrade the kilowattage in the cheaper version of the car because both models actually have the same 75-kilowatt battery. The company just chooses to limit the capacity in some cars so they can have two different price points.”

“The response to Tesla’s decision has been mixed. While some observers congratulated the company for proactively reacting to the impending storm, others were disturbed by the revelation that the company could so easily increase the capacity on their cars. If the battery could be more powerful without any extra cost to Tesla, ask critics, why deny this capability to certain drivers?”

“The answer: Limiting battery capacity actually makes Teslas more affordable. The extra $9,000 that Tesla gets from its less price-sensitive customers is what allows it to charge a lower price for the lesser version of the car, the one that more cost-conscious consumers might purchase (though of course anyone purchasing a $60,000 Tesla is not poor). Perverse as it may seem, having a version of the car that gets less mileage actually makes it more accessible.”

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Costco Knockoffs: It’s Cruel to Be KIND

The Wall Street Journal: “Kirkland Signature, Costco’s store brand, is challenging manufacturers hoping to earn or retain a coveted spot at the warehouse retailer. Since 1995, Costco has used its Kirkland products to attract shoppers, building a reputation for quality and low prices on milk, toilet paper, men’s shirts and golf balls bearing the unassuming red logo. About a quarter of Costco’s $118.7 billion in annual sales come from Kirkland Signature products, and the percentage is growing, company executives say.”

“Costco often introduces a new Kirkland product when its buyers or executives believe a brand isn’t selling at the lowest possible price.” For example: “Kind Bars sold for about $18 for a pack of 18 … When almond prices dropped in 2016 … Costco developed the Kirkland Signature Nut Bars, made by Leclerc Foods USA, which is owned by Leclerc Group, a Canadian manufacturer, and now sells a 30-pack for $17 in stores.”

“Kind Bars are still carried at Costco, though mostly new varieties, including fruit bars, mini nut bars and a peanut-free bar. ‘We look forward to continuing to grow with them,’ a Kind spokeswoman said.”

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