Seltzer Hackers Pop SodaStream’s Bubble

The Wall Street Journal: “SodaStream’s popular countertop machines helped lower the cost of sparkling water by allowing users to make their own. For a hard-core group of fizzy-water fans, it’s still not cheap enough … In an effort to save more on each pour, these customers are hacking into their SodaStream machines by attaching their own canisters of carbon dioxide, often purchased at welding-supply or paintball stores … These gambits allow the hackers to avoid the roughly $15 fee the company charges for refill gas canisters—which fit into the back of the machine and can carbonate 60 1-liter bottles of water.”

“The practice of SodaStream hacking has become so popular that a small cottage industry has sprung up to support it. Vendors sell special adapters to support unofficial carbon dioxide canisters on the SodaStream, while others offer to refill the SodaStream canisters in ads on Craigslist and Facebook … In one popular video, the poster points to a 5-pound aluminum carbon dioxide tank and says, ‘You can steal these from landfills pretty much anywhere’… Israel-based SodaStream International Ltd. discourages the hacking and said tampering with the gas canisters violates its terms of service. It added it isn’t responsible for any ‘bodily harm that could be caused by misuse’.”

“Deviant Ollam, 42, of Seattle, said he bought a special adapter that allows him to attach a 20-pound carbon dioxide tank directly to his SodaStream machine … He said he purchased ‘food grade’ carbon dioxide from his local gas-supply store, which some SodaStream customers consider to be safer than the grade of carbon dioxide welders use. For him, the appeal is less about saving a few cents than using his wits to get ahead. His family is drinking far more sparkling water than they did before, just because they can, he said. ‘Why drink regular water again when you can have the ‘I’m sticking it to the man’ feeling?’ Mr. Ollam said.”

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RH Negative: A Restoration of Excess

The New York Times: “On the second Saturday in September, the new RH Gallery opened its doors to the Meatpacking District, looking just as you’d expect: a glowering, 90,000-square-foot landscape of poured concrete flecked with bronze, stone and glass, through which sails a flotilla of enormous gray velvet and white linen sofas … Welcome to the latest iteration of what began as Restoration Hardware, a chain of home goods that in recent years has become best-known less for dependable fixtures than its cumbersome catalog mailings, once reaching 17 pounds.”

“This is RH’s 85th store, and its biggest. It is architecturally quite lovely, the low-slung, hundred-year-old brick building erupting into a tough, industrial-looking glass and steel three-story structure with a rooftop garden and restaurant … It opened the same week the parent company of Henri Bendel announced the closing of all its stores, marking both another death spasm of a certain kind of retail experience, and the unlikely success of a brand that has placed the same Belgian linen sofas, French caned beds and reproduction African objects in houses across the country.”

“The new RH store was seven years in the making. It opened with a flashy party that had caviar bars and dewy-faced models, Martha Stewart and Ryan Seacrest.”

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Bar Moxy Debuts Soft-Serve Vending Machine

The Wall Street Journal: “Make way for soft-serve vending machines … Bar Moxy, an all-day dining and drinking spot located in Midtown’s Moxy Times Square hotel, is unveiling such a machine this week—the first of its kind in New York City, according to the hospitality company Tao Group, which manages the hotel’s food and beverage operations.”

“The vending machine, which accepts credit cards, cash and Apple Pay, offers two flavors: vanilla with a spicy boost from Mike’s Hot Honey, a chile-infused sweetener, and dairy-free chocolate … The technology for dispensing soft-serve from a vending machine is fairly straightforward: Users make their selections from a video display, then wait less than a minute for the order to be processed and delivered through a small opening at the front of the machine. A spoon pops out of another opening.”

“Tao Group managing partner Matt Strauss won’t say how much the company spent for the ice-cream machine. But Rich Koehl, vice president of Stoelting Foodservice, the device’s Wisconsin-based manufacturer, said its list price is $68,000 .. Tao Group must sell a few hundred servings each month to cover costs, including for the ice cream, which it makes using its own recipe, Mr. Strauss said. The machine’s real value, he added, could come from the buzz it generates, potentially driving more customer traffic to Bar Moxy as a result.”

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How Patagonia Patches Together Loyalty

The Washington Post: “’If it’s broke, fix it!’ is a Patagonia company motto, and the company takes the motto seriously. It has operated a recycling and repair program, Worn Wear, in various permutations since 2005. In its Reno, Nev., service center, Patagonia operates the country’s largest outdoor gear-repair shop. During the 2017 fiscal year, it made 50,295 clothing repairs.”

“Fourteen employees are deployed to replace zippers, which accounted for 30,000 of last year’s repairs … Stores send up to 600 items a week. Others are mailed directly by customers. The company receives items that have been chewed by dogs (dogs have a thing about the plastic snaps at the back of ball caps, it turns out), faded by sunlight, burned by campfires and ripped by sharp rocks or sticks. Even after years of wear, garments get fixed, no questions asked. Items have been returned that are nearly a half-century old, dating to the infancy of the company founded by Yvon Chouinard in the mid-1970s.”

“Patagonia also has a small fleet of repair rigs that travel to dozens of college campuses and ski resorts, advertising these excursions much like band tours. Patagonia staffers offer to make free repairs (even to non-Patagonia items) and teach students and skiers how to make their own fixes. In addition to putting on learn-to-sew clinics, staffers organize events where students learn how to repair an item and then get to keep it for free. They also promote campus clothing swaps … If items returned by customers are too damaged to be resold, they are designated for reuse. Patagonia works with several entrepreneurs who ‘upcycle’ old garments into purses, scarves or other items.”

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Social Media & The Old College Try

The New York Times: “As students return to campuses, they’re constantly checking their Instagram, Snapchat and other social media accounts — so companies are turning to many of them to promote products right alongside photos of family, friends and the new puppy. For busy students, it is an easy, low-pressure way to make extra money or get free products. For marketers, it is a simple way to reach young people — a supplement to their other social media efforts, including hiring full-time promoters.”

“Though there are no comprehensive data for how many college students promote brands online, interviews with university officials, marketing consultants, brand representatives and students make it clear that the social media platform is big business on campus. Many of the deals are for Instagram posts, but some brands also have students posting on other services, like Twitter and Facebook.”

“On the Victoria’s Secret website, you can search for the names of its representatives at 100 campuses, in schools from Columbia University to Grand Valley State University. At Virginia Tech, as many as 1,000 of the 30,000 undergrads are being paid to promote products as varied as mascara and storage bins … Under Federal Trade Commission rules, people using their personal social media accounts to advertise products are supposed to disclose on their accounts the brands they represent … But these guidelines are often ignored. In April 2017, the trade commission sent more than 90 letters to influencers and brands reminding them of the guidelines.”

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Consumers are ‘High’ on Seltzer

The Wall Street Journal: “Sparkling water sales are soaring in the U.S. as consumers … ditch soda for healthier, more natural beverages. And with that explosion has come a wave of variants: caffeinated and alcoholic versions, sparkling coconut water and coffee, even seltzer laced with cannabis. Americans will buy an estimated 821 million gallons of sparkling water this year … That is nearly three times as much as 2008.”

“Jess Faulstich, 36, of Los Angeles is so hooked on flavored sparkling water that she takes one to bed in case she’s thirsty during the night. She loves coffee but drinks caffeinated sparkling water to keep her teeth white. A technology trainer by day and a stand-up comedian by night, she gained several pounds in the past year from drinking alcohol at clubs. Now she drinks hard seltzer, when she can find it, because it’s light on alcohol and on calories. ‘I’m surprised my bloodstream is not carbonated,’ she said.”

“Heineken NV, for its part, has a different type of buzz on tap. The company’s Lagunitas brand in July launched an IPA-inspired sparkling water line infused with cannabinoids. Its name: Hi-Fi Hops.”

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FAO Flagship To Return to NYC

The Wall Street Journal: “A dominant presence in Midtown Manhattan for decades before its closure in 2015, FAO Schwarz is coming to life again with a new, 20,000-square-foot Rockefeller Center location, set to open in November. ThreeSixty Group Inc., a California-based firm, acquired the retail brand from Toys ‘R’ Us in October 2016 for an undisclosed price … But in an era when bricks-and-mortar retailers struggle to stay competitive as consumers increasingly go online for their shopping needs, FAO is making its Rockefeller Center location as much about the experience as the buying.”

“That means the store won’t just be staffed with traditional sales clerks, but also product demonstrators, magicians and men and women playing various costumed roles, including toy soldiers … the company is going so far as to hold auditions, rather than just the standard interviews, for retail staff.”

“Ultimately, ThreeSixty Brands may not be looking to make a profit on the Rockefeller Center store so much as use it to promote the FAO name, said Jed Wexler, a retail expert who runs 818 Agency, a New York firm. ‘It feels like an advertising play,’ he said. In any case, the New York store, which will be considered the FAO flagship, is part of a larger push. ThreeSixty Brands is also launching a smaller store at LaGuardia Airport this fall and one in China in 2019.”

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Applestone ‘Butchers’ The Vending Machine

Quartz: “It’s midnight and you need a steak. What do you do? If you live near Stone Ridge or Accord, New York, you just head to the nearest Applestone Meat Co. 24-hour butcher shop. You won’t find a bleary-eyed staff of overnight shifters working though. A row of vending machines, organized by type of meat—beef, pork, lamb, sausages, and ground meat—stand ready, stocked with steaks, chops, and burgers-to-be.”

“Applestone … envisioned the system as way to reach more customers, and make the shopping process more seamless. It’s more for busy families, less about the ability to get grass-fed burgers in the middle of the night—though that would be an excellent use of them, as well … That said, anyone who wants a smile with their ribeye can purchase meat from a customer service window at the Stone Ridge store from 11am to 6pm daily. Customer service, it turns out, isn’t totally dead.”

“Vending machines are a national obsession in Japan, where they sell pretty much everything imaginable, and ramen dispensers popped up in San Francisco earlier this year. And the French have oyster vending machines.”

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Online Feels ‘Off’ to Most Shoppers

Supermarket News: “Going by the trends in retail grocery, online ordering of groceries and meal kits likely stand near the top. But by the numbers, the vast majority of Americans are doing neither, a new Gallup poll finds. Of 1,033 U.S. adults surveyed, 84% said they never order groceries online and 89% never order meal kits, according to Gallup, which released the study results this week.”

“The small percentage of consumers that do order groceries or meal kits online don’t do it very often. Just 11% reported they order groceries online for pickup or delivery twice a month or less, and 4% said they do so once a week or more. Meanwhile, 9% of respondents order meal kits for home delivery two times monthly or less, and only 1% do so once weekly or more.”

Lydia Saad of Gallup comments: “Services like PeaPod, Instacart, Shipt and Amazon Fresh that cut out the trip to the grocery store appeal mainly to those short on time: parents with children younger than age 18 and employed adults. Higher-income Americans are also bigger adopters of grocery delivery, either because higher income means they can afford more groceries or they have greater access to mobile technology like smartphones and tablets that make ordering online easier.”

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Craft Beer Lightens Up

The Wall Street Journal: “While mega breweries flaunt puny carb counts, microbrew fans tend to assume that ‘lite’ means flavorless. Lately, however, craft brewing has been quietly losing weight, squeezing into macro-brew territory with beers as low in alcohol and calories as mass-made lagers—only deceptively, defiantly flavorful. Small-scale breweries have, historically, produced big, bold brews … But a strange thing happened in 2007 when Dogfish Head Brewery released Festina Peche, a slightly sour, peach-infused wheat that barely tipped the scales at 4.5% ABV and 8 IBUs (International Bittering Units): It sold.”

“While Dogfish still sells truckloads of crushers such as 120 Minute IPA, the brewery’s SeaQuench Ale, a 4.9% gose released in 2016, has been the fastest-growing beer in the company’s history … Lagunitas and other breweries like them are retooling accordingly. Yes, Lagunitas, makers of boozy bruisers like aptly named Maximus (8.1% ABV) and Hop Stoopid (8% ABV) is releasing light beer … Tuning down their brews shifted Dogfish Head‘s source of inspiration, too, from American hop fields to the European grain belt.”

For “Dogfish Head’s latest light beer, Grisette About It! (3.5% ABV and under 100 calories) … the brewers chose grisette, an old-timey French wheat-beer style. To emphasize its grainy character without carb-loading, they used a low-sugar, 17th-century oat variety from Columbia, S.C., granary Anson Mills, along with malted wheat and a little honey.”

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