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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Chick-fil-A: Service Trumps Politics

Business Insider: “In a few years, Chick-fil-A has managed to shed its controversial image to appeal to a broader swath of America, all without losing its loyal customers base. Chick-fil-A’s successful expansion north came after its biggest controversy. Dan Cathy, the son of the late Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, set off a fury among gay-rights supporters in 2012 that led to nationwide protests after he told the Baptist Press that the company was ‘guilty as charged’ for backing ‘the biblical definition of a family’.”

“These days, Chick-fil-A is warning all its franchisees against speaking out publicly or getting involved in anything that could blur the line between their private beliefs and their public roles as extensions of the Chick-fil-A brand, the company has said … The company still encourages its franchisees to get ‘entrenched’ in their communities … But Chick-fil-A says its focus now — both for local and corporate involvement and philanthropy — is on youth and education causes.”

Also: “Chick-fil-A started modernizing its corporate offices in Atlanta and opened an ‘innovation center’ modeled after the offices of Silicon Valley tech companies … The company hired chefs, food scientists, and dietitians to experiment with new menu items to appeal to upmarket customers who frequent chains like Shake Shack and Panera and are looking for healthier options … Key to Chick-fil-A’s reinvention has been its customer service, which consistently ranks No. 1 in nationwide surveys.” And: The company is investing in its employees. Mark Cohen, a Columbia Business School professor, comments: “Your employees are your ambassadors to the public. The folks who are staffing those Chick-fil-A stores are aggressively reengaging with people and talking about how great the company is.”

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Meal-Kit Meltdown: DIY Meals Are Cooked

The Wall Street Journal: “The promise of meal kits was to finally make cooking easy enough that Americans would actually do it. Proponents hoped that a cooking revival also could ease the nation’s obesity crisis—a way to reclaim control of what we eat from the big food manufacturers and restaurant chains … the amount of cooking required has apparently been too much, even for the farm-to-table crowd. (So much chopping!) Industry analysts believe that meal-kit purveyors are having trouble retaining customers.”

“The companies are only now starting to acknowledge the truth about the American home cook. Blue Apron recently introduced recipes that are faster to prepare. Amazon and other more recent entrants such as FreshRealm, Gobble and Terra’s Kitchen are going further, dialing back the prep work to almost zero.”

“Americans talk a good game about the importance of home cooking and family meals, but we still want convenience above all. To succeed, meal kits won’t just have to be easier than starting from scratch; they will have to be as easy as takeout.”

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Retrocycles: How Indian Throttles Harley

The New York Times: Harley-Davidson “now faces perhaps its most trying challenge in decades. Polaris, an established American company with manufacturing know-how and a revered motorcycle brand in Indian, is quickly making big strides … Indian’s sales grew 17 percent in the second quarter of this year, while Harley’s sales shrank nearly 7 percent. Overall sales for large-displacement bikes, the kind that Harley specializes in, shrank 9 percent in the second quarter of this year.”

“The rebirth started well, with attractive bikes earning positive reviews from enthusiast publications … All Indian motorcycles are built in Spirit Lake, Iowa. While its bikes like the Scout and the just-released Scout Bobber are aimed at younger buyers, most models revel in heritage, with styling and names that hark back to the company’s prewar glory days. They represent, as Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book, an auto research firm, put it, ‘a cool theme married to a modern chassis’ and particularly appeal to buyers with a ‘what have you done for me lately’ outlook on brand loyalty.”

“Inevitably, Indian’s retro approach makes the brand a head-to-head competitor for Harley-Davidson, offering bikes in the touring, cruiser and midsize classes as well as the popular bagger category, or bikes carrying saddlebags but not the full windscreen and gear of a long-distance touring machine … To be sure, there is little chance that Indian will run Harley-Davidson out of business anytime soon. Harley’s sales last year, some 260,000 motorcycles worldwide, generated revenue of $6 billion.”

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Cut-Throat: Lidl vs. Walmart, Kroger & Aldi

Axios: The German discount grocer Lidl made its United States debut this June, opening 20 stores in the Carolinas and Virginia just weeks after its compatriot Aldi announced its own expansion plans in the U.S. earlier this year … Lidl entered the market aggressively, with prices in its Winston Salem, NC, store that were 9.1% lower than the local Walmart, according to a study conducted in June by Jefferies analyst Christopher Mandeville. Given those results and Lidl’s ‘enjoyable’ shopping experience, he says Lidl could be ‘highly disruptive’ to incumbents like Walmart.”

“But the tide may be shifting, as it appears Walmart has cut the price differential to just 2%, according to a survey by Oppenheimer that looked at prices roughly a month after Jefferies visited the same locations … Oppenheimer analysts Rupesh Parikh and Erica Eiler write, ‘pricing appears dynamic and cut-throat’ at the Walmart and Lidl locations they visited in Winston Salem. ‘During our visit in the afternoon at Walmart, [a gallon of] milk was priced at $2.08. When we went back in the evening, milk dropped to $1.95. Lidl had its own deals, with a carton of eggs on offer for just 52 cents’.”

“Parikh and Eiler think that Kroger (rather than Walmart) is more threatened by German upstarts. Aldi has been in the U.S. longer than Lidl, and has big plans to become the third-largest grocer in America. But Parikh and Eiler were unimpressed, calling Lidl ‘a bigger and nicer Aldi,’ which had ‘wider aisles, enhanced lighting, and a bit more upscale feel,’ they write … No doubt the grocery shoppers of Winston Salem and other markets are enjoying the ongoing price war.”

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Small Grocers Boost DC Neighborhoods

The Washington Post: “Good Food Markets is just one of a handful of neighborhood grocery stores that have opened across Washington DC recently, part of what appears to be a resurgence of small-scale groceries catering to neighborhood residents — in stark contrast to the trend of disappearing mom-and-pop stores in small towns across the country. Even as more openings are in the pipeline for large retail chains such as Whole Foods and Wegmans, the smaller neighborhood stores are making their mark. By one count, at least six have opened since 2015, and more are in the works.”

“There is a ‘renaissance of the neighborhood,’ said Keith Sellars, president and chief executive of the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, a nonprofit, ‘and people want services that they can walk to’ as well as ‘convenience on all levels.’ The new corner groceries are part of a broader back-to-the-city movement in parts of the country, said Brett Theodos, a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. That trend, Theodos said, is driving demand for a ‘job-rich, transit-rich environment’ and ‘the meeting together of commercial and residential sectors in a way that feels very authentic and vibrant’.”

“Owners of these newer neighborhood grocery markets push back against the idea that their stores, which often stock more expensive, specialty items, price out lower-income consumers and are yet another instance of gentrification. For one thing, many of the new stores have opened in spaces that had stood vacant for some time … at Good Food Markets, the driving mission of the entire business is ‘bringing the overall progress of prosperity and development across the District,’ co-founder Kris Garin said. Good Food Markets intentionally chose to open on Rhode Island Avenue … where close to a quarter of the population are food stamp recipients, said Philip Sambol, the vice president for operations. The goal is to make healthy food accessible to everyone.”

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Cult of Queue: The Thrill of The Wait

The New York Times: “Theolus Jackson slouched against the stanchion separating him from the entrance of Supreme, the streetwear emporium on Lafayette Street in SoHo. He had registered on the company’s website to pick up a ticket assuring him a spot near the head of a line that by 10 a.m. that day spooled around the corner toward Broadway.” He comments: “Most of the time I have my music, so I’m not bothered. I come every week — I like the vibe — and I just chill.”

Jeff Carvalho of Highsnobiety explains: “These kids don’t come to go into the store. They want to be in the line. The line is the new community. When 200 to 300 kids are lining up outside of a store, it’s because they want to be part of something.”

“Today, the queue is partly a resellers’ market: energetic young entrepreneurs snapping up wares in multiples, then flipping them at soaring markups on eBay or selling them for pocket change to finance their own buys … For many others, though, the wait itself is sufficient reward.” Noah Callahan-Bever, the editor of Complex, observes: “The death of the shopping center has created this void in kids’ lives. It’s being filled in part by this society of kids, some known to each other only from the internet, all of them into this niche product that acts as a social identifier. For them, standing in line for a T-shirt or baseball cap is a way of telling the world that you know about something that not everyone is hip to.”

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Supermarket Squeeze: Too Many Stores

The Wall Street Journal: Commercial square footage of retail food space per capita last year set a record, with 4.15 square feet of food retail per person, according to CoStar Group, a commercial real-estate firm, nearly 30 times the amount of space allocated to groceries at major chains in 1950 … Part of the expansion comes from grocers, who accelerated their store openings as a way to drive sales growth after the 2008 recession. At the same time, club chains, dollar stores, pharmacies—and even gas stations—increased their fresh food offerings to drive traffic and boost profits.”

“The food-retail sector has become even more saturated at a time when competition is only getting fiercer, particularly at the two ends of the shopping spectrum. Growing European deep-discounters Aldi and Lidl are vying for U.S. market share, hoping their prices will win over the budget-conscious shopper while internet companies like Amazon.com Inc. are trying to lure higher-income grocery shoppers online. Regional supermarkets and conventional ones such as Kroger Co. and Albertsons Cos. are the most likely to get squeezed in the process, according to analysts.”

“While about 37% of sales of consumable items such as food and beverages still take place at traditional supermarkets, with the sector posting more than $440 billion in sales last year, it was a 6% drop from 2015, according to Inmar Willard Bishop Analytics. Meanwhile, convenience stores sold $73 billion worth of prepared foods, beverages and other food service last year, up 72% from 2010, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. Two-thirds of sales at dollar stores come from food, beverages and other consumables, while they account for about a third of transactions at pharmacies.”

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Uniqlo Tries Airport Vending Machines

Quartz: “Heattech tops and UltraLight down jackets are two of Uniqlo’s big sellers, items that represent the brand’s style of simple but highly functional clothes. And now they’ll be sold in one of retail’s simplest and most functional of venues: vending machines … The machines will have a variety of colors and styles for women and men, changing with the seasons and local customer needs, and dispensed upon purchase in small boxes or canisters. The airport locations are especially fitting for the brand’s signature thermals and jackets, which are designed to be thin but warm and easily packable.”

“Uniqlo’s vending machines … are more of an experiment, offering a cheap, efficient way to introduce the brand and its down jackets ($69.90 in the vending machines) and Heattech tops ($14.90) to a new audience … They can also give Uniqlo insight on US consumers, which Uniqlo has been trying to reach—not always successfully—for years. In urban centers such as New York, the brand has found a firm foothold, but it has struggled to get traction in suburban malls.”

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The Killer Instinct: How Men Shop

The Washington Post: A new survey by Men’s Health magazine “found that 84 percent of men are now the primary grocery shoppers in their households, marking a 19 percent increase from a decade ago … It is worth noting that Men’s Health surveyed only men. Other surveys of both men and women have concluded that women continue to do slightly more of the country’s food-buying: NPD Group, for example, estimates that men are the primary grocery shoppers in 41 percent of U.S. households, while market research firm VideoMining puts that figure at about 49 percent of shoppers.”

“In any case, there is mounting evidence that more men are shopping for groceries than in previous generations. The reasons for those shifts are twofold, experts say. Gender roles are shifting, which means men are taking on more household responsibilities. And Americans are increasingly putting off marriage … And it doesn’t hurt that ‘there’s a younger generation of man who’s actively interested in food,’ said Paco Underhill, chief executive of Envirosell.”

“But there are still pronounced differences in how men and women approach grocery shopping … Case in point: Women are most likely to buy 12-packs of beer, while men typically buy six-packs, according to Underhill.” He comments: “Men tend to be hunters: They want to kill something quickly, drag it out and feel successful. Women, though, they’re thinking ahead and planning accordingly.”

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