Little Damage: Almond Charcoal Ice Cream!

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April Lavalle: “Little Damage Ice Cream Shop in Los Angeles, California is flipping the bird at all those ‘unicorn’-inspired sweet treats by creating a frozen confection that will take you to the dark side.Their pitch-black, almond-charcoal flavored soft serve ice cream is taking Instagram by storm, and it will definitely inject a little Halloween into your favorite summer treat.”

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Chop & Shop: Groceries Curate Shopper’s Meals

The Wall Street Journal: “Hy-Vee Inc., a chain of 244 Midwestern supermarkets, has begun a meal-preparation program that runs similarly to a book club. A group of five to 12 customers schedule a time to gather in a separate room in the store that may have large working tables, a stove and a dishwasher. Each group member selects one recipe. The group prepares and divides up the meals for everyone to take home … Store staff does all the chopping and cleanup. Customers can sip wine while assembling ingredients. Cost is about $10 a person plus the grocery bill, divided evenly among participants.”

“Schenectady, N.Y.-based PriceChopper/Market … has launched a choose-your-own-adventure case in the meat department. Customers start with a sauce … and select their meat, which is prepared and cut. Then, they are led to prepared and packaged vegetable mixes … Then, the starch: Packages of lime-cilantro rice or mashed sweet potatoes … Below are recipe cards with preparation suggestions … The recipes take 15 minutes to prepare … serve four and cost $20 to $25.”

“Coborn’s, a Minnesota chain of supermarkets, redesigned certain stores to include a “chop shop” area, where shoppers can bring produce to be chopped for them. It also eliminated long tables of fruits and vegetables in favor of farmers market style food displays. The deli department is now the “kitchen”, and the first thing shoppers see when they enter is employees making brick-oven pizzas.”

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#SecondBreakfast: Multiple Morning Meals

The Wall Street Journal: “Americans in recent years have adopted the practice by eating multiple small meals in the morning … Americans still typically eat around 8 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., but upticks in eating are also happening before and after the traditional breakfast time … The increasing popularity of multiple breakfasts is boosting sales of convenient breakfast foods.”

“Second breakfasts tend to be smaller and slightly more savory than first breakfasts, says Jeanine Bassett, vice president of global consumer insights at General Mills Inc. … This year the company launched Yoplait Dippers, a line of Greek yogurts packaged with snacks for dipping. Vanilla bean yogurt comes with oat crisps; chipotle ranch yogurt with tortilla chips.”

“The Wonderful Co.’s pistachios are usually eaten in the afternoon, but the company aims to expand into what it sees as the fast-growing morning-eating time … To boost easy workplace eating, this month the company is rolling out its first pistachio snack packs, in 1.5 ounce portions, and a new campaign emphasizing the nut’s high protein and fiber content and low calories.”

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Who Will Win The Retail Race?

The Wall Street Journal: “Can physical retailers build intimate digital relationships with their customers—and use that data to update their stores—faster than online-first retailers can learn how to lease property, handle inventory and manage retail workers?”

“It isn’t hard to picture today’s e-commerce companies becoming brick-and-mortar retailers. It’s harder to bet on traditional retailers becoming as tech savvy as their e-competition.”

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How To Kick Out Your Customers

The Wall Street Journal: “Letting guests linger as long they please could cost an extra $30,000 a year. Getting folks out is a tricky task for nearly every type of businesses. Jonathan Greenstein, owner of J. Greenstein & Co., a Cedarhurst, N.Y., auction house for antique Judaica, says some people linger past viewing hours at the pre-auction exhibition, but never appear at the auction itself … Still, it’s impossible to identify the big spenders, so he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

“The bigger the venue, the more massive the operation, of course. At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, an army of guards warn guests 45 minutes before closing, starting in the center of the 52-acre spread to ensure visitors farthest from the exits reach the gates in time. At Macy’s in Manhattan’s Herald Square, about 15 minutes before the posted closing time clerks fan through all 1.2 million square feet of retail space, offering help with final transactions and checking all 850 fitting rooms.”

“Of course, if patrons really want to stay, why not let them? The American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, which warns guests of closing time in several different languages, gave in to demand a few years ago and started offering adult sleepovers. For $350, patrons can camp overnight under the famous blue whale. Such events have sold out within a day, the museum says.”

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Facebook Chatbots Test ‘Conversational Commerce’

The Washington Post: Mastercard “has partnered with Subway and two other major merchants to launch ‘chatbots,’ which are robots that simulate human conversation. The Subway iteration allows you to order a custom sandwich for pickup, something of a digital version of walking down the chain’s sandwich assembly line.” Cheesecake Factory “allows shoppers to purchase and send out gift cards.” FreshDirect lets shoppers “place orders for groceries and meal kits. The bots will be found within Facebook’s popular Messenger app, and will be powered by Masterpass, the credit card giant’s digital wallet.”

“The debut of the bots will provide a fresh test of shoppers’ appetite for what the industry has dubbed ‘conversational commerce,’ the idea of making a purchase or other customer service transaction through A.I.-powered messaging … Consumers are spending more time online, and yet they are concentrating those minutes in a very limited number of apps. Retailers … are realizing that the best way to snare your interest online might not be with a killer app of their own, but by creating bots that live in the apps that you already use.”

“Facebook has said that more than 33,000 bots have been created for its Messenger app so far. This latest batch demonstrates how differently businesses are approaching the technology at this early stage of the game.”

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Whole Foods: Now Just Another Big Box?

The Wall Street Journal: “Whole Foods Market Inc. wants to cut prices without sacrificing the local products that define its healthy image … Some smaller suppliers and industry consultants say the shift to a more centralized distribution structure and other changes risk compromising Whole Foods’ ability to keep stocked with the latest foodie trends and hot local brands.”

“Many of the changes are being spearheaded by Don Clark, a former Target Corp. executive … The data analytics, centralized purchasing and strict shelf management he brought from Target could save money that Whole Foods can use to lower its relatively high prices … Whole Foods has long divided its 462 stores into 11 regions, each with distinct product offerings like local maple syrup and gourmet pickles. A quarter of Whole Foods shoppers that visited the chain in the past month did so for items they couldn’t find elsewhere, according to a survey by Kantar Retail.”

“Whole Foods co-founder and Chief Executive John Mackey said … his new strategy strikes a balance between the remaining autonomy of regional executives and an easier process for national brands to pitch their products just once at Whole Foods’ Austin, Texas, headquarters. That streamlining will lead to lower prices, he said … But smaller brands and people who work with them say they have less incentive to put up with a more impersonal Whole Foods … And some big brands say Whole Foods’ regionalized approach made it tough to negotiate a nationwide strategy for their brands.”

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Neiman Markups: Out of Fashion

The Wall Street Journal: “Once upon a time, all Neiman needed to do to lift profits was raise prices. That model has since fallen out of fashion … competition from startups like Farfetch.com and Matchesfashion.com are forcing more discounts. Over a recent 24 hours, Farfetch’s prices averaged 2% lower and Matchesfashion’s 15% lower than Neimanmarcus.com’s prices on 32 identical items, according to price-tracking firm Market Track LLC.”

“While brands still exert control, particularly over the newest and most popular items, it is harder for them to police prices that change rapidly across websites and fluctuate with shifting exchange rates, industry executives said … The explosion of discount chains, led by T.J. Maxx , that sell designer brands at cut-rate prices also made consumers rethink the need to pay full price. To compete, high-end department stores rushed in with their own off-price chains—Neiman’s Last Call, Saks Off 5th and Nordstrom Rack.”

“Neiman’s Chief Executive Karen Katz … championed a line of specialty stores called Cusp, which Neiman opened a decade ago, that feature lower-priced clothing and accessories. Neiman stores also have added relatively less expensive goods, such as $700 Prada handbags … Ms. Katz reduced snob appeal by allowing Neiman shoppers to use Visa and Mastercard … Neiman has invested heavily in e-commerce … Not all the moves have worked. After building six Cusp stores, Neiman closed two and stopped development of the chain in 2012.”

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Farfetch: An Operating System for Retailers

Quartz: Farfetch, the wildly successful e-commerce platform that allows luxury-fashion boutiques around the world to sell online without maintaining their own costly digital operations, is … unveiling a demo of what it has modestly dubbed the Store of the Future.”

“The ‘store’ … isn’t actually a store. Rather, it’s a retail platform with a suite of different technology products the company intends for partner shops to mix and match to create their own unique experience.” These include:
“Clothing racks enabled with RFID that detect what the customer is browsing and can populate a wish list. Digital mirrors that let the customer view their wish list and request the items in the desired sizes or colors. A mobile payment system for easy checkouts.”

“Farfetch, which doesn’t have its own stores, sees its platform as an ‘operating system’ for retailers, and hopes third parties will build their own applications on it the way developers build their own apps for iOS or Android. What Farfetch will maintain control over is the customer data that allows the physical store and any digital product to remain synched up.”

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Yes Plz: Locol Coffee Good & Cheap

The New York Times: “Is it possible for high-quality coffee to be inexpensive? At Locol, the self-described ‘revolutionary fast food’ chain opened last year by the chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, the answer is yes. Locol’s stated mission is to bring wholesome, affordable food to underserved neighborhoods … Obtained and roasted according to the same lofty standards found at … any of the small, innovative companies that have transformed the high end of the industry in the past decade, Locol’s coffee is clean and flavorful.”

“But unlike those shops, where a cup can cost $3 or more, Locol charges just $1 for a 12-ounce coffee, or $1.50 if you want milk and sugar. Rather than offer free condiments and pass on the cost to all customers, those who want milky, sweet coffee pay for their pleasures, while drinkers of black coffee get a break … Locol is rolling out a coffee brand called Yes Plz and plans to eventually open coffee windows and stand-alone shops in addition to supplying its three locations.”

Tony Konecny of Locol comments: “Coffee still thinks that mass appeal is a sign of selling out and inauthenticity, but everybody wears Levi’s. I think contemporary coffee has failed to find the consumers it should be finding.” He adds: “What we know about coffee sourcing, coffee roasting, coffee brewing, coffee service — there’s really no reason why you couldn’t make the coffee at every bodega taste good.”

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