Artists & Fleas: The New Retail Acrobats

The Wall Street Journal: “These are tough times for brick-and-mortar retail. Stores are closing locations at a record pace, while chains including the Limited and American Apparel are going belly-up. New York City’s flea markets, holiday markets, farmers markets, night bazaars and art fairs, however, continue to draw big crowds. If it’s sold from a stall or a folding table, it seems, shoppers can’t get enough of it.”

“Artists & Fleas … is opening a new, 5,000 square-foot market on Friday at the prime retail intersection of Prince Street and Broadway in SoHo, the former home of an Armani Exchange. Co-founders Ronen Glimer and Amy Abrams say artisan markets are thriving because shoppers are hungry for unique goods, not to mention connection. They choose their merchants based not just on their wares, but personality. A key question: ‘Is this a fun person?’ On peak days, their Chelsea location attracts up to 10,000 shoppers. That in turn draws merchants willing to pay $65,000 a year for a 50-square-foot booth.”

Cynthia Rybakoff, a jewelry maker, comments: “We might as well be baleen whales scooping up krill. We don’t have to work that hard to bring people in … There is no advantage to having a storefront other than vanity.”

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Nanometer 555: The World’s Most Visible Color

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Fast Company: “Vollebak, the same company that brought us a pink hoodie designed for maximum relaxation, is launching something new: The Nano Meter 555 Midlayer, which features two details that hack human perception to make you, theoretically, as noticeable as possible … The jacket is green, but not just any green. It’s a green that reflects with a 555-nanometer wavelength, which, according to the U.K. National Physics Laboratory, is the point at which the greatest number of cones of your eye are stimulated the most.”

“The second perceptual optimization? Reflective dots that, when applied to the jacket, work much the same way a motion capture system digitizes human movement … The reflective dots allow a human figure to be spotted, in otherwise total darkness, in a quarter of a second.”

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Redbro Chickens: Slow Growth, Better Taste

The New York Times: “Perdue Farms, one of the country’s largest chicken producers, has been raising what are known as slow-growth chickens side by side with the breeds that have made the company so successful. The new birds, a variety known as Redbro, take 25 percent longer, on average, to mature than their conventional cousins, and so are more expensive to raise.”

“Perdue is trying to find just the right slow-growth breed, and it has a strong incentive: A fast-growing cohort of companies that buy vast quantities of poultry, including Whole Foods Market and Panera Bread, are demanding meat from slow-growth chickens, contending that giving birds more time to grow before slaughter will give them a healthier, happier life — and produce better-tasting meat.”

“Consumers would … have to accept some trade-offs: While the new chickens have a fuller flavor, their meat tends to be distributed differently over the body, with more generous thighs and smaller breasts than the chicken most Americans are used to … In marketing slow-growth chickens, Perdue and others will have to make consumers understand why they are paying a higher price … the suggested retail price of a Sonoma Red (from Perdue’s Petaluma Poultry) that weighs four pounds is $16.”

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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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YamChops: Veggie Butchers Let it Bleed

The Wall Street Journal: Michael Abramson, “a 62-year-old vegan, is the proprietor of YamChops, a faux meat market where every patty, link, and fillet is made from edible plants. To entice “veg curious’ meat eaters as well as vegetarians, he takes great pains to make sure his substitutes look as much like the real thing as possible … So his ground beet burger—actually a medley of beets, carrots, turnips, and zucchini bonded with brown rice and mashed potatoes—doesn’t just resemble a beef burger. It oozes a reddish-pink juice, to appeal to those who like it when their burger ‘bleeds a little bit,’ he says.”

“Mr. Abramson is part of a small but growing community of ‘vegetable butchers’ opening shop from Northern California to Sydney to The Hague, hoping to wow discerning diners with substitute lox crafted from carrots and jerky fashioned from wheat gluten … Some staunch vegans and vegetarians say the word butcher should be verboten because it describes the killing of animals. Some traditional butchers and meat lovers meanwhile are rankled by the co-opting of a term they view as theirs. Many are just confused about the point of it all.”

Consultant Michael Whiteman comments: “Why do soldiers in the anti-meat brigade want food that looks like a hot dog and tastes like a hot dog and smells like a hot dog, but isn’t a hot dog? The answer is, of course, they like hot dogs!”

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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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Where Does Coke Taste So Good?

The New York Times: “The latest television commercials for McDonald’s, featuring the actress Mindy Kaling, do not appear on the company’s YouTube channel, Facebook page or Twitter account. In fact, they don’t mention McDonald’s at all — though they do mention Coca-Cola and Google.”

“The ads are part of the chain’s first unbranded marketing campaign, in which it is coyly asking people to search Google for ‘that place where Coke tastes so good.’ The query, meant to capitalize on millions of search engine results that favor the fast-food chain, is central to the ads where association with the brand is limited to placing Ms. Kaling in a bright yellow dress against a red backdrop.”

“The notion that Coke tastes differently at McDonald’s has been a topic of fascination for some time. The New York Times, as part of a 2014 article on the business relationship between McDonald’s and Coke, which dates back to 1955, reported that Coke has a special system for transporting and producing the beverage at the fast-food chain. Part of that includes delivering its syrup in stainless steel tanks versus plastic bags. McDonald’s also says it pre-chills the water and the syrup before it enters its fountain dispensers, and offers a slightly wider straw.”

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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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