Holy Guacamole: America Worships The Avocado

Bee Wilson: “In the U.S., demand for avocados is now so frenzied that it threatens to outstrip supply. The average American consumes 7 pounds of avocado a year, up from 1 pound in 1974. By 2016, annual retail sales of avocados in the U.S. had reached $1.6 billion, according to the Hass Avocado Board. Many factors have contributed to the avocado’s runaway success. In the late 1990s, the U.S. government lifted an 83-year-old ban on avocado imports from Mexico. California growers had feared pest invasions—and competition—from Mexican fruit. The lifting of the ban created a year-round supply of reliably creamy Hass avocados.”

“Our avocado-love has also been driven by cultural changes, large and small: the popularity of tacos, the rise of the hipster cafe, the rehabilitation of fat as a health food. Meanwhile, a marketing push by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, starting in the early 1990s, convinced America that Super Bowl Sunday couldn’t be celebrated without guacamole. Last year, on that single Sunday, Americans ate an estimated 104 million pounds of avocado.”

“In the 1980s, at the height of low-fat orthodoxy, avocado was regarded as dangerously fattening, and the wholesale price plummeted to 10 cents a pound. In 1982, California avocado growers had so much of the fruit that they considered marketing it as a food for dogs … Avocado is one of the few modern foods that manages to straddle our ideas of both comfort and health. Some may mock the trendiness and expense of avocado toast: $9 for a piece of sourdough smeared with green fat! But as long as the current demand holds up, the rest of us will have our mouths too full of avocado to complain.”

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Food Labels: A ‘Natural’ Disaster?

The New York Times: “Consumers, increasingly wary of products that are overly processed or full of manufactured chemicals, are paying premium prices for natural goods, from fruit juices and cereals to shampoos and baby wipes. But as a spate of lawsuits and consumer advocacy efforts show, one person’s ‘natural’ is another person’s methylisothiazolinone. The problem, consumer groups and even some manufacturers say, is that there is no legal or regulatory definition of what ‘natural’ is.”

“Among the brands that have faced legal challenges are several that have long promoted their use of natural ingredients: Tom’s of Maine antiperspirants and toothpastes, the Honest Company’s laundry detergent and dish soap, Annie’s Homegrown salad dressings, Breyers and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Aveeno face moisturizers and Seventh Generation dish soap.”

“A number of more recent cases involve allegations that products labeled natural were misleading because they contained small amounts of materials linked to genetically modified organisms. In December, a New York federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming that Dannon yogurt was falsely labeled natural because the cows might have been given genetically modified feed … Stuck in the middle of this natural-or-not morass are consumers. Unable to trust the labels lining store shelves, shoppers are left with little choice but to examine the small type on the back of the box and try to decipher terms like methylisothiazolinone, a synthetic preservative found in some personal- and skin-care products.”

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What Makes Mexican Malls Thrive?

The Wall Street Journal: “While U.S. malls are dying a slow, painful death, malls in Mexico are thriving … Part of the reason is simple supply and demand. The U.S. is vastly over-retailed … What’s more, a growing middle class in Mexico is gravitating toward more formal retail—shops and malls instead of the urban outdoor markets … Meanwhile, online shopping has barely penetrated here, as low credit-card usage and challenging shipping logistics keep the Amazon.com effect at bay.”

“Perhaps most important, Mexican mall developers learned long ago—partly by watching the struggles in the U.S.—that shopping centers do better with a diverse mix of tenants. Instead of relying on department store anchors to drive foot traffic to smaller apparel shops, a shopping mall should also have a grocery store, play areas for children, sit-down restaurants, and yes, even roller-coasters.”

“Another major factor in malls’ appeal is cultural: Mexicans see malls as community gathering places, especially in cities with public security problems like those along the U.S. border. Last year was the deadliest in at least two decades here, as violence related to drug-trafficking escalated and more than 25,000 people were murdered. Many Mexican families spend hours at the mall every weekend, eating, shopping and socializing in the safe, well-maintained spaces.”

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Elmhurst Milked: A Not-So-Nutty Idea

Fast Company: When Elmhurst Dairy closed its plant in Queens in 2016, the company had been selling milk in New York City for nearly a century … The company’s owner, in his eighties, decided to pivot: In 2017, it started making plant-based milks, and today it makes none at all from cows. In January, it released the first packaged peanut milk on the market. It also sells ‘milked’ almonds, rice, oats, walnuts, hazelnuts, and cashews.”

“The plant uses a process that mechanically separates raw almonds or peanuts or grains of rice into all of the nutritional components–carbohydrates, protein, fiber, oils, micronutrients–and then reassembles them into a creamy, milk-like liquid. Many other plant-based milks, by contrast, start with water and a mix of ingredients like xanthan gum or carrageenan to give a sense of creaminess, and then add a tiny amount of nut butter or paste.”

“Unlike some nondairy products, like milk made with pea protein, Elmhurst Milked isn’t trying to replicate the taste of cow milk. The hazelnut milk tastes like hazelnuts; the almond milk tastes a little like almonds. Peanut milk tastes like peanuts (a chocolate peanut milk tastes a little like peanut butter cups). While peanut milk isn’t entirely unheard of … Elmhurst Milked is the first to sell it on grocery shelves.”

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Sam’s Club: Ardent Shoppers Feel Jilted

The New York Times: “Walmart’s quiet shuttering of 63 Sam’s Club stores on Thursday — hours after trumpeting its plans to raise wages — sent shock waves through the ardent customer base of the membership-only chain. Patrons protested with unusual passion not granted to the thousands of closings recently announced by other retailers.”

“On social media, some shoppers reminisced about sharing frozen yogurt with their great-grandmother at the local Sam’s Club, while others fretted about remote areas losing a primary source of supplies or a reliable place to pick up prescriptions.”

Bethany Pope Hopp, a mother of five, comments: “Having a store like Sam’s Club is absolutely a necessity for some of us rural, smaller communities. That and Walmart are all we have — we don’t live in an area where there’s a Costco or a Target on every corner.” Dharmendra Singh, whose Sam’s Club was among those closed, laments: “It’s like a long-term girlfriend leaving you and not even giving you a call.”

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Music CDs are Alive & Kicking

CBC News: “Preliminary numbers from Nielsen Music Canada show that while CD sales fell 18 per cent over the past year, still selling roughly 10 million units, they were relatively strong compared to the more dramatic erosion of digital album sales through stores like iTunes. Digital album sales tumbled nearly 25 per cent for the year to 6.2 million units, extending what is expected to be a steep downturn as more listeners embrace streaming services.”

“David Bakula, who oversees Nielsen’s industry insights operations, said the changes in digital habits mean the CD is representing a larger share of the declining album sales market. He believes that writing the obituary for the CD is premature as labels look to bolster album sales however they can, while older listeners stick to their usual buying habits.”

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MoonPie: A Total Eclipse of the Twitterverse

Fast Company: “MoonPie’s sales are up 17%. And this is a brand that’s had no new product innovation, no significant distribution increase, and no discounting going on. And there’s no TV advertising. So all of these increases can be attributed to what we’ve been doing on social media.” ~ Dooley Tombras, EVP of MoonPie agency, the Tombras Group.

“Tombras says the brand’s Twitter voice came about out of the good ol’ fashioned necessity to stand out and get millennials to take notice.” He explains: “Moon Pie is an iconic heritage brand, but had been really sleepy for a while. The business challenge was, while they run a healthy, profitable business, their sales had plateaued. Their research showed they had much higher awareness and sales among older consumers, baby boomers, but as you went younger, that number got lower, and it really dropped off at millennials.”

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‘Potheads’ Inhale The Instant Pot

The New York Times: Instant Pot is “a new breed of 21st-century start-up — a homegrown hardware business with only around 50 employees that raised no venture capital funding, spent almost nothing on advertising, and achieved enormous size primarily through online word-of-mouth … devotees — they call themselves ‘Potheads’ — use their Instant Pots for virtually every kitchen task imaginable: sautéing, pressure-cooking, steaming, even making yogurt and cheesecakes. Then, they evangelize on the internet, using social media to sing the gadget’s praises to the unconverted.”

Company founder Robert Wang “listed the Instant Pot on Amazon, where a community of food writers eventually took notice. Vegetarians and paleo dieters, in particular, were drawn to the device’s pressure-cooking function, which shaved hours off the time needed to cook pots of beans or large cuts of meat. Sensing viral potential, Instant Pot sent test units to about 200 influential chefs, cooking instructors and food bloggers. Reviews and recipes appeared online, and sales began to climb.”

“At one point, more than 90 percent of Instant Pot’s sales came through Amazon.” Mr. Wang also revealed a secret: in every official photograph of an Instant Pot, the unit’s timer is set to 5:20 — a series of numbers that, when spoken aloud, sounds like ‘I love you’ in his native Mandarin. ‘It’s a subliminal message,’ he said. ‘It shows how much we care about our customers’.” He adds: “We know we really make a difference in people’s lives. It’s really gratifying.”

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Philz Coffee: All You Need Is The Secret Ingredient

Business Insider: San Francisco-base Philz Coffee “has the cash to fuel an expansion and a key ingredient to become the next Blue Bottle: individuality. It looks nothing like a cookie-cutter coffee chain. At Philz, a diverse set of customers sit around mismatched pieces of furniture and drink coffee brewed one cup at time. Employees are encouraged to express their personality through interactions with customers … The venture-backed coffee chain started from humble beginnings. Phil, who was born in Palestine and grew up in the Bay Area, ran a corner bodega in a gritty neighborhood.”

“Today, the original Philz location on 24th Street still looks like someone’s grandma’s house. Couches sink like they’ve been lived in, and floor-to-ceiling murals spark creativity … Unlike coffee chains that offer only light, medium, and dark roasts, Philz boasts more than 20 vibrant blends with names like Canopy of Heaven, Philharmonic, and Sooo Good. You won’t find any lattes or over-the-top blended drinks — like you might find at Starbucks — on the menu. But flavor descriptions like “cardamom, maple, earth” or “toast, berry, vanilla” have customers drooling.”

“Baristas brew one cup at a time using a pour-over method, which allows them to make each drink exactly how the customer likes it … Two to three minutes later, a barista calls the customer by name and invites them to take a sip. Baristas say they’re happy to remake the drink until the guest is 100% satisfied … According to a Philz employee, the secret ingredient in every cup is ‘love’ … The company aims to have more than 50 locations across four major metropolitan markets by early next year. There are shops in Colorado and Boston in the pipeline.”

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KitKat: Just Plain Weird in Japan

Los Angeles Times: “Two years ago, KitKat’s marketing manager in Japan won an internal corporate award. His prize: a golden trophy shaped like one of the iconic chocolate bars. Today, the manager, Ryoji Maki, doesn’t remember why he won the award. But he’s immensely proud of what it inspired. ‘That’s how I came up with creating a gold leaf-covered KitKat,’ he said. Before long, the chocolate wafer bars were on sale in Tokyo for about $18. ‘They were like an edible golden trophy’.”

“Maki’s creation joined a long, and ever growing, list of distinctive, fun or just plain weird KitKats found only in Japan. The country is a KitKat-lover’s paradise, with so many unique varieties — an estimated 300 — that some travelers visit Japan just to try them. Many flavors are alien to the American palate, and they go far beyond Japanese staples — such as sake, wasabi and green tea — and into uncharted territory: ‘French salt,’ ‘college tater’ and ‘Muscat of Alexandria’.”

“The candy with the European pedigree went on to conquer Japan thanks to constant invention — blueberry cheesecake, cherry blossom and melon — and a linguistic coincidence that makes KitKats here a harbinger of good luck … the chocolate bar’s English name is a cognate — it sounds like kitto kattsu, which means ‘you will surely win,’ a sort of good luck blessing. Nestle leveraged the association into huge sales.”

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