Z-Burger: ‘Nothingburgers’ are Free in DC

The Hill: Z-Burger, a Washington DC eatery, is offering “customers a ‘Nothing Burger’ consisting solely of a hamburger patty and a bun … Customers have to say the password ‘nothing burger’ to redeem the deal. In a press release, Z-Burger founder Peter Tabibian explained the offer: ‘For years, when someone ordered a plain burger, I have always yelled out the order as as ‘nothing burger’ to my cooks, so I think that I actually invented the term.'”

“The phrase ‘nothingburger’ has been used regularly in recent weeks to describe Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting during the 2016 election campaign with a Russian lawyer who promised him damaging information on Hillary Clinton.”

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GreenBay Grocery: A Vegan Supermarket

Business Insider: “GreenBay is London’s first 100% vegan supermarket, which sells products that are sourced and selected from all over the world. The supermarket has its own ‘vegan meat and cheese’ section, where a block of cheese is sold for around £5. Meat substitutes are vegan versions of bacon, steaks, and sausages. There’s also an egg substitute … It’s a powder you whisk in ice cold water. None of the products in the cleaning and body care aisle have been tested on animals.”

Co-founder Anderson Caicedo comments: “We are ethical. We really care about this thing. We want the movement to move forward. We are doing this because we want to do it, rather than just making money.”

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OK Soda: When ‘Post-Modern’ is Not OK

Boing Boing: OK Soda was a short-lived 1990s soft drink put out by the Coca-Cola company, remarkable for the brilliant postmodern irony of its marketing campaign. Thomas Flight’s short documentary tells a fascinating story about its failure. Can you sell disillusionment? Can you subvert something and achieve the same thing that what you’re subverting achieves?

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Food Halls vs. Food Courts: What’s The Difference?

Slate: “What makes something a food court, and what makes it a food hall? One is the most discredited concept in 20th-century dining, while the other is the hottest new idea of the 21st: an open floor plan; fresh food prepared in front of your eyes; a post-industrial space, or at least one with high ceilings, exposed wiring, and hanging air ducts. Good-looking people hunched on long benches over small plates or perched on stools around dozens of tiny countertops … The places brim with noise—perhaps even a kind of working sound, an occasional butcher’s chop, something left over from a more utilitarian period, or at least the roar of an espresso machine.”

“Reduce this concept to the basics—a dozen quick-service restaurants sharing a space, a landlord, and maybe a seating area—and you have a food court. A food hall, in contrast, is a drafty and austere moniker for an age of raw interior design. No pleather or plastic here. What separates the former from the latter is ‘authenticity,’ according to Matthew Fainchtein, a senior director for real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield in Los Angeles and a guy who makes food halls, not courts.”

“There are at least a few dozen of them in the United States, some of which are genuine evolutions of traditional public markets, some of which are new, and all of which aspire to appear—like a public market—to be a place where the emphasis is on production, not consumption … But that’s part of the charm, too: the no-nonsense emphasis on food. Forget the service. Forget the tables; you’re sharing. Forget the chair backs. Forget the metal silverware. And no, you can’t make a reservation.”

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Amazon Deploys Gadget Experts

Recode: “Amazon has quietly been hiring an army of in-house gadget experts to offer free Alexa consultations as well as product installations for a fee inside customer homes … The new offering, which has already rolled out in seven markets without much fanfare, is aimed at helping customers set up a ‘smart home’ — the industry term used to describe household systems like heating and lighting that can be controlled via apps, and increasingly by voice.”

“Amazon is charging $99 for installation services like setting up an Ecobee4 Alexa-enabled smart thermostat … Multi-device set-ups that take more than an hour may cost more. In eligible cities, shoppers can book the installations during the checkout process … The new in-home services are currently available in seven markets — Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and Orange County, Calif.”

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Hamburger Helpless: Packaged Goods Plight

The Wall Street Journal: “The plight of the packaged-goods companies is a classic business tale. An industry creates winning products, carves out strong market positions and enjoys reliable, sustained revenue—only to be too slow to adapt to changes that threaten those cash cows … Many big brands didn’t move fast enough to remove artificial ingredients and haven’t been able to shed the negative perception of processed food, said several food executives and others close to the industry.”

Meanwhile: “The web and social media gave smaller food companies a direct path to consumers’ hearts, minds and stomachs. They gained traction through blogs and Facebook with little marketing spending, selling food online via Amazon.com Inc. or their own websites long before they would have been able to get it in stores … Big brands can no longer control perceptions about food with television advertisements and shelf placement.”

“Kellogg Co., General Mills and others have directly invested in food startups through venture-capital funds that they say will give them insight as to how to respond better to evolving trends.”

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Probiotics: The More Spores The Better

The Wall Street Journal: “Probiotics once appeared mostly in yogurt, plugged by Jamie Lee Curtis in television commercials (and mocked on Saturday Night Live). Now, new cereals, snacks and beverages from Kraut Krisps to Gut Punches and Wellness Waters are featuring the microorganisms touted to help digestive and immune systems function … The additions come as consumers are looking for medicinal, in addition to nutritional, benefits from their food.”

“New strains of probiotics don’t require refrigeration. These newer spore-forming strains produce coated cell structures that help extend probiotics’ shelf life. Still, most probiotics can’t survive heat, processing or air exposure and often degrade with time.” However: “Some food scientists argue that, unlike strains of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, which are more documented in scientific research and typically appear in yogurt, there are far fewer studies on spore-forming varieties now appearing in so many foods.”

“Mondelez International Inc.’s Enjoy Life infuses probiotics in their $7 baking mixes for muffins, waffles and pizza crust … Still, some retailers, such as Whole Foods , are cracking down on suppliers it says try to pitch more foods as good for you because they contain probiotics.”

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Machine Platform Crowd: The Future Today

The Wall Street Journal: Machine Platform Crowd, a new book by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, “is a book for managers whose companies sit well back from the edge and who would like a digestible introduction to technology trends that may not have reached their doorstep—yet … In the authors’ terminology, ‘Machine’ is shorthand for computers running software that, with new AI techniques called ‘deep learning,’ essentially teaches itself how to make judgments superior to those of humans. ‘Machine’ also encompasses the disappearance of employees in the services sector, leaving only the customer, robots and software—what the authors refer to as ‘virtualization.'”

“‘Platform’ refers to digital environments that bring economic actors together, exploiting free, or nearly free, online access, reproduction and distribution. Uber and Airbnb are examples of new platforms. ‘Crowd’ refers to information resources created by the uncredentialed, the nonexpert and, with rare exceptions, the unpaid. Wikipedia and the Linux operating system comprise the two most impressive achievements of the crowd.”

​”Messrs. McAfee and Brynjolfsson argue that, in the latest phase of the second machine age, incumbent businesses will be pushed aside if they fail to understand how new machines and software, platforms, and the crowd enlarge the scope of digital technologies—just as manufacturers that had appeared and thrived in the first phase of the first machine age were displaced when electricity supplanted steam power in the early 20th century.”

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Air North: Small is Beautiful & Beloved

Quartz: “Air North is the Yukon’s local airline. It is a tiny company with a fleet of just 11 planes, making it the smallest carrier in Canada. In 2016, Fortune listed the most loved and loathed airlines in the world based on social-media metrics logged during the holiday-travel season. Delta and American Airlines were neck and neck for the third-to-last place—but Air North was named the second-most beloved airline in the world. (They were bested only by Korean Air.)”

“Air North doesn’t charge bag fees, and forget vacuum-sealed sandwiches: Flight meals are prepared by Michael, a Whitehorse-based chef, and his 20-person kitchen team. Each day they prep menus of fresh muffins and bread for morning flights and tapas for evening flights, complete with local sausage, cheese, and chocolate-chip cookies for dessert. These amenity costs aren’t rolled over to the passenger, either … At many carriers, the chain of command is so embedded in logistics-versus-user experiences that the ultimate mandate is to follow the rules … Air North operates from a different perspective. They’re empowered to think on their feet in the unusual situations that crop up with air travel.”

“At some companies, founders lose touch with their daily operations. By contrast, Air North founder Joe Sparling still pilots one of the Boeing 737s … Instead of high-visibility marketing stunts and damage control, Air North invests in a customer service-centered strategy and employee satisfaction … A staggering 1 in 15 Yukoners owns stock in Air North … Most local investors ‘were not primarily motivated by the potential economic returns provided by flight and cash dividends,’ remembers CEO Jeff Sparling, ‘but rather by a desire to invest in a venture that would provide benefits to the Yukon and its residents’.”

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