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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How Amazon Picks Deals of the Day

The Wall Street Journal: “Such is Amazon’s holiday selling might that winning a slot in one of Amazon’s short-term promotions can not only propel a merchant to a higher ranking but also trigger a windfall of sales for the rest of the season, third-party sellers say. In addition, those chosen say the promotions improve their odds of showing up in consumer search results on the site. Third-party sellers sold more than 140 million items on Amazon.com over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend this year, according to Amazon.”

“Amazon’s deal of the day selections hinge on two important factors—whether it thinks an item will be a hot seller and whether the discount is deep enough. Amazon also takes into account the number of units the seller is willing to offer and customer reviews, among other factors … A sales surge will influence Amazon’s algorithmic suggestions to consumers. Recommendations might include items frequently purchased together or purchased by customers looking at the similar items.”

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Heisman Triumphs With Artisanal Trophy

The New York Times: “The Heisman is gritty verisimilitude. It depicts an athlete in action, dynamically stiff-arming an unseen opponent. It is the color of a scuffed shoe sole, and its chiseled features — deep-set eyes, wrinkled trousers, one bulging calf muscle — are beautiful but not pretty. So byzantine are its details and so idiosyncratic its coloring that each individual statuette feels unique. In fact, each is, even though the Heisman remains instantly recognizable and its manufacturer takes no creative license … ‘No two are exactly the same,’ said Jack Nortz, the director of sculpting for MTM Recognition, the company that produces them.”

“Suitably for a new statue designed to look old, the process of making a Heisman is both normalized and artisanal. The ancient Egyptians would have known how to make a Heisman: The lost-wax casting method has been used to fashion bronze sculptures for roughly six millenniums.”

“Not only is this year’s Heisman slightly different from last year’s, it is more different from those of a generation ago … Before 2005, the back shoe had bumps on it to depict laces while the front shoe did not. Mr. Nortz added some grooves to the top of the right foot. MTM Recognition also standardized the trophy’s dimensions after staff members noticed that past trophies’ outstretched right arms departed the body at different angles. That arm has always been cast separately from the body.”

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