Oh To Live On Sugar Mountain

“The goal for soda companies is to spritz up fizzling soft-drink sales. The appeal: Sugar is natural,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi: “If you had asked me a few years ago, people were moving to diet sodas. Now they view real sugar as good for you. “They are willing to go to organic non-GMO products even if it has high salt, high sugar, high fat.”

“PepsiCo says the formula of its new line, called 1893, is inspired by the cola created by Pepsi founder Caleb Bradham. The company says it is made with premium kola nut extract … cane sugar and ‘a touch of aromatic bitters.’ Pepsi Made with Real Sugar launched in 2014 … Last summer, it introduced a line of fountain drinks called Stubborn soda, sweetened with sugar, for restaurants.”

“Nutritionists caution that more-natural ingredients don’t necessarily mean they are health foods. Some types of sugar may promote vitamins or minerals. That doesn’t mean consumers should reach for them to get those nutrients, says Sara Haas, a dietitian based in Chicago and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.”

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A New Blue Ribbon For Pabst

The New York Times: Eugene Kashper, who “made a fortune reviving several all-but-moribund Eastern European breweries … bought Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in 2014 with the private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners for a reported $700 million … Mr. Kashper says he saw a big opportunity. ‘Beer, you know, it’s just fun,’ he said.”

“Now chief executive, he is pushing an aggressive effort to leverage the company’s distribution network, a part of the business that had been built up under previous owners, and dusting off old beer recipes and brands to capitalize on consumer desire for local products. Pabst will soon start producing Rainier Pale Mountain Ale at a brewery in Washington State … using a recipe derived from the one for a Rainier beer that was last brewed in the 1930s and 1940s. Other brands include Lone Star, Schlitz, Olympia, National Bohemian, Colt 45, Schmidt and Pearl.”

Says Kashper: “We’re ideally suited for the whole locavore thing … We can take advantage of the heritage embedded in our brands … We don’t have to spend money convincing consumers our brands are authentic — they already know they are.” He has already “found one hit to pump through the system right after buying Pabst, in Not Your Father’s Root Beer, a ‘hard’ or alcoholic soda made by Small Town Brewery that became the beer industry’s sleeper success story of 2015. The product helped raise Pabst’s overall sales in 2015 by 20 percent and pushed its market share up by a percentage point — even as sales of its main brand declined.”

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Patanjali: Baba’s Got a Cool New Brand

The New York Times: Baba Ramdev is “the leader of what has become known as the ‘Baba Cool Movement’ — a group of spiritual men, known here as ‘babas,’ who are marketing healthy consumer items based on the ancient Indian medicinal system of herbal treatments, known as Ayurveda. His rapidly expanding business empire of packaged food, cosmetics and home-care products is eating into the sales of both multinational and Indian corporations. ‘People buy our products because they believe I will only sell them good things,’ he said.”

His Patanjali-brand “products are attractive because they are high quality and prices are about 20 percent lower than the competition, analysts said. It is not clear how Patanjali is able to charge such low prices, given that its profit margin of 13 percent is within the industry range of 13 to 16 percent. Mr. Ramdev ventured that, with his fame, his advertising costs are much lower than his competitors’, who spend as much as 15 percent of their revenue promoting their products.”

“Harish Bijoor, a brand strategy specialist and former head of marketing at a subsidiary of the big Indian conglomerate Tata Group.has predicted that the “Baba Cool Movement” will eventually outsell both multinationals and top Indian companies alike. ‘It’s about a good connect,’ he said. ‘It’s about becoming the umbilical cord connecting the past to the present.'”

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High Times Plots Pot as Lifestyle Brand

The New York Times: “Just as Playboy transformed from a skin magazine to a branding behemoth during the sexual revolution, a new management team at High Times is looking to pare back its outlaw image to become a lifestyle brand. Its big plans to capitalize on the era of legalized marijuana include a revamped website, apparel, furniture, nightclubs and eventually ganja-themed cruises, hotels and casinos.”

“While deals have not been completed, the company is deep in talks with partners to open a series of high-end cannabis-consumption lounges in Colorado, where adult use of marijuana is legal, and in Las Vegas, where medical marijuana is legal under Nevada state law. In Las Vegas, the company’s partners have also secured a cabaret license and a gambling license as well as approval for an off-site dispensary at an undisclosed location 150 feet off the Strip … this cannabis gambling lounge would provide a springboard for a potential High Times hotel and casino, following the model of the Hard Rock Cafe.”

“ArcView Group, a cannabis research and investment firm, recently called legal marijuana ‘the fastest growing industry in America,’ having rocketed 74 percent, to $2.7 billion, from 2013 to 2014. Attitudes seem to be changing just as quickly. In popular culture, potheads are no longer portrayed only as glazed-eyed dolts, but everyday professionals with children and mortgages.”

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Introducing the Meat-O-Mat!

The Wall Street Journal: “Attached to a laboratory-like plant in this upstate community is a neon-lit vending machine dubbed the Meat-O-Mat, where customers can buy locally raised meat whenever they like. If Joshua Applestone has his way, carnivores will flock to it the way that banking customers visit the ATM. His invention is stocked with pork chops, dry-aged burger patties, bratwurst meatballs and his beloved pork roll, a deli meat native to New Jersey. Customers swipe their credit cards, push a button, slide the door open and retrieve their hormone- and antibiotic-free selection.”

“Mr. Applestone and his partners at Applestone Meat Co., the attached plant, are attempting to develop a new, meat-centric business model. For the past two years, they have been exploring ways of making high-quality cuts available at lower prices by slashing labor costs and considering offbeat distribution methods like the Meat-O-Mat. ‘We’re going for a highway-roadside-attraction type of approach,’ said Samantha Gloffke, the company’s general manager and a part owner. ‘The goal is to make sustainability really exciting.'”

Mr. Applestone envisions them stationed at supermarkets, football stadiums and picnic sites, places where you might welcome the convenience of buying something to toss on the grill. ‘Think about it at any music festival,’ he said. ‘Anywhere someone brings a cooler, you no longer have to bring fresh meat. How much is peace of mind worth?'”

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Wafu Chuka: Probably Not The Next Ramen Noodles

The New York Times: The restaurant Saburi has been an unassuming presence on a quiet street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Kips Bay for 10 years … From evening until 3 a.m., Saburi becomes a lively canteen filled with Japanese businessmen, Japanese expatriates and American enthusiasts of Japanese culture … The cuisine is called wafu chuka and is, simply put, Japanese-style Chinese food, or rather, Chinese dishes modified for Japanese sensibilities. It involves putting a Japanese spin on Chinese cuisine by using fewer spices and oils and adding fresh Japanese ingredients.”

Wafu Chuka “emerged in the early 1900s during the Meiji Restoration period, when Japan was opened up to international trade. It originated in cities including Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokohama … and is eaten throughout Japan … At the restaurant, female bartenders wear short Chinese dresses. Shadow puppets, the paper-thin figurines used in the ancient Chinese storytelling form, are framed on walls … And customers can store unfinished bottles of shochu, a Japanese liquor, behind the bar for future consumption — a tradition in pubs in the island nation.”

Sadly, Saburi is closing because of “lease difficulties” and its husband-and-wife owners, Jun Cui (who is Chinese) and Mika Saburi (who is Japanese) “desire to move back to Japan.” Kiara Phillips, a regular, comments: “The problem is it’s not like the ramen boom. Everyone is crazy for ramen now. And the wafu chuka style never quite took off that way. But is that a bad thing? It means people didn’t take it over and start doing it wrong,” she said. “No one else is trying to make it the best. No one is trying to make it something it’s not. The way it is here is just the way it is done.”

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YouTube is the ‘Hometown TV’ of Presidential Marketing

The Washington Post: YouTube “has become not just the Web’s biggest petri dish for the funny, weird and astronomically popular. With its 1 billion viewers and cultural omnipresence, it now offers campaigns a breadth no hometown TV network can match … Republican front-runner Donald Trump has been the most digitally prolific, with more YouTube views and videos about his campaign than all other candidates, data provided by Google show. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Cruz follow, in that order, closely resembling the real-life race.”

“In an encouraging sign for campaign ad makers — and a reflection of how bizarre or amusing this race has become — many viewers are seeking out the same political ads they only previously endured during commercial breaks. Since April 2015, Google data show, Americans have watched 12,500 years’ worth (110 million hours) of YouTube videos about the 2016 issues and candidates.”

“Though broadcast TV remains king, gobbling up $2 billion of ad budgets, campaigns are increasingly turning to YouTube for its finer precision in targeting voters and its potentially viral popularity. Old-fashioned commercials are pricey, time-limited and impossible to pass on, while YouTube lets campaigns experiment with a wider range of lengths, costs and talking points.”

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The ‘Overton Window’ Is Broken

Zeynep Tufekci, writing in The New York Times: “For decades, journalists at major media organizations acted as gatekeepers who passed judgment on what ideas could be publicly discussed, and what was considered too radical. This is sometimes called the ‘Overton window,’ after Joseph P. Overton of the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who discussed the relatively narrow range of policies that are viewed as politically acceptable.”

“What such gatekeepers thought was acceptable often overlapped with what those in power believed, too. Conversations outside the frame of this window were not tolerated. For worse, and sometimes for better, the Overton window is broken. We are in an era of rapidly weakening gatekeepers.”

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Plants or Petroleum: The ‘Natural’ Difference Isn’t Clear

The Wall Street Journal: “Many retailers and consumer products companies classify their products as natural if some of their ingredients were originally sourced from plant-based materials. But the top ingredients in many natural or ‘green’ consumer goods aren’t that different from mainstream products, whose ingredients often come from petroleum-based sources … The main ingredients in Tom’s of Maine Simply White toothpaste, for instance—including sodium fluoride, hydrated silica, sorbitol and sodium lauryl sulfate—are also in some types of Colgate toothpaste. Tom’s of Maine, which says all its ingredients ‘originate from nature,’ is owned by Colgate-Palmolive Co.”

“Whole Foods Markets Inc. last fall started selling a new brand of laundry detergent called Nature’s Power, whose green bottle claims the product is made ‘with plant-derived soaps.’ Its top active ingredient, a commonly used cleaning agent called sodium laureth sulfate, is found in plenty of its mainstream peers, including Arm & Hammer, which like Nature’s Power is made by Church & Dwight Co. Sodium laureth sulfate can be produced from coconut oil, palm oil or petroleum. ‘It is the same chemical compound, regardless of what it’s derived from,’ says Clarence Miller, a professor emeritus of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University in Houston.”

“While the Food and Drug Administration regulates foods and personal-care products and requires detailed ingredient labeling, it isn’t clear who is checking the labels of household products or the contents of bottles … The use of term “organic” is more closely regulated. Makers of household cleaners that label their products organic must have their ingredients certified by an independent body that follows guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

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