Intuition, Math & The Supermarket Checkout

The Wall Street Journal: “We are used to the standard system of one line for each cashier. But what if there is just one big lane feeding multiple cashiers? … The single queue often snakes around, as lines do at airport security checkpoints. Mathematical queuing theory says that the serpentine system should be faster than separate lines leading to separate cash registers, but only with a condition called ‘no jockeying’—the assumption that people in multiple lines won’t hop over to a different line that has become free.”

“But that isn’t realistic, as we can all attest. If you allow jockeying in multiple lines, the serpentine system is no faster on average. It might intuitively seem faster because you won’t get stuck behind a single person taking a long time, but that same delay is just portioned out among more people, leaving the average wait time the same … In a curious twist, one recent study showed that cashiers work faster when they are serving a dedicated line. Perhaps it instills a sense of pride or connection with the customers waiting for one hardworking cashier.”

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Brendan Proctor: More than a ‘Lidl’ Different

Retail Dive: “We offer the experience of grocery retooled, rethought and refreshed,” says Lidl U.S. CEO Brendan Proctor. Among the differences: “Packaged goods will be placed on shelves in their cartons, eliminating the work that would go into unpacking. Produce displays will not be precariously stacked, making all the fruits and vegetables equally accessible to shoppers. And shoppers will bring their own bags and bag their own groceries, eliminating the cost of paper or plastic bags as well as employees’ time and effort in bagging.”

“Aside from the food items, Lidl plans to differentiate itself through its specials on non-food items … These specials could be anything from yoga pants to lawnmowers to leather jackets.” Also: “The retailer plans to streamline the grocery shopping experience and pare down customer choices. Proctor said that the product selection will be curated so that shoppers will not be overwhelmed with too many choices for staples like ketchup. Instead of multiple varieties of the same product, shelf space will be devoted to different kinds of items.”

“Lidl’s strong global presence makes imports of premium Belgian chocolates and Italian cookies to the U.S. much easier and more affordable. Lidl’s Preferred Selection brand features the flag of the item’s country of origin on the label ,,, For the time being, Proctor said the supermarket chain will concentrate on locations on the East Coast … Lidl will also concentrate on brick-and-mortar stores for shopping. There are no plans to work on e-commerce models, at least for now. People still prefer going to the grocery store over ordering online, he said.”

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Of Puppuccinos & Peanut Butter Bacon Burgers

The Wall Street Journal: “For some restaurant customers, the hottest items to order aren’t on the menu. In recent years, so-called secret menus have cropped up on social media and attracted a cult following. Devotees proudly photograph their McDonald’s Chicken Cordon Bleu McMuffins, Chipotle Quesaritos (a quesadilla-wrapped burrito) and Shake Shack Peanut Butter Bacon Burgers. Fans debate recipes and discuss how to order tricky items without provoking the ire of harried restaurant staff.”

“Some restaurants, like McDonald’s, deny the existence of such menus, although others say their staff will customize orders. Some establishments actually embrace the concept. Many creations are suggested and named by consumers, who detail online what ingredients to request. Sometimes, people put them together on their own.”

“Occasionally, secret menus aren’t limited to restaurants’ human clientele. Last year, Ricky Wolfe and his then-girlfriend, with dog Wally in tow, drove through a Starbucks in College Park, Md. She ordered a coffee and a Puppuccino. The barista, no questions asked, handed over a tiny cup filled with whipped cream. Mr. Wolfe, 28, was incredulous. Wally, a shepherd-hound mix, was apprehensive until her tongue met the whipped cream.”

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Hit Factories: Making Songs Like Sausages

BBC: “A new study by Music Week magazine shows it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single … Ten years ago, the average number of writers on a hit single was 3.52 … Even solo singer-songwriters like Adele, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, whose identities are deeply ingrained into their music, lean on co-writers …. So why is this happening? Are songwriters increasingly lazy or lacking in talent? Or are they second-guessing themselves in the search for a hit?”

“According to Mike Smith, managing director of music publishers Warner/Chappell UK, it is simply that the business of making music has changed.” He comments: “Think back 20 years and an artist would take at least two or three albums to really hone their craft as a songwriter. There is a need to fast-forward that process [which means record labels will] bring in professional songwriters, put them in with artists and try to bring them through a lot faster.”

“Writing camps are where the music industry puts the infinite monkey theorem to the test, detaining dozens of producers, musicians and ‘top-liners’ (melody writers) and forcing them to create an endless array of songs, usually for a specific artist … British songwriter MNEK, who is one of 13 people credited on Beyonce’s hit single Hold Up, says the song is essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster, stitched together from dozens of demos.” He explains: “She played me the chorus. Then I came back here [to my studio] and recorded all the ideas I had for the song. Beyonce snipped out the pieces she really liked and the end result was this really great, complete song.”

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Brand Sagamore: Baltimore Walks The Plank

The Wall Street Journal: “Rising high above the new Sagamore Spirit distillery in South Baltimore is a white water tower with three maroon diamonds on each side, a nod to the jockey silks of the thoroughbred farm that provides the spring water for the company’s rye whiskey. The distillery, which opened a few weeks ago, is the latest endeavor of the growing business empire of Kevin A. Plank, founder and chief executive of the sportswear company Under Armour. His new enterprises — collectively they are called Plank Industries but nearly all have Sagamore in their names — are reshaping Baltimore’s waterfront and restoring luster to Maryland traditions and landmarks.”

“In March, Mr. Plank’s Sagamore Pendry hotel opened not far away in the Recreation Pier building in the Fells Point neighborhood after a roughly $60 million renovation. Outside the hotel, a fleet of new water taxis owned by Mr. Plank and modeled after Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats will soon ferry riders to Port Covington, the industrial South Baltimore waterfront area that is undergoing a $5.5 billion overhaul led by his real estate firm, Sagamore Development.”

“Inside the production center of Sagamore Spirit’s three-building complex in Port Covington, another three-diamond-stamped beacon greets passers-by: a 40-foot copper column still with a mirror finish that is believed to be the first of its kind. Asked why the finish was essential, Brian Treacy, president of Sagamore Spirit, channeled Mr. Plank, a childhood friend. ‘Because it’s all about brand,’ he replied.”

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Southern Comfort: Now With Real Whiskey

The New York Times: “Sazerac Company bought Southern Comfort from the liquor conglomerate Brown-Forman last year … A new-and-improved Southern Comfort will hit the shelves in July, with a redesigned label and bottle. Flavored versions like Lime Comfort and Caramel Comfort will be phased out. But, most important, Southern Comfort will get back the one ingredient that many people have long assumed it contained: whiskey.”

“Once upon a time, Southern Comfort did include whiskey, though the complete formula has always been kept a secret. It was created by Martin W. Heron, purportedly while working at a New Orleans saloon … But by the time Brown-Forman bought the brand in 1979, the kick inside the bottle was provided not by whiskey, but by grain neutral spirit — basically a generic alcohol free of character, not unlike vodka.”

“In addition to the existing 70-proof and 100-proof versions, the company will introduce an 80-proof Southern Comfort that is considerably more whiskey-forward. Sazerac is also working on other whiskey-focused renditions, including Southern Comfort Rye and Southern Comfort Barrel Select … Sazerac thinks that the drink’s future depends on consumers’ thinking ‘whiskey’ and not ‘liqueur’ when they buy or order it.”

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When Apple Designs a Pizza Box

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Wired: “Through Apple’s new headquarters, Steve Jobs was planning the future of Apple itself—a future beyond him and, ultimately, beyond any of us … As with any Apple product, its shape would be determined by its function. This would be a workplace where people were open to each other and open to nature, and the key to that would be modular sections, known as pods, for work or collaboration. Jobs’ idea was to repeat those pods over and over: pod for office work, pod for teamwork, pod for socializing, like a piano roll playing a Philip Glass composition. They would be distributed demo­cratically. Not even the CEO would get a suite or a similar incongruity.”

“And while the company has long been notorious for internal secrecy, compartmentalizing its projects on a need-to-know basis, Jobs seemed to be proposing a more porous structure where ideas would be more freely shared across common spaces. … perfection here will inspire its workforce to match that effort in the products they create, that the environment itself is meant to motivate engineers, designers, and even café managers to aspire for ever-higher levels of quality and innovation. (Francesco Longoni, the maestro of the Apple Park café, helped Apple patent a box that will keep to-go pizzas from getting soggy.).”

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Keurig Designs Eco-Friendly K-Cup

The Washington Post: “Keurig Green Mountain said it plans by 2020 to change the plastic composition in the billions of K-cup single-serving coffee containers it sells annually, making them more lucrative to recyclers while removing one of the nagging complaints that mountains of the little pods are piling up in landfills … The recycling breakthrough comes as the Keurig’s single-serve coffee machines, which helped revolutionize coffee consumption, are becoming less of a habit after years of growth.”

“The recycling breakthrough comes as the Keurig’s single-serve coffee machines, which helped revolutionize coffee consumption, are becoming less of a habit after years of growth … The problem with K-cups has been twofold. First, they have been too small for the sorting machines to ‘see’ and move to the recycling line instead of the garbage heap. Second, the material composition of the K-cup plastic did not lend itself to being broken down and reused as another material.”

“Many of the 600 or so recycling plants across the United States and Canada have reinvested in technology that can spot the K-cup pods and divert them toward reuse.”
In addition: “Keurig is in the process of changing the makeup of its K-cups from polystyrene to polypropylene.”

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The Stitch Fix Secret: Make Shopping Easy

The New York Times: Stitch Fix is a mail-order clothing service that offers customers little choice in what garments they receive, and shies away from discounts for brand name dresses, pants and accessories. Despite a business model that seems to defy conventional wisdom, Stitch Fix continues to grow … To the company’s founder, Katrina Lake, success comes down to delivering what consumers want: making it easier to shop … In her view, what was important was helping customers find clothing they liked without taking lengthy shopping trips and returning dozens of items.”

“At the company’s warehouse, Eric Colson, formerly a top data scientist at Netflix, spoke to the role that data science — once the province of high-tech giants — plays in nearly every aspect of the Stitch Fix business. Mr. Colson excitedly illustrated on whiteboards how the company’s systems can narrow down a broad range of women’s pants to a relative few that each individual customer is statistically likely to keep … Algorithms have even cut the number of steps needed for workers to pick out clothes for individual clients.”

“Yet the question remains whether customers who are initially thrilled by receiving a customized box of clothing will remain customers for months or even years … Stitch Fix executives declined to share their retention statistics, but claim that they are above industry averages.”

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Kroger Kits Curate Dinnertime Solutions

Business Insider: Kroger is diving into the fast-growing meal-kit business. The supermarket chain is offering meal kits — or packages that contain recipes and accompanying ingredients — at a handful of stores and launching them nationwide over the next year.”

“Kroger has two major advantages compared to Blue Apron. First of all, Kroger’s boxes are cheaper, costing about $14 for a meal that feeds two people. Kroger also goes a step further than Blue Apron by doing most of the food prep for customers. No chopping, slicing, dicing, grating, or other work is necessary — all the ingredients are ready to be cooked. This means the meals can take a lot less time to make. Kroger says its meals take about 20 minutes to prepare ‘from kit to fork,’ whereas Blue Apron meals tend to require about 45 minutes of prep and cooking time.”

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