Green marketing can make strange bedfellows, at least in the case of Clorox and the Sierra Club, as reported by Felicity Barringer in The New York Times (3/26/08). Sierra Club’s executive director, Carl Pope, certainly was skeptical when approached by Clorox about co-branding a new cleaning product called Green Works. But he soon saw the potential in it: "One of the reasons green home cleaning products haven’t achieved much market penetration is if they came from an environmental brand, people had the sense they won’t work … And if it came from someone with a cleaning reputation the reaction was: They can’t be green."
And so, starting in April, the Green Works brand, which has already been on sale for a couple of months now, will be emblazoned with both the Clorox and Sierra Club logos. That rollout will join Clorox’s other green-related moves, such as its acquisition of Burt’s Bees and Brita water filters. It also steps up Clorox’s emerging role as a competitor in the "$150 million market dominated by names like Seventh Generation and Method." For Sierra Club, it will mark the 116-year-old organization’s first foray into product endorsements — "and it will receive an undisclosed portion of the proceeds." None of this is without its controversy, which is okay with Carl Pope.
"I won’t pretend it’s not internally controversial; it is," he says, "But we decided it was more important to try to create this marketplace." Before adding its stamp to the Green Works brand, Sierra Club made sure that most of the ingredients came "from plant sources … with virtually no petroleum-derived ingredients." Carl admits that the ethanol "might be made with genetically engineered corn," but says that’s okay: "There aren’t any products without any environmental consequences," he says. Greenpeace says it’s "agnostic" about Green Works, while Clorox says it is getting enthusiastic responses from "Wal-Mart and other retailers." Whether shoppers buy it (it costs about 50 cents more than an equivalent bottle of Fantastik) remains to be seen. ~ Tim Manners, editor
At Momofuku Ko, “chefs are not only cooking and plating the food, but also serving it, taking coats, recommending wine and confirming reservations,” reports Julia Moskin in The New York Times (3/12/08). It’s a similar situation at Schwa, in Chicago. “Everyone who works here is a chef and everyone is also a dishwasher,” says chef Michael Carlson, who is not only also a dishwasher, but also a waiter. The idea of “cutting out the middleman” between chef and diner is said to find its inspiration in sushi bars and its model in a Paris restaurant called L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, “where a counter surrounds an open kitchen.”
The concept is also said to be a piece of “a sensibility about food that also drives modern eaters to seek direct contact with farmers and fishers, fromagers and foragers.” The idea is to create a bit more intimacy. “We wanted it to be more like coming to our house for dinner,” says Jean-Phillippe St-Denis of Kitchen Galerie (514-315-8994) in Montreal. Jean-Phillippe not only takes coats, seats guests, brings wine and does the cooking — he does the shopping, too. “Sure, everyone wants the chef to come to their table, everyone likes the idea of the chef cooking just for them,” says Christopher Russell of the Union Square Cafe, which has a service staff of up to 18 people on Saturday nights.
Christopher also suggests that if the service is done right, it creates “the illusion of direct contact between the diner and cook.” But what it doesn’t do is put any more money in the cook’s pocket — or the dishwasher’s. They get paid the same whether the number of customers is 300 or 30: “The result is that in many restaurants, waiters earn significantly more than cooks, which can create some bad feelings. As Christopher points out, “at the end of a busy night when the kitchen was slammed, cooks are still making their $10 an hour and the waiters are walking out with $425 in cash.” And yet some chefs accept this, realizing they just aren’t cut out to deal with the public. “In the kitchen,” says Christopher,” each table is represented by a ticket. Most chefs would rather talk to the ticket.” ~ Tim Manners, editor
“We are the nostalgia,” says Bob Unanue, ceo of Goya Foods, in a USA Today piece by Barbara De Lollis (3/24/08). He adds: “We welcome the immigrants into the country with food.” Goya Foods has been playing that role in America for 72 years now, when Prudencio Unanue started the company so that Spanish immigrants could have “authentic ingredients.” At first, he “sold Spanish condiments in New York,” but was left high and dry when “the Spanish Civil War cut off his supplies.” So he started importing sardines from a Moroccan cannery, and later bought its name — Goya — “because it was easier to pronounce than his own name.” He paid just one dollar for it.
Today, Goya remains a family-run business — a rarity in that it is among just 10 percent of family enterprises that survive to a third generation. The business has had its family feuds along the way, but under Bob Unanue’s leadership, it is now “the USA’s largest Hispanic foods company” with 3,000 employees and “more than $1 billion in sales per year … To meet divergent needs, Goya sells 1,600 products ranging from bags of rice to ready-to-eat frozen empanadas, up from 1,100 five years ago. The mix includes 38 varieties of beans alone, including the ‘powerhouse’ frijoles negros favored by Cubans and the recently added mayacobas favored by Peruvians.” For Goya, success is largely in its distribution.
"Almost daily, Goya drivers deliver cases of products to tens of thousands of U.S. food stores, from supermarket chains in Texas to independent mom-and-pop bodegas in New York City to the Wal-Mart chain. It’s a more costly method than dropping off jumbo shipments once a week and letting stores warehouse goods, but it lets Goya offer greater variety and ensure that products match each store’s demographics." But success is also wrapped up in a family business that extends the familial feel to its employees. At the company’s modest, 70s-era headquarters, employee desks are "cluttered" with family photos and festooned with "flags that declare their background." As Bob Unanue says: "We try to keep a family environment where there’s a pride to being a part of this … and you can feel it." ~ Tim Manners, editor
“When it first opened, there were people standing all the way around the block,” says Nakki Goranin, author of “American Photobooth,” in The New York Times (3/14/08). That was about 80 years ago, when a fellow named Anatol Josepho, opened the first Photomaton, at 1659 Broadway in New York’s Times Square. Anatol hailed from Siberia, and grew up “dreaming of the Wild West and learning to use a Brownie camera, which Eastman Kodak introduced in 1900.” He got the idea for an automated photo studio, drew up the schematics, and after hitchhiking across America, assembled a team of engineers an mechanics and built one.
During the first six months after unveiling it, some 280,000 people spent 25 cents each to enter the Photomaton, pose, and then “wait the eight minutes it took to process a strip of eight small photos.” It was quite the experience: “At Photomaton, attendants in white smocks and gloves took patrons’ money, suggested poses, cut the strips into individual photos and sold extras like frames and color tinting. Curtains were added later, inviting romantic and sometimes risque behavior.” After its first year, Anatol Josepho sold the American rights for his sensational invention to a business consortium led by Henry Morgenthau Sr. for one million dollars.
Various competitors cropped up — Photomovette, Photomatic, Auto-Photo, etc. — including some that “weren’t as automated as they seemed,” in which “a hidden employee would quickly develop the strips and push them out the slot to unsuspecting patrons.” While the photo booth has evolved into the digital era, via distributors such as Apple Industries, at least one vintage chemical booth can still be found at the Lakeside Lounge in N.Y.C., next to the test-your-grip and fortune-telling machines. Meanwhile, back in Times Square, where it all started, a digital booth at Chashama gallery will snap your portrait and then project it on a giant “Lumacom display screen, 48 stories up, atop the Conde Nast building.” ~ Tim Manners, editor
Steve Demos, who took the “weirdness” out of soy, now wants to put the good bacteria back into your digestive system, reports Gwendolyn Bounds in The Wall Street Journal (3/18/08). Steve was the founder of WhiteWave, makers of Silk soy milk, now owned by Dean Foods. In a career he describes as “20 years of hell and eight years of heaven,” he figured out that the way to put soy into the American diet was to serve it up as milk. He says one of his key insights along the way is that people “don’t need a plethora of offerings,” explaining: “You need the right benefit in the right configuration.” For example, he says, you only ate one kind of Milky Way bar as a kid because that’s all you needed.
Now that his non-compete with Dean has expired, Steve has a new company called NextFood and is rolling out a new product called GoodBelly, a line of probiotic juices aimed primarily at baby boomers. He says that GoodBelly meets his definition of a new product because it solves a problem: “The definition of a business is a customer who is willing to give you money for something you have. And the only reason that a customer is going to give you money is because you solved some problem or offered them something they don’t already have. And if you can get to a biological need, you are going to have a continual supply of customers coming toward you.”
Steve says GoodBelly accomplishes this by licensing a “strain of bacteria that aids digestion” and packaging it up as “a 2.7-ounce ‘shot’ of juice.” He elaborates: “There is some very deep legitimate science on this bug … If you re-establish these bugs in your gut, you will notice a digestive change.” And perhaps most important he “owns” this particular probiotic, giving GoodBelly a chance “to gain the first-mover advantage with the consumer.” He says he favors “guerilla marketing,” such as sampling, versus advertising: “The market will always look for somebody who is willing to take the risk and put out something different,” he says. So far, GoodBelly is available at Whole Foods, and will soon be on the shelf at Safeway and H.E. Butt Grocery. ~ Tim Manners, editor
With the Beijing Olympic Games coming up, Nike and Adidas are trying to get a handle on the Chinese sense of style, reports Sky Canaves in The Wall Street Journal (3/20/08). Adidas is offering up some 2,400 new product designs this year — including “a women’s hoodie featuring a Chinese tree design … and a hot-pink men’s windbreaker with purple and white highlights.” Mark Colin-Thome, who heads the Adidas design center in Shanghai, says Chinese have a sense of color that’s “generally more flamboyant.” These and other Adidas styles will be sold through some 5,000 retail stores the brand intends to open across the country by the time the Games start on August 8th.
Nike, meanwhile, is introducing “sportswear with a new slogan in Chinese that translates as ‘arise and advance.’” As it happens, the word “arise” in Mandarin is “qilai” which “is part of the chorus of China’s national anthem.” Nike is also turning out apparel branded after “Liu Xiang, who set an Olympic record in the 110-meter hurdles at the Athens Games.” The line features the athlete’s “date of birth, gold medals, and a picture of a star he drew as a child.” This is a departure from Nike’s past efforts in China, which touted U.S. sports stars and turned “Michael Jordan into a hero among young Chinese.” But now the focus is on China’s own stars.
While many Chinese are enthusiastic about this, others are not. One blogger says the Adidas and Nike designs “are not bad for display in an exhibition” but not something he’d wear himself in public. Then there are those who prefer “Li Ning, the biggest domestic sportswear brand, founded by the Olympic gymnast of the same name, who won three gold medals for China in 1984.” And some may be turned off by the inevitable design gaffes, such as an Adidas “sports bag decorated with the Chinese flag.” Adidas withdrew the item after realizing that it’s not legal to use the Chinese flag for commercial purposes. But so far, this year alone, the two sportswear giants “will each surpass sales of $1 billion in China,” making it “their biggest market after the U.S.” ~ Tim Manners, editor
There is no air conditioning in the Temple of Pain, an open-air gym where the “free weights … are made from the lead from batteries, and people have to stand on a chrome fender salvaged from a wrecked car to reach the pull-up bar,” reports Marc Lacey in The New York Times (3/18/08). At only about $8 a month for membership, Temple of Pain is still too expensive for most of the people who live in its neighborhood, which is in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. But it is a world away from its chief competitor, Gold’s Gym, “where aid workers, diplomats, peacekeepers and elite entrepreneurs exercise and hobnob.” No one is more aware of this class divide than Julien Spencer.
Julien used to work at Gold’s but was fired after arguing with management about his salary. Julien recently came in fourth in a Haitian bodybuilding competition, but he says that won him no respect either from management or clientele. “Rich people think they know more than me about everything,” he says. “They’ll get mad if you point out that they are holding their elbows wrong.” And yet he manages to summon a certain level of dignity from such disrespect. “You can have all the money in the world but you can’t buy a body,” he says. “That makes me feel good. If the rich guys could buy fitness, they would buy it. They’d leave us with nothing.”
Instead, they’ve left him with the Temple of Pain, “which used to be a rat-infested garbage dump before Harres Desire, a local bodybuilder cleaned it up,” and forged “bits and pieces of salvaged metal … into machines that do the work of the ones Gold’s purchases at a premium from Cybex International, an American manufacturer of treadmills, steppers, cross-trainers and other exercise machines.” Julien says he used to be impressed with all the technology, but notes they wouldn’t work in his neighborhood anyway because the electricity pops off all the time. “Those machines are great there,” he says. “But I feel more comfortable here. I like the vibe. My muscles prefer these homemade machines.” ~ Tim Manners, editor
“People are looking for a store to call their own,” says Jane Elfers, ceo of Lord & Taylor, explaining the 182-year-old retailer’s improbable revival in a New York Times piece by Michael Barbaro (3/19/08). Most folks assumed Lord & Taylor was a goner when it was bought by financier Richard A. Baker in 2006. “The store had become a dump,” says Jane, and the assumption was that Richard would sell the store for parts, for maybe $600 million. “But what happened, literally days after signing the purchase agreement is that the business started to perform better than we expected,” say Richard.
In fact, sales were up about 10 percent on a monthly basis. The reasons were both internal and external. Internally, Jane, who had been ceo since 2000, sold off 32 underperforming stores, dumped its Liz Claiborne mid-priced clothing and “recruited more than 200 new upscale brands.” Externally, “Macy’s decision to eliminate century-old local brands, like Marshall Field’s in Chicago, pushed shoppers into Lord & Taylor,” where, for the first time, they experienced Jane’s makeover. Shoppers were pretty surprised that the 47-store chain wasn’t as “frumpy and middle-aged” as they thought it was.
“Once-dowdy floors are now lined with up-to-the-minute fashions. Cheap plastic shopping bags have given way to hefty, luxurious ones. And formerly empty stores are bustling with shoppers, giving the chain its best sales figures in 15 years.” It seems the “over-consolidation” of retail has “left many Americans rejecting the coast-to-coast sameness of Macy’s in favor of something different.” And both Robert and Jane are in it for the long haul, currently plowing another $500 million into the store that refused to die. “What else could be done to this brand?” says Jane. “The more barriers that are thrown in front of it, the more people believe in it.” ~ Tim Manners, editor
According to Dhananjay Nayakankuppam, “people who have more ambiguous information about a product expect to be happier with what they have bought than those who have more specific details,” reports Alina Tugend in The New York Times (3/15/08). Dhananjay is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Iowa, and published a study about this last month called, “The Blissful Ignorance Effect” (news release only). In one experiment, one group of consumers was given more information about various products than a second group. In another test, the first group was exposed to a manufacturer’s claims about a product and the second group wasn’t.
The result: “In each instance, those who had less precise and vaguer information expected the product to be better.” The study also found “a shift in buyers’ goals before and after purchasing something,” which Dhananjay describes as a transition from “accuracy goals” to “directional goals.” The “accuracy goal” is the shopper’s desire to have enough information to make an informed purchasing decision. But after the purchase, the consumer basically needs to reconcile the decision, which is the “directional goal.” Or, as Dhananjay explains it, “once we’ve committed to something, we want to be happy about the decision, and that drives our perceptions about it.”
Thing is, “the less we know about something, the easier it is to persuade ourselves we like it.” Elliott Aronson of UCSC and author of “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me),” says people are “cognitive misers” who aren’t much interested in doing a lot of research or thinking about the products they buy. He says that’s why brands and slogans are so attractive to people. He also points out that we usually don’t experience as much buyer’s remorse as we think we will because we tend to rationalize things (and again, this is easier to do if you have less information to worry about). And of course it makes a difference if the purchase is big or small. But all in all, it seems less is more, if happiness is the goal. ~ Tim Manners, editor
Its grande plan to become the arbiter of all good things in new music appears to be coming to a grinding halt for Starbucks, reports Jeff Leeds in The New York Times (3/17/08). Originally, the thought was that Starbucks could be “at the vanguard of a new class of unconventional sales outlets that could keep the CD alive in an age of digital downloads.” And that thought was looking good with the successes of pop-jazz artists like Madeleine Peyroux, for instance. It might even be deemed a smashing success, given that Starbucks “reports selling 4.4 million CDs in North America last year, up some 22 percent from the year before.”
But you’ve also got to factor in that, during the same period, Starbucks “opened hundreds of stores … increasing stores in the United States by 18 percent.” Even more important, Starbucks generated those sales with more in the way of Paul McCartney (fun video here) if not less in the way of Madeleine Peyroux. Starbucks has also increased the number of CDs it introduces — from “5 to 20 CDs over the course of a year” to as many as 20 CDs at a time, adding six to eight new ones each month or so.” And the reality is, according to some reports, each Starbucks store sells just two CDs a day, on average.
Starbucks denies that, but they can’t deny that their once-promising foray into the music business has left some customers cold: “I want to come in and be surprised,” says Hazel Delgado, adding: “If they do get more mainstream, why bother?” And it bugs some industry bigwigs too: “They’ve lost that ‘event’ thing … It would be like Oprah’s Book Club having 15 books a week,” says one record executive. And with Starbucks claiming “up to 50 percent of the total profit” of sales by emerging artists, promoter Gary Borman, says it just isn’t worth it. But he adds: “To this day, I see it as a great way of reaching a certain customer,” albeit “not the panacea that a lot of people considered it to be.” ~ Tim Manners, editor