Amazon Buys Whole Foods

With the news today that Amazon would be purchasing Whole Foods in a deal valued at $13.7 billion, the online retailer has made a clear commitment to physical retail. Amazon has experimented with grocery store concepts in the past; we reported on their checkout-free Amazon Go concept store late last year. 

But more importantly, Amazon now has a brick-and-mortar foothold in valuable locations around the country where well-heeled, tech-savvy Millennials and Gen Xers are raising families and shopping for all kinds of items - not just organic groceries. Amazon was also recently granted a patent for software that prevents in-store shoppers from comparing prices online, suggesting that their commitment to physical stores is strong enough that they are willing to put time and energy into stemming the showrooming trend that has plagued other retailers.

Amazon maintains that, for now, Whole Foods will retain its current branding and identity. And with Whole Foods' trusted brand and name recognition, this sounds like a savvy short-term move. Amazon's greatest strengths are in back-end software, logistics and distribution, and these could be used to improve the stores' performance behind the scenes while also turning them into distribution points for the existing Amazon Fresh online grocery service. 

With this acquisition it seems certain that Amazon is going to become a much bigger part of its more affluent customers' lives in the coming years.

 

The Next Unicorn Latte?

It's a massive phenomenon in Taiwan, Malaysia and China, but cheese tea is only beginning to gain notice here in the US. Click through to watch as our intrepid testers, Penn and Dave, pay a visit to Happy Lemon in Flushing, Queens and get a taste of what might be 2018's hottest drink.

Talking with Nora and Phoebe of Aida

It's well known that millennials aren't hitting the town as often as previous generations - and who can blame them when there are so many great shows to binge? But it doesn't mean they've given up on entertaining, either - particularly if a glass of wine is involved.

To learn more about how 20-somethings are bringing the party home, we sat down with Nora O'Malley and Phoebe Connell of hip NYC wine bar Lois to discuss their latest venture, a line of packaged snacks called Aida that promise to elevate the cheese plate for the Netflix generation.

Will Travel for Likes

Image via On The Roofs

Image via On The Roofs

By now, it's well-known that millennials tend to value experiences over possessions. After all, you can get dozens of great Instagram and Snapchat shots on a trip to Havana, but sharing any more than a couple choice pics of your new ultra-hip Proba rug becomes an obvious humblebrag.

So how are millennials utilizing their vacation time for maximum social media impact in 2017?

The main challenge for a traveling millennial is avoiding overexposed locations. As more and more of the world gets snapped and filtered, enterprising young travelers find themselves needing to push the boundaries to get a photo that hasn't been seen before - even if it means taking their lives in their hands.

A better way to find some fresh experiences off the beaten path would be to use an app like Kindred, which connects travelers with friends-of-friends living in their destination city. With a local guide, the likelihood of having a No Reservations-style food adventure increases dramatically, and they may even know the best place to snap some killer sunset timelapses.

Unfortunately, another option is to visit locations that won't be around - at least in their current form - for much longer. "Last-chance tourism" is predicted to be a major trend in 2017, as vacationers flock to picturesque, sinking locations like the Maldives and Venice, and the rapidly-disappearing Great Barrier Reef.

The ultimate shareable vacation, though, might be one few millennials can afford. Elon Musk's SpaceX recently announced that it is hoping to send paying passengers on a trip around the moon sometime in 2018. While figures have yet to be announced, it can be assumed that the passengers are paying well into the tens-of-millions for their round trip - but we expect the toughest part will be waiting until they get back to upload their pics.

Fake Products, Real Products

It seems harder and harder to tell just what's real anymore, and sometimes even we get duped. In our last Blink Report, we highlighted Fail Chips, a brand of pre-crushed potato chips that was being advertised as part of a massive promotional effort from email marketing company Mail Chimp. We were quick to write off the chips as just another viral stunt, but this story has one more twist...

Crunch Time for the Super Bowl

With the Super Bowl coming up this Sunday, we find our thoughts turning to salty, crunchy snacks. Fortunately, we're not the only ones: everyone seems to have a new idea that elevates, transforms or even parodies the humble chip. Below are some of our favorite examples of real (and tongue-in-cheek) crunchy snack innovation - perhaps they'll spark some creative ideas for your own party.

London now boasts a restaurant that serves chips - er, crisps - exclusively. It's called, somewhat confusingly, HipChips, but we assure you that they're talking about the crunchy stuff, not fries. Grub Street has the lowdown.

Taco Bell is once again stretching the bounds of Tex-Mex, this time with a nacho chip made entirely from chicken. The Volcano Crispy Chicken Chip is currently being tested only in Knoxville, Tennessee, so start booking those flights.

Looking for something a little higher-end?  Swedish brewery St. Eriks has launched a potato chip designed to pair perfectly with their premium beers. And it comes with a premium price tag: roughly $55 for precisely 5 chips, nestled in a very handsome gift box. They're currently sold out, but perhaps you can snag a pack or two for next year's party.

Tostitos has chosen to focus not on the chip itself, this year, but the bag: their limited-edition Super Bowl bag features a built-in alcohol detector (it can't officially be called a breathalyzer), and can even call you an Uber in case you've overindulged.

And, only fitting as the last item on our list, is FailChips, a brand of chips that have been pre-crushed. If you love those bottom-of-the-bag bits, just tear off the corner of the FailChip package and pour them right into your mouth. Sadly, this one is just a parody brand created by Mail Chimp as part of a marketing campaign. But we do think they've really hit on something here...

Red States? Blue States? Organic States

Red States? Blue States? Organic States

It would be an understatement to say that 2016 has been a divisive year. It seems increasingly like America is two nations, existing on parallel tracks in separate realities. And yet, there is one unlikely factor that unites them both: organic food.    

A new study from the Pew Research Center finds that opinions on organic and non-GMO foods are largely shared across party lines in the United States. No matter who you voted for, you're still likely to believe that organic food is healthier (though it may be too expensive for you to buy consistently), and you're just as likely to be concerned about the safety of GMO products.    

As the rare trend with bipartisan support, it doesn't look like organic is going away anytime soon. It's a juggernaut, and over the last ten years (twenty, if you're particularly hip) it has been a defining force in food culture, lending its aesthetic and ethos even to products that didn't actually carry the USDA stamp. In fact, it's those peripheral signifiers - the near-ubiquitous reclaimed wood, letterpress-style fonts, and folksy language - that we think are most likely to change in 2017.

But the food itself? It's sticking around, by popular demand.

 

Dueling Plans to Disrupt Grocery

What's the worst part of going to the grocery store? If you said the checkout line, you'd make a lot of software engineers very happy. This week, Amazon and Walmart both announced their own projects to simplify the grocery shopping experience by using technology to radically cut down on line time.  

Amazon's store uses a system of sensors and cameras to track customers and the items they pick up, no barcode reader necessary - simply walk in, take what you want, and walk out. Your purchases will be charged directly to your card. To use Walmart's system, pick out your items in advance online; they will be bagged up and ready to go when you walk into the store.    

The most interesting part of these pilot programs, though, is what they're not: namely, delivery services. Both still require you to go to a physical store, pick up your groceries and bring them home, which in an era of Uber and Amazon Prime might sound strangely off-message. But it's also a sign that these big retailers know there's still an appeal to shopping in person, and sometimes an online-plus-showrooming one-two punch is the most effective strategy.    

And it's still the fastest way to get what you want when you're planning the dinner menu at the last minute.

Improving Lives Through Design

As the weather begins to cool here in New York City, it's hard not to consider the challenges the weather presents for our city's growing homeless population.  For this reason, we're particularly heartened by the success of The Empowerment Plan, a nonprofit with a brilliant model that addresses both the immediate, urgent needs of the homeless and, at the same time, the root causes of homelessness.

At the core of The Empowerment Plan is a winter coat specially designed for the needs of someone sleeping outside; it can be unfolded into a sleeping bag, or rolled tightly for easy transport when it's warm out. The project hires single parents living in shelters to make the coats, providing employment that can break the generational cycle of homelessness.

What we like about this program is that it leverages smart design that is based on real-life user research – research that leads not only to the development of an effective product, but to a deeper understanding of the long-term needs of the user. 

Check out The Empowerment Plan - and donate a coat! - here.

 

Snapchat and the Wearables Trap

Every once in a while an idea comes along that's so appealing - so obviously right - that we'll blame anything but the idea if the product fails. "Sure," we say when someone takes a stab at it and bombs, "they gave it a good shot - but their execution was all wrong. We'll be the ones to get it right."  

Increasingly, wearable cameras are feeling like one of those seductive dead-ends. The idea that we would want to record everything we see is so natural and obvious that it's got to be a winner, right?    

This weekend Snapchat stepped into the ring with a fashionable pair of their own video glasses, called Snapchat Spectacles. Learning from the mistakes of Google Glass, they're aiming for influencers, not geeks. And unlike the various other life-tracking cameras that have come and gone, they've got an enormously popular sharing platform already in place for all the content users will be shooting. So are Spectacles a sure thing?  

It's not wrong that everyone wants their lives to be a movie. But the key insight is that we don't want to be that movie's camera operator; we want to be its star. This is why selfie sticks sell by the millions while the Looxcie remains a footnote. As much as we all love to hate it, the selfie stick at least acknowledges that good content needs a focal point; a personality. Spectacles expect us to be altruistic enough to make our friends those stars - but if it's our video, we want to be in it.

If there's going to be a massive hit in the flagging world of cameras and video hardware, we would put our money on autonomous drones. As drones get cheaper and their software continues to advance, it seems increasingly likely that our most shareable moments will be captured by a tiny flying camera, loyally circling around us while our hands are free to make avocado toast, or free-climb El Capitan, or cradle an elderly pug in a top hat. And that way, our followers will always see our best angle.

Sampling Rolled Ice Cream at 10 Below

On an exceptionally hot day in early September, we decided to take a trip to Chinatown to sample Thai rolled ice cream - a dessert trend that's been sweeping the city. Does it deserve the long lines and hyperbolic reviews? Watch and find out!

Talking Beer with Zach Mack

The craft beer revolution continues to grow, but its poster child - the hoppy, bitter IPA - is giving way to new varieties that boast sweet, sour and even salty flavors. With so many different brewers making so many new brews, it can be difficult to predict where the next big trend will emerge.

To help us find out, we sat down with craft brewing expert Zach Mack, owner of East Village beer geek mecca ABC Beer Co. to discuss the state of the craft beer revolution, the emerging trend of community-supported brewers, and why there's still room in this world of lambics and saisons for a classic mainstream lager.

Into the Heart of Shane Dawson Fandom

When YouTube phenomenon Shane Dawson held a book signing at the Barnes & Noble below our office, we saw the chance to learn a little about fandom, YouTube culture, and what drives Gen Z kids to sit in 95º weather for six hours.

Rise of the Poké-Men (and Women)

Have you noticed a distinct uptick in the number of people on your commute who appear completely engrossed in their phones? Grown men and women who have stopped, perhaps, right in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious to the world around them? No? 

That's probably because you, too, are hopelessly addicted to Pokémon GO.

Pokémon - the venerable Nintendo franchise that's been around for twenty years, if you can believe it - has made the jump to mobile devices, and the response has been extraordinary. The new game, which uses augmented reality to overlay the world of Pokémon on top of a simplified Google Map, instantly became the most-downloaded app in the iOS app store, and currently has as many daily active users as Twitter. Nintendo's valuation has jumped by $7.5 billion on news of the app's positive reception. 

What we find most interesting about GO, though, is its popularity among older users. In our own unscientific observations - and those of a handful of blogs also reporting on the phenomenon - a large number of Pokémon GO players appear to be millennials, the same generation that played the original game on their Game Boy handhelds. They may have aged out of the original target, but they've shown no qualms about jumping back into a childhood obsession on their smartphones.

Ultimately, Pokémon's success is in its core formula - a finely-tuned system of challenge, reward and item-collecting that has proven highly addictive. And facing a grown-up user base equipped with mobile devices, Nintendo has been able to adapt their franchise's core mechanics to the kind of bite-size play that has driven success for other mobile games.

We fully admit that we don't know whether GO will keep growing; plenty of apps have seen explosive adoption early on, only to fizzle. Even Nintendo's own first app, Miitomo, saw its substantial hype melt away as users tired of the game's basic premise. 

But here's what we do know:

- Pokémon GO represents a massive success for Augmented Reality. We've been talking about AR for years, but the technology has always struggled to find a mass audience. This may, finally, be its watershed moment.

- Millennials' nostalgia for the 90s of their youth is a powerful force. They're proud of their geeky pasts, and not above revisiting them. A youth spent playing video games and collecting trading cards is a badge of honor.

- Pokémon GO is escapism, and in a world that feels increasingly chaotic, immersive fantasies hold particular sway. In the words of Gizmodo's Matt Novak, this is the photo of the summer: 

Non-Dairy Indulgence with Jawea

Just in time for summer, we sat down with Mike Rosenthal, founder of Jawea frozen desserts, to talk about flavor inspiration, health claims, and how a non-dairy frozen dessert can actually be better than ice cream. Check out the video to learn more...

Summer Fancy Food Show Highlights

This year's Fancy Food Show was massive, with more than 2550 exhibitors filling the Javits Center. It can be overwhelming, but we put in the legwork and surfaced some emerging trends and cool products that we thought deserve special attention.

Year of the Legume?

With their high levels of protein, gluten-free pedigree, and remarkable versatility, legumes were everywhere this year. Lentils and beans appeared in unexpected foods, from RW Garcia's lentil tortilla chips to Pure Genius' vegan brownies made with beans. Brami touted the benefits of the lupini bean, which they say offers the most protein per calorie of any plant on Earth. And The Chaat Co. even included dried lentil puffs with their savory yogurts for an added crunch.

The star here, though, was unquestionably the chickpea. Dried chickpeas are big for snacking, with The Good Bean offering flavors like Chili Lime. Delighted By Hummus showed off dessert hummuses in flavors like snickerdoodle and brownie batter. Maya Kaimal brought salted chickpea chips. And Sir Kensington showed Fabanaise, a vegan mayo made with aquafaba - a whipped egg substitute made with chickpea water. 

 

Beyond Wheat Flour

This year, we saw a variety of products made with flours milled from unorthodox ingredients, like Siete's almond flour tortillas, quinoa crisps from Kiddylicious, and baked lentil chips from Saffron Road. Smart Flour Foods even makes pizzas with crusts made from ancient grains - in this case, amaranth, teff and sorghum. As gluten-free continues to permeate the mainstream, expect to see brands getting creative with their baking.

 

The Sea Vegetable Trend Deepens

Nori strips have hit the mainstream, and brands are exploring new ways to incorporate seaweed into snacking - like GimMe's tortilla-style seaweed chips in flavors like Sriracha and Wasabi, and Seasnax' chip-like seaweed Chompers.

Some of our favorite finds:

Get to Know Gen Z

 
 

Globally, there are about 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 - the largest youth population in history. This is Generation Z, and their interests, aspirations and fears have already begun to shape our world.

From Snapchat to Tumblr, emoji to meme culture, Generation Z speaks in images. Understanding the coded meaning in a viral pic represents a form of social acceptance that transcends all borders. 

Gen Z is stressed – from the global refugee crisis to the new emphasis on STEM and Common Core education, this generation feels the weight of the world on their shoulders. And it manifests in unexpected ways – even in fashion, with the rise of cozy, reassuring looks like Normcore and Athleisure. 

Food is an obsession for this generation. They watched Millennials build food truck empires and transform Sriracha into a mainstream phenomenon, and they see it as completely natural to spend their disposable income on the most unusual, authentic, flavorful meals – and share them with their friends.

Ready to learn more about these second-generation digital natives?

CONTACT US HERE TO REQUEST A PRESENTATION OF OUR GENERATION Z REPORT

 

Nano-Batch Kombucha

In the last decade, kombucha has taken over premium beverage cases around the world. But has the once-obscure hippie darling gone soft? This week, we sat down with a super-premium small-batch kombucha brewer to talk ingredients, pasteurization, and the importance of sticking to your roots.

Luxepack 2016

Luxepack is the only creative packaging showcase in North America - we visited to see what exhibitors could tell us about the latest packaging trends, and came away with 3 key insights.

Post-Natural

Every few months, New York faces another 'it' food - an item so novel, Instagrammable and, hopefully, delicious, that we can't help but line up for it. Over the last decade and a half, we've been happily indulging in delightful abominations like the Ramen Burger, the Cronut, and milkshakes from Black Tap that may or may not feature an entire slice of cake. But the Raindrop Cake is truly something different - a translucent sphere of gelatinous perfection that has the Brooklyn food world mesmerized.

Made with only water and agar, this otherworldly dessert is paired with roasted soybean powder and a pool of brown sugar syrup. Fans say flavor isn't really the point of this hypnotic snack, though: what's earned it so many fans is its delicate, smoother-than-gelatin texture. If you're interested in trying it, you'll have to brave the formidable line at Smorgasburg - there's no word yet on a permanent location.