Nutrition experts and health activists have been pushing Americans to drink less sugar water. That has sparked soda-tax campaigns and put pressure on the soft-drink companies, which don’t want to get cast as the next cigarette industry.
Now Coca-Cola has discovered that one of its responses to this pressure — selling its products in smaller portions, at a higher unit price — has a salutary side effect: It has boosted Coke’s profits (Bloomberg). Is this is a case of doing right leading to doing well? Or simply an instance of milking some desperate last profits from an aging product category before the march of demographic change leaves it behind? Either way, anything that helps people reduce sugar calories — or even better, replace them with more nourishing alternatives — deserves a cheer.
Walmart has long been a target for critics on the left who lament the “Walmart effect” — the way the superstore chain tended to strangle small local merchants and lower wages and benefits as it has conquered the U.S. retail marketplace. Now there’s a new kind of Walmart effect on the horizon.
In 2015 Walmart found that its stores were a mess, its shelves were often empty, and its customers were unhappy. The retail giant took the shocking step of raising wages for its front-line workers, investing in their training, and opening paths for them to advance (The New York Times).
Over the last few years, much of the trailblazing, waste-busting progress against Food Waste in Europe has been taking place across the Channel in France, from impactful legislation changes to quirky campaigns and dancing (yes, dancing). Sacré bleu!
They have just banned plastic cups, plates and cutlery
What’s at stake in the automation-prediction game. “Intelligent agents” is what we called them, once upon a time, these programs that would perform tasks for us without our telling them. And that sounded great! An agent works for you, right? But now those software bots have joined up with hardware robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles. And if a new report from the Forrester research outfit is right, they might be putting us out of work (The Guardian). Forrester says that, “by 2021, a disruptive tidal wave will begin”: Robots will already have eliminated 6 percent of U.S. jobs — starting with customer service reps and taxi and truck drivers — and more will quickly follow. If true, it’s a grim prognosis: We don’t have nearly enough public resources in place to retrain that volume of unemployed workers or to give them a safety net. But wait! Here’s another report, this one from Goldman Sachs (Bloomberg), that says not to worry: We’ve survived similar industrial transitions before, and they will open all kinds of new opportunities for those who know where to look. We just need the government and other public institutions to manage the transition in a smart way. That’s when you might take a look at our deadlocked Congress and trivialized presidential election — and wince.
Big Ag keeps getting bigger. Bayer’s $56 billion buyout of Monsanto, if approved by regulators, will further consolidate the hold of a handful of agro-chemical industrial giants on the world’s food supply, writes Brad Plumer in Vox. Monsanto holds a big slice of the global seed market, but its trademark Roundup-Ready GMO crops are already losing ground, as bugs gain resistance to the pesticide. The BigCos engaged in this frantic mating dance — not just Bayer/Monsanto but Dow/Dupont, Syngenta/ChemChina and others — are all betting that the bigger they are, the better they’ll be able to influence governments and regulators in their favor. They might be right. But global consolidation only deepens the industry’s commitment to the path of mammoth monoculture, even if that hasn’t worked so well for Monsanto’s pesticide-resistant crops. If we hope for sustainable diversity in our food supply, we may need a little more of it in the companies that support our farmers, too.
That Willy Wonka (RIP Gene Wilder) was many things: an innovative confectionary maverick, whimsical candy dandy, and you could say, a childhood obesity opportunist. If he was a real-life choc baron, I’m sure Jamie Oliver would have a few strong words against his kaleidoscopic, kid-fattening operation. For all his flaws, at least he was ahead of the curve when it came to edible packaging (remember the edible tea cups? If you can’t, see below).
Kimbal Musk just recently announced that he will be launching a new business in the fall — Square Roots. An urban farming accelerator program focused on training young entrepreneurs to grow non-GMO, fresh, tasty, food year-round, Square Roots will be leveraging the Freight Farms technology to create campuses of climate-controlled, indoor, vertical farms. These campuses will be located in major urban centers across the US starting in the fall.
The Square Roots team is made up of an incredible group of individuals and network of mentors that will coach each entrepreneur in the program. Their goal is to help facilitate the creation of forward-thinking companies that strengthen communities by bringing local, #realfood to everyone. Pretty awesome, right? We think so too! The first campus is launching this fall in Brooklyn, and they’re looking for their first class of real food entrepreneurs. If you want a chance to work in an LGM and receive guidance from industry experts, be sure to apply.
This week we introduce the Shift Dialogs, NewCo’s new video series featuring in-depth conversations with the leaders driving significant change across business, culture, and society. Our first episode features Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft. We’ve also released the second episode, featuring Max Ventilla, founder and CEO of AltSchool.
But Did You Know It Books 2,000 Local Bands Each Year?
A city’s public spaces define its character. When underutilized, public spaces can become eyesores, but mostly they represent wasted opportunities. Off the Grid is focused on identifying those spaces and organizing events, in partnership with food vendors, at underutilized spaces throughout the Bay Area.
Matt Cohen, who founded the Off the Grid in 2010, sees it as a logistics company, one that utilizes what it’s learned about permitting and working with small businesses to put our cities’ underutilized spaces to better use, making them better for everyone. Here are some surprising nuggets from our talk with Cohen …
We want to know where our food comes from. The evidence is seen on foods labeled organic, in the rise of farmer’s markets, even in Ikea products. Our shifting attitudes are reshaping the business of growing food, and Freight Farms is rethinking the way we produce our produce. Founder Brad McNamara and Jon Friedman are selling hydroponics farms built from old shipping containers that growers can monitor through an app. They want to provide communities, neighborhoods, and schools an alternative way to grow food and know where it comes from.
Founded in 2011, Freight Farms has sold roughly 60 farms worldwide, 20 in the United States. Of those, McNamara says nearly 30 have been sold to food startups. At Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY, students use a freight farm to produce food for roughly 1,000 students at least once a week. A Boston husband-wife team purchased four freight farms in 2013, and now sell produce at local farmer markets for a living.
For $82,000, plus another $20,000 of annual operating costs, a freight farm can grow up to 800 heads of lettuce at a time. The 40-foot long, eight-foot wide containers, dubbed “Leafy Green Machines,” are essentially year-round farms capable of producing the same amount of produce as an acre of farmland on just 10 gallons of water a day. The company claims its mobile farms can create access to food in areas where the climate cannot support traditional farming methods. “When you start to look at the food system as a whole,” McNamara says, “there’s just so much to it. There are so many different ways to attack this problem. It’s an exciting space between technology, design, community, and empowerment.”