Longer commutes are making workers feel lonelier than ever

Commuting sucks and new research proves it. A study conducted by the University of the West of England, “Commuting and Wellbeing,” suggests that long commutes are having a negative impact on workers’ mental health and job satisfaction.

The study, which was sponsored by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, was conducted between February 2016 and August 2017. The researchers used data taken from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which has been surveying adults from 40,000 households across the UK since 2009. For “Commuting and Wellbeing,” researchers focused on six years of data, from 2009/10 to 2015/16.

According to the project summary, the researchers were principally interested in the change, over the selected timeframe, of workers’ commuting behaviors and how it may have impacted their general wellbeing. Wellbeing is defined as “the extent to which people’s lives are going well and is most often measured subjectively.”

Business Insider reports that in England, the average commute time has raised over the past 20 years, from 48 to 60 minutes. One in seven UK commuters will spend a minimum of two hours daily commuting to work. In the US, commute times are slightly shorter, averaging at around 50 minutes round-trip.

It isn’t that surprising then that researchers found, in the UK at least, that each additional minute of commuting time reduces not just leisure time, but job satisfaction as well. Those added minutes add strain and stress, negatively impacting workers’ mental health.

Note though that not all commuters are created equal, according to the study at least. Those who opt to bike or walk to work report higher job satisfaction than their bus and train riding peers.

Dr. Kiron Chatterjee, the principal investigator for the study and an associate professor of travel behavior, concluded that just adding 20 minutes to a worker’s commute can result in the same negative impact on job satisfaction as receiving a 19 percent pay cut.

Even though spending extra time on the train is not appealing to anyone, Chatterjee points out that many will still opt to do so if it means that a higher paycheck is the result. A higher-paying job, even with a longer commute, still seems to improve job satisfaction.

“This raises interesting questions over whether the additional income associated with longer commutes fully compensates for the negative aspects of the journey to work,” Chatterjee remarked via Business Insider.

What’s even worse than the strain commuting puts on our mental health? Well, according to Lydia Smith with Quartz Media, it’s also making us lonelier than ever.

“Millennials,” Smith writes, “are often maligned as entitled, work-shy snowflakes unwilling to go the extra mile for their professions.” However, this is probably not all that true; in fact, research points to the opposite.

Smith points out that a lethal combination of stagnant wages and rising house costs, which is the trend in not just the UK but elsewhere as well, are pushing young people further away from their jobs. Smith herself went through a period where she was traveling nearly 200-miles each week to get to work. The UK’s Trades Union Congress also believes that a “lack of investment in roads and railways” has also added to workers travel times.

This problem of getting priced out of locations close to work and increased commuting times is felt most acutely by a younger demographic, those aged from 20 to 35. Young Brits within this age range often spend about a third of their post-tax income on rent.

Young Brits and young Americans alike are suffering, in part, due to the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession. According to a 2016 Resolution Foundation report conducted in the UK, young Brits are the first generation to earn less than their parents. Their American peers fare no better. A 2015 US Census unraveled that young Americans are earning $2,000 less on average than their parents did at the same age.

As a result, a younger generation is facing higher costs of living, lower wages (which leads to less disposable income) and longer commutes. The Netflix-and-chill generation is going out to socialize less and spending more times on social media to fill the void.

The downside is that spending more time on social media actually makes people feel lonelier. In fact, a University of Pittsburgh study discovered that young people between the ages of 19 and 32 who spend more than two hours a day on social media are actually twice as likely to feel socially isolated, or lonely. Even Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard, suggests that a long commute is one of the most substantial predictors of loneliness.

Considering that more and more people are being subjected to longer commutes to work, it might be about time that employers start offering telecommute positions or work-from-home scenarios as the new norm.

If a more flexible work schedule isn’t the option for you, try to make the most of your commute by meditating, listening to a podcast or reading a book.  

Featured image via Pixabay

Nike losing teens in footrace with Adidas, analysts say

The investment bank and asset management firm Piper Jaffray released the findings of their latest biannual “Taking Stock with Teens” Survey, MarketWatch reports, and apparently, Nike is losing touch with teenagers. Instead, the demographic seems to be spending more with Adidas and Amazon.

Before you throw out your swoosh-covered sweats and socks, Nike (NKE) still holds court as the top clothing and footwear brand. The survey does relay that the sportswear giant is among the top brands that experienced the largest declines. Other household names that suffered sharp declines include: Ralph Lauren (RL); Steve Madden (SHOO); Ugg, (DECK); Fossil (FOSL); and Michael Kors (KORS).

Under Armour (UAA)  also took a hit from the survey, with teen males ranking it as the No. 1 brand classified as “old.” According to CNBC, Under Armour only got one vote among upper-income females as a brand favorite. Nike vs. Adidas aside, it actually seems as though the entire athleisure trend is beginning to lose favor with the teenage demographic. Only a third of teens chose athletic apparel as their preferred fashion pick, down 40 percent from last year. The overall trend moved towards festival fashion.

Piper Jaffray polled 6,100 teens across 44 states for the survey. The average participant’s age was 16; the average household income was $66,100.

After examining the results, analysts were most surprised by Nike’s decline compared to Adidas’ (ADS) surge in popularity. Adidas “doubled its mindshare,” going from 2 percent to 4 percent. Even with their rise, Adidas didn’t fully offset Nike’s losses.

“Overall, larger brands are ceding share for small brands,” Piper Jaffray analysts noted.

Analysts highlighted brands like Vans (VFC) and Supreme as rising in popularity.

Other familiar names ranked highly in the survey as well. Starbucks’ (SBUX) siren call resounded with teens from upper-income households (average yearly income of $101,000) as their top restaurant; it also ranked first among teens from median income households, those bringing in $55,000. Netflix (NFLX) chilled at the top for daily video consumption. Snapchat was the fan favorite for top social media platform. Turns out that teens don’t diverge much from their grownup counterparts when shopping, picking Amazon (AMZN) as their online retailer of choice.

One reason why Amazon has consistently ranked as teen’s favorite site for the past three years could simply be that the company knows their customer base well. Recognizing the opportunity to turn teen shoppers into lifelong customers, Amazon just announced that teens between 13 and 17 years old can now shop on their site with a personal login. Parents or guardians will receive an email or text with order details. Parents can then either approve the purchase or even set limits on their child’s spending.

Christian Magoon, CEO of Amplify ETFs, pointed out that Amazon’s strategy to capture a younger demographic was good for the company’s longevity, considering entire households can now be raised using Amazon smart home products.

“Younger generations rebel against things that are static,” Magoon highlighted, reasoning that other retailers should take notes from Amazon’s strategy.

“Amazon continues to innovate and grow,” he continued. “We’re not at peak Amazon. People are still excited about what’s next.”

Overall though, teen spending is down 4 percent compared to last year, CNBC reports. Teen spending accounts for 7 percent of the country’s retail sales, amounting to nearly $830 billion yearly.

China bans Facebook messaging service WhatsApp

The Chinese government has disabled Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp, the New York Times reports.

Nadim Kobeissi, an applied cryptographer at Paris-based research firm Symbolic Software, told the Times his company began noticing slowdowns in the service Wednesday. By Monday, the block had become comprehensive.

Authorities blocked video-chat and file-sharing functions within WhatsApp in mid-July, but the app’s messaging capabilities, which employ a rare and strong form of encryption, remained functional. The government lifted bans on video chat and file sharing later, but has since disabled the app in its entirety, reports say.

WhatsApp’s messaging service uses a renowned end-to-end encryption technique. As the Times explains it, even Facebook itself cannot decode messages sent via the app. The encryption method is not widely used and is therefore difficult to compromise.

But the ban, as the Times points out, indicates that Chinese authorities have developed a means by which to breach WhatsApp messaging encryption.

“This is not the typical technical method in which the Chinese government censors something,” Kobeissi said.

Censorship of various technological communication services is commonplace in the country. If the government does not disable a service entirely, it slows down that service to such a degree that it becomes unusable.

“If you’re only allowed to drive one mile per hour, you’re not going to drive on that road, even if it’s not technically blocked,” Lokman Tsui, an internet communications specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explained to the Times.

The goal of the censorship is to funnel users toward a handful of communication services that the government can easily monitor. WeChat is one such service. It is similar to WhatsApp except that the former, according to the Times, offers broader functionality.

Tencent, the company that runs WeChat, is based in Shenzhen and has said that it will comply with the government’s requests for information. In total, 963 million people use WeChat, the Times says.

Services like WhatsApp and WeChat have largely replaced e-mail in China, and are vital to many business operations. A large number of China-based businesses were unwilling to use WeChat, whether because of the threat of surveillance or some other reason.

Some former WhatsApp users in China expressed frustration on social media, the Times reports.

“Losing contact with my clients, forced back to the age of telephone and email for work now,” one user complained on Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging site.

“Even WhatsApp is blocked now? I’m going to be out of business soon,” another person said via the same site.

WhatsApp was the last Facebook product available in mainland China, the Times says. The country banned the company’s main social media site in 2009. Instagram, another Facebook offering, is disabled as well.

The WhatsApp ban represents a setback for the social media behemoth, whose founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has been advocating and taking steps toward re-entering the Chinese market.

The handful of American-created communication services China does tolerate include Microsoft’s Skype and Apple’s FaceTime. The former does not employ end-to-end encryption, the Times points out, and is, therefore, easier for the government to monitor. The latter does use end-to-end encryption but is less secure than WhatsApp.

The Times notes that the Office of the United States Trade Representative is investigating whether Chinese authorities have violated the intellectual property rights of American citizens. The Office has not clarified whether it will consider the bans as part of the investigation, or merely look for cases in which China has stolen US technology.

The WhatsApp ban comes just prior to the country’s Communist Party Congress on October 18, during which authorities appoint the leaders of the party, who in turn run the country.

According to the Times, the meeting, which the country holds once every five years, will likely reinstall President Xi Jinping as party leader. The question remains as to who will join Xi on the Standing Committee of Politburo, the party’s highest ranking group.

Under Xi’s leadership, the Times notes, China has tightened censorship, closed several churches and jailed a number of human rights activists.

Featured image via Pixabay

Crocs, Inc. is making a resurgence

After a series of struggles, most recently an abysmal fourth quarter of 2016, Crocs, Inc. and its iconic foam clog are making a comeback, the Washington Post reports.

The company posted a 28.4 percent year-over-year increase in net profit over the first six months of 2017, and according to the Post. Foot traffic in Crocs stores jumped 12 percent during the back to school season.

Founded in Niwot, CO in 2002, Crocs quickly jumped to prominence (or, some might say, infamy) around the world. Former U.S. president George W. Bush, actor Al Pacino, and former model Brooke Shields were all among the shoe’s early adopters, the Post says.

From 2003 through 2007, the company’s annual revenue grew from $1.17 million to $847.35 million.

But in 2008, amidst the recession, Crocs suffered its first annual revenue decrease since 2002, lost over $185 million and, according to the Post, laid off 2,000 workers. A $67.7-billion annual loss followed in 2009, but the company returned to profitability in 2010 and reported continuous profit growth from 2010-2012.

From 2012 to 2013, though, net income declined 92 percent.

In December 2013, Blackstone Group LP invested $200 million in Crocs. The company installed a new permanent CEO, Gregg Ribatt, the following year.

But the bottom line continued to drop. In 2014, Crocs posted a net loss of $4.9 million. The following year, the company lost over $83 million.

In 2016, profits began moving in a positive direction. Crocs cut its annual loss by 80 percent to $16.5 million.

But, the company lost $44.5 million in the fourth quarter of the year.

Back in March, in conjunction with the release of the earnings results for the fourth quarter of 2016, the company announced plans to close almost 160 stores and appointed then-president Andrew Rees to replace Ribatt as CEO.

Since, Crocs has recovered, reporting net income of $11 million in the first quarter of 2017—a 7.8 percent year-over-year increase—and of just under $22 million in quarter two—a 37.8 percent year-over-year spike.

“Crocs is starting to turn itself around, even in these very difficult times,” said Steven Marotta, an analyst at CL King & Associates, per the Post. “This is a company that has successfully gone back to the basics.”

Crocs discontinued a number of unpopular lines, the Post says, and is redoubling its focus on its flagship product, the foam clog.

That shoe, which sells for $35 a pair, now accounts for half of the company’s sales, according to the Post. “The classic clog has re-emerged as our hero,” said Crocs’ chief marketing officer, Terence Reilly, per the Post. “Certainly in 2017, there’s been a resurgence.”

The signature Crocs, which the company originally marketed as boating shoes, are slip resistant and easy to clean, and as a result, have garnered popularity amongst medical professionals and restaurant workers, the Post says. Targeting the latter group, the company has developed classic Crocs featuring prints of eggs and bacon, sushi, and chili peppers.

The culinary angle is one of a number of new augmentations to the classic shoe. Others include glitter-covered Crocs, and Crocs bearing prints of Batman, Spider-Man and Minnie Mouse.

“New colors and prints are selling well,” Rees said in last month’s earnings call, according to the Post. “We’re striking the right balance of comfort and style, and consumers are responding favorably.”

In December 2016, Crocs signed Drew Berrymore as a spokesperson, and in August, Berrymore agreed to collaborate with the company to create two Crocs designs. The first will launch next February; the second will appear next May.

Wrestler John Cena signed on with Crocs in June.

Both celebrities, along with a few others, are promoting Crocs as part of the Come As You Are campaign, which the company calls a “celebration of the rebellious, the impossible to categorize, the uniquely defined in all of us.”

Crocs may not be cool, but that’s exactly what so many new adopters find cool about them. The new marketing campaign is aimed at the alternative crowd, but the appeal is so great that Crocs are climbing back into the mainstream.

The shoe made three appearances at London Fashion Week, the Post says. Fashion designer Christopher Kane, a long-time proponent, featured an accessorized version of the shoe—replete with mink fur and gems—at his Spring 2018 show.

“Whether or not they’re actually cool — well, that’s up for debate,” said Cameron Peebles, chief marketing officer of inMarket, per the Post. “But our data shows that they’re popular again.”

Featured image via Pxhere

More and more Amish businesses are using technology

There are 2,000 thriving Amish businesses in the Lancaster, PA area, Donald B. Kraybill, a retired professor at Elizabethtown’s Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, told the New York Times. Many are worth several million dollars.

More and more of those businesses are not strictly agrarian. Many now function with the aid of technology, which the Amish traditionally shun.

Amish communities are growing rapidly, the Times notes, citing an August report by researchers at Elizabethtown College near Lancaster that estimates the Amish population in the U.S. at 313,000. That figure represents a 150 percent increase from 25 years ago.

Most of the growth occurs internally. On average, the Times says, an Amish married-woman has seven children. Marriage is more common in their tight-knit communities than in America as a whole, and they tend to marry younger than the average American does.

With the population growth, farmland has become scarce and more expensive, compelling many Amish people to relocate to rural areas in places like upstate New York, and/or to adopt business trades. In many cases, the move toward such trades necessitates increased interaction with the non-Amish community and requires the Amish to commute into cities for work.

Both of those demands entail the use of modern conveniences and technology traditionally prohibited within the sect.

Moses Smucker, an Amish man who lives in Lancaster, runs a food store and sandwich shop, Smuckers Quality Meats and Grill, in Philadelphia, which lies 80 miles east of Lancaster. Six days a week, a non-Amish driver to takes Smucker, who does not drive a car, into the city.

Smucker told the Times he enjoys escaping the city after his work is done. “Philadelphia is very fast-paced,” he said. “Then I go home, and I can drive my horse. I enjoy horses. Some people don’t, but I do. It slows everything down.”

With regard to technology, Smucker said: “You have to do what you have to do to stay in business. People are starting to understand that.”

Smucker’s shop, which gets four and a half stars on 80 reviews on Yelp!, accepts credit cards as payment.

Amish Country Gazebos, which supplies landscaping structures for the Marriott, the Hilton, Harrah’s and other notable chains, operates online and makes deliveries using its own trucks.

John, an Amish man in his late 60s, cuts wood for the gazebo company using a computer-driven crosscut saw. (Like many people who appear in the Times article, John, in deference to Amish values of humility, declined to provide his surname.)

“We call him the computer geek sometimes,” John’s son, Junior, told the Times.

Sam, a 29-year-old Amish man, used to make deliveries for Amish Country Gazebos, but now works on a computer in the company’s shop. It was difficult for him to learn how to interact with the machine, but once he did, he saw how it could facilitate business operations.

“I thought, I need to know how this computer thinks, or the computer needs to know how I think—we need to get along!” he said, per the Times.

Now, he appreciates the efficiency of the machine. “I can easily see it helping as far as numbers go — oh my goodness — to get rid of all these papers.”

But, Sam told the Times he has “never thought about bringing a computer” onto his property in Lancaster. Like many in his community, he draws a sharp line between business and home life, especially with respect to technology.

Still, technology is becoming part of the fabric of Amish life even at home. Many members of the community use lawnmowers and other electric yard-care equipment.

Though hooking into a public utility feed remains unheard of, some Amish people electrify their homes using power generators and solar panels.

Smartphones are becoming increasingly common in the community. The opening of the Pandora’s box that is the internet has given rise to fears about pornography and excessive influence from the outside world.

Through social media, for instance, Amish children may develop romantic attachments toward non-Amish peers—Amish rules frown upon such relationships.

“There’s always a concern about what would lead our young folk out of the church and into the world,” said John.

“Amish life is about recognizing the value of agreed-upon limits,” Erik Wesner, an author who studies the Amish way of life and runs a blog called Amish America, “and the spirit of the internet cuts against the idea of limits.”

While Marilyn, an 18-year-old Amish woman, values limits—she said she made an effort to respect church leaders’ wishes by limiting her cell phone usage in church—she says there must be a limit to the Amish’s resistance to technology.

“We can’t live like we did 50 years ago because so much has changed,” she said. “You can’t expect us to stay the same way. We love our way of life, but a bit of change is good.”

John’s wife, Lizzie, was disturbed by people’s obsession with their phones. “People are treating those phones like they are gods,” she told the Times. “They’re bowing down to it at the table, bowing down to it when they’re walking. Here we say we don’t bow down to idols, and that’s getting dangerously close, I think.”

Having lived without technology for so long, the Amish are more sensitive to its effect on human interaction than others are, Kraybill said per the Times.

Despite the concerns it raises in the community, technology is becoming more and more necessary as the Amish adapt what Kraybill calls their ““very entrepreneurial, very capitalistic” spirit for the 21st century.

“We’re not supposed to have computers; we’re not supposed to have cell phones,” said John. “We’re allowed to have a phone, but not in the house. But to do business, you need a computer, or access to one, and that phone moves into the house. So how do you balance that?”

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

High-tech retail startup Bodega raises $2.5 million in funding round

Bodega, a San Francisco-based startup that operates fully-automated kiosks roughly the size of vending machines, introduced itself to the world Wednesday. The company has raised $2.5 million in a funding round led by venture capital firms Homebrew and First Round Capital, TechCrunch reports.

Thirty Bodega kiosks (which the company calls “bodegas”) are already operational in apartment buildings, gyms and office buildings throughout the Bay Area. The company will presumably use the seed money to expand.

Bodega users create an account on the company’s smartphone app and input their credit card information. As a customer approaches a kiosk, he/she inputs a three-digit, kiosk-specific code via the app. The code unlocks the kiosk so the customer can reach in and grab what he/she needs.

Cameras track the movement of the customer’s hand to determine what he has picked out, and then automatically charge the customer’s credit card.

Though the eight-square-foot cabinets may sound like high-tech vending machines (essentially, they are), Bodega kiosks stock a wider and more customized range of products than traditional vending machines do. The particular items stocked at a given kiosk are tailored to the demands of the customers who use that kiosk. A Bodega in an apartment building, for instance, may offer everything from toothbrushes to Solo cups. A kiosk located in a gym might have health food, sportswear, etc.

Depending on its location, a kiosk will come stocked with a “base set of products” (TechCrunch’s words). As customers begin to buy things, the Bodega system tracks the purchases to gauge which products are in demand at a given kiosk, and surveys repeat customers to ask what they would like to see added. The company refines the offerings accordingly.

The kiosks bring “the relevant slice of a store” to within 100 feet of a customer, the company’s website says

“Retailers are contouring their business around this fact that users want convenience,” said Paul McDonald, a thirteen-year Google veteran who now runs the startup. “There’s really only been two options: you can go to the store, or you can order something online. What we’re trying to do is introduce a third option, a new way of buying things. Shrink the store, bring the best parts in a smaller form factor and bring it to where you are.”

Some have criticized the “Bodega” name and its implication that the company intends to compete with local corner stores like the bodegas in New York and Los Angeles, which are often centerpieces in their communities.

“Bodega” is a Spanish word meaning, more or less, “local shop.” McDonald says, per GQ.com, that his company surveyed the Latin American community as to whether the name was a misappropriation of the term, and 97 percent of respondents said “no.”

“But it’s clear that we may not have been asking the right questions of the right people,” McDonald admits. 

“Despite our best intentions and our admiration for traditional bodegas, we clearly hit a nerve this morning, we apologize. Rather than disrespect to traditional corner stores — or worse yet, a threat — we intended only admiration.”

McDonald said the company would review the criticism and consider changing the name.

Many are concerned Bodega, whatever it is called, will threaten traditional bodegas.  The company indicated Wednesday that it intends to offer the “same ease and convenience” the ubiquity of corner stores in places like New York City affords.

Bodega clarified that it does not intend to compete with tradition bodegas, which, McDonald says, stock more products than a Bodega kiosk ever could, and offer “integral human connection” between patrons and clerks. Rather than challenge established bodegas, the company says it wants to “bring commerce to places where commerce currently doesn’t exist.”

Still, it seems that, in the places where they do appear, the high-tech Bodegas might siphon a certain amount of business away from local shops. For instance, a person who generally goes to the local bodega when he/she needs milk at 2 a.m., might be inclined to get that milk at a Bodega kiosk were one available in his/her apartment building.

Bodega notes the grocery market is but one of many markets it is targeting. The company envisions itself a competitor more to huge chains like Wal-Mart than small, local shops.

“The market we’re going after is some combination of the grocery, gym market, and everyday essentials. Eventually, what we see is a world where you don’t have to go to the 30,000 square foot stores. Instead, we distribute the store based on products you buy once a week or month,” said McDonald.

The autonomy of Bodega kiosks may threaten retail jobs. “Retail in The U.S. is huge, 10% of Americans work in retail,” McDonald himself notes. “The folks who are retailers want technology to reduce their costs and bring products closer [to consumers].”

In reducing employers’ costs, one may infer, Bodega may take employees’ jobs.

But, McDonald says: “Rather than take away jobs, we hope Bodega will help create them. We see a future where anyone can own and operate a Bodega—delivering relevant items and a great retail experience to places no corner store would ever open.”

Featured image via http://observatoriodainternet.br

Harley-Davidson rolls out new models as sales decline

Harley-Davidson, Inc. is set to revamp its Softail lineup with a slew of new 2018 models, Charles Fleming of The LA Times reports. The company told Fleming the new models are “already on their way to dealerships.”

The new bikes will weigh less than their predecessors and will feature new engines with more torque. Many will have improved lean angles so that they steer and corner better.

The company has announced eight new Softails, according to Fleming: the Fat Boy, the Heritage Classic (formerly the Heritable Softail Classic), the Low Rider, the Softail Slim, the Deluxe, the Breakout, the Fat Bob and the Street Bob.

The Softail line has absorbed the Dyna line, leading to the discontinuation of the Sportster 1200T, the Del VROD Muscle and Night Rod Special, and the Wide Glide.

Milwaukee-Eight 107 V-twin engines will come standard on each of the new models. Those engines measure 107 cubic inches and boast 147 Nm of torque.

The larger Milwaukee-Eight 114 will be available as an upgrade on the Heritage Classic, the Breakout and the Fat Boy. That engine will pack 161 Nm of torque.

Harley has taken steps to reduce the vibration in both engines, Fleming says, thereby reducing RPMs during idling and limiting engine noise when the bikes are at rest.

Harley told Fleming the two engines are “the most powerful…ever offered” in its Big Twin cruiser category.

Each of the new models will also be equipped with a new chassis and new suspension.

Harley has seen sales drop as the core of its customer base continues to age, and the company is struggling to attract a younger generation of bikers. Many among the new generation prefer other bikes over Harleys, and the company’s dominance in the market is waning.

So, prior to rolling out its new offerings, Harley launched what it calls, per the Times, “the most extensive research and development program” in its history, which dates back to 1903. The company asked current as well as prospective riders to suggest improvements, and many of those surveyed asked for lighter bikes with better handling.

Harley delivered, but doubt remains as to whether the new bikes will precipitate a rise in sales.

“This model year lineup may not be enough to reverse Harley’s US retail sales declines, now in their third consecutive year,” said USB analyst Robin Farley, per the Times.

Harley sold 54,786 units domestically in quarter two of last year, and 49,668 in this most recent quarter. That’s a decline of 5,118 units (9.3%) year-over-year.

The company has made other changes in an effort to drag its hogs into the modern age. LED headlights and a USB port will come standard on all new models. Cruise control will come standard on the Heritage Classic and will be available as an add-on on all other models. Anti-lock breaks will come pre-installed on the Fat Boy, the Deluxe, the Heritage Classic and the Breakout, and will be optional on the other models.

Some die-hard Harley riders, Fleming says, have resisted such changes as electric starters and anti-lock breaking systems.

Perhaps in an effort to appease such customers, Harley has given the Heritage Classic, along with some of the other new models, a vintage look, featuring, per Fleming, “spoked wheels, blacked-out rims and period-correct headlight bezels,” among other “details.”

Like all Harleys, the new models will benefit from the company’s parts and accessories catalog. Riders will be able to modify seat and handlebar configurations and make other changes.

Fleming, who test-rode the Heritage Classic and the Fat Boy, says both of those bikes sit low, making them suitable for smaller riders.

The Low Rider and the Street Bob, each of which costs $14,999, are the most budget-friendly of the new models. The Heritage Classic and the Fat Boy are the most expensive of the new bikes; with the 114 engine, each of those bikes will cost $20,299.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

Amazon will take control of Whole Foods Monday, slash prices

Amazon announced in a press release Thursday that it will take control of Whole Foods beginning Monday, The New York Times reports. When Whole Foods stores open Monday, shoppers will see lower prices on a number of products, including bananas, eggs, salmon, tilapia, Fuji and Gala apples, and almond butter.

“We’re determined to make healthy and organic food affordable for everyone,” Jeff Wilke, the executive who runs Amazon’s consumer businesses, said in the press release. “Everybody should be able to eat Whole Foods Market quality we will lower prices without compromising Whole Foods Market’s long-held commitment to the highest standards.”

Wilke said the price cuts to be implemented Monday are “just the beginning” of an effort to “continuously lower prices” at Whole Foods.

In the near future, the release says, Amazon Prime will function as a Whole Foods rewards program, and Prime members will “receive special savings and in-store benefits.”

Competitive pricing is a cornerstone of Amazon’s business model. The company, the Times notes, has made a habit of delighting the consumer even at the expense of its own shareholders, and even its bottom line.

Amazon’s low prices also help appease regulatory agencies like the FTC, which approved Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, the FTC is in the business of watching out for the consumer,” said Brendan Witcher, a retail analyst at Forrester Research, per the Times.

Of course, in order to cut prices, Amazon will need to cut costs.

Though Amazon has been developing automation technology meant to reduce the need for human labor, the company has pledged that its acquisition of Whole Foods will not jeopardize the jobs of Whole Foods employees. According to the press release, Whole Foods will “continue to grow its team and create jobs in local communities as it opens new stores, hires new team members, and expands its support of local farmers and artisans.”

Rather than cut labor costs, Amazon and Whole Foods will “invest in additional areas over time, including in merchandising and logistics, to enable lower prices for Whole Foods Market customers,” the release says.

The press release says Amazon values “customer obsession rather than competitor focus,” but the company’s ever-falling prices have historically made things difficult on competitors. In the past, the Times points out, Amazon has started price wars with Barnes & Noble and Walmart. After diapers.com failed to match Amazon’s prices, diapers.com parent company Quidsi agreed to a buyout deal.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods’ high prices have been its primary competitive disadvantage to low-cost, high-volume operations like Walmart and Costco. Many experts expect the Whole Foods-Amazon deal to send competitors reeling as Whole Foods quality becomes available at Amazon prices.

“I absolutely think it’s putting the rest of the market on notice,” Bob Hetu, an analyst at Gartner, the technology research firm, said, per the Times, of Amazon’s announcement on pricing.

Walmart stock dropped 2 percent Thursday following the announcement. Kroger’s shares fell 8 percent.

Walmart is making its own push to slash prices. Last year, the Times says, Walmart allocated millions of dollars toward the effort.

Walmart is also taking steps to increase its online presence in the grocery sphere and elsewhere.

Google Express, which fashions itself as an Amazon competitor, now sells a number of Walmart products.

Moreover, Walmart’s market share in the grocery space far exceeds that of Whole Foods. With 4,600 stores, Walmart is the nation’s largest grocer. Whole Foods has just 460 stores.

“We feel great about our position with our network of stores around the country and fast growing e-commerce and online grocery businesses,” said Randy Hargrove, a spokesman for Walmart, per the Times.

Stew Leonard Jr., chief executive of a regional grocery chain that operates six stores throughout New York and Connecticut and, like Whole Foods, aims to provide the freshest available produce, says his business has seen and survived a procession of upheavals in the market.

“I’ve been in retail since I was a kid, and I’m always nervous,” he said. “Costcos were opening, then Walmarts, then Whole Foods. But at the end of the day, you just have to try and get the freshest corn out there on the sidewalk.”

Many expect Amazon to leverage the Whole Foods acquisition to grow its online grocery delivery services like AmazonFresh, which has operated for over a decade with limited success.

Per the press release, Amazon will sell proprietary Whole Foods brands—including 365 Everyday Value, Whole Foods Market, Whole Paws and Whole Catch—through Amazon.com, AmazonFresh, Prime Pantry and Prime Now. Amazon implies that Whole Foods brands will be available on said sites beginning Monday.

According to the Times though, most consumers still prefer to buy their groceries at brick and mortar stores rather than online.

Amazon will also install its Amazon Lockers in some number of Whole Foods stores so that customers can pick up and return items purchased from Amazon at their local grocery stores.

Featured image via Pixabay

McDonald’s will serve antibiotic-free chicken worldwide

McDonald’s announced yesterday, Aug. 23, that it would begin the process of removing human antibiotics in their chickens worldwide starting in 2018. Currently, McDonald’s only sells antibiotic-free chicken in the America’s. The announcement will bring the fast-food giant into a global effort to “battle dangerous superbugs,” according to Reuters.

The company’s target is antibiotics that are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “highest priority critically important antimicrobials” (HPCIAs) to human medicine. Reuters points out that the plan to phase out antibiotics is still “not as strict as the company’s policy for the United States.” In the US, chicken suppliers have been providing McDonald’s with chickens “raised without antibiotics deemed important to human health” for over a year.

This move will surely have health activists everywhere cheering, as they have been working to get Big Food to stop using human antibiotics in meat for years. Grub Street reminds us of activists’ efforts, citing their “staging a shareholder’s revolt against McDonald’s and publicly shaming In-N-Out.”

Although their plans will roll out in 2018, some suppliers will have up to January 2027 to comply with the new standard.

With the New Year, chickens in Brazil, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Europe will all be raised without HPCIAs. The only exception will be Europe, where the company will use Colistin, “a last resort antibiotic,” when necessary.

Suppliers in Australia and Russia will stop using HPCIAs by the end of 2019. European suppliers will also be required to stop the use of Colistin at this time.

The rest of the markets will follow, complying with the new rules by January 2027.

Per Reuters, McDonald’s told a “ group of consumer and environmental organizations on Aug. 17 that 74 percent of its global chicken sales will conform to this policy as of January 2018.”

Along with the production of antibiotic-free chicken, McDonald’s hopes to propel similar plans forward for antibiotic-free beef. As part of yesterday’s announcement, the company said they are “working on” further plans to get rid of human antibiotics for beef, pork, dairy cows, and egg-laying hens.

Village Voice to discontinue print publication, go digital

The Village Voice, the liberal, independent newspaper that has been a fixture in New York culture since the mid-20th century, announced Tuesday that it would discontinue its print publication, The New York Times reports. The paper will operate entirely online and will publish on a daily rather than a weekly basis.

The publication has not yet finalized the date of its final print edition, a spokeswoman told the Times.

The paper’s owner, Peter Barbey, who bought The Voice from Voice Media in October 2015, said in a statement that the decision to go paperless was an effort to keep up with the continued shift of media and its audience into the digital sphere.

Under Barbey’s leadership, the publication redesigned its website in 2015, and has since reported an increase in online traffic, the Times says.

The digitization, Barbey says, was also a response to readers’ desires to see Voice content more frequently. “Our audience,” wrote Barbey, per the Times, “…expects us to do what we do not just once a week, but every day, across a range of media.”

What is it, exactly, that the Voice does? It helps New Yorkers find everything from jobs to apartments to local music to phone sex. It offers political commentary, literary criticism, and descriptions of New York culture.

According to the Times, The Voice was “where many New Yorkers learned to be New Yorkers.”

Norman Mailer, Dan Wolf, and Ed Fancher founded the paper in 1955 in Greenwich Village. Since, the pages of The Voice have held the words of investigative reporters including Wayne Barrett and Jack Newfield, and music critics including Gary Giddins, Ellen Willis, and Robert Christgau. Nat Hentoff published a column in the Voice for more than 50 years.

Hilton Als, who has written for the New Yorker since 1994, and who won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2017, began his career at The Voice, as did novelist Colson Whitehead, who has won two Pulitzers for his fiction.

The paper has also published content by James Baldwin, E.E. Cummings, Allen Ginsberg, and a host of other notable writers.

The paper was sold until 1996 when management dropped the price in an effort to keep pace with competitors and to increase circulation. Then, Barbey notes, per the Times, “Craigslist was in its infancy, Google and Facebook weren’t yet glimmers in the eyes of their founders, and alternative weeklies — and newspapers everywhere — were still packed with classified advertising.”

Now, the Voice is making another change in an attempt to keep up with the industry. Some New Yorkers told the Times the Voice was already obsolete.  “You have Uber killing the taxi biz, are you going to lose sleep over The Village Voice?” said Paul Vezza, 60, the third generation owner of Astor Place Hairstylists. “No.”

Vezza remembers when hordes came into the shop every week just to pick up the most recent edition of the paper. He still keeps a stack of print copies of the Voice in his shop, but they remain mostly untouched, the Times says.

Alicia Johnson, a 46-year-old from Brooklyn, told the Times she hadn’t read anything in the Voice for a while. Still, she certainly hasn’t forgotten about it.

“That’s the iconic paper of this neighborhood,” she said. “If you are a New Yorker you should know that, period.”

Many New Yorkers, though, recognize the Village Voice by the red street corner boxes containing free copies of the paper. The recent announcement means those will be gone, and Johnson wonders how The Voice will capture the ears of New Yorkers without them.

But Barbey says that boxes or no boxes, weekly or daily, ink or pixels, the Voice will roar on.

“The most powerful thing about The Voice wasn’t that it was printed on newsprint or that it came out every week. It was that The Village Voice was alive, and that it changed in step with and reflected the times and the ever-evolving world around it,” Barbey said in a statement. “I want The Village Voice brand to represent that for a new generation of people — and for generations to come.”

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Monday’s total solar eclipse cost US employers almost $700 million

On Monday, many Americans saw a total solar eclipse for the first time in their lives. The last time United States denizens had a clear line of sight for a total solar eclipse was in 1979, according to a report by Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc. So, American workers were more than willing to interrupt their banal daily routines to catch a glimpse of the historical event.

And financial experts were busy calculating the losses. According to the aforementioned report, the solar eclipse cost companies throughout the nation almost $700 million in lost time. Challenger, Gray, and Christmas estimated that 87,307,940 Americans would be at work during the eclipse and that each worker would take 20 minutes, on average, to gather his/her viewing supplies, travel to an appropriate viewing site, watch the two-and-a-half minute eclipse, and return to work.

The average hourly wage is $23.86, so if each worker takes a third of an hour to view the eclipse, he/she will cost his/her company $7.95. Multiply that figure by the estimated number of Americans at work during the eclipse and you find that U.S. employers lost approximately $694,098,123 as a result of the event.

Employers in areas which lie on the eclipse’s “path of totality” lost a combined $200 million, the report estimates. In Chicago, which lies just off of the totality path, employees “stole” $28 million worth of time.

However, the report notes that, in most cities, the eclipse occurred around lunch time, when workers are already taking breaks. “Since this is happening over the lunch hours, the financial impact is minimal,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in the report.

Moreover, preventing employees from viewing the eclipse would likely do more damage to morale than allowing viewing would do to the bottom line.

So, Challenger advised employers not to “board their windows and keep employees locked up in conference room meetings until the eclipse ends.”

“Rather,” he says, “looking for how to turn this lack of productivity into a way to increase morale and strengthen the team is a much better use of the eclipse.”

Challenger adds that the eclipse, in fact, “offers a great opportunity to boost morale. Employers could offer lunch to their staff, give instructions on how to make viewing devices, and watch together as a team.”

The eclipse’s “path of totality,” which encompasses the locations from which viewers could see the eclipse in all its fullness, travelled from the Pacific Northwest—those in Newport, Oregon, saw the eclipse at 10:15 a.m. local time—through the midwest—Troy, Kansas residents saw the eclipse at 1:05 pm local time—and into the Southeast—the eclipse hit Clayton, GA at 2:35 pm Eastern. Click here for a full list of locales within the “path of totality.”

Many people traveled to such locales to view the event. According to US News, AAA Mid-Atlantic issued an advisory preparing travelers for “huge crowds of eclipse watchers, long lines and roadside delays caused by the influx of travelers from other states into prime eclipse-viewing destinations.”

GreatAmericanEclipse.com says most American’s live within a day’s drive of some location within the eclipse’s path of totality. Further, because August is a popular vacationing time, the site points out, many people presumably planned getaways around the eclipse.

The event’s effect on auto traffic, the site says, was akin to that of “20 Woodstock festivals occurring simultaneously across the nation.”

Whatever toll the eclipse took on the average American employer, it likely provided a proportionate boost to the country’s travel industry. Lodging enterprises benefited from an influx of eclipse-seekers, and towns not ordinarily considered tourist destinations became the epicenters of eclipse-viewing.

The next total solar eclipse visible on American soil will occur on April 8, 2024, per greatamericaneclipse.com. The path of totality will stretch from Mexico through central Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, Indiana, New York, and Montreal, Canada.

After 2024, North America will not see another total eclipse until 2045. So, get your gear and make your travel arrangements.

And tell your boss you’re taking a long lunch on April 8, 2024.

Featured image via Twitter/V3ctor

 

The FDA is making food companies stop using trans fats this month

As reported by Bloomberg, the FDA is forcing food companies to stop including trans fats, or partially-hydrogenated oils, in food products this month.

Three years ago, a deadline was set for companies to stop using trans fats in their products. Now we’re reaching that deadline.

What are trans fats?

Small amounts of trans fat may naturally occur in animal products such as meat and dairy. But most of the trans fats Americans eat are not naturally occurring. You may also know artificial trans fats as partially-hydrogenated oils.

According to the American Heart Association, artificial trans fats should be avoided, full stop. Ideally, trans fats make up exactly zero percent of a healthy diet. The FDA no longer lists partially-hydrogenated oils as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, for human consumption.

Trans fats are linked to increased chances of heart disease, stroke, and many other diseases.

The scientific consensus that trans fats are unhealthy hasn’t stopped many food companies from continuing to use partially-hydrogenated oils in their products for as long as is legally allowed, since such oils, though unhealthy, are cheap and shelf-stable.

Fortunately, food companies will not legally be allowed to add trans fats to food products for much longer.

What will replace trans fats?

Partially-hydrogenated oils have remained in favor for so long because they are shelf-stable and solid at room temperature.

Companies are scrambling to produce oils with all the positive qualities of partially-hydrogenated oils, and none of the bad qualities.

Dow Chemical Co. has developed a product called “Omega-9 canola oil,” which it claims has all the omega-9s in olive oil and less saturated fat.

DuPont Co. has come up with “Plenish,” an oil product made from soybeans which have been genetically modified so that the resulting oil contains no trans fats. It has less saturated fat and more omega-9s than traditional soybean oil. It is also more shelf-stable.

Monsanto Co. is also launching a soybean oil product, and it’s called “Vistive Gold.” Like Plenish, it has been genetically modified to have less saturated fats and more omegas.

Currently, canola oil products are more popular than soybean oil products. But the soybean industry is working to develop oils which it claims will ultimately prove healthier and better-tasting than their canola-derived competitors.

The new, healthier high-oleic canola oils have high levels of omega-9, but their levels of omega-3 and omega-6 have to be reduced to compensate. High-oleic soybean oils, on the other hand, can retain high levels of all the omegas, which gives them more nutritional value.

Featured Image via Pixabay

Amazon Instant Pickup will give customers their orders in two minutes

In this age of instant gratification, eCommerce retailers like Amazon face a dilemma. A consumer can make a purchase in seconds with a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a screen—it doesn’t get much more instant than that. Then, though, customers must wait for days or weeks before they get their hands on the purchased item.

It is arguably the last advantage brick-and-mortar stores have over the eCommerce industry: when customers make a purchase at a physical store, they can walk out with the item(s) in hand.

So, Amazon is making a continuous effort to shorten delivery times—to close the gap between the “buy now” click and the unboxing of the goods. In October 2014, the company launched a same-day pickup service which allowed customers to pickup items ordered before 11:45 am by 4:00 pm the same day, at one of a number of locations throughout the nation and around the globe.

A few months later, the company rolled out PrimeNow, through which Amazon Prime customers in select locations can get household essentials like paper towels and shampoo, small items like books and toys, and even big-screen televisions delivered to their doors in two hours at no added cost, and in one hour for an additional $7.99. Amazon even partnered with restaurants and grocery stores in certain markets to offer delivery from those locations.

Tuesday, the giant announced another leap forward, Reuters reportsAmazon Instant Pickup. The service lets customers pick up their orders within two minutes. It is currently operational only in Berkeley, CA and Los Angeles, CA, per Amazon’s website. According to Reuters, the program will expand to college campuses in Columbus, OH; College Park, MD; and Atlanta, GA in the near future, and to additional locations by the end of the year.

When a buyer places an Instant Pickup order, an Amazon employee culls the purchased item from the shelves and puts it in a locker, which is sealed using a unique bar code. When the customer arrives at the pickup location, they can scan the barcode, open the locker, and retrieve the item.

Amazon considered automating the fulfillment process, Reuters says, decided against doing so at this time. Automation could occur down the road, though.

The service will cater toward impulse buyers: the majority of the several hundred different products available at Instant Pickup locations will be high-volume, quick-purchase items like phone chargers, snacks, and drinks. The last two offerings will make Instant Pickup an alternative to vending machines.

“I want to buy a can of coke because I’m thirsty,” said Ripley MacDonald, Amazon’s director of student programs, per Reuters. “There’s no chance I’m going to order that on Amazon.com and wait however long it’s going to take for that to ship to me.”

That is, MacDonald says, until Instant Pickup came along.

However, Forrester analyst Amanda Chakravarty told Reuters that while the new service will be convenient for some items, vending machines will not disappear anytime soon. “[Instant Pickup] might work for some electronic gadgets that are not commonly available at vending machines,” she said. “Two minutes is too long to wait for a soda can.”

But, many analysts expect Amazon to build Instant Pickup into something beyond a high-tech vending machine: a full grocery store.

“This is a natural extension of [Amazon’s] larger push into the grocery space,” Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy told Reuters.

Amazon acquired Whole Foods in a $13.7 billion deal in June. TechCrunch notes that Amazon could make Instant Pickup available at some or all of Whole Foods’ 467 physical locations. Customers could build a grocery cart on their way to the store and pick up their food when they got there. Moreover, the Whole Foods stores have plenty of space for inventory, so Amazon could make them Instant Pickup locations for a host of products beyond food.

In eliminating shipping costs, Instant Pickup may allow Amazon to reduce prices, Reuters points out.

Featured image via Flickr/Robert Scoble

Amazon looks into military food tech

Could I interest you in a package of fully-cooked beef stew that sat unrefrigerated on a shelf for a year before being dropped on your doorstep? Or perhaps a vegetable frittata?

That’s what Amazon might have in store for us — lots of non-refrigerated pre-cooked food.

Amazon is reportedly looking into a process called microwave-assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS. This technology, developed at Washington State University, originated to meet the needs of the U.S. military. The process kills bacteria and seals meals using microwaves, allowing pre-cooked meals to remain safe for up to a year without refrigeration. The meals are easy to transport, and they only need to be heated up a bit before being eaten. As a result, they’re also quite cheap compared to fresh meals.

A Dever-based startup called 915 Labs is shopping the technology to Amazon. According to the startup, MATS has many advantages over other methods of sterilization currently being used in food processing. Traditional processing methods get rid of nutrients and flavor along with the bacteria. MATS allows dishes to be treated in a shorter amount of time, meaning that the dishes retain more of their original texture and flavor.

Amazon could get going on this new venture as soon as 2018. It would give Amazon a stronger foothold in the grocery market, which has long been a goal for the company. Prepared meals are much harder to transport than the millions of other shelf-safe items Amazon sells.

This isn’t the only move Amazon is making to chew up more of the food market. Amazon is also in the process of acquiring the grocery chain Whole Foods, and it already has a grocery delivery program in place called AmazonFresh.

Amazon has not yet confirmed that it will actually end up using microwave-assisted thermal sterilization.

Reuters has also suggested Wal-Mart may be looking into MATS as well. A company called Solve for Food is planning on setting up a MATS facility near Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Arkansas. Wal-Mart has not yet commented.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

Disney’s quarterly report provides information on ABC-BPI settlement

In September 2012, South Dakota meat processor Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) sued ABC for defamation over the news agency’s reports concerning a meat additive called Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), which became widely known as “pink slime” following ABC’s story. The suit claimed that the network’s extended coverage of LFTB throughout March 2012 falsely indicated that the product was unsafe, unhealthy, and “not even meat” (Reuters’ words).

BPI sought $1.2 billion in damages, alleging that ABC’s coverage of LFTB cost the beef company “hundreds of millions of dollars in profit and roughly half its employees” (Reuters’ words). Indeed, several major players in the food industry, including Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, ConAgraFoods, SaraLee, and Kraft took steps to distance themselves from LFTB, which BPI calls its “signature beef.”

The case bounced around the court system for years before going to trial in Elk Point, South Dakota on June 5. On June 28, while the trial was in process, ABC and BPI reached a settlement, the amount of which was not disclosed.

In its most recent quarterly earnings report, published Tuesday, Disney, ABC’s parent company, reported a $177 million “charge…incurred in connection with the settlement of litigation.” Radio Iowa noted that the report mentioned no case aside from the BPI agreement, and therefore surmised that Disney settled with BPI for $177 million.

However, BPI’s attorney, Dan Webb, said in a statement that “$177 million is not the total settlement amount,” and that, “based on Disney’s disclosure, it appears that Disney is funding 177 million dollars of the settlement and its insurers are paying the rest.”

Webb told CNN following the settlement that BPI was “extraordinarily pleased to have reached a settlement.”

BPI maintains that its case was justified, but has indicated that the legal process was growing burdensome. Webb says the case was “a long road to travel for BPI,” and that the settlement “allows [the company] to grow [its] business back.”

Webb says he and BPI “felt the trial was necessary to rectify the enormous financial harm” the company had suffered,” and “we’re looking forward to taking the case all the way to the verdict,” Webb says. He believes the evidence he presented on behalf of BPI and LFTB was well-received by the jury, CNN reports.

ABC, like BPI, stands by its case but is pleased to be free of the burdens of litigation.

“Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product,” the company said in a statement. “Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the Company’s interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer’s right to know about the products they purchase.”

Much of ABC’s report on LFTB was based on the statements of Gerald Zirnstein, a former USDA scientist. In 2002, Reuters says, the USDA tasked Zirnstein with analyzing the constitution of ground beef to ensure that ingredients met federal regulations.  LFTB was among the products he examined. According to ABC, he found among other things, that the product, use of which had previously been constrained to cooking oil and dog food, was treated with ammonia. (You can view a brief snippet of ABC’s 12-part report on LFTB here).

When the USDA approved the product, Zirnstein sent an e-mail to a co-worker in which he coined the term “pink slime.” That e-mail went public, and Zirnstein became an “involuntary whistleblower,” CNBC report

“The whole thing went viral … Just blew the top off everything,” said Zirnstein per CNBC.

According to BPI’s website (link above), LFTB “is simply the lean beef trimmed from sirloins, ribeyes and other whole muscle cuts.” The product, says BPI, is “100%” beef, and is free of organs tendons, bones and fillers.”

Disney reported $14.2 billion in revenue; that figure is identical to the one reported in the same quarter last year. However, net income fell 9% year over year to $2.37 billion, while earnings per share (EPS) fell 5% to $1.51.

Moreover, CNN cites Webb as saying “he believes the plaintiff’s evidence was well-received by the jury, and that the trial ‘vindicated’ the lean, finely textured beef product” (paraphrased by CNN).

Featured image via Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture

ASOS to build $40 million warehouse in Atlanta, GA

ASOS, a British online fashion and beauty store, released a statement announcing plans to build a new warehouse in the United States on Tuesday, August 8, Business Insider reports.

The giant e-commerce fulfillment center will be located in Union City, near Atlanta, GA and will cost the company an initial investment of $40 million to build. The Union City warehouse will be half the size of ASOS’ main warehouse in Barnsley, England and large enough to house 10 million clothing and accessory items.

This plan is to help fuel US sales growth, which makes up 12 percent of ASOS’ total global sales.

In the company statement as released on the London Stock Exchange, the new center will “significantly enhance ASOS’ US customer proposition providing more cost effective, faster and more flexible delivery options.”

ASOS’ CEO, Nick Beighton, commented on the occasion, saying he believed the move to be a “major step forward” and “demonstrates the opportunity we believe lies ahead in [the US] market.”

According to Beighton, in the current financial year, the US market has “delivered 39 percent constant currency growth in the first six months,” with the financial year ending in Aug. 2016 seeing sales of almost $233 million.

ASOS brands itself as the premier fashion destination for 20-somethings, providing fast-fashion to millennials worldwide. ASOS sells and creates fashion and fashion-related content. They sell over 85,000 products both branded and own-label.

Nicola Thompson, ASOS’ global trading director, had the following to say about the company to Racked in May:

“We are the largest fashion label without a store, and that is because of the sheer volume of what we can offer. Shoppers come to us because they know there will be a product offering unlike any other. We have amazing combinations, and an unlimited amount of popular brands, and that is really a unique positioning within the market.”

ASOS has suffered allegations of exploitative contracts with their UK warehouses. This piece published by BBC News in Oct. 2016 details some of the accusations and the scrutiny ASOS endured from British MPs and campaigners.

To see ASOS by the numbers, check out this slideshow by Refinery29.

Cannabis Company Purchases an Entire Town in Eastern CA

According to an Associated Press report published by Business Insider, cannabis company American Green, Inc. announced Thursday that it is in the process of purchasing the entire town of Nipton, CA, which spans 80 acres and is home to less than two dozen residents, with the intention of turning it into “an energy-independent, cannabis-friendly hospitality destination.”

Nipton’s current owner, Roxanne Lang, said per the AP that the sale was still in escrow, but confirmed that American Green was the buyer. She did not disclose the price but did mention that the town was listed at $5 million when she and her husband, Gerald Freeman, put it on the market a year ago.

According to the AP, Nipton consists of an “Old West-style” hotel, a few houses, an RV park, and a coffee shop. Located just three miles west of the California-Nevada border, the town generates much of its revenue by selling California lottery tickets to Nevada residents, whose home state is one of six without a state-sponsored lottery.

American Green aims to turn Nipton into the epicenter of the cannabis tourism industry, creating an economy driven almost entirely by marijuana. The company will invite edibles manufacturers and other major players in the cannabis industry to relocate to Nipton, bringing jobs. American Green will also sell cannabis-infused water drawn from the town’s aquifer.

“We are excited to lead the charge for a true Green Rush,” David Gwyther, American Green’s president and CEO, said in a statement, per AP. “The cannabis revolution that’s going on here in the US has the power to completely revitalize communities in the same way gold did during the 19th century.”

A gold rush put Nipton on the map in the early 1900s, but by the time Freeman came upon the town in the 1950s, Nipton was all but deserted. Freeman bought it in 1985 and set to work revitalizing the hotel and creating a solar farm.

As part of its energy-independence initiative, American Green plans to expand the solar farm Freeman built. In fact, Lang told the AP after a laugh, Freeman would likely have supported American Green’s purchase of Nipton. Freeman, a libertarian, defended people’s right to smoke pot and would have been all for American Green’s efforts toward energy independence.

Lang has an interesting tagline to describe her town’s location: “I like to say it’s conveniently located in the middle of nowhere,” Lang said, per the AP. The town sits 60 miles south of Las Vegas and about 10 miles east of I-15, which connects Vegas and LA.

The remoteness of Nipton is exactly what Carl Caveness, a handyman at the town’s hotel, likes about the town. “We [Caveness and his wife] like the quiet and solitude,” the 53-year-old told the AP.

American Green’s announcement surprised Caveness, who worries that the town’s new owners may push him out of Nipton.

Today, most of the guests at the Hotel Nipton are “desert aficionados” and Old West fanatics, according to the AP. If American Green’s vision takes off, the hotel could become an unparalleled tourist destination.

American Green revolutionized the market with its ZaZZZ vending machines, which use “military grade biometrics” to verify consumers’ ages, thereby allowing the legal sale of age-restricted products like beer, cigarettes, and marijuana.  With its purchase of Nipton, the company is poised to see the cannabis industry through another revolutionary leap.

With 50,000 individual shareholders, American Green possesses “the largest shareholder base of any cannabis-related public company in the US,” according to its website. Shares increased 131% to $.0037—that’s 37/10,000 of a dollar or 37/100 of a cent—apiece on news of the Nipton acquisition. If the venture takes off, that decimal point may move quite a few places to the right.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Brewbudz’s Weed-Infused Coffee Debuts in Nevada

Nevada residents now have an extra choice to make as they brew their morning joe: cream, sugar, or…marijuana? According to Claire Shaffer of Newsweek, The Silver State has become the first locale to sell Brewbudz’s cannabis-infused, Keurig-ready “coffee pods,” which have been in development for over a year.

The coffee pods come in regular as well as decaf. For those averse to coffee, Brewbudz offers hot cocoa and three different varieties of tea (black, camomile, and decaf). Consumers need not worry about putting downers in their morning pick-me-ups or uppers in their nightly relaxation beverages—Brewbudz is no “hippie speedball.” The morning options will contain sativa strains, which keep users energized, while the night-time choices will incorporate calming indica strains.

Brewbudz’s are by no means first THC-infused coffee products to hit the market. There is a litany of similar products available, from Ganja Grindz to House of Jane.

Brewbudz differentiates itself from the herd in that its products contain cannabis flowers rather than extracted THC oil. As a result, Kevin Love, strategic accounts director at Cannabiniers, Brewbudz’s parent company, told Westword, the high is “functional and medicating.” 10-, 25-, and 50-milligram THC dosages will be available.

A carefully-studied delivery system will make Brewbudz products more efficient than other edibles, according to Love.

“We changed the barrier properties in cannabis, so as the compound is running through your system, it’s not breaking down until it reaches your liver,” he says. ”Most drugs have bioavailability, or how much your body actually receives versus how much you eat. Most edibles are at 5 percent because of how your body absorbs them, but Brewbudz is closer to 40 or 50 percent.”

Because the high does not compromise a user’s ability to function, Brewbudz are the perfect product for marijuana enthusiasts to integrate into their daily routines, the company says.

“Our vision was to create a revolutionary product that would deliver a medical solution to patients in a beverage that was consumed and enjoyed as part of our daily life.,” Brewbudz says on its website.

Of course, with the wide variety of edibles available, consumers can conveniently consume marijuana on a daily, even hourly basis. But, Love explains, unlike candy or cake, coffee and tea are already woven into the fabric of many people’s routines. He hopes the ubiquity of morning beverages will translate into sales.

“Weed chocolate bars account for almost 3 percent of the total purchase market in Colorado,” he says. “And an average American eats two candy bars every eight days. That’s 24 billion servings a year. Annualizing all the coffee Americans drink came out to over 200 billion servings.”

According to James Hamblin of the Atlantic, just under one third of American households use a pod-based coffee machine. Brewbudz, of course, hopes that a sizable portion of those machines become cannabis delivery mechanisms.

Unlike K-Cups, which “generate a ton of plastic waste” because they are neither biodegradable nor recyclable, Brewbudz pods are 100% compostable.

“The Brewbudz product is a responsible solution to [the] major ecological problem created [by] single serve coffee pods [like] the K-cup,” the company’s website says.

There is a financial premium to be paid for getting high and saving the planet, though. Each Brewbudz pod will cost $7; Keurig, by comparison, sells its K-Cups for $0.69 a piece.

Once it establishes a solid market presence, the company plans to produce THC-infused products compatible with traditional coffee makers. Brewbudz is taking steps to expand into Colorado and California. It is working toward a manufacturing agreement with the Bronner Corporation, which operates a 25,000 square foot edible factory in Denver.

“It’s an opportunity to bring together two different rituals in life,” BrewBudz Vice President Jeffry Paul said of his product in November, per Westword’s Kate McKee Simmons.

U.S. Housing Prices Out of Touch with Reality

U.S. home resales have been unable to match expected projections in June as prices reach record highs, keeping first-time buyers hesitant on the peripheral. The record high housing prices are a result of a small property supply being pursued by a large customer demand, meaning that the value of each property increases as the supply dwindles.

The housing market has been facing a severe shortage of homes available for sale for about two years, all the while new individuals are entering the housing market searching for accommodation. As the labor market releases more jobs while builders simultaneously struggle to secure land, building materials, and skilled labor, the situation is set to worsen.

On one hand, the high demand for housing signifies a positive and encouraging economic health that enables laborers to have the means and intent for housing, but when it comes to the housing markets, buyers tend to be less enthusiastic. While this climate impacts current and future homeowners, those especially impacted are first-time buyers who are now in a difficult position when trying to find entry-level homes for sale.

The shortage of properties has led to customer bidding-wars, as the demand ensures real estate the ability and flexibility to ask a higher sales price on the basis that there are customers willing to pay more. This has quickly resulted in house price increases outpacing wage gains, making it but nigh impossible for lower salary wage earners to afford housing.

The National Association of Realtors has reported that existing home sales have dropped 1.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.52 million units last month. Economists including Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow, predict that sales will fall a further 1.0 percent to a 5.58 million unit-rate, despite sales being up 0.7 percent from June 2016.

There were 1.96 million houses on the market last month, which was done 7.1 percent from a year ago, however, this is not the first dip in a trend. In fact, housing inventory has dropped for 25 months on a year-to-year basis. As the supply diminishes, prices rise, and considering the increasing demand for housing, the prices greatly rise. The median house price has increased 6.5 percent from a year ago to a record high of $263,800 in June, as part of the unbroken 64-month chain of year-on-year price increases.

Despite the constant price increase as well as the persistent housing shortage, the NAR believes that the price surge does not suggest another housing market bubble is building. This is based on the fact that the inflation-adjusted median price was below its peak in 2016.

Houses are typically staying on the market for 28 days last month, lower than the 34 days’ average that was present a year ago. Demand is being driven by a tight labor market, which currently holds a 4.4 percent unemployment rate that is boosting employment opportunities for young workers. But the tight labor market has not stimulated a faster wage growth, with an annual wage growth struggling to break above 2.5 percent, creating a distinct and increasing gap between the two.

First-time buyers are accounting for a smaller share of home sale transactions at 32 percent, which is well below the ideal 40 percent share that is needed for a robust and thriving housing market. This is not something that is simply corrected by reducing housing prices or increase wage growth but requires a combination on the two alongside other qualities including a maintained housing demand.

Property economists expect the housing demand to continue, which does encourage future sales growth. However, the issue is that expectation that the inventory shortage will improve this year, suggesting continued price increases. While it may not be solved this year, the sooner labor and effort is invested in building and providing new homes, the sooner the housing sales growth will adjust to better match the wage growth.

Facebook to Allow Publishers a Subscription Fee

Facebook is planning a new tool that would establish a means of adding subscriptions to news organizations that publish directly on the social media outlet. The intention behind this new tool is to help pacify the tension the social media giant and publishers, who find their audiences shifting more to what becomes available on Facebook.

The potential newly innovated tool will be included by Facebook’s Instant Article product, which allows new media companies to publish their articles directly onto Facebook, granting immediate access to the article, instead of transporting readers to the news website.

While the details are still in its preliminary stages, it has been theorized that Facebook may be introducing a metered pay wall product similar to those used already by the news publishers. For example, after reading a set amount of articles on Facebook by a particular news provider, a user will be sent to that news provider’s subscription page to continue reading more articles.

Before Facebooks has a large rollout, it plans to start a smaller pilot with a group of publishers using the tool in October, and should the tool prove promising, then the early initiatives will be expanded. It has not been established which publishers will be included in the pilot testing, not any details regarding the types of publishers based on size, frequency or popularity.

Tensions have increasingly risen with the advent of online platforms like Facebook and Google amassing more readers through their mass influence, allowing them to expand into the consumer digital advertising market. The constant increase of control over the online distribution of news has threatened publishers’ business model, stimulating a response by publishers to gain group bargaining rights enabling more effective negotiations with online platforms.

While nearly all publishers have adjusted their priorities to increases digital revenue, most are still seeking profitable long term solutions. Publishers recognize the importance and mainstream relevance of online platforms, as well as their role as a medium for allowing articles to be broadcasted to larger audiences.

However, these also include serious drawbacks for publishers, as they lose valuable ties to their readers, making loyal relationship building far more difficult, while also affecting subscriber data and payment connections. Publishers fear that readers are becoming more and more accustomed, which they are, to staying in Facebook to consume news, instead of visiting directly the publisher’s websites, threatening both future growth and livelihood.

Facebook on the other hand has also received criticism from publishers regarding the ability to distribute false or unverified articles that push an agenda or for the sake of trolling that readers can mistake for real. This propagating of false news has been an already reported issue that other companies such as Twitter have been developing means to filter and restrict its spread.

This is also an important issue for Facebook as other companies have been able to use the tensions between Facebook and publishers’ wariness to their advantage. Google has introduced its AMP tool that offers a way to expedite the delivery of partner’s articles in search results, while Amazon in the meantime has been paying publishers to post articles on Spark, its commerce-related social network.

This move by Facebook may offer a way of dealing not only with the tensions between the two parties, but also as a means of dealing with other issues including regulatory and antitrust scrutiny. Furthermore, a Facebook subscription offer would move the platform to closer regulating the relationship with the reader, capitalizing on a role previously filled by the news outlets themselves.

While it is not clear as to whether Facebook will benefit financially from a new subscription feature, but the feature does encourage more time spent on the social media site, and helps foster more attachment to the services provided. There are some issues regarding the number of publishers that will be allowed to post directly to Facebook, as there is a chance for this to be exploited by users by staggering the number of articles they read per month from each unique publisher. In this case, users will be able to benefit without needing to pay, which may result in some serious consequences on Facebook’s part.

Featured Image via Pixabay