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June 17 2016 9:21 AM

Why the Maker of M&M’s Is Telling Consumers to Eat Less of Some of Its Products

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Mars is trying to change its junk food image—and it could mean the end of the McFlurry as we know it.

Mars is in talks regarding cutting the company’s sweets from super-sugary products, like the M&M McFlurry and Burger King’s Snickers pie, an industry source told Reuters.

The company is worried that the desserts contain more sugar than the total amount recommended daily by the US government.

The potential change is just part of an increasing focus on health at the Mars Company.

Mars Foods, a subgroup of chocolate giant Mars Company and maker of brands including Uncle Ben’s rice and Dolmio pasta sauce, announced in April that it would provide customers with guidance on which products should be eaten every day and which should only be consumed occasionally.

With the guidance, the company has begun actively discouraging consumers from eating some of its products too often—like pasta sauces that are high in sugar—an idea that, at first, seems to run counterintuitive to any business’ best interests.

Nestlé and Mars Foods both recently announced plans to cut sodium from their foods, in addition to coming out in support of the FDA’s efforts to release new voluntary sodium targets.

While the changes at first seem altruistic, they may be rooted in the cold, hard reality of sales. Many companies known for sugary and high-calorie foods, from Nestlé to Hershey, have struggled as consumers have grown more health-savvy.

“Better-for-you” options have already proven to be bright spots in the portfolios of companies like Hershey and PepsiCo. And, publicly encouraging consumers to eat less of products perceived as unhealthy (something Americans are already doing) allows the company to reclaim the narrative and hopefully win back lost customers.

Mars’ move to take a public stand when it comes to health provides a chance for the company to win consumers trust—and grow sales. 

June 16 2016 4:44 PM

Is the Demand for Avocados Fueling Avocado-Related Crime?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Growing demand for avocados is causing a spike in crimes in New Zealand.

Thieves are targeting avocado orchards, with close to 40 large-scale thefts since January, reports The Guardian.The thefts have taken place in the middle of the night, with as many as 350 avocados being taken to be sold at road-side stalls, grocery stores, or shops in Auckland.

The rash of robberies comes as avocado demand surges, with an additional 96,000 New Zealand households beginning to purchase avocados in 2015, according to the trade organization New Zealand Avocado. Typically, most avocado growers in New Zealand have focused on exporting their goods, making it more difficult to keep up with growing demand.

The stolen food can be dangerous to eat, as they are unripe and may contain toxins from pesticides.

New Zealand isn’t the only country where avocado demand is growing, resulting in consequences that range from delicious to terrifying.

Tasty consequences include an upswing in avocado-centric creations. Avocado toast is going from trendy to a mainstream breakfast requirement, named the No. 1 trend in food in 2015 by Eater based on Google Trends data. Now, avocado roses are blowing up on Instagram, with nearly 5,000 photos of the carefully crafted treat under the hashtag. Then, there are darker consequences.

In Mexico—the country that supplies an estimated 60 percent of the U.S.’ avocados—a violent cartel has taken control of the industry in the southwest state of Michoacán. The cartel earns an estimated $152 million from the avocado business, extorting local farmers and packinghouse operators with “taxes,” paid under the threat of death.

Additionally, avocados take a huge amount of water to produce, taking resources from local communities, such as Chile’s Central Valley.

So, next time you Instagram your avocado toast, remember: There’s more to the fruit than meets the eye.

June 16 2016 11:03 AM

The Next Generation of Biofuel-Powered Cars Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Nissan is turning to biofuel to run its next fleet of environmentally friendly cars.

The automaker is aiming to release a fleet of vehicles that will run on bio-ethanol, or fuel that comes from plants like sugar cane or corn, in 2020, Nissan announced in a press release Tuesday. Nissan said the system will give its cars a cruising range topping 370 miles.

For reference, electric vehicles have yet to top a 300-mile range, with the Tesla Model S reaching a max of 253 miles.

Here's how it will work: A reformer takes from a tank of on-board ethanol and transforms it into hydrogen, which is then fed into a fuel stack where power is generated.

Hideyuki Sakamoto, Nissan's executive vice president, said cars that run on biofuel are better than hydrogen-powered cars because they don't require a hydrogen infrastructure, Automotive News reported.

There are several automakers working on hydrogen-powered cars, such as Toyota and Honda. Hydrogen cars boast long ranges exceeding 300 miles, but a lack of infrastructure (you can't exactly fill your fuel cell tank anywhere) could hold back mass adoption.

Nissan actually signed a three-way agreement with Daimler and Ford to develop a hydrogen fuel cell system in 2013. Nissan also is part of a three-way agreement with Honda and Nissan to to partially cover hydrogen station operating expenses. So Nissan is betting on hydrogen cars in some ways.

But the automaker said biofuel, which is widely available in North and South America and Asia, has the added benefit of supporting an existing infrastructure.

June 14 2016 2:55 PM

Why Sweden Is Inching Closer and Closer to Being a Cashless Society

This post originally appeared on Business Insider.

Empty wallets aren't a sign of hard times in Sweden—they're a mark of progress.

With cash making up just 2 percent of the value of all the country's payments, the small Scandinavian country has asserted itself as the world's pioneer in the move to eliminate coins and paper money.

Museums, street vendors, and even churches—though steeped in tradition—have all started relying solely on plastic and electronic payments.

In March, the country's largest radio broadcaster, Swedish Radio, released a report saying all cash could disappear by 2021.

Sweden is no stranger to rethinking basic tenets of society. The country opened its first unmanned convenience store in February, in which customers use their smartphones to both enter the store and purchase food, and has declared it will become the first country in the world to go oil-free.

The constant upgrading and retooling is part of the country's overall mission of becoming more efficient. In global rankings of innovative countries, Sweden consistently ranks in the top five.

In other words, going cashless is more of a small step for Swedes than it is a giant leap.

The trend has its downsides. In addition to burdening people who don't keep up with new technology (like the elderly and some rural citizens), a cashless society is also more vulnerable to electronic fraud. In 2014, the number of fraud cases rose to 140,000—more than double the amount from a decade ago, Sweden's Ministry of Justice reports. Critics of a cashless system fear even greater surges as payments move online.

Those who support the system point to decreased theft in the physical world—in the form of burglaries and pickpocketing—if criminals know a card can get deactivated instantly.

Today, Sweden is miles ahead of many European countries in its use of plastic payment.

In 2015, the average Swede made 207 payments by card. That's three times as many made by people in neighboring countries. Swedish Radio expects the gap to widen even more within the next five years, with that 2 percent figure dropping to 0.5 percent or lower.

"Sometimes you have to learn new things," Krister Colde, of Sweden's Commercial Employees' Union, told The Local. "It's a little awkward for a transitional period, but I think it's going to be so simple that you pretty soon realize that this is a lot easier and better than having cash."

June 9 2016 4:30 PM

McDonald’s Salads Are About to Look a Lot More Like Sweetgreen’s and Panera’s

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

McDonald's is releasing a new salad mix that's a bit different than the one that customers are accustomed to—and that draws inspiration from other restaurant chains. The fast-food chain announced on Tuesday that it will be using a new salad blend, which will now include red leaf lettuce and carrot curls, starting in early June.

"Color in produce is an expression of different nutrients," Jessica Foust, a McDonald's chef, said in a statement. "The new salad blend offers at least 2.5 cups of vegetables." The new blend is part of a wider move at McDonald's to create salads that go beyond the boring, iceberg mix. Last year, McDonald's ditched iceberg lettuce in favor of romaine, along with baby spinach and kale, reports Brand Eating.

McDonald's isn't alone in its tweaks. Chick-fil-A has been one of the most innovative chains in recent years when it comes to salads, launching a superfood side with kale and broccolini in January. The one thing that Chick-fil-A will not put in its salads: the flavorless iceberg lettuce.

"It's at the bottom of the salad food chain," David Farmer, Chick-fil-A vice president of menu strategy and development, told Business Insider in April. "There is no nutritional value in iceberg lettuce." Trendy fast-casuals including Panera and Sweetgreen similarly eschew iceberg lettuce.

Instead, if a chain wants to attract modern health-conscious customers, more is more. Customers want more flavors, more colors, and even more calories—assuming they are packed with nutrients, like avocado, celebrated for its "healthy" fat.

It looks like McDonald's is taking notes from fast-casual competitors and moving in the direction of "more is more." Red lettuce and carrot curls may seem like little touches, but they represent a chain trying to create a salad that is packed with colors and nutrients—not just a low-calorie, iceberg lettuce-filled substitute for a burger.  

June 7 2016 4:41 PM

Why Keurig’s At-Home Soda Machine Was Always Going to Fail

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Keurig is axing its at-home soda machine, Keurig Kold, just nine months after its debut. The company was hoping that the $370 machine would give it a new avenue for growth beyond coffee, and invested $1 billion in its development. But it failed miserably.

Here's why:

1. The machine was too expensive. Kold debuted at $369, compared to the starting price of $79 for the cheapest SodaStream model. Beyond the initial cost, every soda from a Kold machine cost $0.99 to $1.29. By comparison, SodaStream drinks cost between $0.08 to $0.20 per serving.

2. Soda consumption has been falling in the US for decades. Keurig rolled out Kold at a time when Americans are cutting back on soda consumption for health reasons. Per capita soda consumption last year was 41.4 gallons, down from 52.4 gallons in 2004, according to data from Beverage Digest, a trade publication.

3. The machine was too big, loud, inconvenient, and unreliable, according to customer reviews.

As soon as the machine debuted last year, it began racking up some brutal reviews from customers. Many complained that it is massive and takes up too much space, hums as loud as a "freight train," and can take up five hours to cool after being plugged in, as opposed to the two hours it advertises. "This thing is an absolute monster," one customer wrote on Keurig's website. "I already struggle with counter space. It's huge and very deep." Since the machine takes a long time to cool down, you have to keep it plugged in all the time—and on the counter—to use it regularly.

And while the machine is cooling after starting up, "it sounds like a freight train," one customer wrote. "It was pretty annoying and we could hear it in the other rooms of our house." After cooling down, the appliance continues to hum as long as it's plugged in. "There is a constant buzzing sound when plugged in (think soda vending machine) that annoys my husband, but I don't really notice it," another customer wrote. One customer said that the machine can overheat unless you keep it 2 inches from the wall or other appliances.

Keurig Kold makes single 8-ounce servings of soda from disposable pods of syrup. Several customers complained that there is no option to increase the size of the drink. Most cans of soda contain 12 ounces of liquid. Others said that the machine doesn't always work, leading to wasted soda pods, and that the pods are far more expensive than buying canned soda at the store. Coca-Cola soda pods are being sold in packs of four for $4.99. That means every pod is about $1.25. Meanwhile, 2-liter bottles of soda sell for under $2 in grocery stores.

"While I love Keurig and the thought of making sodas at home, this machine just hasn't worked for me," one customer wrote. "I've wasted pod after pod, with only 1 out of 3 sodas coming out at a time. They do come out cold, which is great." Another customer said that he received the machine for free in exchange for an unbiased review, and he disliked the machine so much that he won't be keeping it. He wrote:

I would not buy this product. It is far from economical and there is no convenience benefit. The pods are almost as large as buying a can of soda. The machine is also too large to keep on the countertop, taking up almost as much room as my microwave. It is also loud — hums louder than the refrigerator on standby.

Keurig Green Mountain was sold to JAB Holding Co. in March in a $13.9 billion deal.

June 7 2016 9:00 AM

Uber Really Needs to Make Its Drivers Happier. Will These App Updates Do the Trick?

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

New changes are coming to Uber that should make drivers happier — without raising fares for riders. 

The new programs, which should roll out in cities nationwide this month, are likely a gesture of goodwill toward drivers after the company lowered its prices earlier this year, Bloomberg reports. Uber decreased prices in several U.S. cities in January in response to a slowdown after the holidays. The fare cuts were meant to incentivize riders to spend more on the app, meaning drivers would make more money, but drivers weren't happy. 

Here are some of the new changes for drivers coming to the app:

  • Drivers will be able to pause incoming ride requests before finishing their shift rather than manually declining them
  • Riders in several cities will now be charged starting two minutes after their Uber arrives in order to compensate drivers who have to wait for their riders 
  • Drivers will now be able to search for cheaper gas prices through the app, much like Google's Waze navigation app, which is widely used by Uber drivers 
  • Drivers can now enter their destination, which will allow them to be set up with a rider who's headed in a similar direction. This is a feature already offered on Uber's competitor, Lyft, but will only be available in about a dozen U.S. cities
  • Active drivers in some cities will also be able to get a discount on their own Uber rides when they're not working.   

According to Harry Campbell, who writes a blog for rideshare drivers, these changes don't go far enough to address driver's discontent. Drivers are most concerned about higher fares and the option for riders to tip within the app, he told Bloomberg.

June 2 2016 4:29 PM

McDonald's Is Testing Out Fresh Burgers Instead of Frozen

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

McDonald's is quietly testing fresh, never-frozen beef patties. The test is small — limited to just 14 restaurants in Dallas — but it could have major implications for the future of the company, and an analyst at Nomura thinks investors are underestimating "just how seriously McDonald's is evaluating" a larger rollout.

"Should McDonald's move to fresh beef on a much more widespread basis, we believe that it would likely lead to multiple positives (such as better-tasting burgers and quicker cook times, which in turn could mean speedier customer service)," the analyst, Mark Kalinowski, wrote in a research note. "We think this has the potential to be a big, big deal."

Nomura has placed a "buy" rating on the company as a result. McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said Wednesday that there wasn't currently a large enough supply of fresh beef to expand the test nationally but that the company could start expanding it gradually region by region.

"Would that supply be there right now? No it wouldn't," Easterbrook said at a conference in New York. "It doesn't mean we shouldn't start to expand it. You can go region by region ... and develop it that way. We are pretty good at solving operational supply chain issues when we have a good idea." He said a larger rollout wouldn't require any major new equipment or expenses for franchisees. The company just has a few small issues to work out through the test, such as finding the best system for storage and handling of the beef to avoid any cross-contamination of the fresh, uncooked meat with other food items.

"We are trying to figure out the best way to segregate equipment like spatulas and scrapers for the grill," he said. But if there's enough enthusiasm for the fresh beef patties among customers, a rapid rollout isn't out of the question. "When there is a ground swell of enthusiasm and the operators are aligned behind it and the company is helping support that, suppliers have stepped up in an unbelievable way to deliver both the equipment and also the ingredients," Easterbrook said. "We have shown how quick we can move when we have a good idea."

June 1 2016 2:59 PM

Forbes: Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes' Net Worth Has Plummeted From $4.5 Billion to Zero

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes has a net worth of zero dollars,according to Forbes, the go-to publication for assessing the wealth of the world's billionaires.

Theranos, the troubled blood-testing startup, last month voided two years' worth of blood-test results from its flagship Edison machines. This is just the latest in a series of blows for the company, which began with a high-profile exposé from The Wall Street Journal last year that called the company's underlying technology into question.

How did Forbes arrive at the $0 number?

FORBES spoke to a dozen venture capitalists, analysts and industry experts and concluded that a more realistic value for Theranos is $800 million, rather than $9 billion. That gives the company credit for its intellectual property and the $724 million that it has raised, according to VC Experts, a venture capital research firm. It also represents a generous multiple of the company’s sales, which FORBES learned about from a person familiar with Theranos' finances.

Based on this, Forbes concluded that Holmes' 50% stake in Theranos was worth nothing. This is because she owns common stock and would get paid out after investors who own preferred shares, according to VC Experts. So even if Theranos were liquidated, she would be unlikely see any of that $800 million.

May 31 2016 4:05 PM

Uber and Lyft Could Have the Biggest Impact in the South

This post originally appeared on Business Insider

Southern US metro areas present the biggest opportunity for Uber and Lyft to change your life. In a big report out Tuesday morning, Morgan Stanley analysts Michael Zezas and Adam Jonas look at the impact the proliferation of services like Uber and Lyft could eventually have on municipalities — and municipal financing — across the US.

Among many arguments the report makes, the most interesting is that Southern US cities are ripe for the biggest disruption amid increasing adoption of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. So instead of getting in your car and driving to work, or replicating the Northeast commuting experience of driving or walking to a train and heading into the city, more sprawling metros could enact large-scale, commuter-targeted versions of what is basically Uber Pool — Uber's "carpool" option where you set a pick-up and destination and your driver is able to make pick-ups and drop-offs along the way.

The potential candidates for this kind of investment and experiment, according to Morgan Stanley's list, include Southern metros like Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Houston, and Atlanta:

screen_shot_20160531_at_12.42.29_pm

Morgan Stanley

These cities, the firm writes, are more likely to see benefits from increasing investment in developing networks of ride-sharing services rather than more common infrastructure investments like commuter rail lines. They possess the right density and a relative lack of methods of commuting other than driving.

Morgan Stanley notes that for each dollar spent on highways, governments at the federal, state, and local levels spend about 40 cents on mass transit projects (read: railways), totaling about $65 billion each year.

But 75% of Americans drive themselves to work, meaning there's a clear gap between infrastructure funding and infrastructure use.

Not only is investing in infrastructure that improves the ride-sharing experience within a metro area likely more beneficial to existing resident habits than building commuter rail lines, there's also a chance for more economically efficient investments given the relatively lower cost of maintenance for roads compared to railways and airports:

screen_shot_20160531_at_1.17.32_pm

Morgan Stanley

Here's Morgan Stanley's hypothetical:

In this scenario, autonomous vehicles provided by shared mobility companies increase the usage of other transportation methods. Travelers, no longer having to worry about the 'last mile' after arriving at a major transportation hub, embrace 'just in time' pick-ups as shared mobility companies analyze demand and adjusted resources real time to transportation hubs for fast, cheap, and almost always there availability just as you arrive.
Cities that currently have little tangible mass transit infrastructure provide subsidized accounts for shared services to low income and disabled travelers, saving significant costs over running their own local systems but maintaining the positive social externalities that come with public transit.
With less need to fund traditional mass transit, capital is diverted to roadways, as states and cities revamp old roads or build new ones to keep up with the increase in autonomous vehicles and, over time, the need to integrate vehicle to infrastructure communication. Artery roads with automated intersections lead to less foot traffic, leading to fewer stops and storefronts along roads. Residential, shopping, and commercial districts become segregated and strategically placed destinations dictated by zoning.

So imagine a future metro area with hubs of walkable, dense residential and shopping districts connected by easily-traversed spokes full of on-demand, self-driving cars to bring you "off campus."

Another upshot is that Southern cities have the right weather for this kind of driving-intensive investment as snowfall is relatively rare compared to cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago (which all have fairly robust rail options).

"Our SHED metric suggests the urban south may be more conducive to integration of shared mobility into public transportation policy," the firm writes.

Morgan Stanley adds (emphasis mine):

Southern metropolitan areas tend to be dense enough to support the economics, but not too dense to the point that mass transit (i.e., rail) is a better option. An added benefit that is not captured in our metric is that the weather in these areas is conducive to shared mobility development. This is because of limited testing in snow and ice conditions. Commuters in these regions are also more reliant on cars, and cities offer expansive road networks.
In contrast, the New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA MSA presents a more challenging case. In terms of size, density, and public transit utilization, no other area comes close. The region accounts for nearly two-thirds of the planned public transit infrastructure spending over the next five years. In that sense, we see traditional transit continuing to play a major role in New York City and northern New Jersey, regardless of how shared mobility develops there.

And thinking through this intuitively, the conclusion makes complete sense.

In New York, for example taking the train to work in many areas of the region is effectively theonly viable option for commuting transportation.

But in most other regions you get in a car and drive by yourself. Morgan Stanley illustrated this with a chart breaking out the counts of metro areas by number of people who drive to work alone:

screen_shot_20160531_at_12.49.14_pm

Morgan Stanley

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