Food Is Food Is Food. Or Is It?

Quick Read: Good design can drive a price premium –  and this adage could hold good even in a category like perishables. 

Have you heard of flour by Prada, infant formula by Chanel, coffee by Cartier,  fruits by Nike and pasta by Ferrari?

coffee1

(Source: Peddy Mergui: Wheat is Wheat is Wheat)

Well they do ineed exist. Albeit as exhibits by Peddy Mergui under his series titled Wheat is Wheat is Wheat. These funny and provocative exhibits challenge our notions of branding and perception by casting them against a category like perishables/food.

Eggs by Versace anyone?

Let’s drop brand names for a moment and see how else can a product possibly command a price premium. We know tons of examples across different categories where design has helped a product command a premium.

Now, could design play a prominent role in commanding a premium within a category such as perishables? These two examples prove this point.

1. Whole Foods: 

When it comes to applying design for selling something as commoditised as veggies, there’s only one name. Whole Foods.

Avinash Kaushik recently posted this picture and the following lines regarding what he found at a Whole Foods store.

Avinash Kaushik Whole Foods

(Source: Avinask Kaushik)

“Do we shop at Whole Foods simply because the produce is so exquisitely displayed? And we pay a premium?

I think there is something to that. Look at it! Everything so perfectly symmetrical and lovely. There was a sprinkling of mist on all the veggies, drawing out the color and freshness.

For an engineer, me, all this organization definitely had an impact. It looks good, it shows people care deeply about the food, they went into extra trouble, it must be all good (and it was!).

What a great way to get someone to pay a premium.”

His lines encapsulate everything in this context.

2. Nuna Ice – Cream:

Billed by PSFK as a molecular-gastronomy popsicle that is set to take next summer by storm, Nuna is a design innovation in ice-cream born at the intersection of disciplines such as architecture, design and science.

Nuna(Source: Nuna)

According to it’s spokesperson, the Nuna Popsicle is design innovation in a crystal/pyramid shape, and stands for the ultimate refreshment that reflects the sensation of ice crystals bursting on the tongue while causing a unique and intense tingling in the mouth.

While it is expected to have a soft launch in art openings, fashion shows and music festivals during 2015, Nuna – which got its name trademarked recently – is expected to contract with a major manufacturer soon. (source)

Now that’s form following taste!

(Featured Image: Tiffany & Co Yogurt byPeddy Mergui)

Sonder And The Art Of Photography

Quick Read: Perspectives can be valuable.  A Kickstarter campaign shows us how to create value out of them while a multi million dollar campaign from a global brand shows us what it can learn from the former.

Sonder is a fascinating word.

It is the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you. (source)

At a fundamental level, Sonder for me is a shift in perspective that makes me cognizant and appreciative of the tens of thounsands of stories unravelling around me, in all their characteristic diversity and profundity.

It’s sonder that makes Street Photography fine art. It’s sonder that makes Vernacular Photography artistic to our eyes.

In fact, it’s sonder that can even help us put a price to perspectives.

Heard of Tribe Photo? James Kell is a photographer and sailor. In his words..

Recently during my work in Haiti I had an opportunity to put my subjects on the other side of the lens – to give them the chance to experience the pleasure of photographing people.  I found the perspectives of the locals – when they were making the photographs – was completely, strikingly unique. This was the kernel of the idea that is now Tribe Photo.

Read more about the business model of Tribe Photo on its kickstarter page.

But the essential idea that underlies Tribe Photo is insightful and impactful in many ways than one. It gets to the heart of the “art in photography” by transcending the narrative of the camera gear. It puts a value to perespectives as seen through the photographer’s eyes and thereby puts the photographer first, celebrates the art of photography and gives back to the community.

Tribe Photo

I Am Generation Image

Now, contrast that to the campaign that Nikon is introducing this week timed for the Christmas shopping season. This campaign with an estimated budget of $ 5 – $7 million themed “I am Generation Image“, is essentially a plea to the generation Y – the millenials –  to shoot more with a DSLR than with their phones. (source)

So what is this campaign all about? Check this video out.

This attempt at speaking to the millennials by asking them “Are Your photos good enough?” loses out on two counts:

  1. In putting people first: in fact it challenges them in a way that might actually provoke them to go out of their way to shoot outstanding photos with their phone camera
  2. In celebrating the art of photography: While the campaign does have at it’s core this page being promoted through this video audaciously titled “See Through The Eyes Of This Generation”, the content on the page tries hard to dumb it down for their TG. Sample this: “Zoom out as wide as you can, and you can even do selfies on a DSLR”

Really? All this from the brand whose theme has been to be proudly “At The Heart Of The Image”?

(Featured Image: IamGenerationImage.Com)

Diffusion – Of Ideas, Infections and Innovations

Quick Read: Why do certain ideas spread faster than others?  Diffusion – a social process where people talk to people is still the way that ideas and inovations spread. Stories from diverse fields like health care and ethnic foods provide further evidence.  

Did you know the story of the humble Doctor’s coat?

Till a major part of the 19th century, a doctor’s coat used to be black in color. Why? Because a visit to a doctor had an air of ‘finality’ attached to it, almost like the solemn nature of a funeral. As per this historical account, until the late 19th century, seeking medical advice was usually a last resort and frequently a precursor to death. The reason? Poor hygiene standards in medical practice.

In fact, back in those days,  a doctor’s badge of a busy practice was their black coats stiffened with blood and remains of previous operations. Practices like washing hands, sterilising instruments were virtually unheard of in medical practice during those days.

Naturally infection became the curse of surgery – becoming the single biggest killer of patients who underwent even uncomplicated procedures. Infection was so prevalent that the discharge of pus from a surgical wound was thought to be a necessary part of healing!

Ever since then, many medical practitioners tried hard to conceive of and spread the idea of basic sanitation as an effective means to combat preventable life threatening infections. But failed.

For e.g, Ignaz Semmelweis published the earliest known studies that showed basic hand-washing to be effective at reducing mortality rates of surgery patients. His findings were known to have offended the doctors! Even Louis Pasteur’s Germ Theory or Joseph Lister‘s concept of antiseptic surgery techniques contributed little to the mainstream propogation of the idea of sanitation in health care.

grossclinic(“The Gross Clinic,” by Thomas Eakins, 1875. Source)

The break through in seeding this key idea came over the course of several years as follows.

It turned out that the key message to teach surgeons was not how to stop germs but how to think like a laboratory scientist. A few pioneering German surgeons siezed upon this idea – of the concept of surgeon as a scientist – and seeded this in their students’ minds, many of whom were young medical practitioners from US and other countries.  The result?

The students swapped their black coats for pristine laboratory whites and returned to their home countries as ambassadors not only for the use of antiseptic practice to kill germs but also to prevent germs.  Evangelising through their own students and colleagues, they finally spread the ideas worldwide.

So, the idea of basic sanitation and sterilization for health care and germ prevention spread not because of academic journals or publications, but because of social diffusion – where people (medical practitioners) talked to people (students).

Spreading a Miraclous Solution. One Person At a Time

In many parts of the world, Diarrhea remains the world’s biggest killer of children under the age of five. ORS (Oral rehydration solution) has been known to be a simple yet effective cure for the illness which required a miraculously easy formulation that can be made at almost every home around the world  (water + sugar + salt).

In 1980, a Bangladeshi nonprofit organization called BRAC embarked on a nationwide ORS adoption drive. How did they go about this? The organization didn’t launch a mass-media campaign. It attacked the problem in a way that is typically dismissed as impractical and inefficient: by going door to door, person by person, and just talking.  

ORT(Door to door ORS Education by BRAC, 1979 . Source)

They hired, trained, and deployed thousands of workers region by region who went door to door through more than 75,000 villages and showed 12 million families how to save their children with this simple solution. Eventually, the knowledge became self-propagating and child deaths from diarrhea plummeted more than 80%  between 1980 and 2005. The program was stunningly successful. (source)

Shifting gears a bit and moving over to Ethnic Foods..

 The Greek Yogurt Revolution In The US

Till 2005, Greek Yogurt was a niche segment in the US with a market value of just about $60 million. But in just 5 years a new brand, Chobani has gone to become one of the most explosive food start-ups ever to hit the market netting more than $1 billion in annual sales and rejuvenated the entire Yogurt category in the US. How did that happen?

Ofcourse, Chobani, under the visionary founder Hamdi Ulukaya,  had a brilliant execution of its mix – from clutter breaking packaging, category defying in-store placement (he is known to have insisted that Chobani packs be merchandised in the main dairy area, not in the specialty section), competitive pricing and appealing flavours.

Chobani(Chobani Ad Campaign extolling its fruity goodness. Source)

But fortunately for Chobani – the timing was just right. Consumers were adopting healthier snack options into their busier lifestyles. So much so that when someone opened a pack of Greek Yogurt, it inadvertently became an instance of conspicuous consumptiona prominent scenario of social diffusion enveloped in a message of healthy tasty snack. 

So each time a pack of Greek Yogurt was opened, it created awareness and generated talkability around Greek Yogurt’s health benefits and unique taste. And this was even before its first mass media campaign. As Niel Sandfort, Director of Marketing at Chobani says..

“Before you even think about mass media or paid media, you have to have your ducks in a row on a number of fronts.”

So by the time, the company embarked on its first mass media campaign, the size of the population that was aware of or bought Chobani at least once, reached a “tipping point“, allowing the product to take hold widely. The result? An explosion in the growth of the Greek Yogurt segment. 

Today, the Greek Yogurt category – once a niche segment –  now accounts for 36 percent of the $6.5 billion in total U.S. yogurt sales (source) with Chobani being the number one seller in the category, with nearly 52% market share in the US!

Perks Of Being A Party Food

Guacamole – is an avocado based dip that originated with the Aztecs in Mexico. But in less than a generation, it went from an unknown Mexican delicacy to becoming part of everyday cuisine as a dip, condiment and salad ingredient. This growth of gacamole  was partly because it’s a party food. i.e., people discovered it when others shared it. 

So in essence, while we yearn for frictionless, technological solutions, people talking to people is still the way that ideas and innovations spread. In fact,Diffusion of innovations – a theory by Everett Rogers that seeks to explain how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread throughcultures – says diffusion as a social process of people talking to people is central in spreading an idea or innovation among the members of a social system.

Meanwhile Sabra – a PepsiCo owned company that sells Middle Eastern food products in the US  – is fretting that 80 million Americans have never heard of hummus

(H/T: to Seth Godin for this riff on Guacamole, to Atul Gawande for this valuable article on idea diffusion in medical practices. Featured Image source 

Sustainability Inc – A Case For Profitability In Charity

Can ‘Marketing’ and thereby a monetary value exchange  have a major role to play in non profits, NGOs and charities?  2 recent examples seem to prove a point.

Once Again

Once Again is a Bangalore based NGO that stands out for two reasons:

1. It accepts donations only in the form of old items. Not money.

2. It uses social media in a unique, relevant and a compelling way to trigger ‘action’ for its cause.

See its case study here:

The brilliance of their social media campaign to rake in donations notwithstanding, the big idea for me here is their fundamental business model: It collects items people don’t use anymore, and instead of donating these to the needy, it sells them at a  price (although minimal) to the underprivileged and uses this money for the empowerment of their community.

The exchange of monetary value in this equation triggers a chain reaction from ‘donation of the giver‘ to the ‘dignity of the receiver‘ while making the whole model sustainable. 

Cola Life

Can a crate of Coke save life? Most Likely – proves ColaLife, whose concept can be explained in 100 words as:

“You can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in developing countries but in these same places 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from simple, preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea.

ColaLife, an independent non-profit, is working with Coca-Cola to open their distribution channels in developing countries to carry ‘social products’ – oral rehydration salts and Zinc supplements – to save children’s lives.”

Get a low down on its business model here.

The big idea for me here is two fold:

1. The design of AidPods: The oral rehydration salts (ORS) in the ColaLife network are distributed in specially designed packs called as AidPods. These are  wedge-shaped containers that are designed to fit within the unused space of a coke crate, i.e., between the necks of the bottles. The design of the AidPod also serves as a contaier for the salts, as a measure for water, as a storage device and as a cup for drinking the ORS. No wonder it won the Product Design of the Year Award for 2013.

Yamoyo Kit

2. The ‘Social Marketing’ Model: At the heart of ColaLife is its ‘Social Marketing Model’ –  in which users value the product more because they pay for it. (ORS products are typically provided free of charge by medical centres in Africa, but are frequently unavailable and misused as there is virtually no monetary exchange taking place at any stage of the value chain). As this FT article says,

“the idea was to copy Coca-Cola’s model, which includes giving financial in­cen­tives along the supply chain from factory to store in order to ensure that people at all stages are rewarded for getting the drink to the customer. By turning a public health commodity – the salt and sugar mix – into a branded consumer product and using marketing to create demand, everyone would benefit, and help make the project sustainable.”

These are just a few of several recent examples out there that have one point to prove:  ‘Marketing’ and thereby a monetary value exchange do and should have a major role to play in non profits, NGOs, humanitarian agencies and charities  in order to remain sustainable and have truly far reaching consequences to the needy.

In his recent TED talk, Dan Palotta  nails it when he says: “Business will move the mass of humanity forward, but will always leave behind that 10% of the most disadvantaged and unlucky- which is why we need philanthropy and nonprofits. But the non profit sector as we know it doesn’t seem to be working.”

And that begets the question – couldn’t the nonprofit sector use the same strategies as the businesses to sustainably serve the needy?