1) Constellation Brands will invest in women-run alcohol brands in an effort to grow female representation in the industry.

WHAT HAPPENED: With its new program, Focus on Female Founders, Constellation Brands Ventures—manufacturer of Corona and Svedka Vodka—plans to invest $100 million in female-led alcohol brands in the next ten years.

Why it matters

  • The alcohol industry is comprised mostly of men—across both beverages and tobacco, executives are about 80% male—and it’s not a new story that women-founded brands attract drastically less venture capital (Pitchbook found that female-run companies received a meager 2.2% of VC funding in 2017). But especially since alcohol brands are still struggling to win over female consumers with stale initiatives—some have debuted reduced-calorie versions of their beverages and Johnnie Walker launched a female logo to (condescendingly) make scotch “less intimidating” to women—and seeking alcohol brand loyalty from notoriously ambivalent millennial shoppers, Constellation’s move makes sense.
  • The holding company’s move intends to strike a symbiotic relationship with its investments, perhaps to acquire them down the line (reminiscent of Coca Cola’s developing talks to invest in Dirty Lemon). Constellation stated that it will provide the startups—Austin Cocktails, a bottled cocktail company, and Vivify Beverages, which makes hard soda, as of now—access to its supply chain, distributors and brand-building tools. Though the move may be ultimately self-serving, Constellation is keeping apace with cultural and consumer shifts regarding the historical underrepresentation of women. Thus far, it’s $100 million pledge is the largest planned investment in female-run brands.

2) Cookware startups challenge All-Clad and its ilk with streamlined product development, but they run the risk of mutual self-destruction.

WHAT HAPPENED: Cookware startups like Great Jones Supply, Material Kitchen and Made In bring the direct-to-consumer channel to the kitchen, but struggle to stand out without a legacy.

Why it matters

  • Great Jones Supply, founded in 2018, has raised a total of $3.35 million as of November 2018, and sells five SKUs on its site, in addition to cookware kits, as of writing. Joined by brands like Material Kitchen, which sells eight individual SKUs, and Made In, which offers 23 unique SKUs, these digitally-native players are piggybacking on rising affinity for cooking culture among younger consumers, sparked by celebrity chefs and ready-to-make cooking kits. Meanwhile, established greats such as All-Clad (selling approximately 40 individual cookware SKUs) and Le Creuset (offering about 123 cookware items), are working to attract younger audiences with new product kits and messaging.
  • But while these heritage companies hone a material science and engineering origin story (All-Clad was founded by a now-renowned metallurgist), newcomers often rely heavily on marketing to promote their products, which has little long-term promise. When an increasing number of digitally-native brands attempts to stand out with transparency about design and production, none is capable of reaching star status—plus, while most of these nascent companies grew out of frustration with the cacophony of cookware products on the market, they are now adding to the pool of items, even if theirs are well-researched. True, these digital brands are cheaper than the established ones, but almost all market themselves as “growing up” brands for shoppers interested in upgrading to better pots and pans, which is reflected in their price points. Ironically, Material Kitchen wins out on minimalism, developing new SKUs to be multi-use, but this may actually limit its own growth. These brands might do better to follow the model of Made In, which has catalyzed user-generated growth via restaurant deals. Still, considering their focus on the direct-to-consumer channel, newer cookware companies have a steep hill to climb in contrast to their predecessors, which successfully used department store distribution to make their mark.

3) More businesses go cashless, but exclude part of the market in doing so.

WHAT HAPPENED: A New York City councilman introduced legislation that would ban cashless stores.

Why it matters

  • Going cashless has seen an upswing in New York City, and is now embraced at establishments ranging from the salad spot Sweetgreen and Dos Toros taqueria to Everlane, Bonobos and United Airlines. Amazon Go forgoes cash and cashiers altogether, with plans to open up to 3,000 stores by 2021—Starbucks also tested a cashless storefront in Seattle in 2018 and relies heavily on its mobile app and payment system. Though part of the cashless revolution, cryptocurrencies and mobile payments like Apple Pay and Amazon Pay haven’t caught on on a mass scale, but more companies are turning to Square for credit and debit card purchases. Banks like Visa are even providing monetary incentives for businesses to reject cash completely (these same banks have a lot to gain from 2-3% swipe fees).
  • Businesses have reason to rescind cash: Cards streamline the payment process, cut down the time it takes to train new employees, and make working at a business safer, preventing robberies and the otherwise necessary armored truck cash transfers. Dos Toros, for instance, found that since launching in 2009, the percentage of customers paying in cash fell from 50% to just 15% in 2018. But the move also necessarily excludes customers—in New York, almost 12% of residents lack a bank account, meaning they are unable to pay with credit cards (which requiring a good credit score) or debit cards (which necessitate maintaining a balance minimum), higher than the national average of 7.5%. Similar proposals to New York’s have also appeared in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.—Chicago’s initiative failed in 2017. So far, only a few companies have worked to mitigate this effect—United and Walmart sell prepaid cards for customers without bank accounts—but even if brands crave efficiency, they will inevitably shut out some consumers.

WHAT HAPPENED: The IKEA Planning Studio will open in Manhattan in spring 2019, specifically aimed at city dwellers living in cramped spaces.

Why it matters

  • IKEA’s new store concept is not only a boon for the company as it attempts to diversify its offline experience, which accounts for 90% of sales—it also signals that the company is listening to customers. IKEA involved New Yorkers at each stage of the Planning Studio’s conceptualization, which ensures the storefront will more closely mirror local needs. Located at 999 Third Avenue, it will provide a more convenient shopping opportunity for many who would otherwise have to schlep out to the warehouse in Redhook in order to shop the brand. The Manhattan debut is also part of a larger strategy by IKEA to put its product in front of more people as they increasingly settle in urban areas (by 2030, approximately 60% of the world’s population will live in large cities).
  • IKEA has opened 24 small-format stores since 2015, and plans to for 30 urban stores in the next two years. (Other retailers like Target and Sephora are also downsizing to appeal to urban audiences.) At an average of 9,700 square feet, smaller stores provide a new way for customers to interact with the brand, beyond its traditional 82,000-square-foot warehouses. Thus far, the smaller storefronts mostly serve as showrooms, allowing shoppers to deliver purchases directly to their door and utilizing IKEA’s 2017 acquisition of TaskRabbit for assembly. As it builds its proposed 30 urban stores, IKEA will do well to seek advice from local residents about interests and preferences, localizing each addition to its footprint to best serve each community, and perhaps taking lessons from the smaller stores to further optimize its warehouses.