Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

We all love fast food, but we also know that we should eat responsibly. Combine the two, and you would get…a healthy fast-food chain. With tasty, hot food that won’t kill you. That is open day and night. Sounds like something that should already exist, but Florida start-up Healthy Bites Grill can claim to be the first. The market they’re going after is impressive: consumers spent more than $100 billion on fast food in 1998, and fast food sales are growing at a rate of more than 20% per year. Spending on natural and organic products reached $32.1 billion in 2001, up 14% from 1999. And that’s only in the US! Furthermore, forty-eight percent of US consumers use organic products at least occasionally, and retail sales of organic products–about $9 billion in 2001, are expected to grow by about 20% a year, reaching $20 billion by 2005 (Source: Healthy Bites Grill). Healthy Bites Grills have a dining room, a fast take-out counter and the notorious drive-through. The menu includes veggie and buffalo burgers, pizza, salads, baked fries, sandwiches, a juice bar and several retail product lines of vitamin supplements and herbal remedies. There are two outlets in Florida right now, and the company is working on a franchise program. Springwise humbly expects this global market to be bigger than just two restaurants in the Sunshine State. Someone some day is going to sell his or her healthy fast-food chain to the Burger Kings of this world. Or it might be the other way around. 😉

Testing new products in an experience-economy setting

Gone are the days that fast moving consumer goods manufacturers had to rely on people in white lab coats to find out what consumers crave or hate. FMCG colossus Unilever has opened up Ola ice-cream stores in Turkey and France, Lipton tea kiosks in the UK and Unox soup shops in the Netherlands. Not only do these outlets promote new products and bring in revenues, they also provide valuable information about customer preferences and behaviour, and all this in an experience-economy setting. For manufacturers that can’t or don’t want to set up their own branded, urban kiosk-cum-labs, a Dutch company called Sample Kitchen (the company is no longer active in The Netherlands) set up ‘Try-Me’, a 100m2 sample-store in a shopping mall in Hilversum, near Amsterdam. Manufacturers can have their products tested for roughly EUR 10,000 per month (source: foodpress.nl), with shoppers enticed with free samples and tastings. In exchange for the freebies, customers will answer some quick questions about taste, and will be asked for suggestions. The results are passed on to the manufacturers, helping them to decide whether to discard or adjust the product, or to leave it as it is and roll out a huge marketing campaign. Try-Me wants to expand to Belgium after a first results evaluation, but Springwise suspects that this would work in virtually every shopping mall and street around the world.

Technology helps local businesses connect with purchase-ready buyers

Need a friendly dentist, reliable plumber, or exotic flowers in bulk? Paolo Alto based Respond.com has filled a hot niche: customers submit their request, Respond.com forwards their wishes to a number of suppliers, who will then vie for the customer’s business. The way it should be! In Respond.com’s own words: “Respond Networks provides technology solutions that help local businesses connect with purchase-ready buyers. Respond’s lead management solutions enable directory publishers, media enterprises, portals, and other aggregators to create private-labeled services that match small businesses with buyers from their own customer base or from Respond’s extensive network of more than 50 partners. Within both private-label and open networks, the lead generation platform facilitates online commerce by enabling buyers to submit requests for the products and services they want and by delivering these targeted leads to pre-qualified businesses through its patented matching technology.” This submit-and-bid concept would benefit consumers and suppliers all over the world. The business is very scalable: entrepreneurs can start with a specific region and/or a limited number of service areas (like plumbing, web design and flowers). Should be of interest to large directory players like Yellow Pages as well.

New-style tiki-lounges — a trend in global bar culture

New York is never short of happening bars, and this time it’s all about Tiki fun in the Big Apple. While there was hardly an ‘Aloha!’ to be heard about a year ago, Mai Tais can now be sipped and savoured at Waikiki Wally’s, Otto’s Shrunken Head, and the Zombie Hut, to name just a few (source: The New York Times). Traditional Tiki bars and restaurants have been a long-time success in California and some parts of Europe (including the notorious world-wide Trader Vic’s chain), but now expect new-style tiki-lounges to do well from Tokyo to Budapest. Check out the sites below to get inspired, then buy parasols, groovy Hawaiian shirts and coconuts in bulk, and cash in on yet another trend in global bar culture.

Cleverly using barcodes to sky-rocket online sales of used goods

The now fourth largest e-commerce site in France, Price Minister, sells… used goods! Although the idea is simple and many players operate in similar fields, Price Minister focuses on a small number of highly desirable product categories, thus avoiding the clutter and chaos of many other online market places. Members, currently numbering 550,000, can sell their used CDs, DVDs, games, phones and PDAs on the website. Since they send sold items directly to the buyers, there are no inventory or shipping headaches for Price Minister. But the truly innovative twist is that Price Minister decides which products can be put on offer. Their database contains all necessary info about these products. The only thing a potential seller has to do is to submit the barcode of a product they have at home (and which is featured in the database), and Price Minister adds them to the list of sellers for that particular item. Besides being an ultra friendly process for Frenchies who want to flog their stuff, this system also creates a consistency and clarity of product information that is impossible to achieve on competing sites where sellers are allowed to enter any information they like. Sellers can pick their own price, but the maximum is 50% of the fixed new retail value. The set-up creates an almost amazon.com-like experience for shoppers, with the only difference being that all items on sale are second-hand. Not forgetting the traditional ties between second hand goods and charity, sellers have the option to donate the proceeds of a sale to “Croix Rouge Française”, the French Red Cross. If an actual sale takes place, Price Minister takes a 15% cut. The company is profitable. Springwise is not aware of any similar initiatives on this massive scale outside France. Plenty of second chances!

Combining “song recognition technology” and mobile phones

Yet another new business that has figured out that consumers (a) love their cell phones and (b) are getting addicted to the ‘right here, right now’ lifestyle. So what’s the newest thing in the UK? When hearing a song they like but don’t know the name of, mobile phone owners (i.e. everybody) can dial ‘2580’, point their phone to the music source, and London-based Shazam will then send a text message (SMS) with the name of the artist and the track. Besides the technology enabling recognition of the songs (patent still pending), Shazam has built a database with almost 1.6 million tracks in it. Revenues come from partnerships and from the actual calls. Other services include sending song clips to friends, accessing your ‘tags’ on a personalised web page, and buy the CD straight away on amazon.co.uk. That’s right: not amazon.com: Shazam isn’t active in the US, mainland Europe or in Asia: plenty of opportunity for similar services or partnerships for entrepreneurs who act NOW. And with photography-enabled phones being shipped by the millions as we speak, who’s going to come up with an image bank, so that one day we can point our camera phones at clothes, furniture and gadgets in the public domain and find out where to buy them? The world IS for sale! (more…)

Successfully cornering a niche in the tough world of magazine publishing

Wallpaper and Lucky magazines may appeal to different audiences, certainly from a geographical perspective, but they have one thing in common: they’ve successfully cornered their own niche in the tough world of magazine publishing. Wallpaper has defined the space for a truly global magazine, showcasing ‘the things that surround you’ from Helsinki to Buenos Aires, then selling the magazine in an equally global fashion. Where other ‘global’ magazines like Time, Newsweek and Business Week are still firmly rooted in the US, and the Economist caters to the world without ever losing its Britishness, Wallpaper is global by-and-for. Since the first issue came out in 1996, Wallpaper has shown that the cross-cultural, well-heeled crowd is ready for a lifestyle magazine that is as global as they are themselves. Who’s next? — First published in 2000, US-based Lucky Magazine is basically one big fashion catalogue, disguised as a glossy magazine. There are no editorials, no articles and no celebrities. Just ads, ads, and bits of text that are really just…ads. In the first half of 2002, more than 780,000 Americans subscribed to Lucky, and another 200,000 issues were sold at the newsstand. Inspired by some Japanese shopping magazines, Lucky isn’t exactly publishing the Harvard Business Review, but this pioneering celebration of fun is raking in $20 million in ad revenues, and one million (mostly female) readers aren’t complaining. Asian, South American and European fashion shoppers to follow soon?