Tag Archives: Fortune

The Race to the Bottom of the Sugar Bowl

brown and white sugar cubes

Beth Kowitt, in Fortune, explores food manufacturers’ race to find a sugar stand-in that ticks all the boxes: cheap, “natural” (i.e., plant-based), and actually tastes like sugar. Amid the science, stevia leaves, and sucralose, she takes a step back: if sugar is such a health hazard, why don’t we just… eat less sugar?

There seems to be an obvious solution to all of this that would be much easier for everyone: Why not just eat less sugar? “As we move away from sugar, we are facing this dilemma that nothing tastes like sugar,” says consultant Woo. We know, after all, that our expectations are not set by nature. In the U.S. products tend to be sweeter than in Europe. For example, a liter-size bottle of American Dr ­Pepper has 108 grams of sugar, vs. about 73 grams for the U.K. equivalent. Why not just drop the threshold in the U.S. market too?

Several of the big food and beverage manufacturers have pursued this path, vowing to cut sugar in their products. Coca-Cola says it has already reduced it in more than 200 of its sodas. For its part, PepsiCo has committed that by 2025, at least two-thirds of its volume will have 100 calories or fewer per 12 ounces. (A can of Pepsi has 150 calories, for example.) General Mills has begun slashing sugar in its cereals and yogurt. Nestlé and Dr Pepper Snapple have made pledges of their own.

The challenge stems in large part from what the rest of the market is doing. “They’re afraid that consumers will taste 20% lower sweetness and go to a competitor,” says DuBois. Paul Bakus, Nestlé’s president of corporate affairs, told me that the company has to walk a narrow line between being nutritionally superior to the rest of the market and not sacrificing taste. “We want to reduce sugar where possible as long as we don’t put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he says. “How do you compete if your competitors aren’t following the process or rules or guidelines?”

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Why Big Food Is Feasting on ‘Natural’ Startups

Fortune writer Beth Kowitt reports on the packaged-food industry’s response to an existential crisis: Shoppers are seeking alternatives they deem healthier and more authentic than legacy brands.

In addition to selling fruit and veggie drinks, Bolthouse grows and packages fresh carrots—an old-fashioned, weather-sensitive farming business that Morrison suspected would be a turnoff for any packaged-goods company, including her own. True enough, Morrison’s board was skeptical at first. “Carrots, Denise? Really?” asked one director. But in the end, the numbers sold themselves. The so-called packaged-fresh sector, where Bolthouse was a standout, was already an $18.6 billion business—and one with promising growth.

Campbell paid $1.56 billion for the company in 2012. Today it has roughly half that amount (more than $800 million) in sales. The following year Morrison bought baby-food maker Plum Organics for $249 million. (It has over $90 million in sales.) Both of these new businesses are small in the context of the soup company’s total $8.3 billion in revenue, but they are transformational in their own way—giving Morrison some pastoral cred when she calls Campbell an “organic carrot farmer.”

The acquisitions have also, as intended, shifted Campbell’s center of gravity—moving it closer to what the food industry calls “the perimeter,” the outer ring of the supermarket where fresh foods are stocked. This is where the big growth is.

More important, Morrison didn’t just set out to buy Bolthouse, she went after Bolthouse’s DNA. Following a trend in the tech industry, legacy food companies are on an acqui-hiring spree, hoping to gobble up foodpreneurs, their more agile management operations—and their know-how in the natural food arena. Morrison made Jeff Dunn, who had been president of Bolthouse, the head of Campbell’s new “packaged fresh” division, where he is tasked with expanding the portfolio (though Dunn is cagey about what that might entail).

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Why the World Is Betting on a Better Battery: A Reading List

Nick Leiber | Longreads | March 2015

 

The first battery, a pile of copper and zinc discs, was invented more than 200 years ago, ushering in the electric age. Subsequent versions led to portable electronics, mobile computing, and our current love affair with smartphones (1,000 of which are shipped every 22 seconds). Now batteries are powering electric cars and storing electricity produced by solar cells and windmills, but they don’t last long enough and are too expensive for either use to really go mainstream. To cut the cost, Tesla plans to double the world’s production capacity of the popular lithium-ion battery with its forthcoming $5 billion battery manufacturing plant in the Nevada desert. Tesla’s idea is to use economies of scale to lower prices. Meanwhile, other companies and many industrialized countries, including China and the U.S., are racing to develop batteries that are more advanced than Tesla’s. They’re betting billions that breakthrough battery technologies will help create new industries, juice existing ones, and wean us off fossil fuels because we’ll be able to use the sun and wind in their place. Here is a book, a documentary, and five stories on our battery-powered future. Read more…

The Pioneering Women Assigned to Program One of the Earliest Computers

After six weeks of training, the women returned to Penn, where they were given poster-size diagrams and charts describing ENIAC. “Somebody gave us a whole stack of blueprints, and these were the wiring diagrams for all the panels, and they said, ‘Here, figure out how the machine works and then figure out how to program it,’” explained McNulty. That required analyzing the differential equations and then determining how to patch the cables to connect to the correct electronic circuits. “The biggest advantage of learning the ENIAC from the diagrams was that we began to understand what it could and could not do,” said Jennings. “As a result we could diagnose troubles almost down to the individual vacuum tube.” She and Snyder devised a system to figure out which of the 18,000 vacuum tubes had burned out. “Since we knew both the application and the machine, we learned to diagnose troubles as well as, if not better than, the engineers. I tell you, those engineers loved it. They could leave the debugging to us.”

Snyder described making careful diagrams and charts for each new configuration of cables and switches. “What we were doing then was the beginning of a program,” she said, though they did not yet have that word for it.

Walter Isaacson, in Fortune, on the women who changed early computing forever—an excerpt from his new book The Innovators.

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Photo: U.S. Army, Wikimedia Commons

How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying: The True Story of J.C. Penney

This week, we’re thrilled to share a new Longreads Member Pick from Fortune magazine. “How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying” is Jennifer Reingold’s definitive account of what really happened inside J.C. Penney—from the dramatic reinvention of the company, led by new CEO Ron Johnson, to its disastrous unraveling (and Johnson’s firing) less than two years later.

A brief excerpt is below—Longreads Members can login here to access the story. Thanks to Fortune for sharing this story with Longreads Members. For more stories like this, subscribe to Fortune. Read more…

How Bloomberg Stayed Involved with His Company While Still Being Mayor

“Officially the company was Doctoroff’s to run. Mike agreed with a city ethics board that he’d have no involvement in Bloomberg’s day-to-day operations, limiting his input to major decisions that ‘significantly’ affect his ownership stake. ‘I’ve recused myself from anything to do with the company,’ Mike said at a press conference in November.

“In truth, Mike was considerably more involved than that statement would suggest. He monitored the business from his Bloomberg terminal at City Hall and, as noted, spoke to Doctoroff every week. On occasion—including twice in one week as New York grappled with a blizzard dubbed ‘snowpocalypse’ in February 2010—Mike turned up at Bloomberg headquarters after-hours for meetings. (One of those sessions, during the blizzard week, concerned a redesign of Bloomberg’s website.) In other cases, he was briefed down at City Hall. Mike stayed on top of what was happening at his company, but he didn’t want to act as the decider after he left. And so a series of internal struggles played out, with Bloomberg playing only an occasional, oblique role.”

Peter Elkind, in Fortune Magazine (subscription required), on the internal company battles over the future of Bloomberg News. Read more on Bloomberg.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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In investigation into how the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) became accused of intentionally allowing American firearms to get into the hands of Mexican drug cartels:

Voth grew deeply frustrated. In August 2010, after the ATF in Texas confiscated 80 guns—63 of them purchased in Arizona by the Fast and Furious suspects— Voth got an e-mail from a colleague there: ‘Are you all planning to stop some of these guys any time soon? That’s a lot of guns…Are you just letting these guns walk?’

Voth responded with barely suppressed rage: ‘Have I offended you in some way? Because I am very offended by your e-mail. Define walk? Without Probable Cause and concurrence from the USAO [U.S. Attorney’s Office] it is highway robbery if we take someone’s property.’ He then recounted the situation with the unemployed suspect who had bought the sniper rifle. ‘We conducted a field interview and after calling the AUSA [assistant U.S. Attorney] he said we did not have sufficient PC [probable cause] to take the firearm so our suspect drove home with said firearm in his car…any ideas on how we could not let that firearm “walk”’?

“The Truth About the Fast and the Furious Scandal.” — Katherine Eban, Fortune

More from Fortune

Nearly one year after taking over for Steve Jobs, a report card for the new CEO. The company has never been more efficient, or fun, but some are wondering about the future of the products: 

The ultimate ‘tell’ of tectonic changes at Apple will be the quality of its products. Those looking for deficiencies have found them in Siri, a less-than-perfect product that Apple released with the rare beta label in late 2011, a signal that the service shouldn’t be viewed as fully baked. Siri’s response time has been slow, meaning the servers and software powering it are inadequate. ‘People are embarrassed by Siri,’ says one former insider. ‘Steve would have lost his mind over Siri.’

Obviously, no one can say for sure how Steve Jobs would have reacted to anything that’s going on at Apple, and Cook seems increasingly comfortable leading the company where he thinks it should be going. Jobs was opposed to dividends and stock buybacks, for example. Yet Cook repeatedly prepared investors for a coming dividend by stating publicly that he had no ‘religious’ opinion about them. Apple announced on March 19 that it would begin paying a quarterly dividend of $2.65 a share and buy back $10 billion worth of stock.

“How Tim Cook is Changing Apple.” — Adam Lashinsky, Fortune

More from Lashinsky

Inside the boardroom battles that led to the hiring (and firing) of CEO Léo Apotheker, formerly of SAP. Meg Whitman is now in charge of finding ways to fix the legendary tech company:

A few months after she took over as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard last September, Meg Whitman held one in a series of get-to-know-you meetings with employees. To say the audience, a group of software engineers and managers, was sullen would be an understatement. As Whitman spoke, many of them glared at her. Others weren’t making eye contact with their new boss. Their heads were down, and they were tapping furiously on handheld devices.

‘Your comments are being live-blogged,’ one employee told her defiantly. Whitman challenged the man. ‘You all have taken leaking to a new art form,’ she said. ‘It’s a sign of an unhappy company. You wish HP ill.’ The tapping suddenly stopped, and as the room fell silent, the mobile devices were lowered.

“How Hewlett-Packard Lost Its Way.” — James Bandler, Doris Burke, Fortune magazine

More from Fortune magazine

[1934] A look back at the wine industry in the United States shortly after the end of Prohibition. Wine consumption was growing, but it was unclear whether American companies could compete: 

Since repeal became imminent the U.S. has been flooded with wine propaganda. In every metropolitan newspaper, experts have conducted daily columns on the art of wine drinking. Makers of the variously shaped glasses from which one drinks hock and Sauternes and Burgundy have done a boom-time business. The Marquise de Polignac, whose husband makes French champagne, has been repeatedly interviewed. The propaganda has been paid for by the French wine interests and by California’s. (The French are now feeling pretty glum about their quota.) But however it started, it has made the drinking and serving of wine, for the moment, as much a fad as was the cross-word puzzle or mah jong. So U.S. wines have a market worth competing for, an opportunity which may not come again for many, many years.

“Can Wine Become an American Habit?” — Staff, Fortune, March 1, 1934

See also: “The Beer Archaeologist.” — Abigail Tucker, June 24, 2011