New York MilkLaunch competition seeks dairy startups

May 19, 2022

The New York MilkLaunch startup competition is seeking entrepreneurs, startups, or existing companies to launch innovative dairy products, reports Food Business News.

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the New York Dairy Promotion Order (DPO) Advisory Board, and VentureFuel say the program is searching this year for products that appeal to Generation Z consumers (between the ages of 10 and 23).

Independent innovation consultants at VentureFuel will run MilkLaunch, which is encouraging entrants to introduce exciting products in cheese, yogurt, liquid milk, ice cream, butter categories.

“During our first NY MilkLaunch program, we saw so many innovative products that spoke directly to younger consumers in a contemporary way that really enhanced the excitement around dairy,” says Fred Schonenberg, founder of VentureFuel.

He adds, “We also saw many novel ideas focused on sustainability and know that Gen-Z and the New York state dairy community are both deeply passionate about sustainability, resulting in the perfect combination for this year’s focus.”

The program was designed to identify early-stage dairy products, ranging from ideas to existing new products. To be eligible for MilkLaunch, the products have to contain at least 50% fluid dairy milk and have sales of less than $250,000. The winners also must commit to using milk sourced from New York dairy producers for at least one year. Dairy farms, processors, producers, entrepreneurs, academics and ideators all are eligible to enter the competition.

“We are thrilled to work with VentureFuel on the MilkLaunch program this year,” says Larry Bailey, chair of the DPO Advisory Board. “We as New York dairy farmers and the DPO are excited by the program’s focus on sustainability and Generation Z to help promote and sell more dairy products to this impactful group of consumers who strive for a better future.”

Slate Milk, a producer of high-protein milk and lattes, won the previous competition. Co-founder Manny Lubin says MilkLaunch “was a great opportunity” for the company to connect with industry experts.

“It allowed us to learn and get direct feedback from people who have been here before,” Lubin said. “We’re also still in touch with many of the mentors that were a part of the program. They’ve been super helpful along the way.”

The DPO Advisory Board, which advises New York’s State Department of Agriculture on the allocation of milk producer funds, supports MilkLaunch as part of its 2022 goals to promote and increase the consumption of New York milk and dairy products.

Official rules for the competition and application documents are available at nymilklaunch.com. The deadline for applications is June 15.

Research contact: @FoodBizNews

NYC developer offers premium, furnished units to top execs who split time between work and home

May 18, 2022

Giant New York City-based developer Related is launching a new lodging brand that targets top business executives who split time between their primary residence and a place near their office, reports The Wall Street Journal.

While a number of developers, lodging companies, and startup firms have focused on offerings for mobile freelance staffers or employees working remotely, Related aims to lure members of top management and others who can pay a premium for amenity-rich buildings where they can mingle with peers.

The first one will be a 270-unit residential tower in the Hudson Yards neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, where Related has developed a sprawling complex.

Opening in the fall, it features furnished units, concierges and three floors of hotel-like amenities. Rents start at about $5,200 a month for a furnished studio and about $7,200 a month for a one-bedroom unit. Lease terms will start at one year, though they may be shorter in the future.

The brand, named The Set, will also feature wine tastings, speakers and other programs to give residents a sense of community. “People want to know their neighbors,” said Jeff Blau, Related’s chief executive.

More executives who used to work out of offices five days a week now go in only two or three days and work the rest of their time from their homes in the suburbs or even in other cities. These trends have been building in recent years, but were “supercharged” by the pandemic, Blau said.

Other residential and lodging companies have also stepped up efforts recently to appeal to the remote-work crowd. With more people working remotely and extending vacations, Airbnb  introduced last week a new feature allowing guests booking trips for one week or more to divide trips between two different homes. The short-term rental firm said that stays of 28 days or more made up 21% of bookings in the first quarter, above prepandemic levels.

Mint House, a startup that provides upscale hotel experiences in apartment buildings in 15 cities this year, began offering a new program with a higher level of service named Second Home targeting hybrid workers seeking a pied-à-terre near their offices.

“Typically they’re the more senior person in a corporation who has decided: maybe I’ll live in Miami now or maybe I’ll live in Boston now and go to headquarters with whatever frequency,” said Shane Berry, Mint House’s chief customer officer.

Sonder, which manages short-term-rental apartments and hotels, is going after some of the same customers. Kasa, a San Francisco-based startup that is also appealing to remote workers, offers group discounts for companies that book ten rooms or more.

Related’s new project will open in a 45-story Hudson Yards building that it will share with Related’s new senior housing brand named Coterie. Blau said numerous executives who work at offices in Hudson Yards live in the suburbs, work in the office three days a week, and stay at upscale hotels.

Related is planning to expand the brand to other cities—including Miami; Los Angeles; Chicago; and Austin, Texas.

“Here they can rent this unit, walk in, full service, full amenities, fully furnished, sheets, towels, everything; but it’s theirs,” he said. “They can be there three days a week and it’s a lot less expensive than a hotel.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Every U.S. home now has a wildfire threat score—and some areas see a 200% jump in risk

May 17, 2022

Raging New Mexico and California wildfires may offer an ominous outlook for a growing swath of America—and not just in the West, reports CNBC.

Wildfire risk is increasing, likely due to global warming, and its destruction is becoming ever more expensive. Of the wildfires that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tracked since 1980, 66% of the damage has occurred in the last five years.

Insured damage from wildfires last year totaled $5 billion, according to a Yale University report, marking the seventh consecutive year of insured losses above $2 billion.

Wildfire risk modeling is more crucial than ever to help protect lives and property, and new technology from a Brooklyn-based nonprofit, First Street Foundation, is mapping the threat with house-by-house specificity.

First Street uses everything from property tax data to satellite imagery and assigns a wildfire risk score that factors in construction type, roof type, weather and exposure to natural fuels like trees and grass.

“We calculate every individual property and structure’s risk across the country, be it a commercial building, or be it an individual’s home,” said Matthew Eby, founder and executive director of First Street Foundation. “What you’re able to see from that is that one home might have the same probability as another of being in a wildfire, but may be much more susceptible to burning down.”

Certain homes may be more vulnerable because of their building materials, the defensible space around them or the roof type, for example. The company models the immediate risk to Americans’ homes and then adjusts for projected climate change.

“We can then use supercomputers to simulate 100 million scenarios of wildfire today, and then another 100 million scenarios 30 years in the future with the forecasted weather conditions,” Eby said.

First Street gives every home a unique score and unique probabilities of risk. It did the same for water threats, working with Realtor.com to put a flood score on every property on the home-selling website. That feature is now the second-most clicked map on Realtor.com, behind school district data on K-12 performance.

“The reaction to flood has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s really helpful in being able to make informed decisions and to understand what it is to protect your home,” said Sara Brinton, lead project manager with Realtor.com.

Potential buyers and homeowners who find their flood and fire scores on Realtor.com can click a link for more information on First Street’s site to find out how best to protect their homes.

“On a on a monthly basis, we see tens of millions of impressions against our flood factor data,” said Eby.

More than 71% of recent homebuyers took natural disasters into account when considering where to move, according to a recent survey from Realtor.com and analytics company HarrisX. About half of respondents reported being more concerned about natural disasters today than they were five years ago.

The First Street fire model pays particular attention to what it calls the “wildland urban interface,” where housing developments butt up against wooded areas.

At least 10 million properties rank somewhere between “major” and “extreme” wildfire risk, according to First Street. While flood risk grows by about 25% over a span of 30 years, wildfire risk overall is doubling and jumping more than 200% in places you might not expect, like New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas.

That change helps explains why big firms, like Nuveen Real Estate, are buying the data to inform their investments.

“The First Street data is helping us get that really close look at how will the building be impacted? And more importantly, how can we reflect this increasing risk in our underwriting?” said Jessica Long, head of sustainability for Nuveen’s U.S. real estate portfolio. “We use the data as part of new investment screening as well as part of our annual business-planning process.”

For homeowners, the information not only guides them in buying a home, but it can also help in protecting one they already own. The fire score, for example, can help inform minor changes to reduce that risk, like adjusting landscaping or ventilation. Experts say it’s much easier to protect a home from wildfire than from major flooding.

When First Street introduced its flood-score feature, the data was met with concern that it would lower the value of homes with higher risk. Realtor.com’s Brinton said there have been very few complaints, but added, “In a few places we see homes appreciating somewhat more slowly in areas with high flood-risk scores.”

Research contact: @CNBC

Dinosaur skeleton sells for $12.4 million at Christie’s

May 16, 2022

The remains of a Deinonychus antirrhopus—the prehistoric beast that inspired the velociraptor in Jurassic Park—are believed to be the first of their kind sold at a public auction.It may not be a Matisse or a Warhol, but this multimillion-dollar sale at Christie’s comes from the hand of a different kind of artist: Mother Nature.

Indeed, The New York Times reports that, late on Thursday, May 12, Christie’s sold the skeleton of a Deinonychus antirrhopus for $12.4 million, with fees, to an undisclosed buyer. The auction continues the trend of high-priced fossil sales—a pattern that has irked some paleontologists, who fear that specimens could become lost to science if they are bought by private individuals rather than public institutions.

The auction house said the fossil, nicknamed Hector, was the first public sale of a Deinonychus, an agile, bipedal dinosaur known for the menacing claws on its feet. The sale price was more than double the auction house’s estimated high of $6 million.

The species most likely would not be getting so much attention if not for Jurassic Park. In the novel and 1993 movie, the beasts called velociraptors are actually more like a Deinonychus (the novel’s author, Michael Crichton, once admitted that “velociraptor” just sounded more dramatic).

This skeletal specimen contains 126 real bones, but the rest are reconstructed, including most of the skull, the auction house said. Dating back roughly 110 million years, to the Early Cretaceous period, the specimen was excavated from private land in Montana about a decade ago by Jack and Roberta Owen, self-taught paleontologists, according to Jared Hudson, a commercial paleontologist who bought and prepared the specimen. It was later purchased by the most recent owner, who remains anonymous.

“I had no idea it would end up at Christie’s,” Jack Owen, 69, said in an interview this week. He said he was trained in archaeology and had worked as a ranch manager and fencing contractor.

Owen had struck a deal with the landowner on the ranch where he worked, allowing him to dig for fossils and split the profits, he said. He first spotted some of the bone fragments in an area where he had already found two other animals. Using a scalpel and a toothbrush, among other tools, he and Roberta, his wife, carefully collected the specimen, with some help.

To see it go for millions of dollars is stunning, he said — the profit he received wasn’t anywhere close. But Owen said his fossil hunting wasn’t driven by money.

“It’s about the hunt; it’s about the find,” he said. “You’re the only human being in the world who has touched that animal, and that’s priceless.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Apple ends production of its iconic iPod

May 12, 2022

RIP to the iconic iPod. Apple announced  on Tuesday, May 10, that it’s discontinuing the iPod Touch—the last iPod model produced by the company—marking an end to the gadget that helped shape the music listening experience for 20 years, reports NBC News.

“Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry; it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing, said in a statement.

The company first introduced the iPod in 2001—boasting about the device’s “1,000 CD-quality songs” capacity. It launched the iPod Touch, which looked like an iPhone, in 2007.

Apple introduced the most recent iPod Touch model in 2019. With an Internet connection, the latest iPod Touch can send iMessages and make FaceTime calls. Apple said the iPod Touch will still be available for purchase online and at Apple Store locations “while supplies last.”

Many on Twitter mourned the product, which one person noted was the first gadget he ever owned.

“You changed the game,” one user wrote.

“Thank you for making Music and consumer electronics fun!” said another Twitter user, who linked to images of the iPod over time. One image included the iPod ads that featured dark silhouettes, holding iPods in their hands, dancing to upbeat music with bright backgrounds.

“Thank you for 20 years of service,” wrote one Twitter user. “We still miss that click wheel and the tactile buttons.”

Research contact: @NBCNews

America faces baby formula ‘crisis’ as shortage worsens

May 11, 2022

Major U.S. pharmacies recently have restricted sales of baby formula in response to a spiralling shortage of the special milk. CVS and Walgreens are among the big pharmacy chains to have imposed limits on how many cans of baby formula customers can buy at a time, reports the BBC.

The shortages intensified after Abbott— which makes top brand Similac—shut a key factory and issued a recall in February after finding contamination in its supply.

Pressure is building on the Biden Administration to respond to the issue. Republicans—among them, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas)—have called it a “national crisis” that the White House must address.

Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut said she was concerned that the Food and Drug Administration , which regulates formula makers, had responded “far too slowly” to the issue; and to the reports of problems at the Abbott factory in Michigan, which remains closed.

Abbott—the main supplier of baby formula to many of the state government programs for low-income women and children—said it was working with regulators to get the plant re-opened.

The company has been sending extra shipments from a plant in Ireland to try to address the problem—expecting shipments from the country to double this year, it added.

“We know that our recent recall caused additional stress and anxiety in an already challenging situation of a global supply shortage,” the company said in a recent statement.

“We are working hard to help moms, dads and caregivers get the high-quality nutrition they need for their babies.”

As of 24 April, the average out-of-stock rate across the country had jumped to 40%, up from just 30% a few weeks earlier—and 11% in November, according to Datasembly. There were 26 states with out-of-stock rates higher than 40%—compared to just seven states three weeks earlier, it said.

Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, infant and toddler formulas are seeing constraint across the country,” the major pharmacy chain Walgreens said in a statement, adding, “We continue to work diligently with our supplier partners to best meet customer demands.”

Walgreens has limited families to buying three cans at a time—similar to other retailers. A 12.4 ounce can of formula typically lasts for about 15 bottles—or just a few days’ worth of supply.

Companies that produce items like baby formula—for which demand is typically steady over time—have trouble catching up when there is disruption, said Rudi Leuschner, director of the Masters in Supply Chain Management program at Rutgers Business School.

And as parents rush to buy as stories of empty shelves spread, that only makes the problem worse, he warned. “It’s not a situation where you can just snap out of it,” he said. “It was designed to run at one speed.”

While this year’s formula shortage may expose the fragility of the supply chain, it may not be enough to make a business case for backup inventories, Professor Leuschner added.

Overall, birth rates are falling, reaching the lowest point on record in the United States in 2020. Studies also have found that consumption of infant formula has been declining in favor of breast milk.

Research contact: @BBC

Contest: Meditation app Calm seeks TikTok story narrator with the ‘smoothest voice’

May 10, 2022

Calm, a meditation and wellness app, is looking for a voice that puts people to sleep, reports CNBC.

And it’s hoping to find that voice on TikTok. The company recently posted a video on the social media platform announcing its Next Voice of Calm Contest, which will select the entrant with the most soothing voice to record one of Calm’s upcoming 60-second Sleep Stories. The winner also will receive $5,000.

“We’re looking for TikTok’s smoothest voice,” Erik Braa, one of Calm’s current Sleep Story narrators, intones in the video.

To enter, interested participants need to post a 60-second or less TikTok stitched to Calm’s contest announcement video. In your minute-long entry, you can read aloud basically anything: “A grocery list, your last text or a made-up story,” Braa says. “As long as it’s original and oh-so-soothing.”

More than 350 million people have listened to Calm’s Sleep Stories, according to the company, making this a potentially huge opportunity for the winner. Other Sleep Stories on Calm’s platform have been narrated by celebrities like Harry Styles, Pink. and LeBron James.

Like many mental health apps, Calm experienced an influx of new users during the pandemic: It was the world’s most downloaded app in April 2020, with nearly 4 million downloads globally that month, according to intelligence firm Sensory Tower. Calm attained a $2 billion valuation in December 2020, following a $75 million fundraising round.

More recently, the global mental health app industry as a whole—which was valued at $4.2 billion last year, according to a Grand View Research report—has come under fire for not actually improving the mental wellbeing of most users. A January study published in PLOS Digital Health, a healthcare research platform, found there was no “convincing evidence in support of any mobile phone-based intervention.”

But according to Calm, its Sleep Stories might actually work. In an October 2021 study conducted by Jennifer Huberty, the company’s director of science, a majority of participants reported that “using Calm helped them fall asleep, stay asleep and get restful sleep.” Most of those participants struggled with sleep disturbances, and nearly half had a mental health diagnosis, according to the study.

Other mental health app critics have raised ethical concerns around how mental health and meditation apps share user information: One study, published in the journal Internet Interventions in 2019, found those less than 50% of apps targeting depression had any privacy policy.

The privacy policy on Calm’s website states that it collects personal user information from inside its app and third-party platforms. Calm did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.

The Next Voice of Calm Contest closes on May 13, and the winner will be announced on June 7, with their Sleep Story anticipated to publish on Calm’s app this fall. Entrants are only allowed one submission each and must be at least 18 years old. They also must be legal residents and living in the United States or the United Kingdom.

Research contact: @CNBC

Bob Iger, eBay, Rich Paul, and Chernin Group team up to buy 25% stake in toy maker Funko

Nay 9, 2022

A consortium including former Disney CEO Bob Iger, sports agent Rich Paul,  eBay, and the  film and television production company Chernin Group is buying a 25% stake in toy maker Funko, reports CNBC.

The investment, which is worth $263 million, or $21 per share, means Chernin will add two directors to Funko’s board. Chernin Group CEO Peter Chernin and Iger will serve as advisors to the board.

Shares of Funko were initially halted on the news, but late on Thursday, May 5, resumed trading after hours—jumping more than 20% to around $21 per share.

“We believe Funko is significantly undervalued in the public markets and at this highly attractive entry price provides a runway of opportunity and growth potential,” Chernin said in a statement Thursday. “There are many areas of identifiable growth across content, commerce, marketplaces, consumer products and technology that should drive substantial increases to Funko’s performance.”

In addition to his investment business, Chernin produces television and films through Chernin Entertainment, which launched titles such as “New Girl,” “Hidden Figures,” “The Greatest Showman” and “Ford v Ferrari.” Previously, he served as president and COO of News Corp; and chair and CEO of the Fox Group, where he helped greenlight “Titanic” and “Avatar,” two of the highest-grossing films of all time.

Iger is well-known in the entertainment industry for leading the charge at Disney to acquire Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and, most recently, 20th Century Fox. Many of the characters from franchises within these brands can be found as part of Funko’s product line.

Paul, CEO and founder of Klutch Sports Group and head of sports at United Talent Agency, is expected to bring his expertise in the sports and music sectors to help advance Funko’s product expansion in those areas. He represents LeBron James.

As part of the investment, eBay and Funko agreed to make eBay the preferred secondary market for Funko products. They will also team up for exclusive product releases.

“Funko sits at the intersection of pop culture, passion and collectibles, with one of the most engaged communities of enthusiasts,” said Stefanie Jay, eBay chief business and strategy officer, in a statement. “Building on the incredible appetite for Funko products on eBay, we look forward to what our companies can do together.”

Research contact: @CNBC

TurboTax to pay $141M for allegedly deceiving users into paying for tax prep that actually was free

May 6, 2022

Tax software giant TurboTax has reached a multi-state settlement to pay back $141 million to low-income customers who were allegedly deceived into paying for tax services they should have gotten for free, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office.

TurboTax, which is owned by Intuit,  was accused of aggressively advertising free tax preparation services for years—but then steering customers who were eligible for it into paying for premium services, reports MarketWatch.

From 2016 through 2018, the company was accused of charging 4.4 million customers in all 50 states such fees, the authorities said. The agreement remains subject to court approval.

“Intuit cheated millions of low-income Americans out of free tax filing services they were entitled to,” said New York Attorney General Leticia James. “For years, Intuit misled the most vulnerable among us to make a profit.”

A message sent to representatives for Intuit wasn’t immediately returned.

In March, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against the company alleging deceptive advertising. In response to the suit, Intuit insisted that it was up front with its customers about the fees for its services.

James’ office said Intuit offered two free versions of TurboTax. One was through an agreement with the IRS that allowed taxpayers earning less than $34,000 or who were in the military to  file their taxes for free. As part of the agreement, the IRS agreed not to create its own competing service.

The other was a commercial product called “TurboTax Free Edition,” which authorities said was only free to those with what Intuit determined had “simple returns.”

As part of its advertising campaigns, TurboTax would claim sometimes dozens of times in a 30-second commercial that these services were free, authorities said.

But TurboTax was accused of using deceptive practices to push many of its clients who were eligible for the IRS program into using TurboTax’s program. The company’s product was only free for approximately one-third of U.S. taxpayers, whereas the IRS Free File product was free for 70% of taxpayers.

Among the steps THAT Intuit allegedly took were to block search engines from surfacing their page for the IRS program and failing to list the service on its rate card page.

Those who ended up using the TurboTax program often ultimately had to pay a fee of $30 or more, authorities said.

Customers who were deceived between 2016 and 2018 will receive reimbursements of $30 for each year they filed using the pay service under the settlement.

Intuit also agreed to cease its allegedly deceptive advertising, to better disclose the eligibility criteria of its free services; and to stop forcing customers to restart their tax filing, if they switch from a pay to a free service midway, the government said.

Intuit withdrew from its filing partnership with the IRS in 2021.

Research contact: @MarketWatch

Netflix cancels Meghan Markle’s animated series, ‘Pearl’

May 4, 2022

Netflix has cancelled development of “Pearl,” an animated series created by Meghan Markle, in its move to cut costs. The show, which was announced last year, is one of several projects being dropped by the streaming giant, reports the BBC.

Last month, Netflix revealed a sharp fall in subscribers and warned millions more are set to quit the service. That wiped over US$50 billion off the company’s market value as experts warned it faced a struggle to get back on track.

Archewell Productions, the company formed by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced last year that Meghan would be an executive producer of Pearl. The series was planning to center on the adventures of a 12-year-old girl, who is inspired by influential women from history.

Netflix did, however, confirm that it will continue to work on a number of projects with Archewell Productions, including a documentary series called Heart of Invictus. The series will focus on athletes competing in the Invictus Games for injured veterans, an event founded by Prince Harry, in The Hague in 2022.

Archewell Productions did not immediately respond to a BBC request for comment.

Research contact: @BBC