Saturday, May 17, 2014

drag2share: 3 Reasons Trader Joe's Is Destroying Whole Foods


Trader Joe's Fruit

Trader Joe's is on fire. 

The company famously sells more than two times per square foot than the average grocery chain. 

For years, Whole Foods Market was the dominant name in organic groceries. 

But the company has recently faced declining sales as more companies offer organic food. 

Consumer perception of Trader Joe's is significantly higher than Whole Foods Market, according to a recent YouGov BrandIndex study

Here are a few reasons Trader Joe's is thriving, while Whole Foods is struggling. 

Trader Joe's is cheap. A bag of quinoa is $9.99 at Whole Foods, but $4.99 at Trader Joe's. Meanwhile, gluten-free cheese pizza is $7.49 at Whole Foods vs. $4.99 at Trader Joe's, according to Consumers view Trader Joe's as high-quality, but inexpensive. 

Meanwhile, Whole Foods is seen as being too expensive. The grocer even earned the nickname "Whole Paycheck." Whole Foods responded by lowering some prices; however, a recent JPMorgan analyst note says that the company isn't doing enough to market bargains. This means that customers likely don't realize that Whole Foods is getting cheaper. 

Private-label products. Eighty percent of Trader Joe's products are in-house, meaning that customers can't get them anywhere else and the grocer can sell them at lower prices. The creativity of the in-house products is also important. Some of the most p! opular p roducts include Chili-Lime Chicken Burgers, Cookie Butter (a cookie-flavored nut butter), and corn and chili salsa. 

While Whole Foods has private-label products, they tend to veer more toward basic. The company also sells a wider variety of organic and healthy brands. As Wal-Mart and other grocers begin to stock these products, consumers have less of an incentive to go to Whole Foods. 

Trader Joe's knows its audience. Trader Joe's is focused on product innovation and selling groceries and wine at a cheap price. Because customers know they can get high-quality stuff at a low price, they pack Trader Joe's stores. 

Whole Foods has had a harder time differentiating. The company's response to all the competition isn't encouraging, according to a recent Bloomberg Industries report. 

"New initiatives at the retailer, including online ordering and broadening the produce assortment to include more non-organic items, may push Whole Foods from unique to mainstream as it seeks a broader customer base to defend against direct competitors such as Sprouts grocers such as Kroger," according to Bloomberg. 

In order to stand out, Whole Foods needs to differentiate its products. 

SEE ALSO: The Most Popular Items At Trader Joe's

Follow Ashley Lutz: On Twitter.

Join the conversation about this story »

drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


drag2share: China Built A Prototype For A Train Capable Of Reaching 1,800 MPH


Screen Shot 2014 05 17 at 12.26.47 PM

Scientists at Southwest Jiaotong University in China have built a prototype testing platform for a near-vacuum high-speed maglev train that is theoretically capable of reaching speeds up to 2900 km/h or about 1,800 mph.

Currently, the fastest commercially operated maglev reaches just 431 km/h and even the world record is just 581 km/hr.

According to project lead Dr. Deng Zigang, this huge increase in speed is achieved through the lack of air resistance in the near-vacuum tunnel.

If the running speed exceeds 400 kilometers (250 miles) per hour, more than 83 percent of traction energy will wastefully dissipate in air resistance,” he says. Additionally, overcoming that air resistance is loud, making it uncomfortable for passengers.

In his team’s tunnel, they’ve brought the air pressure to 10 times lower than atmospheric pressure at sea level, drastically reducing the amount of energy needed to overcome air resistance.

Currently, the high speed is limited by the size of the testing platform, but with longer straightaways, Deng thinks 2,900 km/h, or nearly three times the speed of a commercial aircraft, could be achieved.

To give you an idea, a train like that could take you from Paris to Moscow in about an hour, meaning you could breakfast on the Champs-Élysées and be in Red Square in time for lunch.

Join the conversation about this story »

drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


Friday, May 16, 2014

drag2share: This Is the Bike Tech of the Future (And Soon It Could Be Yours)


This Is the Bike Tech of the Future (And Soon It Could Be Yours)

A bike painted with a coating that glows at night! Wheels that charge your phone! Rims that turn your bike into a moving rave! Be prepared to have your mind blown at Gizmodo's Commuters of the Future Bike Event on May 18—where inventors and designers will be demoing awesome cycling tech (you could even win some of it!).


drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


drag2share: As solar panels boom, it was the simple business model that the big energy players missed


Solar panels are now remaking the energy equation in the U.S. and breaking records for installations every quarter: There were more solar panels installed in the U.S. over the last 18 months than the last 30 years. But when it comes to making money off of this solar boom, some of the largest energy companies in the U.S. have (so far) left money on the table.

Why? It wasn’t that they didn’t have access to some obscure panel technology patent that was invented years ago in a university lab. Or that they didn’t have deep knowledge of how cheap solar panels would one day become. It was a drop-dead simple business-model innovation that they — for whatever reason — didn’t jump on.

At the World Energy Innovation Forum at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. this week, the CEO of GE, Jeff Immelt, said during an onstage interview that GE had focused so intently on how bad the solar panel business was that they “missed SolarCity.” “My God I wish I had thought of that,” said Immelt.


Immelt isn’t the only energy leader that has been thinking about SolarCity. The CEO of NRG Energy, David Crane, told me during an interview earlier this year that NRG wants to be as big or bigger than SolarCity in its newly launched residential solar financing and installation business, which is similar to the one that SolarCity founded in 2006.

If you haven’t heard of it, SolarCity is the now-public company founded by South African entrepreneurial brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive; their cousin Elon Musk is SolarCity’s chairman. SolarCity has built a business off of financing and installing solar panels on the rooftops of buildings owned by families and businesses.

SolarCity can provide the upfront financing for the solar system so that the customer doesn’t have to put any money down to get the panels, and this is the key that has unlocked the solar panel business. Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars for a solar panel system, the customer pays SolarCity for the cost of the solar energy on a monthly basis, which can be less expensive than what they’ve been paying the local utility. Depending on the deal, the contract can last a couple decades.

SolarCity NASDAQ

In its recent earnings report last week, SolarCity said it had more than doubled its revenue to $63 million for the quarter compared to last year while cutting its losses for the quarter almost in half to a loss of $24 million (from $41 million last year), and it also raised its guidance for the year. SolarCity has a goal of becoming one of the largest suppliers of electricity in the U.S., and it’s on its way to getting there — it says it will exit 2014 with more than 2 gigawatts of cumulative solar power deployed. The company went public in late 2012 at $9.25 per share, and it’s now trading just under $50 per share.

SolarCity actually didn’t even pioneer this business model. That was SunEdison — Jigar Shah founded SunEdison in 2003 with a new financing model called the solar power purchase agreement (PPA). SunEdison was acquired by solar materials maker MEMC in 2009 for $200 million.

When I tweeted about Immelt’s confession this week, Shah tweeted in response: “@jeffimmelt and I keynoted an MIT panel together in 2007, he didn’t miss SunEdison he ignored it.” Shah has even written a book about how to get wealthy off of clean energy and climate, and hint: a lot of it is about the business model.

Several years ago GE was actually in the solar panel business, and was working with partners on various types of manufacturing. GE wanted to make solar power as big of a business as its wind power division selling wind turbines (which is huge). But for companies that were making solar cells, wafers and panels, the bottom dropped out of that market a couple years ago. GE put many of its solar manufacturing plans on hold as the market got ugly.


Massive Chinese solar manufacturing companies — propped up by low cost government loans from the Chinese government — were making more solar panels than there was world demand for and they were making them below market value. The cost of silicon, the main ingredient in traditional solar panels, also cratered, making solar panels cheaper than they had ever been. This was a terrible time for solar manufacturing companies — like (infamously) Solyndra, but also two dozen others that are much larger — but it was a great time to be a company in the business of installing and financing super cheap solar panels.

The good news for huge energy companies like GE and NRG Energy is that it’s not too late to get into the business of installing and financing solar panels on rooftops. Yes, there are big brands developing the market like SolarCity, and it’s starting to get competitive and crowded. The more established companies are gearing up — just this week SunRun, another solar financing player, announced that it has raised another massive equity funding round of $150 million.

But the market for solar panels is just at the very beginning in both the U.S. and the world. NRG Energy launched its residential solar financing and installation company more formally earlier this year (though had been trying to do it in fits and starts over the past couple of years), and Crane sees the market as pretty wide open. He told me NRG is trying to learn from some of the fast moving and innovative large internet companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook that have managed to stay nimble and industry-leading despite being so large and so consumer-facing.

The fact that GE and NRG Energy missed this business model innovation the first time around isn’t all that surprising. It’s the century-old tale of entrepreneurs and startups moving faster, thinking more creatively and operating more flexibly than big conglomerates — and winning. This of course has happened in countless business over the centuries, causing massive disruption in industries like telecom, video distribution and photography.

But that it’s happening in energy and clean power right now is exciting because it shows that the entrepreneurial spirit can have a fundamental affect on the huge and entrenched energy sector. Which gives hope that there might be a way to disrupt climate change after all.

Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:
Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.

drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


drag2share: Grasswire founder Austen Allred is trying to build a Wikipedia-style platform for real-time news


We’ve seen some fascinating experiments by both professional and amateur journalists in crowd-sourcing the news in real-time, including Andy Carvin’s groundbreaking use of Twitter during the Arab Spring and the pioneering work of British blogger Brown Moses. What if there was a dedicated platform (other than Twitter) for harnessing the knowledge of the crowd about breaking news events? That’s what Austen Allred is trying to build with Grasswire: a kind of Wikipedia-style platform for real-time news.

As it stands now, the site is essentially an automated system for pulling in Twitter posts and images related to the upheaval in Ukraine and in Syria, which it displays in a stream that can be ranked either by recency or relevance. Each update also includes a “fact check” feature, which allows anyone to submit a report stating why they believe the information or the image to be true or untrue, with supporting links or documentation. Its founder said the site will soon include YouTube videos and images from Instagram as well as other social-media sources.

Allred — who has no formal training in journalism, apart from a few courses he took in communications before dropping out just shy of completing his degree — said in an interview that the work done by both Carvin and Brown Moses has been part of the inspiration for Grasswire. But more than anything else, his desire to build the platform stems from his experiences living in Ukraine and China, and being unable to get any useful information from mainstream sources.

“When I was in China, I was supposed to take a bullet train from Shanghai, and it wound up colliding with another train and a bunch of people died, but the Chinese government tried to cover it up. I was really frustrated at the time, because I wondered why I couldn’t hear from any of the thousands of people on the train about what was going on.”

Building a tool for people-powered news

That same feeling occurred to him in Ukraine during some of the political turmoil that occurred when he lived there, Allred said, and watching what Carvin did with Twitter during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia cemented his decision to help people crowdsource breaking news. The original iteration of what would become Grasswire was devoted primarily to news articles, but eventually Allred says he decided to focus on somehow aggregating the whole gamut of news content — from photos and videos to tweets and blog posts.

Grasswire screenshot

Watching a news event like the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. in 2012 helped reinforce what might be possible, Allred says: He opened a tab in his browser for every potential social-media information source, from Flickr and YouTube to Twitter and Instagram, and ran simultaneous live searches for hashtags or keywords related to the shooting. Although there was some incorrect information, he said the sheer volume of fascinating content that was available convinced him there was a need for something like Grasswire:

“It was really powerful, because it was all coming from people who were there — it made reading the New York Times feel like reading a textbook. You could really see the feeling and the emotion that was happening, and understand the fear and confusion, whereas if you went to a newspaper it would just be very matter-of-fact: “A man opened fire in a theater, this many people died, etc.”

Allred says that much of the inspiration for Grasswire — which he freely admits is still a very rough-looking beta — has also come from being involved with a number of breaking-news forums on Reddit, including the Syrian Civil War forum, which has been using new tools for live reporting of the events there. “I’m a very active Reddit user, and I work with some of the guys on the Ukrainian conflict and Syrian civil war threads,” says Allred. “We’re trying to build what those guys would really want, the social-discovery platform or engine they don’t have.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 3.23.03 PM

Everyone has the power to report and verify

One of the things that makes Reddit less than useful for reporting or verifying breaking news, Allred says, is the fact that the platform only allows for up-votes and down-votes, and this isn’t a very practical or effective way of stamping out incorrect information. This became especially obvious during the Boston bombings, when an attempt to identify the bombers went badly awry — an incident that seemed to sour many observers (especially professional journalists) on the whole idea of crowdsourcing breaking news. Allred said the fact-checking tool is designed to make it easier to correct early or erroneous reports.

But won’t the system be over-run by hoaxes and misinformation? Allred doesn’t think so — at least, not if enough eyeballs and users are involved in checking it, which is why he is trying hard to improve the design and functionality of the site. And to those who believe that non-professionals and everyday users can’t perform such tasks reliably, Allred points to the success of Wikipedia, which almost everyone initially thought was doomed.

“Instead of giving journalists better tools, our feeling is there’s not really that big a difference between everyday people and journalists, so we’d rather give everyone the tools… one of the most dangerous things to journalism, and I say this with the greatest respect for journalists, is the hubris they have. I think journalists are vastly underestimating the power of the average person, especially when it comes in numbers.”

What Grasswire needs to do, Allred says, is improve the tools and explanation on the site so that users know what they can or should do with the service, and to that end he has closed a small seed round from an investment fund. But despite the apparent enormity of the task — creating a site that will allow the crowd to curate and verify breaking news from around the world — Allred is committed to the idea (committed enough to live in his car). “I feel like it’s something that needs to exist, something that has to happen, and I think that someone will eventually create it. But since it doesn’t seem to be happening, I am trying to be the one that does it.”

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr user Petteri Sulonen

Related research and analysis from Gigaom Research:
Subscriber content. Sign up for a free trial.

drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


drag2share: This Innovative Lock Aims To Create The 'Airbnb Of Bikes'



San Francisco startup Velo Labs is launching a funding campaign for what may be the most advanced bicycle lock in the history of bicycle locks, according to NPR.

The company claims its Skylock will start "the age of connected cycling." The lock comes with a corresponding app that allows cyclists to share their pass code with other riders, allowing them use their bike while its stationary.

Eventually, the access wouldn't just be limited to friends and family. Velo Labs said the bike share could be managed in a whole community.

"We definitely see the idea of being able to open this to anybody, allowing anybody to 'Airbnb' their bikes," Jack Al-Kahwati, cofounder of Velo Labs, told NPR. "If you wanted to start your own informal bike-share, it's completely possible right out of the gate."

And you don't have to memorize a combination to unlock your bike  you just have to press a button on your phone.

However, if you can't be bothered with that, the app can go keyless through Bluetooth, where the lock opens when you walk up to it.SkylockAnd that's just one hi-tech feature. The lock has sensors that can tell if someone is holding onto your bike too long, potentially trying to steal it. If that's the case, the app will send you a text alert.

Additionally, if it senses a crash-like movement when you're riding, the app sends a message asking if you if you're OK. If there's no response, it will reach out to either rescue agencies or emergency contacts.Skylock accessAnd if all that still doesn't impress you, the lock is powered by built-in solar panels, making it "virtually chargeless," said Al-Kahwati.

Skylock is looking to ship by early 2015 for $159. After the "introductory period," the makers say the price will rise to $250.

SEE ALSO: The World's Largest Helicopter Can Lift An Airliner With Remarkable Ease

FOLLOW US: On Instagram

Join the conversation about this story »

drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


drag2share: High-Tech Farming: The Light Fantastic


An indoor farm in an Illinois warehouse.Indoor farming may be taking root.

A grey warehouse in an industrial park in Indiana is an unlikely place to find the future of market gardening. But it is, nevertheless, home to a pristine, climate-controlled room full of eerily perfect plants.

They grow 22 hours a day, 365 days a year in 25-foot towers, untouched by pests and bathed in an alien pink light.

Critical to this $2.5m techno-Eden, run by a firm called Green Sense Farms, are the thousands of blue and red light-emitting diodes (LEDs) supplied by Philips, a Dutch technology firm. The light they give off is of precisely the wavelength craved by the crops grown here, which include lettuce, kale, basil and chives.

The idea of abandoning the sun's light for the artificial sort is not new. It offers plenty of advantages: no need to worry about seasons or the weather, for instance, not to mention the ability to grow around the clock (although a couple of hours a day are necessary, says Gus van der Feltz of Philips, for the plant equivalent of sleep).

Moving plants indoors allows them to be coddled in other ways, too. Water can be recycled continuously, and sensors can detect which nutrients are missing and provide them in small, accurate bursts.

However, LEDs offer a host of benefits over traditional, fluorescent growing lights. For one thing, they are far more efficient, which helps to keep electricity bills down. High efficiency means less heat, which makes air conditioning cheaper.

Being cooler, the lights can be placed closer to the plants, so the crops can be planted more densely. The wavelengths of the light can be fine-tuned so that lettuce is crisper, or softer, says Robert Colangelo, the president of Green Sense Farms. Your correspondent tasted soft, sweet kale nibbled straight off the plant. It was delicious.


The crops grow faster, too. Philips reckons that using LED lights in this sort of controlled, indoor environment could cut growing cycles by up to half compared with traditional farming.

That could help meet demand for what was once impossible: fresh, locally grown produce, all year round. Hydroponic, naturally lit greenhouses, such as those built by BrightFarms, a firm based in New York, are already supplying produce to cities such as Chicago and New York.

Green Sense Farms is not the first to try growing under LEDs, and despite their efficiency, energy costs have been a challenge for its predecessors. But Mr Colangelo is confident. LEDs are becoming cheaper all the time, and the involvement of Philips, which has invested heavily in the technology, suggests that costs can fall further.

Farms such as these are unlikely to be suitable for heavy crops like corn and potatoes--which grow pretty efficiently in vast fields. But if Green Sense Farms can prove its commercial worth, this form of farming could become widespread for leafy greens and other high-value crops.

A new national climate assessment, published on May 6th, sets out the threats that American agriculture is facing, such as growing numbers of insects and other pests and a rising incidence of bad weather. Indoor farming is, happily, immune to both.

Click here to subscribe to The Economist.

Join the conversation about this story »

drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


drag2share: A Material Found In Silly Putty Could Triple Your Smartphone's Battery Life



Silly Putty is more than just a child's toy, at least that's what researchers at The University of California believe.

A team of scientists in the university's Riverside Bourns College of Engineering have discovered a way to use an ingredient found in Silly Putty to make batteries that are more energy efficient for smartphones.

Lithium ion batteries based on this Silly Putty material are said to last three times as long as the industry standard smartphone battery, according to UCR Today, a campus publication.

"We are taking the same material used in kids' toys and medical devices and even fast food and using it to create next generation battery materials," Zachary Favors, the lead author of a paper that was just published on the research, said to UCR.

NanotubesThe substance, called silicon dioxide, was attractive to the team because it's abundant, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly, according to UCR.

Silicon dioxide has been used in lithium ion batteries previously, but the effects haven't been as impressive.

That's because the engineers at the University of California have found a way to use silicon dioxide in nanotube form— a shape that allows lithium ion batteries to produce more energy, as Gizmag reports.

The researchers not only found that these silicon nanotubes were extremely stable for use in lithium ion batteries, but that they can be cycled 100 times without losing their maximum capacity. 

The team at the University of California are now focused on finding a way to scale up production of these silicon dioxide-based nanotube anodes to create a commercially viable product.

This isn't the first time we've heard of silicon dioxide nanotube anodes being used in smartphone batteries. A team of Stanford resea! rchers < a href="">made a similar discovery regarding the use of silicon nanotubes in 2012, but the substance hasn't been commercialized yet.

SEE ALSO: Researchers Are Testing A 'Wonder Material' That Could Make Your Smartphone Better Than Ever

Join the conversation about this story »

drag2share - drag and drop RSS news items on your email contacts to share (click SEE DEMO)


drag2share: An Amazing Cancer Treatment Based On The Measles Virus Saved A Woman's LifeWhy the measles virus?If this didn't cure cancer, what did it do?What this means


Mayo Clinic Rochester MN

After years of cancer treatments failed, Stacy Erholtz was out of options. So she let doctors at the Mayo Clinic infect her with a genetically engineered version of the measles virus.

As the virus spread through her blood stream it specifically attacked her cancer cells, shrinking tumors, putting her cancer in remission, and triggering a slew of headlines saying that measles cured her cancer and claiming that her cancer was "killed" or "destroyed."

Yes, it's an amazing story. It showed cancer can be treated with a virus but calling it a "cure for cancer" goes way too far. Nowhere in the study do the researchers claim that the woman's cancer was "cured."

Why the measles virus?

The idea isn't a new one. For decades, scientists have been researching how they could take viruses that target specific cells and use them to fight cancer by modifying them so they only infect and kill the rapidly spreading tumor cells and leave the healthy ones alone, according to Justin Kline, a blood cancer specialist at the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the research.

As the researchers point out in the study, this technique has been effective in mice and in treating tumors in one location, like a melanoma on the skin. But it hadn't been shown to work with a cancer that has spread, like multiple myeloma — which targets blood plasma cells in bone marrow in locations through! out the body.

The modified virus that the researchers chose — which is routinely administered to humans as a measles vaccine — was selected because it targets cells with a specific protein that is common in these myeloma cancer cells but not in healthy cells. That means the virus targets the cancer without making the person sick.

The two women in this study were both "at risk for imminent death" after other cancer treatments failed. That alone is a reason to try an experimental therapy, but there was another important factor at play: their own immune systems.

These women weren't immune to the measles virus like most of us are. That's lucky because doctors believe immunity would prevent the virus from gaining a foothold in the patient's system. The study doesn't say why they weren't immune — either they were never vaccinated in the first place or they might have lost their immunity due to cancer or a side effect of treatments they'd undergone, according to Kline. He says that people who receive chemo are usually later vaccinated again, since they can lose past immunity.