Numlock News: October 1, 2019 • Kale, Elsa, Turmeric
By Walt Hickey
Today begins the fourth quarter, which is wartime for the toy business with the holiday season on the horizon. The doll market has three big players — Mattel, Hasbro, and MGA Entertainment — and was worth an estimated $3.4 billion in 2018, which was up 45 percent over the past five years. Mattel’s Barbie has long held dominance, and Jeffries projects sales will be flat this year at $1.1 billion. But challengers emerge: Hasbro will be rolling out Frozen 2 dolls, and MGA will pump out L.O.L. Surprise! dolls again to capitalize on the unboxing obsession, each of which are targeted to bring in $500 million each. Lots can happen here: maybe Olaf wipes out Barbie, or maybe the Elsas of 2013 remain in working order and won’t fetch a half billion this year. Historically sales of merch drop 20 percent or more with the sequel, an impact seen with both Transformers and Toy Story 2. Then again, I don’t remember Optimus Prime’s song about yearning racking up a trillion streams, or a Randy Newman-penned Broadway smash, so buckle up it’s gonna get weird.
Scientists have genetically engineered bacteria to produce psilocybin, the mind-elevating active ingredient in magic mushrooms. The cells produce the psychedelic as a waste product, which is easily the best use of a laboratory equipment in drug production since that TA turned an Erlenmeyer flask into a rudimentary bong in sophomore Orgo. The researchers were able to scale-up production, eventually hitting ideal conditions under which a bioreactor full of the custom E. coli can produce concentrations of 1.16 grams of psilocybin per liter. In the wild, the psilocybin concentration is 0.37 to 1.3 percent of the dry weight of the mushroom.
Despite the best efforts of the Jack Donaghys and Barney Stinsons of pop culture, suits are dead, or dying at least. They’re cheaper than before — the CPI for suits in June of 2019 was 25 percent lower than in June of 2000 — and are now severed from the overall apparel market. U.S. revenue for men’s suits was down to $1.9 billion in 2018 from $2.2 billion in 2013, and women’s suits fell from $795 million to $402 million. All told in the year 2018 there were 8.6 million suits sold in the United States, which breaks down to a mere 0.07 suits per man. In the 1950s that figure was roughly 0.5 suits per man. One reason is that while the most powerful executives in business once felt nude without a suit, today the real power players prefer hoodies or puffy vests.
The 2019 MLB season has ended, with a total attendance of 68.49 million. That’s down 1.7 percent from last year, is the sixth decline in the past seven seasons, and the lowest attendance since 2003. MLB peak attendance was 79.5 million in 2007. Lots of teams went hard into the tank: there were four 100-loss teams for the first time ever, and six more teams that lost at least 90 games, rendering a third of the league fundamentally pointless for the season. Just five teams — the Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees, Cubs and Angels — reached 3 million at the gate, down from seven clubs in 2018. Sure, tanking will always be a factor in sports, but if anything this season is a great argument in favor of European soccer-style relegation.
Kale, the roughage of note for several years following a surge in popularity in 2014, appears to be on the way out. In 2017, 8 million fewer pounds of kale were sold in the U.S. compared to 2016, which is a concerning drop of 6 percent. Kale’s loss is better greens’ gains, with spinach sales up 4 percent in the same period and Brussels sprouts up 19 percent. One conclusion is that Americans want to consume kale without actually having to eat it in the conventional style, hence the rise of kale chips, kale pasta sauces, kale deli dips and kale baby food. The last one — baby food — saw sales quadruple year over year in 2017, because babies do not have a way to articulate that they obviously prefer the arugula, an objectively superior leaf.
According to a new report 5 percent of Americans work from home, meaning that the share of Americans whose commute is “walking to the den” has now surpassed the share of Americans whose commute is public transportation to become the third most popular form of commuting. Carpooling is in second place and far and away driving alone — which 111 million people do each day — is the most popular, which about three quarters of commuters do.
Premiere week averages for 2019 Primetime television programming is way down in just a few short years. In the first week of the 2014-15 season, excluding sports and news shows broadcast, on ABC, NBC, Fox or CBS averaged about 8.75 million viewers and a 2.3 rating among the 18-49 demo. By 2017, that had fallen to 6.77 million and a rating of 1.5 in the demo. Through last Thursday, the average premiered had 5.51 million viewers, and a 1.0 rating, which is a 19 percent decline in viewers and a 33 percent decline in the rating in just two years, and since 2014 a 37 percent drop in viewers.
U.S. imports of turmeric, a yellow spice that’s become popular in supplements and beverages among the crowd who love anti-inflammatory additives, have jumped massively to $35 million annually from $2.5 million 15 years ago. Still, a new study out of Stanford calls into question its lead content, as producers in Bangladesh use a lead chromate pigment to crank up the bright yellow color. The producers add the pigment during the polishing period when the outer skin is rubbed away, which makes it easier to remove that skin and leaves the root with a color that pops. Granted, Bangladesh produces just 3 percent of the global turmeric supply — India produces over 80 percent — but the serious hazard is mostly for workers in the spice production facilities, not the Goop types who want it in lattes stateside.
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