Numlock News: October 3, 2023 • Taco Bell, Cooler Screens, Kellanova
By Walt Hickey
We’re exactly three weeks away from my book release! Preorders are absolutely critical to getting books into stores and on shelves, and your support by buying a preorder right now would be so, so helpful. Soon you’re going to get an exclusive look at some of the cool stuff in the book, but check out the book that has Publisher’s Weekly, Shea Serrano, and Nate Silver excited today.
The hottest new Halloween costume of the year is poised to be Barbie, which after witches and vampires is the third-most popular Halloween costume for adults and according to the National Retail Federation is also in the top 10 costumes for kids. It’s almost as if pop culture has massive and unappreciated impacts on society, wink wink. Americans will spend $4.1 billion on their outfits, a big chunk of the $12.2 billion spent on Halloween in general, so this could mean serious money for Mattel, as well as whatever no-name manufacturer is releasing a Human Doll Experiencing Existential Dread In Vibrant Pink copyright-skirting knockoff. I, for one, am terrified by this, as it’s absolutely going to be the first time a certain age of millennial puts on roller skates in a decade, and since you can’t spell “dangerous amounts of kinetic energy” without “KENERGY” I pray our nation’s orthopedic surgeons are ready for the gravitational reckoning to come.
The company that was once just Kellogg’s has split as of Monday, with all the cereals going to one company and all the snacks going to a different one called Kellanova. There are two competing statistics happening as part of this play. The first is that the U.S. market for savory snacks is projected to grow 6 percent a year every year from 2022 to 2027, and the market for sugary snacks is projected to grow 4.6 percent over the same time. The second, though, is that a new class of drugs called GLP-1 agonists, which were first rolled out to suppress appetites among patients with diabetes, has just come onto the market, and it turns out that a peculiar effect of the drug is that the patients who take it have a suppressed urge to snack. There were 9 million of these prescriptions as of the end of last year, and the projection is that eventually that could hit 24 million in the U.S., up to 7 percent of the U.S. population, which Morgan Stanley projects could send consumption of snacks down by 3 percent or more. Who’s right? Time will tell!
Cooler Screens is a company that produces LCD screens that replace the glass panels typically seen in the fridges of convenience stores, which accomplish the tasks of obscuring what’s actually in stock with an LCD screen, bringing in some advertising revenue for the drugstore or convenience store that has installed them, as well as the primary task of erecting a monument to the profligate and squandered nature of mankind as it confronts a natural apocalypse wrought by its own hubris. The company is suing Walgreens, as the drugstore bailed out of a plan to install the screens in 2,500 Walgreens stores. They did this after installing 10,300 of the doors in 700 stores and eventually realizing this was a gigantic waste of company money and consumer time.
The annual study of the American fast-food drive-thru experience is in, and Taco Bell has once again taken the title of fastest, clocking in at an average time of 279 seconds across a number of secret shoppers sent by QSR. All told, drive-thrus are getting more efficient, as the average wait time across all studied brands was down 29 seconds compared to 2022. One company remains an outlier, though: Chick-fil-A, which has one of the longest average wait times in the entire data set — 436 seconds, or over seven minutes — but one of the most efficient systems, given that the average number of cars in line hovers at 3.4 over the course of the analysis, more than 2.5 times the average of 1.3 cars in line across the set. The future is going to be wild: An experimental Taco Bell location in Minnesota codenamed “Defy” is designed to cut the drive-thru wait to unheard-of levels, with the location averaging a total time of 176 seconds across 25 mystery shopper visits, which is half the 343-second average across all fast food.
Neil Young yanked his stuff off Spotify over a dispute with the platform over the kind of podcast content they were paying to distribute, and since then his stuff has not been seen on the streaming service. It’s one of if not the largest gaps in Spotify’s coverage, and even given the artist’s considerable wealth is a principled stance that has cost him a decent chunk of change — something like $16,000 in royalties a month — which comes to $1.3 million over the course of the removal. That said, Neil doesn’t really feel the brunt of that sting; the record companies are out about a million, but Young’s publishing revenue is down $270,000, a substantial sum to be sure, but given the 45 studio albums the man’s sold over decades, one that likely doesn’t actually pinch that much. Young’s also notorious for opposing the use of his music in ads, so he’s clearly got enough weight to stand by his principles. Overall, he’s doing fine: Neil Young songs have appeared in 75 TV and film synchs over the past 18 months.
The Mississippi River is remarkably low, and it’s low enough that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now shipping fresh water upstream in Louisiana as places that ordinarily get their water from the river cannot do so due to the high saltwater content that is overwhelming the river. So far, the Corps has delivered 500,000 gallons by barge to the Port Sulphur Water Treatment plant in Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana. The reason? As of September 26, 55 percent of the Midwest was in drought, as well as 66 percent of the South and more specifically 99 percent of Louisiana. Beyond water stress, this is also impeding the shipment of crops down the Mississippi on barges.
The organization Seabed 2030, which is not in fact an Adult Swim program, wants to map the entire seafloor. They’re 24.9 percent of the way there toward developing the first ever publicly-available map of the entire seafloor, so far accumulating 40 compressed terabytes of seafloor data at an International Hydrography Organization facility in Boulder, Colorado. The largest contributor to the project is 17 research vessels owned by American universities that constantly circle the globe. Progress has slowed down considerably: From 2016 to 2021, they went from 6 percent coverage to 20 percent, but from 2022 to 2023 they added just 1.6 percent of the seafloor to their total, so the organization is now turning to crowdsourcing. Because if there’s one thing we learned in 2023, it’s that “deep oceanic exploration” and “amateurs” are a fantastic combination.
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