Posts tagged with "The Chicago Tribune"

Seeing stars: Cameo, a Chicago startup that sells video shoutouts from celebrities, raises $50M for expansion

June 26, 2019

Want a shoutout from Brett Favre ($500), Gilbert Gottfried ($150), Stormy Daniels ($250), Tommy Lee ($350), Teresa Giudice ($200), or Dr. Pimple Popper ($100)?

Cameo, the Chicago-based startup that lets users buy personalized video messages from celebrities, has raised $50 million to help fuel an international expansion and further develop its app, The Chicago Tribune reports.

Most of Cameo’s shoutouts are booked through its website, CEO and Co-Founder Steven Galanis told the news outlet. The startup has been building its product development team and working toward relaunching an improved app.

 “We want to make it something super engaging, that when you’re on the ‘L’ going to work, you’re opening Cameo instead of Instagram,” he told the Tribune in an interview.

Since Cameo launched more than two years ago, the startup has drawn attention for its quick and affordable access to celebrities. Last year, it joined tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, and Airbnb on Time’s list of 50 “Genius Companies.”

But the company has not made it this far without running into some problems: In late 2018, it was reported that an account associated with an anti-Semitic group had tricked several celebrities into making Cameo videos using coded anti-Semitic language. Galanis quickly responded, calling the videos a “wake-up call.”

Cameo employs about 100 people, more than 65 of whom work out of its Windy City headquarters. Galanis said he plans to bolster the company’s international employee ranks, and wants to add European soccer players, Bollywood actors, and K-Pop artists to its celebrity roster.

Currently, the site offers video greetings from thousands of athletes and B-, C- and D-list celebrities. Consumers can pay as much as $350 to receive a greeting from rapper and TV star Ice-T, or $200 for former Chicago Bears player Mike Singletary.

This month’s round of funding brings the total amount Cameo has raised to $65 million. Galanis declined to disclose the valuation to the Tribune-however

Menlo Park, California-based investor Kleiner Perkins led the round of funding. Other investors included media and tech investor The Chernin Group, venture capital firm Spark Ventures, Bain Capital, and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

To attract teenage staffers, Walmart offers free SAT and ACT prep

June 5, 2019

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, announced on June 4 that it will offer free college SAT and ACT prep courses to its high school-age workers, as well as several online, general education college classes at no cost through Guild Education, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Walmart estimates about 25,000 people under the age of 18 work at its stores—a fraction of its 1.3 million person U.S. workforce. The company is looking to attract and retain more workers, right from the start of their careers.

The new offer represents an expansion of a program Walmart launched last year called Live Better U, which provides affordable access to a college degree for full-time and part-time workers who have been with the company at least 90 days.

Based in Denver, Guild Education offers “education as a benefit” to corporate workers through a program that costs $1 a day. Classes are sourced through nonprofit universities with online programs that have had success working with adult learners.

Guild, which is a startup says it is planning on expanding the number of degrees it offers—beyond business and supply management to an additional 14 that will include cybersecurity and computer science. Walmart says these programs will help provide workers with skills it needs in the future.

About 7,500 adult workers are already enrolled in the program. Walmart expects 68,000 of its employees to be enrolled in the next several years.

Walmart is competing with other major employers to find and retain higher quality, entry-level employees in a historically strong labor market.

The unemployment rate dropping to a five-decade low of 3.6% in the most recent jobs report issued by the Labor Department, and the average hourly pay rose 3.2% compared with a year ago. The economic expansion, which has fueled 103 straight months of hiring, is set to become the longest in history next month.

High schoolers represent an increasing challenging group for recruiters. In fact, only 26.4% of teens are expected to have a job by 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 34% in 2014.

Research contact: @ChiTribBiz 

As business wilts, flower and gift delivery service FTD seeks bankruptcy protection

June 4, 2019

Flower and gift delivery service FTD filed for bankruptcy protection on June 3, with a plan to sell some businesses while paying down debt, according to a report by The Chicago Tribune.

In addition to FTD and Interflora, the nearly 110-year-old company—headquartered in Downers Grove, Illinois–has portfolio of brands that includes ProFlowers, ProPlants, Shari’s Berries, Personal Creations, RedEnvelope, Flying Flowers, and Gifts.com.

According to the Tribune, FTD had warned in March that it could go out of business or shrink its operations this summer if it didn’t find a buyer or raise enough money to pay back $217.7 million in debt due in September.

“With the advice and support of our outside advisors, we have initiated this court-supervised restructuring process to provide an orderly forum to facilitate sales of our businesses as going concerns and to enable us to address a near-term debt maturity,” Scott Levin, FTD’s president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. “Importantly, everyone involved with this process understands the critical role of our talented member florists, and we intend to continue supporting them as normal throughout this process.”

FTD said it is continuing to operate its businesses and has lined up $94.5 million in financing from existing lenders to fund operations while it restructures and works to sell pieces of its business.

A California-based private equity firm, Nexus Capital has agreed to buy FTD’s North American and Latin American consumer and florist businesses, including ProFlowers, for $95 million, FTD said.

It has also signed letters of intent with potential buyers for its Personal Creations and Shari’s Berries businesses. Any sales will still require the bankruptcy court’s approval.

In the meantime, FTD said its businesses are continuing to operate as usual, taking new orders and filling those already placed.

FTD’s Interflora business, which is based in Europe and is not part of the Chapter 11 filing, has been sold to a subsidiary of The Wonderful Co., based in California,  for $59.5 million, the company said.

Research contact: @laurenzumbach

The top ten candy treats at Sweets & Snacks Expo

June 3, 2019

Millennials are being credited for some of the most talked about trends at Sweets & Snacks Expo, May 21-23 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, The Chicago Tribune’s Louisa Chu reports.

She tells us that the buzziest products at the event—hosted by the National Confectioners Association and formerly known as the Candy Show—generated conversations ranging from multisensorial experiences, to better-for-you shareables, to Millennial pink chocolate.

The winner of the Best in Show Award for Innovation was the Trolli Sour Crunchy Crawlers by Ferrara Candy, made in Bellwood, west of Chicago.  Look for the colorful watermelon and strawberry, orange and raspberry, plus cherry and lemon flavor combinations in stores this December.

 “The Sour Crunchy Crawlers are a take on our traditional Sour Brite Crawlers, but we added a texture differential with the crunchy coating,” said Tessa Porter, director of Research and Development for the company. Translation? They’re crunchy coated candy shells on the outside and gummy on the inside, explained Porter.

Filling out the rest of the top ten, according to the Tribune’s Chu, are the following:

  • Ruby chocolate by Barry Callebaut: This pink chocolate tastes exactly like berries infused into white chocolate, but it’s not. Billed as the new fourth chocolate (after white, milk, and dark), ruby chocolate is made from ruby cocoa beans through processing created by Barry Callebaut of Zurich, Switzerland. It’s been available to professionals for a few years—and is, perhaps, best-known to consumers in the form of Kit Kats made in Asia. The product is launching widely soon.
  • Ketchup with mustard and pickle potato chips by Luke’s Organic: These are crunchy kettle chips with all the flavors of a McDonald’s hamburger. Inspired by Canadian ketchup potato chips, but thoroughly American, this snack was a sleeper hit at the show. Look for it in stores later this month.
  • Smokehouse sausage sticks by Bridgford Foods: These snappy, spicy meat snacks are available in three flavors: original, teriyaki, and hot ‘n’ spicy.
  • Cacao selection chocolate by Ritter Sport: The German chocolate company with a cult following has introduced single-origin chocolate bars, in this case each one made with cacao beans from one specific country: silky smooth dark milk from Ghana, a fine dark from Nicaragua, and an intense dark from Peru. Plus, new to this country, look for the lovely summer seasonal strawberry mousse and a year-round dark chocolate with almond and orange.
  • Extreme BeanBoozled jelly beans by Jelly Belly: Just the “bad” flavors in one box. Now, instead of wondering if you’re getting peach or barf, there’s just the latter; plus booger, canned dog food, dead fish, dirty dishwater, rotten egg, skunk spray, stinky socks, spoiled milk and stink bug.
  • Atomz by Toxic Waste Candy: Are Millennials killing sour candy? The character known as Professor Sauernoggin explained that the small crisp and chewy balls are less extreme than their so-called “hazardously sour” classic candies, packaged in cute little leaking toxic waste barrels. Possibly to appeal to an aging palate?
  • Crunchy Strawberry Pocky by Glico: Pocky fans should prepare for a new flavor this summer with these skinny biscuits dipped in tart and creamy strawberry coating and bits of real strawberry. What seems to be freeze-dried bits of fruit add a nice tart flavor and texture, that is if collectors can bear to open their boxes.
  • Root Beer Float Peeps by Just Born: Ice cream soda in a marshmallow. This flavor was available as a limited edition this Easter, but only at Kroger stores. Next year, you can find it everywhere.
  • Kit Kat Mint + Dark Chocolate Duos: In response to Kit Kat culture—primarily in Japan, where dozens of flavors, including green tea can be found year-round and seasonal flavors like cherry blossom sell out immediately—we’re finally getting one of our own. The pale, mint green cream over dark chocolate layers looks exciting, but tastes familiar.

Research contact: @louisachu

Greet (and eat) the ‘croiffle’ at one of Godiva’s 2,000 new cafes

April 18, 2019

For nearly 100 years, Godiva has made life sweeter and more pleasurable for chocoholics worldwide. But until April 17, the Belgian confectioner offered only its beloved premium-quality boxed chocolates, chocolate-covered strawberries, ice cream, and drip coffee at its 800 boutique stores across 105 nations.

Starting with a Manhattan location this week, Godiva has announced that it is rolling out 2,000 cafes through 2025, at which the company will offer a menu of fanciful food items, including the “croiffle”— a croissant and waffle hybrid that’s stuffed with fillings like cheese or chocolate and pressed on a waffle iron, The Chicago Tribune reports. Other items include an expanded list of coffees and a new collection of teas; as well as grab-and-go items such as sandwiches and yogurt parfaits. And of course chocolates.

The cafes mark Godiva’s first foray into prepared meals, the Tribune notes. It’s all part of an ambitious growth plan spearheaded by CEO Annie Young-Scrivner, who took over Godiva’s helm in 2017 after serving as a top executive at Starbucks. Her goal: to increase its revenue fivefold by 2025, the news outlet says.

The company, which is privately owned by Turkish Yildiz Holding, doesn’t report sales or profits—but according to reports, Godiva was about a $1 billion business in 2017. It expects 40% of its total sales to come from the cafes in the future.

“We really have a stronghold on formal gifting but we want to expand to everyday consumption,” Young-Scrivner said in a phone interview.

A few of the current boutiques will be converted into cafes, but Godiva is looking beyond malls and will also have stand-alone storefronts and airport locations.

Research contact: @GODIVA

Will this food trigger allergies? Label Insight discloses the ingredients

March 26, 2019

Label Insight, a Chicago-based firm that “decodes” and “interprets” food label data for retailers—and, in turn, for U.S. shoppers who want to know more about the ingredients they will be consuming—has raised $21 million in new funding, The Chicago Tribune reports.

The series C round brings the company’s total funding to roughly $35 million; the company closed its last round in January 2016, The Chicago Tribune notes. Delta-v Capital led the round alongside River Cities Capital Funds. Delta-v managing partner David Schaller joins Label Insight’s board along with the deal.

The company—which was founded by brothers Dagan and Anton Zavier in 2008 in order to increase transparency in food, pet, and personal care marketing and enable customers to make more-informed purchasing decisions—claims to offer “more than 22,000 high-order attributes per product.”

Thus, a shopper with an allergy can ask a store rep and quickly figure out what products to avoid. Retailers get a tool to help customers understand what they’re buying, while companies can offer more information to sway ingredient-conscious shoppers.

The company says it works with top brands like Unilever, Conagra, L’Oreal, and Ocean Spray, and its database has information on more than 400,000 products. It provides that information to retailers like AlbertsonsMeijer, and Raley’s.

Earlier this year, Label Insight announced it was expanding into products like pet food, over-the-counter medicine, vitamins and supplements, and personal care items. CEO Paul Schaut said Label Insight plans on building its database to one million items with the new funding.

The series C round brings the company’s total funding to roughly $35 million; the company closed its last round in January 2016, The Chicago Tribune notes. Delta-v Capital led the round alongside River Cities Capital Funds. Delta-v managing partner David Schaller joins Label Insight’s board along with the deal.

“The consumer’s mandate for more information doesn’t stop with what they eat—it includes what they put on their bodies, personal care; it includes what they feed their pets, pet food; or their babies, baby food,” Schaut told the news outlet. “It’s not going to stop at what they buy at the grocery store. You get on a plane, you go to a restaurant, you’re going to want to know more about what you’re eating. Our business is just to support the industry any place the consumer is asking for more information.”

Schaut said Label Insight currently employs about 115 people, split evenly between its Chicago and St. Louis offices. With the funding, it plans to bring that number to 170 within the next 12 months. The hires will be focused on the company’s data science team,s as well as its sales and marketing teams, he said.

Research contact: bmeyerson@chicagotribune.com

What’s with all of the decluttering?

January 17, 2019

Healthcare. Gun control. Privacy. Global warming. At a time when most major issues are out of our control, Americans have focused on the pressing need for decluttering. If we cannot fix the world, at least we can bring some order to our own small parts of it.

It began back in 2014, with a manifesto by a professional organizer based in Japan—“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”—and it has built to a cultural climax with the hit Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

And while, The Chicago Tribune reports, Marie Kondo’s minimalist manifesto is a phenomenon unto itself, with Twitter testimonials (#tidying, #konmari) and hundreds of YouTube videos, the author also has helped to espouse a broader societal cleaning spree: Your family, friends, and neighbors are accepting the 40 Bags in 40 Days (#40bagsin40days on Twitter) clutter-removal challenge—which runs from March 6 through April 20 this year.

They are listening to Graham Hill’s TED Talk (“Less Stuff, More Happiness,” with 4.4 million views and counting), posting photos of dumped junk on Instagram, and snapping up popular get-rid-of-it guides targeting minimalists (“The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay).

“The whole decluttering thing is a huge trend right now,” Kristin Collins, 40, of Raleigh, North Carolina, told the Tribune. She has been on a self-described clutter reduction “bender” for the last few years. “It’s what everyone’s talking about.”

Collins, a communications professional who lives with her husband and their nine-year-old daughter, told the news outlet that she doesn’t even have to purchase kid clutter; it comes to her. “Birthday parties (mean) piles of presents, and there’s treasure boxes at school, and they come home with all these cheap junky toys and goody bags, and then grandparents are shipping lots of cheap stuff from Walmart that breaks in the first two weeks and scatters on your floor. I feel like we’re at a point where it’s reaching a critical mass and people are just losing their minds

How did decluttering rise through the ranks of the American self-improvement agenda?

In a pioneering 2001-2005 University of California at Los Angeles study that sent researchers into the homes of 32 middle-class families to carefully chronicle their possessions, researchers found refrigerators covered with magnets, photos, calendars, memos, and kids’ art; common spaces full of toys; shelves stuffed to overflowing with DVDs, books; and mementos; and garages so full of boxes, bins and rejected furniture that there was no room left for cars.

The researchers began their report on “The Clutter Culture,” by describing the value system of the home owners: “Get stuff. Buy stuff. Get more of it. Keep that, too. Display it all, and proudly.”

“One thing that was really striking to everybody that worked on this study was just how much of a clutter crisis our families are facing right now,” Darby Saxbe, now a professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California, told the Chicago Tribune. “They were surrounded by stuff to the point where it seemed emotionally and physically stressful and taxing for them.”

Saxbe traces the clutter buildup, in part, to unprecedented access to deeply discounted consumer goods.

“We’ve got Walmart, where you can buy anything for $10, and we’ve become used to this very acquisitive style, where if you can’t find your stapler, you just go buy another stapler,” she said “I was just reading the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books with my daughter, and if they wanted a doll, for example, they had to make it, and it was incredibly labor-intensive.”

Ergo, the success of Kondo’s book, which was a best-seller in Japan and Germany before hitting the U.S. market. The book—which is part cleaning memoir, part decluttering how-to—centers on the author’s personal “revelation” that our possessions, themselves, create stress. As a young girl, she learned to cull them mercilessly, keeping only those things that brought her joy. She built a system of decluttering based on that insight, as well as a business.

In a true Kondo household, every object has its place and is returned to it religiously after it is used. Kondo makes the remarkable — and very seductive — claim that no one who has completed her private tidying course, which involves a one-time, full-home purge, has rebounded into disarray. No one.

“This whole Marie Kondo thing has changed my life,” Jamie Gutfreund, the global chief marketing officer at the global digital agency Wunderman, told the Tribune.”Everybody who knows me right now is so tired of me talking about it, because I feel so much better,” Gutfreund says. “I really feel so much better. I (used to) lose my glasses every day. The whole thing is, you have to respect your items, and you have to put them in the places where they’re supposed to go. So now I’m putting my glasses where they’re supposed to go, and I don’t lose them — funny! I probably gained 20 minutes a day.”

There’s also an emotional aspect to decluttering, and for some a spiritual one. Like meditation and yoga, decluttering appeals to overscheduled Americans seeking calm and focus, Gutfreund says.

And that’s the key to the decluttering revolution—that sense of calm and control within the turbulence that characterizes our current society.

“I am the opposite of a neat freak — I’ve always been a messy person,” Collins says. “But even I just feel a sense of calm when there’s not stuff piled in every corner of my house.”

Research contact: @Marie Kondo