July 30, 2017

Scone Queen Reigns in Vancouver

It was at a Bakers’ Market in South Vancouver that I had tons of choices when it comes to wheat and sometimes gluten free belly. 

So I bought several items to go.  And among five purchases, one stood out, the scones from the Scone Queen.  The scones were exceptional.  I will explain below.   So I decided it was time six months later to educe my adoration for Scone Queen’s scones.

The Scone Queen is Tara Lee.

Tara told me that she grew up eating scones her Poh Poh (maternal grandmother) made.  At age six, she would watch and “help” grandma work on the dough.  Tara said, “I have a strong association between scones and comfort, which is one of the reasons I love them so much. That, and the fact that they taste so good, especially with lots of butter, jam, and sometimes clotted or whipped cream.”

Tara’s grandmother migrated in the 1930s from a small village in Méixiàn (or Moiyan) China to Cape Town, South Africa to marry Tara’s grandfather.  Tara recounts, “Poh Poh ran a general store in Cape Town to help support her brood of five children.  At first, Poh Poh was incredibly lonely due to being cut off from friends and family in China, but eventually made new friends with the extremely tight knit Hakka Chinese community, as well as the neighbors. 

One of them was a Scottish woman who taught Tara’s grandma how to make scones. The concept of baking was very foreign to Tara’s grandmother, so Poh Poh had to ask for a lot of clarification for instructions that the Scottish woman thought were obvious. Eventually, she caught on, and scones became one of her favorite things to make. Poh Poh made plain, raisin, blueberry, cheese, cheese and chive.”

Apartheid South Africa was unbearable.  Tara’s grandparents and kids (including Tara’s mom) migrated to Canada in 1967.  So in a nutshell, that is how a Scottish lady’s scone recipe from South Africa arrived in Canada.  At 102 years old, Tara’s Poh Poh is well today but no longer bakes.

I asked Tara:

J: What are the ups and downs of learning and baking scones?

T: Scones seem relatively simple to make, but, actually can turn out badly if you're not careful. The key is not to play with the dough too much, which will make them hard and heavy. 

Your touch needs to be fairly light, and you must not overwork them. You also have to make sure the butter is cold, and that the chunks of butter in the dough aren't too big, or too small. 

Finally, you want to add enough liquid (milk) so that the dough stays together, but you don't want it to be too wet either. It's basically all about balance.

J: What really makes a good scone?

T: A good scone should be light and flaky, with a fairly delicate texture. It should hold together fairly well versus breaking apart when you cut or break them open. It should also be buttery and not overly dry. In other words, it should not taste or feel like a hockey puck.

J: How different are your scones from the ones you can buy in other bakeries?

T: When people buy my scones, the scones have always been made only a few hours before, so they are very fresh. Many bakeries make big batches, whereas I make very small-scale lots. Scone quality tends to go down the larger the scale. 

J: Have you created invented your own variety of scone?

T: My scones use my grandmother's recipe, as learned from the Scottish woman in South Africa. The various types I make are based on flavor combos I have had elsewhere, as well as flavor combinations that I personally like. For example, cardamom is one of my favorite spices, so I use it in one of my scone types.

J: How long did it take you to master the craft?

T: I have been making scones my whole life, so I cannot say exactly how long it has taken me. I suppose that I have become especially good at making them over the last few years, after my grandmother stopped and other family members had to take over making them.

J: How did you come up with the business name Scone Queen?

T: I associate scones with England, elegant afternoon tea, and the Queen. I wanted to draw upon this association, as well as indicate that I believe that I am a queen or expert at making them (I say modestly).

J: How many kinds of scones can you bake?  What are they?

T: I have tried all sorts of flavor combos, but I am currently making:
Aged Cheddar and Chive, Aged Cheddar and Apple, Cardamom and Currant, White Chocolate and Dried Sour Cherry.  In the future, I might play around with making and selling other flavor combos, like goat cheese and pear, or feta and spinach. 

J: What are the most popular scones with men, with women, with children?  Why?

T: Children tend to like the sweet scones, most especially the white chocolate and dried sour cherry. Some men, who have less of a sweet tooth, really like the ones with cheddar. I have made ones with onion and bacon, and those were popular with the men. Women often like the cardamom and currant, especially with tea. Overall, though, the aged cheddar and chive are by far the crowd favorite, irrespective of age or gender.

As for moi, I had to try all four scones Tara mentioned earlier.  First, what makes Tara’s scones outstanding is the dough: buttery, a bit crumbly but still holds, and certainly not bready or dense as the ones in bakeries.  Now I know what she means when she said you have to hand knead the dough with care and getting the right feel.  It shows.   The top and bottom are golden crusty.  The inside is supple with the flavorings scattered all over.  Certainly not like a hockey puck.

The White Chocolate and Dried Sour Cherry scones were an excellent balance of sweet and sour.  Do not spread butter or anything else.  By itself, this is one of the best scones I ever had.  

Add captionWhite Chocolate and Dried Sour Cherry

Aged Cheddar and Chive (image below) was fragrant, colorful with bits of yellow cheese and dark green chive specks.  

Aged Cheddar and Chive

Personally, I prefer the pair of Aged Cheddar and Apple (image below) which was very applely.  

Aged Cheddar and Apple

Cardamom and Currant (image below) work well together like a good marriage – the potent domination of the cardamom is subdued by the sweet slight acidity of the currant. 

Cardamom and Currant

According to a great blog www.savvyeat.com, to freeze scones well “Fold a paper towel so that it fits the bottom of a plastic container. Place the scones on top, and then add the lid.”   You can keep it in the freezer up to three months.  I find the best way to warm it up is to let the scone thaw, split it in half horizontal wise, place it in a pan on stove top in low heat, cover with a peaking lid, for a few minutes.  Touch for warmth.  Flip for a couple of minutes. Then serve with a hot or cold beverage.

To order Scone Queen’s scones, e-mail Tara at sconequeenyvr@gmail.com.   Each scone costs $2.50.  I had to pick up mine from Tara’s Vancouver home.  She sells in some special events markets.  To find out which markets, visit sconequeen.wordpress.com.


June 17, 2017

Promises of a Global Intranet

This article was originally published by the International Association of Business Communicators - see http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2004/1104/global.htm

© 2012International Association of Business Communicators.
601 Montgomery Street, Suite 1900 San Francisco, CA 94111 USA

Did you know an Intranet could actually be more global than the Internet?  The interactions within an intranet are more intense and frequent, and anonymity is replaced with specificity-your  real name, job title and location. Company management often believes that a unified employee communication intranet site will foster a community, a shared corporate culture and a universal standard. 

But a review of two U.S.-based global intranets (identified here as belonging to Company A and Company B) reveals that today's reality may fall short.
Rather than building a global corporate culture, intranets are really exporting the headquarters' corporate culture.

Today, the majority of intranets are touting the messages and values of the Internet. headquarters' country and culture. Two of the world's multinational giants, Company A and Company B, both based in the U.S., have intranets that use American metaphors and jargon. Global standards and guidelines for corporate writing are based on American spelling and word usage.

A recent article on Company A's intranet page featured an engineer who had completely transitioned from a man to a woman. The article was published online as part of Gay Pride Month. There were references to Company A's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Employees Association. This may be regular news fodder in some countries, but is certainly a novelty in other locations where Company A operates. The global reaction? Zilch, nada.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of response.  It may be culturally and professionally better to keep your opinions to yourself. Or perhaps it just doesn't faze most people nowadays who have access to  internet's more sizzling offerings.

Reactions to content (either positive, negative, or neutral) can reflect:

o   A strong tolerance of ambiguity for other cultural and social values so long as these actions are localized somewhere else (not in my backyard syndrome)

o   Fascination with other cultural ways and practices, even when these practices are considered social taboos elsewhere

o   Global gentility, so long as the information does not directly affect the professional, personal life or patriotic feelings of the employee.

Lesson 1
Go ahead, be daring in your intranet communications (with the consent of the subject; after all an intranet is not a public news medium). Practice an informal way of dealing with hierarchy and showcase egalitarianism. You can hardly go wrong. If you do, corrections can be made in a second, and this is globally acceptable.

One way to internationalize the intranet is to create a regular discussion forum on cross-cultural issues, and eventually, this forum will affect the editorial and chat guidelines.
Intranets develop company collaboration, not communities.

I recently interviewed a Company B employee and asked him to describe the intranet community he is involved in. He emphasized the heavy usage of real-time online chats and e-mails. One of the company's requirements for usage is that the individual posting a message must be able to write in English, not fluently, but cogently. To do so, Company B offers English language classes on its sites. Online discourse is divided based on English fluency, resulting in inequitable participation.

What Company B employee calls an intranet community is really a virtual office information exchange (be it one-on-one or a group effort) that resolves technical issues. What is paramount to Company B's intranet consultations is arriving at a solution and ultimately the preservation of the individual and team's relevance within the organization.

Lesson 2
An intranet can create an online community similar to that of a real office: The whole staff will bond and be looking out for the interests of others. As one intranet user remarked, "It's all business communications. Community? I guess it depends on your definition." If you adopt the philosophy that an intranet is a business communication tool with human-interest stories, then you will be on your way to intranet success.

Lesson 3
Intranets often present confusing, if not embarrassing, presentations and checks and balances. Use standardizations to overcome differences in data format and wording.
The presentation of information is a major concern with global intranets. Let's start with the issue of names.   In Mexico, the maternal name is placed last and one's paternal last name is positioned in the middle. Hence, Anita Charisma Bermudez of Mexico will actually be listed as Anita Bermudez Charisma in the Philippines. 

My Chinese colleague signs his name as Wang Hua.  Initially, Iwas calling him Wang.  It turns that out his first name was Hua. So should a letter be addressed to Mr. Wang or Mr. Hua? Companies should clearly present this information on their online systems, perhaps by suggesting the correct means of address.

An English colleague of mine had a perplexing time proving his birth date to his U.S. counterpart. The U.S. is based on month/day/year system while European convention is day/month/year.  His British documentation  indicates 05/04/64, which didn't match the date he had typed in his U.S. online form, 04/05/64.

Sometimes, the exactness of numerical data can be disorienting. Certain countries use dots instead of commas or commas instead of dots. So 31.000 in Brazil is actually 31,000 in the U.S., and 31,000 in South Africa actually means 31.000 in the U.S. Keep these differences in mind when relaying information through your global intranet.

Spell check is a useful global tool to ensure consistency by providing you with the options to 'ignore' or 'replace all.' But proceed with caution. Remember Mr. Wang? Well, as a final edit, he decided to spell check an e-mail letter addressed to Trish. He mistakenly replaced all mentions of Trish with the correct spelling Trash and sent the message on its way. This may seem obvious (and funny) to a fluent speaker, but maybe not by someone learning a new language. Fortunately, Trish was professional about the obvious oversight and did not give Mr. Wang a problem.

Lesson 4
Also, keep in mind that there are three forbidden words in a global intranet: "yesterday,'' "today" and "tomorrow." I think you know why. Company A instructs anyone in its intranet universe to use Pacific Standard Time. You guessed right, Company A is based in California.

The examples listed here are but the tip of the iceberg. We have not even touched on word choice, use of humor, formalities, gender differences, imperative vs. polite tones, idioms and slang, etc.

However, with ongoing sensitivity training and information dissemination, complexities can be shared and overcome. One can also invest in native-language interfaces and online help desks.

Joseph Lopez is an international strategic planner and communications consultant. His e-mail is writetojosephlopez@yahoo.com

June 16, 2017

International Internet Marketing: The power of virtual shopping

This article was originally published by the International Association of Business Communicators -see http://www.iabc.com/cwb/archive/2005/0305/international.htm

© 2012International Association of Business Communicators.
601 Montgomery Street, Suite 1900 San Francisco, CA 94111 USA

Linda, an American living abroad in a country with limited merchandise, orders online for books, contact lenses and smoked ham. Her Dutch husband buys from www.amazon.com and www.ebay.com because U.S.-based retail web sites offer a wide range of goods at a cheaper price than their adopted country, including lower import duties and lower shipping costs from U.S.-based cargo carriers.  

Lourdes, a Peruvian immigrant in New York City, wants to surprise her family back in Lima on special occasions with gifts, including birthday cakes. But to do so from the U.S. requires planning, packaging and time, and cakes are out of the question. Thanks to www.tortasperu.com.pe, a network of housewives in seven Peruvian cities, Lourdes' relatives can receive fresh, high-quality cakes in a timely manner. 

Welcome to the burgeoning field of marketing tangible goods internationally through the Internet. Already, global e-commerce is used to find information, software, financial advice, ticketless travel and music, which can be downloaded directly to the customer's computer.  Is the Internet really a viable business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace for non-downloadable consumer goods?  

Internet Commerce Data      

A 2002 survey by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) found that 28 percent of Internet users globally either have shopped online or plan to do so within the next six months. Exactly how much of this shopping is domestic or cross-border is unclear. However, a ComScore Networks study shows that 10 to 15 percent of e-commerce sales by U.S. retailers are to customers outside of the U.S.

At 32 percent, the United States has the highest percentage of Internet users who shop online. South Korea, France and Norway are other nations with a significant number of online shoppers.

According to Internet audience measurement service comScore Media Metrix, the top-selling product categories, excluding travel, are computer hardware (US$2.3 billion), office supplies (US$1.5 billion), apparel and accessories (US$1.3 billion), consumer electronics (US$716 million), home and garden (US$442 million), music (US$193 million), furniture and appliances (US$179 million), and toys (US$114 million).

These figures indicate potentially significant cross-border revenues. Yet according to CyberSource, an e-commerce payment services corporation, 41 percent of U.S. merchants do not accept overseas orders, primarily because of fraud risks and the logistical complexity of filling international orders. Interestingly, a 2003 VeriSign survey indicates that almost half of fraud attempts come from the United States (47.8 percent), with the rest made up of small percentages from various other countries.

Two Major Consumer Worries

Merchants are not the only ones concerned about international Internet orders. There are two major concerns for any overseas buyer, whether they are in the United States or the United Arab Emirates:

Security of Card Transactions
A 2002 annual report by TNS found that the biggest impediment to cross-border e-commerce is concern about security. Almost one-third of Internet users who have not shopped online stated that they were uneasy about giving credit card details online. It is therefore crucial that merchants inform online shoppers of security measures in place and the availability of other online payment methods such as WorldPay (www.worldpay.com) and PayPal (www.paypal.com).

Shipping Reliability
Postal pilferage and theft are rampant in many countries. In addition, FedEx, DHL or UPS have rates that make shipping any product very expensive.
In many North American neighborhoods with a high concentration of immigrants, there are shipping companies that reliably deliver packages to towns and villages, and include local and foreign customs duties in their charges. Marketing and promotional partnerships with these cargo companies might prove lucrative.  

Market Niche  
The cases of Linda and Lourdes indicate that entrepreneurs on both sides of a border can benefit from international e-commerce, despite challenges like potential fraud attempts and logistics.  However, from a U.S.-based standpoint, who do we target, with fewer risks, and how?  

Linda is one of millions of Americans living overseas who still carries a credit or debit card from a U.S. bank. While one is living in a country where there is a dearth of U.S. products or where those products, if available, are incredibly expensive, there will always be a strong need to order online overseas. In some cities, organizations of expatriates have created their own web sites. One way for them to generate organizational funding is through paid links on these sites.

Low U.S. shipping costs are also an attractive selling point for those far from home. Promotions like Amazon.com's new offer of unlimited two-day shipping for an annual US$79 family membership will surely make the online market more competitive.  

First-generation immigrants often have very strong ties to their home countries, which means connecting not only through letters but also through gifts. Advertising in multilingual media will help convert newcomers into customers. Marketing and public relations work best when targeting select groups.  

On the other side of the coin, online merchants could also consider appealing to home-country relatives who surf U.S.-based retail sites and who might then send requests to their relatives living in the U.S. Advertising in home-country media would also support outreach in the U.S.

E-ready countries
The Economist's Economist Intelligence Unit has developed an e-readiness ranking to indicate how conducive a country's business environment is to Internet-based commercial opportunities. E-ready leaders in this ranking are the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Japan and Australia.

There are, however, many other countries ranked highly in The Economist’s measurements, including Brazil and Venezuela in Latin America, South Korea and Taiwan in East Asia, and Algeria, Egypt and South Africa on the African continent. In many of these countries, people study English as the language of commerce. This means they also surf English-language web sites. Advertising and web sites that target this sector should be visual, detailed and descriptive, and should use simple English, especially in payment instructions. These sites should also explain concepts like 1-800 numbers, which might not be familiar to an international audience.

Is the Internet a viable B2C marketplace for non-downloadable consumer goods?

Provided businesses carefully select a region to market to, partner with local representatives and distributors, and exercise caution when accepting orders from countries with a high risk of fraud, the answer is yes.

Joseph Lopez is an international strategic planner and communications consultant. His e-mail is writetojosephlopez@yahoo.com